the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Irving Berlin's White ChristmasIf you're new to this almost-annual recap, what follows is my conversation with Reader theatre reviewer Thom White about the area's stage stage over the past 12 months.

If you're not new to it, you know the drill. Clear some time, grab a snack, and enjoy!


Mike Schulz: So what do you want to talk about first? I didn't get to nearly as much as you did, of course. I wound up seeing, I think, around 20 shows to your 60. But there were certainly a few that just blew me away.

Thom White: Doctor Faustus did, for sure. On the Prenzie Players' Web site, they have that line "Theatre is not a passive experience." And for so long, that seemed to be about them grabbing someone from the audience, or talking to the audience. Which is kind of an experience, but it never really spoke to me personally. And Faustus, I thought, was the first time - and I mean no offense to the Prenzie Players, because I love what they do - but that was the first time where I was like, "This was totally not a passive experience for me." That whole production was an experience.

Kitty Israel in the Prenzie Players' Doctor FaustusThat show may have had more individually great elements than any other Prenzie show I can think of. Like Molly Wilkinson as Lucifer, with those scary-ass shrieks ... . She was horrifying. Really scary. And Kitty Israel's smile as Mephistophilis, and those great contact lenses just freaking you out ... .

Yeah, I was truly frightened by many points. Usually, even if something's frightening on stage, I'm still like, "Oh, this is theatre, I know that actor ... ." But with this one, I felt a little creeped out! Being in that dark room with [Aaron Sullivan's] Faustus casting the spells ... .

I don't know how long Aaron had to practice drawing that perfect circle on the floor, but it was like a compass did it.

That was part of what made it so frightening! I was like, "That's a real summoning circle. Is there a priest in the house? Because, um, if the devil's gonna show up, I need to do some confessing!" [Laughs.]

I thought the Prenzies' Lear was tremendous, too, especially considering that risky move of swapping genders.

I liked how that worked. That was the performance where the Fool [Andrew Bruning] grabbed my leg, so that was one of the times I was actually pulled into a Prenzie show. [Laughs.] But I also watched it on the same night with the director, J.C. Luxton. And it was just as interesting watching him as it was watching the production, because you could see his passion, watching him cry at different moments. I was thinking, "You've worked on this daily for how long and you're still moved by it?" That says a lot about him, and his commitment to it.

Indeed. And Cait Bodenbender was just beautiful as Lear ... .

And chilling.

Cole McFarren and Stephanie Burrough in the Prenzie Players' LearAnd chilling. And Stephanie Burrough, with that incredibly brave performance, and Cole [McFarren] and Jarrod [DeRooi] as the sons ... I really liked that one.

I also distinctly remember Timber Lake Playhouse's Les Misérables. Because that's material that I love and have seen on Broadway tours I don't know how many times. But I thought Timber Lake's show topped them. And maybe it had something to do with being so close, and seeing the actors more closely, as opposed to being in the balcony for the Broadway tours ... .

Where were you sitting at Timber Lake?

Fourth or fifth row.


I was quite close. But I don't remember anything I thought was flawed in that production.

I saw Les Mis on Broadway in '88. And then I saw three performances in Chicago, and like you, I was always sitting, like, in the mezzanine for those. It was still great and gorgeous ... .

Because of the way the Broadway staging is done, there's something very appealing about watching the turntable from above and seeing it from afar. But it does change the experience when it's a lot more intimate.

Dan Pepper, Jodi McGinn, and Mark McGinn in Quad City Music Guild's Les MiserablesHow about Music Guild's Les Mis, as long as we're on the subject?

I liked some of it. But what was frustrating for me was I didn't understand how the director [Bob Williams], who came up with such a fantastic, layered, multi-piece set, then didn't use the set in his staging. I'm not at all a fan of front-and-center solos. You've got an entire stage - use it.

I'm with you. I think Bob Williams is one of the best directors Music Guild has - .


- but it did become a bit disheartening that every number was done center-stage, so it became like an American Idol competition. "Who's gonna sing Les Mis songs the best?"

I would compare it to the film. We might as well have had close-ups, because we didn't see anything else going on. And I want to be careful to say I do like Bob Williams quite a bit, too - I'm not trying to diss him overall. But I just thought that having also designed the set, it would've made sense for him to use it more. Because he would know how to more than anyone.

Gorgeous voices, though. It's hard to complain when you've got Jenny [Winn] doing "I Dreamed a Dream," and Sarah Lounsberry as Éponine, and Patrick Downing as Javert ... . And I loved Dan Pepper, who played Marius. He was passionate and touching and very committed - one of the best Mariuses I've ever seen.

Agreed. He was good.

You could see that commitment with everybody - that they really wanted to do a good Les Mis. Which is a cool thing, I think, about Les Mis: It's a show that you know the people on-stage are excited as hell to do. But you get to see another Les Mis [at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse] in just a few weeks, which'll be your fourth in a year and a half. Are you getting Les Mis-fatigued?

I'm not "getting." I am. [Laughs.] I'll be honest: I'm not quite looking forward to another staging of Les Mis. But being a reviewer, I try to remove my expectations and preconceived feelings once I sit down. Do you know if they're doing the revolving set?

(clockwise from left) Tamarin K. Ythier, James Fairchild, Erin Clark, Tristan Layne Tapscott, Brad Hauskins, Janet Ellen Brucken, and Marc Ciemiewicz in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Love, Lies, & the LotteryThat I don't know, to be honest. [Author's update: They're not.]

I will say that I kind of hope not. Because then, at least, you know the show will be done in a different style, because they won't have that option. It'll at least be different because of that. Because I want to see them change it up.

Well, that brings up an interesting issue. Because, sure, many of us are familiar with Les Mis. But there's going to be a bunch of people seeing Circa's production who actually haven't seen it before - who've been listening to the soundtrack for 25 years but have never seen it live. Do you give those people, then, the revolving set they're looking forward to, or do you try to do something different?

That's a tough question, because how are you best serving your audience? Are you serving them by creating your art, or are you serving them by creating their expectation for the art? And if that's the case, is that fair to those who have seen it already, and want to see Circa put its own stamp on it? I don't know.

And are the people who are seeing it again seeing it because they liked it the way it was done before, and don't want it changed? It seems like you kind of lose either way. And, by the same token, I guess you win either way. [Laughs.] Although as a former Bootlegger, I do worry for the staff on Wednesdays. I mean, the matinée starts at 1:30, it'll be over at quarter to five, they open the doors for dinner at 5:45 ... .

When the show ends, they might as well just start it over again. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] If you come on Wednesday, you have to see both shows. Lunch, dinner, and two Les Mises. "You're here all day! Sit your ass down and enjoy it!"

[Laughs.] "There's no exit!"

Caleb Jernigan, Heather Baisley, Carly Berg, and Robert Rice in the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's The Wizard of OzHow about the Clinton Showboat's Wizard of Oz? I know you loved that one ... .

The Wizard of Oz! Now there's a great example of something that's familiar, where there's audience expectation, and the show just turned that on its head and threw out almost all conventions. Except for a few - the ruby-red slippers, the blue gingham, you know. But it didn't follow the familiar format. That was very much [director and Showboat Artistic Director] Tommy Iafrate having his own vision and bringing it to the stage. It was incredible.

Remind me what he did that was out of the norm.

