Character Man
Urban Stages

Give My Regards to . . . Broadway's character actors who were the solid anchors of classic musicals although their names may be just on the tip-of-your-tongue. Writer and performer Jim Brochu describes himself as a Character Man, defined as a leading or supporting cast member who also displays unusual characteristics or peculiarities. "And that’s me," says Brochu, "I’m peculiar."

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Iliad, An
Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

Swords and words clash, and armor clatters, in a vibrant retelling of a famous ancient story. An Iliad, produced by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, launches headfirst into Homer’s epic poem, “The Iliad.” In the hands of Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, what transpires is a severely condensed version of the epic poem.

This version is told by a 3,000-year-old storyteller. For some reason, he is instructed (perhaps by Greek gods) to re-tell the tale over and over until mankind gets the hint that war isn’t the answer – for anything.

Anne Siegel
Bridges of Madison County, The
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

Maybe what theatergoers need now is a good love story, not a 20-somethings' romance, not a sodden metaphysical foray into the psychological twists of love, but a believable slice-of-life about grown-ups, with a romantic score that sweeps you into the story. Something like The Bridges of Madison County-- passionate, melodic and two lovers you have to root for.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Searching for David's Heart
Concordia University - Todd Wehr Auditorium

Milwaukee’s Acacia Theater, now celebrating its 30th season, does a fine job conveying the thoughts and emotions of a pre-teenage girl who must come to terms with her brother’s sudden death. In Searching for David’s Heart,accomplished playwright Cherie Bennett tells a fairly complex story that unearths a lot of hard realities pre-teens face today.

Anne Siegel
Fifty Shades!
Kirk Douglas Theater

On the day 50 Shades! The Musicalopened in L.A., news came through that E.L. James' erotic novel had just reached the 100 million worldwide sales mark.

Willard Manus
50 Shades

(see review(s) under Fifty Shades)

Riding the Midnight Express
St. Luke's Theater

Billy Hayes had a life-changing adventure many years ago: after three times successfully smuggling hashish out of Turkey to sell in the U.S., he was caught on the fourth try, spent five years in a Turkish prison, and escaped. He wrote about it in his book "Midnight Express," which was made into a hit movie.

White
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

The Wallis Theater continues to bring first-class productions to its Children’s Theater program. Whiteis a case in point. Devised by the Scottish-based Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, the show invites children to enter a world which is all in white and belongs to two friends, Cotton (Andy Manley) and Wrinkle (Ian Cameron). They diligently tend a grove of birdhouses where everything, including clothing, tents, brushes and combs, is ordered and white, taking care to destroy anything that shows the slightest bit of color.

Mavis Manus
October, Before I was Born
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

How do people react in times of crisis? Does it bring out the best in them, or the worst? According to October, Before I Was Born, it may bring out a bit of both.

Anne Siegel
Broadway By the Year
Town Hall

How do you present 100 years of Broadway with 100 Shows, 100 Songs, and 100 Stars? Just start with a showman and end with a show-stopper.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Naked in Alaska
The COW

As a long time reviewer, every once in a while I come across a spectacular performer who has the range and versatility of a Lily Tomlin or Whoopi Goldberg. Someone who can snap from character to character with contrasting voices, physicality, age and emotions.

Richmond Shepard
Steady Rain, A
Odyssey Theater

Carl Sandburg called Chicago the "city of the Big Shoulders." In Chicago playwright Keith Huff's A Steady Rain, those shoulders are not only big but splattered with blood, rain and bile.

Willard Manus
Brief Encounter
Annenberg Center - Brian Goldsmith Theater

Brief Encounter is a lot more than just a stage adaptation of David Lean's famous film. Although it does contain several scenes from the film, it is mostly a highly original -- and devilishly clever -- takeoff on it. Combining snippets from Noel Coward's screenplay, bits and pieces of his source material (Still Life), songs, dances, vaudeville shticks and even puppetry, this is a Brief Encounteryou've never encountered before.

Willard Manus
Too Darn Hot
Florida Studio Theater

The title, “Too Darn Hot,” seems to promise songs that sizzle by way of Cole Porter’s lyrics or breakthrough musical compositions in swing and jazz. The developers, Richard Hopkins, Jim Prosser and Rebecca Hopkins, mostly keep that promise. Focusing on Porter’s accomplishments with few spoken comments, the creators attempt to mimic his sophistication via two couples, one black and one white, in designer suits and colorful gowns accented by jeweled shine.

Marie J. Kilker
How I Learned to Drive
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

An awful subject gets an awfully good and perceptive treatment by playwright Paula Vogel and FSU/Asolo Conservatory actors under the awe-inspiring direction of Jess Jou. They find light in the dark corners of heroine Li’l’ Bit’s memory of her driving “lessons” learned from her loved, and later almost-loathed, Uncle Peck.

Marie J. Kilker
Bridges of Madison County, The
Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

The Bridges of Madison County, book by Marsha Norman based on the novel by Robert James Waller, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is musical theater at its best: innovative in staging by Bartlett Sher and beautiful, magical, dynamic scenic design by Michael Yeargan.

