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‘Brigsby Bear’ original, entertaining

Carroll’s ‘Next to Normal’ dramatically reflects mental illness

Remindful  of “Being There” and “The Truman Show” as an intriguing amalgam of real life and reel life (and also a descendant of humans-who’ve-been-
isolated -from-the-world films like “The Room” and “Dogtooth”), “Brigsby” boasts a plot both believable and fantastic, peopled by likable actors portraying likable characters. My favorite: Greg Kinnear as an empathetic, stage-struck detective. 

WAUKESHA - Mental illness is a topic that is seldom addressed. It seems to raise people’s anxiety levels more than physical afflictions do.  Looked at historically - from the extreme practice of putting victims in snake pits to straitjackets to subjecting them to electric shock treatments or to a plethora of drugs - it’s no wonder that it’s often avoided as a topic of conversation or certainly never the basis of a musical.

Area native’s ‘Ghost’ is ‘impressive’
It seems Milwaukee-born and (for eight years) Waukesha-reared filmmaker David Lowery, 36, just gets better at his trade. 

‘Dunkirk’ says lots with laconic script
“Dunkirk,” being shown in 70mm prints in relatively few venues across the country - among them Waukesha’s Marcus Majestic Cinema - begins with a simple declarative sentence displayed onscreen: “The enemy have driven the British and French armies to the sea.”

‘Girls Trip’ a perilous journey
In evaluating “Girls Trip,” I’m tempted to follow that old rule of benevolence and not say anything about the movie because I’m hard-pressed to say anything nice. 

‘Wish Upon’: Less enjoyable after first hour
I haven’t watched so many hourlong television dramas that I’ve come to believe 60 minutes is the ideal length for any show.   

‘Maudie’ wonderfully different
Early in the reality-rooted  “Maudie,” Ethan Hawke’s captivatingly conveyed character establishes a pecking order for the benefit of the “housemaid” he’s hired.

‘Beguiled’ proves less than beguiling
A redo of a 46-year-old, similarly titled Clint Eastwood flick (which I’ve never seen), the 2017 version has Colin Farrell in the Eastwood role, playing opposite Nicole Kidman. 

‘Baby Driver’: a whole new genre?
Its choreographer, Ryan Heffington, has been quoted as insisting “Baby Driver” is no mere musical, but “‘a new genre É a love story with action, car chases, violence and dance.’” 

‘Megan Leavey’ a top-flight flick —
at least for dog lovers
It’s not likely to capture any Oscars, but “Megan Leavey” would win hands down if there were a category for dog lovers’ movie of the year.

‘Mummy’ not mummified, but fails to engage
Let’s start with the cast. While I wouldn’t call the acting in Alex Kurtzman’s “The Mummy” mummified, I’ve certainly seen more engaging movie performances.

No need to tell ‘It Comes at Night’ to ‘Get Out’
I’ve not been a lover of the horror genre and I didn’t exactly fall in love with writer-director Trey Edward Shults’ horror film “It Comes at Night.”

Poet’s biopic is 2017’s best so far
Having watched an enticing movie trailer, read an impressive resume of the movie’s writer-director, once seen an excellent one-woman play starring legendary Julie Harris as “The Belle of Amherst” and developed over the years a great respect for that belle  - the innovative poet Emily Dickinson - I expected “A Quiet Passion” to be the best 2017 film release I’d seen to date.

With humor, special effects, shades of Stevenson, fifth ‘Pirates’ nothing shabby
In the fifth installment of the movie series stemming from a Disneyland ride, unsavory Salazar and fellow escapees from the Devil’s Triangle - ghost sailors - aim to liquidate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), captain of the appropriately named Dying Gull, and Sparrow’s fellow pirates.

More dramedy than comedy, ‘Lovers’ is  impactful film
Azazel Jacobs’ “The Lovers” was a surprise. Its trailer had led me to anticipate a light comedy; what I got instead was a dramedy, sporadically humorous.

Summer means new movies - and here are 20 of ‘em
For Midwesterners, summer means more sun, more leisure time - and more movie debuts.  Following are 20 films scheduled for release between Memorial Day weekend (in one case, the Thursday preceding that weekend) and mid-August.

Schumer, Hawn keep ‘Snatched’ funny, but interesting
I’m not sure why Amy Schumer’s character in “Snatched,” Emily Middleton, chooses to vacation in Ecuador rather than, say, Hawaii. 

‘Dinner’ provides food for thought in fairly unappetizing plot
Poor U.S. Rep. Stan Lohman (Richard Gere) in “The Dinner.” Just as his bill to benefit the mentally ill is about to be voted upon in Congress - in the midst of his campaign for governor - an epic family crisis occurs. 

‘Norman’ deftly acted, creatively told
“Norman,” Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s first English-language film, is subtitled “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” 

‘Fate’ is, with apologies to Yogi, 'déjàˆ vu all over again'
A teacher friend used to veto certain student-proposed term paper topics, reasoning that in his long career he’d already encountered every possible argument both for and against, say, capital punishment.

Dramedy ‘Gifted’ a one-trick pony
“Gifted” refers to 10-year-old Mckenna Grace’s character, Mary, in the new dramedy directed by Marc Webb from a Tom Flynn script. That word could be applied to the diminutive actress as well, for Grace definitely steals the show with perhaps the best performance by a preteen I’ve seen as a movie reviewer.

Third recent queen movie deserves patronage
Stories of literal and figurative queens have become something of a big screen staple over the past six months. “Queen of Katwe” (an unofficial designation) appeared first, early last fall.

‘Lost Village,’ pioneering Smurf film, hits theaters
Someone once said there’s nobody sadder than the person who’s failed to find his or her place in life. Apparently that’s as true for computer-animated Smurfs as it is for people. 

Springing into existence: a score of eclectic films
Spring has sprung, as they say - the season of Easter vacations, baseball’s rebirth and (hopefully, this being Wisconsin) a farewell to wintry weather.

‘T2: Trainspotting’ - call it inventive, call it fresh
“That was really fresh,” I heard a guy say in a theater lobby the other night. He might’ve been referring to any of several movies at the multiplex, or to something else entirely. But if he was talking about the dark comedy that was previewed - ”T2: Trainspotting” - I have to agree with him.

‘Land of Mine’ merits place among fine war films
The title “Land of Mine” is a play on words. It both summarizes the attitude of its central character, a Danish soldier who tells German prisoners of war “This is my country (and) you’re not welcome here,” and suggests a plot centering on landmines in the Danish countryside.

‘Table’ somewhat empty as comedy’s
only as funny as its material
“Table 19” is a comedy, but it’s not a very funny film.  That’s the fault of the screenplay (brothers Jay and Mark Duplass), I think, not the actors. 

‘Kingdom’ potential acting Oscar for Oyelowo?
David Oyelowo may not get a best actor Oscar for “A United Kingdom,” but his work in Amma Asante’s latest film will likely move Oyelowo a step or two closer to the coveted trophy. 

‘Red Turtle’ a good thing that abounds in the rule of threes
“Good things come in groups of three,” our English composition teacher told us 40-odd years back, when we were college freshmen. I doubt whether the Dutch-born director Michael Dudok de Wit had the same teacher, but maybe he received the same advice.

Profound ‘Paterson’ antithesis of ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel
There are two sides to every story. The gentle - and puzzlingly R-rated - dramedy “Paterson,” complete with a twins motif (identical twins of both genders and various ages appear in cameos throughout), bears that bromide out.

Time once more to test your Oscars knowledge
With the 89th annual Academy Awards gala on the horizon, it’s time again for what’s become our yearly Oscar quiz. Questions address happenings 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 25, 20 and 10 years ago. Hopefully they’ll get you in a Jimmy Kimmel, red-carpet mood for Sunday night. Good luck!

Little of ‘Wick’ goes long way, while lots of ‘Toni’ is welcome
In one of the unlikelier circumstances attached to an extremely unlikely movie, the title character of “John Wick: Chapter 2,” played with little range but lots of athleticism by Keanu Reeves, is summoned from retirement to make good on an old blood oath and function again as a hit man.

While more than a week out, it’s fun to predict winners
As an outsider (even as an insider, for that matter) one can never be sure how the Hollywood crowd will vote in the annual Academy Awards sweepstakes.

Spanish-language film ‘Julieta’ proves to be a guilty pleasure
“Julieta” (pronounced “hool-YET-ah”), a Spanish movie with English subtitles helmed by Oscar honoree Pedro Almodovar, has a lot to do with guilt: assuming and assessing guilt, attempting to assuage guilt, the advancement of guilt from generation to generation.

‘A Dog’s Purpose’ less guilty of audience cruelty than ‘Comedian’
Allegations of animal cruelty (denied by its director Lasse Hallstrom, its star Dennis Quaid and others) have been leveled against Hallstrom’s “A Dog’s Purpose.” My major concern as a critic is whether a film is guilty of audience cruelty - and “A Dog’s Purpose” is not. 

New flick starring Bening evokes Scorsese’s ‘Alice’
Mother-and-son movies are relatively rare. There’s Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” of course (a mother-son flick after a fashion).

Patel’s Saroo torn between two of this, two of that in ‘Lion’
Remember the old song “Torn Between Two Lovers”? In “Lion,” Dev Patel’s character is torn between two continents, two cultures, two families - “two different worlds,” in words from another erstwhile song. 

‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Fences’ come out as  signposts of African-American experience
How often nowadays can it be said about a movie that there’s virtually nothing objectionable in it and yet that it’s both entertaining and insightful? 

‘Elle,’ ‘Sing,’ ‘Manchester’: good, better, best
Casey Affleck’s virtuoso performance would be reason enough to see the Kenneth Lonergan-written and -directed drama “Manchester by the Sea.”

