Clever Little Lies
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Theater

What makes Joe DiPietro’s domestic comedies so appreciated at FST? While seeming like sitcoms, those like Clever Little Lies get both closely and funnily on the wavelengths of real people. Those who’ve lived a lot, loved, been married for much of their lives, and belong in now-called-traditional families can especially identify with similar characters who have secrets, tell lies, and avoid self-revelations to keep the peace.

Marie J. Kilker
Ahmanson Theater

You don’t have to have a huge sweet tooth to enjoy Amelie, but it will surely help if you do. Adapted from the 2001 whimsical French film of the same name, Amelie has been turned into an offbeat, cotton-candy musical by its American creative team, all of whom are experienced Broadway practitioners who know how to please large audiences.

Willard Manus
When Jazz had the Blues
Matrix Theater

When Jazz had the Blues looks at the complex relationship between two giants of the jazz world, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. They collaborated for some 28 years, composing and arranging hundreds of songs, symphonies and instrumentals that thrilled people around the world and made them famous and rich.

Willard Manus
Big Uncut Flick, The
Studio Theater

Sometimes we don’t want a massive production, especially when we want a comedy. And so Gracye Productions’s mounting of Todd Michael’s The Big Uncut Flick (at The Studio Theater of Theater Row) fits the bill for a slight 75 minutes of fun.

Steve Capra
In Transit
Circle in the Square

There’s no instrument on Earth that’s more beautiful, more moving, and more versatile than the human voice. In Transit uses no other devise to transmit the music of the show. Fortunately, the singers are all talented, and the beat-box rhythm of the character known as Boxman (Chesny Snow) is perfectly on point. The plot revolves around people facing different issues of change and crisis in their lives. Except for a few office scenes, the entire show takes place at a subway station, on a ¾ thrust stage.

Michall Jeffers
Holiday Inn
Studio 54

The Roundabout Theater Company’s production of Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical, playing at Studio 54 through January 1, 2017, first showed its lyrical face at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House where it had its world premier during the holiday season in 2014. With a book co-written by Chad Hodge and Gordon Greenberg (he is also the director), Holiday Inn, stuffed with 22 Irving Berlin songs, some standards, others resurrected from the dead, is back on the boards again.

Ed Rubin
Christmas Carol, A
Pabst Theater

There was more anticipation than usual as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater unveiled its 41st annual production of A Christmas Carol inside the historic Pabst Theater. If there ever was a Dickens play and a Victorian-themed theater so uniquely suited to each other, this would be it.

Anne Siegel
Peter Pan
freeFall Theater

A deconstructed version of Peter Pan has freeFall combining narrative with dramatic activity and dialogue (much of it done tongue-in-cheek) with music and lyrics that advance the plot. Though lacking memorable songs, musical elements serve up the play’s episodic structure with both breaks and continuity. Still, the result is more fun to see than to ponder for meaning.

Marie J. Kilker
This Day Forward
Vineyard Theater

The year is 1958; the young couple are in a lovely room in a posh hotel. She’s a gorgeous redhead, still in her lacey, poufy wedding gown, and he’s eager — very eager — to begin their wedding night. Everything is perfect. The only problem is, the bride has just told the groom that she doesn’t love him. In fact, Irene (Holley Fain) has lied to Martin (Michael Crane) about quite a few things.

Michall Jeffers
Man in Snow
La MaMa ETC.

Israel Horovitz’s play Man in Snow began its life as a radio play, and the playwright has adapted it for the stage. The set consists of a single chair and a significant amount of the dialogue consists of phone conversations. It still feels like a radio play.

Steve Capra
Black Nativity
West Coast Black Theater Troupe

Perhaps WBBT Founder Nate Jacobs’s favorite holiday gift to his Sarasota community and to tourists is Langston Hughes’s Black Nativity. For this year’s version Director Jacobs has outdone himself.

The poetic musical begins with a distinctly African American drummer central. He calls forth joyous singers and dancers who bring to the stage a great air of anticipation. No one is disappointed at what follows.

