Richard Rodgers Theater

With the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, yet again the vernacular music of the streets, hip-hop and rap, have evolved to high art in the sensational, smash-hit Broadway opera Hamilton,based on the extensive biography by Ron Chernow.

For just under three hours in two acts, with elaborate exposition, the music and choreography pulses relentlessly forward with a rainbow cast telling the galvanic story of the most brilliant of the founding fathers.

Charles Giuliano
Guys on Ice
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

Although many Milwaukeeans aren’t eager to see another winter arrive in Wisconsin, at least this year’s snowdrifts bring a return of one of the state’s funniest homegrown musicals, Guys on Ice.  Performed with spot-on timing and a huge dose of humor (both intentional and unintentional), Guyshas settled into the Milwaukee Rep’s intimate Stackner Cabaret.

Anne Siegel
Straight White Men
Kirk Douglas Theater

The 41-year-old Korean-American playwright Young Jean Lee pokes fun at 1) dysfunctional families, 2) childish white men, and 3) psychological incomprehension in Straight White Men, now in its West Coast premiere at Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

Lee, a darling of the New York experimental theater scene, has written a more-or-less traditional play this time around, one with linear construction and characters right out of a TV sitcom in the way they never alter comic behavior or delivery. Who knows? Maybe sitcoms are really Lee’s main target, not any of the above.

Willard Manus
Something Rotten
St. James Theater

An exuberant cast gives a “Welcome to the Renaissance” in a perfect parody of Broadway musicals’ openings. Something Rotten! takes off in London, 1595. There, Will Shakespeare’s perhaps sometimes borrowed—but always blue ribbon—plays are definitely smashing everyone else’s theatrical efforts. Suffering brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom need to create a mega-hit to rival the rock-star Bard to get into a playhouse. That will make them search for a winning alternative.

Marie J. Kilker
Looking for Love
Starlite Room

In Looking for Love (In All the Wrong Places), four short comedies garner laughs aplenty for the end of Starlite Players’ first season, showcasing playwrights, casts, and crews from the Tampa Bay area down to Venice in Sarasota County.

Marie J. Kilker
West Side Story
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts

In Asolo Rep’s five-year exploration of the American character, West Side Story begins the fourth by perfectly illustrating its emphasis on change and reactions to it. In the mid ‘60s, conflicts based on ethnic differences exploded on the national scene. They’re epitomized in the big-city musical created by geniuses of that genre. Add a focus on non-criminal, but still often deadly, formation of gangs, and you have a musical drama that is as current as classic.

Marie J. Kilker
One Man, Two Guvnors
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

If you’ve never seen Arlecino, a.k.a. Harlequin, clowning around in classic Italian comedy, you have a treat in store if you make it to Florida Studio Theater. There, where he’s been a ‘60s, working-class, unemployed “one man” Brit, he finds employment. It’s with not a single master but “two guvnors,” and keeping up with the demands of both result in farce, fracases, frolic, fun.

Marie J. Kilker
Broadhurst Theater

It was a dark and stormy night just outside Silver Creek, Colorado. In the winter of 1987, a car goes off the road, severely injuring Paul Sheldon, the writer of a series of novels about the trials and tribulations of his heroine, Misery. As luck would have it, he’s rescued by one Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who takes him to her home, tends to his wounds, and puts him to bed. When he awakens after four days, Annie announces “I’m your biggest fan,” and assures him that she knows all 8 of the “Misery” books by heart.

