Here it is short and sweet–a guide on what to see this weekend onstage!

THE LION KING: Disney’s extravaganza by way of the movie and local wunderkind Tony Award-winner Julie Taymor, THE LION KING has roared back into town! The show literally emerges grandly from the audience and right up onto the stage of Boston’s  Opera House!  I still remember the goosebumps I had the first time I saw it. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must be on another planet or really busy. Don’t worry–there’s still time. If you have seen it, it might be worth taking in again with a different generation perhaps? Grandkids? The show is an ode to fatherhood, family, identity, legacy, love. Full of gorgeous songs, extraordinary costumes, and so much stagecraft. It is what theater is.   See it until 10/27!

CHOIR BOY: SpeakEasy’s New England premiere production of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Tony-nominated Best Play here directed by Maurice Emmanuel Parent has been extended through October 19. I went with high hopes, partially fulfilled.  Inspiring musical numbers and a gifted ensemble with arresting choreography by Yewande Odetoyinbo & Ruka White are the highlights, but don’t quite mesh with its muddled book. The tale of a gay young black student named Pharus (Isaiah Reynolds) who leads a choir at an elite black prep school pulls us in too many directions to cohere. He’s caught between betraying the school’s honor code or the homophobia of a fellow choir member who’s targeted him. There’s a confusing subplot involving his relationship with his roommate and another subplot involving a white professor played by Richard Snee who’s not only out of it, but seems like he dropped in from another play. There’s also a debate within the play about the music itself; do the “Negro Spirituals” they sing ( gorgeously arranged by music director David Freeman Coleman) contain secret messages that slaves used as code? No matter what, the music seems to set Pharus free, and the pervasive theme of forging one’s identity not only as a gay black man, but every black man within and without black culture– provided this critic with enough reason to recommend you see CHOIR BOY.

 THE BOOK CLUB PLAY: The season opener by Karen Zacarias at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre is slight but entertaining. It’s a diagrammatic look at a book club each of whose members barely exceed the boundaries of function: gay intellectual, pretentious suburbanite, non-intellectual jock, up and coming career woman of color, introverted white woman with checkered past. Secrets are laid bare when a famous Danish filmmaker turns his documentary lens on the group and more often than seems possible, they forget themselves and the camera to hilarious effect. Excellent performances by a first-rate ensemble elevate the amusing but predictable twists and turns. We can tell a lot about these readers by their covers, but it’s fun to watch them reveal themselves. Brooks Reeves appears as various bookish characters in between scenes, like strange little inter-chapters. Through 10/13! 

KING LEAR: Shakespeare’s tragedy of parental blindness and ungrateful children, is given the ACTORS’ SHAKESPEARE PROJECT treatment. Director Doug Lockwood has cut the play down to explosive size and whittled it to 7 actors resulting in a revelatory coupling of parts. Robert Walsh tackles the monumental Lear’s trajectory and captures the extremes, a swaggering potentate in the early scenes, stripped down by the end to the impotency of a father broken by his lying, usurping daughters and his own self deception. Walsh’s portrayal lacks grandeur, but we can identify with his very human portrayal of Lear as a disillusioned man struggling valiantly to make sense of his senseless decisions which have cost him everything. Malcom Ingram is perfect as the loyal Kent, noble and ever true no matter his guise. Marya Lowry, elegant and clear-eyed, finds the through line between her two characters: the deeply sane, loyal eldest daughter Cordelia, and Lear’s constant wise fool. But the most exciting and entertaining doubling is that of Gloucester’s sons, half brothers as two sides of the same coin: the dissembling bastard Edmund and his rival the legitimate heir Edgar, both played with wicked glee by Louis Reyes McWilliams, who then does triple duty as Cordelia’s suitor Burgundy. The show counts on our familiarity with the characters and text to keep track of the sometimes confusing doublings, which slows things down in the second half. See this expansive tragedy, intimately staged at Chelsea Theatre Works through October 27.

Photo: Kai Chao

42ND STREET  kicks off The Umbrella Stage Company’s inaugural season at its brand new theater complex THE UMBRELLA ARTS CENTER in Concord Mass! This musical theater classic about a dazzling diva who breaks her ankle just before opening night, when a new kid in the chorus goes on in her place  to become a star– is the perfect opener. The venue is modern, comfy, and handsome, and the show’s selection suggests its ambitions, yet to be realized.  Elliot Norton Winner Aimee Doherty as the fallen star Dorothy Brock, stands head and shoulders above everyone else in the cast. Gillian Marian Gordon as wannabe star little Peggy Sawyer is earnest but lacks the requisite razzle dazzle in the final number.  Billy White as her suitor has charm and a good voice. The ensemble taps their hearts out and ain’t bad, but the company hasn’t found its feet yet. Overnight success only happens on 42nd Street but The Umbrella Arts Center located at 40 Stow Street in Concord, is poised for success– I look forward to watching this new home for the arts west of Boston come into its own!