Matchmaker, The
Asolo Repertory Theater

How does playwright Thornton Wilder make philosophy entertaining?
Answer: When he embodies it in widow Dolly Levi’s confidences to us about the relationship between money and happiness, about how spreading the first to the young can bring about growth of the second, and about how both can be intertwined with success in romance and love.

Wilder’s Dolly the Matchmaker puts her actions where her philosophizing is, and Horace Vandergelder--his fortune, and everyone connected with him and it--will never be the same. What fun for us to watch and learn!

Marie J. Kilker
Anything Goes
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

For a musical written in 1934, Anything Goes still has a lot going for it. The national tour, based on the show’s 1987 revival, proves why it was such a hit on Broadway and beyond. Director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall wisely trimmed the script (which was never this musical’s strong suit). The revival focuses instead on the fabulous songs, which include: “It’s Delovely,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “All Through the Night.” Act I closes with a rousing production number of “Anything Goes.” It builds and builds to become the evening’s first of several showstoppers.

Anne Siegel
Second City, The
Piper's Alley

Unlike such niche-market troupes as Annoyance, the Public House, the Cornservatory, Gorilla Tango and the Cupid Players, Second City's international status attracts patrons of all demographics, reflecting cultural backgrounds ranging from urban neighborhoods and nearby suburbs to faraway countries. Faced with the task of finding comedy appealing to such a diverse audience, it's as easy to err on the side of dumb as on the side of smart in selecting material.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Cupid Has a Heart On
Stage 773

There's no shortage of you're-all-losers sketch comedy, but from its inception in 2000 (under the title “Cupid Misfires His Eros”), the mission of "Chicago's longest-running musical comedy" has been to declare us all losers. Instead of extolling giddy infatuation or resigned contentment, Brian Posen and his ensemble have made it their goal to assure us that we are not alone in our insecurities or imperfections.

Mary Shen Barnidge
As You Like It
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

There’s something for everyone to not only like but love in Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory’s production of As You Like It. Set mainly in a magical Arden, a forest of colorful aerial silk trees, story themes blend in a three-ring circus. The political situation of the ducal court gets tamed; peasants and old servants are applauded; love swings to its proper targets. Winter changes to spring, and romance and righteousness will reign in all the land.

Marie J. Kilker
Can-Can
Paper Mill Playhouse

When Can-Can premiered, way back in 1953, it was not much loved by the more rigorous critics, some of whom regarded this Montmartre musical as a kind of convenient catchall for some great Cole Porter songs. The principal problem was Abe Burrows’s book, which didn’t give the principal players any interesting backstories (that is, to speak of or to sing about).

Glenn Loney
Train to Zakopane
Edgemar Center for the Arts

The distinguished indie filmmaker Henry Jaglom (“A Safe Place,” “Festival in Cannes”) has, in recent years, also made his mark as a playwright.

Willard Manus
Elf
Paper Mill Playhouse

Tired of Charles Dickens’s “Christmas Carol?” How about a singing/dancing Elf up in Central Park? Those folks who loved Will Farrell in the movie treatment of “Elf” may think James Moye is, perhaps, trying too hard to re-Farrellize in the current, colorful Paper Mill Playhouse revival. Fortunately, Moye’s energetic, even manic, overgrown Elf—called Buddy—is just what is needed to make this manufactured Santa Story come to life.

Glenn Loney
Santaland Diaries, The
WaterTower Theater

Joe Mantello's stage adaptation of David Sedaris' hilarious tale of his Christmas season stint as an elf in Macy's Santaland, first produced in New York on November 7, 1996, has lost none of its zing. Enacted with precision and rib-tickling--make that side-splitting hi-jinks--provides one hour of non-stop laughter by Garrett Storms channeling Sedaris.

Rita Faye Smith
Wicked
Hollywood Pantages

Wicked is back, and L.A. loves it! The Broadway musical, which first played here nine years ago and then returned for a record-breaking run two years later, has checked into the Pantages yet again. This time, the cast is headed by Chandra Lee Schwartz (as Glinda) and Emma Raver-Lampman (as Elphaba). Note: Lampman is the standby for Emma Hunter, but she played the role on opening night.

