intermissionmag.com

CURRENT REVIEWS
September 2017

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Repertory Theatre
of St. Louis

Reviewed by Sean Spicka

As seen Sep 13, 2017; Runs thru Oct 1st 

This play won 5 Tony Awards in 2015 including Best Play and Best Actor in a Play. The Curious Incident is a play by Simon Stephens based on the Mark Haddon novel by the same name. It may be seen at the Loretto-Hilton Theater, The Rep’s venue in Webster Groves through October 1, 2017.


Fifteen-year old Christopher finds his neighbor's dog, Wellington, murdered and he sets out to solve the mystery a la Sherlock Holmes...

Click here for full review!
Click here for production photos!

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September 2017

In The Heights
R-S Theatrics
The .Zack Theatre

Ran Aug 18 - Sep 3, 2017
Reviewed by Joan Leyden

From the worn, scorching streets of the barrio, with its incessant clamor and grinding poverty, come Lin-Manuel Miranda’s survival songs and the compassionate book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, revealing the innate vitality of this small Spanish neighborhood, the interdependence of its members, their courage and tenacity.

There’s Usnavi, the narrator, who struggles to run a small bodega, but believes his real chance for happiness lies in his return to the Dominican Republic. He secretly pines for the beautiful Vanessa, who also longs to escape the barrio by moving to Manhattan, but he is too shy to ask her out. His exuberant cousin...

Click here for the full review!

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August 2017


Glimmerglass Festival 2017

Porgy and Bess Fully Realized as Opera in Gritty Production

Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen Aug. 11-13, 2017

We all know Porgy and Bess through partially and fully staged productions, and as a series of pretty songs, but Glimmerglass audiences got to see the real thing this season. As interpreted by Francesca Zambello, it had a violent edge. It was the artistic--and box office--success of the year.
It's easy to see why. First, the Glimmerglass orchestra was...

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The Government Inspector

Red Bull Theater Company at
The Duke Theatre
& New World Stage
Broadway, NYC

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan
Run extended through Aug. 20

The Red Bull Theater Company hits the bulls-eye with a revamping of Nikolai Gogol’s classic comedy.

Those dog days of summer have arrived when you can fry an egg on the sidewalk. So why not get out of the sizzling heat for a couple of hours and go see the Red Bull Theater Company’s new production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, splendidly revamped by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Jesse Berger (the Artistic Director of the Red Bull Company), this parody of bureaucracy is as relevant now as the day that Gogol put pen to paper.

The play is about corrupt politicians who fret over...


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July 2017

On Golden Pond

Insight Theatre Company
(dot).Zach Theatre,

Grand Center Arts, St. Louis

Reviewed by Verna Kerans, Founder, Owner & Editor-in-Chief

Ran July 6 - 23, 2017

I went to see On Golden Pond at Insight Theatre and all I could say was: “What a great show! What a talented cast!” and “What a wonderful director Trish Brown is.”

The last time I saw this group they were in the theatre at Nerinx and now they have a new space at 3224 Locust in a building called .Zack ("dot Zack"). There are a lot of places to eat in this area and a dining room/bar at the theatre.

In the show, Ethel (Susie Wall) is married to Norman played by Joneal Joplin and they come for the summer to a cabin on the lake, aka Golden Pond.

Norman is a quirky guy of ailing health with a rather different...

Click here for the full review...

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Albert Herring
Union Avenue Opera
Union and Delmar

Ran July 7, 8, 14, 15

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

Try to imagine a charming, funny, beautifully realized production of what has been called “the greatest comic opera of the century” (Sviatoslav Richter), and you will have some idea of the enjoyment awaiting you at the Union Avenue Opera.

First the story:  The autocratic, moralizing Lady Billows has summoned the local authorities in her village to choose a May Queen, but no young woman can be found virtuous enough...

Click here for the full review!

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June 2017

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Stages St. Louis

Runs Jun 2 – Jul 2, 2017

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

Stages’ 31st season opened June 2nd with a technicolor bang! Besides being a great venue – there’s not a bad seat in the house and the theater is intimate enough (377 seats) to almost make you feel you are part of the show – Joseph was truly... 

Click HERE for the full review!

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Circus Flora's

Time Flies

Grand Avenue (behind Powell Hall)
Saint Louis

Runs June 1-25, 2017

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

Step into the indigo blue cool under the Big Tent, where a charmingly bespangled clown descends on a low trapeze to invite you into a make-believe world with a story that has as its hero a frustrated, would-be rainmaker. His journey encompasses such marvels...

Click HERE for the full review!

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May 2017

A Human Being Died That Night

Upstream Theater
Krantzberg Arts Center
Saint Louis

Ran May 12-28, 2017

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

In a beautifully articulated production, the Upstream Theater once again fulfills its stated raison d’etre, to give its audiences

 “food for the senses and the soul.” This play by Nicholas Wright is based on the book of the same name by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. It is mainly set in a cell in the Pretoria Central Prison, and it opens on a large screen on which a swirling filmed montage of...

Click HERE for the full review
!

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Second St. Louis Tennessee Williams Festival

Remembering Tennessee

Various Grand Avenue Venues

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

Event ran May 3-7, 2017


Through the heroic efforts of Carrie Houk, Executive Artistic Director, and with the support of many of the good citizens of our riverside city, several universities, multiple arts councils, The Opera Theatre, The Fox, and private businessmen, May 3 marked the opening of five days of celebrations honoring one of America’s greatest playwrights, Tennessee Williams.

It should be humbling for us to remember that Tennessee...

Click here for the full review...

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April 2017

St. Louis Region Embraces Its Talent

Seventh Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition Finalists

Presented by The Fox Theatre Performing Arts Charitable Foundation

The Fabulous Fox Theatre

April 8, 2017

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

An enthusiastic and culturally diverse audience packed the house at the historic Fox Theatre Saturday night to celebrate the talent of 29 finalists in 17 separate acts, competing for more than $30,000 in college scholarships and a variety of special prizes. Judged by a distinguished panel of performance professionals, including the artistic directors of...


Click here for the full review...

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February 2017

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

Kranzberg Arts Center

Reviewed by Joan Leyden
Runs through Mar 4, 2017

Something quite remarkable is happening down on Grand Avenue – an unforgettable summoning of the songs, the spirit and the life behind them that characterized the career of Billie Holiday. In this play with music, Billie (Lady Day) lets us know that she is a jazz singer with a blues accent. As she is brought to life by Alexis J. Roston, the true significance of Holiday’s influence on popular music starting in the 1930s...

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The Way We Get By

St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Gaslight Theater

Reviewed by Joan Leyden
Runs Feb 10 - 26, 2017

It’s the morning after. Doug (Andrew Rea) is discovered in the apartment of Beth (Sophia Brown), the girl with whom he has just shared a sizzling night in bed. He is plainly uneasy. Enter Beth, warm and welcoming. He is polite, but obviously retreating. Undaunted, the charming girl pursues. We wonder why he hasn’t already left. Why doesn’t he leave now? Well, he blurts out, she has on his shirt and he’d like it back.

Thus begins a very familiar dance. The attractive young pair advance...


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January 2017

The Year of the Bicycle

Upstream Theater
Kranzberg Arts Center

Reviewed by Joan Leyden
Runs Jan 27 - Feb 12, 2017

An unexpected encounter – a small boy, Andile, mistakenly kicks his soccer ball into the garden of a small girl, Amelia. He is black; she is white and the setting is South Africa in...


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September 2016

Follies

The Saint Louis Repertory Theater Company
The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts

Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Ran September 7 through October 2, 2016

I was around when the Webster University Loretto-Hilton opened its doors. Named for its benefactor Conrad Hilton and the Loretto nuns who had a prime role in educating him, Hilton had somehow made friends with a young actress, Marsha Mason, who was attending Webster College. She told him how they needed a theater and, as I heard it, he gave a substantial amount to build what is now the theater at Webster. She is still around. Marsha Mason graduated from Webster, went to New York to be in a Neil Simon show and married him!!

A dear friend of mine, Michael Flanagan was the first artistic director of The St. Louis Repertory, or The Rep, in 1966. The back story of its conception and its history are very interesting. Unfortunately, Michael died in 1993. He would have enjoyed all the hoopla and the 50-year celebration that Follies commemorates.

In celebration of 50 years of producing shows, The Rep opened its season with a spectacle worthy...
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June 2016

The Wizard of Oz
The MUNY Theatre
at Forest Park
St. Louis, MO

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder
As viewed June 15, 2016
Runs June 13 - 22, 2016

The 2016 Muny season certainly started with a bang and a flash...or two...or a few... What's not to like? One of America's favorite tales from 1900, Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, stage-cast in its 1939 movie version: a young girl lost, a quest for smarts, love, and courage... 


October 2015

Matilda The Musical

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs October 21 through November 1, 2015; as seen October 22

Roald Dahl’s children’s books are known across several generations and have been the inspiration for several movies. There are few children born after 1970 who haven’t read James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, if they’ve been raised to avoid books, god forbid, by parents like Matilda’s, they have likely seen the movies. Matilda was one of Dahl’s later books, published in 1988, aimed at children, but the story told by this well-presented play adapation has nuggets of truth for parents as well as for children. At the risk of diverging from the purpose of this review, few know that Roald Dahl also wrote children’s poetry, adult fiction and non-fiction titles! Several of his works were intriguing enough to be adapted for television’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. Only James Bond afficonados are likely to know that he wrote the screenplay for Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice.

As alluded to above, Matilda Wormwood is the unexpected, unwanted and...



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July 2015

Buddy -

The Buddy Holly Story

The Muny

Reviewed July 13, 2015

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

On a steamy opening night, under nonetheless benevolent skies (relative to the evening we watched My Fair Lady), The Muny celebrated the life and legacy of rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly. Having performed in St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium in 1958, only about 10 months before “the day the music died,” Holly’s encore has been long-awaited...




June 2015

Smokey Joe’s Café

Stages St. Louis

Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Runs May 29 – June 28, 2015

Stages St. Louis kicks off a new season with their 100th production: a musical tribute to the iconic tunes of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The team began in 1950 when Leiber and Stoller were both 17. Their collaboration spanned 60 years, creating hit classics in four musical genres: Rhythm & Blues, Pop, Jazz, Cabaret and Rock & Roll. Major stars such as Ben E. King, Elvis, and Johnny Mathis turned the duo’s music into chart-topping hits. In a two-hour collection of Grammy Award-winning songs, theatergoers will enjoy nearly 40 Leiber and Stoller classics from three decades.

The history of Smokey Joe’s Café is noteworthy; it opened in 1995 on Broadway’s Virginia Theatre and had a record 2,036 performances--the longest running musical revue on Broadway. Songs are loosely grouped to follow the performers’ journey, reflecting on the generation that embraced the music. The director’s notes refer to a story thread between songs as ‘subliminal.’ It was indeed subtle, without detracting from enjoyment. Hits such as ‘I’m a Woman’, ‘Love Potion #9’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Fools Fall In Love’, ‘Treat Me Right’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Yakety Yak’ keep the pace and focus with impressive vocals and choreography.

