"There's something about being in a live theatre," says St. Ambrose University Professor of Theatre Corinne Johnson, "and experiencing that moment with the actors and, maybe more importantly, with the audience.

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest production is, nearly element for element, an awesome technical achievement. The set, conceived by Dawn Robyn Petrlik, is a glorious mess of artful decay, Ron Breedlove's lighting effects are mostly extraordinary, and the sound quality is superb. (Dave Vanderkamp's continually outstanding sound design is overdue for mention.)

Author's note: Prior to my full-time tenure at the Reader, I worked at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, and for Dennis Hitchcock, for 11 years. This was one of those rare interviews that didn't start with a handshake, but rather a hug.
The most telling moment in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's splendid re-imagining of Grease is a minor one, and - like most of this production's finest moments - nowhere to be found in the original script. (It's actually an invention of director/choreographer Ann Nieman's, designed to cover a scene change.) Danny (Jeremy Jonet) and Cha-Cha (Nicole Polzella) have just won Rydell High's dance competition, yet instead of relishing the victory, Danny runs off to re-claim the heart of his true love, Sandy (Cheryl Hoffman). As the decorations come down and the stragglers depart, Cha-Cha - who has even been rebuffed by the nerdy Eugene (Mark D. Lingenfelter) - finds herself alone, and she takes a beat, gazes at the suddenly meaningless trophy in her hands, and quietly, sadly walks off stage.

How wonderful and humbling the last eight months have been.

Stuart Little, the family musical currently being produced at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, is a near-perfect melding of actors and material, a musical comedy so creative and ebullient that you are instructed to secure tickets even if you don't have any kids on hand to chaperone you. The show has the sweetness of spirit that E.B. White's beloved tale requires, but it's better enjoyed as an ingenious vaudeville entertainment; with little overt plotting to get in the way, Stuart Little gives audiences a bevy of delightful musical and comedy sketches, and even though some of the songs are humdrum, the presentation never is. Circa '21's production isn't just a topnotch family entertainment; it's a topnotch entertainment, period.
Christmas from the Heart, which opens the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's 29th season, is a holiday-themed musical revue, and as such, it has a built-in advantage that many stage works don't: Audiences don't make many demands of it. When presented with a piece of this sort - in which the production is essentially an excuse for linking together a diverse group of carols and holiday hits - no one really cares what the story is about or whether the characters have any depth; all we ask is that the numbers are well-sung and that the show maintains a lively pace, and if it's funny or touching or particularly well-designed, those are just added bonuses.
For many stage actors, the chance to perform a one-person show would be a dream come true. For Adam Michael Lewis, this dream has come true, but not, it turns out, for the first time. Or the second. Or even the third.

My parents, being good people, raised me to believe that if you couldn't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. Of course, they couldn't have imagined I'd wind up a reviewer, nor that I'd wind up having to devote 700 words to Meshuggah-Nuns!

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse enjoys a luxury that no other theatrical venues in the area do: Its productions, on average, run about eight weeks each, allowing good shows plenty of time to eventually become very, very good shows. Given this, I'm guessing that the theatre's latest offering, Pump Boys & Dinettes, will, by its closing night on September 17, end up ... fine.

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