We all know that dying is a part of life, but most of us don’t like to think about it. Being a cancer survivor myself, I know all too well what it's like to face death, and whether you're young or old, death does not discriminate. So when I went to see Saturday night's Tuesdays with Morrie – playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation of Mitch Albom's bestselling memoir – at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre, I knew, based on its subject matter, that I was in for an emotional roller-coaster ride that would once again make me face the reality of my mortality.

Every once in a while, you see a show in which all the pieces click and it becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In the case of Next to Normal, currently running at the Black Box Theatre, the intimacy of the venue was reflected in the intimacy of the material, and as such, director Kyle Schneider’s dark musical was extremely moving.

With the New York Times lauding Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Neil Simon for “writing at his ebullient best” and “making us laugh so effortlessly,” the playwright's California Suite will enjoy an August 16 through 26 staging in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's 50th-anniversary season of returning audience favorites, marking the popular comedy's first performance at any area venue since 2007.

“Mazel tov!” to the Timber Lake Playhouse and its cast of Fiddler on the Roof for eloquently executing this enduring musical with great passion and precision. The full company of performers, directed by William Hayes, delivered a terrifically entertaining production filled with traditional Jewish-dance numbers that were very well done, and I found myself fully engaged during Saturday's matinée performance – not only with the original Broadway choreography reproduced by Jessica Chen, but with each characters’ precarious plight.

When you see a show and your biggest “complaint” was that the wine was too purple, you know you’ve seen something special. The Mississippi Bend Players have brought their A-game to the stage with the world premiere of Beginner’s Luck, a comedy that's not afraid to ask the big question “What do you want from life?” and manages to be completely satisfying without actually delivering a resolution.

These days, one could rent just about anything when producing a theatrical production. Need a backdrop? Rent. Costumes? Rent. Props? Rent. Wigs? Rent. Lighting? Rent. The entire set? Rent. You can even rent the whole orchestra by licensing the use of a pre-recorded soundtrack. And there's nothing wrong with taking the rental path. I mean, why reinvent the wheel?! But that's why Quad City Music Guild’s latest – and determinedly non-rented – production of Shrek: The Musical is so ogre-ly impressive.

Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the wildly acclaimed Broadway hit Next to Normal receives its debut staging at Moline's Black Box Theatre August 9 through 18, the New York Times raving that this pop/rock musical “throbs with an emotional intensity” and “is steeped in an inescapable, aching compassion for people crippled by pain.”

Saturday night's performance of Thesmophoriazusae was a bit like the talent show at the end of summer camp. Featuring a lot of inside jokes, jabs at society as a whole, and many familiar faces, director Bob Hanske’s production serves as the wacky capstone to Genesius Guild’s summer of entertainment in Lincoln Park.

W.C. Fields was famously quoted as saying, “Never work with children or animals,” probably because they're scene-stealing and completely unpredictable. And they certainly were, in the best way, when Thursday's opening-night performance of composer Lionel Bart's Oliver! played to a sold-out crowd at the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre. At the show's start, dozens of exceptionally talented children, playing half-starved orphans, stormed the stage with empty bowls in their hands singing “Food, Glorious Food,” and this classic tale of struggle and hardship was immediately delivered with skilled, scene-stealing, completely unpredictable song-and-dance performances.

An intimidating green ogre, a feisty pricess, a wisecracking donkey, a diminutive tyrant, an ambulatory gingerbread man, and other fantastical figures take over Moline's Prospect Park Auditorium when Quad City Musis Guild presents its August 3 through 12 run of Shrek: The Musical, the Tony Award-winning fairytale slapstick based on the Oscar-winning animated smash, and a show USA Today called “a triumph of comic imagination with a heart as big and warm as Santa's.”

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