- The Washington Times - Friday, December 4, 2009

NOW PLAYING

As You Like It!Shakespeare Theatre Company — ★★ It’s got eye-popping sets, fabulous costumes, mind-blowing special effects and acting that’ll knock your socks off! It’s loaded with snappy new music and Busby Berkeley production numbers that’ll get your toes a-tappin’ and your heart a-thumpin’! It’s the one, the only, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hollywood-style production of Billy Shakespeare’s bodaciously wacky hayseed comedy “As You Like It”! And it’s … well, a mixed bag. Director Maria Aitken reboots this classic play as a filmic pageant of the American myth, Hollywood-style. With Derek McLane’s fantastic sets, Martin Pakledinaz’s sumptuous costumes and Michael John LaChiusa’s puckish score, the Shakespeare Theatre’s “As You Like It” will delight those seeking a visually exciting and energetic theatrical night on the town. Die-hard Shakespeare fans, though, even adventurous ones, may leave the theater feeling grumpy. Through Dec. 20. 202/547-1122

August: Osage CountyKennedy Center — ★★★★ Dip your candy canes in powdered Prozac and head over to the Kennedy Center for some of the most warped and magnificent holiday entertainment you are ever likely to see. You think some of your relatives are difficult? They’re the freakin’ Waltons compared to the rancid Westons, the rural Oklahoma clan whose pack of lies has turned their Victorian homestead into a house of horrors. Without air conditioning in the middle of a Plains summer, the house is literally a hotbed of emotions, and the heat this family throws off makes you want to check your face for blisters during its 3½-hour running time and two intermissions. Family patriarch Violet (Estelle Parsons) would give a stepped-on snake a run for his money. Pill-popping, manipulative and bellicose, she’s the grown-up product of a lifetime of neglect and abuse — and she knows exactly where to wound her family members. The various Westons gather in the aftermath of the suicide of patriarch Beverly (an elegiac Jon DeVries), an alcoholic and once-famous poet. The funeral incites an orgy of bad behavior, as the stoned Violet unleashes a torrent of “truth-telling,” then sits back while the family grapples with sexual infidelity, incest, drug addiction, boozing and betrayal. The perverse pleasures of “August” extend to the acting, and there isn’t one less-than-exceptional performance in the 13-member cast. Through Dec. 20. 202/467-4600

Show BoatSignature Theatre — ★★★ Originally staged in 1927, this Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical is almost an embarrassment of riches. The term “showboating,” in fact, could be applied to its lavish score, which features everything from infectious ditties in three-quarter time and ragtime jazzies to heart-wrenching ballads and soaring operatic duets. The term also could serve just as well for the ambitions of the piece, which took musical theater from light entertainment into the modern age with its depiction of racism, gambling addicts and sweeping change in America at the turn of the 20th century. At its heart, though, “Show Boat” is a love story between Magnolia (Stephanie Waters), the talented young daughter of Cotton Blossom showboat operators Cap’n Andy (Harry Winters) and Parthy (Kimberly Schraf), and charming gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Will Gartshore, who seemed winded and subdued in the first part before gaining his momentum in Act 2 with powerhouse renditions of “Make Believe” and “You Are Love”). Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer whittles all this down to a swift-moving, nearly three-hour production — two hours and 40 minutes; an amalgam of the 1927 original, the 1946 Broadway revival and a 2005 version by Nic Muni for the Berne Opera. Some moments are unhurried, yet many highlights are either unexplored or go by in a blur. Still, “Show Boat” is about as difficult to resist as a slice of mile-high pie. Through Jan. 17. 703/573-7328

Jersey BoysNational Theatre — ★★★½ As a production polished to sequined sheen by director Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is different on several levels. This documentary-style show traces the turbulent story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who went from harmonizing street punks to ‘60s sensations and a berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Mr. Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie) may sing like an angel, but he and the other members of the group were no saints. There’s also the music. If you’re a die-hard Four Seasons fan, the pitch-perfect renditions of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Stay” and “Working My Way Back to You” will transport you back to a time of transistor radios and beach-blanket bingo. Through Dec. 12. 800/447-7400

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard and T.L. Ponick

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