Sarah Goodall, T.J. Green, and Calvin Vo in Haus of Ruckus' "Pants" Labyrinth

Because seven is a lucky number and we've run out of things to write about this year … welcome, friends, to the announcement of the Seventh Annual Reader Tony Awards!

I kid, of course … even though seven is a lucky number. But in all honesty, there is no annual Reader article I look forward to more than this one, in which our theatre team – this year's is Pamela Briggs, Madeline Dudziak, and Roger Pavey Jr. – joins me in celebrating the continually rich tapestry of what the Quad Cities' stage scene had to offer over the past 12 months. As usual, it was a plethora of riches … even if we didn't cover quite as many potential riches as we traditionally do.

For those wondering why, for this year's Reader Tonys, we're returning to a “Faves in Fives” (which we published from 2016 to 2018) after “Picks o' Six” in 2019 and 2021 (with 2020's citations being collections of two for hopefully obvious reason), I'm happy to explain. Due to our freelance writers' relative unavailabilty this summer, we unfortunately had to bypass reviews of shows at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre and Mt. Carroll's Timber Lake Playhouse – just as we did in 2017.

Will Crouch, Roger Pavey Jr., Sarah Walton, and Aiden Lenehan in Augustana College's The 39 Steps

And if you're curious about why no Quad City Music Guild productions are cited for the first time ever, we were actually all set to review them in 2022. But when I contacted Music Guild about securing reviewer reservations for Disaster! in March, I received this e-mail reply: “Music Guild is taking a pause on having our shows reviewed for the 2022 season. We will be concentrating our marketing and advertising efforts on the advanced promotion of each production with the goal of attracting larger audiences at our initial performances with word of mouth/social media boosting attendance of later performances.” Which, of course, was fine – I'll reach out again in the spring, and if Guild would like us back, we'll be happy to review again!

So given the absence of close to a dozen-and-a-half options for 2022, “Faves in Fives” it is. And, in my opinion, a pretty phenomenal assemblage of fives it is. This is the point in which I need to remind readers that this list – as evidenced by all the shows we didn't see – isn't meant to be comprehensive; it's not a gathering of the best, but rather examples of our favorites that we did get to, and the list of runners-up is long and deep. Because Roger's active theatre schedule and my numerous out-of-town family commitments kept both of us from attending as many area shows as we wanted to, we each contributed one vote per category, and our tireless correspondents Madeline and Pamela split the difference, each getting one-and-a-half mentions for the traditional 10 categories.

Bobby Becher, Kyle DeFauw, and ensemble members in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Irving Berlin's White Christmas

As in the past, the same rules applied. No one could personally cite a show more than three times … and this year, no one did. Every title had to be produced in the area – making touring stops at Davenport's Adler Theatre, for instance, ineligible – and no one could hand a figurative Tony to a spouse, family member, editor, or fellow Reader reviewer, though productions they were involved with were fair game. (This admittedly made things more difficult than usual, because between Augustana and the Black Box Theatre, Roger was involved in, like, a million productions in 2022.) Ties were allowed, but only when two – or in this year's case, four – performers from the same show had equivalent stage time. And no one's individual write-up was allowed to exceed 50 words. As always, in deference to your patience, your relief is our pleasure.

I'm happy to say that Madeline, Pamela, and Roger will all still continue sharing their opinions with us in 2023. But we'd also love to add another voice to the mix – particularly a writer who might be available to review summertime productions from companies we were unfortunately not able to cover this past year. If you're interested in the gig, or know someone who might be, please reach out at mike@rcreadercom. Writing isn't always (if ever) fun, but the perks sure are. Seeing shows for free! A paycheck for espousing thoughts! Opinions included in the annual Reader Tonys!

Happy Holidays, everyone! And to the community, thanks for another year of amazing local theatre!

- Mike Schulz

Emmalee Hilburn, Shyan DeVoss, Jo Vasquez, and Sydney Dexter in the Mockingbird on Main's Your Better Self


The 39 Steps, Augustana College (Mike Schulz). As a notorious crybaby at film, TV, and stage entertainments, I wept throughout this production. Refreshingly, though, they were tears of joy. Because for two-ish hours, director Jeff Coussens, that wild comic genius Will Crouch, and his three superlative co-stars made this Hitchcock pastiche/homage/goof the ribs-aching laugh-riot of the year.

"Pants" Labyrinth, Haus of Ruckus at the Mockingbird on Main (Pamela Briggs). T. Green, Calvin Vo, and their multi-talented cabal are the stealth-ops special unit of local theatre – zany, benevolent assault on your psyche is inevitable, yet how they do it is a delightful surprise every time. The founders wrote, directed, and starred in this uproarious, puppet-packed, ancient-Greek, disco trouser quest.

