Today’s news:

Beat winter chill at Queens community theater

With sleet, snow, and wind chill factors to freeze your fanny, Queens residents can take comfort in the hustle and bustle going on in local theatres throughout the borough. While most of us are just struggling to get home each night after work without frostbite, the hardy thespians that make up this borough’s tremendously talented core of performers and directors are rushing to rehearsals in preparation for a promising winter season.

Local theatres presented some truly great productions this past fall, as well as a few unexpected clunkers. From musicals, such as Free Synagogue of Flushing’s splendid production of “Mame,” to the grand melodrama of Theatre à la Carte’s haunting “Rebecca,” the wild comedy of Parkside Players’ “No Sex Please, We’re British,” well-served contemporary pieces such as Outrageous Fortune’s “Fuddy Meers,” beautifully mounted Shakes-peare in Gingerbread Players “Much Ado About Nothing,” as well as bloodletting suspense and a knockout leading performance in Spotlight Player’s “Deathtrap.”

I can hardly recall such a richly diverse fall season. Even the few that I felt were less successful scored merit points, in particular, the excellent set and some deeply felt performances in Douglaston Community Theatre’s “The Hollow.”

For the most comprehensive listing of local theatres and what they are up to this winter, your best bet is to consult www.spotightonstage.com This handy Web site lists about 15 Queens theatre groups. Although not all the latest winter 2003 news is posted just yet, the groups are listed and addresses and contact information is very accessible. I also have learned about a number of productions from fliers and the TimesLedger. Here is an alphabetical listing of groups that are busy this winter.

Astoria Performing Arts Center: “I Hate Hamlet”

I love this play and will travel anywhere to see it done. Last performed in Queens only a little over a year ago at Theatre à la Carte with possibly the finest personification of John Barrymore I have seen. Paul Rudnick’s minor masterwork is now in the hands of Susan Scannell’s busy company. Not strictly a community theater, APAC is a resident professional group. With that bit of fluff aside, I really enjoy this group and am eagerly awaiting their take on this sweet ghost story/comedy about the late John Barrymore’s coming to the aid of an aspiring actor. Performances are scheduled for Feb. 14-16, 21-23. The theatre is located at 31-30 33rd Street, Astoria. Call 718-278-5925

Beari Productions: “Steel Magnolias”

The great surprise for me this past fall was Neil Simon’s touching comedy “I Ought to Be in Pictures,” a gift to the borough from Beari Productions. And it is a thrill to announce that Beari will be mounting “Steel Magnolias” for its winter production. Although the official notice is not yet on their Web site, I anticipate that the production is due some time in late February. Beari Productions is Middle Village’s — in fact, Queens’ own — pride and joy, pumping out some fine productions over the past few years, maintaining a rigorous three-production season each year.

“Steel Magnolias” is the kind of vehicle Beari does best — an intimate ensemble piece, with comedy and some tears along the way. The cast is not announced yet, but — considering the core of performers in their productions — it is bound to be stellar. The theatre is located at Trinity Lutheran Church, corner of Penelope Avenue and Dry Harbor Road, Middle Village. For information, call 718-736-1216.

Center for the Arts at Flushing Town Hall: “Broadway Blockbusters II”

What better way to get rid of the winter blahs than to soak in an evening of Broadway show-stopping songs and dances. I saw “Blockbusters I,” and if No. 2 is anywhere near as good, I can promise you, you won’t be disappointed. And if you’ve never been to the grandly restored Flushing Town Hall, a magnificent tribute to Flushing’s history, you owe it to your borough to get there. Performances are Jan. 17, 18, 24, 25 at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees Jan. 22 and 25.

Douglaston Community Theatre:

“Death Takes a Holiday”

With stunning images of Theatre à La Carte’s “Rebecca” from just two months ago still vivid in my mind, I was thrilled to read a flier indicating that the same director and almost all of the cast have now moved “down the street” to Douglaston’s other community theatre, DCT, where they will perform another rarely done gem. “Death Takes a Holiday” is a classic from the late 1920s, a beautiful “ghost story” as noted on the flier, requiring the most tender loving care to be done well. Considering the magic of “Rebecca,” I can anticipate that this same team will work its magic again. Performances are Feb. 21, 22, 28, March 1, 8 and 9. DCT is located at Zion Episcopal Church, 44th Avenue off Douglaston Parkway, Douglaston. For information, call 718-482-3332.

Outrageous Fortune Company:

“The Cripple of Inishmann”

As always committed to the best in contemporary theatre, this theatre company is offering a gripping Irish play by Martin McDonagh, the author of “The Beauty Queen of Lehane.” This group is truly on the edge, willing to take its chances with new talent and directors from other parts of the country. I am hoping for a treat on the opening night of this piece. It will run March 7-9, 14-16 at the Studio Theatre at Queens Theatre in the Park, Flushing Meadows. For information, call 718-428-2500.

Parkside Players: “Crimes of the Heart”

Considering the classy cast of Parkside’s fall production of “No Sex, Please, We’re British,” headed by the effervescent Deborah Bekefi and including a bevy of Queens’ very best local actors, I had to look twice at their announced winter production, “Crimes of the Heart.” There is hardly a name that I recognize, including the director. So I guess we’re in for some surprises — pleasant ones, no doubt. Beth Henley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a favorite of mine and will, I am sure, receive the full Parkside treatment — which means great production values, professional performances, and tasty hot dogs at intermission. Production dates are Feb. 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, and March 1. The theatre is located at Grade Lutheran Church, 103-15 Union Turnpike, Forest Hills. Call 718-497-4922 for information.

Side-by-Side Singers: “Smorgas-Broadway!”

Yummy, what a title, and I am sure the title fits. This one-night-only production of treasured songs from Broadway brought to you by a group of really good singers will be performed at St. Barnabus Lutheran Church, 159-19 98th Street, Howard Beach on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets are sold at the door. Call 718-641-5341 for more information.

Theatre Time: “Dial M for Murder”

Theatre Time is just on the cusp. That is to say, their “spring” productions, if I recall correctly, are in March, just at the tail end of winter, so I’ll give them a plug they truly deserve by including them in this winter lineup. Although the Web site originally announced “Rope” as their production, they are now announcing the classic suspense yarn, “Dial M for Murder.” Although my review of their fall production was quite negative, I would hate to give a wrong impression of this excellent group. I have seen some great things happen on their stage, including an unforgettable “Wait Until Dark” and a solid “Witness for the Prosecution.” Indeed, good material brings out the best in this group, so “Dial M” should be a winner. Neither the cast nor performance dates are posted on the Web site, but be on the lookout in early March. The theatre is located at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, 15-43 149th Street, Whitestone, NY 11357. Call 718-391-8697 for information.

What a lineup to keep you busy this winter! Do yourself a favor and take a chance on community theatre, one of Queens’ own unique treasures. And keep reading the QGuide for updates and reviews.

As an added note, my hearty congratulations to the Phoenix Players of College Point. Last spring’s production of “Move over Mrs. Markham,” one of the naughtiest bedroom farces conceived by the deranged mind of master comic Ray Cooney, was so exceptional that the group repeated it this past fall. And now it is moving to Manhattan for a limited run.

For information, send a note to Robert Combé at 2462 Rockville Centre Parkway, Oceanside, NY 11572. Unfortunately, they are not listed on www.spotightonstage.com.

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