Our critics weigh in on local theater

Brundibar and Comedy on the Bridge. Berkeley Rep's one-act-opera double bill sugarcoats savage criticisms of society with fun, family-friendly stories. Featuring a cast of adults and around 30 children, Brundibar follows the fortunes of a penniless brother and sister as they try to scrape together enough money to buy milk for their bedridden mother. Comedy on the Bridge is an absurd story about a collection of townspeople left stranded on a bridge during wartime owing to some bureaucratic error. The operas are political allegory masquerading as innocent fun. Children's author Maurice Sendak's designs (created with Kris Stone) do much to set up the tension between the magic of children's storytelling and the darkness that lurks beneath. The stage looks like a wondrous, giant picture book, with its elaborate "hand-drawn" townscapes featuring rickety roofs and lampposts touched by golden light. Tony Kushner's librettos are witty and full of lacerating irony. Though visually beautiful and funny, Comedy ultimately flags due to poor vocal technique from some of the adult cast members and the repetitive, stalled action. Brundibar, on the other hand, has more of a fairy-tale flow. Balancing a boyish face and sugary smiles with a Hitler-esque mustache and sudden bouts of childish rage, Euan Morton's fiendish Brundibar is especially memorable -- the stuff of bad dreams. Through Dec. 28 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Tickets are $15-64; call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 23.

Corteo. Clowns are at the very heart of Cirque du Soleil's new touring show, and they take on many forms: There are giant clowns, midget clowns, and clowns in bright, baggy clothes who rampage through the audience, soaking people with fake tears that sprout like garden sprinklers from their eyes. Balanced against all the tomfoolery, though, is a serene, mystical realm. This alternate universe is epitomized by Jean Rabasse's lush, Baroque set design (the hand-painted watercolor curtains, in particular, wouldn't look out of place in a major art museum) and a panoply of ethereal angels who appear in the stratosphere every now and again, quietly watching over the artists, even assisting them on occasion. But despite all the comedy and aesthetic beauty of the production, director Daniele Finzi Pasca's creation of a glittering world that exists somewhere between heaven and Earth, just beyond human reach, is rooted in the abilities of the company's incredible performers. Through Dec. 31 at SBC Park, Third Street & Terry A. Francois, S.F. Tickets are $31.50-200; call (800) 678-5440 or visit www.cirquedusoleil.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Nov. 30.

The Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean. Sandy Hackett's swingin' tribute to the Rat Pack takes us back to a time when men wore tuxedos in the desert, women could be one of two things (a lady or a tramp), and Celine Dion was just a golden apple in Las Vegas' hungry eye. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin are brought back to life by God -- and the talents of a quartet of impersonators -- for one more night of highballing at the Sands Hotel. The concert-style production, featuring a live 12-piece band, perfectly captures the spirit of a long-lost era -- from Johnny Edwards' glossy Dean Martin pompadour to what would now be considered terribly un-PC gaffs about black Jews. These particular tribute artists aren't necessarily dead ringers for Frank and company, but if you close your eyes and listen to Brian Duprey's silk-voiced renditions of "My Way" and "Come Fly With Me," you almost feel like you've been transported, martini in hand, to another time and place. In an open-ended run at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post (at Powell), S.F. Tickets are $37-69; call 771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. (Chloe Veltman) Reviewed Aug. 24.

Also Playing

Actors Run Wild! The Next Stage, 1620 Gough (at Bush), Trinity Episcopal Church, 333-6389.

After Dark New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness (at Market), 861-8972.

Aga-Boom Alcazar Theater, 650 Geary (at Leavenworth), 441-4042.

Agnes of God Randall Museum Theater, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), 554-9600.

Alamat Diego Rivera Theater/CCSF, 50 Phelan (at Judson), 239-3100.

Are We Almost There? Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

BATS Sunday Players: Micetro Fort Mason, Bldg. B, Marina & Buchanan, 474-6776.

Beach Blanket Babylon Club Fugazi, 678 Green (at Powell), 421-4222.

Bent Theatre Rhinoceros, 2926 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 861-5079.

Beyond Therapy Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Big City Improv Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Cabaret The Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at MLK Jr.), Berkeley, 510-841-6500.

California Palm Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

A Celebration of Silliness Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 931-8385.

Christmas Ballet Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard (at Third St.), 978-2787.

A Christmas Carol American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St. (at Mason), 749-2228.

Cinderella Zeum Theater, 221 Fourth St. (at Howard), 777-2800.

Cirque Do Somethin' The Marsh, 1062 Valencia (at 22nd St.), 826-5750.

Comedy Improv at Your Disposal Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter (at Powell), 510- 595-5597.

Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (at Hearst), Berkeley, 510-234-6046.

Drive My Coche El Teatro de la Esperanza, 2940 16th St. (at South Van Ness), 338-1341.

Emperor Norton: A New Musical Dark Room Theater, 2263 Mission (at 18th St.), 401-7987.

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