‘La La Land’ marks musical return; Natalie P mesmerizes as Jackie O
Searching for a movie with inoffensive dialogue and without nudity and violence? An old-fashioned love story with old-fashioned content, like footage from “Rebel Without a Cause” and an homage to Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”?  

Winter means movies - here are 12 to consider
Watching movies is a time-honored method of coping with the winter doldrums. And so, with a new winter just about ready to make its appearance, we offer a dozen films scheduled for frigid-season premieres that sound promising (or look promising - I’ve taken in a few of them at advance press screenings).

Three-star ratings for pair of Amy Adams films
“It’s violent and it’s sad and he called it ‘Nocturnal Animals.’”  Amy Adams, as the literally somnambulistic, admittedly unhappy art gallery owner Susan Morrow, speaks those words regarding a book her ex-husband has written.

‘Moana’ memorable; ‘Bad Santa’? Forget it!
“Moana” is the story of a superhuman quest, involving an amulet, a goddess, turbulent waters and the salvation of an island, undertaken by a human adolescent - Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) - ill-prepared to cope with all of the above.

Good words for boxing biopic, fantasy film
“Bleed for This” is the stranger-than-fiction story of Vinny Pazienza, who broke his neck and nearly died in a car accident,  then managed to resume his boxing career.

It’s time for the turkeys
Once again, let’s mark Turkey Day by revisiting what may be the biggest movie turkeys of 2016. I realize the year still has five-plus weeks to go, and also realize I haven’t seen every movie released during 2016’s first 11 months.

‘Eagle Huntress’ and ‘Doctor’ electrify;  ‘Almost Christmas’ not as stimulating
A negative observation on “The Eagle Huntress”: the Mongolia-set movie’s yellow subtitles are difficult to read against light backgrounds. 

‘Moonlight’ shines; ‘Hacksaw’ a cut above average
Film is a form of literature - so maybe the names Scorsese and Spielberg will someday join Dylan on the roster of U.S. literary Nobel Prize winners. In any case, we’ve all heard (probably from some high school English teacher justifying including “The Scarlet Letter” or “Silas Marner” on a syllabus) that excellent literature need not be synonymous with entertainment. 

Animated ‘Trolls’ excellent; spy comedy ‘Keeping Up’ enjoyable
“Trolls” is, in part, an animated 3-D variation on the Cinderella story, with equivalents of the heroine and her glass slipper, Prince Charming and his palace, the wicked stepmother, and the fairy godmother.

‘Girl,’ ‘Kevin Hart,’ ‘Chronic’ a mixed bag
The Western has experienced a resurgence in the last year or so. Perhaps “The Girl on the Train” signals it’s now the whodunit’s turn. 

Horse switching doesn’t make horse sense in new ‘Birth’
I recall my high school Latin teacher’s repeating the old admonition, "Don’t change horses in the middle of a stream.

‘Deepwater,’  film festival’s  ‘Queen’
fit for king
MILWAUKEE - The elements that comprise “Deepwater Horizon” blend wonderfully, like the players in a talented orchestra.  Those elements include cinematography (an amalgam here of emotion-oozing extreme close-ups, cinéma vérité and plenty of quick takes paralleling the chaos aboard the titular oil rig 

‘Seven’ remake magnificent; ‘Snowden’ good as well
Right off the bat I’ll give in to temptation and say “The Magnificent Seven” (a remake of the similarly titled 1960 flick, itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” from 1954) is a magnificent motion picture.

Encores  set  for  ‘Slenderman,’  two other films at festival
The Milwaukee Film Festival’s opening weekend including screenings of “Slenderman,” as well as a newspaper documentary and a story of romance from France. 

Gimmicks get old, but some sequels succeed
While “Gypsy” composer Stephen Sondheim insisted “you’ve gotta have a gimmick,” moviemakers need to realize gimmicks go out of style. Its “found footage” gimmick made “The Blair Witch Project” a big-screen hit in 1999.

‘Sully’: A deeper disaster travel film
We’ve seen this before from Tom Hanks: a disaster during travel. Remember “Apollo 13?” How about “Castaway?”

‘Hollars,’ ‘Sea of Trees’ hit emotional notes
“The Hollars” is part tearjerker, part zany comedy, part paean to that wonderful and wild institution we call family.  

‘Sister’ somewhat brighter than ‘The Light’
It’s pleasurable to view a preponderance of commendable characters on a movie screen, especially in these skeptical and self-centered times. 

Biopic, book adaptation both outstanding
I’m as much in awe as the next critic of Meryl Streep’s accomplishments, including record numbers of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations. 

‘Dragon’ more delectable than ‘Sausage’
Evidence of the expression “local boy makes good” is on display at area movie theaters. David Lowery, who was born in Milwaukee and did some of his growing up in Waukesha, is director and co-screenwriter of “Pete’s Dragon,” a solid 3-D Disney remake of a 1977 animated/live action picture by the same name, also by Disney.

‘Cafe Society’ Allen’s best since ‘Blue Jasmine’
“Not as cynical” as previous Woody Allen pictures, offered an audience member at “Cafe Society” last week. I don’t know about that.

Nerve,’ ‘Bourne’ ultimately turn out to be disappointing
“Nerve” concerns a faux cultural phenomenon: teenagers choosing to watch online, or actually play, a game on the order of Truth or Dare. In this ongoing competition known as Nerve, however, there are only dares. People pay to play, and to watch.

Comedy not quite ‘fabulous;’ ‘Equals’ sci fi movie
Following a relatively recent trend, the comedic “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is based on an award-winning BBC series.  

Comedy-drama ‘Wilderpeople’ delightfully quirky
“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” based on a book by Barry Crump, is a delightful dramedy from New Zealand with a quirky cast of characters. iker: Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby).

‘Secret Life of Pets’ funny twist on old cliché
Just about everyone is familiar with the cliché “While the cat’s away, the mice will play.” The plot of a new animated feature from the folks responsible for the “Despicable Me” movies might be summarized a wee bit differently: “While the owners are away, the cats will play.

Top 5 films for 2016 easy to rate, so far
Choosing my top five films of the year’s first half isn’t a daunting task, as the highest rating I gave  — 3 1/2 (out of 4) stars  — went to exactly five 2016 movies.

‘Election’ preferable to ribald comedy
Combining horror with politics, as “Purge: Election Year” does, may not be an original movie idea. But the more sarcastic among us will contend that, given the parade of presidential aspirants we’ve witnessed in the past year, the idea is at least an appropriate one.

‘BFG’ plain magical; ‘Swiss Army Man’ displays ‘magical realism’
The phrase “winning combination” applies to “The BFG,” a Disney 3D film based on Roald Dahl’s 1982 book. “The BFG” (for Big Friendly Giant) brings together children’s author Dahl (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), who was something of a giant himself at 6-foot-6, director Steven Spielberg, composer John Williams, Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter and Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.

‘Dory,’ Disney fish story, is fine family fare
Literally a fishy film, computer-animated “Finding Dory,” deals with a blue-tang title character.   This character, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, suffers from short-term memory loss and has become separated  from her loving parents, Jenny and Charlie (voices of Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy).  

‘Most controversial film’ debuts Friday
Opening  this weekend: a documentary its publicists are trumpeting as “the most controversial film in America” and “the film they don’t want you to see.”

Quite a bit to see in ‘Now You See Me 2’
Rapid-paced “Now You See Me 2” isn’t quite the movie that has everything. 

How do ‘Popstar’ and Lonely Island fare?
I’ll take The Three Stooges, if you please. I finished watching The Lonely Island comedy trio in “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” just an hour ago.

Like subject, ‘Dark Horse’ likely to please
Louise Osmond found the true story of a horse and his unlikely owners “a wonderful mash of genres, part classic British ‘Billy Elliot’/’Full Monty’ underdog tale, part ‘Lavender Hill Mob’ caper (and part) ‘Rocky.’”

Little to be said for new ‘Neighbors’
If little else can be said for recent movies starring the talented but misguided Seth Rogen, a case can at least be made for their ecumenism. Last year’s awful Christmas flick, “The Night Before,” used Catholic midnight Mass as a springboard for Rogen’s tasteless humor.

‘Lobster’ a long two hours; still has quality, appeal
“The Lobster’s” mundane opening scene, of a woman motoring through the rain, arguably runs too long. But then, the scene accurately foreshadows the movie as a whole. It, too, seems overly long at times.

‘Angry Birds Movie’ does indeed have silver lining
The above song excerpt is, more or less, how “The Angry Birds Movie” begins. The lyrics are from “Friends,” a ditty written and performed by Blake Shelton. 

Some summer movies add to franchises
Distributors have been sending the titles of, and additional information about, their summer films. Following are summaries of 15 movies slated to debut between Friday and the end of September, although dates should be regarded as tentative.

Imperfect ‘Meddler’ still has quality, appeal
“The Meddler,” written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”), certainly falls short of perfection. 

‘Mother’s Day’ best way to spend Mother’s Day? 
Often in preparing to write a movie review, I find myself ignoring the studio-produced press notes. In the case of Garry Marshall’s “Mother’s Day,” however, I’ve elected to read what the publicists had to say.

‘Elvis & Nixon’ revisit poignantly funny, but ‘Adderall Diaries’ rough
It’s unthinkable Kevin Spacey would forsake screen acting.  However, if the unthinkable ever became actual, Spacey - based on his spot-on rendition of Richard Nixon in “Elvis & Nixon” - could easily earn his livelihood as an impersonator.

Bagwise, ‘Criminal’ is mixed while ‘Miles’ may, or may not, be yours
Advertised as “the story of the right man in the wrong body,” Ariel Vromen’s “Criminal” is a mixed bag. Positives about the espionage-sci-fi flick include excellent pacing, the curious ability to compel viewers to empathize with a character who himself has no empathy, and a cast featuring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones - a trio that first worked together 25 years ago on Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

Computer-generated ‘Jungle Book’ revisits 50-year-old cartoon
he magic of Disney combines - once again - with the creativity of Kipling to create “The Jungle Book” on screen. Producer-director Jon Favreau’s version is a live action/computer-generated retooling, in 3-D, of the animated “Jungle Book” from 1967.