Willard Manus
Elephant Man, The
Booth Theater

This is star casting, for sure. Bradley Cooper, called by People magazine "the sexiest man alive," stepped into the role of one of theater's most grossly deformed characters, the Elephant Man, at Broadway Booth Theater. Surprising many, is how Cooper forcefully drives his interpretation into the heart with sensitivity and humor. It is a performance to be remembered in a play that is often cumbersome.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Who Killed Santa? / Neil's Dirty Shorts
Soulstice Theater

For a deliciously funny show that lampoons traditional holiday characters, it would be difficult to beat Who Killed Santa?

Anne Siegel
Blithe Spirit
Ahmanson Theater

It’s a one-joke play that hinges on a supreme improbability–the ghost of a man’s first wife showing up to rattle the underpinnings of his second marriage–but thanks to the superb comedic gifts of its seven-person cast, Blithe Spirit manages to light up the Ahmanson stage in its West Coast premiere.

Starring is Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati, the eccentric spiritualist who helped conjure up Elvira the ghost. Lansbury, the old theater dog, digs her teeth into the role and gleefully chomps on it like a rag doll.

Willard Manus
Elephant Man, The
Booth Theater

Fans of Bradley Cooper may well be amazed by his performance as John Merrick in The Elephant Man; many hardened theater critics will be, too. As the abused, tormented man cruelly twisted by deformity and fate, Cooper is simply superb. He allows us to see his vaunted chiseled face and obviously well-cared-for body contort into the grotesque creature who sends a nurse running from the room. No makeup, no costuming is necessary for the transformation.

Michall Jeffers
Dancing Lessons
Florida Studio Theater

Mark St. Germain’s play is not about dancing lessons, as its name suggests. In fact, any lessons imparted are about autism, the hero, Ever’s, condition. At a National Autism Coalition banquet honoring him, he needs to perform a dance, preferably short, fast, and with little or no touching his partner. Will he learn how from neighbor Senga?

Marie J. Kilker
Macbeth
Theatre du Soleil

Shakespeare is acknowledged by a huge portrait at the end of the Cartoucherie’s Grand Hall, surrounded by pictures of historical programs and scenes from his “Scottish Play.” They somehow subdue the often buoyant atmosphere of the place where one can watch the actors making up or enjoy a pre-performance, substantial meal. The current menu warms one a bit: a hearty soup, crusty bread, cheese rolls, fruit-filled custard or special pastry (called Portugeese), wine or water or tea as one might have in Scotland.

Marie J. Kilker
Sticks and Bones
Pershing Square Signature Center - Romulus Linney Theater

With every revival comes the obvious question: why now? Often, at least part of the answer is because an extraordinary cast has been gathered. That’s definitely the case with the new incarnation of David Rabe’s Tony Award-winning play, Sticks and Bones. Director Scott Elliott has assembled a dream cast of actors for this relic of the Vietnam War.

Michall Jeffers
Butterfly Hour
Theater for the New City

Butterfly Hour tells of veterans of the Iraq war and the personal war they endure after their return home. The broad outline of the plot: Matt struggles towards commitment with his girlfriend Bethany, while being lured into shady business dealings with his fellow veterans “Oats” and Rick.

Adam Frost
Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical, The
WaterTower Theater

WaterTower Theater welcomed back set designer Rodney Dobbs, who designed a delightful eye-candy set for the production of The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. The visuals are further enhanced by Hannah Law's kitschy props and Derek Whitener's whimsical costumes.

Rita Faye Smith
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Marcus Center - Todd Wehr Theater

Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer: The Musicalmakes its triumphant return to First Stage. It was an overwhelming hit with adults and children alike when the production debuted in 2012. It has lost none of its holiday-themed luster the second time around.

Anne Siegel
Le Jardin des Amours Enchantees
La Comedie Italienne

The modest-sized Comedie Italienne has had some exquisite settings on its stage and extravagant costumes on its actors, but its “Enchanted Garden” (Le Jardin des Amours Enchantees) reaches new heights of gossamer beauty. It’s as if playwright Goldoni has atypically conquered the realm of his arch rival, the rarely realistic Gozzi. Director Attilio Maggiulli has clearly had fun blending the traditions of the two, without de-emphasizing the influence of commedia dell ‘arte.

