Stage Capsule Reviews
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.)
Hank Williams: Lost Highway Instead of just running through the hits — as is the norm with this kind of musical biography — writers Randal Myler and Mark Harelik dig back to the music’s source to unearth the blues roots of pop’s most movingly heartsick catalog. Old bluesman Tee Tot (the honey-voiced Mississippi Charles Bevel) teaches Hank Williams to sing and play, then watches over him from stage right for the rest of the show; bizarrely, a diner waitress sits stage left, listening to Hank on the radio. This setup is meant to illustrate the music’s deep connection to regular folks — a point the songs make just fine, thank you. Van Zeiler (our Hank) sings lower than Williams and sports a newscaster’s good looks but has the brooding hell-raiser down. When Lost Highway turns Hank loose, it can thrill; when it pens him in as a troubled genius with a bluesman on one shoulder and a depressed waitress on the other, it’s kind of silly. Through March 26 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700 (Reviewed in our March 9 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.
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.
Vital Signs Playwright Jane Martin’s (or is that Jon Jory’s?) acclaimed 1990 collection of women’s monologues hits the burbs for the first time since said burbs showed big love for Eve Ensler’s vagina. Has time (and familiarity of form) whetted or dulled the 39 stories that make up Vital Signs? The show is both comic and dark, with an edge of absurdity that Ensler lacked; its highlights include a woman diagnosed as having no personality and another who sets her husband on fire. Through March 25 at Olathe Community Theatre, 500 E. Loula, 913-782-2990.
Your Hit Parade: The American Songbook With Barry Manilow joining Rod Stewart and La Streisand in hamming egocentrically through songs beloved by everybody’s grandparents, now’s a fine time to hear classics done right: with intelligence, restraint and the understanding that the songs matter most. Quality Hill Playhouse’s ace arranger J. Kent Barnhart has given us a long string of cabaret shows in which both songs and singers shine. This time, his piano is rounded out with bass and drums, and he’s promising chestnuts such as “Dream” and “How High the Moon.” Through April 2 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.