Lighthearted delivery makes this production fun. Particularly comedic were songs such a ‘Poison Ivy’ with singers scratching at themselves, two cabaret solos, ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Some Cats Know,’ delivered by the uber-talented J. Nycole Ralph (Brenda), and ‘Shopping for Clothes’ with three headless dancing mannequins backing up vocalist Richard Crandle (Victor).

It’s nearly the end of Act I before the first costume change, but Act II is more evenly paced. There were many stand-out songs in the second half including, ‘Pearl’s a Singer’, by Emily Afton (Pattie). Bronwyn Tarboton (DeLee) impressed with complex dance moves wearing a shimmy dress as she delivered ‘Teach Me How to Shimmy’.

A set backdrop highlights black and white images of artists propelled by the song-writing duo’s talents: Elvis, Ben E. King, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, The Drifters, LaVern Baker, Big Mama Thornton and The Coasters. The lighting and sets were relevant and effective. Sound quality was excellent, leaving many wondering if a band was behind the set.

The most memorable set design was for ‘Spanish Harlem’, with a red-lit screen of shadowy silhouettes dancing elegantly behind it. Josh Dawson (Ken) delivered the song deftly in the foreground.

The musical revue ended strongly with ‘Stand by Me’, an anthem made famous by the recently deceased Ben E. King. It started with a touching solo followed by the full ensemble and ended with enthusiastic audience applause as they sang and swayed along.

Tickets start at $44. Running time two hours plus intermission. Appropriate for all ages. For more information and tickets:Tickets.StagesStLouis.org.

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March 2015

Kinky Boots

Fabulous Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

Runs Mar 24 thru Apr 5, 2014

Broadway at its best makes its way back to St. Louis for the Tony Award-winning show Kinky Boots sponsored by US Bank. Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price who has reluctantly inherited his father's bankrupt shoe factory. Charlie, the workers, and the shoe business need a miracle to stay current and profitable. None of them could have imagined that their needed miracle would show up as a 6-foot tall black drag queen named Lola. Charlie enlists Lola to help design a sturdier boot with flair, fit for the regalia that comes with being a drag queen performer. As soon as Lola hits the stage, it was clear there were fans in the audience. The Tony Award-winning story, songs, and choreography gifted to audiences by Harvey Fierstein, Cindy Lauper, and Jerry Mitchell respectively are just what theatergoers need after a long winter.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre will run Kinky Boots from March 24-April 5, Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. Earlier performances are scheduled for Sunday, March 29 at 6:30 p.m. as well as a matinee performance on Thursday, April 2 at 1 p.m. Based on a 2005 hidden gem of a film, until now, and inspired by actual events, Kinky Boots will not disappoint with ticket prices starting at $25.

The ultimate message of Kinky Boots is to be true to yourself, live your passion, and to follow your dreams however unexpected they may be. The demeanor one usually reserves for a fun weekend in Las Vegas with friends is exactly what audiences bring to a Kinky Boots showing. Quick wit, lavish costumes, great song and dance routines and Lola. Lola's performance of the song, "Sex is in the Heel" got the party started early with hoots, and screams of encouragement from the audience. Darius Harper has some big shoes to fill and fill them he does as he effortlessly embodies the character of Lola.

Another not to be missed song is "The History of Wrong Guys" sang by the delightfully engaging Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren as well as "Everybody Say Yeah" led by Steven Booth who plays Charlie. This lively routine which debuts the two-and-a-half feet of sex in the form of the first pair of red Kinky Boots includes conveyor belt choreography that sets the tone for a buzzing intermission.

This show is not to be missed and is a great springboard for well, Spring. The final number, "Raise You Up" begs for an encore which the cast delivers. Wear your cutest outfit and boots before you put them away for the season. If you're a go-getter and those boots are already packed away, fret not for there is a photo-op available with a cardboard replica of the title star, the red Kinky Boots.

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January 2015


Safe House

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ran Jan 21 – Feb 8, 2015

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

An impactful and gripping drama that provokes thought and discussion long after the curtain has fallen, Safe House, a story of the dilemmas facing “free people of color” before the Civil War by Keith Josef Adkins, was inspired by his maternal ancestors in Harrison County, Kentucky. Pulling from familial history, Adkins models the characters of his deeply philosophical provocation based upon research on those family members as well as historical references of other individuals, events, and organizations of the pre-Emancipation era. It is perhaps his personal connection to this time, magnified by his deep personal conviction, not just to theater, but to telling important stories, that generates such a powerful draught that the audience becomes deeply engaged in the revelation of the prior events implied as the action unfolds on-stage. Saint Louis should feel privileged to have this be only the second production of a work that, by virtue of it’s content, should be guaranteed a lasting place in the deeply emotional memory of this country’s civil rights’ history.

There are only six players in this moving piece and we’d not previously experienced any of their work except for that of Michael Sean McGuinness (in The Rep’s Double Indemnity). It’s not surprising to be true for two of the cast, Raina Houston and Cassia Thompson, playing the roles of Clarissa and Roxie, since they are “just” Webster University acting majors. I say “just” because they stood tall alongside the seasoned professionals with long résumés to their credit: Will Cobbs (as Frank), Kelly Taffe (as Dorcas), and Daniel Morgan Shelley (as Addison). To casting director Rich Cole’s credit, this was a truly brilliant combination of talent pulled together to rebreathe life into the genius of Adkins’ genealogically-inspired characters. That said, we felt that Will Cobbs’ portrayal of Frank was indeed the most powerful one of the evening, simmering and willful, explosive and self-driven, his restraint of family loyalty finally overcome by his internal drive for self-determination and expression.

The success of this production, directed by Melissa Maxwell of the American Slavery Project’s Unheard Voices (http://www.americanslaveryproject.org), staged in the Studio Theatre, cannot be separated from the intimacy inherent in that venue, nor can the contributions of the scenic design team (Peter and Margery Spack), lighting designer (Mark Wilson), costume designer (Myrna Colley-Lee) and composer/sound designer (Scott O’Brien). While these reviewers have had limited exposure to The Rep’s work, this one production has us promising to make a concerted effort to not miss future offerings.

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Tango Buenos Aires

Presented by Dance St. Louis

Touhill Performing Arts Center

Ran Jan 30 and 31, 2015

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

The touring history of the dance company Tango Buenos Aires speaks volumes for the level of performance one can expect from this very talented group of dancers, musicians and vocalists. Given the countries they’ve visited, it is obvious the draw this dance form extends well beyond its’ origins in Argentina and Hispanic culture. If you’ve not seen Tango Buenos Aires, you should make the commitment to go see them on their next visit to St. Louis… or even Chicago! It will be worth the drive.

The performers comprise a wide range of ages and yet some are surprisingly young when one considers the difficulty of this dance form. Indeed, two of the musicians, both bandoneon players were truly amazing artists, but to be fair, each of the band members played remarkable solos at one point or another. While one could watch this performance purely for the dance, the two acts, comprised of 25 separate numbers putting this intense and passionate dance form in the spotlight, were aptly applied to the life story of Eva Perón. The number of variations on the basic ballroom dance-class tango step is mind-numbing, limited only by one's imagination and skill!

Without a doubt though, it is the extreme precision and complexity of the couples’ legs weaving around and within those of their partner that make this dance stand out for me especially when performed at tempo vivacissimo! Blend that with the sensuality of entwined bodies, swirling hemlines and limbs, hips and lips, lifts and drags and you have a delicious recipe for drama and seduction. Watch this short video clip to get just a teasing taste of this two-hour treat.

While that complexity, precision and tension is the focus of the evening -- and the audience audibly gasps in awe repeatedly throughout the performance -- one number at the end of Act I grew to be an audience favorite. While some dance is involved, “Las Boleadoras” is a surprisingly impressive choreography employing bolas, a tool of the gauchos, or Argentinian cowboys, comprised of two wooden balls attached by a rope. By rotating their wrists, the balls orbit the body of the performer, and by allowing the ball to hit the stage accompanied by toe taps, heel clicks and stomps, a variety of staccato rhythms are created. By varying the speed and orbital path, the boleadoras mesmerized the audience for several minutes. Principally a tour de force by one of the boleadoras, he accelerated the bolos to blurring speeds, the whiz of the ropes through the air was unmistakable, the artists’ hands and arms moving as precisely as the feet and legs of the tango performers, with the audience jumping to their feet in adulation.

Truly a treat for the sensual, Tango Buenos Aires was in St. Louis by popular demand and if the audience response gave Dance St. Louis a clue, they’ll be back again! If you didn’t feel the temperature rise as they heated up the stage, you couldn’t have been there.

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December 2014

A Christmas Carol

The Fox Theatre

Runs Dec 12-14, 2014

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol over a century ago I wonder if he could've imagined that his story of atonement and human kindness would be so needed across the pond in the city of St. Louis, MO. French-speaking theater patrons, cadets from Missouri Military Academy, and several ethnicities were represented last night at The Fox Theatre for the Nebraska Touring Caravan's performance of A Christmas Carol. This adaptation by Charles Jones will be playing at The Fox Theatre until December 14, 2014.

The Fabulous Fox is even more fabulous during the holiday time. Approaching the theater all decorated to see a Christmas classic definitely puts one in the mood for the festivities of the season. Many generations were represented in the packed theater as evidence that Charles Dickens' tale of redemption still touches many hearts. The musicality and physical comedy provide great entertainment for even the youngest of theater-goers. Seamless set transitions coupled with spot-on English accents brings Dickens' classic to life once again with some of your favorite Christmas carols to add to the sprit of the occasion.

Christmas has its fair share of baddies who would rather do away with the holiday all together, The Grinch, Mr. Potter, and The Magician from Frosty the Snowman, but none of these characters earns their redemption the way Ebeneezer Scrooge does. Scrooge, a stingy, grumpy miser who holds people and Christmas with the same disdainful contempt, is transformed before our eyes thanks to ghostly intervention. Bob Cratchit cannot even sneak an extra piece of coal past old Scrooge to warm his hands while he toils away working on Christmas Eve. Scrooge is appalled at the notion of giving to the poor. However, by the end, after visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he is filled with the milk of human kindness and demonstrates as much.

The theater is filled with laughter from attentive children as proof that the performers are holding their attention throughout, no one more than Ebeneezer Scrooge himself, played by Paul Kerr, who eats soup with such exaggeration and physicality that the kids and adults can't help laughing heartily. Kerr's transformation from the bent-over, cantankerous money grubber to a generous, joy-filled, and buoyant Christmas convert is believable to say the least and inspiring to say the most.

A Christmas Carol provides a no-fail family tradition. It is a Christmas ghost story for all ages. What a great way to share classic literature with any young ones in your family. Live theater endears itself to children's need for stimuli and speedy banter. It is a feast for all the senses. During intermission ushers don carriers and sell Serendipity homemade ice cream. There are plenty of delicious food and drink to purchase as well as a fun photo booth to make for a memorable night. Come early or plan to stay later for your photos in and around The Fox Theater to hopefully commemorate what is sure to be a family tradition for years to come.

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Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash

The Repertory Theatre
of St. Louis

Loretto-Hilton Center, Browning Mainstage

Runs December 3 – December 28, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Presenting the story of a prolific musical icon who transformed multiple musical genres so profoundly it earned him the rare honor of being inducted into three music halls of fame (rock and roll, country and gospel) can’t be easy. The artistic team at The Rep succeeds with Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.