Well, let me go back and say that I don't usually read a program's director's notes before a show. Even though I remove expectations, once I read a director's note, sometimes it puts them in there. So I just avoid it. Unless I'm at the theatre and sitting in my seat, like, a half-hour early. Then I might read the directors' notes because I'm bored. [Laughs.]

But I read Tommy's notes for this one. And he was describing being little - I think at his grandmother's house - and there being piles of laundry, and his playing with them and dressing in them ... . That was a comforting memory for him. So the concept behind the staging was laundry and clothing. Dorothy's farmhouse was really nothing more than a string of laundry on a line, and then that was used to swirl around her for the tornado. And the trees had brown clothes up the trunk, and there were green clothes hanging from it for the leaves ... . So the whole show had this sense of comfort - of playing dress-up as a kid. And it worked so well. It was so inventive and artistic and creative.

Nathan McHenry and Heather Baisley in the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's Annie Get Your GunIt sounds like it added an element of surprise to a story you've experienced dozens, or hundreds, of times before.

Yes! And delight. Thinking, "What's next? How are they gonna do this?" I didn't get to put this in the review - just because there was so much to gush over and I didn't want to give it away. But the fake Wizard's head was, like, long tubes filled with stuffing that several actors held, and then they formed faces. Like opening the mouth or winking an eye - they would do puppetry with these tubes of stuffing. It was fantastic!

Also, another delight from Clinton was Heather Baisley, who played Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. I think that's another one where you kind of do have expectations for a role. Performers can either go Ethel Merman - which is the expectation - or Bernadette Peters, which is a little more soft, you know. And I think that Heather played it more sincere than either of those two. Not that they're insincere, but they were playing Annie more as a "character," and she just played it as a real, relatable, charming, down-home girl, and it was just exquisite. I just wanted to watch her the whole time.

It sucks that this was our last summer with Tommy in Clinton. [Iafrate, who's also a full-time college professor, previously announced his decision not to return in his artistic director capacity next summer.]

Yes. I remember writing something about, "What a blessing for the community to have such an artistic visionary serving their entertainment needs." And then, like a week later, it was announced that he was leaving. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] You jinxed it.

Yeah. Sorry about that, Clinton! [Laughs.] But he did tell me that he would be back to direct, so he's not gone fully.

Cecelia Ryan in the Timber Lake Playhouse's Les MiserablesWe didn't mention this when we talked about Les Mis, but this was the first time you'd been to Timber Lake. And I know the first couple of times you went, you were kind of underwhelmed.

Yeah, you know, I keep thinking about that. Even to this day, months later. That was a tough situation, I think, in that Timber Lake has such a reputation that it was hard not to go in with high expectations that were impossible to do away with. So when I sat down, I think it was with an even more critical eye. "Okay. I expect to be blown away." And then I was like, "Eh-h-h ... ."

But what was interesting was that in each production, the directing and acting ... . Everything was just head-and-shoulders above most of what I see. They deserve their reputation. There was just something missing, and I kept thinking it was chemistry - and I still think that. I think they had it as actors off-stage - you could tell when you saw them after the show in the receiving line. But on stage, there was an individuality that didn't quite pull together into an ensemble until Les Mis.

Interesting. Because I saw their first show this summer, Joseph [& the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat], which is really kind of a bunch of individual set pieces stitched together. It's not really designed for chemistry. And then An Inspector Calls came after Joseph, and in many ways it's a mystery in which one character after another is given the spotlight. Like Joseph. So I wonder if that lack of chemistry, for you, was because the actors really hadn't had a lot of practice working as an ensemble.

So it's possible that there was a habit formed, so to speak? That they were used to playing it individually?

I don't know. Maybe.

That could be. By the time they got to Les Mis, they were all great.

Melissa Anderson Clark, Matthew McFate, and Brian Peterson in Countryside Community Theatre's Shrek: The MusicalLet's move over to Countryside [Community Theatre]. I didn't get to see it, but what were your feelings about Shrek: The Musical?

My thing with Countryside - and I hope this isn't taken as offensive, because I want to be clear that I don't mean it to be - but I think that Countryside overreaches. But I also think that's a great thing. I think you should do that, because you don't grow if you don't. So I think that's a positive for them. Sometimes that overreaching works against them, but I still applaud them for it. I mean, they did Les Mis last summer, and that's pretty lofty. And Shrek, even though it's lighthearted, it's pretty involved with sets and costumes and prosthetics - there's a lot involved in that thing.

And I thought they made a smart choice to rent [the sets and costumes], because I think you really do need to meet expectations with that one. More so than with Les Mis. That one you can play with, but Shrek ... it's too iconic. I think you could play with it and do it differently, but that's one where if you're gonna do it the way we expect, I say that's fine.

It's probably dangerous to risk the wrath of children who've been watching that movie every day of their lives.

Right. And Shrek was not perfect, but they were so excited about doing it, and having so much fun in it, and there was so much energy between the cast members ... . It was far-reaching for them, and they pretty much did reach it, and I think it was the best Countryside production I've seen. It had all the elements that make Countryside wonderful.

One of the big things about Countryside shows is that they feature a lot of parents and children working together. A lot of families taking part. And it seems like because of that, Shrek might have been a perfect choice. I mean, the kids were probably delighted to be doing Shrek, the parents were delighted to watch their kids doing Shrek ... . It's gotta be hard to be in a bad mood when your kids are having such a good time. Whereas with Les Mis, you can get the kids in there, but they're probably not having nearly as much fun as they would hanging out with a big ogre.

[Laughs.] "Let's fall off the barricade!" "Yeah!"

Genesius Guild's and Opera @ Augustana's Die Fledermaus[Laughs.] This summer, you also reviewed your first operetta at Genesius Guild [Opera @ Augustana's co-presentation Die Fledermaus]. Which I remember you telling me you were a little ... well, not nervous about, but you'd never reviewed one before.

Not a "little" nervous! [Laughs.] Well, here's the thing - and this is maybe gonna make me look bad, but that's okay. I was a vocal-performance major in college. I have a degree in music theory with an emphasis on voice. Don't ask me to sing, because I should not have been a vocal major. [Laughs.] So I have experience with opera. You know, we had to study arias and perform arias and whatnot. But still, I wasn't a vocal major to be in opera. I was a vocal major to be in musical theatre. So I kind of, you know, did what I needed to do and pushed it aside.

So I was very hesitant to review an opera. I didn't know it was going to be in English, for one thing, and I thought, "I'm gonna be completely lost." I mean, I already struggle somewhat with Shakespeare - that's some of the few shows where I do prep beforehand to know the plot, so I at least know some of what's going on ahead of time. So I was a bit panicked about Die Fledermaus, and then I was like, "Oh, thank you!" It was fabulously rendered, it was in English ... . [Laughs.] I mean, it was a highlight of my year. So wonderful. I hope they'll do more.

They are. They've got another next summer.


I only got to see Twelfth Night [at Genesius Guild] this year - the "called on account of rain" production. [Laughs.] But I went back to see it the next night, and it was delightful. How'd you fell about the masked plays The Suppliants and The Persians?

