At the risk of sounding dismissive or pat, “Winesburg, Ohio” is essentially a musical version of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” with darker elements of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” thrown in here and there. It’s all roughly of the same era and spirit—the paradoxical comfort and claustrophobia of small-town living, before cars and TVs and world wars shoved rural Americans into the modern age. For my taste, these nostalgic recollections always seem to work better on the page than the stage, but this joint About Face-Steppenwolf production is an exception. Andy White, a strikingly natural actor whose performances are clean of affectation, plays the Writer, a guide of sorts who acts much like the Stage Manager in “Our Town.” He steers the action from one vignette to the next: A man is wrongly accused of child molestation, a woman is abandoned by her lover, a schoolteacher pines for romance, an artist makes the big move to New York City. About Face Theatre artistic director Eric Rosen, who wrote the book and lyrics, finesses a warm combination of sentimentality and palpable sadness. Under the precise, efficient direction of Jessica Thebus, the production deftly avoids those potholes labeled “quaint” and “cute.” The music (and additional lyrics) are courtesy of Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, better known for their work as first-rate sound designers. It is the score that stays with you, a pleasing, layered wave of harmonies, like muslin gently undulating in the breeze. (Nina Metz)
“Winesburg, Ohio” plays at the Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 North Halsted, (312)335-1650, through July 18.