Ragtime
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

The colorful, fast-paced and engaging Ragtime succeeds on every level at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. So it’s no wonder that this musical of many wonders has become the theater company’s best-selling musical of all time.

Anne Siegel
Player King, The
Met Theater

Darin Dahms, one of the unsung heroes of the L.A. theater scene, has remounted The Player King, his one-man show about the Booth family which won critical acclaim in its introductory run last August at Son of Semele Theater. Dahms, a brilliant actor/director, portrays three famous 19th century actors in the piece: patriarch Junius Brutus Booth and his two sons, Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth, the notorious assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

Willard Manus
Old Friends, The
Pershing Square Signature Center - Irene Diamond Stage

It does not take much to throw Horton Foote's sparring troupe of Old Friends into a whole lot of crazy; they are halfway there anyway. In a full-stage premiere at the Signature Theater, The Old Friends, by the esteemed playwright, is a work that has been in progress for decades. Foote, who died at age 93 in 2009, wrote his first version 48 years ago and reworked it off and on over the following decades.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Humor Abuse
Mark Taper Forum

Lorenzo Pisoni didn't have to run away to join the circus; he simply was born into one. His parents, Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider, were the co-founders of Pickle Family Circus, a San Francisco-based group of jugglers, clowns, musicians and acrobats. Lorenzo made his stage debut at six with PFC and stayed with it from 1975 to 1987, when he left to go to college. After graduation, he joined Las Vegas Cirque du Soleil, then moved to New York and became a stage actor.

Willard Manus
Perfect Mendacity
Next Act Theater

When is it okay to lie? When it spares another’s feelings? When it means betraying a friend to save your own hide? When it saves your job, your reputation and, perhaps, your marriage? All of these scenarios are put to the test in Perfect Mendacity, a thought-provoking play by Jason Wells. It opens Next Act Theater’s 2013-2014 season in Milwaukee.

Anne Siegel
Romeo and Juliet
Richard Rodgers Theater

Is any play more synonymous with the grand passion of young love than Romeo and Juliet?It’s a passion that overpowers all family, society, responsibilities, relationships, and values. Is any love story as famous in English literature? Now at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theater, director David Leveaux heats up William Shakespeare's 16th-century tragedy several notches to grasp the attention of a 21st century audience that is no stranger to young passion.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Detective's Wife, The
Broadway Theater Center - Studio Theater

Veteran Milwaukee stage actor Mary MacDonald Kerr fills the intimate Studio Theater with both anticipation and suspense in the one-woman show, The Detective’s Wife.

The play, by Chicago playwright Keith Huff, is a humdinger of a mystery. At intermission, audiences may think they’ve got things all figured out. By the end of the play, however, Detective’s Wife winds up raising more questions than it answers.

Anne Siegel
St. Jude
Kirk Douglas Theater

Playwright/performer Luis Alfaro's autobiographical solo centers on his bifurcated working-class Latino family: father a devout Catholic, mother a Pentecostal Christian. Alfaro looks back on his childhood with a mixture of amusement and disquiet: the richness and quirkiness of his upbringing was blighted by episodes of emotional and sexual abuse.

Willard Manus
Nerd, The
Texas Repertory Theater

Am I addressing any fans of comedy of the absurd? If so, here are a few notes on Texas Repertory Theater’s current production of the late Larry Shue’s very nutty play, The Nerd.Directed by Steven Fenley and starring wild man James Monaghan in the title role as Rick Steadman, this show has a unique construction because the central character is designed to be endlessly annoying. That can be tough on an audience at times, but if you have an offbeat sense of humor, you may join the many in the audience who find plenty of laughs.

David Dow Bentley
South Pacific
Owens Theater

Until recently, some important family matters had kept me away from the delights of the Conroe theater scene for over a year. What a pleasure to discover, upon my return, that sold-out houses were becoming more and more common. Such was the case this past Sunday when I discovered the Players Theater Company’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacificwas, indeed, sold out at the Owen Theater!

David Dow Bentley
Pump Boys and Dinettes
Geva Theater - Mainstage

Geva Theater Center begins its 41st season with a decidedly festive country-opry show about working hard to please an audience. Actually, this is the 30th anniversary of Pump Boys and Dinettes, and the two original female stars, who were also two of the creators (co-authors) of this show – Cass Morgan and Debra Monk – attended Geva’s opening night.

Herbert M. Simpson
Grey Gardens
Off the Wall Theater

Off the Wall Theater, one of Milwaukee’s fringe theater companies, earns applause for tackling a project as complicated as Grey Gardens.This quasi-cult musical is based on the true story of two eccentric women who are related to Jackie Kennedy. This production is delivered with polish and enthusiasm by a talented cast. The actors perform on a tiny stage in this 60-seat theater, accompanied only by an upright piano.

Anne Siegel
A View from the Bridge
Pacific Resident Theater

Arthur Miller's 1950s play, A View from the Bridge, has been much performed over the years, even as an opera. That presents a predictability problem for anyone who has seen it before, but thanks to Miller's way with drama -- and to the PRT's solid production values -- the play still retains considerable power and import.