Random Access Morons, Haus of Ruckus at the Mockingbird on Main (Roger Pavey Jr.). T. Green, Calvin Vo, and their company delivered a sleek, professional, witty, well-written, and original hit from top to bottom. Their commitment to creating original, queer theatre – and taking their comedy seriously – is a unique addition to the QC arts scene. Bravo, Johnny, Fungus, and friends!

Veronica's Room, Black Box Theatre (Pamela). "Suspenseful"? "Disturbing"? "Horrifying"? Far-too-weak descriptors. The abundance of depravity could've tipped this production disastrously into comedy, but director Lora Adams and her extraordinary four-person cast kept cranking up the tension and creepiness as the audience tried to decipher the puzzle. And the revolting ending was still a shocker.

Your Better Self, Mockingbird on Main (Madeline Dudziak). Of the 27 productions I attended in 2022, this one I'm still thinking about. It was funny, captivating, and boasted a fantastically talented group of four leading ladies. Writer Alexander Richardson’s original script wasn’t perfect, but overall, director Cynthia Taylor's production left me excited about where QC theatre is heading.

K. Vaughn Myers Jr.,, Philip Tunnicliff, Ben Geogeon, Thayne Lamb, Drew DeKeyrel, Jorge Mendez, Daniel Williams, Don Faust, and Kirsten V. Myers Sr. in the Black Box Theatre's All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914


Lora Adams and Ron May, All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, Black Box Theatre (Mike). I'm hoping stage director Adams will understand my sharing her deserved praise here with music director May. Because this haunting, exceptionally well-produced and -performed production was unimaginable without their partnership: Adams with her sublimely tight, visually rich staging, and May with his impeccable ear for nuance of voice and character.

Shelley Cooper, Ride the Cyclone, Black Box Theatre (Madeline). Director/choreographer extraordinaire Cooper was at the helm of the sharpest production I saw in 2022. Every little thing was thought-out and well-executed, and the dances were precise … though I fear I'll never get over the creepiness of Jacqueline Isaacson's first cross, as part-human/part-doll Jane Doe, at the show's start.

Doug Kutzli and Tristan Tapscott, Around the World in 80 Days, Mockingbird on Main (Madeline). It takes great trust for two actors to commit to a new adaptation of a classic chock-full of antics. Clearly, Kutzli and Tapscott connected with co-stars Alexander Richardson and Sydney Dexter to tell a fast-paced story incredibly well, and they employed the intimate stage space to its fullest extent.

Teresa Moore, The Odd Couple, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Pamela). In this crowd-pleasing, 57-year-old tale of a layabout and a germaphobe, Moore's talented cast of eight soared beyond the expected: Oscar was an anxious schlump; Felix was a chill fussbudget. Their buddies and neighbors were comical, yet full of heart. Wonderful set and costuming details made this production practically perfect.

Alexander Richardson, Their Town, Mockingbird on Main (Roger). Richardson’s creative leadership in staging this was commendable. His casting was perfect. His direction of design elements, many clever theatrical moments, and decision to expand the stage for this production were all great choices. In other words, Richardson’s leadership was seen, and it showed through the dedication of his actors.

Mara Earp, Sara Laufer, Jaclyn Marta, and Elle Winchester in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's The Christmas Letter Writing Club

Lead Actress

Stephanie Burrough, Electra, Genesius Guild (Mike). After several years being deprived of Burrough's face, it was thrillingly satisfying to see and hear this resplendent actor owning the stage in her impassioned, exultant turn as Euripides' achingly humane title character. But because Electra was Guild's annual masked drama, I never actually saw Burrough's face. Damn. So close.

Mara Earp, Sara Laufer, Jaclyn Marta, and Elle Winchester, Christmas Letter Writing Club, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Madeline). In a production hinging on a years-long group of friends, this foursome portrayed true friendship believably. I have no idea how long the rehearsal process was, but it seemed that Earp, Laufer, Marta, and Winchester thoroughly bonded, which made their time on stage caring for one another that much better.

Emmalee Hilburn, Here Lies Jeremy Troy, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Madeline). Hilburn’s performance in Richmond Hill's stage comedy was a master class in reactions: Whether she was drinking tranquilizer-laced coffee or misunderstanding the situation at hand, she was an absolute joy to watch. Her complete commitment to the gravity of a situation meant, paradoxically, that the comedic moments played beautifully.

