Stage Capsule Reviews

The American Songbook: Your Hit Parade J. Kent Barnhart’s tart treatment of standards continues to make Quality Hill Playhouse’s cabarets real events. Joined by bass, drums and four singers decked out in what-decade-is-this formalwear, Barnhart (himself a crisp, exacting pianist) ushers us through hits from Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney and other prerock stars with witty arrangements and those close-cropped ’50s harmonies familiar to young ears mostly through advertising jingles. Karen Errington is a treat, all brassy good humor, and silver-voiced Melinda MacDonald is, as always, a model of sophisticated restraint. New addition Tim Scott, the half-out-of-control live wire who stole last year’s Buddy Holly Story, kills with a roof-raising take on Johnnie Ray’s “Cry” but snarls flatly at the climax, barnstorming through one of the Elvis hits that shows such as Your Hit Parade worked so hard to deny. Through April 2 at the Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.

April ³I Pity the Fools² Day Show Impossible to say just what will happen when Matt Reiss’ going-on-12-years-old improvisational comedy group Hype 7 (short, it seems, for Hypothetical 7) once again takes Westport Coffee House back from Sun Ra impersonators and Christian theater companies. Besides the usual short-form games and blackouts, Hype 7 dares to try longer bits — which offer richer laughs than the “David Hasslehoff meets [audience suggestion] at a birthday party” stuff that is the bread and butter of much local improv. Plus, the troupe screens prefilmed sketches between scenes, which is far from improv but refreshingly ambitious. Saturday, April 1, at Westport Coffee House, 4010 Pennsylvania, 816-756-3222.

Big Laughs, No Whammies Full Frontal Comedy had locked in its April show’s title well before Press Your Luck host Peter Tomarken shuffled off this mortal coil to the sound of a thousand giggling obit writers crafting their thousand “Look who hit a whammy” jokes. Dark as it is, the coincidence bodes well: Improvisers such as Full Frontal thrive on surprising correspondences between unrelated things, and this, one of the long-running troupe’s occasional all-games, no-sketches shows, depends more than most on rapid-fire randomness. Expect lots of old-fashioned guessing games; also, look for two of KC’s funniest women, founder Tina Morrison and the incomparable Shelley Stewart. April 1 at the Olathe Community Theater, 500 E. Loula St. in Olathe. 913-403-4340.

Crowns At this celebration of down-home church life, the acting’s strong, the singing thrills and the energy crackles through the audience. Too bad, then, that playwright Regina Taylor is more interested in hats (the titular crowns are those elaborate hats favored by some churchgoing African-American women) than in people. The slip of a plot concerns Yolanda (an excellent Angela Polk), a tough Brooklyn teen freshly transplanted to the South. After moping through 80 minutes of hat-related monologues and evangelical brainwashing, her hip-hop attitudes are tamed. More electric sociology than drama, Crowns stirs most deeply when the stories are finished and everyone sings. Through April 2 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529, ext. 10. (Reviewed in our March 16 issue.)

Give ’em Hell, Harry They keep bringing it back, so we’ll keep wishing the script warranted it. Writer Samuel Gallu flatters Missourians for being — like his Harry Truman — straight-talking truth tellers, so it’s my duty to report that this show is a heap of hagiographic piffle, giving us a gabby Truman who jaws at us from the Oval Office like we’re squatting ’round the cracker barrel. The KC Rep’s production is impeccably staged, and Gary Neal Johnson is a marvel as Truman, but the script is rotten through and through, spending more time on lawn mowing than on atomic-bomb dropping and selling us a president who never made a mistake or had a regret. By nodding along, we buy into the same idiotic conviction that lets George W. Bush feel confident that a president — any president — might be infallible. Through April 23 at Union Station’s City Stage, 30 West Pershing Rd., 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our Oct. 27 issue.)

Hey There, Harvey Girl The Mystery Train gang, which winningly transforms the Union Café into a railroad crime scene, again presents murder with appetizers. As always, the script comes from local talent, and it’s threaded with Kansas City history. This time, the cheerfully unpredictable story is something about the decorous Harvey Girls traveling in an Old West dining car. Real-life diners are invited to interrogate cast members, make sense of the clues and solve the crime. (Some will have scripts themselves.) The audience participation makes a fine time finer; as funny as Wendy Thompson’s lines are, hearing your neighbors embellish (or butcher) them and then watching the quick-witted cast improvise responses is half the pleasure. Through April 1 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat We’ll take Dolly Parton’s plainspoken “Coat of Many Colors” (lord, we’d even take Godspell) over Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Old Testament bombast any day of the week, but few modern shows have as many devotees as this one. Still, if it’s your kind of thing, this stripped-down Olathe production may be a godsend: It’s impossible to cram all of Sir Andy’s over-the-top awfulness into the intimate Chestnut Fine Arts Center, meaning that, by necessity, some of that Dolly simplicity might shine through and save things. Through April 9 at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center, 234 N. Chestnut St., Olathe, 913-764-2121.

Married Alive! Following the travails of two married couples, one just hitched and one just bitching, this world-premiere sketch-comedy musical digs into what folks do after “I do.” Laughs abound, some a little naughtier than the American Heartland typically offers, but the good stuff is almost outweighed by some undistinguished ballads and a pair of harebrained scenes that use smoke and gunfire to compare raising kids to life in a war zone. Still, a couple of grand comic songs, excellent performances from all four leads (especially Kansas City mainstay James Wright, a dead ringer here for a boss from a 1950s sitcom, as the curmudgeonly older husband), and an inventive set lightly inspired by game shows convince us to hold our peace. Married Alive! isn’t perfect, but committing to it doesn’t mean that you’re settling. Through April 23 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999. (Reviewed in our March 23 issue.)

Say Goodnight, Gracie Oh, God, you New Theatre devils. Overland Park’s thoroughly professional and often sparkling dinner theater offers this wistful one-man show about the life of George Burns. Suspended in a limbolike state after his death, the play’s Burns (Joel Rooks) is unable to gain admittance to heaven until he, according to press materials, “gives the Command Performance of his lifetime for God.” If you think demanding a free show before giving up the good stuff is churlish of God, you understand how we feel about having to pony up for dinner before getting to see these rock-solid New Theatre shows. Through April 9 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster in Overland Park, 913-649-7469.

The Search for Odysseus Advice for anyone on a quest for the original big O: Take a left at the rosy fingers of dawn. This colorful take on Homer’s baggy epic follows Telemachus, Odysseus’ kinda twerpy son, encountering puppets and sword fights on the hunt for his father — who, as anyone who has plowed through the original knows, is shacked up on an island with comely sex witch Calypso. We’re betting that this Coterie production skips that, just as we’re betting that the puppets and sword fights will be totally cool. Through April 2 at the Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552.

Tape Stephen Belber’s sharply barbed three-way battle of the sexes receives the UMKC Theatre Department treatment, which means that, in addition to a script that offers shock and insight in equal measures, we should expect top-shelf production values and some of the hungriest young actors in town, led by always reliable director Joe Price. Through April 2 at Union Station’s City Stage, 30 W. Pershing Rd., 816-235-6222.

Categories: A&E