- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

NOW PLAYING

Camelot Arena Stage — ***1/2. Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith clearly has an affinity for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s majestic 1960 musical based on T.H. White’s book “The Once and Future King,” about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. She has staged one of the most resonant and poignant “Camelots” ever seen, not only revitalizing this tuneful warhorse, but also re-inventing the show for modern sensibilities. Kate Suber as Guenevere combines killer pipes with a feisty acting style; Steven Skybell makes a vigorous and thoughtful Arthur. Kate Edmunds’ set evokes a world where magic and warfare mingle. This mystical-rough world is reflected in Paul Tazewell’s costumes, which show a society that is both rich and barbaric. Through Jan. 4. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• If Only in My Dreams — American Century Theater — ***. American Century Theater’s throat-catching revue, a salute to World War II soldiers and their loved ones back home, brings lovingly to life the seasonal spirit and patriotism that mingle in wartime holidays. Whether you’re hawk, dove or owl, you will no doubt be moved by this bittersweet show, which reprises many 1940s musical standards, right down to “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” The eight cast members are in fine voice, handling the often wistful holiday melodies with grace and delicacy. Through Jan. 3. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Meet Me in St. Louis — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. This isn’t a show for the sugar-sensitive. Based on the 1944 Vincente Minnelli film, “Meet Me in St. Louis” captures all the sweeping changes and gentle constancy of turn-of-the-20th-century America with lollipop sweetness. And how lovely it is to drift back and think what it was like to live in a time when a long-distance telephone call is a monumental occurrence and when the social event of the year is the upcoming World’s Fair. As usual, Toby’s exceeds expectations of what can be done in the round at a dinner theater. In this production, it’s a fully operational trolley car and a scene in which the company spins around on skates. Sam Huffer’s fancy costumes feature the sherbet colors, band-box stripes and lacy florals of the era. “Meet Me in St. Louis” is swimming in warmth and sentiment. But come on in, the water’s fine. Through Feb. 15. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Midsummer Night’s Dream — The Shakespeare Theatre — ****. Director Mark Lamos’ update of this most popular of Shakespeare’s plays is wildly witty, and works in ways that such improvements rarely do. Winged and sooty modernist fairies tumble and turn in the air, swimming through the mists of time. Oberon and his disgruntled queen Titania materialize as towering giants, taking on more human forms as they weave their wondrous spells. Children love the play for its nonsense and will not be damaged in the slightest by the small sprinkling of the Bard’s bawdy japes. Through Jan. 4. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Miss Nelson Has a Field Day — Imagination Stage — **. Joan Cushing turned a picture book by Harry Allard and James Marshall into a joyous and award-winning 2002 musical, “Miss Nelson Is Missing,” about a beloved teacher at Smedley Elementary School. Miss Cushing has returned to adapt “Miss Nelson Has a Field Day,” and while the show does have its dynamic moments, it lacks the bounce and fun of the first musical. Through Jan. 11. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Mister Roberts — American Century Theater — *1/2. Director Jack Marshall gets high marks for reviving this touching comedy, which was a gigantic Broadway hit in 1948 before going on to become an even bigger movie in 1955. The stage version is rarely produced because the ghosts of the classic film most likely would haunt any staging. The play stands beautifully on its own, however, and comparisons to the movie are not the problem: There isn’t anything ailing this production that more rehearsal, a better set and charged connections between the actors couldn’t cure. When a live goat has the best comic timing in the bunch, you know something’s amiss. Through Jan. 31. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shear Madness — Kennedy Center Theater Lab — **.This corny, hokey tourist trap — now in its second decade — is doubly maddening because the Kennedy Center displays it as art to the cultural center’s unsuspecting pilgrims. The audience-participation murder-mystery farce (set in a Georgetown hair salon) is well-played, though, when the actors refrain from mugging and cracking up one another. Continues indefinitely. 202/467-4600. File review by Nelson Pressley.

• The York Realist — Studio Theatre — **1/2. Peter Gill’s tender and acutely observant play about male lovers and class distinctions in England in the early 1960s was a smash hit in London in 2002. It’s getting its American premiere at the Studio Theatre, impeccably but bloodlessly directed by Serge Seiden. The kitchen-sink drama loses a bit in its transfer across the pond. It’s firmly rooted in place — an isolated village in Yorkshire — yet the sets and the actors’ accents seem generically Old Blighty. Lacking, too, is any hint of sexual chemistry between the two men, George (Markus Potter), a Yorkshire farm laborer and John (Tom Story), an assistant director up from London to help stage a local production of the York Mystery Plays. “The York Realist” is well-acted and competently staged, and oozes sincerity out of every Yorkshire pore. There is nothing horribly wrong with it, but there isn’t anything particularly gripping, either. Through Jan. 11. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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