Carol Neuleib, All My Sons, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Roger). Neuleib’s performance of one of my favorite roles in classic American theatre was so captivating. She did Arthur Miller’s beautiful script justice, communicated wonderfully with her fellow actors, and expressed great control over her character and the arc of her brittle emotional state. Neulieb was Miller's Kate from start to finish.

Kayla Jo Pulliam Mendoza, The Revolutionists, Black Box Theatre (Pamela). Among a particularly strong cast, Pulliam Mendoza excelled as the playwright Olympe, in whose flat rebels and former royalty met (improbably) during the wretchedly patriarchal French Revolution. Impulsive, creative, fearful, and brave, ultimately, she championed women, knowing she'd pay with her life. Pulliam Mendoza's appealing portrayal made the absurdities inspirational.

Charles Thomas Budan and Miranda Croll in Genesius Guild's Romeo & Juliet

Lead Actor

Bobby Becher, The Play That Goes Wrong, Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (Madeline). As everything went wrong, Becher just kept rolling with the punches; no matter how his Robert stretched, twisted, or contorted, Becher brought energy and excitement to the part. I saw him on opening night, then again weeks later, and Becher’s performance was flawless both times in a seemingly exhausting role.

Charles Thomas Budan, Romeo & Juliet, Genesius Guild (Pamela). Budan had an outstanding theatrical year, and his Shakespearean turn was my favorite. His emotional range, from shallow pining to fervent love; his depression, joy, anger, and despair; his vocal skills and facility with turn-of-the-17th-century vernacular; his mastery of stance and movement. Budan brought the timeworn Romeo to vivid life.

Mark Garden, 12 Angry Jurors, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Roger). Garden’s portrayal of Juror Three was bold, raw, and commanding. His natural instincts, emotional control, and interactions with his talented castmates was impressive … but what’s even more impressive is that this was Garden's first-ever time onstage. I hope he continues to share his talents in the QC theatre scene.

Ashley Harris, A Raisin in the Sun, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Pamela). Harris played the irascible Walter Lee, trying desperately to provide for his beleaguered family his way, contemptuous of their ideas. His portrayal engendered sympathy, despite Walter Lee's reprehensible actions. When a friend destroyed his plans, Harris collapsed, sobbing and crying out in sustained anguish. An unforgettable, tour-de-force performance.

Max Robnett and Christopher Tracy, The Producers, Spotlight Theatre (Mike). Perfect casting doesn't always result in perfect performances. But it sure as hell did here. Tracy kept reaching states of higher and higher comedic dudgeon when most humans would simply shut down, and Robnett beautifully, hilariously matched him fit for apoplectic fit. Their vocals being divine were merely bonuses.

Kady Patterson, Terri Nelson, and Diane Greenwood in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Silent Sky

Featured Actress

Olivia Akers, Romeo & Juliet, Genesius Guild (Pamela). Akers' Nurse was loud and bawdy, as expected, but she took the character in a fresh direction. Her deeply comedic line deliveries, fiery energy, and sassy 'tude would wow even the Bard himself. And this versatile, enviable gem of a performer was just as brilliant when acting with restraint. Encore!

Amelia Fischer, Spooky Pete, Haus of Ruckus at the Mockingbird on Main (Pamela). The unlucky Wailing Widow's husband died, then she died, then trespassing ghouls appropriated her mansion and disregarded her. Luckily, she and a jaded visitor shared an instant attraction, and while Fischer's croaky squeals and tentative drifting were hilarious, her shy sweetness made this fragile spirit someone I'd fall for, too.

Diane Greenwood, Silent Sky, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Madeline). Greenwood has this beautiful ability to respond to whatever is going on in the story with joy and a little mischievous look in her eye that makes her captivating to watch at all times. Whenever she was on stage as Williamina, I couldn’t help but watch Greenwood's phenomenal self.

Sarah Hayes, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (Mike). Amidst a gifted ensemble, in a scene-stealing role, Hayes stole the entire show, suggesting what Thelma Ritter might've done as Martha were she a slender, sardonic, husky-voiced, musical-comedy sensation. Were Circa's White Christmas on Broadway, Hayes would win a Tony. A Reader Tony, however, will have to suffice. For now.

Taylor Lynn, Their Town, Mockingbird on Main (Roger). Lynn’s stage presence and chameleon-like abilities were fun to watch as she nailed a variety of bold characters both comedic and serious. Even in lots of smaller roles, she delivered portrayals of fully-realized humans, and brought entertaining, knockout energy to the show while co-narrating alongside the equally talented Adam Cerny.

