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.

You don’t want to be late for the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's latest presentation Mr. Scrooge! A Musical Christmas Carol. About 15 minutes before the November 30 performance, actor Brad Hauskins appeared, clanging a bell and wandering about the house announcing that the show would begin shortly. With his proclamation, the production's merry band of actors appeared in a flurry of revelry – some delegated to bring props and costume pieces on stage, others to interact with young audience members through amusing games and activities – and immediately lifted the audience energy from unremarkable to “Wow!”

I attended the Wednesday preview performance of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Elf: The Musical, and director Jeremy Littlejohn and musical director Travis Smith have clearly concocted a sweet, fluffy treat. The songs may be standard fare, but they're given freshness by the performers, as well as the beautiful costuming by Greg Hiatt.

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.

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.

If you have a preconceived notion that William Shakespeare plays are uppity, pretentious, or hard to follow, then you need to get yourself over to the QC Theatre Workshop this weekend to see the Prenzie Players’ current production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Friday’s opening night of this hilarious romp was just so much fun that it’s hard to properly articulate all that made it so. That’s not, however, going to stop me from trying.

The Black Box Theatre’s current show, Losers Bracket, isn’t exactly like the '80s sitcom Cheers, and Saturday’s theatrical barroom brawl was rife with profanity and strobe light effects that, for me, were painful. This tale of insurance fraud, dysfunctional relationships, and greed that all unfolds in a Chicago tavern known as Boo’s featured a few one-liners that I found funny – but other than that, I'd have to say, “Not my cup of tea.”

I was fortunate to attend Tuesday's rehearsal of Augustana College's current offering She Kills Monsters by playwright Qui Nguyen. Director Jeff Coussens and assistant director James Wheeler did stunning work in creating this ambitious production. When we enter the theatre, the stark stone ledges and pre-show music tell us that the show takes place (mostly) in a magical fantasy world, and the set comes to vigorous life after video screens light up, employing film, photos, computer animation, and amusing eight-bit color graphics to establish and enhance settings. I've rarely seen, in local presentations, stagecraft this sophisticated.

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