Cash was a simple, but haunted man who found solace in music. This story of his career and life, created by Richard Maltby, Jr., directed and starring Jason Edwards, spans Cash’s life from his family’s humble sharecropper beginnings in rural Arkansas to his rise to fame in 1950s Nashville where he met June Carter and then shaped American music for decades to come.

This musical features 30 songs from Cash’s songbook and outstanding performances by four main players (Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling, both as Cash, plus excellent performances from Treena Barnes and Allison Briner.) Their singing, guitar playing and acting talents are broad as they invite the audience to travel the often windy roads of music, love, faith and struggles of addiction.

The first few scenes can be confusing with only costume changes signaling the multiple parts the players represent. With both Edwards and Keeling playing Cash, and Cash’s childhood origins setting the story, it’s a bit complex. That aside, the upbeat, inspiring music is enjoyable from start to finish.

The set is straightforward and cogent. Its anchor is the exterior of Cash’s childhood home in rural Arkansas; a large screen backdrop effectively adds historical references through beautifully lush black and white photos of rural America. The deft combining of imagery and sound adds depth to the scenes: A picture of railroad tracks mixed with a faint train whistle transport you to Arkansas along with the Cash family. A memorable lighting effect created a prison cell with shadows on the stage floor representing cell bars.

The musical ensemble consists of an upright bass, trumpet, several guitars, accordion, harmonica, fiddle, keyboard and drums. The music is artfully integrated with the set by musicians playing primarily on the Cash’s home porch. Lots of masterful guitar playing by the main characters adds another layer to the excellent musicianship.

The production shows how Cash called upon his humble beginnings then used his talents to spotlight causes and advocate for prisoner rights and struggles of Native Americans. Amongst numerous stand-out scenes, there are ten actors with guitars in a semicircle playing and singing “I’ve Been Everywhere” with rounds of city names Cash toured. In “Going to Memphis,” a prison yard scene, a player rhythmically drops a chain into a wooden box as a background effect. The silly song, “Dirty Old Egg Suckin’ Dog,” was delightful. Major hits resonated with all such as “Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue, I Walk the Line, Cry, Cry, Cry and Daddy Sang Bass.”

For Cash fans, this production is a must-see. For those like me with limited familiarity of his life and songs, it’s serves as an important history lesson and worthy tribute to “The Man in Black” who forever altered the course of 20th century music.

Tickets start at $21. Appropriate for all ages. For more information and tickets: repstl.org.

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Annie

The Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Dec 2-7, 2014

Everyone knows Annie, the comic strip curly-haired redhead, she and her dog spookily drawn with eyes having no pupils. The 1920s strip that featured cliff-hanger episodes captured the attention of the Sunday “funnies” faithful, even into the 1960s when my father, having grown up enjoying it, would read Annie comic strips to me and my younger brothers. I’d always wondered why Sandy and Annie (and everyone else) only had circles for eyes and Dad never seemed to have an answer, but everyone in the Fox was focused on the charming and affable star of this stage musical that is fit for all members of the family regardless of age. With the staying power of songs like “Tomorrow” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, this show is also appealing by virtue of the message of looking to the future with an optimistic outlook. It’s popularity is evidenced by Annie being the 13thlongest-running American show on Broadway and Hollywood having cashed in three times, making big-screen and TV versions in 1982, 1999, and one opening this month, December 2014.

With a moniker like Issie Swickle, Daddy Warbucks has nothing on the young star of Annie. And if she continues to perform as she did this night, it seems she’s not counting solely on name recognition by itself. This youngster has so much on-stage poise and a voice that seems to have come from someone much older and more experienced. Even if she were named “Jane Doe”, she’d be remembered for her performance in this iconic story of the eternally optimistic foundling who charms her way into the all-business heart of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (played by the equally-memorably named Gilgamesh Taggett). Ms. Swickle holds her own when vocally paired with Taggett and Lynn Andrews who stands out as Ms. Hannigan, the abusive, alcohol-swilling (“…it’s for medicinal purposes”), overbearing orphanage overseer.

It wouldn’t be fair to ignore Annie’s six orphanage friends, all of whom have an intensity that is unexpected for their age. In one of the opening numbers, “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” the young ladies sing in staccato-sharp, precise timing as they scrub the floor on their hands and knees. It is very well-done, well-sung and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Lilly Mae Stewart (as Molly), Adia Dant (as Pepper), Isabel Wallach (as Duffy), Angelina Carballo (as July), Lillybea Ireland (as Tessie), and Sydney Shuck (as Kate) all gave commendable performances through out the evening. We also felt that Garrett Deagon (as Rooster) and Ashley Edler (as Grace) deserved mention in their respective supporting roles. Frankly, there’s so much musical talent on stage for this production that it seems unfair to leave anyone out.

In large portion, the success of this production has to be acknowledged as due in great measure to the creative production team. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt created some of the most intricate, detailed and efficiently altered sets we’ve ever beheld at the Fox yet they didn’t detract from the focus of the story. Also very notable were the period costumes by Suzy Benzinger. Direction by Martin Chamin propelled the performance briskly, giving a sense of fluidity and a show that had no dull moments. The choreographic heritage of Liza Gennaro is really fun: her father was a Tony awardee in 1977 for his choreography of the original Annie Broadway production (which garnered six additional Tonys including Best Musical and Best Score). Besides creating her own work for this show, she retains portions of her father, Peter Gennaro’s original work.

We suggest that you go see this great show, especially if you have children between 5 and 13, or even if you don’t!

Details for obtaining tickets, whether online, by phone, or at the box office, are at the Fox Theatre website: http://www.fabulousfox.com/how_to_buy.aspx

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November 2014

Motown The Musical

Fox Theatre

Runs Nov. 18 - Nov. 30, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

This cast and ensemble of 32 talented actors, singers and dancers delivers a mind-bending 60 musical numbers that span more than two decades and represent some of the best music ever made. Motown The Musical is a big and impressive walk through time.

Berry Gordy Jr., the musical visionary and founder of the Detroit Motown record label, developed this expansive musical and its account of events of the 60s and 70s. He produced it along with SONY Music Entertainment Chairman and CEO, Doug Morris and Tony Award producer Kevin McCollum. The production looks at how artists shaped the label and how the label and Gordy (played adroitly by Clifton Oliver) shaped them. Gordy has a gift for spotting talent and molding it for stardom; he closely managed artists’ public image, their dress, their choreography and helped them rise to national and international success. Musical superstars such as The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Steve Wonder and The Jackson 5 all flourished under Gordy.

The story begins in 1983 in California, then quickly jumps back to 1938 in the Gordy family home in Detroit. It traverses the rise of Motown and defining U.S. events, concluding where it began with the 1983 opener of a 25th anniversary Motown reunion show to honor a reluctant Gordy.

The full orchestra sparkles in this show. To pack the most musical punch into the two and a half hour production, they play 60 shortened versions of memorable musical numbers representing a vast collection of hits that spur the audience to dance in their seats. The solo trumpets on hits such as My Girl represent the quintessential Motown sound.

As the production strolls down memory lane, a historical thread running through it includes glimpses of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, segregation and racial tensions and how these events shaped music. It’s both serious, and humorous and serves as a wonderful reminder of the iconic influence of these two defining musical decades. For those wanting to continue the musical enjoyment, a soundtrack CD (available for sale in the Fox lobby) is a testament to the 25 astounding years of Motown and this production.

The cast and ensemble don’t impersonate the Motown icons they play such as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Instead, they skillfully represent the superstars through outstanding vocals, costume design and choreography. (The hilarious rendition of Ed Sullivan by local Doug Storm was a standout scene.) A simple wood frame structure representing album covers makes up the set’s core. Album imagery and other visual guides projected onto the frames add depth to the scenes. Simple, but detailed sets fade in and out around the frames.

The uber-talented Allison Semmes who plays Diana Ross gets personal with the audience with an impromptu cameo by a brave man who sang a few lines from Reach Out and Touch. Semmes encourages the audience to hold hands with a neighbor and make the world a better place. With arms raised, hands held and voices lifted in song, it seemed everyone did just that -- even if for just a few moments.

Motown The Musical’s timing is apt for recent St. Louis events. A few scenes depicting race riots and racial tension (including uniformed police with clubs) clearly moved the audience to reflect and converse on racial issues of our time.

Tickets start at $25. Running time is two hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Appropriate for all ages, though some language and adult themes. For more information and tickets:http://www.fabulousfox.com.


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A Kid Like Jake

The Repertory Theatre
of St. Louis

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

Runs Oct 29 – Nov 16, 2014; seen Nov 6

There will be feelings... shared, expressed, and felt when you take in Daniel Pearle's first professionally produced play. He has honed his skills for sure. His writing makes the audience feel as if we are being voyeuristic into the lives of a young couple whose four-year old son is showing signs of either gender identity disorder or has a vivid imagination and a more than grand admiration for the Disney princesses.

We never see Jake in the play, however his presence is surely felt as we watch his well-intentioned mom endure the changes in Jake while at the same time suffering through the mentally strenuous hoops she must jump through to get her son accepted into a proper kindergarten program. The older audience laughs at these mental gymnastics as they are well acted onstage by Leigh Williams playing Alex, the mom.

Alex consults with Judy, brilliantly embodied by Susan Pellegrino who is the learned counselor trying to offer support professionally but with the touch of a friend during what proves to be a testing time for Alex and Greg (the dad). Four characters total, there is need for a nurse on several occasions played by Jacqueline Thompson, one interchanging set, and many emotions are a lot to ask of the basement theater of The Rep. There is open seating and no intermission so fill up and empty appropriately for the two-hour running time.

A Kid Like Jake has ten more dates with us here in St. Louis. It runs through November 16, 2014. Seth Gordon has directed these actors to the point of transcendence as they really present the daily frustrations of parenting, marriage, failed expectations, and unconditional love with stark realism. The dad is brought to life by actor Alex Hanna. He so wants to make everything better for his wife, for Jake, for himself. The frustrations are palpable. Even the program does its job of priming the audience for the subject matter. There is an article entitled, "My Son Wears Dresses" written by Seth Menachem for the Huffington Post included among the sponsor pages and highlights of things to come for the theater community of St. Louis.

This award-winning play will spark great conversations so go with a group of thinkers and talkers. The talkers will have much to analyze on the ride home, and the thinkers will examine how they have and will handle unexpected life matters from now on.


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October 2014

Dirty Dancing

Fox Theater and DanceStL

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Oct 21 – Nov 2, 2014

The choreography on-stage at the Fox was steamy but there was even more to like than just the dancing with this stage production of the 1987 movie classic. The credit-packed cast of this story of love and aspiration for something better is worthy of the audience appreciation. A strong performance by Samuel Pergande in the role of dance instructor Johnny Castle was boosted further by his dance prowess and ballet-trained Jenny Winton as his off-hours dance partner, Penny Johnson. This helped to offset a less-than-steamy chemistry between Johnny and Baby (Jillian Mueller), perhaps an unfair expectation because of our cinematic experience with Swayze and Grey. To the credit of the balance of the cast and choreographer Michele Lynch, their dancing skills were also strong, fueled by a non-stop list of musical hits from the sixties played by a hot eight-piece live band.

