Eddie Staver III in Fully CommittedAt several points during Friday's opening-night production of Fully Committed - which ran at Rock Island's Green Room through January 27 - actor Eddie Staver III took generous swallows of water from an onstage bottle, and rarely has a beverage looked more thirst-quenching, or more necessary.

Justin Droegemueller, Todd Meredith, and Tristan Layne Tapscott in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story By their very nature, biographical jukebox musicals such as Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story - currently being performed at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse - have to be a little glib. Given roughly two hours of stage time, how can book writers adequately detail a performer's personal and professional arcs without drastically simplifying the experience?

Sandy Stoltenberg & Jean Lupoli in The Trip to Bountiful Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful - which is opening the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's 2008 season on an awfully sweet note - is a lovely piece of theatre, but it's such an earnest, delicate little play that it requires all the effrontery and sass it can get.

Let's hear it, then, for Jean Lupoli, who takes what could've been a shrill, one-note caricature and fills it with such winning good humor and welcome meanness that she's utterly irresistible; despite much fine work by her co-stars, the production is practically unimaginable without her. The actress, so fresh and funny, gives Foote's small-scale, big-hearted elegy a true shot in the arm, and in all honesty, it frequently needs one.

Nicole Freitag and Eddie Staver III in Carousel When you attend the Green Room's re-imagining of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel - and I'm trusting that you will attend this altogether glorious production - the first thing likely to catch your eye is the playing area's bucolic backdrop, its pastoral simplicity only tarnished by an off-center, crudely drawn Nazi swastika. A flip to the back page of Carousel's program finds director Derek Bertelsen devoting three paragraphs to the World War II ghetto of Theresienstadt. And when the show's actors dolefully enter the stage, they're wearing muted grays offset only by yellow Stars of David. Yes, you realize, this Carousel is set in a German concentration camp.

Ryan Westwood and Emily Christiansen in Charlotte's Web If I counted correctly, St. Ambrose University's Charlotte's Web and Quad City Music Guild's Miracle on 34th Street featured a grand total of five dozen actors between them. Yet the true stars of both musicals weren't among those individuals; despite boasting an excellent Wilbur the Pig in Ryan Westwood, Charlotte's Web was primarily a triumph for set designer Kristofer Eitrheim, and Miracle belonged to no one so much as scenic artist Bob Williams. Eitrheim's and Williams' contributions were dazzling, and my only regret in raving about their work now is that it's too late for new audiences to admire it. (Both presentations ran only one weekend and closed on December 2.)

Brad Hauskins, Jordan Schmidt, and Adam Michael Lewis in A Christmas Carol When the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse last produced A Christmas Carol in 1998, the family musical's daytime performances ran concurrently with evening performances of Miracle on 34th Street. I was a member of Carol's cast at the time, and as I recall, we kind of thought the shows should have swapped positions; the chipper, candy-colored Miracle seemed ideal for kids, while the frequently dark Charles Dickens tale, with its themes of regret and mortality, appeared better-suited to a more mature crowd.

Lauren Plumley in The Best Christmas Pageant EverI'd be tempted to call the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's latest offering the best Christmas pageant ever even if that wasn't its title. Yet that description wouldn't come close to suggesting just how successful it is as a play.

Erin Dickerson and Gabriel Beck in White ChristmasAmong those I spoke with during the show's subsequent opening-night party, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's new production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas was superior to the 2006 production, and I guess that maybe, in several respects, it was.

the Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas ensemble At last Monday's well-attended preview performance of the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's Uh-Oh, Here Comes Christmas, most of the mostly senior audience seemed delighted by the show.

Nina Prescott and Guillermo Jimenez Almanza in Going Underground Offhand, I can think of no theatrical climax this year that has been simpler, sweeter, or more subtly moving than the one in Black Hawk College's Going Underground. All it consists of is actress Miranda Lipes standing center-stage, offering a beatific, tranquil smile while Judy Garland sings "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," yet the impact of the moment is stronger than you might be prepared for.

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