Stage Capsule Reviews
Hank Williams: Lost Highway If the man who never got out of this world alive could get himself gussied up for all those Opry performances, who are we to begrudge the tony KC Rep its crack at the most torturously strung-out genius in all of country music? With the Rep’s deep pockets and grand production designs, it’ll certainly look good. Add one of the great American songbooks and Van Zeiler reprising his Hank from the celebrated New York production, and we’re thinking it’ll be big fun on the bayou. Let’s just hope they don’t clean his fingernails or try to pass him off as the all-American superchum that Give ‘Em Hell, Harry made of Truman. Through March 19 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700.
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.
Married Alive! Out to prove there’s still something fun about marriage, the American Heartland Theatre’s new musical, a world premiere by Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto, gives us two married couples — one newlywed-fresh and the other puttering along — and all their tuneful troubles, from baby stress to empty-nest syndrome to (let’s hope) what the hell have we done with our lives? Promising song titles: “Oh, Knocked Up” and “It Starts With Socks.” Through April 16 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.
Once Upon a Mattress Many moons ago, when musical fairy tales were goofy escapes instead of grist for strained, mean-spirited mocking (Shrek) or laboriously conceived meta-textual examinations of our primal fears and desires (Into the Woods), people lined up by the thousands for the jokey sweetness of Once Upon a Mattress, and they liked it just fine. Then it was on TV a year back, and nobody cared. Come out and show the Blue Springs City Theatre’s huge cast that we’re not all cynical, pop-addled deconstructionists. Amuse yourself during duff bits by thinking of questions that “once upon a mattress” could be the answer to — “Have you ever met this woman, Mr. Clinton?” is a freebie. Through March 5 at Blue Springs Civic Center, 2000 N.W. Ashton Dr. in Blue Springs, 816-228-0137.
The Pirates of Penzance Independence Community Theatre sets sail with another chance to swab and sing with the razzle-dazzle sea dogs of the classic 1879 musical by Gilbert and … Weinstock, a pair who might not have been the ablest of seamen but who certainly fashioned a warship of a show. From high schools to community theaters to the KC Rep’s dignified 2004 treatment, this show hasn’t sunk yet. Through March 12 at City Theatre of Independence, 201 North Dodgion in Independence, 816-325-7367.
Red Herring Creeping up on its 30th year, the Lawrence Community Theatre continues to offer both traditional community theater fare — Brigadoon last year, The Miracle Worker coming up — and cheerful ensemble shows that you just don’t see much. Case in point: Michael Hollinger’s marriage-and-espionage comedy Red Herring, a cloak-and-dagger romance set in the early 1950s and featuring bombs, spies, Joe McCarthy’s daughter, and a corpse in Boston Harbor. Through March 12 at Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 New Hampshire in Lawrence, 785-843-7469.
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.
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.