Marie J. Kilker
Bronx Tale, A
Longacre Theater

A Bronx Tale is very much a story for our times. At first glance, it seems to be an absorbing remembrance, well told, about the coming of age of a young New Yorker. But at its heart is a question which takes on the morality of modern-day America. When the Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump if his rhetoric had gone too far in his campaign, the President Elect answered “No. I won.” So…is it now anything goes when it comes to getting what you want? This is at the crux of the argument between gangster Sonny (Nick Cordero) and blue-collar Lorenzo (Richard H.

Michall Jeffers
Give it All Back
The Biograph

Give it All Back opens backstage, where an unnamed solo musician resembling—but never identified as—Bob Dylan is preparing for a concert. Later, we will meet his traveling companion on this tour, a bearded beat bard eerily reminiscent of the late Allen Ginsberg. Other visitors include his generic recording agent, an African-American singer-songwriter whose memories of their early days together in the protest movement recall those of Joan Baez, and his current consort, whose physical appearance is only a hair color away from fashionista Sara Lownds, the future Mrs. Dylan.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Hedda Gabler, A
Pride Arts Center

This is not your schoolroom Ibsen. Over a hundred years after his tale of an angry housewife's misanthropic machinations shocked audiences, Nigel O'Hearn's translation, titled “A Hedda Gabler,” has winnowed its progress to an efficiency better suiting the small stages of our time. More noticeable, however, are the changes to the locale and presentation rendered this Red Tape Theatre production in pursuit of facilitating accessibility to modern audiences.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

If the thought that crosses your mind upon initially viewing the parlor of Pemberley is "Did British families have Christmas trees in 1815?" or if the news that the Darcys' Yuletide guests will include an Oxford-educated nerd fascinated by the study of snails makes you think of P.G. Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle, you may imagine that you've second-guessed the authors of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, but you will only be half right.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Fundamentals, The
Steppenwolf Theater

The speechwriters for the recent election got it wrong. The people of whom we should beware are not those with nothing to lose, but those with just a little to lose—and that little is all they have.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Oh Hello
Lyceum Theater

Gil Faizon (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney), two messy golden-agers from New York's Upper West Side, could be today's Felix and Oscar, more crotchety and disheveled than golden, appearing as stars in a disorganized, screwy Broadway production.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Wholehearted, The
Kirk Douglas Theater

Stein/Holum Projects, the experimental theater group headed by Suli Holum and Deborah Stein, has brought its latest production, The Wholehearted, to Los Angeles. The short, blood-spattered solo play tells the story of Dee Crosby (Holum), a female pro boxer who used her fists to become a champion, only to be suddenly attacked one night by her knife-wielding ex-manager and -husband. Seething with rage and jealousy (after she dumped him for another woman), he stabs her repeatedly and almost kills her.

Willard Manus
Piano Men
Florida Studio Theater

Piano Men sparkles like the curtained-with-lights background of the small stage at Florida Studio Theater’s Goldstein Cabaret. Keyboarders John Grieco and Brian Walters team up to present the compositions and styles of key piano players of America’s 20th century. As performers, these may have played in venues from honky tonks to grand concert halls, but here the two energetic piano men play directly to the audience of a distinctly intimate cabaret.

Marie J. Kilker
Merrily We Roll Along
Annenberg Center - Bram Goldsmith Theater

Michael Arden, the Wallis’s new Artist in Residence, has given the troubled musical Merrily We Roll Along a galvanizing shot in the arm with his culturally diverse casting and imaginative staging. Now on tap at the Wallis, this locally produced revival of Merrily has a lot going for it, thanks largely to the unflagging energy and spirit of its youthful, inter-racial performers.

Willard Manus
Wonderful Town
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera’s revival of Wonderful Town is a winner in every respect, despite it being a concert performance and not a full production. But thanks to David Lee’s direction, Leonard Bernstein’s dynamic score, Comden & Green’s witty lyrics, and the cast’s inspired performances, the evening can only be described as a triumph.

