I'm often impressed upon my first glance at the set when I enter the Black Box Theatre: the opulent, creepy one of The Turn of the Screw; the enigmatic jumble of portraits and ripped flags for Assassins; the varying, multiple-locale settings for Little Women: The Musical. (This venue's crews find the most wonderful furniture and set dressing, too.) However, the set for playwright Lauren Gunderson's Natural Shocks, the Black Box's current production, blows them all away. I think I actually froze in astonishment.

While the script is completely beyond Circa '21's control, what the We Will Rock You actors and designers pulled off – as led by book and music directors Amy McCleary and Ron May – was visually and audibly impressive. This musical's artists were the champions, my friends.

Reviews by Rochelle Arnold, Jeff Ashcraft, Patricia Baugh-Riechers, Audra Beals, Pamela Briggs, Dee Canfield, Madeline Dudziak, Kim Eastland, Emily Heninger, Heather Herkelman, Paula Jolly, Victoria Navarro, Roger Pavey Jr., Mark Ruebling, Mike Schulz, Joy Thompson, Oz Torres, Brent Tubbs, Jill (Pearson) Walsh, and Thom White.

From the click of the pastry cutter against the mixing bowl to the struggle with cling wrap (we’ve all been there), the familiarity of Miriam's process in Apples in Winter brought an overall comforting quality to a plot that’s primarily distressing.

Writer Peter Rothstein conceived All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 as a radio piece, and first presented it as a concert with nine singers and three actors in a church auditorium in 2007. Rothstein used the soldiers' own words, and Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach arranged the 30-or-so songs, including traditional carols, popular tunes of the day, and songs which had emerged from the war itself. The show takes only an hour, but there is much to absorb and appreciate.

When I first got to the Mockingbird on Main on Friday, I immediately noticed that the theatre itself smelled wonderful … and Christmas-y. My sentiment was shared by a fellow patron, whom I overheard sharing her comment to associate director and producer Douglas Kutzli. I also overheard Kutzli say that most of his job working on the production involved saying “No, Tristan, that’s not funny” to the show's director Tristan Tapscott. But here’s the thing: I wish Kutzli had said that so much more. Because while there was nothing about this A Christmas Carol that was bad, gosh darn it, despute valiant efforts, it just wasn’t all that funny.

While watching the Spotlight Theatre’s joyous opening-night performance of A Christmas Story: The Musical, I could feel the nostalgia and love for the material coming from much of the audience. The 1983 film is an iconic holiday flick, and it was fun to witness this production’s viewers follow along already knowing the story.

If you’re looking for a joyful way to feel a little extra Christmas-y this holiday season, might I suggest Santa Claus: The Musical at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse? This one-hour children’s-theatre offering packs a solid punch of yuletide warmth, and no matter how old you are, I wager you will appreciate this charming little tale.

Arthur Miller, who is among the great 20th-century playwrights, never fails to impress. And when a theatre company knows how to handle his material – as the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre clearly does – a Miller play can become a stellar production.

Haus of Ruckus – the theatrical team headed by artistic directors T Green and Calvin Vo – is making some welcome noise onstage again.

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