Jon Driscoll and Stephen Brimson Lewis blended the exceptional video and projection and set designs. A diverse collection of scene backgrounds helped to convey the story in a lively and believable way with little on-stage accoutrement except for a cabin interior and a screen door. Projected rainstorms, rivers, and fields were great backdrops to Johnny and Baby’s dance lessons. Jennifer Irwin’s costume design was exceptional and brought us into the 60s along with the more than forty hit songs that couldn’t help but be recognized by anyone over the age of 30!

No one expected, however, one thing that took both of us by surprise with great pleasure: Jennlee Shallow’s solo vocals on several numbers, including “The Time of My Life” (on which she is joined by Kevin Munhall) were incredible. Look her up using the link on her name and you’ll see what a great opportunity it is to see her perform! Thank you to Dance St. Louis, the fabulous Fox Theater and US Bank’s Broadway Series for bringing to Saint Louis such great entertainment show after show!

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July 2014

Quills

Wool Studio Theatre, JCCA

Reviewed by Kathe Dunlop

Runs Thu Jul 31 - Sun Aug 17, 2014

Quills, a revival of Doug Wright's 1995 play at the Wool Studio Theatre (directed by Brooke Edwards), could be described as lubricious, salacious and extremely funny. The story of the last days of the infamous Marquis de Sade at the Charenton insane asylum is a triumph of theatre in the Grand Guignol tradition. Google “Grand Guignol” and you will find bloody images paired with sexy enticements. The cover of the play's program captures it – a heaving bosom pierced by a writer's quill.

But Quills is not a bodice ripper. Rather, it is a very relevant portrayal of the battle between art and censorship, and the hypocrisy of the ruling class.

Ted Gregory is sensational as the Marquis, fearlessly using his almost naked body, simpering leers and Wright's terrific dialogue to charm and shock both the Abbe de Coulmier (Antonio Rodriquez) and the audience. His wife Renee Pelagie (Stacie Knock) is his match, prancing and preening her way to the heights of society. Her timing and body language are superb.

The other characters are delightfully versatile. Wright's dialogue is complex and intricate but they toss it off as if they were born in the 18thcentury. One quibble is that older ears may miss some of the nuance.

The staging of the play is very original, using a simple thrust set to portray everything from the asylum director's office to the Marquis' cell. The lighting was suitably dramatic, especially when a gruesome discovery is revealed at the end of the first act. Equally dramatic was the use of sound, portraying amputations and beheading. (Opera Theatre's Dialogue of the Carmelites could have learned something from Quills.)

Showtime, the premium cable channel, has a Grand Guignol series, Penny Dreadful. They might do well consider of miniseries of Quills.

Quills, produced by Max and Louie Productions, runs through August 17, 2014 at the Wool Theatre at the JCCA. More information can be obtained on maxandlouie.com

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How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying

Stages St. Louis, Reim Theatre

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

Runs Jul 18 – Aug 17, 2014

Crazy fun! We can heartily recommend How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying. It will play through August 17 at the Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. Wonderful, regionally-known actors are at their best in this show.

Ben Nordstrom as J. Pierrepont Finch reads a book on how to get ahead without any education or talents Through clever moves and flattery he comes on-board and moves right up the corporate ladder at World Wide Wickets. Making a few enemies along the way, Bud Frump, played by Joseph Medeiros, is his #1 nemesis and who, being a relative of the boss can never seem to get ahead as Finch has done. Finch's girlfriend, Rosemary, is played by Betsy Dilellio. She has a grand voice and is a great partner in this role. They have a wonderful number together, Rosemary, near the end of Act I.

Whit Reichert plays the boss at WWWickets, J.B. Biggley. He and Nordstrom are familiar soubrettes in St. Louis and seeing them play together is a joy. Never before have I seen them do such great work as they do in this show together. One spectacular dance they do is an old fight song from Old Ivy. Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf, it alone is worth the price of admission.

This show took the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 and has enchanted Broadway for years, the latest starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. I can easily see Nordstrom in this part on Broadway. I can only hope he can take Matthew Broderick's place in all the roles he has had in the last few years.

Yet another familiar face is Steve Isom playing Bert Bratt. (Isom, by the way, has a daughter in the lead role of JoJo at the Muny [St. Louis] this week in Seussical; she does a fabulous job, yet is only a senior in high school!!! You can only imagine what a future she has ahead of her. Congratulations to both of you!)

This delightful musical also has Heather Ayers as the boss’ luscious girlfriend, Hedy LaRue. The cast is huge and worth watching in each engaging number especially, Coffee Break.

Direction by Michael Hamilton is again spot-on and you still have two weeks to catch it. The set for this show is a series of rectangles that can change their lighting in each scene and with the addition of a few set pieces in a clever design by James Wolk with lighting by Matthew McCarthy.

Call for tickets at 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.org


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SEUSSICAL

The Muny at Forest Park

Ran Jul 22 - 28, 2014

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Dr. Seuss still works magic on all ages! We went to the Muny to see Seussical apprehensive, expecting it was going to be directed primarily at kids. While it kept even the 18-month old twins in the row in front of us mesmerized (they were better behaved than some older kids and even some adults behind whom we've been unfortunate to sit during earlier shows this year), this production had sufficient content to retain adults’ attention. As we settled into our seats, it was evident by the whimsical set by Robert Mark Morgan, that there were creative minds on this production taking Seuss’ admonition to “think all the wonderful things one can think” truly to heart.

Blending elements and characters from many of Seuss’ 46 childrens’ books, the story of Seussical merges morphed versions of the well-known sagas of Horton Hears a Who! and Horton Hatches the Egg. With witty lines written in rhymes (sorry, couldn’t resist) and anapestic meter, the tools Theodor Seuss Geisel used to capture the attention of pre-readers and aid those learning to read, it is not surprising that the clever stageplay (co-contributors of Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Monty Python’s Eric Idle) captivated nearly everyone in the audience, a nearly-full house on a nearly-perfect evening. It was, in fact, as if Seuss himself had written the weather forecast, the rain confining itself to a drizzle that fizzled: about two minutes into intermission, a light smattering of rain came pitter-pattering (why stop now???)… for all of about three minutes and then wheezed out on the breezes that brought it in. Five minutes later, Act Two commenced.

Having both performed on the Muny stage as well as having directed last season’s Shrek, John Tartaglia was captivating, energetic, fun and mischevious as The Cat in the Hat, but truly, the entire cast was amazing choreographically as well as vocally. Kirsten Wyatt, as Gertrude McFuzz, and Julia Murney, as Mayzie La Bird, were perfectly cast against one another and were well-received by the audience, young and old and everyone between. While Abigail Isom (as JoJo), Stephen Wallem (as Horton), and the Wickersham Brothers (Raymond J. Lee, Blakely Slaybaugh, and Omari Tau) were also strong performers, we were most impressed by The Sour Kangaroo, a Seussical marsupial with attitude brought to life by Liz Mikel of NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Her out-of-pouch offspring, Chastity Jones, demonstrated the attitude and voice that will open doors for her beyond Seussical.

We were truly impressed with the production and content of this show. Seuss was one creative mind, who still from beyond the grave, inspires so many other creative minds, to influence all of us from our innocent toddler-hood right through our “nothing-new-under-the-sun” age!

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June 2014

Tarzan

The Muny in Forest Park

Runs Jun 25 – Jul 2, 2014

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Tarzan at the Muny!

On Wednesday, June 25, this amateur critic went to the Muny with no expectations and few reservations: How could anyone, however talented, come up with a jungle populated by apes in the midst of the city? Well, a very talented design team certainly did!

From a “jungle gym” rotating set to incredibly intricate, sophisticated costumes, I WAS in the jungle and saw Tarzan grow up and swing (twice!) above a delighted audience!

The Phil Collins’ melodies were familiar, the voices and choreography strong, Little Tarzan (Spencer Jones), a delight and St. Louis institution Ken Jones an added bonus and yet… it left me wanting more… maybe Tarzan was not the best Muny night but certainly a very good, solid Muny performance. Come and join the Muny fun in Forest Park!

The balance of the season offers:

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, The Broadway Musical (Jul 7 -13)

The Addams Family (Jul 14 – 20)

Seussical (Jul 22 – 28)

Grease (Jul 31 – Aug 8)

Hello, Dolly! (Aug 11 – 17)

Tickets are available from the Muny Box Office open daily (9 am – 9 pm) through the season, or via MetroTix by phone at 314.534.1111 or on the web via www.muny.org.

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Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2014

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Come Alive in Commissioned “27”

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

Seen June 17

Thanks to an extended cover story in Opera News, Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 27 was a major event long before its first performance June 14. Now it is clear that it is one of the important new works of the young 21st Century.

It is a musical interpretation of the Paris salon hosted by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who lived as husband and wife throughout most of the first half of the 20th Century. Composer Ricky Ian Gordon has written a true opera with a range of different voices, rhythms and colors.

One of the most beautiful musical moments is the duet sung at the end of Act 1 by Elizabeth Futral as Alice and Stephanie Blythe as Stein. Gertrude’s brother Leo, her companion and housemate since they were children, has slammed out of the room—it turns out to be forever—after reviling young Pablo Picasso’s portrait of the writer. Alice starts it off: “Look at me, Gertrude. Let me hear the bells that chime your genius. That only chime for genius.” That is a theme that runs throughout the opera.

All this at 27 Rue de Fleurus where they played host to some of the great—and not so great—artists and writers of the century. It is a handsome four-story building near the Luxembourg Gardens. A plaque next to the entrance commemorates their lives there. The women didn’t actually stay closeted in the salon for 40 years, but it is the only scene and all the action takes place there. The walls were covered with paintings, but in Allen Moyer’s set design the walls are papered with a design of two doves and a nest. Empty frames as directed by the libretto represent the art.

Fascination with Gertrude Stein came to Gordon when, at 17, he was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and just coming down with what turned out to be a terrible cold. He recalls he spent a week in bed “eating tangerines and reading about Gertrude and Alice and their milieu” in Charmed Circle. But he certainly didn’t get up and start writing an opera about them.

That story is told in the program by James Robinson, OTSL artistic director and stage director for the production. He had worked with Stephanie Blythe, and they’d become close friends. He was anxious to bring her to St. Louis as part of a planned cycle of three commissioned new operas, but they hadn’t defined a suitable project. Blythe was fond of the work of Ricky Lee Gordon, and she and Robinson agreed it would be great if he could create a work for her. He’s the one who came up with the idea of a fantasy on the life of Stein and Toklas, an inspiration he’d held for the 40 years that had passed since his teenaged experience in Pittsburgh. Through mutual contacts in New York, Royce Vavrek  signed on to write the libretto which he did very quickly.

As a way to compress four decades into five brief acts, he came up with the idea to open with Alice knitting, representing the idea of knitting the memories of their lives together.  She actually was a needlepoint expert. The text isn’t taken from Stein’s writing, but it uses—liberally—the device of repetition that characterized some of her writing. The result is almost as abstract as many of the paintings in her collection.

Alice Babette Toklas managed all aspects of the household, including ushering out guests when their welcome expired. Futral floated around the set, at times her feet seeming not to touch the floor. (Seán Curran’s choreography deserves notice.) Her clear sweet soprano made beautiful music of lines that made effective use of the repetition device. Blythe didn’t get as many chances for her mezzo to be pretty.