Willard Manus
Arsenic and Old Lace
Crighton Theater

Want to have some fun? Want to roll in the aisles with laughter? Stage Right Players may have the answer for you at the Crighton Theater with their uproarious current production of Joseph Kesselring’s comedy romp, Arsenic and Old Lace.Now, mind you, I said “may have the answer.” You must first bring with you a certain set of audience skills, foremost among them the ability to suspend your disbelief of the frantically nutty and highly improbable plot.

David Dow Bentley
Merchant of Venice, The
Stratford Festival - Festival Theater

Despite a disappointing opening production and serious problems with ailing artists’ requiring replacement, Antoni Cimolino’s first season as Stratford’s Artistic Director has been one of the strongest and most impressive in this great theater center’s history. Having earlier directed a landmark-wonderful revival of Schiller’s Mary Stuart during the opening week, Cimolino ended this season’s new productions with an absolutely splendid revival of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice– smartly designed and lighted and beautifully performed.

Herbert M. Simpson
Othello
Stratford Festival - Avon Theater

Shakespeare’s Othellohas been Stratford’s “Scottish Play” – which is to say that it has been bad luck. Illnesses, injuries, a fine actor suddenly addicted and moribund, an English-speaking Israeli actor stunning as Othello in Hebrew but delivering the English speeches in a Yiddish-joke accent that had us straining not to laugh: this great play has seemed cursed!

Herbert M. Simpson
Prometheus Bound
Getty Villa's Barbara & Lawrence Fleischman Theater

Man vs. Power was Aeschylus' theme back in the 5th century B.C., and it's still relevant today in the new production of Prometheus Boundat the Getty Villa. As directed by Travis Preston, dean of the Cal Arts School of Theater, the play looks at the price Prometheus (Ron Cephas Jones) must pay for his crime of having stolen fire -- the divine spark of consciousness, really -- from the God Zeus.

Willard Manus
I Left My Heart
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Stackner Cabaret

A 90-minute tribute to singer Tony Bennett must be a difficult thing to craft, given the wealth of material available to creators David Grapes and Todd Olson. They decided to make an interesting choice. Instead of focusing on anecdotes and famous names associated with the 87-year-old singer, this revue is all about the music.

Anne Siegel
So Help Me God!
Theatre Three

Theatre Three's production of the obscure Maurine Dallas Watkins play, So Help Me God!is a surefire evening of laughter and mayhem. Broadway bound in 1929, the play was derailed by the stock-market crash and has languished in obscurity ever since.

Rita Faye Smith
Thrill, The
Stratford Festival - Studio Theater

Expect mercurial changes in reacting to this dark, funny, unhappy and uplifting play about disabilities and how radically we are opposed on how to handle them. The ideas, background, and utterly committed work of a number of immensely talented theater artists for this offbeat, intriguing, world-premiere play certainly bring it a richness of ideas and significance beyond its dramatic effect.

Herbert M. Simpson
Sammy Tonight!

(see listings & reviews under "Sammy" Tonight!")

"Sammy" Tonight!
WBBT Theater

In this repeat of a popular earlier show, De’Zhon Fields essentially imitates Sammy Davis, Jr. doing a typical solo nightclub act. Both the imitator and the one imitated radiate talent at singing, banter (in this case, introductions for each of the songs or sets to be performed), and footwork.

Marie J. Kilker
Secret Agent, The
Traverse Theater

In the preface to the published playscript of The Secret Agent, Matthew Hurt, the playwright who adapted Joseph Conrad's 1903 novel for the stage, asserts “his moral rights” to the work. What about Conrad's moral rights? is my question to Hurt and the five “devisers and performers” who have had their merry way with The Secret Agent.

Willard Manus
Let it Be
St. James Theater

I loved the Beatles. I was a sucker for Beatlemania and would give any tribute to the Liverpool lads a try. Until now. With the current 50th anniversary show at Broadway’s St. James Theater, I feel maybe it's time to Let It Be. Rain, a similar (and for me a more enjoyable) Broadway tribute to the Fab Four, ran two years ago, and there are always groups regularly circling the globe with Beatles salutes.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Histoire d'Amour
King's Theater

The theme of the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival is “The way technology seizes and shifts our perceptions.” This is explored excitingly by Teatrocinema, a collective Chilean theater company which specializes in the melding of theater and cinema.

In its third go-round at the EIF, Theatrocinema has mounted a lavish production of Histoire d’Amour (“Love Story”), which is based on a 1999 French novel by Regis Jauffret, as adapted by Monserrat Quezada and Juan Carlos Zagal (one of the co-founders of the company).

Willard Manus
Ciara
Traverse Theater

As playwright David Harrower confides in a program note, Ciarais a play about "Glasgow and its mythic, proud, scarred history. I've written a woman at the center of it; silent witness to a changing cityscape finally telling it as she sees it.”

