In the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's production of Damn Yankees, the characters you might find yourself adoring the most aren't the devilish Applegate, or the seductress Lola, or newfound baseball star Joe Hardy, despite the considerable talents of those playing them. They're Joe and Meg Boyd, whose story sets the plot in motion, and who - as portrayed by Rob Engelson and Nicole Horton - provide the show with more cumulative emotional impact than you might be expecting. Horton isn't on stage as often as some of her co-stars, and Engelson appears even less frequently, but their spirits hover over the whole production, and it's not until the last scene that you realize just how much of Damn Yankees' success rests on how much you like Joe and Meg.

It's too bad that so many of us greet the news of another area production of Fiddler on the Roof with an audible groan, because the show itself is really, really good. The music is marvelous, the characters are enjoyable, the story is well-plotted and touching, it's always funnier than you remember it being ... if you're a musical-theatre fan and if you've never seen it, you have no excuse. But, let's face it, it can be a daunting musical to sit through. "I love that show," you'll hear people say, "but, Jesus, it's long ... ."

There are two styles of drama going on in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, or at least there are in the Richmond Hill Players' current production of it: domestic and melo-. A prequel of sorts to the author's more widely known The Little Foxes, Another Part of the Forest features, as its central figure, patriarch Marcus Hubbard (Stan Weimer), the richest man in Bowden, Alabama, circa 1880. A cruel, conniving, even murderous despot, Marcus is universally reviled, especially by his children - Benjamin (James V. Driscoll), Oscar (Steve Mroz), and Regina (Keri Cousins) - all of whom, for reasons of their own, want their hands on the family fortune.

"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.)

To understand the nature of My Verona Productions' new stage comedy Dingo Boogaloo 2: Taco's Revenge - indeed, to gain insight into My Verona's co-founders, Sean Leary and Tristan Layne Tapscott - one may as well begin with Chickenzilla.

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.

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.

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