by MICHAEL BOWEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s MASH was to Vietnam, so has Pvt. Wars come to be about the war in Iraq. While James McLure's play may not seem like typical fare for a dinner theater, says Tim Behrens, CenterStage artistic director, "I wanted to do something that was a little topical and still a bit funny."

Behrens compares the mood of Pvt. Wars to "Catch-22, the early MASH -- it has that same zany institutional appeal. The trouble is," he continues, thinking of another, similar show, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, "there's not a new patient [like McMurphy] who's going to find hope for them."

Three soldiers lie around in a veterans hospital, putting off their return to their post-war civilian lives: the hillbilly, the street kid, the rich kid. "Each of them has a physical and a mental injury," Behrens notes. Gately keeps fiddling with a radio; Silvio knows how to get along in the big city but has a flashing compulsion; and Natwick is the misfit rich kid from Long Island. All three are suffering from what Behrens calls "institutional inertia." None of them are ready to return to civilian life -- a serious issue in itself, though McLure has leavened the action with jokes about drug use and depression. "It's funny,' says Behrens, "and then at another level, you think, 'Maybe I shouldn't be laughing at this.'"

"Whether you're for the war or opposed to it," Behrens says, we have to realize that "this society isn't ready for the ramifications" of so many battle-scarred veterans returning home from Iraq. "And now," he adds, "the problem will be with us for the next two generations. The attitude toward veterans is much better now" than it was during Vietnam, Behrens says. "So many of them were completely disrespected then. But our government is still not adequately prepared. It's like, 'Haven't we learned anything?'"

Behrens has told his three cast members "to honor their characters and the service they did for our country -- but first and foremost, this is a hilarious comedy." And while the audience may laugh during the show, says Behrens, "if the actors do their jobs, the audience will think about it afterwards. They don't have to play it for the drama."

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & vt. Wars, a war veterans' comedy, will be performed at CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave., on Thursday, March 27; Thursday-Friday, April 3-4; Thursday-Saturday, April 10-12; and Thursday-Saturday, April 17-19, with dinner (not a buffet) served at 6:45 pm and show at 8 pm. Matinee on Sunday, April 20, with lunch at 1:45 pm and show at 3 pm. Tickets: $39, weekend matinees and Thursday nights; $45, Friday-Saturday nights. Visit or call 74-STAGE.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & hink of Showstoppers as Las Vegas potpourri. Ten dancers and six singers will perform numbers from 14 different musicals.

Because this is a "first-run show" for which all the music will be "tracked" (i.e., recorded, not played by a live orchestra), says director Kenneth Blake, there's opportunity for great variety. Think of Showstoppers as a musical sampler thrown together by some Vegas hoofers and crooners who wanted to hit the road and put on a show. (They'll appear April 3-12 at Northern Quest Casino.)

Early in the evening, with the dancers acting as if they're actually auditioning for this particular show, they'll perform "I Hope I Get It" from A Chorus Line. Then "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods will serve as an introduction to a chorus of women impersonating little girls in a couple of tunes from Annie, including (of course) "Tomorrow."

A long list of show-stopping tunes will follow, including "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray, "I Don't Know How To Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar, both the title song and "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, "Roxie" and "All That Jazz" from Chicago, "This Is the Moment" from Jekyll and Hyde, and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. (Yes, says Blake, the woman playing Elphaba "will be lifted high above the stage.")

Two numbers will be performed "Ziegfield Follies-style," Blake says: "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy and "There's No Business Like Show Business," which Blake describes as "every Vegas showgirl's and every Vegas showboy's dream -- done vintage-style, very glitzy." "Hopelessly Devoted to You" from Grease will follow, and then the show will end with the upbeat final tune from Fame.

Showstoppers will deliver Broadway show tunes to Northern Quest Casino on Thursday, April 3, and Tuesday-Thursday, April 8-10, at 7:30 pm, and on Fridays-Saturdays, April 4-5 and April 11-12, at 8:30 pm. Tickets: $35. Visit or call 242-7000.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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