Bill Gale

Maggie Hall / Wilbury Theatre Group

Serious mental illness might well seem an unlikely jumping off point for musical theater. But with “Next to Normal,” now at the Wilbury Group in Providence, the subject becomes a powerful drama mostly well done. 

Brian Yorkey, who wrote the book and lyrics for the engrossing “Next to Normal” once opined that “musicals can be ridiculous.”

“You know, all those people breaking into song all the time,” he said. But the author also  pointed out that, somehow, a good musical can be “sublime.”

Richard W. Dionne, Jr. / 2nd Story Theatre

British playwright Joe Orton is probably best remembered for his loopy yet fiery comedy's “Loot” and “What the Butler Saw”. But his seminal piece was “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” a 1964 trouble-making work now being revived by 2nd Story Theatre in Warren.

When you enter 2nd Story's upstairs performing space these nights you'll be greeted by some real oldies. No, not the ushering staff. The recorded music being played: Petula Clark's “Downtown” The Seekers “Georgy Girl” and even “She's Not There” by the Zombies.

Mark Turek / Ocean State Theatre

“Into the Woods” won three Tony Awards on Broadway in 1988. But “Best Musical” wasn't one of them.  Bill Gale thinks that a strong production at the Ocean State Theatre tells you why.

Full disclosure, I have never cottoned to “Into the Woods” which brought so much fame and honor to its creators Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

Richard W. Dionne, Jr. / 2nd Story Theatre

2nd Story Theatre in Warren has always liked to do off-beat plays and its current work, “4000 miles,” is no exception. Bill Gale says it's a little loopy, a little lacking in plot, but that it's also one of those works you'll think about days after you see it.

It was, of course, the poet Robert Frost who wrote that “Home is the place where …they have to take you in.”  Well, “4000 Miles” is something of a recurrence of that idea.

Mark Turek / Trinity Rep

A conservative approach to a classic play has rarely been the Trinity Rep way. Over the years full speed ahead has been more like it. That surely is the case with the theater's new take on “The Glass Menagerie.”  Bill Gale says it works, except when it doesn't.

“The Glass Menagerie” continues at Trinity Rep through March 29th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.

Ocean State Theater Company

  The Ocean State Theatre in Warwick has come up with a relatively unknown musical concerning a guy, a gal and a novel way of telling their story. Bill Gale says the production is a good try, at least.

"The Last Five Years” continues at the Ocean State Theatre through March 15th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio. 

Mark Turek / Ocean State Theatre

February being Black History Month the Ocean State Theater in Warwick has brought back a 1987 play, “The Meeting.” African-American playwright and screenwriter Jeff Stetson brings together two major leaders who had very different ideas about improving the life and times of their fellow black Americans.

Dr. King, of course, developed a non-violent strategy. A minister with a Boston University PhD, he aimed to confront racism and violence strongly but without turbulence.

Richard W. Dionne, Jr. / 2nd Story Theatre

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies once said that he loves “. . .smart, complicated women. . .” 

Well, in just two hours (with an intermission) he lets us look in on two females who meet that criteria, and more. “Collected Stories” takes place entirely in the Greenwich Village apartment of one Ruth Steiner, an award-winning author/professor. She's sharp as a whip, tight as a drum and both prissy and provocative. Lives alone and likes it. Or at least thinks she does.

Mark Turek / Ocean State Theatre

“Meet Me in St. Louis” is a charmer, a sweet, old fashioned, happy- go-lucky musical of the kind we just don't see anymore. It's filled with wonderful, if saccharine sweet, songs. It tells a tale of a family loving, and battling, and always coming through.

Mark Turek / Ocean State Theatre

You know I checked out the history of “Dial M” before I went to see Ocean State's production. Found a 1984 New York Times review which said that the 30 or so years that had passed since its first showing had not dimmed the play's charms. Still crisp and quick, the reviewer maintained.

Thomas Nola-Rion / Festival Ballet

Being crowded together in tiny seats and dealing with an over-humid atmosphere has never stopped Festival Ballet's audience from filling the company's main rehearsal hall for “Up Close on Hope.” Showing a number of new works, the latest edition began last weekend. Bill Gale was there.

Yes, and I was happy to be there, too. But after seeing nine short numbers – some of them world premieres – I began to wonder if today's rising choreographers aren't a . . . little bit depressed.

Peter Goldberg / The Gamm Theatre

That's it. Last time out, you may remember, the Gamm did “Grounded,” a high altitude look at an American female fighter pilot that was quick and memorable.

This time artistic director Tony Estrella and his crew have moved to Norway for a dog fight with one of the great, groundbreaking plays of all time, Henrik Ibsen's “Hedda  Gabler.”

Peter Goldberg

Written by a relatively unknown but fast-rising playwright, George Brant, this play flies high in many ways. It begins with our heroine, called “The Pilot,” rhapsodizing about being, well, a pilot. A fighter pilot, that is. A different breed.

Gowned, if that's the word, in a droopy pilot's one piece flight suit rippled with zippers and great big pockets, she appears on stage to the roar of a jet engine and tells you of the wonders of high, blue altitude. She calls her F-16 fighter, “Tiger” and says “he” “can feel the sky in me.”

Richard W. Dionne, Jr. / 2nd Story Theatre

Ah, yes, “Hay Fever” one of those plays that became known as “a comedy of manners.” But in truth Coward's 1925 hit really ought to be called a “comedy of ill manners.”

It's Coward's view of a famous family being famously, uproariously, ridiculously bad mannered to point of forcing the family's so-called “guests” to split, to sneak out of the house, to take any measures to get away from the family's self-regard, their “I really don't give a hoot for anything or anyone but myself” attitude.

Richard W. Dionne, Jr.

It’s September, 1939 and the carnage of World War II is just beginning. Germany has invaded Poland. The British and their allies are preparing to fight. The world is on edge.

And, frankly, so are Dr. Freud and Professor Lewis, two of the great intellectuals of their time who are meeting in Freud’s office in England. But it’s not the Nazi war machine or the reluctant answer of its provocations by the British that’s under debate.

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