Hmmm ... . [Laughs.] Personal opinion, reviewer or not, I think doing two back-to-back is a little much. They were each about an hour - I think the second one was shorter. But still, with masked Greek tragedy, you're kind of sitting there watching people walk about and recite. And I enjoy that, and the masks were the most interesting thing about it, and they use their voices well. But after about an hour, I have trouble staying focused. But that's just personal. Other people may have really enjoyed having two. [Laughs.]

Pat Flaherty and ensemble members in Genesius Guild's The SuppliantsI read David Burke's review of [Don Wooten's Aristophanes adaptation] Plutus, and he said he got a charge out of being name-dropped in a joke, when he was chided for sleeping on the job.


Have you been mentioned in one of Don's comedies yet?

Not while I was there. And I have to say I agree with David - there's sort of an honor to it, you know? You're like, "Oh, please please mention me!" [Laughs.] But a few years ago, they used another reviewer's name in a joke that I thought crossed a line, and I mentioned it in my review. I don't know whether I misunderstood the joke or what, but there were comments about it, and someone said that on the last day of the show, they were going to use my name instead. In a fun way, like, "All right, let's just put this behind us," which I thought was really cool. I wasn't there for it, though. I was out of town. So my name has been mentioned, apparently, but I've never heard it. [Laughs.]

Gotcha. [Laughs.] Let's move on to Quad City Music Guild. I saw all of their shows except for Willy Wonka, and got to review a couple. Did you wind up getting to see Legally Blonde: The Musical?

No. With summer and kids, you know, there's always stuff going on, and when I'm already seeing three or four a week, it's hard to go to one just for pleasure. You know, sometimes it's just "I want to stay home and watch TV." [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] There just aren't enough hours in the day. And everybody I know who stays really busy with theatre says that same thing. And I'm one of 'em. "I meant to see it, and then ... ."

Legally Blonde would've been one, though, I would have gone to. I like that material. I liked the cast.

Autumn Loose, Liv Lyman, Lauren VanSpeybroeck, and Becca Meumann Johnson in Quad City Music Guild's Legally Blonde: The MusicalYeah, it was a mess of fun. Lauren [VanSpeybroeck] was beautiful, and Erin Platt was so freakin' funny in that thing. Such a great time. And I'm very happy that I got to see Oklahoma!, because it looked and sounded gorgeous, and Jen Sondgeroth and David Miller and Allyson Martens were awesome. It's a show I adore anyway ... although I know it isn't one of your favorites. [Laughs.] Is it Rodgers & Hammerstein in general, or just that show in particular that you're not a fan of?

I like a few Rodgers & Hammerstein. I would see Sound of Music again and again. South Pacific I could see over and over again. The King & I ... almost over and over again. But I think Oklahoma! is just ... . I've been in it. It's fun to do. I just don't think it's as fun to watch.

How does it generally affect you when you see shows that you yourself have been in? Like if it's a show you hated doing, do you think, "Please God let this be better than the one I did"? 'Cause that's how I feel when I see Pippin.

That's a good question. I don't think it really affects me either way. Sometimes I'll think,"Well, I enjoyed doing that show ... ." But no, I don't mind seeing it. And I don't ever think, "Well, we did it this way, so you should've done it this way."

Should we talk about Willy Wonka?

Well, it's rare that I thoroughly hate something. And I ... . I don't know ... . Can we just skip this? [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] You know, it's almost never fun to even talk about shows you really don't like.

And like I've said before, there are people, I've heard, who think I enjoy hating on plays, and I go just because I want to hate on it. Absolutely not. I want to love every single production I see. I want it to be a good time. And I want my time not to be wasted.

And since you have to spend more time with the show afterward when writing about it, why would any reviewer want things to be bad?

It takes great effort to turn hate into tact, you know? [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] That should be every critic's autobiography! Hate into Tact!

[Laughs.] You know what I mean? Sometimes I sit down and just rail on something and then, "Nope, I have to change this, I have to change this ... ." You have to calm the language down. Whatever I write about a play, I never want to hurt feelings, and I would never want a review to dissuade someone from ever returning to the stage again. That would be like a dagger in my heart to know I'd written something that makes someone say, "I am never doing theatre again."

Allyson Martens, Jacob Ruchotzke, Susan Granet, David M. Miller, and Jen Sondgeroth in Quad City Music Guild's Oklahoma!Well, it can be the same for readers who didn't have anything to do with the show. I mean, we all know people who don't see theatre because they sat through that one shitty production of Romeo & Juliet in high school and are now like, "Well, that's obviously not for me." Like, "I heard a bad song, so I'm never listening to music again." I mean, when I'm reviewing movies, I could give a damn about tact. [Laughs.] People are still gonna go to the movies. But there is a responsibility, I think, in knowing your review could potentially be enough to convince someone who doesn't know theatre, or doesn't like theatre, not to ever experience this art form you love.

Yes! And I think we've talked before about how when I first started, I thought, "I'm writing for the cast." But I had to realize, no - we're writing for the audience. You need to get across the idea of "Even if I hated this show, that doesn't mean everyone will." I mean, I used to read Roger Ebert's reviews, and I consistently disagreed with him. However, because I understood where he was coming from, I knew why I disagreed with him, so I could trust his reviews. "If he didn't like it for this reason, I'll probably like it for this reason."

Absolutely. And that is the perfect segue, if you did that on purpose ... .

I didn't! But I know what you're gonna say! [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Let's talk about the Sherlock Holmes play [Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Jersey Lily] at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre.


Because you wrote a review of Dana Moss-Peterson's performance, which you commended. You saw the merit in it, and appreciated what he did - .


- and wound up not liking the performance because of his commitment to this characterization where Sherlock wasn't so likable.

It was unlikable. Not the performance. The character.

Bryan Woods and Dana Moss-Peterson in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Sherlock Holmes & the Case of the Jersey LilyNow, unfortunately, I didn't get to the show. But after I got your review, I e-mailed you saying that your critique was exactly what made me want to. "Oooo, I want to see the dickhead Sherlock Holmes!" [Laughs.] Dana's a really smart actor, and I'm crazy about the Benedict Cumberbatch series, so that characterization seemed like it'd be right in my wheelhouse. Do you watch Sherlock?

It's on my Netflix list. But I've got such a big list that I'm not quite to it.

All right. But it sounds like what Dana was going for was a kind of Benedict Cumberbatch performance - .

Oh, I wonder if he was ... .

- where Sherlock is prickly, and awful to everyone - the performance is spectacular, but that character can be the meanest son of a bitch in the world.

But is Watson endearing?

Yes. My mother loves that show because Watson's so sweet.

So Watson is your connection when Sherlock is so - .

Well, he's so him. [Laughs.] So I guess I have a question about ... . I guess not likability so much as expectation. When you hear "Sherlock Holmes," do you have an idea of how that character should be presented? In this case, more likably, maybe? And was Dana being different from that part of the problem for you?

I don't have expectations for Sherlock. I think that's a character that you can do many ways and it'd be okay. But the reason I asked if Watson was likable on the BBC program is because Richmond Hill's Watson [Larry Lord] was also quite likable, but he wasn't present very much. And during the little bit of time you had with him, Sherlock was bullying him. Like, "You're a buffoon and an idiot ... ." You know? That made you dislike Sherlock even more, and then, with Watson gone, you didn't have a likable character to continue with through the play. I mean, you need to at least like hating someone ... .

