Cowboy versus Samurai
The Den

Volumes have been written about the struggle of young white men to find their own identity, as opposed to that imposed upon them by their families, culture or social position. Non-WASP males in fiction, by contrast, are assumed to be so secure within their communities that even the inevitable adolescent restlessness never disturbs the tribal solidarity.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hunchback of Notre Dame, The
Paper Mill Playhouse

Ring out, wild bells! Boldly booming bells ring out from Millburn, NJ, in one of the most be-belled & be-gargoyled visions of medieval Notre Dame ever imagined--even by Victor Hugo, the original imagineer of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame…”

Hugo—who loved the strong contrasts of the hideously grotesque with the miraculously beautiful that are best exemplified by “Beauty & The Beast” and “Hunchback”—would surely be astonished by the great Bourdon bells that are cramming the great wooden belfry of the Paper Mill Playhouse over in far-off New Jersey.

Glenn Loney
On the Twentieth Century
American Airlines Theater

All aboard, lovers of Art Deco and great Broadway musicals! David Rockwell’s magnificent metallic deco drop for On the Twentieth Century is, itself, worth the price of admission for this all-awards-winnable musical revival. But there’s also the dynamite performance of the very blonde Kristin Chenoweth as the Major Hollywood Star, Lily Garland, being wooed and tricked back to the Great White Way by her former lover, Broadway producer, and all-`round Svengali, the currently bankrupt and out of ideas Oscar Jaffee.

Glenn Loney
Into the Woods
Broadway Theater Center - Cabot Theater

Into the Woods, composer Stephen Sondheim’s modern take on Grimm fairy tales, seems especially suited to Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theater. With previous blockbusters such as Hair, Sunday in the Park with George and In the Heights, expectations were high. And while Into the Woods doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t completely excel, either. What emerges through the shadowy “woods” of the title is a gorgeous show, complete with a fantastically detailed set, lavish costumes, and elaborate lighting.

Anne Siegel
Public Theater

Considering how Donald Trump & the Tea-Party crazies won’t give-up on the un-American-ness of Barack Obama, have they ever given a passing thought to the curious Caribbean origins of one of our founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton? Not only was Hamilton the founder of the New York Post and of our banking system, but he was also one of George Washington’s most trusted fellow officers, rapidly rising to the rank of General. Quite a meteoric trajectory for a male Mulatto whose mother way well have been a whore. . .

Glenn Loney
Book of Mormon, The
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

It has taken “only” three years for a tour of The Book of Mormon to reach Milwaukee. The tour, now in Milwaukee, started December 2012 in Chicago. The production ran an impressive 10 months before moving to its next stop. While in Chicago, the show broke all box-office records for that particular theater. Alas, it is one of the liabilities of Milwaukee’s proximity to Chicago that shows which have an extended run in the Windy City rarely come straight north to Milwaukee. The Book of Mormon is the latest to follow this trend.

Anne Siegel
What I Did Last Summer
Pershing Square Signature Center - Irene Diamond Stage

It's a long hot summer in 1945 and, with his father sent off to war, a restless 14-year-old boy cooped up in a lakeside house with his stressed mother and a prissy older sister, and well, things are bound to happen. More important, a few lessons are learned in What I Did Last Summer as playwright A.R Gurney looks back at his own coming-of-age summer of '45.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Karen Jacobsen
Stage 72 at The Triad

The Triad on West 72nd St. has done it again -- a super musical performance: Karen Jacobsen, in a spectacular gown, is beautiful, funny, a lovely light-fingered pianist, and a terrific singer with a fine clear voice who writes melodically original personal songs giving glimpses of her life and relationships (breaking up and one with ironic humor: “Your Body Over Mine,” etc.). Some are gifts to friends, to husband, and most recently to her mother.

Richmond Shepard
Witch Slap!
Raven Theater

The annual Joining Sword and Pen competition challenges its contestants to write a play based on a specified graphic image of women portrayed in a martial context. Last year's chosen visual, however, was Gabriella Boros's grotesque painting of two masked and hooded figures engaging in a brand of surgery resembling a Three Stooges stunt gone Jacobean. In Witch Slap!, prize winner Jeff Goode attempts to salvage a reading on this cryptic situation rendering its gruesome content palatable to modern audiences, and for the most part, he succeeds.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Timeline Theater

Technically, the McGuffin driving our plot is a graven idol, but this is no Maltese falcon, coveted by its pursuers solely for its material value. Instead, Michele Lowe's Inana opens in 2003, in a London hotel room where Mosul museum curator Yasin Shalid and his new spouse have arrived for their honeymoon.