Willard Manus
Lobby Hero
Milwaukee Chamber Theater

This isn’t the first time Milwaukee Chamber Theater has launched a production of Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 play, Lobby Hero. But the interpretation of the main character, a security guard whose actions don’t exactly make him a “hero,” is vastly different than what was presented in its original production.

Anne Siegel
Love, Love, Love
Laura Pels Theater

Cheers to Mike Bartlett's critical look at the rise and fall of a generation over the soundtrack of the Beatles' song, "All You Need is Love." Playwright Bartlett examined a generational divide from past and present viewpoints in Charles III. In the Roundabout's dark comic tragedy of Love, Love, Love, he explores the self-centered milieu of the 1960's to the present.

Elizabeth Ahlfors
Soldier's Tale, The
Bitef Theater

Although Company Club Guy’s production of The Soldier’s Tale uses Igor Stravinsky’s music, the play should not be confused with either the originally conceived ballet or the subsequently original staged drama. What is alike in the contemporary production staged for the Bitef Festival is that this theater piece combines spoken drama, music, and dance integrally to convey “travel through imaginary yet true events and emotions.”

Marie J. Kilker
The Consul, The Tramp and America’s Sweetheart
Reuben Cordova Theater

The Consul, The Tramp, and America’s Sweetheart, now in its West Coast premiere at Theater 40, is a cousin to Blueprint to Paradise, which ran last summer at Hudson Theater. In that play (based on a true story), we met two Nazis who had come to L.A. in 1940 to confer with a local Hitler-loving businessman on the construction of a building which would house the Fuhrer when he came in triumph to rule over America’s West Coast. John Morogiello’s play, which is also based on fact and unfolds right before WWII, looks at the Nazi influence on L.A.

Willard Manus
UnSilent Night
Next Act Theater

As holiday-themed productions continue to roll into town, a single light is burning brightly at Next Act Theater, which is presenting the world premiere of a new holiday play by local playwrights John Kishline and Edward Morgan. Called UnSilent Night, the show, set in 1953 Milwaukee, takes place entirely in a radio station, where the crew is finishing up its broadcast on Christmas Eve.

Anne Siegel
Bitef Theater

Based on the authors/performers’ research trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, their drama, Freedom: The Most Expensive Capitalist World, combined monologues, speeches interactive with the audience (including sales pitches) and with each other, and principally the film of their North Korean experience. They began with the notion that North Korea “is the last remnant of the Cold War” which could be examined as an “enemy” of the West according to stereotypical descriptions and propaganda.

Marie J. Kilker
La Gringa
Batey Urbano

When your present is boring and/or future uncertain, it's easy to muse upon your past. This search for "roots" may be based in recorded lineage, or may reach back centuries to an age/place/tribe/event rendered all the more mythical by the reluctance of immediate relations to share in your obsession. After all, hasn't the promise of North America always been that of putting the old behind and making a fresh start in the new?

Mary Shen Barnidge
King Charles III
Navy Pier

Once upon a time, there was a prince who assumed the throne late in life. Vowing to rule wisely, when his advisors proposed a law violating his conscience, he refused to grant his approval, and when his kingdom's voting body objected, he voided their power, throwing his country into turmoil. The ensuing unrest spurred his elder son to depose the royal sire in order to restore peace and unanimity, while his younger son longed only for an "unpredicted life" with his leftist working-class girl friend.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Screwtape Letters, The
Pearl Theater

C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” was first published in serial form and was published as a book in 1942. It’s a brief, apologetic novel exploring Christianity. It takes the form of 31 letters written from an administrative demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, a minor demon, Wormwood. Screwtape is guiding Wormwood in the corruption of a human soul, a man known simply as “The Patient”. It’s heavily ironic satire, taking the perspective of evil in exploring the nature of the Christian life and salvation.

