The Mikado This past weekend, it was rainy, gloomy, and downright cold for this time of year. Let's face it: The weather sucked.

And thinking about all the local outdoor events where attendance might have been negatively affected by the climate - Race for the Cure, the Left Bank Fine Art Fair, Gumbo Ya Ya, et cetera, et cetera - I couldn't bear to not attend Genesius Guild's and Opera @ Augustana's Saturday-night performance of The Mikado. Foul weather be damned - if The Mikado's cast and orchestra were going to suffer the elements, then by God, so was I.

Benjamin Cole and Nicole Horton When you visit the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre, you know you won't get much in the way of spectacle - the intimate stage space is charming, but limited - so, instead, you look for inventiveness, especially when the production in question generally thrives on spectacle.

Tyson Danner, Allyson Peniston, and Angela Cavallo More often than not, our area's musicals are graced by terrific voices. But every once in a while, a performer will come along whose vocal gifts and interpretive skills positively knock you out, causing you to silently mouth one word at your theatergoing companion: "Damn." The Quad City Music Guild's current production of the Disney musical Aida, directed by Bill Marsoun, doesn't have one of those performers. It has two.

Jeremy Mahr and Mackenzie Kerr Jeremy Mahr may be our area's most effortlessly relaxed performer. There isn't even a trace of actor's phoniness in his line readings or physicality; there's so little artifice in Mahr's portrayals that he can easily fool you into thinking he's not acting at all. Mahr has a beautiful hangdog expression - he looks as if he's endured continual disappointment, and is prepared to endure more - and his focus is concentrated and imploring. Yet when he smiles, the warmth that exudes from him is a little overpowering; he acts like a man embarrassed to be receiving the happiness he deserves. Mahr is a supremely empathetic performer - I've now seen him in three productions since August, and for the life of me, I can't figure out how he manages to do so much while appearing to do so little.

 

Erin Childs and Seth LieberFrom the Quad Cities, a trip to the Timber Lake Playhouse will take roughly 80 minutes. But I was so happy to be returning to Mt. Carroll, Illinois, for its 2006 season opener, Thoroughly Modern Millie, that I don't think I stopped smiling once during the entire trek. The theatre's 2005 presentations of The Full Monty and The Hunchback of Notre Dame were, for me, two of last summer's absolute high points - both shows beautifully staged and refreshingly risky - and the venue itself, nestled in the woods, is large and inviting, with its productions boasting terrific design and costumes and a game, go-for-broke ensemble. It was a thrill to be returning after 10 months.

 

Adam Michael Lewis and Tristan TapscottDegree of difficulty counts for a lot, so director Sean Leary and his estimable cast would earn points merely for the area existence of Martin McDonagh's horrific fairy tale The Pillowman, the latest - and certainly riskiest - endeavor from My Verona Productions.

According to the elusive Theory of Everything, espoused in Jacquelyn Reingold's String Fever, life is composed of a series of hidden dimensions that fold up within one another and overlap, creating unseen, generally unacknowledged connections, and giving meaning to even our most random encounters.

About four months ago, my schedule forced me to catch the first dress rehearsal of Playcrafters' Over the River & through the Woods as opposed to a paid performance, and so I took some personal responsibility for my dissatisfaction with the show; a lot of what seemed to be lacking, I thought, could easily have improved by opening night. It seemed a little unfair to be critiquing a rehearsal. (What better place to err than rehearsal?)

Well, circumstances dictated that I again catch a Playcrafters production before its official opening - I saw the Barn Theatre's Sweet & Hot: The Songs of Harold Arlen at a preview on Monday, May 8 - for which I apologize. But I don't apologize much, because this revue already has the right spirit and a host of good feelings (and good performances) exuding from it. This didn't feel like a rehearsal; it felt like a performance, and a delightful one.

Aesop's Dynamic Duo - the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's new family musical - focuses on several of the renowned storyteller's famous characters, and one of its first songs is entitled "The Boy Who Cried Wolf." Bret Churchill plays The Boy, and the actor, with his usual exuberance and vigor, begins the number with: "I'm the Boy Who Cried Wolf / I'm the one who frightened the town / I told them the story / And, boy, it was gory / I told them the wolf ate / the Smith's Bassett hound."

Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound concerns theatre critics who wind up personally involved in the thriller they're reviewing, which puts me in the position of being a theatre critic critiquing a play about theatre critics critiquing a play. Stoppard must love this.

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