I’m no Brainiac, but I do know this about musicals: When you put together a group of 13 adorable and talented little girls led by a plucky redhead who can sing her heart out, add a rags-to-riches tale enhanced with memorable tunes and dance numbers, and then throw in a scruffy dog that takes stage direction, you’ve got a crowd-pleaser on your hands!

Written by Thomas Meehan and based on the 2003 film comedy, Elf: The Musical is filled with lively music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and director/choreographer Ann Nieman made great use of an exceptionally talented cast that didn't have a weak link in the bunch.

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – the story of murder on a remote island – was published in 1939 and adapted into a play in 1943, and is one of the top-10 bestsellers of all time. If you like the game Clue, or just a good whodunnit, you will likely enjoy this mystery, as the audience is taken on a suspenseful ride that's filled with twists and turns until its last scene. And while the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's current presentation of the piece, under the direction of Cynthia Safford, has a straightforward approach and is less scary than some productions I’ve seen, it's still effective.

The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton elevate this story of a fading diva to an almost operatic level, and Quad City Music Guild is currently presenting the Sunset Boulevard musical with Broadway-worthy sets, costumes, and performances. Bravo!

With its focus on gatherings held when the women are 44, 49, 54, and 77, the script requires quick repartee and timing, and under the direction of Jacque Cohoon, the stage quintet does not disappoint. At the July 11 preview performance, in fact, the audience's laughter came so often, and was so hearty, that the actresses – complete with Southern accents and charm – had to sometimes wait for it to die down, although they consistently kept the pace lively and energetic.

Sixty-six characters, a beheading, star-crossed lovers, a woman and child on the run, wedding and funeral parties for the same guy (on the same day), a crazy judge, songs, and another beheading all add up to an incredible evening of theatre courtesy of Bertolt Brecht and the Prenzie Players. Brecht is known for his “epic theatre” works and, true to form, the Prenzies' staging of The Caucasian Chalk Circle incorporates a play-within-a-play – or rather, a parable-within-a-play – alongside social commentary, occasionally absurd humor, sentimentality, satire, and music. (Whew!) And meeting this challenge are director Kate Farence, her creative crew, and her stellar cast of 15 (10 of whom play multiple roles),  who made for exciting theatre on July 14's opening night.

I’ve been taking my nine-year-old granddaughter Ava to the theatre since she was three, and on June 15 she accompanied me to the matinée performance of A Year with Frog & Toad, where we agreed that children’s shows don’t always have to be high-energy to be fun. This Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse production is a gentle story of friendship, and under the direction of Kim Kurtenbach it has a nicely old-fashioned vibe.

The 2006 musical love story I Love You Because, its music by Joshua Salzman and its book and lyrics by Ryan Cunningham, is a modern spin on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, exploring the age-old notion that opposites attract. And in its current presentation at the Black Box Theatre, the show provides a light and entertaining theatre experience.

The concept of taking songs from an artist’s catalog and piecing them together to create a narrative doesn’t always work. But I must say that the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's current Snapshots: A Musical Scrapbook is one of the genre's best, culling the music of Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz to tell the tale of a couple whose relationship is at a turning point. Its 26 numbers are from albums and familiar musicals such as Wicked, Godspell, and Pippin, and although some of the lyrics have been altered to match new characters and situations, this wasn't a distraction for me, and I was able to enjoy them as fresh and fitting for the storyline.

Having been a librarian at elementary and middle schools, one might think my most challenging students were the middle-schoolers. Not so! My fears arose before visits from the littler kids, as I, alone, would have to keep them quiet and attentive for 40 minutes. (Ever herded kittens?) So when I attended April 20's Big Nate: The Musical at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse and saw school buses unloading first- and second-graders, kindergarteners, and preschoolers, I thought, “This will be interesting!” – especially since the Big Nate books are for readers 8 to 12 years old. I wondered if the story would hold the attention of this young an audience … and happily, the answer was “Yes!”