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

The Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Their Town is this season's first production in the venue's Barn Owl series of newer (or debuting) plays, and this year, all four “Barn Owls” are by local authors. Playwright Alexander Richardson has not only kicked off the 2020 series with a strong script, but has also, along with his and director Elizabeth Melville's cast and crew, given the upcoming presentations much to live up to.

If you missed the perfectly timed Valentine’s Day opening of the Spotlight Theatre’s The Wedding Singer, don’t have a cow. There’s a second weekend of this righteous romantic-comedy musical if you’re in need of an extra opportunity to show your sweethearts how much you love them. The energetic cast, familiar storyline, and totally awesome music make for the perfect escape from reality back to the '80s for a few hours.

The Playcrafters Barn Theatre's presentation of The Boxcar Children opened on Friday with a simple, wholesome journey of four Depression-era youngsters and their adventures as recent orphans. Knowing that they will likely go to different foster homes, the Alden children escape into the woods and find a boxcar in which they begin to live, and while the set design was sparse, the actors, for the most part, were excellent – I found myself carefully listening to each character as they expressed their innermost thoughts and feelings. Like the old saying goes, "Less is more," and in this show, I found that to be particularly true.

There was a moment during Friday’s conclusion to the Black Box Theatre’s latest production, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, in which one of the child actors realized the artwork he was holding was upside down, so he turned it around. A seemingly small action, but an absolutely honest one. Children often set out to right the wrongs they see in the world, and while I’m certain director Lora Adams didn’t plan this incident, that tiny gesture drove home the reality of the night’s story for me. Even in a place full of horror, children continue to learn, grow, and create beauty, because that’s what children do.

With a rather evocative title such as Kinky Boots, you may find yourself a tad wary of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest production. But bring that wariness in and let director M. Seth Reines and his talented cast broaden your scope. Kinky Boots, you see, is an exciting, engaging story for everyone and about everyone.

If you need some inspiration to help you get into the holiday spirit, then you should check out the Spotlight Theatre’s current production of Meredith Willson’s Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical. I was lucky enough to catch a dress rehearsal on Tuesday night and it was delightful. Director Chris Tracy's production of this show I'd never seen before was already polished and ready to go with fantastic singing, dancing, and acting.

At Tuesday's preview performance of the Mississippi Bend Players' The Santaland Diaries at Augustana College, I had everything I needed for a respite from the relentless, forced holiday cheer outside. I had my seat in a cozy venue among a small passel of students revved up for their imminent academic break. I had a play by David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers. I had another lovely (and festively sparkly) Augustana set to gaze at, this one by technical director and scenic/lighting designer Mark Lohman. I had Keenan Odenkirk, one of my favorite actors. I had my cynical holiday exasperation dialed up to eight. It was the perfect storm.

Entering any theatre venue usually puts me in a good mood. A few places resonate especially deeply inside me. For instance, I love walking into Allaert Auditorium in the Galvin Fine Arts Center on the St. Ambrose University campus. It was my home-away-from home before, during, and after my four years of theatre study there.

If you’re looking for an easy way to get revved up about the holiday season, I suggest director Kevin Pieper’s area premiere of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical at Quad City Music Guild. This upbeat musical comedy will certainly warm your heart and sweetly remind you of what’s truly important this time of year: kindness.

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