‘Boss’ not up to last two McCarthy films
Melissa McCarthy is a gifted comedian, a talented actress.  Unfortunately, there’s also the raunchiness factor with her movies.   “St. Vincent” with Bill Murray two years back was an exception and McCarthy delivered an excellent performance.

‘Greek Wedding 2’: year’s No. 1 comedy
It’s taken Hollywood 14 years to come up with a sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” So, was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” worth the wait? I’m not sure. I saw bits and pieces of the first installment after it moved from big screen to television screen, but I remember very little about it. What I do know is that I found “2” enjoyable from start to finish.

R-rated comedy ‘Bronze’ has golden moments
“The Bronze,” which stars Melissa Rauch, is occasionally surprising, occasionally predictable.  Take that to mean the movie is contradictory, if you will. 

Fey’s effort highlights ‘Whiskey’
A yeoman’s job by star Tina Fey highlights “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” a dramedy based on Kim Barker’s book, “The Taliban Shuffle,” about her days as a war correspondent in Afghanistan.

‘Messiah’ better than it sounded
“The Young Messiah” didn’t sound too promising. SeveraI weeks ago I received notification of the new film that described it in part as “the inspiring story of seven-year-old Jesus Christ and his family.” 

Time for Oscar predictions - and lamentations
The annual Academy Awards gala is nearly upon us. With the nominees chosen, it’s time for predicting the winners - and lamenting others who’ve been left out of the race. 

‘Eagle’ soars; ‘Witch’ less than beguiling
“Feel-good film” is the cliché I thought of as I watched “Eddie the Eagle,” a pleasant flick about bona fide Olympic skier Eddie Edwards.

Critical kudos for ‘Lady,’ ‘Deadpool’
As narrator of “The Lady in the Van,” author Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) describes the title character (Maggie Smith) with a barrage of awful adjectives: “bigoted, cantankerous, devious, unforgiving, self-serving, rank and rude.”

‘Son of Saul’ finer than ‘Finest’
If Hollywood presented rookie of the year awards, the Hungarian Laszlo Nemes would definitely be in contention. Unfortunately for the 38-year-old “Son of Saul” director, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay, the rookie award remains a baseball phenomenon. 

Isaac captivates, but whither goes ‘Mojave’?
Written and directed by William Monahan (“The Departed”), “Mojave” stars Oscar Isaac, who’s become quite the prolific performer (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Ex Machina” and “A Most Violent Year”).

‘Ride Along 2’ nothing special, but then again ...
“Ride Along 2” is nothing special, particularly when compared to truly outstanding movies playing locally like “The Revenant” and “The Force Awakens.” Then again, the comedic “Ride Along 2” is infinitely better than the tasteless Christmas comedy “The Night Before” and certainly no worse than M.

Looking forward to cinema’s spring
Several distributors - Broad Green Pictures, A24 Films, Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Classics and Universal Pictures - have released titles, and descriptions thereof, for the spring.

‘Revenant’ a Western ‘painfully realistic’
“The Revenant”  is a painfully realistic pre-Civil War Western with incongruously gorgeous photography.

2015 was a great year at the movies
It’s been an excellent year for motion pictures. Interestingly, most of the ones I’ve liked best - the top six of my top 10 - are reality-based. 

‘Concussion’ is a different but good gridiron movie
“Concussion” is a different sort of football film, one concerned with debilitating head injuries that have too frequently spelled death for ex-NFL players. It’s a movie with inventive casting. 

Hustle’ director Russell helms ‘Joy’ to behold
David O. Russell’s new movie “Joy” is a tantalizingly quirky comedy in the tradition of his 2013 ABSCAM-based endeavor “American Hustle.” 

Episode VII good, just not great
A friend hit the nail on the head when he predicted the seventh film in the “Star Wars” series “will be a good movie, (but) won’t be great.”

‘Episode VII’ awakens new hope
Franz Buchholtz didn’t care for the last three “Star Wars” movies. In an interview, the Bay View resident summarized those prequels as “poorly acted, poorly written, not very well thought-out.” He added that “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005) each “came off more like a video game than a movie.”

‘Letters’ inspirational, if not cutting-edge
It may be that Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun revered for her work among India’s impoverished and the subject of the newly released biopic “The Letters,” was from the day she joined the Sisters of Loreto at age 18 a saintly personage - chaste and obedient in accordance with the vows nuns take, prayerful, other-centered.

Patron’s harsh ‘Night Before’ assessment proves accurate
Minutes after a screening of “The Night Before,” I heard a woman comment, “I just wasted an hour and 45 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back again.”   

Well-paced drama’s heart in right place … or places
Home is where the heart is. But can the heart be in two places at once? That seems to be the basic question John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” based on a novel by Colm Toibin, is asking. 

‘Spotlight’ up to ‘President’s Men’ but ‘My All American’ no ‘Rudy’ 
If it takes a village to raise a child,  an attorney for clerical sex abuse victims in the movie  “Spotlight”  remarks,  it takes a village to abuse one. 

‘Spectre’ has superior production values, but ‘Suffragette’ is superior film
As good as Carey Mulligan was as “Far From the Madding Crowd’s” leading lady last spring, the English actress is even better as a pre-World War I women’s rights activist in “Suffragette.

‘Room’ fascinating, if not flawless
“Room” is a well-cast movie, with emotionally wide-ranging performances by Brie Larson (also very good in the recent “Trainwreck”) and 9-year-old Jacob Tremblay (truly remarkable). Both actors could get Academy Award nominations, as could “Room’s” Irish director, Lenny Abrahamson.

Truth be told, Redford’s Rather credible
In one of “Truth’s” final scenes, Robert Redford as Dan Rather is cheered by a roomful of co-workers after signing off for the last time as “CBS Evening News” anchorman. While applauding Rather, the other actors could also have been applauding Redford, who, made up to resemble the newscaster, deserves kudos for capturing Rather’s voice and mannerisms in an appropriately low-key performance.

Stine-based ‘Goosebumps’ a bumpy ride, but Spielberg’s ‘Bridge’ worth negotiating
Amidst outsized monsters and a militia of evil-intentioned garden gnomes, the most interesting subjects in “Goosebumps” are human: three pretty sensible kids and a couple of kooky adults. 

‘Coming Home’ is great, but not in today’s 3-D adventure sense
“Coming Home” is an extraordinary film, but it’s hardly a bells and whistles film. Cops and a criminal may be at its center, but this Chinese movie with English subtitles and a 20th century time frame is no action-adventure picture, no breakneck-paced police procedural with bullet-dodging or madcap driving or other acts of derring-do.

Zemeckis’ ‘The Walk’ another fine fall flick
In my review a week ago, I exulted that several good movies had accompanied our new autumn movies like that review’s 3 1/2-star subject,  “The Martian.” Ridley Scott’s sci-fi adventure may or may not have been the best release since Labor Day; now, however, as quickly as it burst upon the scene,  “The Martian” has been overshadowed by Robert Zemeckis’   humor-spiked drama  “The Walk.” 

Ridley Scott’s ‘Martian’ looks to be among better autumn crop of movies
“The End of the Tour.” “Grandma.” And now, “The Martian.” History does seem to repeat itself: Autumn approaches; a better crop of feature films emerges.

Shyamalan’s latest: One ‘Visit’ you need not make
To the list of places you need not visit, feel free to add theaters showing “The Visit,” M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film. 

Tomlin terrific as ‘Grandma’ 
you wish you had
It may not be a technical trailblazer, but “Grandma” is a terrific motion picture: unfailingly amusing, poignant, very capably acted, a thorough - and thoroughly captivating - story in 79 short minutes.  

Maybe ‘Walk’ should take a hike
Robert Redford’s latest movie, “A Walk in the Woods,” has been done before, more or less, and done better. The previous rendition occurred last year, a drama with Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern instead of a comedy starring the less impressive duo of Redford and Nick Nolte. 

Big screen keeps it real this fall
If reboots have figured prominently in this summer’s cinematic landscape, the fall season promises to place emphasis on movie art imitating life.

TV retread 'Man From U.N.C.L.E.' passes muster as feature film
OK, I’ll add my thumb to those already thrust in the air in support of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” Guy Ritchie’s feature film based on the old TV series with the same handle.

Interview-based movie anything but dull
Nobody’s proposing David Foster Wallace, late author of the well-regarded novel “Infinite Jest” and subject of the feature film “The End of the Tour,” for canonization. 

New films take two societal glimpse set in San Francisco, Ireland
It’s  1976. Patty Hearst, seen on a TV clip in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” is big news this Bicentennial year while Watergate has apparently been forgotten.

Documentary suggests 
truth stranger than fiction
Documentarian Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack” concerns a most unusual family: the Angulo brood of seven children, all but the youngest of them males, their Peruvian papa, Oscar, and their mother, Susanne, of Midwestern farm stock.

‘Irrational Man,’ ‘Pixels’ revisit Dostoyevsky, Pac-Man
Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man” begins as a potential revisiting of “Educating Rita” with Joaquin Phoenix in the Michael Caine role. It becomes an updated screen version of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” with Phoenix as above-the-law Raskolnikov.

'Trainwreck' a misnomer  for Schumer movie?
Midway through Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck,” a character is denounced as universally offensive but then immediately lauded as likable, everybody’s favorite person.

'War is hell' theme dominates 'Testament of Youth'
“Testament of Youth,” based on an autobiography by the same title, begins on Armistice Day, 1918. World War I, the inaccurately dubbed “war to end all wars,” is over and there is jubilation on the streets.