John VanDeWoestyne and Greg Cripple in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's The Odd Couple[Laughs.] Sure.

And Bryan Woods as Moriarty in that show ... . I loved hating this guy. He's conniving and awful, but there's something really intriguing about him, and I enjoy hating him. Moss-Peterson's Sherlock, again, while notably characterized - I don't want to deny that - there was just nothing to like about him. He was intelligent and condescending about it, but there wasn't anything redeeming about this character. I mean, like, Bad Santa. Here's this despicable, horrible person. But he's funny, so at least there's something redeeming about him. "I don't like him, but he's hilarious, so I kind of do like him."

How about other shows in Richmond Hill's season? I remember thinking that John VanDeWoestyne and Greg Cripple would've been fun together in The Odd Couple.

What surprised me about that was I would've cast VanDeWoestyne in the Felix role. So I was surprised to see him as the more slovenly one, and that was kind of delightful in and of itself, you know? It was fun watching him in that. My only complaint was that the costumer, or John himself perhaps, had him with his shirt tucked in, and something about it made me think, "Um, I think he'd have his shirt undone." [Laughs.]

And Leading Ladies? I like Ken Ludwig, in general, but I hadn't heard of that script.

It was okay. Jonathan Grafft played his "female" part very sincerely - he wasn't trying to be campy about it. When he was in drag, he was very sincere as this woman. And the other guy, Nathan Johnson, got to be a little more campy with it. So you kind of got both flavors of drag. Because you want some camp with drag, but it can also be kind of offensive, or too much. And it was a little bit of both in that show. There was a nice balance.

And Richmond Hill did Cheaper by the Dozen. I played the father in that my senior year of high school.

Really? For the kid roles, did they bring in, like, children from the elementary schools?

No. We were all the same age. [Laughs.] But I remember there being a fight in the drama club. Some of us wanted to do a proper script. You know, we'd spent our four years in high school building up to doing good scripts as opposed to ridiculous shlock. And there was a fight that year about whether to do Cheaper by the Dozen or a show called Toga! Toga! Toga!

first row - Hannah Hogue, Elisabeth Grafft, Colby Rapps, Amira Siddique; second row - P.J. Hilligoss, Joe Mroz, Yvonne Siddique, and Ben Klocke; third row - Jack Sellers, Jonathan Grafft, and Aidan Grafft in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Cheaper by the DozenOh God. [Laughs.]

And it was really close. Some of us were like, "We did not spend the last four years to go out on Toga! Toga! Toga!" [Laughs.] So I remember thinking just so highly of Cheaper by the Dozen. And then seeing it again for the first time since high school, it was like, "Oh, this script is ... flawed." [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] But at least it wasn't Toga! Toga! Toga!

It wasn't Toga! Toga! Toga! You're right. That would've been really flawed. I mean, I could see the quality of Cheaper by the Dozen. The characters and their relationships and the story are good, but I think there's some... there's a lo-o-ot of exposition. A ton of it.

But the show was still endearing. And The Melville Boys was quite a surprise for me. The subject of two brothers spending a weekend in a cabin and attempting to connect with two women wasn't one I found appealing. However, the play was more touching than I'd expected, and a lot of that had to do with Diane McKune's performance. Diane's a friend from high school, and I thought she was pitch-perfect for the part - subtle and appropriately emotional.

The Playcrafters Barn Theatre had a couple of interesting titles, too, I thought. Second Samuel was a surprise for you, right?

Quite a surprise. I didn't know much about it going in.

So what's the "big secret" of that show? You went out of your way to not reveal it in your review ... .

It's that a town member is transgender. And it was hard not to mention it, because it kind of needed to be said, to make sense of the review. But I couldn't, because it's the big reveal at the end of Act I. There was a character who was transgender - not just a cross-dresser, but someone who was male, identified as female, and therefore lived as a woman. And the play's all about the townfolk's reaction after this person's death.

Do other characters know he's transgender and we just don't find out until later, or is it a surprise for everyone?

It's a surprise for most of the characters, who find out after he's embalmed at the mortuary. After she's embalmed at the mortuary, and it turns out she has a little extra ... you know ... . [Laughs.] So a few people find out "Oh, she wasn't a woman," and the character - who's not in the play - goes from this much-loved, trusted neighbor to this kind of "hands off" figure ... .

And it's not presented as slapstick, right?

Oh, no. Not at all. Was the show sold as a comedy?

Cody Johnson, Ed Villarreal, and Greg Boulijon in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Of Mice & MenI don't think so. But that's why it sounded like a really interesting choice for Playcrafters, especially for its senior crowd. Like, "That sounds like a play that's really about something."

Yes. Absolutely. It's kind of like the next battleground, so to speak, for acceptance. Because it's not like the play was revealing that this townsperson was gay, which is like "been there, done that." Playcrafters did that in Visiting Mr. Green a few years ago, where that was the secret. So this felt like a more timely piece. And it was kind of like, "Playcrafters is doing this? Wow." Yeah, I was a little shocked. Happily shocked.

I was glad to see Dinner with Friends on the schedule, too. A very adult piece - a Pulitzer-Prize-winning adult piece, no less - about real relationships and real people. And Of Mice & Men, of course, is wonderful.

He [Ed Villarreal] was quite good as Lenny. Genteel and lovable. That's another character you really can't mess around with too much. But he was just purely innocent in it, and that's not always the case. Some actors, even though they can play "simple," miss that a little bit. But he brought that necessary, pure innocence the character needs to make the ending all the more heart-wrenching.

Let's bring up Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, because in your review, it sounded like the script told a different story from the one you were hoping would be told. Is that fair?

Yes, I think so. I mean, it's called Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, and then Virginia is hardly in the play. It was more about the journalist who responded to the letter, and his struggles as an alcoholic who just lost his wife and is on a downslope until he gets this letter ... . I don't know, I thought it could've had a better balance. We're supposed to connect with Virginia because of this letter, but we don't because we hardly know her.

Lena Slininger and Don Fey in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa ClausOkay, so that brings me this this: As reviewers, do we have any right to say, "I think the script would've worked better like this, and that's why I didn't like it"? I mean, if we think a play is just fundamentally wrong in concept, should that even enter into our review of a specific production?

Well, even though we're reviewers, I still like to go into a show thinking "I'm another audience member." Even though I'm maybe one who looks at something a little more critically and gets to write my opinion for others to read, whereas the guy next to me doesn't. And in that sense, I think other people may leave feeling the same way - "I didn't like the way this was handled." So if I qualify things by saying, "I think it would have been better like this ...", at least I've explained my opinion. That this is what marred the experience for me.

Sure. I mean, if you see a production of Streetcar Named Desire, and you don't like it because "I don't think Stanley should have raped Blanche," you'd better explain that that's your problem with it. [Laughs.] It can't just be, "I didn't like Streetcar" with no rationale. But it sounds like Playcrafters had a good season overall, and we haven't even mentioned The Secret Garden yet.

Oh, The Secret Garden was so gently rendered. Donna Weeks directed that one. And like J.C. Luxton with Lear? That was Donna with Secret Garden. There was just kind of a gentle passion that was really beautiful - so lovely, so beautifully handled. And none of the three kids [Ben Klocke, Jack Sellers, and Emma Terronez] could have been more perfect. The two boys were in Cheaper by the Dozen, too. And one of them [Klocke] was the lead in the Christmas Story musical at Circa last year. He's so good.