Richmond Shepard
Love, Noel
Lovelace Studio Theater

Love, Noelis a gem of a show, one that's lit from within by the radiance of Noel Coward's wit and wisdom. Devised by Barry Day, the editor of Coward's collected letters, and directed by Jeanie Hackett, the show stars the actor/singers John Glover and Judy Kuhn. These polished performers, working in a cabaret setting and backed by David O on piano, pay tribute to Coward's life, beginning with his days as a child actor and culminating seven decades later with his death in 1973.

Willard Manus
Out of Bounds
Florida Studio Theater - Bowne's Lab

FST Improv is celebrating its new campus home in Bowne’s Lab, built especially for improvisation and other creative experiments, with a program of tried-and-truly loved sketch games and techniques.

Before the show starts, audiences are asked to write famous quotations from films or TV to be possibly used in the first act. The initial improv develops a new musical based on something in a garage. Steve, Christine, and Patrick presented the show “Lawnmower,” using only one word each at a time. Nathaniel punctuated each line on the piano.

Marie J. Kilker
Sordid Lives
The Players

In his program note, the artistic director says he needs for The Players “to be the place for EVERYONE (sic)... Sometimes that means taking a chance, and Sordid Livesis it!” Nice try. Not so nice outcome. Warning: the play is a campy cult relic from a decade ago. It concerns an extended family reunion to be at wake and funeral of matriarch Mama. She died in a motel tripping over the wooden leg of her younger lover.

Marie J. Kilker
The Whipping Man
Pico Playhouse

The Whipping Man, the award-winning play by Matthew Lopez (a staff writer on HBO's “The Newsroom”), looks at the Civil War and slavery from an unexpected Jewish angle. Set in Richmond, VA, in 1865, the story focuses on three characters: Caleb DeLeon (Shawn Savage), the scion of a Jewish-Confederate family; Simon (Ricco Ross) and John (Kirk Kelleykahn), two yarmulkeh-wearing former slaves on the DeLeon plantation. Yes, that's right: yamolkehs. History does confirm that some slaves were converted to Judaism by their southern masters.

Willard Manus
Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

After a now-widely known misstep presenting Philadelphia, Here I Come!as an adaptation, Asolo Rep and director Frank Galati bring Brian Friel’s script to the stage in its true, superior form. It’s still the story of Gar O’Donnell and his conflict over emigrating to America. Things come to a head in the last 24 hours before he’s to leave family and friends in Ballybeg, Donegal. (I don’t know the reason for the attempted “streamlined” version, but it missed why he’s bound for Philadelphia and why now.

Marie J. Kilker
Instant Fairy Tales
Espace Theater

Rachel Rosenthal is an interdisciplinary artist who developed a revolutionary performance technique that integrates text, movement, voice, choreography, improvisation and inventive costuming into an unforgettable ‘total theater’ experience. In the last 25 years of her performance career, she has presented over 35 full-scale pieces nationally and internationally. Critics have deemed her ‘a monument and a marvel.’

Mavis Manus
James Naughton: The Songs of Randy Newman
Lincoln Center - The Allen Room

Randy Newman is a raconteur who sings in character, pointing out he does not write personal songs. “Maybe people want personal confessions," he said in a 1987 Playboy interview. "Maybe that’s why I don’t sell two million records. In fact, I always thought people could tell what I was like from my stuff more easily than they necessarily could tell about a confessional kind of songwriter.”

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Whipping Man, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stiemke Studio

From the first moments of this play, audiences are captivated by a dramatic entrance and special effects in The Whipping Man, produced by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The choice to place Whipping Manin the Rep’s more intimate Stiemke Studio was a wise move. In its smaller space, the audience is only a few feet away from the uncomfortable and sometimes grisly events that occur onstage.

Anne Siegel
Shooting Star
Boulevard Theater

In scope and timing, Shooting Staris a perfect choice for Milwaukee’s Boulevard Theater. With only two actors in Steven Dietz’s play, both (Jaime Jastrab and Anita Domnitz) have plenty of room to roam on the postage stamp-sized stage in this 50-seat house. And the theme – an unexpected encounter with an old flame – could not be timed more appropriately than around Valentine’s Day.

Anne Siegel
Race
Next Act Theater

True to form, Chicago-based playwright David Mamet has created an intense, incendiary play, simply titled Race,now playing at Milwaukee’s Next Act Theater. As directed by Edward Morgan, the play’s tension begins to build almost from the opening lines.

Anne Siegel
Beautiful
Stephen Sondheim Theater

Whether found on the stage, TV, at the movies, or housed at your local museum, there is nothing more challenging, or, for that matter, more annoying, than having your own lifetime experiences recycled and sold back to you.

Edward Rubin
Evita
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Few musicals in Broadway history have demonstrated the staying power of Evita, the Tony Award-winning musical that opened on Broadway 30 years ago. Now, under the crisp direction of Michael Grandage, Evita’s first revival is touring the country on its way back to Broadway. The “new” Evitaloses none of the power that first propelled the show to hit status and guaranteed the careers of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The national tour played in Milwaukee for a one-week run.