Our first clue that something is amiss is the husband recounting to his bride (who has barricaded herself into the bathroom), how his boyhood chum had his fingers amputated as punishment for gathering the shards of artifacts ubiquitous to ancient civilizations.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Little Foxes, The
Goodman Theater

Lillian Hellman never pulled her punches, instead calling out advocates of injustice and inhumanity with a ferocity that made producers nervous, hence the frequent bowdlerization of her more candid dramatic themes (e.g., lesbianism in The Children's Hour).The standard formula for rendering "safe" her microcosmic excoriation of post-bellum morality and greed has been to reduce its heroine to a fairy-tale wicked queen, or to muffle its ethical arguments under a haze of Chekhovian nostalgia.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Little Wars
Clarion Theater

Gertrude Stein said, "...for every story worth telling, there’s a dozen secrets worth keeping."

Any gabfest should be so lucky as to unearth the secrets of the literati gathered one evening at Gertrude Stein's country home in France. Then again, few gabfests would include such a coterie of intriguing talented women as playwright Steven Carl McCasland's Little Wars. During one evening in 1940, just before France fell to Germany, the stories that emerge are personal, universal, often heart-rending and even horrifying.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Driving Miss Daisy
Queensland Performing Arts Center

Note: This production was reviewed via pre-recorded video streaming to a movie theater and not in person.

Steve Cohen
Stupid Fucking Bird
The Biograph

Don't be fooled by the publicity promoting this adaptation of The Seagull as a deconstructive farce on the order of Inspecting Carol. Aaron Posner's surprisingly smart gloss on Anton Chekhov's seminal 19th-century Russian drama reads more as live-action script analysis, tracking its source's subtextual dynamics unencumbered by period social and environmental factors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Suddenly Last Summer
Next Act Theater

After six years of producing plays with non-traditional casting (which, in this case, means all African-American casts), UPROOTED Theater bids farewell with its stinging production of Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly, Last Summer. Although the company hadn’t planned on staging a Williams trilogy during its brief duration, co-founder Dennis Johnson notes that “it seems to have worked out that way.” In any case, the theater is definitely going out with a bang, not a whimper.

Anne Siegel
Suddenly Last Summer
Ashe Power House Theater

Tennessee Williams’s devastating one-act, Suddenly Last Summer, receives an uneven production by Southern Rep. Set in 1935 in the New Orleans Garden District, the play concerns the wealthy Violet Venable (Brenda Currin, awkward and seemingly clueless) out to get her niece Catherine lobotomized. Catherine’s been in a deranged state since the death of Mrs. Venable’s son Sebastian last year on a Spanish coast beach. She is trying to bribe Dr. Cukrowicz (Jake Wyunne-Wilson, cool) to operate on, and thus silence, Catherine’s ravings about what happened.

Marie J. Kilker
Hotel Plays, The
Hermann-Grimm House

As part of the Tennessee Williams Festival, a one-act evening called The Hotel Plays ran briefly at the Hermann-Grimm House.

Marie J. Kilker
When Ya Smiling
Rivertown Theater for the Performing Arts

Subtitled “Remembering New Orleans in the 1950s,” Ricky Graham’s When Ya Smiling is just like what he might have composed for a 1958 high school event. The adoring audience exactly duplicated one made up of relatives and friends of those onstage and back of it. The not-surprisingly uncredited set has wooden house fronts on each side with a nondescript center that has to take on many locales in reality and hero Paulie’s imagination. He (Tucker Godbold, with amazing staying power as a cornball) looks 30 but is 10 and will soon be having a birthday.

Marie J. Kilker
To the Moon
Christ Church Neighborhood House

One of Philadelphia’s leading actors happens to resemble Jackie Gleason (and also Orson Welles in his mature years). Scott Greer uses that coincidence to portray an overweight working-class guy who idolizes Gleason and concocts a scheme to get rich, much like the designs of Gleason’s character on “The Honeymooners.”

