God's Ear
Zephyr Theater

The Echo Theater Company gives Jenny Schwartz's 2007 play, God’s Ear, a skillful production in its L.A. premiere at the Zephyr Theater. Schwartz is a decidedly modernist writer, one whose intent is to deconstruct the family drama genre by taking out the realistic elements and replacing them with comedy, wordplay and fantasy. At the same time, she also tries to delve into the dark corners of her characters, with boldness and power. It's a directorial challenge to hit all the right notes, but thankfully Rory Kozoll lives up to the task.

Willard Manus
What the Butler Saw
Odyssey Theater

"Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions a minute," said John Mortimer. If he were alive today, Joe Orton would surely have seconded that notion. The British playwright came to prominence in the 1960s with a series of black, bawdy farces -- The Entertaining Mister Sloane, Loot and What the Butler Saw-- that usually ended with blood on the walls.

Willard Manus
Clybourne Park
Mark Taper Forum

Racism and real estate have always had a volatile relationship in the USA. Segregated neighborhoods have been a fact of life in most American cities and towns, with the divisions supported by laws and covenants that expressed the prejudiced feelings of the majority white population. Thanks to civil-rights legislation, most of the laws and covenants have been repealed, but the racism remained in place, making it hard for people of color to break out of their ghettoes.

Willard Manus
Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

It only seems fair that a production called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare – Abridged should receive an abridged synopsis. So here goes: Three guys, 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, and less than two hours to cram them all in. That, essentially, is what the show’s creators gave birth to in 1987. Since then, Complete Workshas appeared in many of the country’s regional theaters. It now lands in Milwaukee. (Also noteworthy is the fact that the original cast performed an “updated” version of this play at New York’s Victory Theater in March 2010.)

Anne Siegel
Porgy and Bess
Richard Rodgers Theater

Well, I'm glad I was at least somewhat prepared for the desecration of the operatic masterwork, Porgy and Bess, that's now on view on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theater, or I probably would have booed loudly during the performance and caused a scene. Interviews given by director Diane Paulus, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and musician Diedre L. Murray concerning their "adaptation" of this beloved work as a Broadway musical in advance of the show's pre-Broadway run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.

Michael Portantiere
Road to Mecca, The
American Airlines Theater

No doubt about it, Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca is tough going, a long, winding journey with its pay-off at the end. This pay-off is not with blazing fireworks but finding an artist’s inspiration she fears is lost. Directed with sensitivity by Gordon Edelstein, the Roundabout Theatre Company's production at the American Airlines Theater is driven by three stunning performances and the poetic, often passionate language of its playwright.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Our Town
The Broad Stage

I have always disliked Our Town, going back to when I first saw a production of it in high school. Its folksy, idealized portrait of small-town life made me think, sourly, of Norman Rockwell or the Andy Hardy movies. Seeing subsequent productions did not make me change my mind about Thornton Wilder's 1938, Pulitzer Prize-winning play--and that holds true for the production under review.

Willard Manus
Neat
Broadawy Theater Center - Studio Theater

Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theater offers a powerhouse of a play in the one-woman show, Neat. Respected playwright Charlayne Woodard takes the audience on an autobiographical journey that ranges from Savannah to Albany, NY. Savannah, Georgia, is the home town of her favorite aunt, nicknamed “Neat.”

Anne Siegel
Almost, Maine
Venice Theater

The black box Pinkerton is cleverly configured into three diagonals, two seating the audience. In the center, trees at the edge of a snow-filled forest with a bench in the snow mark one end of a path (half way graced by a fallen log). It leads to the porch of a cabin with sparse outdoor furnishings close to the front door.

Marie J. Kilker
God of Carnage
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

On a playground, Annette and Alan’s admittedly “savage” son hit and knocked out two teeth from Veronica and Michael’s probably provocative son. To their red, tulip-bedecked Brooklyn home, Veronica has called a parents’ meeting to agree on what, if necessary, to “call the incident in a legal statement” and, by implication, whether there should be some kind of contrition, punishment, or effort to bring the boys together in a more civilized context.