Anne Siegel
In the Heights
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

When it opened on Broadway in 2008, In the Heights was embraced by New Yorkers in much the same way that they did years earlier with Rent. Although much lighter in tone than the latter show, In the Heights is similar in that it creates the same sense of community among young people in a New York neighborhood. Heightsis set in Washington Heights, a run-down neighborhood populated mostly by Hispanics.

Anne Siegel
Last Lists of My Mad Mother
Backstage at the Players

As a rule, if Linda MacCluggage is associated with a play, it’s one of substance. “Last Lists of My Mad Mother,” which she chose as a co-producer and to direct, is no exception. It shows a woman deteriorating from Alzheimer’s and how her two daughters deal with it. Their portrayers in The Players’ bare-bones black box, where minimal props constitute scenery, excel in poignant realism, almost making up for the play’s deficiencies.

Marie J. Kilker
No Man's Land
Cort Theater

What a theatrical treat! Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Landis full of intellectual games with meaning within meaning, and the author’s strange tangents and angles are fully fulfilled, expressed with verve by a cast that is merely superb: the vivid Ian McKellen, a handsome, strong, sexy Billy Crudup; a formidable Shuler Hensley and Patrick Stewart playing a man much older than himself -- he actually dodders (which enables him to take some great falls with the grace of a mime).

Richmond Shepard
Is it Feasible?
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

Projections show bucolic scenes of Bulgaria juxtaposed with those of urban monumental buildings, mostly of the capital, Sofia. On stage, the contrasts of kinds of life in the 1960s under Communism will be even greater. In Is it Feasible?, Zlatomir Moldovanski takes us back to that time.

Marie J. Kilker
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Florida State University for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

In Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, misery loves comedy via Christopher Durang’s take on the interactions in a fine Bucks County farm house of his titled three siblings -- and one’s boy-toy. Named after Chekhov characters by their parents, middle-aged Vanya and (adopted) Sonia cared for them through their long Alzheimer’s prelude to death. Gay but dull Vanya has resigned himself to the life he considers wasted, while spinster Sonia mourns in sulking silence or smashes china over amassed resentments.

Marie J. Kilker
Passion Play
Odyssey Theater

The much-lauded American playwright Sarah Ruhl wrote the first two-thirds of Passion Playwhen she was still a student at Brown University. She finished the last (and best) third eight years later. The play, which premiered in 2005 at the Arena Theater in Washington, DC, has now been introduced to Los Angeles audiences in an Odyssey Theater/Evidence Room production, directed by Bart DeLorenzo.

Willard Manus
Twilight of Schlomo, The
The Elephant Space

The hero of Timothy McNeil's The Twilight of Schlomois a stand-up comic who blew his chance at the bigtime because he dropped acid in the green room of “The Johnny Carson Show.” Drug abuse later costs him his job as a wine salesman. Welcome to the world of Richard Berger -- birth name, Schlomo. Now living in a squalid apartment in East Hollywood, Richard tries to hide his anger and pain behind a veneer of wisecracks. He also gets involved in a coke deal with his thug-like neighbor, Jackson (Danny Parker).

Willard Manus
End of the Rainbow
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

Singer/movie actress Judy Garland has been dead almost 40 years, and yet her legend lives on. This is dramatically brought to life by playwright Peter Quilter, who attempts to portray the larger-than-life entertainer in the final months of her life. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater does a terrific job in producing Quilter’s play with music, End of the Rainbow.

The aptly named show refers to one of Judy Garland’s most recognizable roles (as Dorothy in the film, “The Wizard of Oz).” But it also reminds us that all rainbows – however vivid - eventually do end.

Anne Siegel
A Word or Two
Ahmanson Theater

At 84, Christopher Plummer is still a commanding and charismatic presence on stage, an actor of consummate skill. All of these attributes coalesce in A Word or Two, his solo show now lighting up the stage of the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

Willard Manus
Iliad, An
Home Resource

Like the itinerant poet-storytellers of ancient Greece who told its epics before Homer wrote them down, Brendan Ragan appears solo in simple earth-colored travel garb, with umbrella and shoulder bag. A simple square table, some chairs, a few utensils with liquids from that bag are all he needs to use alongside words, gestures and occasional sound effects. Thus he captures his close-up modern audience as Greeks captured Trojans of old -- but without tricks.

Marie J. Kilker
Day Trader

Day Trader, the clever new play by Eric Rudnick now on tap at The Bootleg Theater, could just as well have been called “The Big Scam.” That's because the story mostly deals with an elaborate con job hatched up by three grifters intent on separating a hapless, wanna-be writer named Ron (Rudnick, understudying Danton Stone) from the millions he has just been awarded in a divorce settlement.

Willard Manus
Iliad, An
Broad Stage

The Iliadwas a performance piece before it became a poem. Scholars estimate that it wasn't until the 6th century BCE that the epic war tale was written down and credited to Homer. Now the story is being recited in public again, this time by the actor Denis O'Hare, who has been working on this adaptation since 2005, in collaboration with Lisa Peterson.

Willard Manus

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