Offbeat 'Me and Earl' definitely worthwhile
I find myself wondering whether it’s merely coincidental that “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” the  movie based on Jesse Andrews’ novel, takes place in Pittsburgh.

While 'Max' isn't 'Mad,' dog story has positives
First, a clarification. “Max,” from “Remember the Titans” director Boaz Yakin, is not to be confused with another new movie, “Mad Max: Fury Road.”   “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been applauded by critics. “Max,” although not without positives, is ultimately a middling effort.  

'Spy' offers a lot of hilarity and a bit of bawdiness
“Spy,” the latest Melissa McCarthy movie, at first looks and sounds like a James Bond film, with handsome Jude Law in the Bond role and a song remindful of “Goldfinger” playing as the credits roll.

Cast aside, 'Aloha' leaves little  to capture the imagination
“Aloha,” the first film since 2011 from writer-director Cameron Crowe (“Almost Famous,” “Jerry Maguire”), has met with considerable public grousing due to, among other things, its allegedly disproportionate amount of Anglos for a Hawaii-set production. 

'Pitch Perfect 2' strikes several sour notes
I don’t know that I’ve seen a theater empty quite as quickly as the one where I watched “Pitch Perfect 2” the other day. 

Scary future could have used a lot more laughs
Characters, including the one played by George Clooney in a new Disney extravaganza, could’ve chosen to heed the biblical recommendation ”do not worry about tomorrow.” 

'Madding Crowd' packed with performances in a beautiful film
Like Shakespeare and Dickens, Thomas Hardy is an oft-filmed British writer. Movies have been made of Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure,” “Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and now, for the second time, “Far from the Madding Crowd.” 

'True Story' is actually two stories - 
and both have been better told
The movie “True Story,” like the 2005 book on which it’s based, is actually two stories. One concerns Michael Finkel’s reporter job loss. The second, and larger, story deals with Finkel’s identity loss to a man accused of murdering his wife and three children.

Pacino can't sing in 'Collins,' Isaac 
can dance in 'Machina' but both can act
I really liked “Danny Collins,” despite some implausibilities. Agile and captivating, the picture stars Al Pacino - still capable of commanding the screen - as a pop singer who receives a letter, waylaid for 40-plus years, from John Lennon. 

'Salt' worth 1,000 words, 'Woman' good as gold
That old adage “One picture is worth 1,000 words” rings true, time and again, in the documentary “The Salt of the Earth.” 

3-D 'Home' has endearing hero, J. Lo songs, memorable messages
From DreamWorks, the company responsible for the “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon” series, comes another example of stellar computer animation.

'Merchants of Doubt' pits spin 
doctors vs. climatologists
If, based on our last two Wisconsin winters, you’ve decided global warming is a myth, the new documentary “Merchants of Doubt” might just change your mind.

'71' captures turbulent Belfast on many levels
Affecting nighttime footage and daytime scenes of a dark nature; evil characters and good ones whose largesse stops slightly short of heroism;  long takes and a relatively - and appropriately - skimpy musical score in which a drum figures prominently.

Better 'Red' than dead
Slava Fetisov went from playing schoolboy hockey with flattened cans for pucks to captaining what some considered the best hockey team on earth, to building leagues and arenas - plus bringing the 2014 Olympic Games to Sochi - as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s minister of sport

Russian 'Leviathan' Worth Your Time
Put the Russian movie “Leviathan” in the worthwhile viewing category.  It isn’t light fare, isn’t a happy story (it’s a drama devoid of comic relief), but the subtitled “Leviathan” is well-acted, well-directed, well-photographed and definitely capable of holding an onlooker’s attention for its two-plus hours.  

Oscars likely to parallel Golden Globes
WAUKESHA - The prediction here is that Academy Awards night Feb. 22 won’t yield many surprises - at least not in the prominent categories of leading and supporting actor and actress, director and motion picture.

'Violent Year' tantalizingly cryptic
WAUKESHA - Tantalizingly cryptic. That adverb-adjective combination came to mind as a description of composer Alex Ebert’s jazzy-solemn score for “A Most Violent Year.”  

Time '4' movie buffs to 
brush up on Oscar history
WAUKESHA - Now that the Golden Globe Awards have been distributed, it’s time to turn our attention to the Oscars. 

‘Selma’: How far have we come?
WAUKESHA - “Selma,” the formidable screen story of the Martin Luther King Jr.-led civil rights march between Selma and Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, virtually ends with a rap number called “Glory.” 

Intense 'Foxcatcher' among 2014's best films
WAUKESHA - Terrifying pipsqueak may be an oxymoron, but it also seems a spot-on description of John du Pont - or least the du Pont portrayed by Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher.”

'Dr. Cabbie' mostly drives the wrong way
WAUKESHA - Cast an engaging actor (Vinay Virmani) as the lead in your comedic flick and a lovely actress (Adrianne Palicki) as his significant other. Surround the pair with cartoonish relatives and buffoonish current and former friends.

'Penguins' offers enough  for animation fans
WAUKESHA - “Penguins of Madagascar” opens on a snowy scene - a meandering march (or should I say wintry waddle?) of the titular creatures, who are generally unconcerned about an egg hatching in their midst. 

MCT stunningly opens murder-mystery season
MILWAUKEE - Most people love a good murder mystery.  Certain ones stand out as classics. Who can forget “Sleuth” or “Dial M for Murder” or “Wait Until Dark”? Agatha Christie alone has written many masterpieces. 

‘Once Upon A Mattress’ a delightful summer play for Lake Country
HARTLAND - Lake Country Playhouse attracts many young people in the summer to participate in workshops on acting and all aspects of theater. 

‘Church Basement Ladies’ mixes up Midwestern humor with the ‘60s
FORT ATKINSON - In “Church Basement Ladies,” a homey, Midwestern musical set in the 1960s, we find ourselves in the kitchen basement of a small Lutheran church in Cornucopia, Minn. 

WAP takes on intensity of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’
MILWAUKEE — For a community theater to tackle the immensity and intensity of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s rock musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” is impressive.

Summer Stage presents 'Present Laughter'
“Present Laughter” runs at SummerStage in Lapham Peak State Park through August 4. Performances at 7:30 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

‘Wayward Women’ humorously meanders at Alchemist
MILWAUKEE - There are times when reviewers are stumped for words after seeing a play. This is one of them for me.

‘This Other Love’ an engaging look at activist Dorothy Day
MEQUON - Part of Dorothy Day’s fascinating story is captured in the play “This Other Love” by Patty McCarty. 

‘Hello, Dolly!’ back where it belongs at Sunset
ELM GROVE - Occasionally a given role and a specific actor are a perfect fit. This is certainly the case in the present production of “Hello, Dolly!” at Sunset Playhouse 

Optimist’s ‘Much Ado’ best in memory with Shakespeare at the Peck
MILWAUKEE - The Optimist Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park could be called Shakespeare in the Peck this year. This year’s venue is lovely and very accessible.

Spirit of ‘1776’ remains relevant
HARTLAND - It’s that time of year when most of us give some thought to the founding of our country. 

Carroll grad’s production of ‘Bare’ lays bare issues facing teens today
MILWAUKEE - Ryan Albrechtson, an alumnus of Carroll University in Waukesha, started his own theater in 2014, and since then has managed to keep it alive with some very good productions.

‘Back to the 50s’ latest in Fireside’s successful musical nostalgia
FORT ATKINSON - ”Back to the 50s” is the third show at the Fireside featuring a decade of the most popular or most groundbreaking  music. Previous hit shows on the ‘60s and ‘70s spurred on the latest version.

‘Carole King Musical’ beautifully performed
MILWAUKEE — The last Broadway show of this season is a good one. The talented Carole King and her array of hits are featured along with some biographical material about her early life. 

Civil War-era play has message for today
TOWN OF DELAFIELD - For some reason, Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel “Little Women” has remained an appealing story.

When Agatha Christie counts down, count on clever plot twists, murder
ELM GROVE — Picture a beautiful resort on an isolated island, a group of eight strangers, a married couple that has been hired to be of service, and a man who brings in supplies by boat daily. 

Waukesha Civic delivers with ‘Barefoot’
WAUKESHA — Neil Simon’s works continue to draw and delight audiences. Along with his humor, he always has some insights to share concerning human relationships.

Summer theater returns
Most professional theaters close shop for the summer, but there are others that open their doors or outdoor spaces to welcome those who love live theater all year-round.  Here are the available options: * Through June 18 - “And Then There Were None,” Sunset Playhouse, 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove.

Grisly ‘Sweeney Todd’ has its few tender moments
MILWAUKEE - ”Sweeney Todd” by Stephen Sondheim is not for the fainthearted. It is a macabre story about revenge taken to the limit and the results that ensued. 

There’s nothing like ‘South Pacific’
FORT ATKINSON - At first glance, Rogers and Hammerstein’s prize-winning “South Pacific” seems like a story of two pairs of unlikely lovers. Set on a remote island in the South Pacific during World War II, it has an exotic flavor. What could be more romantic than “Bali Ha’I”?

First Stage’s ‘Animal Farm’ a meaty choice for young performers
MILWAUKEE - For some strange reason, human beings, despite their history, believe they can eliminate greed, inequality, poverty, sickness and create the perfect utopian society.

‘By Jeeves’ somehow misses; Windfall Theatre cast shines in roles
MILWAUKEE - When one hears that “By Jeeves” is a musical play by the musical genius Andrew Lloyd Webber and the prolific Alan Ayckbourn, one expects the best. 

‘Amateurs’ script falls short, but Lake Country nails touching moments
HARTLAND - Tom Griffin once wrote “The Boys Next Door,” an outstanding, sensitive play, one that has stood the test of time. 

