Five Theatre Reviews for Next Weekend

I have had such a good time seeing live theatre shows lately!

However, whenever someone asks me, “Hope, what’s good?  What should I see this weekend?” I hesitate to answer.  I am a professional librarian, so I’ve been trained to never just hand someone a book but to instead ask a few nonjudgmental questions in return so I can understand more clearly what the person is looking for when they come to the Readers Advisory desk.  “A good book” means different things to different people.  It even means different things to one person in different moods or at different points in his or her life.

The same goes for shows.

Answering is made even trickier by the fact that unlike books or movies, live theatre productions are available for a very limited time.  You really have to “seize the day” with live theatre.

So what should you seize, I mean, see next weekend?  I have no idea without talking with you directly. 

And even then, whatever I suggest, you’d still be taking a risk.  Thank goodness!  The risk is part of the fun of having a live theatre habit.

Below are some thoughts about five shows that I enjoyed recently and which will still be on next weekend.  The shows are (in alphabetical order by title):

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Sad Theatre News: Jean Engstrom

The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s resident costume designer, Jean Engstrom, died on Thursday, February 7, 2013.  This message appeared on Civic’s Facebook page the next day:

Civic will open THE FOX ON THE FAIRWAY this evening with a heavy heart.  Our dear friend and Resident Costume Designer Jean Engstrom passed away yesterday.  As Bob Sorbera reported to the staff, “In a fashion becoming of a theatrical she passed away at the precise moment that the steel magnolias of the costume shop were raising their glasses in her honor.”  Our condolences to Jean’s family and friends.

I offer them my condolences, too.  I don’t think I ever met Jean in person, but I felt as if I knew her, or at least a part of her, through her beautiful costume designs.  I always looked forward to seeing them and invariably they wowed me.

Here are just a few examples (for most of these, if you click the link you can see a photo or two of Jean’s costumes in the full review):

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Theatre Review: “Next to Normal” at the Phoenix

I saw the Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Next to Normal” a couple of weeks ago.  I am still thinking about it, especially as more and more people see it and ask me what I thought of it.  Not everyone likes it, but everyone wants to talk about it.

I loved it.

It is a musical, but it feels like a deeply engaging play with great lines that happen to be beautifully sung.  The music is unusual but the notes fall into place in a satisfying way.  The show doesn’t feel like “Musical Theatre.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with musical theatre…unless it’s not what you’re in the mood for.)

“Next to Normal” nails so many things about mental health and grieving and family patterns over generations and the medical profession and buffers and invisibility and denial and happiness and fidelity and more…without being black-and-white or even too judgmental or prescriptive about any of it.  It invites emotional response AND intellectual discussion.

It is intense and it made me cry, but it isn’t depressing.

The ensemble cast under the direction of Bryan Fonseca and musical director Kevin D. Smith is splendid.

Should you go see it?  Of course you should, if for no other reason than it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama plus some Tony Awards.  Go see it and form your own opinion.  I bet it will be a strong one.

The show runs Wednesdays-Sundays at the Phoenix for two more weeks, through February 24, 2013. While you’re at the theatre, I’m going to write the rest of what I want to write about this show without worrying about spoilers.

Seriously, it’s better if you go see the show first and then come back and read the rest of this post.

If you don’t like spoilers, don’t say I didn’t warn you about the spoilers below.

Continue reading Theatre Review: “Next to Normal” at the Phoenix