She does have a dramatic and vocally effective scene as Stein experiences a self-trial over the degree to which she was a collaborator of the Nazis while living on a farm in Belignin, near Lyon, in supposedly unoccupied Vichy France. She stands in empty frames, facing the accusations of her own portrait by Picasso as well as the other paintings. As the act ends she died in Alice’s arms.

There still is Act 5 to go, and Gertrude, now as her portrait, has her longest and loveliest song, the closest to an aria in the opera. Let’s call it The Flowers of Friendship aria.

The opera calls for a number of characters that are very important, but appear relatively briefly. The production solves that by using three men from the Gerdine Young Artists program. They play every part except for the two women—even the paintings themselves and the wives of the artists. Picasso, for example, so tenor Theo Lebow switches between characters to become F. Scott Fitzgerald and many others.

Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh has the key role of Leo Stein. He also is Man Ray, who photograph of the women in their salon is iconic, and many minor characters. Bass-baritone Daniel Brevik is Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway. Their different voices and physiques make possible the individuality of the characters they play. All three performed as seasoned veterans.

The visitors are all presented as humorous characters. Young Picasso enters wearing the head of a bull. Sure, his Minotaur period came decades later, but this is about the women, not Picasso. Hemingway enters dragging the carcass of a rhinoceros. Of course, he did that only in the stories he told. Still, this isn’t in any sense a comic opera. It creates its own category.

James Schuette designed the costumes, and they required considerable ingenuity. James Mayer designed the set. Wig and makeup designer Tom Watson managed to make the women look very much like their characters did.

Will 27 have a life of regular performance? I’d bet on it, and the audience that leapt to its feet as the lights died seemed to agree.

The 2014 season also includes new productions of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, reviewed here separately. Also Donizetti’s Elixir of Love which I wasn’t able to see.

Next year is OTSL’s 40th anniversary season. It includes new productions of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Puccini’s La rondine, Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, and the American premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart. The final in the series of three commissioned new works will be Shalimar the Clown, based on a story by Salman Rushdie, but that won’t be until the 2016 season.

Kelly Kaduce Returns in Grim

Dialogues of the Carmelites

 

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

Seen June 18

As “27” is a potentially important 21st Century opera, Dialogues of the Carmelites is firmly established as one of the most important of the 20th.

Of course, the reputation of Francis Poulenc doesn’t rest on opera, or necessarily even be enhanced by it. He’s an orchestral, choral and organ giant.

For me, this was a long looked-for chance to hear Kelly Kaduce because of regular Opera News reports on how St. Louis audiences loved her. It was a wish more than fulfilled since Dialogues of the Carmelites is built around the novice Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ. Seeking safety from the terrors facing the aristocracy in the French Revolution, Blanche de la Force seeks to join the Carmelite order. Denied orders by the prioress, who lectures her on the duties of the order’s Catholic faith, she is nevertheless allowed to remain for refuge. Thanks to protection of local authorities, the convent is refuge—for a few years.

The nuns of the order are the chorus, and the principal singing roles are Blanche, Sister Constance, her companion and fellow novice (Ashley Emerson, a former Gerdine Young Artist) and Madame Lidoine, the new prioress (Christine Brewer, also a favorite of St. Louis audiences). But the opera, singing and acting, is all about Blanche, and Kaduce makes the most of it. The story, and the eventual death by guillotine of 16 nuns, is history, but Blanche is fictional. German writer Gertrude von Le Fort, who chose a name similar to her own, created her in a novel. This later was made into a screenplay for a film that was never made, and later the screenplay was made into a stage play. That is what Poulenc adapted.

Director Robin Guarino, in program notes, said she tried to create a setting for the words of the dialogues to come through. She did. She also acknowledged that the words, especially as they describe the “transference of grace,” are hard to comprehend. Sister Constance expresses them when she states that the death of one is the death of all. The name chosen by Sister Blanche: “of the Agony of Christ,” is another expression of such “transference.”

The most difficult part for me was the conclusion: as the sisters are led, one, by one to their deaths, singing the Salve Regina with fewer and fewer voices until Sister Blanche, who has arrived late, is alone. Instead of hearing the guillotine each time as the women are led off stage, they enter the multi-purpose open structure that is the only stage set. We hear the swish of the machine of death, but see each nun jerk upward and collapse to a seat in death. Sister Blanche alone remains standing after her death.

Adding Dance Effective in New Production of 
The Magic Flute

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

Seen June 18

Mozart’s more or less comic opera has been staged in many, many ways in the more than 200 years that it has delighted audiences. Yet, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi has come up with an original. His concept was to make it a dance event, and it works.

He said in program notes he was fortunate to be able to get John Heginbotham as choreographer, and to think of jazz-ballet style as popular in 1950’s Hollywood. That led to the inspiration to set the story in a Hollywood sound stage in which the ghost of an earlier movie queen moved about.

That was the perfect setting for the Queen of the Night who haunts the story as she seeks vengeance on her former husband, Sarastro, High Priest of the Sun and leader of a Masonic-like brotherhood. It may be the best-known story in opera, so I won’t go into it.

Claire de Sévigné, a young Canadian soprano making her OTSL debut, is every inch a queen. She is tall and striking, and she can toss off those high Fs with ease and beauty. If she isn’t the “good guy” in the story (she isn’t) she should be.

As the young prince, who kind of wanders in as the potential rescuer of the queen’s kidnapped daughter, Sean Panikkar is a handsome, strapping tenor of Sri Lankan heritage and with Metropolitan Opera credits. He has the honor of playing a character that is brave and honorable and dumb as a post. He sings beautifully while doing it.

His sidekick in the adventure is Papageno, a bird catcher for the queen and who seeks only two things from life: a wife and food. Baritone Levi Hernandez makes him real in song and humor.

The queen’s daughter, by far the most dramatic role since she struggles between the mother-daughter bond, the new knowledge that her abductor is actually her father, and her attraction to the young man sent to “save” her. Elizabeth Zharoff, a former Gerdine Young Artist, proves up to the challenges, both dramatically and with her lovely soprano.

That leaves Sarastro of the major characters. Matthew Anchel, another former Gerdine Young Artist, carries it off with his bass that is able to handle the extremely low notes in the score and still make them sound musical. He’s a little stiff as an actor, though.

One shouldn’t forget Papagena, destined to be bride of Papageno. Katrina Galka, a Young Artist and Festival Artist, is charming—and gorgeous after she sheds her disguise as an old woman. Mizrahi carries the joke about as far as it can go with a giant nest with eggs that hatch into bird-person babies.

He also carries costumes as far as you can go with the men of the Brotherhood dressed in red blazers and fez caps that are like a cross between Target associates and a Shriners’ parade.

On to the dance theme that definitely does work. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t tell the roles the dancers played so I can’t give specific credit. I can’t think of any that don’t deserve it. The main characters had sort of dance doppelgangers, illustrating their emotional trials. The Temple of the Sun was guarded by statues of Isis and Osiris (Egyptian mythology seems to be part of Masonic lore) that also were dancers, and wonderful ones.


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Billy Elliot, The Musical

The Muny

Runs Jun 18-22, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

One of the most beautiful St. Louis summer evenings heralded the kick-off of the 96th MUNY season. Sunny and warm, but not too humid with cooling breezes (even without the silent-running fans) made for a receptive crowd for Billy Elliot, The Musical on Monday evening. Reporting over 21,000 subscribers, Mike Isaacson gave notice that as the second largest subscriber base in the US, that Philadelphia was in our sights. The simple fact that as the first US theater to do a production after Broadway and national tours demonstrates that The Muny is dedicated to bringing St. Louisans the very best in musical theater. This event was quite a demonstrative illustration of that commitment.

With music by Elton John and lyrics by the book’s author, the original feel of the Broadway production is retained, but the reworked choreography (by Alison Levenberg) makes for a grand sense when ensemble takes to the vast Muny stage. Against a backdrop of the historic 1984 crackdown on unions by Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the miners’ and families of Billy’s town experience the bond-crushing effect of the Conservative government’s crackdown on the miners’ union. It is Billy’s resistance to boxing that leads him to discover his talent for emotional expression through dance and a surprising healing of a catastrophic rift in his own fragmented family.

While the cast as a whole was well-chosen, the standout was without question, Tade Biesinger, a truly amazing 14-year old talent. He is well-qualifed having played Billy in the London West End production of Billy Elliot as well! We watched the young man’s performance with anticipation as his character “starts from scratch” and indeed, at the outset, there’s not much to impress as one would expect from a novice. At the story progressed however, the skills of the actor became much more obvious as Tade demonstrated why he has been so highly honored in his short life! By the end of the production, his confidence as a performer and as the character come to light. It must be so difficult, as someone with the considerable skills of the young artist, Tade, to deliberately appear to have so few as the boy, Billy, transitioning from boxing to ballet.

While many technical aspects of the production such as lighting (John Lasiter), costumes (Nicky Gillibrand and Tracy Christensen), and scenic design (Robert Mark Morgan) were up to Muny expectations, we were a bit miffed about the balance of vocals and orchestra. We’d hoped that being opening night the techies would bring the orchestral amplification down but disappointingly, we struggled to understand the lyrics throughout the show despite having no issues with the dialog.

In any case, the imbalance was probably resolved by Tuesday night’s production and it is certainly a show worthy of going to see. I wouldn’t want to miss this production or ANY of the balance of the 2014 Muny season if the opening night success is an indication of what’s yet to come!

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Henry IV and Henry V

Shakespeare Festival St Louis

Runs May 17 through June 15, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

Without a doubt, this is a grand undertaking for any theatrical organization: a remarkably demanding two-play offering for the 2014 Shakespeare in the Park season. Rest assured, however, the challenge, like that of Henry V’s historical confrontation at Agincourt, was met and bested!

The double-billing of this father-son tale of challenge, succession and success is actually three pieces of The Bard’s four-part epic dramatizing the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. In this presentation, Henry IV Parts I and II are combined into one night’s staging (directed by Tim Ocel) and played in tandem with Henry V (directed by Bruce Longworth) on alternating nights. On two Saturdays in June the company will present a “double feature” with a dinner break between these engaging and actor-challenging works.

While every role was outstandingly played and the performances worthy of a far better critic than me, I am in awe of Jim Butz. I am not sure from where his endurance comes such that he is able to put every morsel of his soul into the ever-escalating energy needed to plausibly accomplish the transmutation of Prince Hal morphing into King Henry V. This is a character transfiguration of historical proportions: from the tush-chasing, chummy, royal brat and parental disappointment, drunkenly frittering away his time in a bawdy tavern whilst plotting infantile, criminal pranks almost becoming reincarnated as a charismatic and motivational leader urging his ragged and weary men from the verge of desertion to a stunning victory against an invading French juggernaut.

Indeed, as Mr. Butz so convincingly portrays, perhaps it is Shakespeare’s image of a weak, inexperienced, and vulnerable boy-prince of un-stimulated, and thus undiscovered, mettle that gives the French dauphin and his royal dowdies too much confidence leading to their historical staggering loss at Agincourt, consequently allowing Henry V access to the French princess and, ultimately, the French throne foreshadowing by centuries an European union. In any case, Mr. Butz is very believable and it is truly moving to see the realization of his maturation by his father, King Henry IV, played by Michael James Reed. If for no other reason, go to the Festival to see our local star show how it is to be done!