Willard Manus
Sloans Project, The
Sloans Bar

The Argyll Arcade in “the beltin' heart” of downtown Glasgow is lined with expensive jewelry stores but the brightest gem on display there recently was The Sloans Project, a mini-opera by two gifted artists, Gareth Williams and David Brock. Teaming up with director James R. Carson, they have devised a site-specific work that uses every nook and cranny in Sloans, the oldest bar and restaurant in Glasgow, to tell its anthology of stories.

Willard Manus
Home Fires Burning
Home Resource Center

Call me academic, but I don’t understand why performed narratives keep being called plays. It takes nothing from the worth of the Home Fires Burningto say this program is made up of two related stories, told in first person in chamber-theater style. The narrator in each case is a woman -- costumed, made up, using props, and acting as an interpreter of what happened and is happening to her.

Marie J. Kilker
Thousand Oaks
The Players

From the start, Thousand Oaksappears to be a weird place. At least the one home there that’s the scene of Sylvia Reed’s play seems weird -- bars on the windows and something unidentifiable in a corner upstage and two black leather sofas on separate sides of the stage. Not surprisingly, no set designer is mentioned in the program. The lack typifies this premiere production.

Marie J. Kilker
Time Stands Still
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

At the moment a photo is taken, time stands still for its subject and its taker. Writing about that takes longer to “capture.” To dramatize the subject of the progress of relationship of a couple -- a photographer and writer -- takes Donald Margulies two effective acts of Time Stands Stillthat shoot past and present toward their future.

Marie J. Kilker
Art
Milwaukee Chamber Theater

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre opens its 2013-14 season with Yasmina Reza’s Art.The play captures the nuances of friendship – the ties that bind and, perhaps, the ones no longer worth maintaining – through the lens of fine art. Specifically, it examines the 15-year friendship of three middle-aged men. One of them unknowingly strains the relationship between them when he purchases an expensive painting.

Anne Siegel
Taking Shakespeare
Stratford Festival of Canada - Studio Theater

This surprisingly engrossing two-person interaction is mostly a series of meetings and lessons between a rebellious, young male graduate student and an aging, unpopular female professor of Shakespeare studies. The meetings take place in the book-cluttered first-floor apartment that “Prof” lives in – mostly in her combination living room and office, where she sometimes eats and often sleeps on the divan.

Herbert M. Simpson
Tigers Be Still
Boulevard Theater

Can a show about depression be funny? Even if all of the characters in the show suffer from depression? The answer is resoundingly “yes” if one is talking about Tigers Be Stillby playwright Kim Rosenstock.

Anne Siegel
Cabaret
Gärtnerplatztheater Theater

To get a real understanding of “life is a cabaret,” you need to experience a German version of the venerable hit musical, Cabaret.The show, superbly directed by Werner Sobotka, has a grittiness and sleaze factor that was missing from most of the U.S. productions or at least were a pale shade of the German production with the possible exception of the 1998 revival when Natasha Richardson played Sally Bowles and Michael C. Hall played the Emcee.

Scott Bennett
Last Five Years, The
Second Stage Theater

The Last Five Years,with book, music, and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown premiered off-Broadway in 2002 and starred Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott and was directed by Daisy Prince. It has had numerous productions internationally and has recently been revived by The Second Stage Theater Company, where it’s directed by its composer.

Scott Bennett
Around the World in 80 Days
New Theater

Around the World in 80 Days is a wonderful evening of entertainment that is antic, inventive, imaginative and with the pacing of a farce. It’s masterfully designed and directed by Rachel Klein, who guides six terrific performers through 39 roles and 40 scene changes in a play that gives everyone a workout, including the audience, and still leaves you smiling.

Scott Bennett
Motown
Lunt-Fontanne Theater

Motown the Musicalis an encapsulated “juke-box” musical about the origins of Motown Records and Berry Gordy, the man who created it. It is told as a flashback from the planning for Motown’s 25th Anniversary Show to the first moment Berry Gordy started to get interested in music. The plot leads inexorably to the formation of Hitsville USA and the creation of Motown and shows the people who made it happen and the bumps along the way.

Scott Bennett
H2O
Contemporary American Theater Festival at Shepherdstown University

Well, H20 is a completely grabbing and affecting new play: this playwright and director always function skillfully. One of my friends at its performance was left sobbing uncontrollably by the finale. And both its acting roles are demanding showcases. But I don’t know how many observers or performers will want to return to it.

Herbert M. Simpson
South Beach Babylon
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz Theater

Cast members start building this South Beach Babylon by bowing, scraping waving to the audience. They disappear as Jonas Blodgen, down center, imitates flying into Miami. Fresh out of Pratt Institute, he’s a narrator who descends naively (well exemplified by Matt DeCapua) into a job and relation to the big South Beach Art Basel event that makes and breaks artists.

Marie J. Kilker
Lonesome West
Shimberg Playhouse

Jobsite’s performers and direction are so strong that the bleakness of the house, characters, and situations in The Lonesome West town of Leenane make laughter at them seem uncharitable. Martin McDonagh may have been inspired by Sam Shepard’s True Weststory of two brothers’ rivalry, but the Irishman puts his tragicomedy in the context of greater spiritual as well as temporal degradation and losses.

Marie J. Kilker

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