Steve Cohen
A Red Orchid Theater

In 1979 England, 19 pounds (about $31 U.S.) a week rents a petrol-station cashier an SRO with a calico curtain hanging below the sink, a folding tray doubling as a liquor table, a kitchen chair for seating guests, and a bed pushed against the bricked-up fireplace. This being the outskirts of London, the residents also enjoy such post-WWII amenities as coin-meter electricity, a bathroom down the hall with an audible dripping pipe and a pay telephone on the sidewalk outside.

Mary Shen Barnidge
White Road, The
The Den

Prevailing commercial practice dictates that stories set in exotic climes still revolve on human relationships—falling in love, coming of age, settling old scores—with their environment relegated to background decoration or propulsive coincidences. Karen Tarjen's account of Ernest Shackleton's attempt to navigate the Antarctic Circle in 1912 rejects this approach, however.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Bad Jews
Theater Wit

A chai is a kind of Jewish medallion, belonging, in this case, to a recently deceased clan patriarch and thus coveted by two of his grandchildren, not for its material value, but for what it symbolizes—and therein lies the source of the conflict in Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews. Since hostilities commence mere seconds after the curtain rises and proceed to swiftly escalate at full-out take-no-prisoners volume, any personal information about the combatants soon becomes lost in the flying verbiage.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Visit, The
Lyceum Theater

A long time ago, Friedrich Durrenmatt wrote a play, The Visit, which was adapted by Maurice Valency, and then re-adapted into a musical with book by Terrence McNally, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. It’s now playing on Broadway with the live wire Chita Rivera and Roger Rees in the leads and a large, very strong cast, including a vivid Mary Beth Peil.

Richmond Shepard
It Shoulda Been You
Brooks Atkinson Theater

With the cleverest lyrics since Moss Hart or Oscar Hammerstein, the lively, zippy It Shoulda Been You, book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove, music by Barbara Anselmi, is the funniest show in town. Director David Hyde Pierce has put together a gang of comedians, each a comic personality with a good voice.

Richmond Shepard
Immediate Family
Mark Taper Forum

There’s good news and bad news about Immediate Family, the new play at the Mark Taper Forum. Written by Paul Oakley Stovall, the ironically-titled dramedy deals with an all-too-familiar set-up: the coming out of a gay son to his straight, conventional family. The wrinkle is that the family is black and the son’s lover is white (and Swedish to boot).

Willard Manus
My Name is Asher Lev
Stage 773

To be a member of Brooklyn's Ladover Hassidic Jewish settlement in the 1940s and '50s was to occupy—take a deep breath, now—a subsect of a subsect of yet another subsect of a religious minority whose numbers recently suffered a severe reduction at the hands of first, the Germans, then the Russians. Combine these factors with the Biblical proscription against the forging of graven images, and there can be no unlikelier spawning ground for a genius whose compulsive response to the chaos of his surroundings is to draw pictures of it.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Three Sisters
The Den - Mainstage

The biggest obstacle to modern audience comprehension of Chekhov's pre-revolutionary Russian society is not the frequently over-academic translations of his texts, nor the nostalgic distractions of samovars and bell-skirted gowns, but our unfamiliarity with the infrastructure of its dramatic universe. Substituting "Hollywood" for "Moscow," or an overseas U.S. military base for a remote small-town army garrison—as a few theater companies have—goes only so far in closing the cultural gap to the extent necessary to promote identification with its inhabitants.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Side Man
The Greenhouse

Once upon a time, there was a musician who loved music more than anything in the world, and a woman, who also loved the music, and the man who made it, as well. Along with their likewise muse-worshipping companions, they lived happy and contented—until the music began to die out, compelling them to adopt "adult" responsibilities, as defined by mainstream society. Like any endangered species, some adapted, and some didn't.

Mary Shen Barnidge
All's Well That Ends Well
Theater Wit

If our story's premise was that of a maiden forced into a marriage against her wishes, we'd be in her corner immediately, but when a young bachelor is bestowed in matrimony by his king as a reward to the prospective bride, the tale is labeled a "problem play" and its dynamic reduced to a case study in misogynistic codependency. To be sure, the reluctant groom protests his duty most unceremoniously, but Shakespeare scholars might recall that Katherine the Shrew was hardly a compliant newlywed, either.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Big Fish
Marcus Center - Todd Wehr Theater

Ask any seven-year-old what kind of characters should be in a play, and you might get the following answer: a circus performer, a giant, a witch, a mermaid and a cowboy. Believe it or not, all of these characters appear in a world-premiere version of the Broadway musical, Big Fish. This remarkable production was created by John August for Milwaukee’s First Stage.

