Stage Capsule Reviews
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 Union Station’s Union Café, 30 W. Pershing Rd., 816-813-9654.
The Nerd Sunny, skilled performances from the principals — especially Ron Megee, plutocrat du jour Kip Niven and appealing straight man Craig Benton — can’t keep author Larry Shue’s comedy from grating. Everything is subordinate to the laugh, including sense and character; it’s a shame, then, that most of the jokes are as sharp as a wet Frito. Some connect, though, and much of the ginned-up crowd roared once the show made it through its laborious set-ups to deliver the payoffs. Still, you feel the punch lines coming before they hit, which inspired audience members to shout them to the cast. Written back before geeks took over our culture, The Nerd has no sympathy for its titular twerp, who is a monster of annoyance. This is Birth of a Nation for geek haters. Through Feb. 26 at American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999. (Reviewed in our Jan. 19 issue.)
Nothin’ Like a Dame: A Salute to Broadway’s Leading Ladies Why does droppin’ the g signify Broadway? Whatever the answer, we’re always inclined toward dropping some cash on Quality Hill’s sparkling cabaret revues, for which this town’s finest singers don razzle-dazzle gowns and tuxes — well, mostly gowns this time — to barnstorm through J. Kent Barnhart’s light, witty arrangements in the extremely intimate Playhouse. This go-round, they’re promising tunes from Cabaret, Funny Girl, Annie Get Your Gun and other perennials. Might we nominate muppety Stephanie’s heartbreaking “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” from Avenue Q? Through Feb. 19 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.
Pump Boys and Dinettes It’s nostalgic sing-along time when Olathe’s homey Chestnut Fine Arts Center puts on this bighearted ’80s musical about the guys and gals pumping gas and slinging home fries at a North Carolina highway pit stop. The music explores the honkier side of American roots music, aiming for that vanishing point — as Elvis Costello calls it — where rock, country and blues all become the same thing. Not much plot, but plenty of music, love troubles and gentle ribaldry. The gals all work at the Double Cupp Diner. Musical highlight “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine” keeps with the Cupp theme. In most productions, the boys are a band, playing the instruments themselves; it’ll be interesting to see how Olathe swings it. Through Feb. 26 at Chestnut Fine Arts Center, 234 N. Chestnut Street in Olathe, 913-764-2121.
A Raisin in the Sun For most people, familiarity has reduced Lorraine Hansberry’s masterpiece — once a searing revelation presaging the heartbreak and joy of the civil rights struggle — to just a beloved, well-crafted play. That’s not the case with these actors, fortunately, who attack each act with such vigor and feeling that even audience members who know this story in their bones should find it fresh. The lighting is too golden and warm, and some moments are overly theatrical, but the emotion is raw. Don’t even bother fighting back tears. Through Feb. 12 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry. 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our Feb. 2 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.