"It's a shame it all has to end," says our heroine, Lotty (Karrie McLaughlin), at the end of Playcrafters' Enchanted April. I completely agreed. The production currently running at Moline's Barn Theatre is unexpected in the best way possible: Who knew this light, frothy, harmless little romp could be this intoxicating?

Circa '21's Winnie the Pooh at The Rocket through July 23

At the opening-day performance of Winnie the Pooh, the air was already so festive - their doors may be temporarily closed, but the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse is still in business! - that the show was the recipient of enormous goodwill even before it began. Balloons decorated the street, the Rocket Theatre was alive with the noise of excited young uns, the parents seemed in surprisingly good moods ... it was a pretty sweet sight. If you have as much fondness for Circa '21 as I do - and I know some of you do, 'cause I've seen you there ... - the atmosphere alone would have made Winnie the Pooh worthwhile.

 

By the time the amateur male strippers perform their exuberant, baring-it-all finale in the Timber Lake Playhouse's The Full Monty, it might take all your will to not leap from your seat and join them. The high spirits generated by this show are a little overwhelming; with the possible exception of the Clinton Area Showboat's current production of Ruthless, The Full Monty is the best time I've had at the theatre in two months. It's joyous, technically dexterous, thrillingly performed, and, best of all, absolutely fearless. (You're aware of this by the end of the overture, when a bare-assed stripper, hounded by female groupies, races across the stage.)
Black comedy is tough to pull off, and camp is even tougher, so it's no small praise to say that the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's production of Ruthless is a huge success. This savvy, ballsy musical about a mother-daughter duo who will literally kill to succeed in show biz is so mean and bitchy that it's sure to piss off or offend all the right people, and it's a credit to the comic subversion of the theatre's artistic director, Jay Berkow, that he chose Ruthless as the theatre's Sound of Music follow-up. The show is vicious and borderline inhuman ... and I could barely see my notepad through my tears of laughter.

When you take in a Genesius Guild production at Rock Island's Lincoln Park - when you take in any theatrical performance outdoors - you're at the mercy of the weather, and every once in a while the elements and the production itself will align in a way that feels like perfection.

I've watched numerous comedies at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse over the past decade, and I've never seen one that I thought would be offensive to most 80-year-olds. But until Oh Mama! No Papa!, I'd never seen a comedy that would be offensive to everyone but 80-year-olds.

If you've seen Some Like It Hot, nothing that happens in the Quad City Music Guild's Sugar will come as a surprise; this 1973 musical-comedy is almost slavishly faithful to the 1959 Billy Wilder film that inspired it. But it does feature a curlicue that makes me giggle: the tap-dancing gangsters.

Few stage sights are as thrilling as a cast of genuinely hungry actors, especially when they have genuinely meaty material to tear into. My Verona Productions' Closer is a biting, at times painful, piece, yet it's suffused with joy; the actors seem to be relishing the opportunity to verbally claw, scrape, and expose (often self-inflicted) wounds.

I hate The Sound of Music, but on some level, doesn't everyone? The sugar-coated sensibility, the repetitive songs we know far too well, the Julie Andrews wannabes trilling with relentless cheeriness, the use of Nazis as a pesky, simplistic plot device ... . I know that the show is an assured cash cow for producers, but many of us would be happy for the book and score to disappear until the show's hundredth anniversary in 2059. (I'll be dead by then, right?)
Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman's 1938 comedy You Can't Take It with You is so sturdy and reliably entertaining that it doesn't take much more than a mediocre version of it to make audiences happy. The current production at the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre is significantly better than mediocre - vibrantly played and almost consistently pleasurable - but what's completely surprising is the cleverness and skill behind Vicki Deusinger's staging of it.

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