Marie J. Kilker
Dancing in the Street with the Prima Donnettes
Florida Studio Theater - Court Cabaret

A sequel to a show named for the “girl group” of the title, The Prima Donnettes, this edition has four pretty women dancing--not on the streets--but before the red-blue-purple curtained backdrop of Florida Studio Theater’s newest cabaret. No matter the title, the revue keeps the audience in its seats--but clapping, clapping, even as part of a song arrangement or two.

Marie J. Kilker
Santaland Diaries, The
The Working Stage Theater

Matt Crabtree as a solo elf in David Sedaris’s Christmas classic, The Santaland Diaries? What a great holiday present! Crabtree has a ball impersonating Sedaris who, when he was a 33-year-old unemployed actor (and dead-broke, to boot), took a job at Macy’s in Herald Square as one of Santa’s elfin helpers. Togged out in a ridiculous costume, he was required to somehow entertain the army of kids and parents awaiting their chance to meet Father Nick (yet another unemployed actor).

Willard Manus
Novecento
Theatre du Rond-Point/Salle Renaud-Barrault

At the turn of the 20th Century, the titular Novecento, a baby abandoned under a ship’s piano and raised by a steward to age eight, became a great jazz pianist. A trumpeter, who befriended and got closest to him on many a Transatlantic voyage, tells Novecento’s story, punctuated by an onstage jazz band.

Marie J. Kilker
Christmas Carol, A
Bath House Cultural Center

One Thirty Productions opened A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show by David Alberts on December 3, 2014 at the Bath House Cultural Center. The premise of the show is that a small-town radio station is set to present a production of Charles Dickens's iconic A Christmas Carol.It is December 24, 1947, and station manager Bob Bennett (B.J. Cleveland) is about to announce the show when he receives a phone call telling him that all 24 cast members are snowed in by a blizzard.

Rita Faye Smith
Luna Gale
Kirk Douglas Theater

The Chicago theater world proudly struts its stuff in Luna Gale, the new Rebecca Gilman play now in an L.A. run at the Kirk Douglas Theater. Gilman wrote the play for Chicago’s Goodman Theater where she is an artistic associate. After a successful world-premiere run earlier this year, the production has been transferred to L.A., with the same cast, crew and director (Robert Falls) reprising their work. This explains why everything about the piece seems so well-honed, so crisp and sharp.

Willard Manus
Show Trash
Connelly Theater

Most comedians and comic actors hide behind a mask, real or scripted, that allows them to play the character that has made them famous or infamous. Once stripped away, these actors become their real selves and generally the “real’ human is nothing like their stage alter ego. When John Epperson steps onto the stage and seas himself behind a baby grand, we can’t see Lypsinka his stage persona, in which he becomes Joan Crawford or other divas.

Tim Glasby
My Son the Waiter
Stage 72

My Son the Waiter - A Jewish Tragedy, written by and starring Brad Zimmerman, gives us very dry funny stories of his life. This includes his path to comedy performance as a waiter and playing the waiter and the customers in a very funny and clean delivery. He’s a mocker but always quite likable, and includes as his targets health food, a plane trip and fashion modeling. Some bits are profound, all are funny, with funny physical character moves, among them bits on golf, hairdo, dating, mother, and being bald.

Richmond Shepard
River, The
Circle in the Square

There are lots of big name actors on Broadway but very few real stars. Hugh Jackman has the rare ability to not only draw in an audience but to hold us in the palm of his hand throughout the performance. It has been said that in The River,Jackman withholds his usual charm. This is entirely untrue. Without his natural charisma, this soufflé of banality, pseudo-mystery, and excess verbiage would fall in on itself within the first ten minutes.

Michall Jeffers
Under Milkwood
Theatre de Nesle

A voice in the darkness quotes from a letter about the town of Llareggub whose story, in Under Milkwood, begins out of darkness. It becomes a tale of its inhabitants over a day and night. Dylan Thomas called it “a play for voices,” and the five Dear Conjunction actors render them all, distinctly and well, under varying lights.

Marie J. Kilker
How to Become Parisian in One Hour
Theatre des Nouveautes

He comes on like a chubby hayseed in overalls and farmer’s straw hat. The curtain closes. A voice asks you for preparations to clap. The curtain opens on Olivier Giraud, a young Frenchman. A stay in the U.S.A. has made him different.

