Miss Manners dictates that in social settings one should not bring up religion. But can I just say that when I was a shy child of six, seeing a Catholic nun in full habit scared the bejeezus out of me? Nuns were mysterious. You never saw them eat or drink or sweat. Never did I see a nun dance. And they were always worried about the soul. But the nuns in the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s musical comedy Sister Act know soul – as in soul music, sung with such energy that it had me clapping and swaying in my seat. And could those nuns dance! This joyful musical based on the 1992 film was a crowd-pleaser on opening night, and I predict the same for future performances.

As a child of the '60s and '70s, I favored rock groups such as Kansas. My older sister Shari loved pop music. For many kids, music was a way to escape the turmoil of those decades, and for Shari, it meant listening to Bobby Sherman or folk singer John Denver. Being the youngest, I sometimes teased her about the lameness of her music – and still do, for that matter. However, even for a precocious little brother, the music of Denver always struck a chord of enlightenment in my heart, and that's exactly what happened again at the Timber Lake Playhouse's opening-night performance of Almost Heaven: Songs of John Denver.

Even if the only Chekhov you're familiar with is the crew member of the Starship Enterprise, you will likely still enjoy New Ground Theatre’s production of Uncle. Featuring characters created by Anton Chekhov, it's a clever look at the lives of people as they react to change, and before attending the April 29 production, I decided to study up on Chekhov (the writer) and Uncle Vanya, thinking I would need to be versed in this Russian play first performed in 1897. I consequently discovered it was unnecessary to have prepared to such an extent. One does not need to know anything about Chekhov or Uncle Vanya to be entertained by Tony-nominated playwright Lee Blessing's Uncle. Davenport's New Ground Theatre was chosen, by its author, for the comedy's world premiere, and the company capably delivered.

"There's a hole in the world like a great black pit, and it's filled with people who are filled with shit. And the vermin of the world inhabit it, and it goes by the name of London."

No lyrics better summed up the setting for a musical than these particular lines from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Augustana College's latest production delivers in filling the Potter Theatre with the polluted gloom and human hell that was 1840s London.

Melanie Hanson in Baby with the BathwaterChristopher Durang’s irreverent Baby with the Bathwater is the current production at Scott Community College, and upon my arrival about 25 minutes prior to showtime, I enjoyed a few moments of the sweet music-box soundtrack, thinking it a clever juxtaposition to the darkly comedic farce that was to follow. However, a few minutes of it were enough for me to get the idea, and because those sounds were all that was in the offing regarding pre-show music, the next 22 minutes of waiting seemed, well, a bit long. Perhaps the music box also ignited my inner grump, because, with only a few exceptions, I did not find much comedic respite in the words and actions that followed.


Jordan Smith, Bill Peiffer, Jake Walker and Maggie Woolley in UncleAt the very end of Anton Chekhov’s 1897 tragicomedy Uncle Vanya, two of the play’s principal characters – Vanya and his niece Sonya – sit quietly at a table at their Russian estate, each lamenting the departure of their recent house guests. They’ve endured all manner of emotional hardships over the stage hours prior, and as they prepare to face more in the lonely years ahead, Sonya delivers one of theatre’s most famous closing monologues, climaxing her speech by telling Vanya not to fear – God will show pity on them. “We shall rest,” she says, gently, just before the curtain falls. “We shall rest.”

Hopefully, for Vanya and Sonya, 119 years constitutes a long-enough rest. Because thanks to a playwright’s imagination and a rather inconvenient (and fictitious) wormhole, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya characters are continuing their sagas in author Lee Blessing’s debuting comedy Uncle, a world-premiere production by Davenport’s New Ground Theatre running at the Village Theatre from April 29 through May 8.

“Sometimes you just don’t know where things come from,” says Blessing, with a laugh, regarding his sci-fi-comedy continuation of Chekhov’s masterpiece. “I’d seen a modern update of Vanya not that long ago in Los Angeles, and around the same time I said to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to write a play about a guy who suddenly has a cosmic wormhole open up in his backyard, but doesn’t want it? Doesn’t want the things that come out of it?’ And so, for some odd reason, I put those things together."

Kirsten Sindelar, Erin Churchill, Nicholas Munson, Sunshine Ramsey, Janos Horvath, Brad Hauskins, Brooke Schelly, and Chris Galvan in Junie B. Jones: The MusicalOn the program cover for the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s new family musical, right under the names of show creators Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, you’ll find this brief synopsis: “A delightful adaptation of four of Barbara Park’s best-selling books.” The built-in praise seemed a tad presumptuous: Its delightfulness wasn’t (hopefully) going to be our opinion, but was rather a fact? Well ... yeah. With its hugely endearing ensemble and peppy, cheerfully sung songs, Junie B. Jones: The Musical is almost inarguably entertaining, and would likely have been an hour of radiant, capitalized Sunshine even if that weren’t also the first name of its gifted leading performer.

Jeremy Mahr in The Complete Word of God (abridged)In the beginning, Brent Tubbs directed a play. And the production was without form and void; darkness was upon the face of the show. And the spirit of Brent moved upon the three-person cast. And Brent said, “Let there be humor,” and there was laughter. And Brent heard the giggles, and it was good. And Brent said, “Behold, I have provided everything necessary for entertainment.” And he knew that it was heavenly … even though yours truly, on Saturday, missed out on several probably heavenly scenes.

Jackson Green, Jordan Webster-Moore, and  Becca Brazel in Noises OffMichael Frayn’s 1982 comedy Noises Off, which will be performed by the St. Ambrose theatre department this weekend, is a fast-paced, riotously wacky farce full of witty lines and tremendous physical comedy, and I can’t believe that, prior to Tuesday night’s rehearsal, I had never seen it before. This has, indeed, been my loss.

Taylor McKean in Amy's WishOne of the great things about living in the Quad Cities area is that there is a variety of theatre to suit almost everyone’s taste. At one end of the spectrum are theatre companies that mostly offer edgy, thought-provoking material, and at the other are venues that generally deliver more lighthearted, uncomplicated fare – plays such as the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's romantic comedy Amy’s Wish, whose opening-night performance on April 7 was a true crowd-pleaser.

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