Anne Siegel
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Geva Theater Center

Whatever little criticisms I may apply to it, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a Tony Award-winning “Best New Play” in a handsome co-production by two top regional theaters, Cleveland Playhouse and Geva Theatre Center. It has an attractive, able cast, directed by a master of stage hilarity. So it is pretty much guaranteed to provide a laugh-filled, enjoyable evening.

Herbert M. Simpson
Little By Little
Tenth Street Theater

There’s much to like in the musical Little by Little, a show of modest proportions and ambitions. Three characters – who are identified only by their genders (Man, Woman #1 and Woman #2) – go through the “pains” of childhood, adolescence and early adulthood together. As they sing in one of the songs, the show is about the “trouble of mixing friendship and love.” And do make note that singing is all they do; the show has no dialogue.

Anne Siegel
City of Angels
Village Church Arts

Milwaukee’s Windfall Theater closes its current season with a stunning production of the musical, City of Angels. Surprisingly, this is the first time the decades-old musical has had a local production.

City of Angels opened on Broadway in 1989 at the Virginia Theater. It was nominated for 10 1990 Tony Awards, and won six of them, including the award for Best Musical. The original cast included Gregg Edelman (1776, Into the Woods) as a detective novelist and James Naughton (Chicago, Our Town) as his onscreen alter ego.

Anne Siegel
Luck Be a Lady
Asolo Repertory Theater

It has the music and lyrics of a true American poet-composer of theater and film. It has a cast of Broadway-quality actor-singers-dancers. It has a spirited band plus conductor doing music that’s often arranged with originality, always with verve. What it doesn’t have is the continuity and class of a Frank Loesser show.

Marie J. Kilker
Lips Together, Teeth Apart
The Athenaeum

Sensitive artist Sally is married to blue-collar Sam. Sam's amateur-actress sister Chloe is married to preppy academic John. John and Sally are sleeping together and think their spouses don't know. The two couples are spending their Fourth of July weekend together at the beach house that Sally inherited from her now-deceased brother. Oh, and by the way, the beach is on Fire Island, and the late owner of the vacation home died of AIDS.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Sounds So Sweet
Black Ensemble Theater

Weddings, funerals and class reunions have supplied authors with opportunities for dramatic conflict since the advent of lineage-based fiction. In Sounds So Sweet, the occasion precipitating the reunion of the Harrison clan in Ellisville, Mississippi, is the death of its beloved matriarch—but don't arrive expecting the sniffling, sobbing and keening associated with such ceremonies. The departed, it seems, was adamant in instructing her surviving kin to remember her, not with a gloomy memorial service but a "Going to Heaven" celebration—and since the descendents of Mrs.

Mary Shen Barnidge
King and I, The
Vivian Beaumont Theater

A hush comes over the house. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, and we’re not disappointed. In the middle of the friendly dance, the King tells Mrs. Anna that holding two hands is not how the dance is done. She agrees, and as he places his hand firmly around her waist, there’s a slight gasp from the audience. This is where the respect, friction, and friendship of two people from vastly different worlds reveals the sexual attraction beneath the surface.

Michall Jeffers
Verizon Hall

When Leonard Bernstein unveiled Mass, a “Theatere Piece for Singers, Players & Dancers” in 1971, many critics derided its amalgamation of the diverse forms of Broadway, gospel music, symphony, ballet and rock ‘n’ roll. Lenny already was known for juggling careers as conductor, TV host, serious composer and Broadway songwriter.

Steve Cohen
Pompie's Place
Don't Tell Mama

The new Pompie’s Place, part of the show center at Don’t Tell Mama on West 46th St. gives us first-class musical entertainment and first-class food--a great combo. The three talented, accomplished singers, Hilary Gardner, Brianna Thomas and Lezlie Harrison, take us on a thrilling jazz/blues trip from St. Louis to Creole-land to Broadway. When Ms. Harrison sang “Ten Cents a Dance,” I really wanted to dance with her.

Richmond Shepard
All About That Face
The Triad

All About That Facegives us four talented, lively and beautiful women: Amelia Hart, Courtney Cheatham, Eva Richards and Roxy Reynolds, singing love songs and patter songs and throwing in sketches. Wow! A contemporary group of young women with well-trained voices and a comic flair. Solos for each, duets, ensembles, all well written, staged and coordinated.

Richmond Shepard