Also notable were the performances from Charles Pasternak as Hotspur in Henry IV and the French Dauphin in Henry V. In the former, the well-played intensity of the high-strung and over-eager Hotspur, despite admirable loyalty to his cause, imports despicability for his thirst to kill Prince Hal. Then, in Henry V, as the haughty, overly confident and prideful Dauphin, one might sense this as another potential outcome of overly permissive parents! I am looking forward to seeing Pasternak in other roles. Bravo!

The basic, yet very versatile set design (Scott C. Neale) for both stagings consisted of a simple gridwork of wooden slats, sometimes augmented with a throne or pub trestle table and chairs, and once with the red cross on a white field as Henry’s army crosses the Channel to France. As usual, the lighting was very apropos, both dramatic and sensitive when appropriate (Matthew Lealon Young for Henry IV; John Wylie for Henry V).

I want to commend the sound of this year’s performance: while the background audio for these shows has always been very evocative and inspiring, the spoken clarity of these two presentations was more distinct than I remember in past years. Certainly the skills of Sound Designer Rusty Wandall and the sound engineers are involved, but perhaps there is an equipment attribution to credit here as well as Suzanne Mills’ continued involvement as speech coach.

If you’ve never been to the Festival, expect a family-friendly environment (although there is for younger or sensitive audience members an advisement for violence, it is neither as drawn out nor as graphic as we’ve seen in productions elsewhere). It is inevitable that intermingling of people from all walks of life occurs, with enthusiastic attention from all ages and regions of our community. There is live entertainment from performance artists including young students of Shakespeare, striving to become the next Jim Butz or Dan Haller (who was outstanding in Henry V). Food, including catered meal of restaurant quality as well as “festival fare” can be purchased on-site. Bring your blankets (and coolers) or rent a folding chair to enjoy the show for a mere fraction of the price you’d pay in a theatre. You can even bring your own wine or purchase it by the glass or by the bottle on-site. Safe, engaging, entertaining, enlightening and, maybe you haven’t enjoyed Shakespeare before, you might experience the birth of a life-changing evening. If you haven’t been, it would be a shame not to try, at least once. Unless you are so worldly that you’ve “seen it all” and have no further opportunity for growth, there is something for everyone. It is a known romantic event for couples in all stages of relationship!

We’ve been blessed in Saint Louis for the creative and driven visions of Executive and Creative Director, Rick Dildine, for as he told me in a recent one-on-one, he has been striving to achieve an event in this Shakespeare Festival that merits the use of the word “festival.” While the 14th century etimology of the word suggests a feast, usually religious, it has subsequently come to indicate a series of coordinated or related events, sometimes comprising several days, usually in the same place. Rick’s dream for this happening has been expansive and ambitious, seeking to grow the relaxed but energetic atmosphere by cloning the various tents and events like “The Green Show” and other performance artists. No doubt his vision has grown not only the festival but the attendance since his arrival in 2009. It is no small feat this Saint Louis’ gem has been noticed nationwide and draws attendees from beyond the metropolitan area and the outlying counties.

Of course, free events like this are not born, nor grow and thrive, without support from regional arts organizations and contributions from corporate and private donors. There is a good reason Saint Louis has been blessed by the existence of this annually anticipated event: individuals and organizations with dedication to the region’s economic, social and intellectual health commit time, money, material, and personnel to promoting and supporting the initiative. For that reason, I encourage you to seek out and thank those associated with the Shakespeare Festival and encourage them to continue the commitment that has allowed us, citizens of Saint Louis, to benefit.

The show runs from May 17 through June 15 in Shakespeare Glen, just steps away from the Art Museum, but give yourself time to find parking and opportunity to relax; there’s so much more than just settling into your seat and watching one, or more, great performances, for free, in a beautiful outdoor setting on a lovely summer evening! Bringing an umbrella helps to keep the rain at bay!

Schedule of performances here!

Shakespeare Festival Saint Louis details are at their website.

**************************************


They’re Playing Our Song

Stages Saint Louis

Runs May 30-June 29

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Stages opened its 28th season with They’re Playing Our Song, a Broadway musical gem. This pop-tune filled comedy-love story by award-winning author Neil Simon is inspired by the prolific American composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carol Bayer Sager. With an array of jazzy numbers and witty dialogue, this production entertains from start to finish. Performances by Broadway actor Seth Rettberg (as Vernon Gersch) and New York actress Maria Couch (as Sonia Walsk) are engaging and near flawless.

Though the instrumental portion was pre-recorded, Rettberg and Couch’s live vocals are so impressive, I suspect many audience members had to reminder themselves the singing was live and not pre-recorded, professionally mixed and mastered.

Rettberg and Couch play the two leading characters, but throughout the production are each supported to great comedic effect by their own three person ‘Greek choruses’ representing their egos who act as their inner voices. The songs and choreography deftly advance the storyline and never feel like interruptions. The story follows the highs and lows of the unlikely partnership of Vernon, a somewhat neurotic composer and Sonia, a free-spirited lyricist, from their first meeting through their professional songwriting partnership and unlikely romantic pairing.

Simon’s musical originally opened on Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in 1979 staring Lucie Arnaz and comedian Robert Klein where it secured a place in musical theatre history with 1,082 performances.

The sets of They’re Playing Our Song are thoughtfully constructed, with lighting and sound all being complementary. There is little to criticize with this family-friendly production, but it is long at 2 ¾ hours including an intermission. If you’re not a night owl, the afternoon performances offer a welcome alternative to the 8 pm performances.

The production continues through June 29 with nightly shows Tuesday through Sunday plus afternoon shows on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from $20 to $57. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit StagesStLouis.org.

*************************

May 2014

Windmill Baby

Upstream Theater at The Kranzberg Arts Center

Grand and Olive, St. Louis

Runs Apr 25-27, May 1-4, May 8-11

Reviewed by David Mount

Under-attended and under-appreciated: Those two words I would use to describe the Patrick White Award-winning, Australian-written and –themed play, Windmill Baby, conveyed in its entirety by 2008 Missouri Arts Award winner and St. Louis-native, Linda Kennedy. It’s certainly not either because of Ms. Kennedy’s performance, or ticket prices, or by the lack of intimacy of the Kranzberg Arts Center Black Box Theater (it’s currently set up for about 60 guests), or the wonderful musical accompaniment of Iranian-born musician Farshid Solanshahi on various string, percussion and wind instruments.

Windmill Baby, penned expertly by Australian David Milroy, embraces Aboriginal culture and exposes cultural exploitation of the iconic tribal natives of that continent as he relates the story of Maymay, an elderly Aboriginal woman who has returned to a place in her past where she feels the urge to take care of some “unfinished business” of deep psychological and emotional content. Although she has integrated into modern Australian culture, she finds the strength to re-address the powerful memories of unresolved parts of her former life. Linda Kennedy, a powerful force on the stage even when surrounded by her fellows, is stunningly adept in her portrayal of not just Maymay, but more than 10 other characters all integral to the backstory of this compelling tale, including a convincing role as a dingo-mongrel, Skitchim. In previous exposure to Ms. Kennedy, we’d previously not realized the vocal range she possesses, but save for her lips moving as she impersonates male characters, you’d swear the words had to be coming from a man’s mouth!

Milroy has very skillfully interwoven the racial and ethnological elements of this multi-layered critique of how native minorities are treated by immigrants, much like Europeans treated Native Americans in North America. It is this underlying theme and that of inevitable racial discrimination and mistreatment that become additional powerful themes in Kennedy’s portrayal of Maymay and her relationships with people in her past.

Musician Farshid Soltanshahi is a nearly constant participant in the evolution of the story, initially providing beautiful classical guitar as the audience gathers in the theater. Throughout the portryal, his expert musical skills help to evoke the mood and timbre of the performance very much like a movie soundtrack, almost always there in the background but not intrusively. However, it is his mastery of several instruments and the unique sounds he produces on them that will send shivers through your body and make the hair on your arms and back of your neck respond as Maymay lapses into and out of her ghostly encounters with those in her past. We look forward to hearing him play again and it is very clear why he is a two-time nominee of the Kevin Kline award! Another gem in St. Louis!

Director Philip Boehm, as we spoke with him in person before the play, is as soft-spoken as most anyone you’ve met and social, but he is by far not unapproachable. He deserves great admiration for his work on this production as it seems he’s allowed Ms. Kennedy to reach out, or perhaps given her access to dive deeply into herself, to enact Maymay and her past.

A simple set, designed by MICDS teacher Patrick Huber and scenic artist Cristie Johnston, looking very much like a neglected cattle station in the Australian outback, is well-executed and –used for the one-scene play which covers the space of just an afternoon, or is it years? The staging of the work, coupled with the music and strong lighting design by Tony Anselmo, 2013 Arts for Life winner, and light board operator Bob Clifford, help us move with Maymay through the sensation of time-compressed recollection.

My companions and I talked about this production almost from the time it ended, about 90 minutes without intermission, well past midnight and at breakfast the next day. I say “almost from the time it ended” because the powerful delivery of the deeply meaningful and symbolic content of this play leave one in awe and wonder, and hopefully, full of questions, some with and some without answers.

The production continues this week with nightly shows Thursday through Sunday starting at 8 pm except for Sunday, May 11 starts at 3 pm. Tickets are a bargain at $20-30 for unreserved seating, but you might want to reserve your tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.

***  **  ***  **  **  ***  **  ***

April 2014

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The Fox Theatre

Runs Apr 29 – May 11, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

The strong lead voices of Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young in the Webber-Rice collaboration, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, pulled this production through from beginning to end. Confident and comfortable in front of a very receptive opening night crowd at the Fox, the ability to work well together on-stage may be due in part to the fact that this duo are married in real life having met in a production of Hair. Of course, fans of American Idol may recall DeGarmo as an audience favorite on that program or as Angelina on The Young and the Restless. This is a large cast, not unexpected since each of Jabob’s sons are present as are some daughters-in-law and this grand ensemble does a great job backing the main characters.

The well-worn biblical plot gets a boost in the stage production, especially from Pharaoh, the quintessential egocentric Egyptian whose rescue of Joseph reveals the cryptic meaning of Joseph’s dreams and allows Joseph to rise to his eventual position of power. Of course, how much more egotistical can a ruler get than a pharaoh, being regarded as a god, after all? Well, Ryan Williams in the role of Pharaoh has the best role of all in this show… it seems that Pharaoh’s alter ego is none other than Elvis and the servant girls give him total satisfaction by sighing and fainting with every snappy roll of his hips, much to the delight of the audience.

One of the audience’s favorite numbers is that in which Joseph’s brothers are sitting at a long table eating which is reminiscent of a popular Monty Python scene in which the table utensils are used as percussion instruments. But Jacob’s sons go Python one better with a very enjoyable “clearing of the table” that was clever, complex, and a visual riot! It’s so good that if you somehow missed it in midshow, an encore version of it is offered after the cast takes their bows! It is one of the shows highlights.

While it seemed that the sound was off a bit in the first part of the evening making some of the dialog and lyrics difficult to discern, perhaps muddied a bit by some poor audio levels adjustment, by the end of the first act it seemed to have been remedied.