Joe Collins and Thomas J. Besler in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Disney's Beauty & the Beast

Featured Actor

Thomas J. Besler, Disney's Beauty & the Beast, Circa ‘21 Dinner Playhouse (Madeline). Besler is now my yardstick for LeFou. Every iteration I'd previously seen had been annoying over any other attribute. Besler, however, found the right balance between admiration and obsessiveness, making his performance as Gaston's sidekick extremely memorable. Throw in his clinking beer stein and Besler got it just right.

Michael Carron, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Genesius Guild (Madeline). Carron and his apparent disinterest in the Shakespearean goings-on stole the show for me. I have never before seen someone roll their eyes while angrily dancing on stage with a scarf, but dang if it wasn’t funny. And at the end of the night? When he was the Wall? Hilarious.

Don Faust, Leaving Iowa, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Roger). It was a joy to watch Faust’s comical range of emotions within the vignettes of absurd vacationing flashbacks. From being way too enthusiastic about a low-quality roadside Civil War reenactment, to his short-tempered driving fits, to his persistent determination, Faust was never dull and performed with a lot of care.

Mischa Hooker, My Brother's Gift, Black Box Theatre (Pamela). In 1940, the Geiringer family was forced into hiding by the Third Reich, and Hooker created a moving portrayal of an affable man who remained a source of strength to his children and wife while navigating unprecedented obstacles. With hesitant mannerisms and occasional frank enthusiasm, Hooker made Pappy utterly real.

Thayne Lamb, Sylvia, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Mike). Beyond singing and acting beautifully in All Is Calm, Lamb was comically revelatory in three roles – male, female, and indeterminate – in Playcrafters' fall production, performing every character with utmost sincerity and never suggesting that he was in on a joke. Makes sense. Lamb's protean talents are no joke.

Bethany Anderson, Katie Link, Julia Beltz, and Quinnie Rodman in St. Ambrose University's Little Women: The Musical


Heather Blair, A Christmas Story: The Musical, Spotlight Theatre (Roger). Blair’s task on this musical couldn't have been easy. It’s set in the 1940s and in its characters daydreams. Her costumes for both worlds, though, were fun and well-designed, and I especially enjoyed the leg-lamp dancers, whimsical Western outfits, and sleekness of the “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” tap number.

Heather Blair and Sara Wegener, The Producers, Spotlight Theatre (Madeline). I stand by what I wrote in October: Wegener and Blair created costumes that exemplified this production in every possible way. Never before have I seen costuming that was funny and gorgeous as well as functional. Every single piece of wardrobe in Mel Brooks' musical comedy was of that brilliance.

Juliette Carizey and Calvin Vo, "Pants" Labyrinth, Haus of Ruckus at the Mockingbird on Main (Pamela). With eight actors, most playing multiple roles, much more than pants went into this wardrobe. Along with everyday wear, they concocted a lush horned pompadour for a monster, a mystical ensemble for a blonde oracle, a toga and Genesius-esque Greek mask, a lavish snake hairdo, and … Disco Ball Head?

Dianne Dye and Corinne Johnson, Little Women: The Musical, St. Ambrose University (Mike). I've adored Johnson personally and professionally for 30-plus years. I've been on Team Dianne for well over 20. So rather than delineate their merits on SAU's wonderfully designed presentation, allow me to run out the 50-word clock by simply saying: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

Bradley Robert Jensen, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (Pamela). Clothing two dozen singing, dancing actors for multiple scenes is challenge enough. Jensen did it with peerless panache, including fatigues, big feathered fans, suits and fedoras, casual looks, plentiful plaid, yards of festive dresses and tuxes, dapper dancing togs, and one magnificent black backless evening gown with long, glittering gloves.

Eli Bates, Abby Bastian, Brandon Smith, Taylor Lynn, Ryan J. Hurdle, and Jacqueline Isaacson in the Black Box Theatre's Ride the Cyclone

Scenic/Lighting Design

Lora Adams, Ride the Cyclone, Black Box Theatre (Madeline). How can a set be reminiscent of fun while still being dark and creepy? Here's how. Adams designed a set undeniably perfect for the abandoned-fair setting required, and with the help of Michael Kopriva, Sara Wegener, and Julien Blaine, executed it perfectly. I hope they saved that bumper car!

Kristofer Eitrheim and Daniel DP Sheridan, Little Women: The Musical, St. Ambrose University (Madeline). In a tale as familiar as Louisa May Alcott's, having a stripped-down frame of a home instead of going hyper-realistic allowed the storytelling to reign supreme. Eitrheim’s set was the perfect backdrop for some truly breathtaking moments, and when lit by Sheridan, it was a dream come to life.

Noah Hill and Brent Tubbs, Tuck Everlasting, Spotlight Theatre (Pamela). This theatre brings professional quality to every aspect of production. Hill and Tubbs created many lovely playing spaces: a charming house and garden; expansive woods, with leafy canopies to hide accompanying musicians, a climbable tree, and a running spring; a garish fair; and a rowboat skimming over a lake.