Michall Jeffers
Raid, The
Broadway Armory

Heroic myths are founded upon fables of the few triumphing over the many, if only in defeat. John Brown's raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, in 1859—his goal being the securing of weapons to assist in slave uprisings—was mounted with a force of only 40 men, previous supporters having rejected his violent tactics. On the night before their attack, their visionary commander consoled his troops with the gospel story of David and Goliath.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Pilgrim's Progress
A Red Orchid Theater

Pilgrim’s Progress, an early Brett Neveu play, proposes a childhood game among siblings that evolves over time into ritualistic blood sport. The source of the game played by the McKee family, however, lies in "contracts"—pacts couched in legal precedent and initially introduced to deal with juvenile infractions, but now utilized by both generations to negotiate far more serious matters.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak
Cafe Noctambulo at Pangea

Plugged or unplugged, Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak's passion and dedication shines through Tapestry Rewoven, their creative reimaging of Carole King's '60's pop classic, “Tapestry.” At the intimate Cafe Noctambula at Pangea, Krauz and Kojak brought in the program unplugged, no jazz band, no backup singers. What remained was the soul and creative mingling of imagination, rhythm and yes, memories.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Don McLean: Storyteller
Don't Tell Mama

While Don Mclean's mega-hit, "American Pie," traces the changes of American popular music from the mid-1950's to the late 1960's, Stephen Hanks shines a light on the lesser-known songs of Don McLean and how the music influenced him.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Outside Mullingar
Geffen Playhouse

The Bronx-born playwright John Patrick Shanley investigates his Irish roots in Outside Mullingar, now in its West Coast premiere (after a 2014 Broadway run). In a program note, Shanley admitted that for much of his life he had tried hard to avoid being labeled an Irish-American writer. “I wanted to write about everybody,” he said. “And for the next 30 years, I did.”

Willard Manus
Dames at Sea
Helen Hayes Theater

A small show with a big impact, Dames at Sea offers gentle, fun satire. As if in a movie coming alive, filmed credits announce who appear in or behind the production of an early 1930s Broadway show after a small-town gal enters a big-time theater. Very soon she’ll become the show’s star. The credits follow her past intermission to gaining the romance of her life, too. All is accomplished through song, dance, and a lot of coincidence.

Marie J. Kilker
Colin Quinn
Cherry Lane Theater

There’s a great line in the movie Mississippi Burning: You marry the first boy who makes you laugh. It’s no secret that laughter is a great aphrodisiac. How else can it be explained that in pulling out all the stops to make the audience laugh, stand- up comedian Colin Quinn comes across as downright sexy. He’s scruffy and unshaven; certainly not chic in his well-worn t-shirt, slacks, and white sneakers; and he doesn’t even try any sweet talk. And yet, there’s just something totally appealing about the guy.

Michall Jeffers
American in Paris, An
Palace Theater

Maybe because I was reviewing An American in Paris just after the barbarians’ attack on The City of Light [in November 2015], the cultural values of the musical itself threatened to be under attack. Luckily, the show went on and did so so beautifully that it could--and can--be regarded only as a victory for civilization, its arts and values. All of us who attended--and, I hope will attend--can be considered winners.

Marie J. Kilker
Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, The
Fountain Theater

The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek is the seventh play by Athol Fugard to be done at the Fountain Theater, an Equity-waiver company now in its 25th anniversary season. The relationship between playwright and producer has been a fruitful one. Each of Fugard’s previous plays has been warmly received by critics and audiences; it should be no different with Painted Rocks, a compelling drama about the work and legacy of a South-African black folk artist named Nukain Mabuza (Thomas Silcott).

Willard Manus
Kill-or-Dies, The
McCadden Place Theater

Writing, acting and directing come together in dynamic fashion in the West Coast premiere of The Kill-or-Dies, Meghan Brown’s ink-black comedy about four amoral scoundrels trying to outwit each other and lay claim to a pot of gold (a suitcase full of cocaine whose street value is worth about half a mil).

Willard Manus
Front Door Open
Greenway Court Theater

The impact of the mental illness known as agoraphobia on an American family is laid bare in Front Door Open, Tom Baum’s engrossing drama which is now in a world premiere run at Greenway Court Theater.