Marie J. Kilker
Liberace!
Milwaukee Repertory Theater

In staging Liberace! , the Milwaukee Repertory Theater reprises one of its most-requested shows in the intimate Stackner Cabaret. This show is well worth an encore, both for the quality of its star performer – Jack Forbes Wilson, who again appears as “Mr. Showmanship” – and the elaborate costumes, sets and lighting. Together, they bring enough glitter and glamour to light up the Las Vegas strip (where Liberace became a household name, by the way).

Anne Siegel
Cudahy Caroler Christmas, A
Tenth Street Theater

The familiar gang of In Tandem revelers is back for another run of a Milwaukee Christmas classic, A Cudahy Caroler Christmas. This lively show revolves around a loosely knit plot regarding poor Stasch Zielinski (artistic director Chris Flieller), who attempts to reunite a community choir that disbanded five years ago. Hurtful comments between Stasch and his former best friend, Pee Wee (Nathan Wesselowski), were the main cause of the choir’s break up.

Anne Siegel
Magnificent Dunbar Hotel, The
Los Angeles Theater Center

The protagonist of Levy Lee Simon’s world premiere play is an inanimate object: the Dunbar Hotel. Built in 1930, the Dunbar sat at the heart of south-central L.A.’s black ghetto (racial “covenants” prohibited blacks from living elsewhere in the city). The Dunbar was an elegant hostelry where such showbiz luminaries as Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Ethel Waters–-plus intellectuals like W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Robeson–-could stay when they visited L.A. The Magnificent Dunbar Hotelcarves out a big chunk of history: seventy-eight years’ worth, to be exact.

Willard Manus
Wizard of Oz, The
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Although it’s not technically what one might consider a “Christmas show,” Skylight Music Theater’s Wizard of Oz provides all the magic, fantasy and good moral lessons that might be found in more “typical” holiday fare. Plus, there’s a cute little dog and two witches! What kids wouldn’t want to see a show about that? One hopes that audiences will turn out in large numbers to see this amazing production, which excels in both its casting and production values.

Anne Siegel
What the Butler Saw
Mark Taper Forum

The laughs come fast and furious in Center Theater Group’s revival of Joe Orton’s 1967 sex farce, What the Butler Saw, now in a holiday run at the Mark Taper Forum. Directed by John Tillinger, an Orton expert (Loot and Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Taper), Butler pokes rude, wicked fun at psychiatry, the police, marriage, publishing, nymphomania, religion and even Winston Churchill during the course of its madcap story.

Willard Manus
River, The
Circle in the Square

Hugh Jackman - rugged, charismatic, he's The Man. Put him on a stage, and they will come. In The River at the Circle in the Square, audiences fill seats and stand in the back to look and listen as he waxes poetically about fish and love, or the search for both. They watch as he prepares a fish on stage. The Woman (Cush Junbo) caught it, but The Man guts and fillets it, chops the vegetables, and places it lovingly in a roasting pan for the evening meal. Is there more to this enigmatic play by Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) than a man loving to fish?

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Harvey
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

As the Milwaukee Repertory Theater dove into the holiday season with its perennial moneymaker, A Christmas Carol, it also sought another heartwarming alternative. So it turned to the chestnut, Harvey, a 1944 play that won a Pulitzer Prize for playwright Mary Chase.

Anne Siegel
Side Show
St. James Theater

Blazing talent is center stage in this presentation of the cult favorite, Side Show. Erin Davie, as the gentle, shy, “Siamese twin” Violet Hilton is superb. If possible, Emily Padgett is even more outstanding as outgoing, aspirational Daisy Hilton. There is a real vein of sadness and horror in their story. As mere babies, they were put into the hands of cruel guardians who wished only to take advantage of them.

Michall Jeffers
River, The
Circle in the Square

Hugh Jackman is a powerful presence in Jez Butterworth’s play, The River: he’s handsome, physically agile, wonderfully charming, and clear spoken. He makes a seduction pitch that young swains might memorize. It’s irresistible. His ploy of seduction is to take a woman to his cabin in the woods to go fishing.

Richmond Shepard

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