Parisian Woman, The
Hudson Theater

The play I wish I’d seen: a dialogue built around the conflict of the politically ruthless Jeanette (Blair Brown) and her ambitious yet naïve daughter, Rebecca (Phillipa Soo). Every time Brown begins to talk in The Parisian Woman, the energy level on stage increases, and the rather pedestrian plot seems much more interesting. Soo is an actress still fresh, and to some degree, an unknown quantity.

Michall Jeffers
SpongeBob SquarePants
Palace Theatre

I came to SpongeBob SqurePants a virgin, having never seen the animated TV series on Nickelodeon. I have since been deflowered, but not fully seduced, by this over-the-top, splashy, nonstop musical. While the production values are stellar, and the cast outstanding, for those ignorant about the characters, the show can be confusing and more than a little overwhelming. It’s a brightly colored, very loud, hellzapoppin event.

Michall Jeffers
Buttcracker, The
Uptown Underground

The Nutcracker has figured in the repertoire of family-friendly Yuletide-season relics ever since its premiere in 1892. The boldness of Tom Boi Theatricals’ gender-fluid casting can thus be said to represent a significant break from gilded-age protocol, as does its staging at the speakeasy-district Uptown Underground Cabaret. Oh, and if that isn't enough to alert holiday playgoers not to arrive expecting toe-shoes-and-tutus, the word "burlesque" appended to its title should provide sufficient warning.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Dickens Carol, A
Madison Street Theater

"Dickens was dead, to begin with," proclaims the conductor employed by London's South Eastern Railway—and yes, you heard that correctly.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Motown Christmas, A
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

A glorious gift to WBBT’s devoted fans, A Motown Christmas repeats earlier years’ special holiday revues with pleasing additions. Creator Nate Jacobs’s research turned up “seldom-heard Motown Christmas treasures” by Smokey Robinson (at least three), Stevie Wonder (“It’s Christmas Time”), and Marvin Gaye (“I Want to Come Home for Christmas”). But no favorite Motown or traditional songs are omitted from a show that lasts longer than usual but doesn’t leave audiences sated.

Marie J. Kilker
Cross that River
59E59 Theaters

Cross that River is a journey well worth taking for all theater lovers. It’s a rare and precious experience to find a play which is both thoroughly entertaining and thoughtfully enlightening.

Michall Jeffers
Heart of Robin Hood, The
Wallis Annenberg Center

“There is no evidence for Robin Hood as a historical character, or for any attempt to set him up as such within at least three centuries of his alleged lifetime,” wrote Lord Raglan in his authoritative book, “The Hero—A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama.” But even Lord Raglan would have had the time of his life at The Heart of Robin Hood, the Anglo-Icelandic hoot of a show which just opened at The Wallis for a two-week run.

Willard Manus
bled for the household truth
Rogue Machine at The Met Theater

Bled for the household truth introduces us to the work of a gutsy new playwright, the Welsh-born Ruth Fowler (presently residing in L.A.) Her play, now in a world premiere production at Rogue Machine, looks at the weird, kinky relationship between Keith (Benjamin Burdick), an emotionally frozen man, and Pen (Alexandra Hellquist), a woman who is his complete opposite in behavior. A wealthy stockbroker living in a luxury East Village apartment (ingenious set by John Iacovelli), Keith advertises for a roommate who will be paid to stroll around his pad in her underwear.

Willard Manus
Pride and Prejudice
Cherry Lane Theater

Jane Austen’s classic novel “Pride and Prejudice” has taken many forms, from lush romantic movies featuring actors such as Colin Firth to absurd sci-fi versions such as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Now in the hands of clever playwright-actress Kate Hamill, it’s become a comedy. Pride and Prejudice at Primary Stages features eight talented performers, most of whom play several parts.

Elyse Trevers
Latin History for Morons
Studio 54

John Leguizamo’s play, Latin History for Morons, has a niche audience, but Leguizamo’s talent and charm appeals to almost everyone. That’s why the show that played to sell-out audience at The Public Theater recently moved to Studio 54. The performer treats the audience like a slow class and, as the teacher, he must teach us about the illustrious world history and contributions of Latinos.

