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Stage Capsule Reviews

Reviews and previews of upcoming shows.

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The American Songbook: Music of the 1950s The latest Quality Hill Playhouse cabaret revue might sound like the same old same old, but that's probably true only for those with a grudge against consistent excellence. This time, J. Kent Barnhart's crooning quartet revels in the last decade in which their beloved American songbook was steadily adding new chapters. Expect highlights from West Side Story, My Fair Lady and Mr. Tony Bennett. Best of all, the quartet includes cabaret king James Wright, who can be as tender as he is funny, and champion belter Amy Coady, who sometimes takes a break from saving Kansas City's musical theater scene to cut loose like this. Through April 1 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.

A Dog's Life While we remain skeptical that theme — as opposed to stories or characters — is where a playwright should strike first in search of heart and humor, the American Heartland's long string of themed shows — marriage, menopause, Christmas — has boasted big hits and, in last month's Leaving Iowa, at least one critical darling. A Dog's Life is its latest low-concept stab at sitcom universality, promising whatever "foibles and follies" of dog ownership aren't copyrighted by Marmaduke. But we'd be lying if we didn't admit to having hope: The hilarious Jessalyn Kincaid, who had us eating up Leaving Iowa like Puppy Chow, is here cast as "Little Dog." Through April 22 at the American Heartland Theatre at Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-842-9999.

Mr. Marmalade A satiric flipped bird to all that Oprah talk of guardian angels and invisible friends, Noah Haidle's vicious comedy about a young girl's coke- and porn-addicted imaginary friend got its share of raised fingers from critics during its original Broadway run. Time — and smaller theaters and more daring audiences — has been kinder, though. And now that Mr. Marmalade has hit the big middle with this CinnamonEye premiere, here's hoping it's as funny as we've heard. Through March 24 at the Westport Coffee House, 4010 Pennsylvania, 816-756-3222.

The Musical Side of Minds Eye Minds Eye, which we've called Kansas City's ballsiest nonprofessional theater, brings it from the diaphragm this weekend. Its second musical revue highlights songs from its own past shows — The Rocky Horror Show, Sordid Lives, A Clockwork Orange and Southern Baptist Sissies — and offerings from Chicago and Little Shop of Horrors. Through Sunday at the Barn Players, 6219 Martway in Mission, 913-897-2348.

Nickel and Dimed The Unicorn Theatre takes on Barbara Ehrenreich's ferocious examination of the great economic swindle of our time: how women have gone from wanting to work to absolutely having to. Peggy Friesen plays Ehrenreich as an educated woman trying to dial back her grace and self-possession as she goes undercover in a series of low-wage jobs; as her co-workers, Cheryl Weaver and Lynn King are movingly worn out, hitting notes of documentary realism that the rest of the cast sometimes misses. Several scenes provide realist kicks in the gut, but too many are too long, or too obvious, offering "news" that everyone should already know. At well over two hours, it's a show I'd rather vote for than sit through again. Through April 1 at the Unicorn Theater, 3828 Main, 816-531-7529. Reviewed in our March 15 issue.

Sax, Violence, and All That Jazz Another interactive dinner-time murder farce from the Mystery Train — which, by our count, has staged far more plays by Kansas City authors than any other theater in town the past few years. (That those plays all involve local history is a bonus.) The killing takes place on the dining car of a Union Station-bound train, as always, with the audience playing detective between courses. This time, the year is 1944, and the milieu is the waning days of Kansas City's jazz age. Fridays and Saturdays through April 7 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.

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