Marie J. Kilker
Perfect Wedding
Geva Theater - Mainstage

Geva Theater Center has been fortunate to get Bruce Jordan -- an early alumnus – to return to direct always-winning, crowd-pleasing productions. A memorably witty character, also known for his savvy business management and tight artistic control, Jordan has combined those qualities in directing comedies at Geva by Noel Coward, Neil Simon, and Steve Martin, as well as the uncanny blockbuster he and his partner, Marilyn Abrams, created, Shear Madness, which thus far has grossed close to 175 million dollars worldwide.

Herbert M. Simpson
Shrek
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

The touring musical of Shrekfollows the characterizations of the Dreamworks film and most of the plot of the Broadway musical about the titular ogre. Basically, the inciting incident is Shrek being thrown out of his house by his parents to make life on his own. They predict he’ll be disliked by everyone and thus will lead a perpetually unhappy life.

Marie J. Kilker
Motherfucker with the Hat, The
GableStage

The title might be off-putting, and not necessarily because of its coarseness, though that does tend to reduce theaters and some publications to partial spelling (e.g., "The Motherf**ker with the Hat," as it's rendered on posters and programs). But the title smacks of smugness on the part of the playwright, so you might have to be won over by the play at GableStage in South Florida.

Julie Calsi
Streetcar Named Desire, A
New Theater

The cutthroat, heat-of-the-summer struggle that is A Streetcar Named Desiregets worthy treatment in South Florida at New Theater with persuasively well-rounded performances in the central roles of the Tennessee Williams drama and transformative tech.

Julie Calsi
On Holy Ground
Met Theater

Superb acting, writing and directing make Stephanie Liss' world premiere play, On Holy Ground, a joy to behold. In the first act – “Daughter of My People” -- Salome Jens, one of the USA's finest actors, portrays Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), one of the co-founders of Hadassah and a fervent Zionist and humanist. Jens, seated alone on stage, delivers a monologue which brilliantly illuminates Szold's life.

Willard Manus
Lobby Hero
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

The title is Jeff’s and it’s ironic. True, Jeff makes the one possibly courageous choice among four characters trying to step out of moral messes. He’s hardly traditionally heroic, though. He’s mostly the resentful son of a father known for one instance of heroism that Jeff could never live up to. Now maybe he has the chance.

Brendan Ragan almost gets sympathy as he shows a conflicted Jeff, after dismissal from the military, trying for a new life. Could he possibly make Dawn part of it?

Marie J. Kilker
Seminar
Golden Theater

Place four eager young writers in the hands of a renowned literary giant, and the results can be deeply rewarding or plain destructive. Not many actors can intimidate as brilliantly as Alan Rickman. Here he plays Leonard, an acclaimed author, in a biting new work at the Golden Theatre, Seminar,by Theresa Rebeck.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Blue Man Group
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The category-busting Blue Man Group is easier to watch and enjoy than to describe. In essence, three wide-eyed men, with bald heads covered in blue paint, go onstage to present a 90-minute, multi-media show. Is it theater? Is it a rock concert? Is it a comedy club? Yes and no.

It’s a unique blend of rock music, high-tech projections, audience participants and Blue Man Group’s special brand of humor. For those who have seen the show elsewhere, perhaps in New York or Las Vegas, Blue Man Group doesn’t disappoint.

Anne Siegel
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
Golden Apple Dinner Theater

It’s the ‘60s. Left at the altar, Marge finds “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” so best friend Lois persuades her to get away and forget. They eschew any “Lonely Night” by booking an end-of-season stay in a Catskills resort “Where the Boys Are” -- Esther’s Paradise.

Marie J. Kilker
Last Romance, The
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Is it wise to go off the beaten path? Is it ever too late for love? Is it a good idea to take a chance on love, no matter what the odds or the outcome? Three seniors who’ve loved and lost in the past confront these questions this autumn in a city park.

