The Hypocrites' Wit Credit: Joe Mazza

Cabaret Prop’d Accompanied by a different band each week, a rotating cast of storytellers, tap dancers, burlesque feather dancers, comedians, and poets test out material and perform laid-back short-form sets in this late-night variety show. At the performance I attended, the Rocombu Jazz band, led by “growl” trumpeter Yves François, filled most of the two acts with a concert of groovy rumba songs and New Orleans-style brass numbers. Generous time slots and the emcee’s discursive crowd work make for a long haul, but there are some glimmers of traditional cabaret fun. And it wouldn’t be Rhinofest without at least one quintessentially off-kilter feature: according to Curious Theatre Branch’s website calendar, the Crooked Mouth’s set (2/17) will be “folksy and Brechtian.” —Dan Jakes

Michaela Petro and Daniella Pereira in Strawdog Theatre's <i>Cymbeline</i>
Michaela Petro and Daniella Pereira in Strawdog Theatre’s CymbelineCredit: Tom McGrath

[Recommended] Cymbeline Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, though seldom performed, contains some of the greatest moments, and the second-most beautiful song, of the late romantic phase that culminated in The Tempest. Strawdog Theatre’s adaptation, directed by Robert Kauzlaric, sorts through the play’s dense web of cunning betrayals and mistaken identities with admirable precision. It’s also inexplicably funny. As Cloten, Gage Wallace is an exquisite ham, but so is his character, a prancing prince bent both on honor he’ll never deserve and praises he’ll never receive. The death and resurrection of Imogen is a notorious crux for actors, but the scene is carried off with great success by Daniella Pereira. —Max Maller

Sarah Price in Steep Theatre's <i>Earthquakes in London</i>
Sarah Price in Steep Theatre’s Earthquakes in LondonCredit: Lee Miller

[Recommended] Earthquakes in London Mike Bartlett’s dazzling play, making its U.S. premiere at Steep, is about our attempt—as all-too-human creatures with puny brains—to come to grips with the end of the world. Directed by Jonathan Berry, the story is set on the eve of a seismic phenomenon so massive that it threatens to destroy human civilization. Swirling through the mass of bodies (it’s a 15-person cast in a tiny space) are a British family of four: Robert (Jim Poole), renowned climatologist and estranged father, and his three daughters, workaholic Sarah (Cindy Marker), 19-year-old hot mess Jasmine (Sarah Price), and pregnant, paranoid Freya (Lucy Carapetyan). As they try out their varied and equally pathetic tactics against disaster—cosmic despair, science, getting high, political activism—they beautifully convey our frailty in the face of forces too big to comprehend. —Max Maller

Max DeTogne and Liz Chidester in Refuge Theatre Project's <i>High Fidelity</i>
Max DeTogne and Liz Chidester in Refuge Theatre Project’s High FidelityCredit: Laura Leigh Smith

[Recommended] High Fidelity Refuge Theatre Project reprises its rocking 2016 production of this 2006 Broadway musical in a new pop-up “Refuge Records” location, filled with record crates and concert posters. Mopey main character Rob has already been solidified in the pop culture lexicon, thanks to Nick Hornby’s novel and John Cusack’s subsequent turn onscreen, but original Refuge star Max DeTogne provides an earnest and charming performance. Most of the inaugural cast remains, and the continuity enhances the romantic comedy’s humor, heartbreak, and eventual happy ending. There’s a standout subplot involving best friend Liz and aspiring rock star Barry—played by Caitlin Jackson and Nick Druzbanski, respectively—whose love story is set to German-influenced “tone poems.” —Marissa Oberlander

Norma Bellini’s tragedia lirica, first performed in 1831, is an old-fashioned, stand-and-sing bel canto opera, and nothing in this Lyric Opera production, directed by Kevin Newbury, changes its static nature. The libretto is a melodrama about a love triangle between two Druid priestesses and a Roman occupier in 50 BC; Lyric’s supporting cast, clearly chosen for their outstanding vocal talent, aren’t much help in the acting department; and sets, costumes, and props (including a giant ox and a hacked-off tree), said to be inspired by Game of Thrones, are pedestrian. In short, it doesn’t work as theater. But the opera remains a marathon showpiece for the lead singer, and Lyric’s Norma—Berwyn native turned international diva Sondra Radvanovsky—is up to the task. She dominates, physically and aurally, captivating the house with a powerful, butterscotch soprano and caressing the high notes into silky whispers. —Deanna Isaacs

Erica Stephan and Adrian Aguilar in Drury Lane's <i>Saturday Night Fever: The Musical</i>
Erica Stephan and Adrian Aguilar in Drury Lane’s Saturday Night Fever: The MusicalCredit: Brett Beiner

Saturday Night Fever: The Musical Adapted from the 1977 hit movie, this stage version manages to be even more empty, shallow, and cliche-clotted than the original. Tony Manero’s story—blue-collar kid with strong dancing skills gets a classy girlfriend and the courage to move out of his working-class neighborhood—only makes sense if you’ve seen the original. All of the gaps in the book, and there are many, are concealed by energetic cover versions of the popular (in its time, overplayed) soundtrack. These reinterpretations are fun, but, as in the original, they don’t advance the plot or deepen the characters. More successful are Rachel Laritz’s eye-pleasing, historically accurate costumes and director Dan Knechtges’s inventive choreography; Adrian Aguilar is extremely likable as Manero. —Jack Helbig

Thinking Outside the Magician’s Box Curious Theatre Branch describes the the ramifications of cutting a woman in half—the central theme of this chamber opera—as “pataphysical,” an indication of the extreme eccentricity of Sue Cargill and Matt Test’s amelodic and absurdist work. Don’t expect a lot of toe tapping, but do expect a wry and occasionally hypnotic half hour of singing, seemingly improvised piano plunking, and musical-saw bowing by Carrie Drapac, T-Roy Martin, and Test. Comedic thought experiments about performance and lyrics about fleas provide all of the head scratching, grandiosity, and esoterica that are the staples of unabashedly experimental opera. —Dan Jakes

Lisa Tejero stars in the Hypocrites' <i>Wit</i>.
Lisa Tejero stars in the Hypocrites’ Wit.Credit: Joe Mazza

[Recommended] Wit The power in Margaret Edson’s moving Pulitzer-winning play lies in how skillfully she avoids both melodrama and steely reportage as she reveals the story of Vivian Bearing, a brittle but brilliant academic, suffering through chemo and stage IV ovarian cancer. Marti Lyons’s direction echoes the cool intimacy of the script, turning the performing space into a medical theater (seats on sides, the patients in the center) that at once draws the audience in and holds them at a distance. Likewise, Lisa Tejero delivers a virtuosic performance as Bearing, a perfect balance of razor-sharp intellect and expanding heart—watching her fight for a life she had not hitherto fully experienced is both devastating and redemptive. —Jack Helbig