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Theater in Review

By Times staff, correspondents

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000

Berlin to Broadway, Stageworks, Hillsborough Community College, Ybor City -- This year is the 100th anniversary of composer Kurt Weill's birth, and Stageworks marks the occasion with a revue of his music ranging from Berlin cabaret songs to Broadway show tunes. Weill, who died in 1950, teamed up with Bertolt Brecht on The Threepenny Opera, The Seven Deadly Sins and other works in Germany. After immigrating to the United States in 1935, he landed on Broadway and teamed up with leading lyricists such as Maxwell Anderson (Knickerbocker Holiday), Ira Gershwin (Lady in the Dark), Ogden Nash (One Touch of Venus) and Alan Jay Lerner (Love Life). The Nancy Cole-directed production includes four singers -- Rome Harbinson, Heather Curran, Kris Clayton, Donna Delonay -- emcee Darren Frazier and a combo under the musical direction of Steve McColley. -- JOHN FLEMING

Collected Stories by Donald Margulies, Asolo Theatre Company, Sarasota -- At what point does literary homage turn into appropriation? The relationship between mentor and disciple -- celebrated writer Ruth Steiner (Isa Thomas) and her worshipful protege, Lisa Morrison (Rebecca Baldwin) -- shifts over time in this popular play by Margulies, whose Dinner with Friends won this year's Pulitzer Prize for drama. The bookish name-dropping is impressively well-informed, ranging from Saul Bellow to Jane Smiley to Delmore Schwartz, Michiko Kakutani to Grand Street. -- JOHN FLEMING

Nunsense, Show Palace Dinner Theatre, Hudson -- This 15-year-old musical is so popular that most people have either seen it or performed in it and could write their own review. Even so, we flock back to laugh at the old jokes, gasp at new ones and enjoy the fresh spin the actors put on this worldwide favorite. Nunsense tells about the Little Sisters of Hoboken doing a talent show to raise money to bury their four sisters poisoned by soup made by convent chef Sister Julia (Child of God). It's part variety show, part story and a whole lot of mugging and audience involvement. Start with the cast, five talented theater veterans, add a two-piece combo, toss in a house crew decked out as monks and nuns, and it's well nigh impossible not to get into the spirit. Nunsense is squeaky clean, but the bygone cultural references in many of the jokes may sail right over the heads of anyone who hasn't been watching TV and movies for the past 20 years. Still, the humor is enough to keep anyone 9 to 90 entertained, and the cast's forays into the audience keep everyone engaged in this clever and sometimes corny show. -- BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN

The Old Curiosity Shop, Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg -- In 19th century England, Little Nell and her grandfather flee the moneylender Quilp in Matthew Francis' stage adaptation of Dickens' sprawling novel. The USF production, featuring Jeff Norton with a mostly student cast, is picturesque but dramatically inert. It boasts a splendidly atmospheric set by Barton Lee and Beau Edwardson. -- JOHN FLEMING

Riverdance, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center -- A little Irish step dancing goes a long way. At first, the fresh-faced performers are a delight to watch in the leaping, stiff-backed, hands-on-hips dance steps of a thousand PBS pledge drives. But once the basic choreography is established, Riverdance is seriously short of interesting material, padded by at least an hour of flamenco, hip-hop, Cossack folk dancing and other superfluous stuff. From a dramatic standpoint, it is little more than a mystical Irish pageant. An image of the moon is often projected over the stage, and it makes the perfect, mute icon for a show that doesn't have anything to say beyond hands-across-the-ocean multicultural platitudes. The second act is an incoherent muddle on what could be called the Irish Diaspora, summoning up sentiment about ties between America and the Emerald Isle that would embarrass a Boston politician. -- JOHN FLEMING

Three Days of Rain, Asolo Theatre Company, Sarasota -- At the Center of Richard Greenberg's puzzle play is "one of the great private residences of the last half-century." It's Janeway House, a lunar-looking structure on Long Island. When a photo of the house appeared in Life magazine in 1963, it put the architectural firm that designed it on the map. Now the three children of the firm's founders prepare to receive their legacy, but first they have some truth-telling to get off their chests. Three Days of Rain is not a great play, but it is a fully imagined portrait of a recognizable set of characters that manages to suggest quite a lot going on beneath their surface glibness. -- JOHN FLEMING

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