Patti Flaherty, Krissy Wheeler, Jack Sellers, Ben Klocke, and Emma Terronez in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's The Secret GardenSpeaking of, how about Circa? I got to see [Irving Berlin's] White Christmas a couple weeks ago and really enjoyed it a lot. Great cast.


There were lots of performers in it who I knew, but I really liked the lead [Daniel S. Hines], who's new to Circa and was, like, giving a Frank Sinatra performance in a Bing Crosby role. [Laughs.] I thought he was terrific. And seriously, I'm waiting for the spin-off show starring the backup dancers, at least if they can be played by Circa's actresses [Kelly Lohrenz and Allison Nock]. Dead serious. Had you seen that show when Circa did it before?

I did. I saw the previous production. It might've been my first show as a reviewer when I was working at Channel 8. So when I saw this one I thought, "Hmmm, that set looks familiar." [Laughs.] But that's my kind of holiday musical. I don't like in-your-face, over-the-top sentimentality in my holiday shows. That's one's barely a holiday show, really. It more of a winter show with some Christmas elements to it.

That script really works for me because it's got sentiment, but it's never cloying sentiment. It's never too sugary, and it's got some bite and wit in the characters ... . And "Yay!" for [director] Ann Nieman almost singlehandedly keeping awesome tap dance alive in Quad Cities theatre.

My partner Matt hates tap. He thinks - .

I'm sorry? How does anyone hate tap?! I judge him now. [Laughs.]

So do I. [Laughs.] It's something about the way it looks and sounds together - he says, "It just makes no sense to me." That said, he loved the tap numbers in White Christmas. There was so much energy, they were so vivacious ... . And there was a dance quality to the look of the tap numbers in this show, too, as opposed to something like Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk, where it's a lot more about the rhythm than the look.

Fine. I still judge him.

Well, I bring that up as high praise - that even somebody who hates tap loved those numbers. But yeah, go ahead and judge him. [Laughs.]

Marc Ciemiewicz, Andrea Moore, Sara Nicks, Sunshine Ramsey, Jennifer Diab, Antoinette Holman, and Brad Hauskins in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Blame It on the Movies[Laughs.] Hey, can I mention that the Bootleggers' pre-shows lately have been really, really good? Have you noticed that? The one for White Christmas was spectacular, I thought.

Oh, that was maybe my favorite one yet! Every song was a great choice, every transition was well-done ... . It's the best one I've seen in ... maybe ever.

Definitely one of the strongest ones Brad [Hauskins] has yet put together, and he's been doing them for 20 years now. But I also loved the pre-show for Fiddler [on the Roof], I loved the one for Love, Lies, & the Lottery ... . Between Brad and Andrea [Moore] and Marc Ciemiewicz doing them, they've really been super-strong lately. And you liked the full-length Bootlegger show [Blame It on the Movies] this year, right?

I did. But the first act - .

Not a lot of songs you knew?

None of them. I mean, maybe one. So I couldn't tell: "Are these actually from movies, or are they written as if they're from movies...?" I just didn't know.

Well, I remember reading that the first act was a lot of numbers from melodramas of the '40s. And when I saw the song list, I'd never heard of those movies either.

And you're the movie reviewer. Okay, I feel better now! [Laughs.] And the songs were all so similar and so blah. But then the second act picked up, and I was like, "Oh, these songs are from movies I know!" [Laughs] And I don't think it was just the familiarity. Suddenly, there was a lot of variance in style, and so much more energy than there was in the first act, just because the songs were more fun.

Aidan Sank, Alexis Harter, and Marc Ciemiewicz in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Fiddler on the RoofI know you loved Fiddler.


I liked Fiddler.

Yes. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] I thought it was very polished - but maybe a little too polished. I guess I kind of felt how you felt at Timber Lake early on. Where it was like, "This is a very well-oiled machine, but I'm not feeling a lot at it." It was a great time, but Fiddler is one of those shows that can make me bawl my head off, so to not be terribly moved by it was kind of problematic for me.

See, from my perspective, that's another show I don't really want to see staged again. I was in Fiddler. I was Fyedka in college. I wanted to be Motel, but because my hair was blonder and I didn't look Jewish by any means, I was cast as a Russian. Obviously, it had nothing to do with my audition ... .

[Laughs.] Of course not. It was all looks.

It was entirely based on looks, because obviously, the talent was there. [Laughs.] Make sure you put "Thom laughed" when you write this up.

But anyway, it's a show I know really well, and one of those where I know I'm gonna be down by the end - and I don't really want to sit through three hours knowing I'm going to be depressed. And so to have just thoroughly enjoyed that whole production when I thought, going in, that I wasn't gonna like seeing it again ... . I guess it was the opposite reaction of yours. Whereas you're usually moved by Fiddler and that's what you really like about it, I was surprised I was moved so much.

Now that being said, Jim Hesselman, who directed it, is ridiculously talented, and this Fiddler was still a lot of fun, and stocked with crazy-skilled comedians. I mean, you've got Ciemiewicz and Shelley Walljasper and Brad ... . And the guy who played Motel [Aidan Sank], who gave just the riskiest comic performance. He was so over-the-top hysterical. Literally hysterical.

And adorable.

Daniel Rairdin-Hale, Allison Nook, and Emily Baker in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's 'Twas the Night Before ChristmasYes! And the more manic he got, the sweeter he became, because you could see why Tevye was saying, "No, you can't marry my daughter!" I mean, the guy was a nervous wreck!

And then it becomes less about "Oh, Tevye's just a hard-nosed jerk," and more about, "There's a really good reason to keep this guy away from her!" [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Right! It was a really risky, smart comic performance, I thought. And the whole show had a lot of clever stuff like that. By the way, because I never asked, how did you come up with the idea to do your 'Twas the Night Before Christmas review as a rhyme like the original poem's?

I always thought it would be fun to write something like that. Somebody told me once that I should write a review in iambic pentameter. And I thought, "There's no way I could do that. I would fail miserably." But then, with this idea, I thought, "Well, it's a long poem, and it's got enough words and beats per line that I could figure out a way to put information in ... ." I just thought I'd take a risk. And after I submitted it to you, I figured, "Well if he says no, I'm already prepared to re-write it as a regular review."

Well, I'm glad you went that route. It was fun to watch it progress through the editing process.

I did struggle because, as you know, we worked really hard on getting the right meter, and the number of syllables per line. And when I was writing at first, I was writing it as a songwriter. [Laughs.] You can sometimes cheat like that with music. But you can't cheat with poetry - not on that poem, at least. So that was something I had to overcome. But it was fun to work on.

You saw Ballet Quad Cities' productions earlier in the year, and as I recall, you really liked Spring Is in the Air.

Yeah, I enjoyed those vignette pieces. That's another thing like with Genesius Guild's masked plays - you know, I can recognize the beauty of ballet, but it takes focus when the presentation is very similar for two hours. But with the Love Stories ballets and Spring Is in the Air, where it's different vignettes, and I can see different styles, and I really only have to concentrate for, what, eight minutes at a time? [Laughs.] That works better for me. And I don't mean that to be offensive to the ballet, but with my attention span, I enjoy seeing varied styles.