Steve Capra
Touch of the Poet, A
Pacific Resident Theater

Thanks to Pacific Resident Theater, we have a rare chance to see Eugene O’Neill’s last completed play, A Touch of the Poet. First written in 1935 as part of an unfulfilled 7-play cycle dealing with the fortunes of two clashing New England families, Poet centers on one of the most vivid characters in all of O’Neill: a vain, swaggering Irishman, Major Cornelius Melody (Matt McKenzie), who had served in Wellington’s army and now, in 1828, was reduced to running a sleazy saloon near Boston.

Willard Manus
Foreigner, The
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse

Plays typically don’t age like fine wine but, surprisingly, this seems to be the case with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s signature comedy, The Foreigner, by the late Rep playwright/actor Larry Shue. Or perhaps the credit for this thoroughly entertaining production goes to Director Laura Gordon, who takes a restrained approach to some of the play’s more outrageous scenes.

Anne Siegel
Guys and Dolls
Asolo Repertory - Mertz Theater

In a big neon-colored return to Broadway of the 1950s, Asolo Rep’s Guys and Dolls shines brighter than usual in two respects: it’s the leading Dolls who most light up the stage, and it’s the choreography and dancing that illuminate plot and character as much as the iconic songs and vocalizing. With Josh Rhodes in charge, old-favorite routines achieve moments of new sparkle.

Marie J. Kilker
Edge Theater

A Wyrd Sister walks into a bar—one of Macbeth's Wryd Sisters, called "witches" by unreconstructed foozles, to be exact—where she encounters a young man acting like a jerk.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Rutherford's Travels
Chicago Dramatists

Virtually every culture includes in its folklore tales recounting the adventures of social misfits who forsake home and kin to roam the wide world, and in doing so, come to discover their place in the cosmos.

The chief contribution of the North American variety is the significance of nature itself in the hero's journey to maturity. Peer Gynt and Lemuel Gulliver might observe alternative civilizations, but in a nation spanning an entire continent, the role played by wilderness primeval in precipitating mortals to contemplate their legacies is inevitable.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Geffen Playhouse - Gil Cates Theater

A millennial comedy with a vengeance, Icebergs looks at an LA-based showbiz couple who are trying to cope with some major personal and professional problems.

Willard Manus
Apartment 3A
Windy City Playhouse

When a man dwelling in a shabby apartment building located on the fringes of a slated-for-gentrification district is seen always garbed in a sleek Armani suit with a blooming rose in his lapel, even in the wee hours of the morning, we suspect that there might be more to him than meets the eye — and when he eagerly extols the limitless virtues of his never-seen wife, whose job entails frequent travel, we also begin to wonder about her. That her faithful husband appears happy in his long-distance marriage only piques our curiosity further.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Magic Play, The
Goodman Theater

The sleight-of-hand trick dubbed "Sam the Bellhop" (popularized by Chicago magician Frank Everhart) is a tour de force turn requiring the magician to recount a story while simultaneously producing, from a randomly arranged deck, cards representing the characters and their various travels. Andrew Hinderaker's latest play likewise combines classic "close-up" magic with dramatic narrative, integrating the two so inextricably as to render negligible the question of which one determines the other's course of action.

Mary Shen Barnidge
Beauty Queen of Leenane, The
Mark Taper Forum

Bracing and fiery as a shot of Irish whiskey, The Beauty Queen of Leenane direct from the Druid theater company in Galway, where the Martin McDonagh play was first done in 1997. Druid’s current revival is directed by Garry Hynes, the play’s first director, and it stars Druid’s co-founder, actress Marie Mullen, who won a Tony for her work in Beauty Queen when it was done on Broadway in 1998.

Willard Manus
Thank You - I Think
Starlite Room

With their last show of 2016, Starlite Players once again bring original and also prize-winning short plays to a cabaret-type atmosphere. Their four comedies, as advertised, “laugh at life’s twists and surprises” and do so with gusto. It’s always fun to laugh at Starlite plays in a convivial atmosphere, so there was an aura of anticipation of a new year at the opening night of the last show of 2016.

Marie J. Kilker