Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

Stage Capsule Reviews 

Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

Bye Bye Birdie Not only will we leave "humming and cheering" and "amazed at these kids and their spirit," but we'll probably wind up proclaiming this run at Johnson County's Theatre in the Park our highest achievement as a civilization. (At least, that's the word we're getting from a couple of shmoes with free Yahoo accounts.) We'll grant that the songs are good, the kids are almost always committed little dynamos, director Jay Coombes knows his way around a musical, and grabbing your crew and spreading a blanket on the grass at Shawnee Mission Park is a pleasant way to spend your summer evening. But the anonymous Yahoo hype leaves one wondering: How the hell does anyone hum and cheer at the same time? What does that even sound like? Through Aug. 6 at Shawnee Mission Park, 17501 Midland Dr. in Lenexa, 913-312-8841.

Europe One Night Stand has a continent's worth of ground to cover in just one evening. Born from UMKC's graduate theater department, the new production company is dedicated to one-and-done events. Plays would be enough, coming from the daring bunch behind The Maid's Tragedy, The Circus Show and Black Snow. But they also promise enough music, food and drink to warrant the label "gala." At this, the outfit's first event, the show is Australian playwright Michael Gow's Europe, the allusive story of an Australian man searching the titular continent for an actress for whom he has fallen. The rest: an auction, plus music from Valery Price (winner of the Bar Natasha Idol contest). A Sunday night preview eschews all but the play. Aug. 7 at UMKC's Grant Hall, Room 306, 5228 Charlotte. Reservations are recommended; see europe.htm.

Fiddler on the Roof We've heard great things about Neal Benari's Tevye in this New Theatre import of the Broadway revival. The show that brought the shtetl to American pop, Fiddler deserves to be reclaimed from high schools and kitsch; it's the rare musical that means something to people who don't care about theater. I've heard "Sunrise, Sunset" reduce everyone to quivering lumps at more than one wedding. We won't even complain about having to shell out for dinner — buffets were huge back in the homeland, right? Through Aug. 27 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster, Overland Park, 913-649-7469.

The Fifth of July and Talley's Folly We met the Talley family of Lebanon, Missouri, in the stirring Talley's Folly, the moondrunk romance that kicks off Lanford Wilson's great trilogy and is running all summer long, so get out there, people. Set 30 years later, Fifth of July gives us the Talleys in the '70s, coping with adulthood, Vietnam and what had become of American life. Good as Folly is, July is even more promising: a richer script, starring the bulk of the Kansas City Actors Theatre's best and directed by Mark Robbins, a man so skilled, he could direct the Royals to victory. Through Sept. 3 at Union Station's City Stage, 18 W. Pershing Rd., 816-235-6222.

Geppetto & Son Handmade charm trumps corporate gloss when the Coterie Theatre teams with Disney itself for a world-premiere musical based on Pinocchio. New songs by Wicked and Godspell composer Stephen Schwartz certainly help, but it's the spirited performances — Jessalyn Kincaid as a self-absorbed Blue Fairy, Charles Fugate as Geppetto, and a host of smiling kids and theater pros — and homemade Coterie craftsmanship that keep this puppet dancing. Geppetto's not as thoughtful as most Coterie shows, and the lessons crammed in by writer David Stern are only Hollywood-deep, but director Jeff Church has again inspired the best from the Coterie's artistic staff: imaginative puppets and shadow play, costumes both grand and goofy, sound effects that delight and spook. Through Aug. 6, at the Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552. Reviewed in our July 6 issue.

Menopause the Musical If you think you might enjoy this wildly popular mash-up of oldies revue, health-class filmstrip and View-style gabfest, then you probably will. It's a mostly painless evening, packed with songs you hear at weddings, highlighted by some big laughs thanks to strong comic actresses rather than Jeanie Linders' thin script. As the women belt boomer pop standards rewritten as menopause-specific parodies, the crowd whoops and hollers. Adapting "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" into a story about consigning husbands to couches is cute, especially when the leads jam along with the crack American Heartland band on wooden spoons and pepper mills. But mangling "Chain of Fools" into "Change of Life" or "I Got You, Babe" into "I'm No Babe, Mom" (a meter-be-damned complaint about how even the mothers of 50-year-olds still meddle) reveals some desperation to fill out the 90 minutes. Through Oct. 29 at American Heartland Theatre, 2450 Grand, Crown Center, 816-842-9999. Reviewed in our July 13 issue.

The Shape of Things Despite the allegations of misogyny from people who don't listen hard enough, the plays and films of Neil LaBute fairly scream, Why are people like this? LaBute's résumé boasts a buckletload of KU grad credits as well as In the Company of Men, which introduced the world to Aaron Eckhart. This show, almost certainly his best, inverts the clichés of romantic entertainment. He gives us romance as art in the most chillingly literal sense: An artist "sculpts" a new lover from her old one, wielding her powers of manipulation as chisel. Another tough-minded choice from the Wyandotte Players. Through Aug. 6 at the Performing Arts Center at the Kansas City, Kansas, Community College, 7250 State Ave., Kansas City, Kan., 913-449-2301.


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