Elyse Trevers
Blue Suede Shoes
Florida Studio Theater - Goldstein Cabaret

From “Rock Around the Clock” to “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” both performers and audience at Florida Studio Theater’s Goldstein Cabaret are reacting with a beat to the predominant music of 1950s and 1960s. The Blue Suede Shoes revue goes musically and historically speaking from rock and roll’s birth to a multifaceted maturity. Personalities dominate throughout along with the heftiest hits.

Marie J. Kilker
I Saw My Neighbor on the Train and I Didn't Even Say Hello
Redtwist Theater

It's been said that unhappy families are unique in their afflictions, so what could be unhappier than a middle-class, middle-America, mostly-middle-aged clan so undistinguished that their author doesn't even deem them worthy of a surname? Is it any wonder that they look to strangers for affirmation of their existence?

Mary Shen Barnidge
Wild Boar
Chicago Temple

Every dictatorship boasts of the peace and stability enjoyed by its subjects, compared with the dissent-fueled unrest prevalent in unruly democracies.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Secret Mask, The
Next Act Theater

Milwaukee’s Next Act Theater sometimes presents a holiday show that looks like anything but a warm-hearted testament to the love and joy of Christmas (and related holidays, such as Hanukah, etc.). Not so fast. Although it would be easy to brush off the U.S. premiere of Rick Chafe’s The Secret Mask as an anti-holiday show, that would be short-changing this excellent production.

Anne Siegel
Office Hour
Public Theater

Bang! Bang! Bang! You’d better get used to that sound if you plan to experience Office Hour at the Public. There’s not much gunfire in the beginning, but just wait. It’s there.

Michall Jeffers
Little Prince, The
freeFall Theater

One of the most popular books ever written, The Little Prince has been adapted into every medium. The version at freeFall is a fine stage example and translation from the original French, appropriate for audiences from children to adults. That’s important for a story about an adult Aviator who crashes and meets on a planetary desert a young boy Prince with whom he’ll learn about life, love, and responsibility.

Marie J. Kilker
Something Rotten!
Ahmanson Theater

Something Rotten is the funniest, most entertaining musical Los Angeles has seen in many a year. Developed by Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater, a hit on Broadway two years ago, Something Rotten! got a standing ovation (for its road company) on its opening night at the Ahmanson—not at the at the conclusion of the show but during its second musical number!

Willard Manus
School of Rock
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

The School of Rock is making a noisy debut in Milwaukee. The musical’s first national tour arrives on the heels of a relatively brief stay in Chicago (a town where some musicals settle in literally for years). This means Milwaukee had an opportunity to see first-rate performers, many with Broadway and West End credits. Too bad the sound system went so haywire on opening night (more on this later).

Anne Siegel
Chasing Mem'ries
Gil Cates Theater

Tyne Daly stars in Chasing Mem’ries, a tear-jerking mock-musical now in a world premiere run at the Geffen, written and directed by Josh (Wishful Drinking) Ravetch. Daly plays Victoria, a salty, irreverent woman who, after 57 years of marriage, is trying to cope with her beloved husband Franklin’s death,

Willard Manus
Dream Freaks Fall from Space
Second City

Parochialism always makes for easy humor. Fixed social divisions (like those found in Shakespeare's England) permit the gentry—in the company of their peers—to jeer at commoners, who then affirm their own camaraderie by mocking the higher-ups, while in our democracy, city and country dwellers delight in ridiculing each other.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Wedding Band
The Artistic Home

The year of our story's setting is 1918, in a sleepy small town on the coast of South Carolina, where Miss Fannie Johnson serves as landlady to Mrs. Lula Green and adopted grown son Nelson, and to Miss Mattie and young daughter Teeta. The United States is at war—Nelson is enlisted in the army and Mattie's husband in the Merchant Marine; in their absence, the womenfolk are left to eke out a cottage-industry living.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Breath, Boom
Athenaeum

