Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Late Night Catechism Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan's play is back at the Grandel, this time starring veteran Chicago improv performer Mary Beth Burns. A combination of religious instruction, audience interaction and game-show antics, Catechism is a wildly witty and slightly scary encounter with Catholicism. The delight of the show is Burns' constant interplay with the audience. Whisperers are called to order. Latecomers are fined. Everyone must address Sister in full sentences and prizes are awarded for correct answers. With so much depending on audience responses for fuel, Catechism is clearly a different show each night, and Burns seems to revel in that. Her twinkling eyes search the audience for new material even as she works details from earlier stories into running gags. Class is in session for an open-ended run upstairs at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-1111. (Deanna Jent)

The Magic WishA lonely elf in Santa's workshop wishes that the toys might come to life -- and sure enough, that's precisely what happens. There are skaters, bears, a wobbly ballerina who would never make it as a Rockette, even two dancing icicles. The 40-minute show is harmless family fun -- especially if you enjoy watching the children in the audience get caught up in the world of puppetry. Most shows are preceded by puppetmaking demonstrations. Performed through January 2, 2005, at Kramer Marionette Theatre, 4143 Laclede Avenue. Call 314-531-3313. (Dennis Brown)

The Mystery of Edwin Drood This show-within-a-show transports the viewer back to an 1892 music hall where a company of ham actors is striving to resolve a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' final, unfinished novel. There's great bonhomie between actors and audience, who are encouraged to vote on how the story should end. The proceedings get off to a jolly start, as cast members descend upon the audience to wish us well (and do a little lobbying for their characters). It's only after the show begins that you might have a tough time trying to figure out what's going on. The production generates a lot of good will and high spirits, but not much more. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through December 31 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-968-4925. (DB)

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Bring on the wooden soldiers! When the world-famous Rockettes are onstage, this extravaganza lives up to its name, for they are, in their high-kicking, toe-tapping, precision-dancing way, spectacular. They can even transform the usually interminable "Twelve Days of Christmas" into an ingenious entertainment. But when the Rockettes are offstage, much of the rest of the show is uncomfortably reminiscent of a 1950s TV variety show. Nostalgic? Hardly. This is downright anachronistic. Don't worry if your tickets are up in the balcony; the higher you are, the better the show looks. Performed through December 31 at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

 
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