Theater productions worthy of applause

So, as I was saying in Thursday's paper, this is the time I honor the best in local theater from the previous season (September to August). Today I get a chance to briefly acknowledge a few of the best among our educational institutions. In no particular order of preference, a hearty bravo to:

■ "A Christmas Carol," at the Nevada Conservatory, gave director Brad Carroll a chance to focus on the gloom and doom aspect of the tale, which allowed us to feel the ugliness of Scrooge's soul. Carroll also elicited a surprisingly in-depth performance by Alan Droneck as the chain-bound Marley and a stunning physical environment by designers Dana Moran Williams, Jeremy W. Hodges and Judy Ryerson.

■ "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, featured the beautifully nimble union actor Jamie Torcellini as the beautifully mischievous slave Pseudolus. The musical was expertly directed and choreographed by Rick and Tammy Pessagno with a light-heartedness that was irresistible.

■ "A Voyage Round My Father," at the College of Southern Nevada, featured a warm, easy performance by local veteran Cassie McGuire as a nurturing wife dealing with an impossible husband. McGuire brought heavy doses of moving, maternal love to what could have been a thankless role.

■ "Big River," at Las Vegas Academy, packed a punch that cut through the sentimentality of the material. Director John Morris' enormously entertaining mounting of the musical based on Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" got you into the palm of its hand without overwhelming you with unearned tears.

■ "Charlotte's Web," at the Rainbow Company, fleshed out E.B. White's celebrated tale about a friendship between a dying spider and an about-to-be slaughtered pig with creative designs (by Kris Van Riper, J Neal, Jody Caley and Emily Anderson) that made you a part of White's world.

■ "Oliver!" at the Rainbow Company gave us, in the guise of J Neal, a pickpocket leader (Fagin) who alternated between musical comedy, bulging-eyes exaggeration and epic sadness. This brilliant actor got you to empathize with his character in an unusually complicated way.

■ "Seven Guitars," at the Nevada Conservatory Theatre, brought us one of August Wilson's greatest scripts wrapped in visual and emotional power by guest director Christopher W. Edwards. A union actor named "ranney" played Hedley, the mysterious neighbor, as a big man with a genuine gentleness matched only by his anger. The final, quiet, soft-lit image at the final curtain of Hedley playing with a bag of money he has killed to get is one likely to stay in the memory.

■ "Sleeping Beauty," at Rainbow Company, offered a take on the tale that featured a title character (played by Alex Krabiel) who was a martial arts expert, a woodcutter (Karl Locke-Wells) who slowly won her love, and a students-created set steeped in steampunk.

■ "Uncovering Nevada's Past," at the Rainbow Company, was a spirited, sketchlike look at archaeological finds in Lovelock Cave in the '20s and '30s. Writer/director Karen McKenney, music director J Neal and set designer Kris Van Riper made a lesson in Nevada history a bouncy, fun good time.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.