Hey There, Harvey Girl The Mystery Train gang, which winningly transforms the Union Café into a railroad crime scene, again presents murder with appetizers. As always, the script comes from local talent, and it's threaded with Kansas City history. This time, the cheerfully unpredictable story is something about the decorous Harvey Girls traveling in an Old West dining car. Real-life diners are invited to interrogate cast members, make sense of the clues and solve the crime. (Some will have scripts themselves.) The audience participation makes a fine time finer; as funny as Wendy Thompson's lines are, hearing your neighbors embellish (or butcher) them and then watching the quick-witted cast improvise responses is half the pleasure. Through April 1 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.
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.
Say Goodnight, Gracie Oh, God, you New Theatre devils. Overland Park's thoroughly professional and often sparkling dinner theater offers this wistful one-man show about the life of George Burns. Suspended in a limbolike state after his death, the play's Burns (Joel Rooks) is unable to gain admittance to heaven until he, according to press materials, "gives the Command Performance of his lifetime for God." If you think demanding a free show before giving up the good stuff is churlish of God, you understand how we feel about having to pony up for dinner before getting to see these rock-solid New Theatre shows. Through April 9 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster in Overland Park, 913-649-7469.
The Trial Two fantastic comic performances nearly salvage this promising but ultimately tiresome adaptation of Kafka's nightmare. As Josef K, David Graham Jones constantly tops himself with fresh consternation, and Kathryn Bartholomew is wonderfully amok as K's lawyer, Kleist, a chatterbox invention of writer-director Kenneth Albers. His Kafka-meets-Dickens-meets-blow-job-joke approach has its moments K losing it before an unseen magistrate is almost worth the headaches that follow but there are too many characters, too much spiritless double talk and too little dread. Through Feb. 18 at Union Station's City Stage, 30 W. Pershing Rd, 816-235-6222. (Reviewed in our February 9 issue)