Marie J. Kilker
Love, Sung in the Key of Aretha
WBTT Theater

It sounds as if it’s a revue of Aretha Franklin’s songs, perhaps given a biographical motif. But it’s is not. Too bad, because her songs and others popular in 1968 as rendered by WBTT’s talented singers almost redeem Love Sung in the Key of Aretha.

Four black American women, next door neighbors in a triplex at the height of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights movement, search for love. (The cartoonish building lines up front doors for frequent ins and outs, then unfolds to what’s essentially a bar scene.)

Marie J. Kilker
next to normal
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

When the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s new artistic director announced that musicals would be a part of upcoming seasons, some longtime patrons winced. First off, the Rep’s main stage wasn’t designed for musicals. Others cautioned Clements about their expectations. “You don’t understand,” they told him. “We are used to serious theater at the Rep.”

Well, audiences now realize that Clements wasn’t thinking of restaging Oklahoma! or My Fair Lady.”His first entry, presented last season, was a dark, moody production of Cabaret.

Anne Siegel
Fela!
Ahmanson Theater

Registering ten on the theatrical Richter Scale, Fela!is an earthquake of a musical about the life and wild times of the Nigerian singer/showman, Fela Kuti. After flirting with jazz and pop in London and New York, he found his groove in 1960's L.A. when he was radicalized by the Black Power movement. He took his new-found social consciousness back to Lagos and combined it with elements of funk, rock and pulsing African rhythms (powered by virtuosic drumming).

Willard Manus
Amahl and the Night Visitors & Sharon's Holiday Party
Golden Apple Dinner Theater

Short and sweet! That’s what each half of Golden Apple’s holiday celebration is, and the whole adds up to entertainment that audiences of all ages can enjoy – and with more weekend matinees and earlier evening shows than usual.

Amahl and the Night Visitors distills the spirit and meaning of the holiday. Three rich kings visit a poor lame boy and his single mother one night. These people and their hovel of a home are much like what the kings are seeking, without realizing it.

Marie J. Kilker
Mama Won't Fly
Crighton Theater

Attention all Montgomery County area fans of wacky, far-fetched and very silly comedy. Your time has come with the Stage Right Players’ current production of the brand new Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten play, Mama Won’t Fly,now premiering at the Crighton Theater with merry direction from Carolyn Corsano Wong. If you are ready to separate from your serious side and have plenty of laughs, this may be what you’ve been waiting for. Even with a few dry spells amid the comedy, plenty of down-home hilarity keeps this cross-country road trip rolling.

David Dow Bentley
Cirque de Legume
59E59 Theaters

Attention Dear Readers: Have you been getting your recommended servings of fresh vegetables each day? If not, you may want to hurry over to the 59E59 Theaters for one of the final amusing performances of Cirque de Legume. As the name suggests, it is a bit of a circus, at least to the extent that there is plenty of clowning around from the two clever stars, Jaimie Carswell and Nancy Trotter Landry, with cheerful direction from Pablo Ibarluzea.

David Dow Bentley
Twain and Shaw Do Lunch
New Theater

Twain and Shaw Do Lunch,getting its world premier in South Florida, makes for a pleasant time in the theater with two legendarily irascible men. Some of that irascibility comes through in this New Theater production, just enough to be endearing rather than rancorous.

Julie Calsi
Scrooge in Rouge
Tenth Street Theater

Watching the play Scrooge in Rougeis as satisfying as the holiday buffet at grandma’s house. Who cares if no one tampers with the recipe? This is the third (and final) consecutive year that Milwaukee’s In Tandem Theater will produce the show.

Anne Siegel
Kissless
Theater at St. Clement's

Some months ago I began to hear reports that the Houston Family Arts Center had a cast of area youngsters being selected to participate in the eighth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival. As I split much of my time between New York and Texas, it piqued my interest to learn that a group of young actors from the Lone Star State was being so honored with a couple of weeks to perform in America’s capital city for theater.

