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On the Culture Front: Kids Entertainment That Doesn't Suck and More

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Children's entertainment has come along way as evidenced by three terrific shows. This weekend, I took my friend and his kid to the Big Red Chair presentation of Kidrockers at Skirball Center. The brainchild of Beth and Morton Lorge, it's an indie rock and comedy show where kids get to ask musicians questions and burn some energy dancing in the aisles. The bands, San Fermin and Adam Green of the Moldy Peaches, played age-appropriate songs from their catalogs but didn't write specific songs for the children. The result was a blissfully fun time for adults and cultural exposure for kids in a chill environment. If you have kids, I can't imagine a better place to take them on a Saturday morning.

I was on the fence about seeing Aladdin, but my younger sister convinced me and I'm glad I went. A far cry from the stage adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, this Casey Nicholaw-directed Disney creation is inspired Joy. Featuring songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken that were cut from the movie along with classics like "A Whole New World," Aladdin is deeply satisfying and surprisingly moving. The theater was filled with kids, but the show is written for adults.

Cirque de Soleil's latest show, Amaluna, is similarly rich entertainment. Directed by Diane Paulus with a story vaguely reminiscent of The Tempest, it evokes true wonderment as it conjures that magical island of the title and provides just enough context for the insanely flexible and talented performers to shine. A gymnastic routine performed by Ikhertsetseg Bayarsaikhan around a giant bowl of water is one of many highlights. This is one of the best Cirque shows in years.

On the adult entertainment front -- that felt weird typing -- there are many notable shows. Artistic director Jonathan Silverstein directed the Keen Company's revival of Paddy Cheyefsky's rarely performed play, Middle of the Night, with acute sensitivity. Jonathan Hadary and Nicole Lowrance shined with warm chemistry as an unlikely couple whose May-December romance is questions by their friends and families. There's nothing in it that's particularly hip and it can't be easily pinned to current social issues, but that's what's so refreshing about this revival. It's a solid play and that should be enough to warrant a revival.

Pam MacKinnon's revival of Dinner with Friends is nothing short of inspired. The emotionally innovative director has taped into a profound immediacy in the lives of two couples whose lives are irrevocably changed by the end of one of their marriages. Allen Moyer's set, a grey background with moveable parts that shift to form scenes, highlights that impermanence of life despite our best efforts to think otherwise.

Sarah Ruhl's Stage Kiss deals with messy relationships, but they're mostly fodder for some truly farcical moments. The endlessly talented Jessica Hecht plays an actress (She) who's been off-stage for many years raising a family. The play opens in the middle of an audition for a new play. She's very nervous, slightly aloof and more than a little clumsy. She gets the part, only to realize her ex-lover (He, played by Dominic Fumusa) is playing her love interest. Life imitates art and then vice versa a few times as Ruhl guides us through a gleeful and insane world of ups and downs and all the in-betweens. Directed with a gentle touch by Rebecca Taichman, I wouldn't be surprised if it transferred to Broadway.

On Broadway, Rocky was a pleasant surprise. A tuneful, if not memorable, score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens drives the compelling underdog story. Alex Timbers' visceral direction injects a healthy dose of realism, especially in the final climactic fight, which defies theatrical conventions to great success.

Craig Lucas' Ode to Joy is also a play not to miss. Though it struggles with melodrama in the middle of the second act, the takeaway is a compelling portrait of relationships and the unpredictable and inevitable ways they dissolve. As a director, Lucas draws out compelling performances from Kathryn Erbe, Roxanna Hope and Arliss Howard.

Tom Noonan's The Shape of Something Squashed takes an unflinching look at the business of acting, with the playwright showing why he's one of the most underrated actors among his pals Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, and Christopher Walken. They all sit on the board of his theater company (the Paradise Factory Theatre), which just underwent an extensive renovation.

On the beer front, Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's no. 43 celebrated NYC beer week with a sumptuous five course meditation on all things bacon in support of Marie Rama and Peter Kaminsky's swine-based cookbook Bacon Nation. Jimmy's beer dinners are an increasingly less kept secret - the event completely sold out. Almost as packed was NYC Brewer's Choice at the Wythe Hotel a couple days later. The focus was on New York-brewed beer. There were many standouts including Other Half, a new hoptastic endeavor in Brooklyn and Crossroads Brewery, whose beers I discovered at their brewpub in the sleepy town of Athens, NY last year while celebrating my 30th birthday with friends. Their Outrage IPA is the perfect balance of bitter and smooth that would be a welcome addition to any bar in the city.