One cannot not miss the effective lighting design by Howell Binkley, a five-time Helen Hayes awardee as well as recipient of many other recognitions. This production makes his skills a major contributing factor in the success of the show.

Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office on the night of the production or in advance from Metro Tickets by phone (314.534.1111) or online at metrotix.com.


***  **  ***  ***  **  ***

Always… Patsy Cline

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

Runs April 22 - June 22, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

An authentic tribute to a country music legend featuring a fabulous 6-piece live band and outstanding acting sums up the production of Always…Patsy Cline. Stages opened their 2013 season with this production and broke attendance and box office records. This second run opens the 2014 season and is likely to repeat that success in the intimate 240-seat Playhouse at Westport. The show is live theater and music at its finest.

Though no one could possibly duplicate Patsy Cline’s voice, Jacqueline Petroccia, comes eerily close in her performance with not only her vocals, but looks as well. (I occasionally had to remind myself I hadn’t travelled back in time for a Cline concert.)

This true story centers on the friendship of Louise Seeger (Zoe Vonder Haar) a Texas housewife and adoring fan and on Cline’s early years of country music success. Though the women only met once, their friendship endured over years of letter writing until Cline’s untimely death. In our world of sensory stimulation overload, it was refreshing to experience two powerhouse performers and the live music of The Bodacious Bobcats. They balanced one another well and flawlessly transitioned narrative to song.

Written and originally directed by Ted Swindley, the story is interwoven with 27 Cline songs that frequently leave one breathless at their conclusion. The intimacy of the Playhouse enhances the audience integration with the production. Vonder Haar’s warm, and vivacious character engages and flirts with audience members as she walks amongst the rows, kisses heads of balding men and invites interaction throughout the play. Her energy is infectious; one can’t help but smile and sing along. The joy that Louise Seeger found in Cline’s music and friendship is palpable.

The set design, costumes, sound, lighting and make-up are impressive. From Vonder Haar’s Texas accent to a petticoat that peeked from beneath Petroccia’s dress, it all seems so real. Tribute concerts can vary widely in success in paying homage to legends. With the concluding standing ovation, it was evident the audience was impressed.

Tickets are $50-$60. Two hours including a 15-minute intermission.

Appropriate for all ages. For more information, photos, video, and tickets:

http://www.stagesstlouis.org/Shows/Always-Patsy-Cline/


***  **  ***  **  ***  **   ***  **  ***

Once

Fabulous Fox Theatre

Runs April 8-20, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

The adage that people come into one’s life for a reason, a season or a lifetime is the premise of Once. But with this production, the star is music -- mostly heartfelt acoustic numbers and upbeat Irish songs. It was adapted for the stage from an Irish film of the same name and claims eight Tony Awards including best musical and a 2013 Grammy for best musical theater album.

Before theatergoers even find their seats, they are drawn in by Once. There’s no curtain awaiting its raising or pre-recorded filler music here. Instead, the stage buzzes with audience members who I wondered might be unintentional extras. They naturally become part of the Dublin bar that is the main set and after milling about, they meander to their seats as music brings the production to life. Several cast members further engage the audience with lively Irish song. These actors aren’t just playing instruments on stage; they are telling a love story about making music.

Guy (male lead Stuart Ward), is an inarticulate, lonesome soul, bewildered by a failed relationship that he’s not yet moved on from. He’s lost in his music and a stalled life. Girl (female lead Dani de Waal), is tethered to her young daughter, mother and estranged husband. The lives of these two musicians, he Irish and she Czech, unexpectedly change through the connection they forge with music and later with each other. Witty dialogue and laughs nicely balance heartache as music leads the story through the week in which it unfolds. Some challenges with understanding lyrics occasionally make following the story tricky.

Girl and her Czech family add a multicultural element to the storyline. It’s handled well by a LED board that scrolls their native Czech in various scenes. It’s used brilliantly in one touching scene to translate Girl’s hidden feelings that she cloaks in her mother tongue. The board adds a layer of authenticity to the family’s immigrant roots that one might otherwise be lost in spoken English layered with a foreign accent.

There are as many as 12 very talented musicians on stage playing at different times yet every song has its own natural leader. Solos and duets are commanding throughout, with instrumentation and movement all delivered exceptionally.

The set is versatile. In many scenes, it uses a mirrored bar backdrop, allowing the audience to see the audience on the stage (and not just their backs) as they, too, are enveloped in the musical performances.

This reviewer expects a big rush of Once soundtrack downloads. No need to hurry though, as its songs will reverberate in your head for days following this production.

Once plays through April 20th. For a synopsis of the show, click (http://www.oncemusical.com/). For ticket information, visit the Fox website (http://www.fabulousfox.com/shows) or Metrotix (http://www.metrotix.com or call  314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949) for ticket information. Tickets are $25 to $95 and the show runs 2 ½ hours including one intermission. PG audiences for strong language.

***  **  ***  **  *  **  ***  **  ***




March 2014

Motionhouse Dance Theatre

Edison Theatre

Ran March 21-22, 2014

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Dance is no longer limited to the floor. The heck with the laws of gravity. Motionhouse Dance Theatre dances, leaps, slides, slithers, rolls and splats on a wall that curves to the floor. The performance Scattered is 70 minutes of non-stop action about water. A video is projected onto the curved wall — frozen water, underwater, waterfalls, swimming pools, the ocean and even what it’s like without water. Images of dry, cracked mud appear as the dancers are poised on the wall like sticky-footed geckos with the their fingers stuck in the mud cracks.

A couch appears on the video that the dancers seem to sit on. The background seems real. As the dancers scale the 10-foot curved wall, they hit the exact point that a splash occurs in the video. Although the wall looks like it’s a touchscreen reacting to the pressure of the dancers, it’s really very practiced good timing. The dancers are part of the background and the background is constantly changing. An escalator appears on the screen and the dancers run up it. Or they drop down from the top of the wall on bungee cords becoming part of the projected images. Plastic water bottles become schools of fish in the dancer’s hands as they dart in and out of the ocean--until a water-cooler bottle comes along and scares the smaller ones away.

This is the first stop of Motionhouse’s US tour. Founded in 1988 by Kevin Finnan and Louise Richards, Motionhouse has become one of the leading dance theatre companies in the UK. It’s highly physical and strenuous dance. Some of the dancers were holding ice packs on bruised ankles during the comments at the end of the performance. Can you imagine your choreographer saying, “Okay dancers, today we are going to run up a 10-foot wall over and over and over again for 70 minutes?”

The video is created in collaboration with Logela Multimedia from the Basque region of Spain. The dancers interact with the video as it all comes together like a mosaic. You’ve probably never seen anything like this before. This is a mind-boggling show. Catch them on tour if you can.

https://edison.wustl.edu/tickets/

http://www.motionhouse.co.uk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_RpNGF_d-g


***  **  ****  **  ****  **  ***

We Will Rock You

Fabulous Fox Theatre

Runs March 18-30, 2014

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Weak plot. Strong female lead. Satisfying ending. The music of Queen. If you are accustomed to reading things on the fly because everyone communicates in tweets, there’s the shortest version of a review I can give you. However, if you have more time and are curious, keep reading.

This is a musical based on the music of Queen that vaguely strings together a story line from unrelated songs. The plot is weak and silly. It’s sometime in the future and the world has turned into gaga girls and robotic behavior. The evil guys such as Killer Queen (Jacqueline Arnold) and Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith) want to squelch the creative types so they can keep their power. The creative types hang out at the Hard Rock Cafe while they wait for a savior that has been predicted. The savior is Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) but he doesn't know it. He just has bits of words running through his head which turn out to be the lyrics to rock-and-roll songs. He meets a rebel girl that he calls “Scaramouche” (Ruby Lewis). She steals the show. She had us at her first song Somebody to Love and kept us rivetted throughout the show with a great voice and good comedic timing. If you are not familiar with Queen’s music, you may not recognize these names. “Who is Scaramouche?”, I wondered. Is it a character Freddie Mercury made up? Through the power of Google, I learned he is a roguish clown character from Italian comedy who wears a black mask and sometimes glasses. But this Scaramouche is not wearing either of those but struts about in cute little boots and a renegade miniskirt.

Anyhow, the beginning of this musical is muddy. We aren’t sure exactly what is going on, but if you stick with it, the second act is worth it. Ben Elton, British comedian, writer, and director keeps the jokes contemporary by referencing social and technological changes. The characters are named after rock stars: A well-muscled fellow is named Britney Spears. Another male is Katy Perry who tells jokes about fireworks and “roar”, titles of two well-known Perry songs.

Buddy Holly (Ryan Knowles) of the Hard Rock Cafe does the best job of explaining what is going on except when he is asked what things mean he always replies, “We don’t know.” The secrets are hidden on a plastic box they call a “vyd-e-o ta-pee.” Scaramouche, the brightest of the bunch, figures out how to put it that plastic box that little slot at the bottom of the “tal-a-vi-zon”. A mysterious statue overlooks the group of “bohemians” known only as “Mercury”. The old “ta-pee” jams in the machine but leads the group to Graceland.

After some plot meanderings, Galileo finally finds the hidden guitar outside the gates of Graceland, but it is Scaramouche who pretend-plays it. Galileo shines and finally his true power is revealed as he belts out We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.

Don’t sneak out early during the curtain calls to avoid the traffic or you’ll miss the best part. After the bows and applause, a message is displayed on the screen: “So, you want to hear Bohemian Rhapsody?” Finally, the entire company pounces back onstage and rocks out. It is a very satisfying grand conclusion like a yummy dessert at the end of a good meal. Freddie Mercury called Bohemian Rhapsody a “mock opera”. Rest in peace, Freddie. Thanks for all the great music. This show is lots of fun, especially if you love the music of Queen.

Tickets are $25 to $90.

http://www.fabulousfox.com/shows_page_multi.aspx?usID=358

We Will Rock You video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnryNrQp5Z8

****  ***  ****  ***  ****

January 2014

The Wizard of Oz

Ballet Memphis
Presented by DANCEstl

Touhill Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Ran January 24 and 25, 2014

Taking a classical film, such as The Wizard of Oz, and turning it into a dance can be challenging. How do you get those film effects into a ballet? With Steven McMahon’s sometimes clever and interesting choreography, of course! In conveying the tornado, for example, the set was a three-tiered structure that the dancers turned faster and faster until it almost spun off the stage.

Dorothy (Julie Niekrasz), a wisp of a girl, was enchanting, light as a feather, innocent and convincing in her role. The Munchkins were children dressed-up as flowers in very cute floral costumes. The Scarecrow (Travis Bradley) did a great job of keeping his joints loose and his body off-balance. The Tin Man (Dylan G-Bowley), by contrast, was appropriately very stiff and unbending even after his joints were oiled. The coward of the group, Mr. Lion (Kendall G. Britt, Jr.), was just plain silly in a costume that wiggled and shivered as he trembled his mane, eliciting the most laughs from the audience. He was a very slim lion, being a dancer. Even Toto was there, albeit just a stuffed animal in a basket.

The Wicked Witch (Crystal Brothers) was marvelous and almost reptilian in her emerald green make-up and costume. She commanded attention with her stance and her dance. Glinda (Virginia Pilgrim) was suitably sweet as she came to the rescue. In the dreaded “Sleep Scene,” when the foursome crossed through the poppy field, the poppies were portrayed by dancers. At the end of the scene, Glinda saved the group with magical mylar snow, enchantingly scattered by dancers across the stage. Very nice effect.