New take on deep ‘Jane Eyre’ enjoyable
MILWAUKEE - ”Jane Eyre,” the Victorian novel by Charlotte Bronte, has been transformed into many film and stage versions. It continues to speak to people over 150 years after its inception. 

‘Junie B. Jones’ is a fun-filled delight
MILWAUKEE - Junie B. Jones is a beloved character in all of Barbara Park’s 28 books (1992-2013).

Waukesha Civic’s ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ keeps it light, lively
WAUKESHA - Composers Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison thought it might be fun to take apart and assess the American musical formula - a love story, large production numbers that suddenly spring into being, lavish costuming, a few exaggerated characters and, of course, often a happy ending that stretches our credulity.

In Tandem’s ‘Carnival’ soars with great  balance in acting, singing, production
MILWAUKEE — In Tandem went all out for this one, including turning their reception room into a veritable carnival display and reconfiguring their theater space into an in-the-round tent. Even the volunteers were in costume to add to the festive flavor.

‘Chicago’ packs a bunch of superlatives
MILWAUKEE - When the Tony-winning “Chicago” opens with the orchestra prominently on stage and “All That Jazz” explodes with its funky Bob Fosse choreography and the electric voice of Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, we sense immediately that we’re in for a dazzling show. 

‘Getting Away With Murder’ not your usual Sondheim work
WEST ALLIS - One usually associates Stephen Sondheim with popular musicals with atonal harmonies and clever lyrics, but together with George Furth, he attempted a completely different genre and ended up with “Getting Away With Murder,” an amusing and rather unusual mystery play.

None shall laugh? ‘Spamalot’ dares audiences not to
MENOMONEE FALLS - ”Spamalot” is hard to classify, but it’s good entertainment, if you can handle the irreverence and absurdity.

Sunset’s ‘Dixie Swim Club’ retains interest as time goes by
ELM GROVE - The  “Dixie Swim Club” is a comedy where five women who comprised a winning swim team in college meet once a year at a beach house in North Carolina to catch up on each other’s lives.

‘Great Expectations’ lives up to its title
MILWAUKEE - It is no small feat to transform a sprawling novel into a play, but Gale Childs Daly has managed to do just that with her creative take on Charles Dickens’ classic work “Great Expectations.”

‘Violet Hour’ shines light on publishing, morality, ethics
MILWAUKEE - As I witnessed “The Violet Hour,” I was impressed with its broad appeal and the plethora of elements woven into several subplots. 

‘Bloomsday’ explores wisdom of years, perspective
MILWAUKEE - The passage of time is inexorable, but our capacity to rummage through the past and speculate about the future makes both accessible, despite the inaccuracies often involved in both these ruminations.

First Stage’s ‘Mockingbird’ takes flight as it takes on autism
MILWAUKEE - We have probably all known at least one autistic child, one who was born with a condition, more prevalent in boys than girls, that manifests itself early on in childhood.

A night at the Stackner with ‘Groucho’
MILWAUKEE - The Marx Brothers are among those legends that will never die. Of the four brothers - Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo - Groucho is the most famous because he went on to be a celebrity long after his brothers dropped out of the entertainment scene.

‘Tick, Tick ... Boom!’ surpasses ‘Rent’ in ways
HARTLAND - Jonathan Larson is a composer whose short life is best remembered for his highly regarded “Rent,” a rock musical based on the opera “La Boheme.” 

‘Cinderella’: The ultimate underdog tale flourishes
MILWAUKEE - We all love an underdog, whether it be the Elephant Man, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the kid that’s bullied or handicapped and beats the odds or the forlorn stepchild that gets the prince. 

‘Zémire et Azor’ an imaginative tour de force Skylight’s accessible, amazing tale not to be missed
MILWAUKEE - There are several versions of the classic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” on deck at the moment. Besides the many film versions of this story, including the just-released record-setter for an opening weekend, two stage productions are in full swing within our grasp, and both are outstanding. 

‘Best of Enemies’ humanizes racial divide
MEQUON - You may remember “The God Committee” or “Freud’s Last Session,” two of Mark St. Germain’s plays produced by Acacia Theatre.

Fairy tale elements on full display as Disney’s version romances Fireside dinner audience
FORT ATKINSON - We all love a good romantic fairy tale, especially one with a happy ending.  “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” has all the essential ingredients - a bad guy, scary elements often occurring in forests, a beautiful woman, a curse or spell, and the triumph of good over evil. 

‘Glass Menagerie’ remindful of people’s illusions
MILWAUKEE - Tennessee Williams’ play “The Glass Menagerie,” though one of his earliest works, is one of his most frequently performed. It is a play that keeps on giving. 

‘33 Variations’ explores limits of life
WAUKESHA - A totally fascinating experience awaits you in “33 Variations” by MoisŽs Kaufman. Two lives are examined as each person living in different worlds faces the end of his life, making choices as to how to live out his final days.

Love triumphs over terror in UW-Waukesha’s moving rendition of ‘Women of Lockerbie’
WAUKESHA - On Dec. 21, 1988, Pam Am Flight 103 exploded in midair as it traveled from London to New York. A bomb had been planted on the plane, possibly by a Libyan agent in retaliation for an American bombing campaign in the capital city of Libya.

Taken with 'Taking Shakespeare'
MILWAUKEE - Sometimes we take Shakespeare; sometimes Shakespeare takes us. Such is the case in this beautiful little piece by John Murrell, a lovely 90-minute experience in the intimate setting of Plymouth Church.

‘Little Shop’ keeps ringing up laughs
ELM GROVE - When L. Thomas “Tommy” Lueck takes hold of anything, he does so with energy and passion. Whether it be teaching, acting, singing or directing, his zest and dedication are apparent. 

‘The Few’ gets personal exploring past wreckage
MILWAUKEE - People seem to have the need to make a connection, to have someone care about them, which probably accounts for why matchmaking companies are so successful. 

When ‘Time Stands Still’ in four lives 
MILWAUKEE - Three excellent productions hit the stages in Milwaukee last weekend, all engaging and thought-provoking.

Solo ‘Grounded’ covers a lot of ground
MILWAUKEE - “Grounded” is one woman’s story of her experience as a highly regarded fighter pilot.  After an unexpected pregnancy, she is reassigned to a “chair pilot” position, sitting for 12-hour stretches operating drones.  

Ignore any lingering snow; spring plays are in the air
Most professional theaters’ seasons run from September through May. Here are the many interesting offerings from the final third of the 2016-’17 productions. 

Fittingly, First Stage’s ‘Robin Hood’ has something for everybody
MILWAUKEE - The story of Robin Hood has been around for more than 800 years and is part of British folklore. Part of its continued appeal probably rests on some common themes that survive the many versions of this folk hero and his clashes with the law (Sheriff Nottingham), the wealthy class and the hypocritical clergy.

‘Metromaniacs’: A delightful spin around a French bard
MILWAUKEE - David Ives, known for his clever adaptations, has unearthed a  17th-century farce by Alexis Piron, written in rhyming verse, and has  brought us a complicated web of characters all looking for love and affirmation.

Visiting ‘The Other Place’ can be jarring to watch
MILWAUKEE - As we watch “The Other Place” unfold, we are somewhat confused until we realize that we are largely experiencing the narrative through the mind of Juliana Smithton, whose brilliant mind is rapidly deteriorating due to some form of dementia, which she interprets as brain cancer.

The Illusionists mesmerize
MILWAUKEE - We all love to watch an expert, whether it be an athlete, an artist, a dancer, a musician or anyone who has worked hard to perfect his or her skills.

Enchanted by Falls Patio Players’ transformative ‘Enchanted April’
MENOMONEE FALLS - It was like getting a bouquet of hope, a rarity in these times. The word “enchanted” almost seems reserved exclusively for children, but one of the strongest appeals of “Enchanted April” is that adults are allowed to experience it. 

Waukesha Civic’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ makes for spirited fun
Noel Coward is one of the most prolific British writers who ever lived. Besides his writing prowess, he also acted, directed, and produced movies and TV shows. 

‘Luna Gale’ offers telling look at life
MILWAUKEE - After witnessing the raw, wrenching story of “Luna Gale,” I was deeply struck by the complexity and vulnerability inherent in the human condition

‘Blind Dating at Happy Hour’ turns out to be highly enjoyable
HARTLAND - An enthusiastic packed house was ready for a comic ride through the messy maze of relationships in a low-end bar where anything could happen, and, as it turns out, does.

‘You Can’t Take It With You’ still accruing interest
ELM GROVE - Sunset Playhouse has taken on a chestnut comedy, George S. Kaufman’s and Moss Hart’s “You Can’t Take It With You.”  It first appeared on stage in 1936 and won a Pulitzer Prize, striking a chord with Americans during the throes of the Depression. It remains a favorite among professional and community theater companies. 

‘McGuire’ takes center stage, naturally
MILWAUKEE — Al McGuire was one of the most successful and colorful basketball coaches and TV announcers that ever graced the stages of a gym or a TV network. He was known for his brash style and his care for his players, insisting they work hard at the sport as well as leave Marquette University with a degree.

‘Disgraced’ proves provocative
MILWAUKEE - “Disgraced,” the most produced play in America during the 2015-’16 season, won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason. It is relevant, provocative, meaty and intense.

‘Bronzeville’ welcomes Wisconsin series, era of ethnic communities
“Welcome to Bronzeville,” written and directed by local playwright Sheri Williams Pannell with the assistance of John Tanner, is the first play in a series called The Wisconsin Cycle, highlighting Milwaukee’s history and ethnic diversity.

Anticipating a winter at play
Come cold, come wind, come snow, the shows must go on, and indeed they will.  Bundle up and take a chance on one.

‘Mamma Mia!’ is a madcap delight
FORT ATKINSON — “Mamma Mia!”, one of the longest-running Broadway shows, boasting a 14-year reign, has been given new life with the 2008 movie version starring the incredible Meryl Streep.

