- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

OPENING

• Melissa Arctic — Folger Theatre. Romance and joy are resurrected from grief in this world premiere play inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale.” Opens tomorrow. 202/554-7077.

• 1984 — Catalyst Theatre Company. An adaptation of George Orwell’s visionary novel. Opens tonight at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. 800/494-8497.

m Wintertime — Round House Theatre. A couple’s romantic weekend getaway is interrupted by a series of mismatched characters in this romantic comedy. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.

NOW PLAYING

• Allegro — Signature Theatre — ***. This misunderstood 1947 Rodgers and Hammerstein concept musical, an Everyman fable about the son of a small-town, Midwestern doctor who gets further and further away from his core values as he passes into adulthood in big, bad New York City, was originally a critical and box-office dud. Now it is being revamped at Signature Theatre by director Eric Schaeffer, with a rewritten book by Joe DiPietro, a satisfying reshuffling of songs and achingly beautiful orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. The result is fascinating, even though it is more a gorgeous curiosity than a wholly satisfying theatrical experience. The evil city versus the good, heartland America theme is a cliche and the first act is inexplicably lackluster. Yet “Allegro” is gorgeously staged and sung, and musical theater aficionados will want to rediscover this neglected work, which Signature has given vibrant, and quixotic new life. Through Feb. 22. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Crowns — Arena Stage — ****. This exuberant, soulful musical play, written and directed by Regina Taylor, is blowing the roof off Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theatre. The show is based on Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry’s book, “Crowns,” which was inspired by the authors’ mothers and combines elegant black-and-white photographs with interviews about black women and their church hats. A fired-up cast of six depicts the book’s many church women and the men in their lives. Miss Taylor’s simple plotline takes on the form of a day-long church service. The music evokes moments of glory, the cast is uniformly exceptional, and Emilio Sosa has designed chapeaux that would make the Cat in the Hat pea-green with envy. “Crowns” may be about faith, community, and keeping moving during hard times, but it is also about “hattitude.” You’ll never view hats as mere headcoverings again. Through Feb. 14. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Jumpers — The Washington Shakespeare Company — **. Washington’s love affair with Brit-wit playwright Tom Stoppard is put sorely to the test with this ambitious but inert production of his 1972 play. For a play that features a gymnastics team made up of professors (don’t ask), this show is doggedly earthbound. Mr. Stoppard’s trademark brainy banter is buried somewhere in a sludge of gab, listless chemistry and clunky staging, and many times the play seems like the Cliff Notes version of Philosophy 101. A showoffish mix of murder mystery, love triangle and gas-bag philosophical diatribes, “Jumpers” needs that wildly absurdist/smarty-pants air of a Monty Python skit to work. Unfortunately, director Kathleen Akerley fails to conjure an atmosphere of intellectual looniness, so the play falls flat at every turn. Through Feb. 1 at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. 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. 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.

• 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 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 — **.Two stars 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.

• Welcome to My Rash and Third — Theatre J — ***. The vagaries of aging seem to agree with playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Her two new works are funny and deeply, unexpectedly poignant. The one-acts are getting world premieres at the intimate Theatre J under the nurturing direction of Michael Barakiva. The smart, Ivy League humor that we have come to know and love in Miss Wasserstein’s plays is very much in evidence, but Mr. Barakiva also draws out new, darker elements with delicacy and care. The female characters in both plays have an immediate concern: survival. Beyond that, they want to escape that shadowland of invisibility and obsolescence that our culture reserves for middle-aged women. Both plays are definitely are works in progress. Still, you have to give Miss Wasserstein, and Theatre J, credit for giving us plays of such promise and wisdom. Through Feb. 15 at Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center. 202/777-3229. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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