Spring Is in the Air was as the Adler Theatre and Carmen was at the Scottish Rite Cathedral. So how is the experience different for you, when comparing ballets in a kind of intimate space to a more expansive one? How does the venue affect the experience?

Well, productions at the Adler, obviously, are definitely more grand. And I guess I'm torn on the cathedral space, because I don't like the seating as well as I do at the Adler, but I do like that the dancers are closer to you. Like for Dracula, they'll come off stage and do things in the audience. They're not mixing with the audience, but they have more space they can play with, rather than just being limited to the stage. And I like having more intimacy. Actually, my favorite place that Ballet Quad Cities performed in was when they were at one of the halls in Augustana. I saw their Love Stories there two years ago, and it was gorgeous. It had those pillars, and everything was so close to us ... . And they've never done it since! [Laughs.] I'm still like, "Oh, just go there all the time! I love it there!"

Of course, whenever I've gone to the Scottish Rite Cathedral they've been packed, so they wouldn't fit in that hall anymore. And I'd rather see them fill seats than have to drag chairs into the aisles. [Laughs.]

Doug Kutzli, Chris Tracy, Matt Holmes, Wendy Czekalski, Mike Kelly, and Bob Manasco in the District Theatre's Monty Python's SpamalotLet's move on to the District Theatre. Now, I haven't seen shows in the new space yet. But from what I've heard from people who have, they say that depending on the show, the smaller space sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

I agree. [Monty Python's] Spamalot, I thought, was great in that space. It's a long room, and [director and District Theatre Artistic Director] Tristan Tapscott had two or three rows of seats along one long wall, and then the performance space was on the opposite wall. That worked because it gave the actors a wider area to perform in, but also because with that show, there's a charm to the intrinsic, amateur nature of the material. Being limited in terms of where you can go doesn't hurt it.

Spamalot is supposed to look a little tossed together, like the Holy Grail movie. A little tacky.

Right. You were really close to the cast, and there was a kind of "Hey, we're putting on a show for you!" quality that just worked so well. Whereas the other production that I saw there, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, it was set up so there was more seating stadium-style in a narrower audience space, and then the actors performed in the rest of the room.

But Angels in America is bi-i-ig in scope, you know? I think you can have some intimacy with the characters. But it felt like a limited space for that particular show, and on top of that, Tristan filled it with platforms, so it became even more of a limited space. I remember the play's Mormon couple [Andy Curtiss and Kaitlin Ross] could hardly interact with each other other than vocally, because the platforms they were on didn't really allow them to be together. And when they were together on it, they couldn't really move other than shuffle. Tristan has said the space is temporary. I definitely hope so. It needs to be temporary, because it's inhibitive, and even though it works for some things, I think it's more of a challenge to make it work than not.

Kyle Jecklin, Tom Vaccaro, Doug Kutzli, Rocky Kampling, and Mark Ruebling in the District Theatre's Big Rock Candy MountainHow about [Tapscott's and Danny White's] Big Rock Candy Mountain, which you saw before the move to the new venue? That was a debuting show, and besides the works in New Ground Theatre's Playwrights Festival and a couple of other productions, like Love, Lies, & the Lottery at Circa, there didn't seem to be a lot of original works produced this year.

Yeah. It was an admitted copy of that other bluegrass musical at Circa ... .

Southern Crossroads.

Southern Crossroads. Yes. Big Rock Candy Mountain was the same formula, but with a few background changes and changes in characters here and there. There's still a cop that gets drunk and that sort of thing. Evidently that's the formula you go with.

Well, they brought it back in September, and they're bringing it back [at the Circa '21 Speakeasy] for a third time in February, so it must be a formula that works.

And that's okay. I have issues with the show, but I wouldn't want to go against anyone's success. If it's working, great! Keep it up! I think that, too, the band within the play was really connected and really had a good vibe - they all played so well together, like they'd been playing together for years. The performance of the show's music was really great, and most of the show is music, so ... .

What about District productions from earlier this year?

The thing I remember most about Our Town is the way they opened up what was usually the backstage area in the former space. Our Town calls for minimal sets and props, and using that backstage area, which was kind of cool-looking, heightened the atmosphere. And A New Brain is one of those productions I like because it's quirky. It combines a sad story with bright humor - and it includes a children's show host who is a major jerk. It was a lot of fun to see Tom Vaccaro in a ridiculous frog's costume being so acerbic. And, frankly, I don't get to see Bret Churchill on stage enough.

Nancy Teerlinck, Bret Churchill, and Sara Tubbs in the Distict Theatre's A New BrainNor do I. He and Erin Churchill could be in every show and I wouldn't bitch. So let's talk about New Ground and Clybourne Park a little bit, because I got to see Clybourne and had a ball. I really, really, really liked that one. That had some spectacular acting. I think I'm love with Shana Kulhavy now. She was so good.

She really was.

And Caciona Bernstrom was great, and Kelly Thompson, and Ryan Mauritz ... . And my buddies Chris [Page] and Tyler [Henning]. And I finally got to meet Mark McGinn, who I've been a fan of for years, which was cool. Just a wonderful ensemble all around. But let's talk a bit about Clybourne Park being a kind-of sequel to A Raisin of the Sun, which you weren't initially aware of.


I noticed that you hadn't mentioned Raisin in the first draft of your review, and wrote you back saying, "You know, you might wanna throw that information out there ... !"

Right. [Laughs.]

But I also think there's no reason anyone needs that information to enjoy that particular show. It just becomes another level of enjoyment if you do. I mean, did you feel like you missed out on anything by not knowing it was inspired by Raisin in the Sun?

Well, I think of it like ... . Like with Guardians of the Galaxy. You know, I read Marvel comics, so when they go to the Collector in that movie, I know what he's got in each of those boxes. But do you?

Shana Kulhavy in Clybourne ParkNope.

And I don't think you enjoyed it any less than I did.

Well, I probably did, but not for those reasons. [Laughs.] No, I liked it. I thought it was fine.

[Laughs.] Fair enough. But I mean, in terms of comparison with Clybourne Park, we can still enjoy them equally. With Guardians of the Galaxy, I just might know a little more. "Oh, that's this in this box, that's that in that box ... ." I have a little bit of inside information that, I think, heightens the excitement for me. But the excitement isn't necessarily diminished if you don't know what's going on there.

Sure. And I should mention that I thought about Raisin when I read Clybourne Park, years ago, more than when I watched it. During the play, it was just in the back of my head, and that knowledge only jumped in when, like, the guy talks about the meeting he just had with the Younger family. Otherwise, I don't think it mattered. And it was funny as hell regardless.


Every once in a while, I'd argue, [New Ground Artistic Director] Chris Jansen does pick funnier shows than anyone else in the Quad Cities. I mean, God of Carnage, and August: Osage County, and Mr. Marmalade ... . These really biting, funny, sharp scripts.

Tinged with darkness.

Yes! They're all funny, but a little bit ugly and unpleasant. The script for the Civil War drama The Whipping Man sounded kind of dark and fascinating ... .

Well, the author kind of had an obvious anti-slavery agenda. And of course I completely agreed with his agenda ... .

Who wouldn't?