Touring ‘Sound of Music’ warms
hearts - even on a cold day
MILWAUKEE - Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” has been around for more than 50 years, and it still appeals to audiences for its music, its love story and its peek into a convent, always a bit of a mystery to many.

Breaking down the best plays of 2016 by category
After seeing more than 100 shows in the past year, it is hard sometimes to pick out the best. We have so many good professional, community and college theaters in the Greater Milwaukee area that it’s difficult to narrow them down to those that deserve special mention. 

Irreverence shines through in In Tandem’s ‘Holiday Hell’
MILWAUKEE - In Tandem Theatre has a tendency to offer alternate treatments of the Christmas season. No sentimental candy-coated versions here. Consider its long run with “A Cudahy Caroler Christmas” or “A Twisted Carol.” 

‘Best Christmas Pageant’? Most humorous, maybe 
ELM GROVE - Get ready for a bundle of laughs in Sunset’s production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” a staple during the Christmas season. 

‘Purely Elfish Reasons’ addresses labor shortage
WAUKESHA - For six years, the Waukesha Civic Theatre developed a tradition of offering its original “Candy Canes and Holiday Carols,” tweaking it every year to combine predictability and variety.

Re-energized Rep
MILWAUKEE - The revitalized traditional presentation of the Milwaukee Rep’s “A Christmas Carol,” which is celebrating its 41st year, served as a reminder of the changes instigated by Mark Clements in his short tenure with this iconic theater company.
>>The Rep Respins a Classic

Lake Country puts on good showing of Dickens’ classic
HARTLAND - The Lake Country Players are continuing their tradition for the sixth year by presenting the musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of “A Christmas Carol” by Michael Koscinski and Ernest Brusubardis.

Skylight’s production of ‘La Cage’ takes the prize
MILWAUKEE - Get ready to be dazzled, amused and moved by Skylight’s present production of “La Cage Aux Folles,” the award-winning musical by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, two giants in the theatrical industry.

‘Lobby Hero’ adds depth to comedic characters
MILWAUKEE - Kenneth Lonergan, though not a particularly prolific playwright and film script writer, is one of pristine quality. His film “You Can Count on Me” was a rave, and his upcoming film “Manchester by the Sea” is already receiving excellent reviews. 

‘The Foreigner’ might not be for xenophobes 
MILWAUKEE - Larry Shue’s work is back.  The actor and playwright who more than made his mark in the world of theater by the age of 39 when he met an untimely death in a plane crash continues to return to many stages throughout the world via “The Nerd” and “The Foreigner.” 

‘A Fireside Christmas’ is a melodious treat
FORT ATKINSON - Somehow, year after year, the Fireside Dinner Theatre attracts busloads of fans and many single patrons to its annual Christmas show. 

‘Unsilent Night’ takes unexpected turn
MILWAUKEE - For a very original Christmas show, you might want to wander down to Next Act’s premiere of “Unsilent Night,” written by Milwaukee actor and playwright John Kishline in collaboration with David Cecsarini and Edward Morgan. I

‘Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas’ revolves around family
MEQUON - Probably most people have been exposed to the Wilder books or, if not, to the TV series “Little House on the Prairie,” starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert.

Tin Pan Alley pounds, struts, wows in ‘I Love A Piano’
MILWAUKEE — I’m having a “Ragtime” moment, which translates to what I felt when experiencing that musical treat three years ago. I was almost beyond words after that show. The same is true of “I Love A Piano,” which features the music of Irving Berlin a la 50 songs and four dazzling performers.

The magic of working together comes alive in First Stage's 'Mole Hill'
MILWAUKEE - Lois Ehlert, who was born in Beaver Dam and lives in Milwaukee, is a renowned children's storyteller and illustrator, perhaps best-known for 'Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.' Her books, often about nature and its critters, are very colorfully illustrated, and have won many prestigious prizes.

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ reminds us of racial road traveled and ahead
WAUKESHA - Harper Lee, a friend and neighbor of Truman Capote, enjoyed a one-book success until she recently published her second novel.

Fight choreography heightens battle of the sexes in pirate thriller ‘Bonny Anne Bonny’
WAUWATOSA - ”Bonny Anne Bonny” by local playwright Liz Shipe is an experience to behold. Directed by Christopher Elst, a master director and fight choreographer, this adventure story epitomizes the battle between the sexes.

Fine performances enhance Carroll’s ‘Glass Menagerie’
WAUKESHA - Tennessee Williams’ plays seldom make us happy, but they make us sad so beautifully that we don’t mind.  

Journey from ‘M’wauke’ to seldom-staged Sullivan work ‘The Zoo’
MILWAUKEE - The Boulevard Theatre, that small, long-lived and amazing theatrical company, linked up with the Plymouth Chorale, under the guidance of Donna Kummer, for this dual production.

‘Drowning Girls’ floods stage with uniqueness, willing brides
MILWAUKEE - It isn’t often that one sees three women emerge from bathtubs in wedding gowns. That’s just one of the many unusual happenings in the production of “The Drowning Girls.” 

Any way you say it, ‘Young Frankenstein’ comes out funny
HARTLAND - ”Young Frankenstein, the Musical” is a take-off on the 1974 movie starring Gene Wilder.  Its Mel Brooks flavor is evident throughout.  

UW-W’s ‘Good Doctor’ is perfect tonic for what ails the funny bone
“The Good Doctor” is a series of short plays based on Anton Chekhov’s works as interpreted by Neil Simon. The production uses narration as transitions between the vignettes.  

Timeless ‘Fiddler’ captures family, tradition
ELM GROVE - Since its inception in 1964, the collaborative musical venture “Fiddler on the Roof,” launched by Jerry Bock, Joseph Stein and Sheldon Harnick, continues to resonate with audiences for many reasons. 

‘Dracula vs. the Nazis’ mostly misses
Both Chris Flieller and Doug Jarecki have proven themselves over and over to be consummate comic actors.

Scheduling errors create surprise ending in ‘Suite Surrender’
This was a very farcical week in theatrical offerings in the Greater Milwaukee area — “Dracula vs. the Nazis,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” and now “Suite Surrender.”  People must enjoy farces, or there wouldn’t be so many successful ones.

‘Violet’ takes personal journey in turbulent ‘60s
MILWAUKEE - “Violet” will probably not enjoy the longevity of a classic musical, such as “Man of la Mancha” or “My Fair Lady,” but it provides an enjoyable couple of hours, many memorable scenes and some important themes. 

Just in time for political season: ‘The Taming’
MILWAUKEE - ”We the people, in order to form a more perfect union ... .”  It’s a very noble beginning with the best of intentions as a small body of determined men broke away from England to start an ambitious experiment called the United States.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’ electrifies Fireside
FORT ATKINSON - Based on a true story, the serendipitous event of four superstars jamming in the same studio, brings us the electric “Million Dollar Quartet,” now rocking the stage at the Fireside Dinner Theater. 

‘La Mancha’s’ idealism, execution merit standing applause
MILWAUKEE - I didn’t think I’d ever experience a match for “Ragtime,” a recent musical produced by the Milwaukee Rep, but “Man of La Mancha” lives up to that level of excellence. It delivers two uninterrupted hours of  glorious, captivating and inspiring artistry. 

‘Lovely Sunday’ shows Tennessee Williams’ humorous side
MILWAUKEE - Tennessee Williams is not known for his sense of humor, so his play “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur,” one of his later, less-well-known works, is a delightful surprise. 

Waukesha Civic’s ‘Gypsy’ wows with talent, music
WAUKESHA - ”Gypsy” is a fitting choice to herald in the 60th anniversary of Waukesha Civic Theatre’s inception, an accomplishment that only 100 of the 7,000-plus community theaters across the country can boast of.

‘Moon Over Buffalo’ cast skillfully pulls off farce
ELM GROVE - Once a big hit for Carol Burnett, “Moon over Buffalo”, a popular Ken Ludwig farce, is causing its share of chuckles at the Sunset Playhouse.

‘Lady Day’ delivers breathtaking performances
MILWAUKEE - Billie Holiday, in one of her last performances, returned to Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia in 1959.  Although she had performed in large prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, she preferred the intimacy of spaces where she could get in touch with her audience.

‘The Wild Party’ serves up Roaring ‘20s morality tale
MILWAUKEE - ”The Wild Party” is based on a poem written by Joseph Moncure March in 1928.  The poem was initially banned because of its blatant narrative of sex, booze and drugs prevalent in The Roaring Twenties.  

SummerStage’s ‘Odd Couple’ stars shine nicely outdoors
TOWN OF DELAFIELD - Neil Simon is probably one of the greatest American comedy writers of all time, and “The Odd Couple” still speaks to audiences even after 50 years. 

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ uncovers humor
MILWAUKEE - Christopher Durang, a prolific, absurdist playwright, has combined a passing salute to Anton Chekhov for setting and themes, but one does not have to be familiar with his work to catch the humor of this piece. 

Lake Country Players take ‘A Walk into the Woods’
HARTLAND - Probably most of us have encountered “Into the Woods” as a stage musical or movie, but the junior version is a fairly recent addition to Sondheim’s clever conglomerate of fairy tales.  Last week, Waukesha Civic Theatre gave us the junior version of “Legally Blonde.” 

‘Secret’ should be out on SummerStage, community theater
TOWN OF DELAFIELD - The challenges of outdoor theaters are many - weather, people who let their children run around during the performance, patrons who distract others by eating nosily and the added demand on the actors to project their voices.

Young ‘Legally Blonde’ cast makes its case for determination
WAUKESHA - Two alternating casts of young actors burst onto the stage to tell the story of a young blonde, seen as ditzy by some, proving herself to be a strong, determined person who learns from her experience. 