David Dow Bentley
Damaged Divas of the Decades
Music Box Theater

At long last it has finally dawned on me how appropriately Houston’s Music Box Theater has been named. I say that because while it casts itself as a comedy club, music is central to its irresistible allure.

David Dow Bentley
[title of show]

see Critiopia reviews under Title of Show (no brackets)

Title of Show
Venice Theater - Stage II

In this mini-musical, everything is mini except the talent of the cast. There are three windows with blinds surrounded by bricks suggesting a wall, a few chairs on wheels, a keyboard. There are “Two Nobodies in New York” talking by phones about writing a musical that might win a contest and be produced. Then Jeff the musician and Hunter the writer get together and make “An Original Musical” about themselves making a musical.

Marie J. Kilker
Bus, The
59E59 Theaters

I imagine most of we theatergoers have traveled enough to realize that a bus, like many other modes of transportation, can sometimes be a helpful conveyance, while at other times it may experience mechanical problems. The same can be said of James Lantz’s intriguing new play, The Bus,currently in performance at the 59E59 Theaters in Manhattan.

David Dow Bentley
Ghost
Piccadilly Theatre

Now back from Europe with summer adventures behind me, and with the fall season well underway, it seems an appropriate time to catch up on a highlight of Show Business from “across the pond.” To be more specific, allow me to report on the very interesting production of Ghost: The Musicalcurrently playing at London’s Piccadilly Theatre with solid and creative direction from Matthew Warchus.

David Dow Bentley
RAIN
Hobby Center

Pinch me if I’m dreaming! It was, after all, a November night that was very much like a dream, as Houston’s Gexa Energy Broadway series presented RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles.

David Dow Bentley
My Fair Lady
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

The aim of Asolo Rep’s production: to experience Lerner and Lowe’s famous musical, My Fair Lady, as if seeing it for the first time, on opening night, without reference to the icons who have played well-known and loved roles in it. Under Frank Galati’s direction, all the elements blend afresh. But they lead to the discovery of something old: what Shaw was seriously saying in his play on which the musical is based. (Much of it parallels circumstances of today’s world.)

Marie J. Kilker
Beneva Fruitville
Golden Apple Dinner Theater

As summer 2010 started, Golden Apple seemed it might close due to mounting debts and diminishing audiences. A combination of construction projects in the front and back of the theater building, a crucial lack of parking, the recession, increasing costs, and an investment in a second possible theater that went sour with the real-estate bust threatened to put an end to the longest continuing running dinner theater in America.

Marie J. Kilker
Traces
Union Square Theater

Traces, a Circus acrobatic show now at the Union Square Theater is an amazing mix of many difficult disciplines, all performed beautifully and perfectly by a superb cast of advanced gymnast/acrobat/dancers by five charming personalities — four men and one woman (Genevieve Morin). Their gymnastic feats, brilliantly directed and choreographed by Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider, are performed with impeccable timing, and all are done with a casual air.

Richmond Shepard
Voca People
Westside Theater

Voca People, now at the Westside Theater, is a unique adventure in entertainment. Eight white-faced, white-suited singers, movers and vocal soundmakers throw a complex mixture of action and sound at us. The sounds range from squeaky gibberish to the sound of instruments to lovely harmonies of many familiar songs. Lots of references: James Bond, Pink Panther, Rocky, etc. They create a sound symphony and do lots of games with the audience (my least favorite part, but maybe the kids like it). Then they give us their real strength: songs, melodies, in terrific harmonies.

Richmond Shepard
Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them
New Theater

Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them,as staged in South Florida by New Theater as part of a rolling world premiere, is a startlingly affective comedy/drama that’s likely to move anyone – to both laughter and tears – who has ever been 12 or 16 years old. The laugh lines, and there are plenty, are warmly funny, and the heartbreak proves almost palpable for more than a few people in the audience in Coral Gables. Credit goes to New Theater artistic director Ricky J.

Julie Calsi

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