Bridges of Madison County, The
Ahmanson Theater

The Bridges of Madison County is one of the best musicals this critic has ever seen. The bittersweet love story was first a novel, then a Meryl Streep/Clint Eastwood movie, followed by a Broadway adaptation by Marsha (‘night, Mother)Norman and Jason Robert Brown, the Tony Award-winning composer.

Willard Manus
Ibsen's Ghosts
Mary-Arrchie Theater

When executing a makeover on a classic, not only is it a good idea to first write your makeover and then fit the verbatim source material to the space remaining, but to apply your concept to both ends of the narrative throughout the development process. If you're not careful, your analogies stagger under the weight of the text they purport to explicate—in this case, Henrik Ibsen's shocking tale of a libertine patriarch whose legacy of corruption and hypocrisy brings misery to his descendents.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Holidaze
The Athenaeum

Just as some people compose their holiday gift lists throughout the year (the that's-exactly-what-this-person-would-want-for-Christmas light can go on at any moment), so do some playwrights, faced with the task of writing a short one-act play for a yuletide anthology show, start developing a topic while watching July fireworks, rather than handing out Halloween candy. Step Up Productions is lucky enough to have enlisted some of the first kind for its report on the seasonal spirit in 2015.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Palace of the Occult
Prop Theater

It is widely accepted that Hitler was a disciple of certain esoteric practices—astrology, numerology, spiritualism et al.—but scholars have been curiously silent on the contribution of Weimar Republic superstar Erik Jan Hanussen in introducing the Third Reich's mass murderer to the world of paranormal science. After all, how would the histories—and the victors who author them—explain Adolf's high-profile friendship with a Moravian Jew?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Pocatello
Signal Ensemble

Since this is a Samuel D. Hunter play, the setting for Pocatello is a nondescript town in Idaho whose business district is dominated by big-box stores and chain restaurants—specifically, a pre-fab laminated-particle-board eatery equipped with the capricious technology (in this case, a malfunctioning track light and PA system) likewise ubiquitous to Hunter's dramatic environs.

Mary Shen Barnidge
No More Sad Things
The Biograph

Have you heard the story about the Akron spinster who finds romance while vacationing in Hawaii? Of course, you have! For more than three centuries, tropical islands in the Pacific have ranked in English literature alongside Italy and India as the preferred destination of unhappy white women looking to get their groove back. This isn't the story that Hansol Jung sets out to write in No More Sad Things, though.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Lungs
Urbanite Theater

Publicity and media about Lungs would have you believe it’s about how bringing a baby into this world has a profound effect on climate and political situations, even terrorism. These, though, are considerations raised basically in a conflict between M and W (a man and woman, get it?) over whether or not they should become parents--and, it turns out, eventually a family.

Marie J. Kilker
My Fair Lady
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

One of the most popular musicals of all time, My Fair Lady, gets a stunning, first-rate production by Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater. Just in time for the holidays, My Fair Ladyoffers a dazzling cast and opulent costumes, not to mention such musical standards as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Anne Siegel
Charlie Brown Christmas, A
Marcus Center - Todd Wehr Theater

Christmas is almost here, which inevitably heralds the return of TV holiday classics. One expects that well-known TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” will undoubtedly air many times. But this year brings something new to Milwaukee: a stage version of the 1965 TV classic, produced by First Stage.

Anne Siegel
Good Family, A
Lounge Theater

Did he or didn’t he? That’s the question lying at the heart of A Good Family, Marja-Lewis Ryan’s world-premiere one-act play at The Lounge Theater. Ryan, who won the 2014 L.A. Drama Critics Circle award for her family drama One in the Chamber,deals with another domestic scene in her new work, which is set in Fulton, Missouri on Christmas eve.

Willard Manus
Incident at Vichy
Pershing Square Signature Center

Incident at Vichy is not one of Arthur Miller's finest works, but attention must be always paid to his eloquent perspectives on evil, fear and morality. Celebrating the playwright's centenary, director Michael Wilson presents a straightforward production of the play at off-Broadway’s Signature Theater.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Miracle of Long Johns, The
First United Methodist Church

The Miracle of Long Johns is a hilarious and kind of deep tale of a professional appreciator. Theater critics (and critics in general) can be pretty nasty. I'm sure a bunch of them are just nasty to be nasty, but the really great critics, i.e. Lefkowitz, adore the theater to no end. They're like parents who practice tough love. If something stinks, they say it does and why. Likewise, if something is lovely, they say so and why. Like Lefkowitz says, they're on a quest to find the one magic play out of 600 that electrifies, that is sublime.

Gail Kuroda
Miracle of Long Johns, The
Theater Row - Studio Theater

Three years ago, ex-New Yorker David Lefkowitz, now a Colorado-based actor, writer, playwright, and popular radio personality, brought his one-man show, Shalom Dammit! An Evening with Rabbi Sol Solomon, to New York City. The overall thrust of the evening, wildly performed by the playwright himself, was what it is to be a Jew in the 21st Century.

Edward Rubin
Shalom Dammit!
Roy Arias Theater

All Things Jewish seems to be all the rage here in New York City. Old Jews Telling Jokes, a fun-filled revue starring Marilyn Sokol is packing them in like nobody’s business at the Westside Theater. Soul Doctor, the musical based on the life of singer-songwriter Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, recently closed at the New York Theatre Workshop after a three-week run – is currently looking to reopen in a larger space.

Edward Rubin
Hamilton
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
Misery
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
Sylvia
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

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