Jennifer Kingry, Silent Sky, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Mike). Although I've frequently raved about Kingry, I usually neglect to mention how beautifully her scenic/lighting choices indicate feeling. But she's the rare technical artist who, having worked both sides of the stage, adores actors, and Silent Sky's artful, ethereal, oftentimes deeply romantic images allowed you to feel that love tenfold.

Savannah Bay Strandin and Tristan Tapscott, Murder in Mistwell Manor, Mockingbird on Main (Roger). The Mockingbird's intimate stage was elegantly designed for this mystery comedy. It was simple, but oh-so-gorgeous, and featured great details such as a flickering window and treasure hiding behind a trap-door painting. Tapscott's and Strandin's venue is usually wonderfully decorated, and their cute, quaint manor here was no exception.

Max Robnett, Christopher Tracy, Joel Kolander, Nancy Teerlinck, and Brycen Witt in the Spotlight Theatre's The Producers


All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914, Black Box Theatre (Pamela). Amidst the cold barbarism of war, enemies in a strange land shared warmth and goodwill through the common language of music. Nine fine actors with strong, unaccompanied voices brought this truly holy night alive with a richness of varied songs, creating a beautifully powerful, if temporary, peace on earth.

Disney's Beauty & the Beast, Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (Mike). Kyle DeFauw became a Circa '21 fixture in 2022, and his Beast's “If I Can't Leave Her” solo – augmenting the actor's moving, physically witty turn – may be why. You instantly regretted the song's absence from Disney's animated film. Robby Benson, though, wouldn't have sung it this thunderously well.

Drinking Habits, Richmond Hill Barn Theatre (Madeline). Does it seem like cheating to reference the moments of silence in Drinking Habits under the “sound” category? Maybe. But dang if silence wasn’t where this production truly shined: In all that wasn’t being said, the actors' larger-than-life physicality left us never knowing exactly what was going to happen.

The Producers, Spotlight Theatre (Madeline). Over the years, I've heard many a pit orchestra, but this show's was just fantastic. I loved that the musicians were situated in the balcony, which helped give the whole theatre a fullness of sound, and music director Chad Schmertmann deserves many accolades for his accomplishments given only 11 instrumentalists.

Random Access Morons, Haus of Ruckus at the Mockingbird on Main (Roger). Calvin Vo’s detailed, quirky sound design added another layer to an already quality production. Vo blended the stage combat with cheesy street-fighter-esque punching noises, as well as various other sound effects throughout, that aided in creating a video-game atmosphere. His sound design also paired well with Vo's super-cool puppets.

Craig Gaul in the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Dog Sees God

Memorable Moment

The Astonishment, Little Women: The Musical, St. Ambrose University (Roger). A well-known 11-o’clock number soared to an even more “Astonishing” height in director Corinne Johnson's production. Quinnie Rodman’s wonderful vocalizations, paired with Daniel DP Sheridan’s utterly stunning lighting and Kris Eitrheim’s gorgeous set, created a radiance of energy that resulted in a truly breathtaking theatrical moment I won’t soon forget.

The Ego, The 39 Steps, Augustana College (Pamela). Will Crouch played English milquetoast Hannay, yanked into international intrigue, literally running from the law. Describing this suspected murderer, a radio announcer devolved into swooning over Hannay's wavy hair and piercing eyes, and Crouch's blissful I'm-sexy-and-I-know-it countenance as he tossed his handsome head was the funniest of many entertaining bits.

The Letter, Dog Sees God, Playcrafters Barn Theatre (Pamela). Here, the Peanuts gang were teens, struggling with life amusingly – or not. But near the end, when all was bleak, Craig Gaul's CB finally received a letter from his long-silent pen pal CS, overflowing with understanding and love. We should all get such comforting words from our own Creator.

The Pre-show, Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (Madeline). The talented Bootleggers made their holiday-movie-themed pre-show the night's highlight, while the cardboard stand-ups of Kyle DeFauw made the Home Alone montage that much better. Unlike the question of Die Hard's Christmas-movie cred, it’s not up for debate that this was the wait staff's most enjoyable pre-show I’ve yet seen.

The Value, Tartuffe, Augustana College (Mike). “I can feed my whole family for five dollars and fifty-nine cents!” This was stated during one of the many jaw-dropping, weirdly memorable, '80s-era pre-show and intermission commercials in Jeff Coussens' updated/time-capsule Molière – a touch leaving we older folks amused and, with that Taco Bell promo, deeply depressed.

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