Right. But I don't want to be aware that it's an agenda, you know? I think that script could've been subtler. And it also read like a soap opera, so it could have been subtler that way, too. But it was still a great, great piece that they did a great job with. All three men in that show [Vincent L. Briley, Fred Harris Jr., and Jordan Smith] are actors I'm quite impressed with consistently. I just think it could have been written smarter.

David Turley and Creighton D. Olsen in New Ground Theatre's Next FallAnd New Ground's Next Fall - that's the gay romance where one of the partners winds up in the hospital, right?

That was a show where ... . Hmmm. Well, it has the conflict of the conservative parents, and the gay son who's closeted to them, and the church's stance against homosexuality ... . And, you know, my first 30 years of life were conservative, in church-leadership roles, believing that homosexuality is a sin and it's something I need to overcome ... .

All that's to say I was really touched by that script. It did treat Christianity kind of softly. I think the author maybe wasn't as church-knowledgeable as maybe he could have been. Otherwise, he could've made a stronger point/counterpoint argument. But I really appreciated that the play was trying to be respectful of both sides, and trying to bring them together, and find something in common.

So props to New Ground for doing it in the first place.

Yes. It's strange that we had Next Fall and Second Samuel in the same year. They have some kind of interesting similarities.

Considering how active I am there, we really shouldn't spend time talking about the QC Theatre Workshop. But I do want to mention My Sister, the Workshop production about the twins in Nazi-era Berlin.

Ohhhh ... !

Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler in the QC Theatre Workshop's My SisterThat came to the Workshop from author Janet Schlapkohl at the University of Iowa, where it was first staged. And it was such a treat to get that here, and with the original cast [Elizabeth and Emily Hinkler]. That was a really special event.

Very special. So wonderful. And I was glad they came out for a curtain call, because the actor who played the physically handicapped sister [Elizabeth] was so real that I didn't think she was acting. She was just so thoroughly believable in that role. Just fantastic.

Both of them were. I hope that play goes places.

Yeah. Great script. And such a beautiful story. Beautiful and emotional.

Let's talk a little bit about collegiate shows.

Wait. Are you skipping talking about the Workshop because you're involved over there?

Yeah. We should.

I know we should ... .

But since you brought it up ... .

[Laughs.] Yes?

I do want to say that I adore my True West co-star Jeremy Mahr. And my 'Art' guys Adam [Lewis] and Aaron [Randolph]. And I got to play Jenny Winn's husband. Oh my God. [Laughs.] And how cool that I got to play with Calvin Vo and everyone else in Bat Boy: The Musical.

Yes! Calvin Vo! So versatile. Everything I've seen him in, he's totally different.

Kelci Eaton, Becca Brazel, and Chris Galván in St. Ambrose University's WorkingHe's the best. A-a-a-anyway ... . Back to collegiate theatre. You actually reviewed your first St. Ambrose show this year [Working], now that we could get you there for mid-week dress rehearsals. How many years had it been since you'd seen anything there?

When was Best Little Whorehouse [in Texas]?

2009. So five years, huh?

Yeah. The last thing I saw was Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And I have a rule that ... . I read books to the end, and I finish every production I attend. I mean, as a reviewer, of course I'm going to attend the whole thing. [Laughs.] But even if I'm not reviewing a production, I have a rule that I stay all the way through to the end. And I think 2009 was the year I broke both rules. I could not finish reading Twilight, and Matt and I walked out on Whorehouse. We couldn't take it.

That one was rough.

Yeah. So ... . [Laughs.] I really shouldn't say this, but because of that show, I didn't mind not going back for a while. You know what I mean? And I think that was another case where it was really hard to not go into Working with expectations based on Whorehouse. Even though it's five years later. But I actually think Whorehouse might have helped elevate my experience. I don't mean that offensively to the Working cast and crew. I still think it was a delightful production and I quite enjoyed it. But, you know, I think maybe because my expectations were so low ... ! [Laughs.]

Sometimes that absolutely helps. But you also have a hell of a group of student talents this season - over the past few seasons, actually. Some really, really strong actors.

And it was interesting reading the program going, "Oh, this one's not a theatre major, this one's not a theatre major, this one's not a theatre major ... ." And they're doing great work in this big production.

 Jordan McGinnis, Philip Wm. McKinley, and Shannon Rourke in St. Ambrose University's The Importance of Being EarnestWhat's funny is I saw Cat in the Hat with a couple friends, one of whom graduated from SAU and did a lot of shows, and she was amazed reading the program because everyone in it was a theatre major.

Oh really?

And Cat in the Hat - I wish you could've seen that one, because it was bat-shit crazy. [Laughs.] Like, in the best way. It was basically just the book being read with all this physical comedy for the other 40 minutes, and it was nuts. Thing 1 and Thing 2 [Rachael Pribulsky and Helene DeVine] were insane - they just ran around shrieking the whole time and they were hilarious. And Sam Jones, as the Fish, was the funniest thing in the world ... . It was a great time.

Well, I'm in the neighborhood near the college, so I drive right by it daily. And I did like seeing the little cat arms on the street pointing to the theatre ... !

Yeah, that was really clever! And I wish you had seen Importance of Being Earnest this spring, which was just incredibly good. So funny, so many good actors in that - Chris Galván and Brooke Schelly and Becca Brazel ... and Phil McKinley in drag, of course.

Oh yeah? So he was Lady Bracknell?

Yep. Reason enough to see it.

That's another show I did in college - but one I would like to see all the time. So I'm not consistent with that at all.

John D'Aversa and Keenan Odenkirk in Augustana College's The Passion of DraculaOver at Augustana College, I was heartbroken not to make it to The Passion of Dracula. I was in rehearsals and performances for Bat Boy but I really, really wanted to get to that one. John D'Aversa seemed like excellent casting as Dracula.

Yes, he was quite good.

And the set looked sick-good.

Oh. That set was one of the best sets of the year, anywhere. Fantastic. Gorgeous. And so layered - there was a balcony, and windows in the back where they did smoke effects ... . It was just beautiful.

Andy Gutshall's a design genius, no question. And they, too, have a really strong group of actors these days.


You liked Augie's musical Something's Afoot, right?

Very much so. It's based on an Agatha Christie mystery, I think ... or on her kinds of mysteries. They played it a bit on the campy side, but not overly campy. And the songs aren't great, but the cast really sold them. I took Matt's daughter Madison, who's 11, and she was just thrilled by it, too. I was a little worried, because you do see every character die in crazy ways. [Laughs.] But there's no blood, and the deaths were funny. And she knows how to tell fact from fiction. If somebody's gonna take over the family business, she would be the one to write reviews. [Laughs.] She has a very discerning eye.

Steven Mondloch, Ellenelle Gilliam, Elyssa LeMay, John D'Aversa, and Aubrey Waddick in Augustana College's Something's Afoot[Laughs.] I bet it's fun to go with her. She sees a lot of stuff with you, doesn't she?

She does. You know, Matt gets a little tired of it sometimes - he doesn't want to see three shows in one week.

Especially tap shows.

[Laughs.] Right. And Madison just adores going to the theatre. And it's great because we'll sit during intermission and talk about "What'd you like, what did you not like ... ?" And she doesn't just say, "I liked her dress." She can explain why she likes something and why she didn't.

Cool. And you saw Spring Awakening at the Center for Living?

