Leslie Munson, Susan Perrin-Sallak, Jaclyn Marta, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Patti Flaherty in Steel Magnolias

Leslie Munson, Susan Perrin-Sallak, Jaclyn Marta, Chris Sanders-Ring, and Patti Flaherty in Steel Magnolias

 

What really goes on in a beauty salon? As someone follicly challenged, I have wondered what happens behind all the glamour posters, hair products, and Hollywood-scandal magazines: Certainly there's more than stereotypical gossip between the customers and their stylists – right? Well, the truth is out. The Playcrafters Barn Theatre production of Steel Magnolias lifts the veil and exposes the beauty-shop mystique, and at least in this particular shop, Southern ladies come to share their fears, secrets, joys, and love with their very best friends – all while getting the perfect shampoos, colorings, and styles.

Before the lights went down on January 13's opening night of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Ghost: The Musical, producer Denny Hitchcock informed the audience of the show's background, telling us that although it was originally produced on Broadway with a cast of 22, this version was scaled down to a cast of 10. But even though this minimized presentation is the story of a ghost, director Jerry Jay Cranford's show is anything but transparent and weightless.


Heidi Hamer, Tom Vaccaro, Victor Angelo, and Jackie Skiles in Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike @ Richmond Hill Barn Theatre

Once again, it was an incredibly busy, incredibly diverse year for theatre in the Quad Cities region, with 65 productions reviewed by the Reader team of Jeff Ashcraft, Dee Canfield, Victoria Navarro, Brent Tubbs, and yours truly. Clearly, there would be plenty to talk about in a year-end recap. But how, exactly, to do it?

Reader Tonys!

The Prenzie Players' As You Like It starts out in true Prenzie form, with short vignettes taking place before the show actually begins. The first person we see is Denise Yoder as Touchstone, the fool of William Shakespeare's comedy, and as she performs some funny bits involving origami and audience interaction, Yoder's opening scenes seem mostly improvised. I will say, though, that during the December 8 preview, there was a lot more going on during this prelude, with a guitarist playing off to the side, and different music playing in the background over the dialogue – it was almost too much, and hard to hear what was being said. But once we actually got to the script, director Kitty Israel's production was off and running.

I sometimes joke that “God gave us friends to make up for family.” But then another adage also comes to mind: “It could always be worse!” So if you think you have characters in your family, you may want to see the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre comedy In-Laws, Outlaws & Other People (That Should be Shot).

I love the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol. You know: The one about Ebenezer Scrooge – that cantankerous old skinflint who defined the term “hostile workplace” by treating his lone employee (and everyone else, for that matter) like the dirt beneath his well-worn shoe? To save his soul, the spirit world sends three ghosts on Christmas Eve who unveil aspects of Scrooge’s life, and the lives of those around him, that facilitate a much-needed change in his withered, cold heart. Because of this experience, he transforms into a man of enlightenment and generosity, helping his community and those closest to him.

It is, according to a seasonal song, the beginning of that “most wonderful time of the year.” And on the day after Thanksgiving, I, along with my seven-year-old grandson John, attended the opening of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's holiday production in a traditional celebration of … pirates.

Everyone loves “holiday fluff,” right? You know – that oddly concocted mixture that your crazy aunt brings for the holidays each year combining Cool Whip, pistachio pudding, marshmallows, crushed pineapple, and walnuts (or not), with cherries on top? Admit it. It’s the perfect little taste of sweetness on a plate otherwise full of more savory dishes.

The Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse is now serving its own version of holiday fluff. No, not on the buffet menu, but rather in the form of its musical Holly Jolly Christmas, which isn't really a musical so much as a musical revue. There's no real story or character development. You won’t see the duality of man in an Ebenezer Scrooge figure or an “If only I would have …” scenario played out by a George Bailey type. In fact, you won’t see anything remotely resembling a plot. What you will find is a Branson-style revue that utilizes the talents of an extremely gifted cast in spite of Ty Stover's exceptionally weak script.

'Tis the season to be … silly?

That certainly seems the case for the Playcrafters Barn Theatre's production of Stocking Stuffers. Chock full of funny characters and Christmas spirit, this show by author Geff Moyers offers everything from hip reindeer to talking stockings – a collection of sketches, with no real storyline, designed to get you in the holiday mood.

As an Augustana alum of so many years, I was excited to see the opening of the new Brunner Theatre Center on the Augie campus, and especially excited to see its current Othello under the direction of Jeff Coussens. The new theatre facility did not disappoint, and scenic and lighting designers Andy Gutshall and Adam Pfluger, respectively, created a memorable space for the production – minimally designed, yet replete with authentic Arabic graffiti and evocatively low, blue lighting.

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