Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

Stage Capsule Reviews 

Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

The American Songbook: Music of the 1950s The latest Quality Hill Playhouse cabaret revue might sound like the same old same old, but that's probably true only for those with a grudge against consistent excellence. This time, J. Kent Barnhart's crooning quartet revels in the last decade in which their beloved American songbook was steadily adding new chapters. Expect highlights from West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Mr. Tony Bennett. Best of all, the quartet includes cabaret king James Wright, who can be as tender as he is funny, and champion belter Amy Coady, who sometimes takes a break from saving Kansas City's musical theater scene to cut loose like this. Through April 1 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.

A Dog's Life While we remain skeptical that theme — as opposed to stories or characters — is where a playwright should strike first in search of heart and humor, the American Heartland's long string of themed shows — marriage, menopause, Christmas — has boasted big hits and, in last month's Leaving Iowa, at least one critical darling. A Dog's Life is its latest low-concept stab at sitcom universality, promising whatever "foibles and follies" of dog ownership aren't copyrighted by Marmaduke. But we'd be lying if we didn't admit to having hope: The hilarious Jessalyn Kincaid, who had us eating up Leaving Iowa like Puppy Chow, is here cast as "Little Dog." Through April 22 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.

Love, Janis So much of this show — particularly the music — is thunderingly good. The finale will have you walking out with your veins on fire. Too bad the script is more easy listening than rock and roll. Most dialogue is culled from letters that the real Joplin penned to her mother, which means that Janis, so spiked in real life, is as smoothed and pleasant here as the decorative soaps in my grandmother's bathroom. Still, it takes three women to embody her; Lena Kaminsky as the talking Janis and Mary Bridget Davies (alternating with Kacee Clanton) as the belting Janis. They're all so good that talking Janis sits and gapes at belting Janis, and belting Janis looks amazed at her speaking counterpart — and we're thrilled at all three. Through March 18 at the Copaken Stage in the H&R Block Building, 13th and Walnut, 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our February 15 issue.)

Sax, Violence, and All That Jazz Another interactive dinner-time murder farce from the Mystery Train — which, by our count, has staged far more plays by Kansas City authors than any other theater in town the past few years. (That those plays all involve local history is a bonus.) The killing takes place on the dining car of a Union Station-bound train, as always, with the audience playing detective between courses. This time, the year is 1944, and the milieu is the waning days of Kansas City's jazz age. Fridays and Saturdays through April 7 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.

The Shape of Things Labeled misogynistic by people who don't listen hard enough, the plays and films of Neil LaBute lash out at people in general, not just women. This show, probably his best, inverts the clichés of romantic entertainment, instead giving us romance as art, this time in the most chillingly literal sense: An artist "sculpts" a new lover from her old one, wielding her powers of manipulation as a chisel. Another don't-bring-grandma choice from the Barn Players. Through March 18 at The Barn Players, 6219 Martway, Mission, 913-432-9100.

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