Tom Vaccaro and Bret Churchill in A New BrainBeautiful vocalizations, rich harmonies, nuanced performances, and a fun, interesting set aside, what I enjoyed most about Saturday's performance of the District Theatre's A New Brain was that the musical felt both familiar and original; it's a fresh take on musical theatre, yet doesn't suggest any unnecessary effort made to reinvent the wheel. With its songs by William Finn and book by Finn and James Lapine, the piece manages to be odd, joyful, irreverent, and silly all at once, but also delivers an overarching sense of hope without being pandering or sugary.

Don Denton in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatDriving home from the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse on Friday night, after seeing the opening performance of the musical Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat, I asked my husband, "Can you honestly think of anyone who wouldn't like this show?" We couldn't. And I still can't. With its appealing confluence of technical effects, engaging storytelling, musical styles, memorable characters, and lessons in forgiveness, humility, and hope, even those grudging types who would rather be dressed in bologna and tossed into a shark tank than see a musical can find something in Joseph to laugh at, mull over, be inspired by, or appreciate on a sensory level.

Snow White ensemble membersA beautiful princess. A handsome prince. A wicked queen. And a friendly woodsman who, if he refuses to cut out his best friend's heart, will find himself turned into that most hideous of creatures: SpongeBob SquarePants.

"The Elves & the Shoemaker"I'm good friends with more than a few actors who frequently perform at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, and I'm occasionally asked if my ties to them - and to the venue itself - skew my opinions about Circa '21 productions. I'd like to think they don't ... but then I'll be confronted with a production such as The Elves & the Shoemaker. I had a blast at the theatre's new family musical, yet I'm forced to address a nagging issue: Did I enjoy it because it's good, or did I enjoy it because the act of watching my pals doing goofy-ass shtick in goofy-ass costumes makes me unaccountably happy?

"Irving Berlin's White Christmas" ensemble Friday's performance of Irving Berlin's White Christmas at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse was so joyous, so committed to giving audiences a good time, that it easily transcended its opening-night technical gaffes. Hell, the sound system could've exploded and the set could've come crashing down - knock knock knock - and the cast still would have sold the show.

Aesop's Dynamic Duo - the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's new family musical - focuses on several of the renowned storyteller's famous characters, and one of its first songs is entitled "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Bret Churchill plays The Boy, and the actor, with his usual exuberance and vigor, begins the number with: "I'm the Boy Who Cried Wolf / I'm the one who frightened the town / I told them the story / And, boy, it was gory / I told them the wolf ate / the Smith's Bassett hound."

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.