Every Christmas Story Ever Told! After running with that wildly successful menopause musical for nearly a third of a year, the American Heartland Theatre launches its new season with a show that also seems a sure thing: A group of actors, heartsick at the thought of yet another A Christmas Carol, instead dash off through every other Christmas story they can think of in one 90-minute comedy. With skilled comic actors Ken Remmert, Ron Megee and Martin English, this has potential. Still, we can already think of Christmas tales they'll likely leave out: that one about the dead Santa-playing daddy from Gremlins, say, or that whole crazy thing about King Herod killing every newborn male in Jerusalem. Through Dec. 31 at American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.
The Fantasticks Less than a month after Musical Theatre Heritage rounded up a host of the best voices in town for a concert-style run-through of this musical comedy, here it comes again, this time from Putting It Together Productions. Considering that the original production ran from the age of Kennedy to the dregs of Bush II, Kansas City can probably handle a double dip. The story remains one of young lovers from feuding families forbidden to be together though, bizarrely, it turns out that their fathers are faking said feud to inspire the lovers, which even after a 40-year run doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Through Nov. 19 at Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central, 816-229-8312.
Orson's Shadow Orson Welles' greatness even in failure sparks Austin Pendleton's Orson's Shadow, a fitfully engrossing backstage comedy that itself has the potential for greatness but ultimately settles for entertainment. Pendleton imagines the strange but true story of Welles directing Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright in an early-'60s production of Ionesco's absurdist Rhinoceros, attending closely to what hard work it is for such outsized (and wounded) egos to navigate doubt. The cast is excellent, with Jim Birdsall's weary Welles and Jim Korinke's out-of-time Olivier often moving. (Melinda McCrary is a holy terror, in a good way, as Vivian Leigh, Olivier's wife.) Unfortunately, Pendleton's often unbelievable script stinks of sitcom gags and natters on too long. Through Nov. 12 at the Unicorn theatre, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529. (Reviewed in our Nov. 2 issue.)
Over the River and Through the Woods Of all the crowd pleasers mounted at the New Theatre over the years, this, according to the hype, is the pleasingest a comedy about grandparents conspiring to keep an adult grandson from accepting a promotion that would force him to move far away. Cue laughs and lessons about the importance of family. Of course, many in the cast including Marion "Mrs. C." Ross have abandoned their families to come to the Midwest for the show. Through Nov. 12 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster in Overland Park, 913-649-7469.
Terror on the Toyland Express Since its inception, the Mystery Train has staged clever, interactive mysteries set on dining cars headed to or from Union Station in various eras of Kansas City's past. This time, things get weirder: The train is a Lionel electric, chuffing around the mayor's Christmas tree in front of Union Station, and the murderer, the victim and assorted other passengers are all toys. Was the culprit Post-Partum Barbie, Murder-Me Elmo or just a lack of batteries? George Forbes, one of the city's most compelling actors, heads the cast. Through Jan. 6 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816- 813-9654.
2 Much Duck God only knows what to expect, which is why being God is overrated. The rest of us get the pleasure of discovery. On a good night, 2 Much Duck Comedy City's small, late-night, long-form improv troupe (the performers concentrate on scenes and characters instead of TV-style gag games) can spin a one-word audience suggestion into a full show of gobstopping, free-associative craziness. And if it's a bad night well, with improv champ Rob Grabowski in the cast, a bad night doesn't seem possible. Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. at Comedy City, 300 Charlotte, 816-842-2744.