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Critics’ picks: Theater

Gary Ng

“Hairspray.”

AMERICAN IDIOT The scorching rock musical about an alienated trio of friends who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, with music by Green Day and lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong. Directed by Michael Mayer, with choreography by Steven Hoggett and orchestrations by Tom Kitt. Through Feb. 9. Broadway in Boston, at Boston Opera House. 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.com

THE WHIPPING MAN Though its plot takes a couple of detours into potboiler territory, Matthew Lopez’s drama is on balance an unflinching exploration, in vivid close-up, of slavery’s ugly legacy. Directed by Benny Sato Ambush and anchored by Johnny Lee Davenport’s fine performance as Simon, a former slave hoping to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Through Feb. 16. New Repertory Theatre, at Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org

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NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH For the fifth year in a row, Zeitgeist Stage Company makes room on its schedule for a work by the amazingly prolific Alan Ayckbourn. It’s a dark satire about a brother and sister who form a neighborhood watch group, with dire consequences. Through March 1. Zeitgeist Stage Company, at Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. 617-933-8600, www.zeitgeiststage.com

DON AUCOIN

HAIRSPRAY An irresistible score combined with an outstanding cast make this production a highlight of the theater season. Director Susan Kosoff and musical director Matthew Stern have cast the show with a healthy mix of familiar faces and new talent to populate Baltimore circa 1962, and every performer seems to inspire the others to up their game. There is not one weak link in this company, who deliver the show’s message of tolerance with such energy, humor, and optimism, they’ll send you out of the theater singing and dancing for joy. Through Feb. 23. Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston. 617-879-2300, www.wheelockfamilytheatre.org

TERRY BYRNE

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com.
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