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ number worth the drive to Fireside
FORT ATKINSON - It would be hard to replicate Gene Kelly’s role as Don Lockwood in the 1952 movie “Singin’ in the Rain.” 

Murders, relationships ensue in ‘Curtains’
WEST ALLIS - John Kander and Fred Ebb, a team that wrote  many successful musicals, including “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” also united their talents in creating a musical-mystery called “Curtains,” a work not as famous as the other three, but nonetheless an interesting one.

Set in first half of 20th century, marital issues of ‘I Do! I Do!’ remain timely
MEQUON - When Jan de Hartog wrote “Four Poster Bed” in 1940 while hiding in a nursing home disguised as a woman during the Nazi occupation of Holland, little did he know what a long life his play would enjoy. 

Feasting on ‘A Feast of Stephens’ with many outstanding songs
WAUKESHA - Steve Decker, along with the help of many other talented artists, has gathered an assemblage of 21 vocalists and an amazing pianist and musical director, Phil Smith, along with creative choreographer Ryan Cappleman, to perform more than 22 tunes (some were medleys) from the works of the prolific musical composers Stephen Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz.

Sunset produces flawless ‘Anything Goes’
ELM GROVE - Many older musicals have little substance and rather vapid plots, but in “Anything Goes,” with so many memorable tunes by Cole Porter, the production numbers compensate for the overall literary sparseness. 

Musical drama based on 1913 trial not to be missed
HARTLAND — “Parade,” based on the book by Alfred Uhry, with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, is based on a provocative trial that occurred in 1913 in Atlanta.

Nonstop ‘Rockin’ at the Fireside’ dazzles with talent, range of rock
If you’re into rock from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Fireside’s present offering will keep you relishing the beat for two hours. Almost everyone of note is included in an array of 50 tunes in “Rockin’ at the Fireside.”

Albrechtson's 'Wonderland' is a dark and unusual version of the classic tale
When Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, wrote “Alice in Wonderland” in 1865, I doubt if he would have envisioned his imaginative fantasy living on for 150 years and being adapted into films, plays and musicals countless times. 

‘Secret Garden’ blossoms under Soulstice’s care
ST. FRANCIS - A lovely children’s classic written in 1911 by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “A Secret Garden”  is still alive and thriving.

SummerStage charms with Wilde’s satirical ‘Importance of Being Earnest’
TOWN OF DELAFIELD - SummerStage opens its 2016 summer season with its first of a trio of plays -the classic Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” his most popular work. 

Unfailingly funny ‘Fawlty Towers’ brings anticipatory laughs to Waukesha Civic 
WAUKESHA - ”Fawlty Towers” is based on a British TV show, considered by many to be one of the best comedies ever to hit the tube. Written by John Cleese and Connie Booth, it reflects a Monty Python-style humor - clever and wacky, even deliciously absurd. 

The fun in farcical ‘Boeing Boeing’ lies in the lies, doomed math
ELM GROVE - A long-running French farce by French playwright Marc CamolettI, “Boeing Boeing” takes us on quite the ride.

Carroll’s ‘As It Is In Heaven’ develops individual portraits
WAUKESHA - The principles and spirit of the Shaker religion are beautifully revealed on stage in Carroll University’s rendition of “As It Is in Heaven,” a play by Arlene Hutton and directed by Jennifer Dobby. 

‘Kinky Boots’ puts its stunningly best foot forward
MILWAUKEE - ”Kinky Boots” exploded on stage at the Marcus Center as the last Broadway show of the 2015-16 season. It is a fairly recent musical (2014) based on a true story and woven together by the talents of Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper.

Summer theater awaits in the wings
Even though many of the professional theaters have finished their seasons, there are still many opportunities for live theater in the summer months. Here are the offerings for your perusal.

Crazy ‘Pirates’ comes up a winner
MILWAUKEE - Starting in 1959 when Skylight Opera Company occupied a warehouse on Jefferson Street, the currently named Skylight Music Theatre has played Gilbert and Sullivan 45 times, including 10 of the “Mikado,” seven of “H.M.S. Pinafore” and nine productions of “The Pirates of Penzance.” 

‘Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse’ filled with lessons for young
MILWAUKEE - This is one for the kiddies, 3 and up.  A colorful stage greets them, creative costuming, energetic dancing and many lessons to be learned - all at a level that the little people can grasp and enjoy.

‘Sister Act’ affectionately steps, sings its way through The Fireside
FORT ATKINSON - If you want an interesting mix of crime and cloister, “Sister Act,” now playing at The Fireside Theatre, is dishing up this clash of opposing worlds. 

Empowered ‘Sirens’ can sing
MILWAUKEE - Whenever one tries to create a show that features a singer’s or a group’s life and music, the hardest task is to weave together the songs with the narrative.

‘Same Time, Next Year’ revival still works
WEST ALLIS - Many of us remember the 1978 film “Same Time, Next Year,” starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. It was based on a play by Bernard Slade and was played on Broadway by a succession of several pairs of actors, including Burstyn.

Lake Country Players ably handle strong ‘Urinetown’
HARTLAND - The title “Urinetown” makes one ask:  What is this play about, anyway? It’s an intriguing questioning of the prospect of a severe water shortage and the repercussions of that eventuality.

Will one man’s pain mend in ‘Fences’?
MILWAUKEE - The lights come up upon a modest two-story brick house on an empty stage. There is a small front yard, one tree and a partially-built fence. A baseball bat lies on the ground, an important prop.

Death’s holiday is a musical adventure
MILWAUKEE - It is rare that one sees life or death from Death’s perspective, but in “Death Takes a Holiday,” one has the rare opportunity to see that Death is a person with a job to do, a rather grim one, to be sure.

Waukesha Civic Theatre does a spunky ‘Annie Get Your Gun’
WAUKESHA - The Waukesha Civic Theatre, under the astute direction of John Cramer, has done it again - produced a musical of sterling quality

‘My Fair Lady’ another rousing success for Falls Patio Players
MENOMONEE FALLS - There are four thriving community theaters in Waukesha County: Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, the Lake Country Players in Hartland, the Waukesha Civic Theatre in Waukesha and the Falls Patio Players in Menomonee Falls. 

In Tandem’s ‘Ernest’ cleverly balances satirical look at high society, romance
MILWAUKEE - ”The Importance of Being Ernest,” Oscar Wilde’s most popular and successful play, continues to amuse audiences worldwide.

‘Spelling Bee’ finds the right words, strikes all the right notes
ELM GROVE - Spelling bees have always been a part of our education system, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon that they have gone national and appeared on TV and in movies. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” takes advantage of the growing popularity in this particular form of competition.  

Marriage roles explored, pushed in ‘A Doll’s House’
MILWAUKEE - Plays about marriage are usually a big draw since most people have engaged in this venerable institution at least once. “A Doll’s House,” a Henrik Ibsen play written in 1879, created an uproar when it was first performed.

‘A Bald Soprano’ gongs in the wacky and absurd
MILWAUKEE - Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian-French playwright, is labeled an absurdist and an existentialist. His philosophy was quite dour. He described society as “full of decay, corruption, and meaningless repetitive actions.” 

Frequent Ten Chimneys guest’s play weathers the years well
MILWAUKEE - Noel Coward, a frequent visitor to Ten Chimneys in the Town of Genesee, the center of the theatrical universe for many years, once said about one of his visits, “I dined with Alfred and Lynn - just the three of us. 

Stacy Madson steals the show in ‘A Shot in the Dark’
WEST ALLIS - ”A Shot in the Dark,” adapted from the French play “L’Idiote,” is probably better known as a film by the same name starring Peter Sellers. The play was used as the basis for the movie.

Faces of ‘Motherhood’ highly identifiable
MILWAUKEE - We’ve all had mothers, for better or for worse, and chances are that most of them have tried to keep us alive by caring for us and shielding us from danger.

‘Ella’ explores the lengths of obedience in thoughtful First Stage production
MILWAUKEE - As children we are taught that it is good to obey our parents and teachers and priests or ministers, but the present production at First Stage Children’s Theater, “Ella Enchanted,” questions that directive. 

Top performances heighten ‘Witness for the Prosecution’
HARTLAND - Agatha Christie, the British Grande Dame of mysteries, converted one of her many short stories to the stage in 1953. 

‘Once’ charms, but Tony winner falls short on message
The musical runs through Sunday with two performances on Saturday and Sunday at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, as part of its Broadway Series.  Call 414-273-7121 or visit

‘Censored on Final Approach’ explores sexist view of World War II pilots
MILWAUKEE - Renaissance Theatreworks, whose aim is to present plays with significant roles for women in order to achieve gender parity in the arts, does so again in its “Censored on Final Approach.” 

Script too ordinary for ‘Ordinary Days’
MILWAUKEE - Whenever playwrights want to develop the theme of loneliness in the midst of millions of people, they often use New York City as their setting. It lends itself to a feeling of being lost.  The complexity of a very large city can be overwhelming to a neophyte, but actually people can be lonely anywhere.

Exploring a voice in thought-provoking ‘Song’
The play runs through April 10 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit for times and tickets.

‘Hattitude,’ music, faith overcome hardship in ‘Crowns’
MILWAUKEE — A colorful fusion of faith and fashion is being delivered at the Skylight Music Theatre via their present production of “Crowns” by Regina Taylor. It combines Gospel, jazz, blues and rap in a delightful, soulful mix, celebrating African-American culture through music and fashion.

Many lessons populate First Stage’s ‘The Snow’
MILWAUKEE - ”The Snow” by the prolific playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer is a story about solving problems, facing difficulties with creativity and hope, and coming to terms with one’s own abilities and limitations. 

Autumn romance in ‘Sea Marks’ raises questions of priorities
ST. FRANCIS - The sea casts its mark upon the shore as a reminder that it has been here and that it will be back, so those who live beside it should never become complacent.  

