It is, according to a seasonal song, the beginning of that “most wonderful time of the year.” And on the day after Thanksgiving, I, along with my seven-year-old grandson John, attended the opening of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's holiday production in a traditional celebration of … pirates.
Moving into a Victorian brownstone in the heart of New York City would be an adventure in itself, but imagine moving in and finding a full-grown crocodile in the bathroom. This is the start of a series of events in director Andrea Moore's Lyle the Crocodile, the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest family musical. Being familiar with author Bernard Waber's 1960s picture books on which this show is based, I feared the production would be too baby-ish for my “sophisticated” eight-year-old granddaughter Ava. But she consented to attend the June 25 performance with me, and afterward we agreed that the story was appealing to both elementary-school-age children and their parents. She did, however, point out that kids may have to know a little about Lyle's time and place (New York City in the 1950s), and about its references to turning crocs into purses and shoes, which she informed me was now illegal.
My husband and I have been taking our granddaughter Ava to stage presentations since she was three. She is now eight and has her own opinions about what makes good theatre, and one of her complaints about some productions is that they require adult actors to play children. As Ava insists, "It just isn't believable." I agree. It often seems forced.
How long does it take for an area production to become legendary? In the case of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's How I Became a Pirate, I'd say about one week, because after the show's debut staging in 2013, that's how long it took four adult patrons, individually, to tell me it was maybe the best family musical they'd ever seen.
Frankly, I was surprised to see so many boys in attendance at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Tuesday performance of Fancy Nancy: The Musical. Based on Jane O'Connor's book Fancy Nancy & the Mermaid Ballet, the play would, I thought, appeal more obviously to girls, and prior to the opening of the (proverbial) curtain, I expected the lads populating my seat section to be disappointed. Fortunately, though, there's plenty of content here that appeals to both girls and boys, and judging by the young males' positive reactions, they were delighted by the show - as was I.
The fifth time is apparently the charm for writer Greta Grosch and composer/lyricist Drew Jansen, as the final installment in the Church Basement Ladies series is, for me, the most cohesive and amusing from beginning to end. Primarily, this is because there's a clear plot that ties together the story as, through flashbacks, we learn about the founding of the show's rural-Minnesota church, the initial introduction of the titular ladies to their basement kitchen, and the eventual disbanding of the congregation. This musical is the history of the ladies' Lutheran church in its entirety, a thread that pulls together the proceedings in a beautiful way.
For me, the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Bootleggers' show is a bi-annual delight. It's a treat to see the men and women who serve our salads, drinks, and desserts all year - and who perform for a few minutes prior to each production - get their own show. This is their chance to shine and, while Blame It On the Movies isn't quite as fun, overall, as past Bootlegger revues, its cast proves that they deserve more time in the spotlight.
The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse and director Kimberly Furness have done it again, crafting a family production that's charming and a whole lot of fun for both the kids and the adults in the audience. My partner's nine-year-old daughter Madison and I enjoyed Friday's performance of Freckleface Strawberry: The Musical immensely, even though neither of us is at all familiar with the children's-book character the show is based on.
The fleet, funny noir opening to the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Bootlegger revue The World Goes 'Round is actually quite misleading, as it bears almost no resemblance to the show that follows. Yet rarely have I been so happy to be misled, because the show that follows is a real beauty - thoughtful and nuanced and serious, and oftentimes boasting a gravity and sadness that, coming from the Circa '21 stage, feels legitimately shocking.
Subscribe to our weekly e-mail updates, delivered to your inbox every Friday.
You'll get a rundown of What's Happenin' along with your keys to the Quad Cities' culture.
Support the Reader
With your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution, the Reader can continue providing uncensored, non-scripted, and independent journalism alongside the Quad Cities area's most comprehensive cultural coverage.