Willard Manus
Cort Theater

"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" Annaleigh Ashford finds the bone and steals the show in the revival of Sylvia, a slight, warm comedy by A.R. Gurney. She plays Sylvia, a lab/poodle mix who has no people manners. She dives into women's crotches, rubs her itchy butt against the carpet, slobbers and chews shoes. Yet she makes her way into the heart of her owner, Greg, played by Matthew Broderick.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
On Your Feet
Marquis Theater

On Your Feet can be enjoyed in several different ways. First and foremost, it’s the story of Gloria (Ana Villafane), a gifted singer who met the right man at the right time. Emilio Estefan (Josh Segarra) had the vision of taking the Latin sound into the mainstream of American music, and in Gloria, he recognized the drive and the talent needed to make that happen.

Michall Jeffers
Chapter Two
Windy City Playhouse

When Chapter Two, Neil Simon's 16th hit Broadway play, premiered in 1977, the press was all about its premise mirroring events of the author's own life, seconded only by speculation on why a writer whose success rested on rat-a-tat farces was getting increasingly—well, serious. Time having taken the gloss off the gossip, however, what we have in 2015 is a contemplation on confused mid-life lovers who just happen to communicate in hyper-articulate vaudeville patter.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Belladonna Luna Sonata
The Frontier

Precisely one hundred years ago, Alexander Scriabin died, along with the notoriety afforded him as an adherent of the Symbolist art movement. A musical prodigy, he based his melodic theories in synesthesia—the cross-sensory linking of sounds and colors—coupled with theosophical spiritualism. His unfinished magnum opus, titled "Mysterium," was conceived as an interactive orchestral piece to be played at the foot of the Himalayan mountains and featuring, as its encore, the Rapture-like destruction of the entire world.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Eric Yves Garcia
The Metropolitan Room

In his show, Pour Spirits, at the Metropolitan Room, Eric Yves Garcia gives us a strong, masculine presence and a strong voice. He’s an excellent story teller, a verbal entertainer, and his pieces give us rambling true-isms, philosophic and romantic tales, all with a heartfelt simplicity.

Many of his stories wherein he gives insights into his adventures, are prose that is sung—a kind of sprechstimme. There is good comedic writing as he performs the songs of many contemporary artists.

Richmond Shepard
`57 Chevy

(see reviews and articles under Fifty-Seven Chevy)

Fifty-Seven Chevy
Los Angeles Theater Center

The story of immigrants in America is a rich and timeless one, the stuff of countless novels and plays. The latest writer to deal with that collision of cultures, values, and sensibilities is Cris Franco, a Mexican-born Angelino whose one-man play, ‘57 Chevy is now in its world-premiere run at Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC). Starring in the play is Ric Salinas, an original member of the famous comedy troupe, Culture Clash. Salinas is the ideal actor to breathe life into Franco’s monologue.

Willard Manus
Barbara Lusch

The delicious Barbara Lusch, a jazz singer from Portland, Oregon, made her New York cabaret debut at the Metropolitan Room in October in two nights of her “Rock Me Sweet” concert of ‘80s rock anthems reinvented as if they were torch songs. The show, which also marked the East Coast release of her CD of the same name (the acclaimed Earl Rose arranged the album, engineered by multi-Grammy winner Al Schmitt), was Lusch’s first time performing since the ‘80s when she lived here and was a model and actress.

Richmond Shepard
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

As Wicked celebrates 10 years on the Great White Way, a touring version also makes its way to Milwaukee for the third time. Wickedlast played here in 2013. The current national tour continues to work its magic to cast a spell on audiences.

Anne Siegel
Handle with Care
Plymouth Church

The idea of Jason Odell Williams’s play, Handle with Care, is intriguing. How does a DHX delivery guy, living in some remote stretch of Virginia, misplace the corpse of someone’s grandmother? The reasons become clear as the comedy unfolds at Plymouth Church on Milwaukee’s East side. (Plymouth Church has been the temporary roost of Boulevard Theater for its last few productions, after its Bay View home was sold.)

Anne Siegel
Playwrights Horizons

Every now and then a play comes along that’s so specific, people either love it or hate it. This season, we have HIR. Burning topics of the day are pushed to the extreme; the audience either roars with laughter, or sits in bewildered silence.