‘Autonomy’ explores the big questions and private lives
MEQUON - ”Autonomy” by Jayme McGhan, on stage at Concordia University, provides us all with something to think about. 

‘The Foreigner’ not foreign to area audiences
ELM GROVE - Larry Shue became a legend in the Milwaukee area when he was killed in a plane crash in 1985. In the previous seven years before his untimely death, he was involved at the Milwaukee Rep as an actor and playwright-in-residence.

‘Leading Ladies’ leaves them laughing at Waukesha Civic Theatre
WAUKESHA - We’ve seen some of Ken Ludwig’s comedies before. “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon over Buffalo” are two community theater favorites.   

Former Brookfield playwright requires rapt attention in ‘The Invisible Hand’
MILWAUKEE — It is not easy to write a review that captures the power of “The Invisible Hand” by the talented American-Pakistani playwright who grew up in our midst.

One-man ‘Lamps’ a tribute to families
MILWAUKEE - “Lamps for My Family,” a one-man tour-de-force by Mark Corkins, was written by native Milwaukean Michael Neville as a memory play.

‘Slowgirl’ takes audience on journey as it winds its way through unpredictable plot
MILWAUKEE — “Slowgirl” is a sweet, poignant story of a mismatched pair of characters who meet again under rather unusual circumstances after a nine-year hiatus and end up helping each other.

Run to the Cabaret
MILWAUKEE - ”Cabaret” by John Kander and Fred Ebb is a fascinating mix of fear, love, dark humor and decadence. It has been re-crafted and several times since its inception in 1966.

‘Sons of the Prophet’ shines a comic light on human suffering
MILWAUKEE - Playwright Stephen Karam was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for “Sons of the Prophet” in 2012 and the recipient of the Drama Critics Circle Award the same year. The honors were well-deserved.

Love, satire and Shakespeare at Wisconsin Lutheran College
MILWAUKEE — “Loves Labour’s Lost” is one of Shakespeare’s original plays. And the production harkens back to entertaining techniques from the period.

Zonya Love sparkles as larger-than-life Bessie Smith
MILWAUKEE - As we entered the Stackner Cabaret, we could hear the voice of Bessie Smith on an old recording. 

No element falls short in WCT’s clever exploration of ‘Almost, Maine’
WAUKESHA - If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the play “Almost, Maine” by John Cariani, run, not walk, to the Waukesha Civic Theatre this weekend. 

Latest ‘Odd Couple’ explores if two women can live together without driving each other nuts
MENOMONEE FALLS - We’ve probably all encountered “The Odd Couple,” either the movie with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau or the TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.

‘Twilight’ packs power in look at Rodney King beating
MILWAUKEE - Sometimes it is painful to relive an event, but it is useful to look back and see if we have learned anything from it. This is especially evident in our country with its history of slavery that continues to haunt us.

Skylight Music Theater presents 'Powder Her Face'
MILWAUKEE - With music by Thomas Ades and the libretto by Philip Hensher, “Powder Her Face” tells the story of Margaret Campbell, a British duchess who was known for her beauty, wealth and style. 

‘Not Now Darling’ offers pleasant romp
HARTLAND - Ray Cooney, sometimes called the British Neil Simon, is known for his farces. His most famous play, “Run for Your Wife,” ran in Great Britain for more than nine years. 

Sunset’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ highlights heart with a smile
ELM GROVE - The title “Steel Magnolias” is an oxymoron used by playwright Robert Harling to describe the beauty and strength, the delicacy and toughness of women. 

The Rep’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ grippingly moving
MILWAUKEE - John Steinbeck often wrote survival stories where human strength and loyalty are tested. “Of Mice and Men” is assuredly one of his most heart-wrenching works.

Trio of actresses delivers in ‘Agnes of God’
MILWAUKEE - The drama “Agnes of God” raises more questions than it answers, but it is intriguing and mentally stimulating to engage in the journey of listening in on Agnes, a young nun, who is being tried for murder; her Mother Superior; and the psychiatrist, Doctor Livingston, who has been hired to determine Sister Agnes’ sanity.

Flight of ‘Starlings’ is puzzling at times
ST. FRANCIS - If you’ve ever watched a flock of starlings, it looks like an amorphous group of birds flying around without any discernible pattern or direction.  Ben Parman’s new play, “Starlings,” is well named because it, too, is somewhat unstructured. 

‘Holes’ appears too weighty for its young target audience
MILWAUKEE - When a theater recommends that a specific show is targeted for a particular age group, one expects that there is a good match. I’d like to have a discussion with a group of fourth-graders to discern what they derived from “Holes,” presently playing at First Stage Children’s Theater.  

‘Legends’ brings big-name mix, Vegas glitz
FORT ATKINSON - ”Legend” and “Carrie Underwood” might not usually go in the same sentence because of longevity. 

Dancing takes center stage in ‘Newsies’
MILWAUKEE - “Newsies,” a touring Broadway show now playing at the Marcus Center, is based on a true story, the newspaper boys’ strike of 1899 in New York. 

The best plays of 2015
Writing my “Best of the Best” article at the end of the year is always fun, but also very challenging. Enriched as we are in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties with many quality theaters and a plethora of talented people, making the best choices as I travel back in time can be stressful, but I’ll do my best to be thorough and fair.

Latest ‘Guys on Ice’ another keeper
MILWAUKEE - I have seen “Guys on Ice” many times, my favorite play of the talented Wisconsin playwrights, Fred Alley and James Kaplan. It’s the sort of comedy that provides a lot of laughs as well as affords some insight into male friendships. 

Questions stirred in ‘Month Before Christmas’
MILWAUKEE - ”‘Twas the Month before Christmas” has Waukesha’s Doug Jarecki written all over it.  It oozes his unique spirit - a bit wacko, generous, childlike, creative and spirited, even sweet and sentimental. 

Brumder is especially welcoming for ‘Heir’ 
MILWAUKEE - The Milwaukee Entertainment Group, which performs at the Brumder Mansion, almost always makes use of the beautiful estate and playhouse in its productions. 

‘A Twisted Carol’ tries too hard to be funny
MILWAUKEE - In Tandem Theatre is well-known for offering an alternative show at Christmas. It is usually irreverent, satirical and quite funny for those who appreciate this brand of humor where sacred cows are not worshipped. 

‘Story of My Life’ proves moving
MILWAUKEE - “The Story of My Life” is a little gem that is hard to describe. Being played out in the Boswell Bookstore gives it an intimacy not always experienced on a typical stage setting.

A Christmas treat for the community
WAUKESHA - One senses in the first few minutes that many changes have been made in Waukesha Civic Theatre’s long-running traditional Christmas show “Candy Cane Tales and Holiday Carols” when the first number is about texting a merry Christmas. 

Two takes on ‘A Christmas Carol’ produce pleasing results
The outstanding feature of the Lake Country Players’ production of “A Christmas Carol” is the music, and when Catherine Pfeiler has a hand in it, you can be sure that it will be of high quality.

Realism provides twist to ‘Love Stories’ by famed authors
MILWAUKEE — It is not so uncommon for a married couple to both be engaged in the acting profession. In the Milwaukee theater scene, it’s fun to watch several pairs work together, including in the current run of the trilogy “Love Stories.”

Discovering the meaning of the holiday through ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
MILWAUKEE — Although I’m a big Charlie Brown fan, I thought that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the First Stage Children’s Theatre was a bit disappointing. Snoopy was the biggest feature and very well-played by Matt Daniels.

Skylight’s ‘Fair Lady’ astounds
MILWAUKEE — “My Fair Lady” remains the ultimate musical in my book. With its brilliant script adapted from the consummate writer George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion,” its soaring music by Frederick Loewe and clever book and lyrics by Alan Lerner, it can hardly miss.

A showy season heavy on ‘Christmas Carol’
The festive season is almost here, and a flurry of Christmas shows await us in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties and beyond.

‘Mousetrap’ ensnares audience’s attention
MILWAUKEE - Any play that has been performed more than 25,000 times for over 60 years in London, not to mention its frequent production around the world, obviously has strong appeal. 

It’s a wonderful version of a beloved holiday classic
FORT ATKINSON - “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been around since 1946 as a memorable film with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Standard holiday viewing, it has also emerged as a radio show.  The Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson is now showing a musical version, a relatively new creation (2005), which adds another delightful dimension to this cherished story.

A Jewish Christmas story
MILWAUKEE - Coming from a small theater company that has survived for 30 years, “Handle with Care” by Jason Odell Williams is another victory for founder Mark Bucher and his penchant for making wonderful choices. 

‘Bravo Caruso’ encore deserves applause
MILWAUKEE - Thanks to playwright William Luce, many icons have been resurrected. With his life-like biographical dramas, he has brought Charlotte Bronte, Lillian Hellman and Emily Dickinson back from the dead. 

Deliciously ‘Wicked’ and in-depth
MILWAUKEE - Prequels are not as common as sequels, but the intriguing and popular musical “Wicked” is an example of a prequel we’re glad that Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman created. 

‘Ballad of Emmett Till’ still resonates today
MILWAUKEE - In 1962 Bob Dylan wrote a song about the horrendous death of the 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till, who was killed in Mississippi in 1955 by two brothers who were later acquitted by an all-white, male jury for the crime they admitted to. 

Spirit of ‘Lockerbie’ shines through tragedy
WAUWATOSA - Except for the inconsistency of the Scottish dialect among the characters, Wisconsin Lutheran College’s “The Women of Lockerbie” was one of the most beautiful, most moving plays I have seen this year. 

‘Turn of the Screw’ open to interpretation
WAUKESHA — Henry James has never been an easy read. “The Turn of the Screw” is a strange tale, one which literary scholars have variously interpreted. I’m sure the audience at the Waukesha Civic Theatre also regarded the play with some degree of ambivalence and befuddlement over many unanswered questions as the play ended.