Since St. Ambrose University's production of Urinetown at the Galvin Fine Arts Center has already closed, there's probably not much point in a review. So consider this a thank-you note instead. I had more fun at the school's production of this 2001 musical comedy than I have at nearly any other entertainment I've been to over the past few months. The show was terrifically staged and, almost across the board, vibrantly performed, but most inspiring of all, the audience was truly alive to it; Urinetown smashes the understood conventions of musical theatre to smithereens, and the Friday night crowd appeared positively delighted that it did. The show was a risk, and one that paid off big time.

The Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's production of Maxwell Anderson's The Bad Seed is entertaining stuff, yet you might not believe more than a few words of it. The sincerity that director Jalayne Riewerts gives the piece is admirable, but also a little misguided, because the show often aims for penetrating insight and forgets why audiences love The Bad Seed in the first place - not for its psychology, but because of the inherent fun in watching an eight-year-old sociopath get away with murder.

My parents, being good people, raised me to believe that if you couldn't say something nice, you shouldn't say anything at all. Of course, they couldn't have imagined I'd wind up a reviewer, nor that I'd wind up having to devote 700 words to Meshuggah-Nuns!

(Warning: Though I've tried to be circumspect, details on Scotland Road's mysteries may slip out. Proceed with caution.)

The psychological drama Scotland Road, the first production in New Ground Theatre's 2005-6 season, is both entertaining and disheartening - entertaining because of the skill of director Michael Oberfield and his cast, disheartening because playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's work doesn't quite seem to deserve their skill.

As the adage goes, "Dying is easy; comedy is hard." Noises Off sure is. Saying that Michael Frayn's farce requires precision is like saying a fish requires water or Jennifer Lopez requires publicity; the show's very survival rests on the hairbreadth timing of its repartee and comic business. Frayn's work is so tightly structured and its momentum so dizzying that the slightest inappropriate pause can completely knock you out of the show's rhythm, and so I applaud Ghostlight Theatre for not only for tackling the script but often triumphing with it. Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and Noises Off is freakin' hard.

The Nerd at Playcrafters Barn Theatre Through September 25

As the lights come up on Playcrafters' production of Larry Shue's The Nerd, we find ourselves in the Terre Haute, Indiana, living room of architect Willum Cubbert (Josh Kahn), whose pseudo-girlfriend, Tansy (Jessica Nicol), and drama-critic friend, Axel (Chris White), are throwing him a surprise birthday party. For about 20 minutes, the three characters chat, and all the while, the light from the evening sky - seen through Willum's living-room windows in the rear of the stage - is going through the most amazing transformation. The reddish-pink hues from outside begin to subtly shift to a lovely magenta, and within time, they will have morphed into a deep, midnight blue with a hint of purple; it's a beautiful, subtle effect, well-achieved by designer Jennifer Kingry.

For students at Davenport's St. Ambrose University, the end of summer brings with it the usual. Buying books. Attending classes. Preparing for Urinetown.

Chris Jansen, the artistic director of the New Ground Theatre, is a self-described "Junior Theatre kid," and has the pictures to prove it. She thinks.

In the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's ingenious new production of Beauty & the Beast, the first things to catch your eye are a small bench located stage right and a large screen - it's nearly half the length of the stage - hanging upstage. On that screen is a rear projection of a rose, and it has a haunting, rough-edged quality; it looks like something that French waif on the Les Miz poster should be holding.

At Friday's nearly sold-out performance of Over the Tavern at Richmond Hill's Barn Theatre, I found myself seated next to a charming couple who engaged me in conversation. I asked whether they had heard of the play previously, as Tom Dudzick's comedy was unfamiliar to me. The gentleman responded that he'd read a little bit about it, but his wife said, "Not me. I like being surprised."

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