I did. I liked the previous presentation, and I liked this one even better, because I thought they played the sexuality a little more subtly - it was more natural and less overt, and there was more left to the imagination. Like, cast members would surround the young couple as they were ... you know, potentially procreating ... and you wouldn't see it. But it was so clearly alluded to that, I thought, it was even more sexual for it. Sometimes it's more sexy to see what you don't see.

That's a show you love anyway, right?

I do love it. That's a soundtrack I listen to over and over and over. And get depressed by every time. But I listen to it over and over anyway.

So how about upcoming shows? What're you looking forward to in 2015? Personally, I gotta say I'm so excited that Genesius Guild's doing Macbeth. That's probably my favorite Shakespeare tragedy, maybe my favorite Shakespeare play, and I've never seen that one on stage. Dying to.

And I see they're doing Oedipus Rex.

Yeah, it's kind of a heavy season, isn't it? Not heavy heavy, but they've got an operetta, two Shakespeares, Oedipus Rex, and the Aristophanes/Don Wooten play. Plus Ballet Quad Cities' Ballet Under the Stars. That's a pretty great lineup.

I'm in. [Laughs.]

I don't know anything about the New Ground shows Things Being What They Are and The Way West, so I have to look into those ... . The Prenzies are doing their two shows with recurring cast members - actors playing roles in Julius Caesar that pop up again in Antony & Cleopatra.

And they're doing Harvey at Playcrafters.

They are. And something called The Red Velvet Cake War. Which I'm curious about just 'cause it's the most delicious dessert ever.

Right? [Laughs.] It is.

Playcrafters is doing Steel Magnolias, too. You like that one?

I do like Steel Magnolias. It's got a little pushy sentimentality to it, but I still ... there's just something about those bawdy older ladies ... !

And it's an all-female show, which we could certainly use more of. Although I'll admit I can't wait for Glengarry Glen Ross at St. Ambrose ... .

Oh, and Urinetown at Music Guild! I like Urinetown!

Aaron Lord, Brant Peitersen, Kailey Ackermann, Ty Lane, Calvin Vo, and Macy Marie Hernandez in the QC Theatre Workshop's Bat Boy: The MusicalI do, too, but talk about a show that could turn away subscribers ... . [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] For the name alone. Yeah.

But the play's not raunchy at all. And it's so good. Such smart, funny songs.

Yeah, it's fun.

I do find it interesting that they're doing Next to Normal at the Showboat.


That's a really intriguing choice. Talk about shows that leave you down. [Laughs.]

Yes. [Laughs.]

I mean, it's one of my favorite musicals. Maybe my favorite of the millennium. But damn, what a heart-wrenching show. That might surprise a few people, I think. But hey, it's a wonderful change-of-pace choice, and with a cast of six, it's certainly a perfect size for the Showboat ... .

As opposed to Carousel, or Show Boat ... .

[Laughs.] Exactly. Ironically, the least appropriate show for the Showboat is Show Boat. And then on the opposite side of the spectrum at the Showboat next summer - Cats!

Which is a little big. [Laughs.]

Doug Adkins, Mischa Hooker, Tyler Henning, and Irene Herzig in Genesius Guild's Twelfth NightRight? It might be a tight fit, but they've got things to climb on in there - they've got all that balcony seating ... .

Yeah. And knowing the artistic risks they do take - hopefully continuing to without Tommy - I'm looking forward to it.

What are your thoughts about Cats coming to Music Guild next summer?

I'm curious.

For sure. I mean, with all due respect, they're not known for dance shows, and that is one crazy dance show.

Yeah. I will say, though, that this is the first year in a while where I want to see everything on Music Guild's docket. For the whole year.

It's definitely a strong season.

And that's not to say anything bad about Music Guild. It's just personal preference. But usually there's one or two shows where I'm like, "Eh ... . I don't really care about seeing that one." But next year I want to see every single one. And with Cats, you know, I do have some concerns. But I'm still interested, and want to see their take on the material.

Absolutely. And I'm kind of dying to see Mary Poppins. I mean, who doesn't love that show?

And Countryside's doing the musical Big Fish.

Countryside and Timber Lake.


I don't know anything about Big Fish, except that it's based on the movie.

Yeah. And the movie is one of my favorites. It's such a beautiful tale.

I didn't care for the movie. But I only saw it once 12 years ago... .

Matt hates it, too. So, if that makes you feel better ... ! [Laughs.]

I have friends who rave about the musical, but I haven't heard a thing from it. Have you?

I've heard one song from it on the SiriusXM Broadway station. But no, I haven't heard anything else. And I just haven't taken the chance on buying it. But I love that story.

Countryside's also doing Jesus Christ Superstar. That's one I always like. That's one I like because it's always shorter than I remember. [Laughs.] You know? It's like an hour 40 with intermission. It zips by.

Which is good for me, because I think it's one of Lloyd Webber's blander compositions.

Seriously? It might be my favorite of all of his.

I like it, and I think there are a few standout numbers. But I think of all of the pieces he's done - not including some of the recent ones that I don't know - that one has the most similarity in the music. I like the score, but I think sometimes it sounds like long sections of recitative, rather than songs.

Circa's doing The Sound of Music.

That's a long one. [Laughs.] I like it, but .. .

Hey! You said you could see that one over and over!

You're right. I did. [Laughs.] And I do like it.

The District's doing High Fidelity, which I missed at the Showboat a few years back. That's one I'll check out for sure.

Good. Do. Because it's a great musical. They're also doing The Addams Family - that's new for the area.

Yeah. I think I've heard one tune from that, but again, I don't know anything about it beyond, you know, what everyone knows. A Few Good Men's on the District schedule. That seems like a good choice - and maybe a good choice for that venue, too, if they haven't moved to another space by then ...

It is - that's a great title.

And I see The Bible on their schedule. I don't know what that is. I mean, I know what the Bible is ... . [Laughs.] But I don't know what that show is.

Is that the one that's like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged]? The Bible [abridged]?

It could be. That would certainly make more sense than just, you know, doing the Bible on stage ... !

[Laughs.] Right?

Jonathan Grafft and Nathan Johnson, and (clockwise from lower left) Mallory Park, Josh Wielenga, Sarah Ade Wallace, Andy Davis, Stan Weimer, and Jackie Skiles in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Leading LadiesDid you see Richmond Hill is doing Complete Works in the spring? I love that show.

Me, too.

And they're doing The Boys Next Door, which I quite like. Did you see it when Lora Adams directed that production at the Village Theatre in 2009?

No, but I remember you raving about it.

Yeah. If they can get the right cast for it, that'll be great. And I see Timber Lake has "Big" in the titles of three of their shows next summer [Big Fish, Big River and The Big Meal], so they're clearly going with a motif.

[Laughs.] And I see they're also doing Peter Pan. That's another one of those that ... uh... I probably shouldn't admit this, but that's another one of those that I've had enough of. I did watch the NBC one, though.

What'd you think?

Um... . I liked the imagination behind it, and I thought the sets were kind of a fun, smart choice for television. Christopher Walken could've been much bigger. But I was more intrigued by the choreography of the cameras. Like, I was fascinated from a production standpoint. And I thought the magic of the flying, even though you could see the wires on stage, was still - I was thrilled by it! I was like, "They're flying!" I was so excited.

That's cool. So maybe you still do like that show.

But then I fell asleep during it. So... .

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