Once upon a time, there were four sisters — bound, not by birth, but by the sororal affiliations of York City's South Bronx.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fade
Biograph

During the 1980s and '90s, it often seemed as if every playwright venturing west of Phoenix or south of Fresno eventually wrote a scathing diatribe of show business practices in California's motion-picture capital. Cautionary tales in this genre usually revolved around an idealistic young artist confronted by corporate philistines caring nothing for art and everything for money. Sometimes the newcomer's ethics remained steadfast, sometimes not, but never were we in doubt as to who were the good guys and who weren't.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Holmes and Watson
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Unlike those mysteries which focus on the exploits of famous detective Sherlock Holmes, Holmes and Watson switches things around a bit. In the US premiere of Jeffrey Hatcher’s new play, it is Dr. Watson who takes center stage for nearly the entire production. Holmes, you see, is presumed dead after a battle with his arch nemesis, Moriarty. Neither the loyal Watson nor the audience is aware of what happened at Reichenbach Falls. Who went over the brink? Was it Holmes, Moriarty, or both? Three years have elapsed, and neither man has been reliably identified.

Anne Siegel
Band's Visit, The
Ethel Barrymore Theater

I knew I had to attend the show. The American Theatre Critics Association’s mini-conference had splendid panels with this gorgeous musical’s creators and performers.
In my 4th row seat I saw the sold-out matinee and tried not to disturb with my fast-growing lung infection. Then I left Manhattan and flew home. The Broadway opening didn’t occur until five days later. My angry doctor didn’t let me get out of bed, but by then my writing about this haunting, heart-lifting artwork was important only to me.

Herbert M. Simpson
Evita
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

“Staging Our World”—Asolo Rep’s new project after five years of exploring the American Character—begins by focusing on Evita. Engaging a largely Latino main cast, Eva Peron’s story has a mixed emphasis on her personal and public persona, as well as her good and bad effects on Argentina and its people. Some is true; some invented. But for certain, everything narrative pales within the production’s colorful technical explosion.

Marie J. Kilker
Spamilton
Kirk Douglas Theater

Spamilton pokes more fun at Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, than it does at Hamilton itself. Leaving the politics and the American revolution out makes for somewhat toothless satire, but that’s pretty much Gerard Alessandrini’s specialty, as evidenced by his various Forbidden Broadway revues. Showbiz and personalities are his targets, his large and easy targets. That said, Spamilton is still pretty funny, though for me it wore out its welcome at about the one hour mark, owing to the sameness and shallowness of its rap lyrics.

Willard Manus
Junk
Lincoln Center - Vivian Beaumont Theater

Money, money, money, money. Junk brilliantly explores what happens when money becomes the entire focus of existence. Set in 1985, the story of the brokers who touted debt as being a source of wealth is totally relevant today. Cleverly, author Ayad Akhtar frames the piece with the journey of investigative reporter Judy Chen, played by the gorgeous Teresa Avia Lim. She’s gung ho to write a book exposing the financial crisis being perpetrated by sleazy market traders.

Michall Jeffers
Wake
City Garage

Director Frederique Michel and her husband, producer/designer Charles A. Duncombe, continue with their mission of presenting truly alternative theatre in L.A. Working out of their small space in Bergamot Station, they steadily and fearlessly mount works by 21st-century avant-garde playwrights, the latest being sci-fi specialist Gordon Dahlquist.

Willard Manus
Once
Florida Studio Theater - Gompertz

Once is a boy-meets-girl yet unusual love story set in Dublin, Ireland, to Irish and Czech music. It takes place mostly in a bar and areas not far away from it. With the exception of the Girl’s little girl, everyone in the musical replaces any usual orchestra by being a sort of self-directed band. Their rambunctious performing starts with welcoming audiences onstage to buy and enjoy a drink while they flit and play and sing before settling into theater seats for the drama.