Michall Jeffers
King Charles III
Music Box Theater

The evening begins with a beautifully sung requiem. Candles are carried in a large brick enclosure, and the mood is decidedly solemn. England’s longest-ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has died, and it falls to her son, King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), to take her place. He is frightened, full of doubt, and also eager to fulfill his destiny. But a lifetime in the royal family has taught him the art of never showing his emotions.

Michall Jeffers
Hudson Guild Theater

Toys brings a little taste of mittel-Europe to L.A. Written by a Romanian playwright, Saviana Stanescu (now living in NYC), directed by her fellow emigre, Gabor Tompa, and acted by Julia Ubrankovics and Tunde Skovran (both of Hungarian descent), Toys is the kind of play one might see in an Eastern European avant-garde theater.

Willard Manus
Actor's Nightmare, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Within an empty four-walls of a theater stage, once the ghost light goes off, George Spelvin at center stage is told by Meg, probably a stage manager, that he’s about to play the hero in a Noel Coward play. That’s it, and suddenly a scene is erected around him. To say Scott Kulper’s “hero” is perplexed would be the most under of dramatic understatements. But this is a comedy, and so anything--resembling plays of Shakespeare through Samuel Beckett--goes.

Marie J. Kilker
Real Inspector Hound, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Except in the hands of its masters, absurdism has become somewhat of a short-lived wonder. Tom Stoppard, of course, is a master, so his absurdist satire on theater critics and a typical murder-mystery melodrama is still playable. The second-year class of FSU/Asolo Conservatory play The Real Inspector Hound to the hilt, yet it’s on a rather blunt--one might say shopworn--sword that thrusts in too many directions, all of them now obvious.

Marie J. Kilker
Design for Living
Rivendell Theater

When most people think of Noel Coward's plays, what comes to mind are frothy Jazz Age comedies of rich idlers behaving badly and reveling in witty repartee with the impunity granted them by privilege, their amorality transpiring at a safe remove from our society today. If we are quick to jeer the disapproval that greeted his irreverent social commentary in its day, though, our own prudery must answer for his observations on legally contracted heterosexual wedlock continuing to enjoy widespread popularity, while those touching on more polyamorous attractions are largely ignored.

Mary Shen Barnidge
R&J: The Vineyard
The Oracle

When combining two plays into one, it behooves the authors to decide first which play can be most readily pared down to make room for the other. In practice, this means that additional material—musical score, satirical parody or whatever—and the original source text must both fit comfortably into a performance time within the limits of modern theatrical practice. This principle is especially important when an adaptation proposes playgoers follow a story—albeit a Shakespeare classic—in four languages simultaneously.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Treasure Island
Water Works

Robert Louis Stevenson's swashbuckling-swabbies yarn is so perfectly suited to the Lookingglass skill set that it's downright shocking to realize they haven't essayed it earlier.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Lawd, The CVS is Burning
The Greenhouse

The irreverent humor in Carla Stillwell's comedy comes at us quickly and loudly, but that's the point of this satire on the pitfalls inherent in the modern practice of delivering news in non-stop, 24-hour multiple-channel telecasts. When every talking head confronted with empty air-time strives to fill it first with the most, what soon emerges is a morass of misinformation.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Gin Game, The
John Golden Theater

Wasn't it Bette Davis who was quoted as saying, "Growing old ain't for sissies?" James Earl Jones (You Can't Take it With You) and Cicely Tyson (A Trip to Bountiful) prove they're no sissies as they face the burdens and inequities of growing old in The Gin Gameat Broadway’s John Golden Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cort Theater

Annaleigh Ashford is a golden girl. She won a Tony last year for her role as a ditzy ballerina wannabe in You Can’t Take it With You. She’s totally believable as a former hooker cum lesbian lover receptionist on TV’s “Masters of Sex.” So it’s no wonder that believing she’s a rough-around-the-edges but lovable cur isn’t at all difficult. As Sylvia, a mutt who’s found in the park by a man named Greg (Matthew Broderick), who needs something to hold on to, she’s nothing short of adorable. “My goal in life is to please,” she smiles winningly.

Michall Jeffers