Stage Capsule Reviews
Everybody’s Hero: The Jackie Robinson Story Mad River Theater Works of West Liberty, Ohio, created and cast this premiere play with music that chronicles Jackie Robinson’s ascent from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the Major Leagues. Theatre for Young America stepped up to the plate a couple of seasons ago with its own version of the story, naturally highlighting more of Robinson’s Kansas City connection than this adaptation probably will. Still, there’s much in Robinson’s life about risk and dignity that continues to inspire theater audiences of all ages. April 4 at 9:45 a.m. and noon at the Carlsen Center, Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd. in Overland Park, 913-469-4445.
Hairspray With the national tour of the musical adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 film, Kansas City will see that rare breed: nonstop entertainment laced with a meaningful message. As chubby hipster Tracy Turnblad topples the barriers against fat kids and black kids on a ’60s-era TV dance show, she also enjoys the added benefits of a newly glamorous mom and a hot boyfriend. If the cast of the touring version is half as good as the Broadway production, audience members will be walking around with goofy smiles for days on end. Through April 10 at the Music Hall, 13th and Central, 816-931-3330.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch The one performance of the past couple of years that has elicited unanimous raves from the local theater crowd is that of Justin Van Pelt in Eubank Productions’ version of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Van Pelt (who made an impressive Unicorn debut in December’s Convenience) is back for three weeks as the bitter yet lovable “internationally ignored song stylist.” The genius of John Cameron Mitchell’s creation is that Hedwig’s a perpetual victim — of copyright infringement, thwarted love, and botched sexual-reassignment surgery — but you pity her at your own peril. Through April 10 at Just Off Broadway Theater, 3051 Central, 816-224-3004
Miss Saigon Big, bulky special effects musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon look almost passé today. But in their time, they were the most talked-about shows on Broadway. That’s not to detract from the beautiful score and exciting staging of the latter, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Vietnam-era twist on Madame Butterfly. Set during the fall of Saigon, the show is both stirring and tragic, never flinching from its dark themes of political suicide, rampant prostitution and the abandonment of the children of Vietnamese women and American soldiers. April 5-6 at the University of Kansas’ Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive in Lawrence, 785-864-2787.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle The irrepressible, eccentric heroine of Betty McDonald’s series of children’s books is brought to life here by local actor Bonita Hanson. What makes the show doubly intriguing is the challenge her upside-down house must have been to the set designer and the show’s co-star, Bat Boy‘s unforgettable Seth Golay. Through April 15 at Theatre for Young America, 5909 Johnson Dr. in Mission, 913-831-2131.
Omnium Gatherum An incompatible, and thus highly combustible, group of folks — from a Martha Stewart clone to a traumatized firefighter — gather for a drawn-out dinner party in Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilalros’s biting comedy of manners. As a shining example of post-9/11 theater, the play addresses that day in both subtle and direct ways. The dinner conversation veers from food trends to anti-Semitism, but there’s a certain mood that something dreadful hovers about. The play may really be about the human foible of having too much to say and no time to listen. Through April 3 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529.
Smoking Kills Unfolding on three continents over a decade, this new drama by British playwright Dominic Leggett premiered at the 2003 O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut. UMKC’s MFA production is directed by Rosemary Andress, who’s been involved with the play through several versions. The result follows an Iraqi doctor, a British soldier and a television journalist through the 1991 Gulf War and beyond. Leggett says he’s examining the physical and psychological damage of war and asking “whether and how it can be healed.” Through April 10 at UMKC’s Performing Arts Center, Studio 116, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-6222.
Swing! Though the resurgence in swing dancing a few years back hasn’t maintained its luster, the form is no less fun to watch. After a year on Broadway and six Tony nods, Swing! is showing up at places like American Heartland Theatre. The show’s creators, who have exuberantly seasoned it with such tunes as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” were probably wise not to fit a trite story around the music and dancing. Among the largely unknown cast are some Kansas City actors, a couple from New York City, and Darryl Calmese and Brent Kuenning from the same theater’s wonderful Smokey Joe’s Cafe a couple of seasons ago. Through April 24 at the American Heartland Theatre, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.
You Can’t Take It With You Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy artfully straddles the line between preposterous lunacy and believable absurdity. It’s frequently staged by high schools because its large roster of characters can accommodate a bunch of thespians. Mix up twirling ballerinas, an explosives-obsessed nerd and a bohemian grandpa and you’ve got a genuinely witty classic that has probably inspired most TV sitcoms of the past 50 years. Through April 10 at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center, 234 N. Chestnut St., Olathe, 913-764-2121.