Iliana Garcia, Lauren VanSpeybroeck, and Alexis Harter in StinkyKids: The MusicalConsidering its title, and my unfamiliarity with the Britt Menzies books on which it's based, I was uncertain what to expect going into Thursday's Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse production of StinkyKids: The Musical. That title, for me, conjures up thoughts of the grotesque Garbage Pail Kids collector cards from the 1980s. Thankfully, though, the show's StinkyKids are nothing like those urchins, as was noted upon my first look at costume designer Gregory Hiatt's colorful, playful choices for the six characters, with each six- or seven-year old child wearing a predominant color with accents - such as flowers or shapes - in another hue.

Nathan McHenry and Heather Baisley (center) and ensemble members in Annie Get Your GunThere were moments during Friday's performance of Annie Get Your Gun at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre in which I forgot that I was watching a performance. That is to say, the audience around me disappeared as I became lost in the production, and particularly captivated by Heather Baisley's Annie Oakley. This, for me, was a true escapist experience: I was absolutely taken in by Baisley's fantastic portrayal.

Steven Sepson and Sean Lynch in Die FledermausMy enjoyment of Die Fledermaus, presented by Opera @ Augustana and Genesius Guild, started with the first notes heard by the orchestra playing Johann Strauss' operetta. The beauty of this ensemble's seemingly flawless performance caused my spirit to swell with delight, and added to the experience of sitting in Lincoln Park's outdoor theatre, watching the stars appear and listening to the sounds of nature. Due to the mixture of the open-air atmosphere and the richness of Strauss' splendidly well-performed composition, I was overwhelmed during Saturday's performance with a sense of art and culture - and all this before a single note was sung.

Patrick Downing, Dan Pepper, Rob Keech, Mark McGinn, and Quincy Keele in Les MiserablesQuad City Music Guild's Les Misérables has the look and feel of the local community theatre producing its own, specific version of the Broadway favorite, with its music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. And that delights me, given that I wanted to see the group's take on this much-loved musical, rather than an attempt to recreate one of its previous stagings.

Nathan Johnson and Victor Angelo and The Melville BoysThe title The Melville Boys implies that the two men in this four-character play are at the crux of its plot. For me, though, the highlight of the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's production of Norm Foster's script was watching Dianna McKune provide the performance's heart and soul. As Mary, the character whose home neighbors the family cabin that the Melville brothers are using for the weekend, McKune brings a centered warmth to the proceedings, and is responsible for the play's biggest laughs and most heartfelt moments.

Carly Ann Berg, Sarah Randall, Heather Baisley, and Jenna Haimes in The Taffetas; photo by Jean BlackTight harmonies, effervescent smiles, and pastel-colored dresses are the highlights of the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's The Taffetas, a jukebox musical featuring songs from the 1950s. Yet it's barely a musical. The production plays out as the titular girls' group makes its national television debut on the Spotlight on Music show - with the Showboat crowd serving as the "live studio audience" for a televised concert - and as there isn't much dialogue, or much plot, The Taffetas is really more of a revue.

Marc Ciemiewicz and Rachelle Walljasper in Fiddler on the RoofI'm willing to admit that I had significant reservations when I heard Marc Ciemiewicz would be playing Tevye in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Fiddler on the Roof. While I've enjoyed every performance I've seen from the actor, I wasn't sure he could pull off this particular part - and I confess this hoping that my praise is all the more significant: Ciemiewicz knocks the role out of the park. Sporting a beard and using a deep baritone voice to speak and sing, and significantly changing his physical demeanor, this person I normally adore for his cutesy charm and spunk completely disappears into the character of Tevye, all the while maintaining his adept comedic skill. I will never doubt Ciemiewicz's acting range again.

Kyle Jecklin, Tom Vaccaro, Doug Kutzli, Rocky Kampling, and Mark Ruebling in Big Rock Candy MountainA Depression-era band performs an impromptu concert at a small-town theatre, facing off against an overbearing, somewhat inept police officer who later, after getting plastered, takes a shine to them. The group's biggest adversary is a mean-spirited rich woman who, after boo-worthy attacks on the group, gets her comeuppance when her power is pulled out from under her. The story serves as the bridge to performances of early-20th-Century songs performed by this jukebox musical's cast members, who play on string instruments and out-of-the-ordinary percussion sources.

It's a description that fits both Southern Crossroads and the District Theatre's latest debuting production, Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Jeremy Mahr and Mike Schulz in True WestThe approach that director Tyson Danner takes with the QC Theatre Workshop's True West frustrates me in that, with leading actors Jeremy Mahr and (Reader employee) Mike Schulz playing either Austin or Lee depending on the results of a flipped coin minutes before the metaphorical curtain rises, I want to see them in both roles. With the character assignments left to chance, however, it's possible to attend every performance of the play's run and not get an opportunity to see Schulz and Mahr ever swap characters. And in a way, that's too bad, as the performers were so remarkable in Friday's presentation that I imagine a switch would make a subsequent viewing all the more interesting.

Garrin Jost and Aaron Lord in Spring AwakeningDirector Dino Hayz sets the sexual tone for the Center for Living Arts' Spring Awakening right away, as each of the young female cast members appear, one by one, in spotlight, and run their hands along their pubescent characters' newfound curves as if admiring their blossoming womanhood in a mirror. This sensuality, which never crosses over into baser lewdness, carries throughout the production, highlighting the innuendo and double entendres present in playwright and lyricist Steven Sater's and composer Duncan Sheik's musical tale of sexual discovery.

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