Foursome, The
Manatee Performing Arts Center - Kiwanis Theater

The actors all fit their roles so well physically and emotively in The Foursome that it’s a shame they have to sustain a long, drawn-out version of a reunion of college best friends. During 18--count ‘em 18--scenes that begin and end on the holes of a golf course, each person’s shots laboriously frame the really important conversations that occur among those waiting to move on.

Marie J. Kilker
Revival
Acting Artists Theater

Carla Neuss’s Revival, now in a world-premiere run in West Hollywood, is an odd, whimsical play about the patrons of a snobbish bar (handsomely designed by Yuri Okahana) that has an other-worldly feel to it. More sanctuary than saloon, as one of patrons insists, the place operates under some strict rules. First, no vodka can be served (because it has no flavor); second, men must not speak to women unless invited by the latter; third, you must tell a story if you wish to get served.

Willard Manua
Queen of Colors, The
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

The Queen of Colors, based on the renowned children’s book by Jutta Bauer, uses ingenious puppetry to weave a simple story about kindness and originality. The Court Painter (accompanied by a Court Musician) creates vivid backdrops for the feisty little puppet queen who ventures into her kingdom to experience the personalities of each color of the rainbow. However, while fun comes in all colors, too much of a good thing can turn into a grey mess.

Mavis Manus
Serrano
Matrix Theater

The theatrical antecedents of Serrano are many: there’s Cyrano for starters, followed by Pygmalion, “The Godfather” and Guys and Dolls (with “The Sopranos” bringing up the rear). When you add such spicy ingredients as bawdy humor, political incorrectness and a big dose of transvestism to the pot–not to speak of two dozen terrific songs–well, what you end up with is one helluva crazy, mixed-up, hilarious musical comedy.

Willard Manus
Good People
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

Exploring class and its effects on people’s opportunities and personas has been powerful in British drama, especially since playwright John Osborne looked back in anger. Good People brings the exploration, much subdued since Odets’s plays were popular, to contemporary America. Realistically serious yet not without humor, David Lindsay-Abaire questions whether chance and a person’s circumstances in life influence the direction it takes, as much as or more than character.

Marie J. Kilker
Holiday Inn
Goodspeed Opera House

In October 2014, Goodspeed Musicals and Universal Pictures collaborated on producing a stage musical based on the legendary Irving Berlin film from 1942, Holiday Inn. The saga of how this developed is fascinating.

Steve Cohen
Delicate Balance, A
John Golden Theater

Examined through Edward Albee's ironic mindset, marriage and life are a balance of friends and family, morals and manners, neatly sidestepping messy complications. Under the nuanced helm of director Pam McKinnon (director of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?),\ the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Delicate Balance is currently in revival at Broadway’s John Golden Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Venice Theater Stage II

Hollywood 1933 isn’t a place where Negro actors thrived. As Lynn Nottage points out, Vera Stark typically works as maid to Gloria Mitchell, a Mary Pickford-like “Sweetheart” who privately drinks, smokes, and has to work up to posing for her public. She’s also working on a prominent director to make her the star of a Selznick-type epic, “The Belle of New Orleans.” Vera wants to play her maid, one of the few roles open to a black woman, but that can be made more than the popular stereotype.

Marie J. Kilker
Knock Me a Kiss
Westcoast Black Theater Troupe Theater

Knock Me a Kiss, a fictionalized account of what happened before and after the spectacular wedding of W. E. B. Du Bois’s daughter and Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen focuses on the former. But the frame of the picture is her father’s major role in the Civil Rights Movement and his desire for integration.

Marie J. Kilker
Life Upon the Wicked Stage
The Studio at 620

“Life Upon the Wicked Stage” according to the song “ain’t nothing like a girl supposes.” In Jo Morello and Jack Gilhooley’s same-titled ensemble of one-acts, it ain’t always what actors and especially playwrights would like to experience. Yet it certainly holds its shares of laughs for audiences.

Marie J. Kilker
Blonde Poison
Theater Forty - Reuben Cordova Theater

The desperate fight to survive is what powers Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison along the dramatic rails. Louw, a British playwright who lost her grandparents in the Holocaust, won prizes when her play premiered two years ago in the U.K. Now Theater 40 has mounted the U.S. premiere of her solo drama about a German-Jewish woman, Stella Goldschlag (1922-1994), who survived the Holocaust by becoming a Greifer, an informant for the Gestapo.

Willard Manus
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

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