Marie J. Kilker
Junk
Vivian Beaumont Theater

Unless you are a math whiz or a business major, you may be bewildered by the financial concepts that are the underpinnings of Junk, the new play at Lincoln Center by Pulitzer-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced). However, as the play unfolds, you will find yourself thoroughly engaged.

Elyse Trevers
Bobby Pin Girls, The
Chicago Mosaic School,

It's been said of mating customs in 21st-century North America that every emotional cripple eventually finds a crutch and vice-versa. Janey Bell's fable, The Bobby Pin Girls, recounts the pivotal night that two young women break free of exploitive symbiosis to emerge as individuals capable of making independent decisions. Oh, by the way—it's a screwball comedy.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Junk
Vivian Beaumont Theater

Junk, an electrifying and riveting epic tale about the machinations of finance, was inspired by Wall Street of 30 years ago. It has the relevancy of this morning's newsbreak.

November 2017
Band's Visit, The
Ethel Barrymore Theater

The Band’s Visit is the show I’m going to recommend to those who want to know what to see—the best production so far this season. It’s a combination of Once and Come From Away, yet it has a totally distinctive voice which is thoroughly enticing. This is a quiet show, a little show, which makes a big impact on the heart.

Michall Jeffers
Sister Act
Irving Theater

Deloris Van Cartier (Cherish Robinson) is an aspiring singer preparing to audition in her gangster boyfriend Curtis’s (Jamall Houston) Philadelphia disco when she walks in on him fatally shooting one of his gang members. She makes a hasty exit and reports it to the police. They put her in hiding prior to Curtis’s trial in the only place the police think she will never be found, a convent. With the co-operation of the Mother Superior (Susan Metzger) Deloris is introduced to the other nuns as Sister Mary Clarence.

Rita Faye Smith
Kaidan Project
Mori Stage Company

There’s good news and bad news about Kaidan Project, the site-specific extravaganza now premiering at Mori Storage Company in mid-city L.A. Built in 1927, the six-story structure has been turned into the setting for the retelling of an ancient Japanese ghost story. Two theater companies have collaborated on this unusual and highly imaginative project: the Asian-American East/West Players and the puppeteering Rogue Artists Ensemble, backed up by a slew of grants from various foundations and charities.

Willard Manus
His Greatness
Pride Arts Buena

It's true that Tennessee Williams was a writer-in-residence at Vancouver's University of British Columbia in the autumn of 1980, and that one of his plays was produced in that city at this time. It's also true that the author, whose early work is now enshrined among the classics of the 20th century, found his creative energies waning in his later years. From these facts, Canadian author Daniel MacIvor has forged a multidimensional portrait—part biographical fantasy, part homage and part contemplation—of an artist whose muse may have abandoned him.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Billy Elliot
Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Porchlight Music Theater's delight in its nifty new home at the Ruth Page Center is palpable—indeed, on view for everyone to share. For starters, it can now assemble a cast of 35 performers on the stage—at the same time, mind—for a singing-and-tapping curtain call. It can hoist its young hero on fly-wires for dream sequences. It can dazzle us with a soliloquy choreographed by both dance and fight instructors.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Billie Holiday
Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center

Sybil Harris sure knows her way around Billie Holiday’s music. The Phoenix native first portrayed Holiday in the touring musical, Sang Sista Sang. Now she is impersonating Holiday again in her solo show Billie Holiday, which just opened at Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in south-central L.A. Harris also wrote and executive-produced the show, which gives her a chance to sing some of Holiday’s greatest hits, among them “God Bless the Child,” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” “Good Morning Heartache” and “Strange Fruit,” backed up by a terrific jazz quartet.

Willard Manus
Upstairs
Pride Arts Broadway

New Orleans tourism thrives on that city's legacy of necrophilic attractions, so why do the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the Upstairs Lounge in its antebellum French Quarter district remain a mystery nearly fifty years later? Is it because 1973 is too recent for the tale to be safely swaddled in romantic myth, or because the 32 men and women — many unidentified to this day — who perished in the arson-initiated fire were in an LGBT establishment?

Mary Shen Barnidge

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