Finally, the travelers arrived in The Emerald City, where a large green curtain hid The Wizard (Rafael Ferreras, Jr.) who cast a huge scary shadow on the wall. Through his gestures, he commanded them to steal the Wicked Witch's broom. During their raid on the Wicked Witch, the flying monkeys attacked the foursome again and again. It looked like all was lost as the Wicked Witch entered the stage in a queen-like, long flowing cape. But when Dorothy threw pretend water on her, there was a sudden flash and the Wicked Witch disappeared leaving only her cape behind. Great scene!


Returning to Oz, the Wizard gestured to each of hem that they already had what they were looking for and awarded them. Then he departed in a hot-air balloon, unfortunately without Dorothy, so Glinda instructed Dorothy to click her heels together and we were transported back to Kansas to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.


Ballet Memphis offered us exceptional dancers and a great evening of entertainment.




December 2013

ELF The Musical

Fox Theatre

Runs December 17-29, 2013

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Here’s the story: Buddy, the human baby mistakenly climbs into Santa’s sack and gets transported to the North Pole where he is raised by elves who wear their shoes on their knees. That’s because they are walking on their knees to look shorter (which doesn’t really work and did have me worrying about their knees). However, by age 28, Buddy starts to notice that he is a good bit taller than his family. When he learns the truth from Santa, he runs off to New York to find his real father, a very busy and grouchy publisher stressed to the max with Christmas deadlines. After a tiny bit of conflict, Buddy saves the day by making up his own story, wins his father over and convinces him to relish in the spirit of Christmas which creates enough energy to get Santa’s grounded sleigh up and running again. Meanwhile, Buddy finds a girlfriend and saves Christmas for those who believe.

Super-sugary sweet, like the syrup that Buddy pours on everything, this is a holiday show about capturing the Christmas spirit and it is well-played at a high-octane level by Matt Kopec who keeps the ball rolling. His child-like innocence and bounce-off-the-walls attitude is also supported by his girlfriend, his stepmom, little brother and eventually, his father.

Hats off to the scenic designer (Christine Peters) and the many scene changes quietly and flawlessly dropping down from above or sliding in from the sides. In fact, it was so seamless, I’m not sure I even saw them changing scenes but there were nineteen scene changes in all. The lighting on the curtain cast shades of pink and lavender and colors of the costumes was a feast for the eyes in beautiful, bright colors. Live music adds even more excitement to the show.

There were solid performances by all. Missing some of the bite of the movie with Will Ferrell, ELF, The Musical is primarily for little ones and they should love it. By the way, they offer ice cream at the Fox during intermission now. Dust off your Christmas spirit, take the family and enjoy ELF through December 29.

Tickets are available online at metrotix.com or by calling 534-1111.

**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **

November 2013

Sister Act

The Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Reviewed Nov 19, 2013

What a show to bring on the 2013 holiday feeling! The stage production of the hit movie Sister Act arrived in St. Louis just before Thanksgiving and the nearly-full capacity crowd really felt the spirit of this audience favorite. With a great score and lyrics by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater that easily connected with the audience and told the story in nearly breakneck speed, the cast delivered wonderful performances that were strong and clear. Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring signer hiding from a boyfriend with murderous intent, was a godsend. She and her fellow cast members gave inspiring and convincing performances making it easy to forget that one was at the theatre. Standouts in the cast included Florrie Bagel as the irreverently ebullient Sister Mary Patrick and Mary Jo McConnell, standing in (on the night of this review) as Sister Mary Lazarus whose “God rap” brought down the house. However, the outstanding performance of the evening was delivered by Chester Gregory as “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, specifically his fantasy as a nightclub singer. Contributing to that daydream imagery was a great wardrobe double-change on-stage, reinforcing the movie-magic-like transformation from timid-but-determined Philly cop to Prendergrass-style soul performer and back.

Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova created a truly inspiring set for the sanctuary that magically allowed for the traditional stained glass windows to become Vegas-like for the finale. Lez Brotherston’s costuming for The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith must have used all the leftover glitter and sequins from the disco era but the incredible effect under the stage lights was spectacular!

There is no question that Sister Act will move your spirit, just in time for the holidays! So moving, in fact, that the Pope makes an appearance just to experience Deloris’ heavenly transformation of the once-tone-deaf convent choir. You have to be there to believe it!

Sister Act plays through December 1st. A synopsis of the show can be found here. Contact the Fox for ticket information. Runs through December 1, 2013.


**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles

The Fox Theatre St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

November 15-16, 2013

What fun! As a teenager in the 60’s, I wasn’t quite old enough to catch the real Beatles when they toured St Louis in 1966. Although I saw all the other greats of this extremely creative time in musical history--Hendrix, Joplin, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream, etc., etc., I did not see the Beatles. Rain’s tribute to the Beatles is as close as I’ll come and it’s quite enjoyable.

I know every lyric of every song of their music. It’s amazing how well my memory can work from that time period. This show is more than just 4 guys dressing up and singing like the Beatles--they act like them, too--a certain stance, a shake of the head, a way of moving, but mostly they do sound very much like the vinyl recordings that I listened to over and over again.

The use of multimedia images enhances the performance with video documentation of the time period. Astronauts, man’s first walk on the moon, Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam war, and ecstatically dancing hippies are some of the images splashed across the screen. The show starts in black and white with the life-changing Ed Sullivan show where the Beatles were introduced to the world, in their little mod tailored suits with a cartoon of multi-layered screens in the background showing the Beatles being chased by animated screaming girls. A video of psychedelic colors and swirls adds pops of color to the Sgt. Pepper period. Another costume change takes us to Abbey Road with one favorite song after another and the reminder that the Beatles music still works very well and lives on even though two of the originals are long gone. Long live the spirit of George Harrison and John Lennon and the two still living, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. What an amazing contribution they made to popular culture.

The lights and fog machine are a show in themselves and created an atmosphere of the time period. Cameras pan the audience and flash various unsuspecting dancers onto the screen. Standing ovations brought the performers back out to finish off with Hey Jude and Let It Be, leaving us with watery eyes including my own. A great show.

Although the guys pretending to be the Beatles are not famous, these guys are talented musicians and skillfully sound and sing like the original Fab Four. My friend kept asking “Is this taped?” The fifth player (a non-costumed non-Beatle) in the back is introduced later in the show and has a tiny solo of non-Beatle music but also adds synthesizer and keyboards to round out their sound.

Mark Lewis is the founder of Rain (originally called Reign). He transformed the original group from a bar band doing Beatle’s songs into what it is today—a Broadway show.


**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **

October 2013

Disney’s
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Anne Quinn

Run: Oct 30 – Nov 1, 2013

This childhood film favorite blew into town yesterday with all its Disney-esque flags flying! Due to the generosity of The Fox management the audience was liberally salted with happy and costumed viewers between the ages of 2 and teen. Young theatregoers were greeted with varied activities including dancing, singing and artwork. Thrilled kids were then ushered to their seats for an exciting evening watching Belle and the hapless Prince (as the Beast) play out their story once more.

The production featured Hilary Maiberger as Belle and Darick Pead as the Beast. Both performers played their characters with vocal talent and vigor. The combination of Tim Rogan as Gaston and Jordan Aragon as Lefou was perfectly matched in this campy version of the fairy tale. Gaston’s outstanding voice and physique were well complimented by the agility and antics of his sidekick, Lefou.

Production numbers choreographed by Matt West were exciting, especially the “Mug” dance featuring the ensemble and Gaston and Lefou. All special effects were well-received with the exception of the witch-turned-specter who enchanted the Prince.

There were a few instances where this stage production included some rather adult actions and/or costuming which may have been too sophisticated for the young audience (hopefully) to notice. The hearts under the cancan dancers’ skirts and the very skimpy outfits on the cleverly costumed scene changers, as a case in point.

The young cast was charming and interesting in the question and answer session following the performance to the delight of those who stayed behind.

This production runs from November 1 through November 3 at the Fox Theatre.


**  *  **  ***  **  ***  **  *  **
EVITA

Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Oct 8-20, 2013

The audience, predictably, left the Fox on Tuesday night, singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and lead Caroline Bowman certainly deserved the standing ovation from an appreciative audience. However, were it not for the lack of familiarity with the lyrics beautifully rendered by Josh Young as Che, from the exuberant laudations of the near-full house, I’m sure that this powerful, evocative delivery by Young would have been the recessional that evening. His voice was the most outstanding of the performance and was so recognized by theater-goers.

We were, at first, critical of the variation in vocal qualities exhibited by Ms. Bowman, once clear and soft, at times harsh, thin and strained, almost hoarse. However, upon returning home, we found documentaries online, of contemporary newsreel footage of Señora Peròn’s voice. What seemed, en theatre, to be a weak performance, was actually a realistic rendition of Eva’s actual vocal qualities. How important it is to have depth knowledge when attending a production based on history! Bravo, Ms. Bowman!

Yes, the familiar musical from the team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the life of María Eva Duarte, the 15-year old bastard daughter of a wealthy rancher, from the streets of a small village of Argentina, fast-forwards through her migration to Buenos Aires as she seeks to become an actress. But it is her rise from this successful, albeit relatively miniscule, role to that of her worldwide legendary status and her ongoing legacy in Argentina that is the focus of this production. Her chance meeting of the future, three-time president, Colonel Juan Peròn, provides her with the role of a lifetime, catapulting her onto the world stage of politics and personality. Blessed with good looks and a fiery spirit, she not only rescues the souls of the descamisados, the desolately poor working class of Argentina, but becomes the de facto leader of the feminist and suffragette movements of the troubled South American republic despite the strong hand of the military and the wealthy in the governance of the country. Her presence on the world stage brings Argentina to the front page of the newspapers and the newsreels of the theaters. But her unsuccessful battle against cervical cancer ends her life at a desperately young 33 years of age, birthing a bigger-than-life life-after-death.

The sets were wonderful, not extensive, but a creative blend of tall, handsome doorways, freestanding on stage, mixed with façades of proud political architecture equipped with extendable balconies that enhanced the sense of intimacy and reality. And if you’ve seen any of the documentaries made about Evita Peròn, you’ve seen those balconies from which the beloved couple made their appearances. The set very closely mirrored these newsreel images.

Neil Austin’s lighting was stunning and very effective, in part due to the fog-machine haze in the theatre throughout the production. It accentuated the presence of the spotlights on those in the focus of attention. He augmented the set design by not forgetting to illuminate the inside of the palace and causing rays of light to be cast onto the streets through those windows, adding to the dramatic reality on stage.

Indeed, the overall success of this legendary mini-history of this legendary figure, is obviously due to Michael Grandage’s capable direction. The production moves with alacrity and other than the intermission, there’s scarcely a moment of silence. An early difficulty in understanding the sung lyrics of Evita, Che, and Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone) seems to have been resolved by the sound engineers about 20 minutes into the show, so this under-modulation is not a problem by the time Sean MacLaughlin in the role of Peròn makes his first appearance. This cast and crew are very capable, experienced, and make seeing this tour production worthy of your evening’s attention.

Parenthetically, the night after EVITA, we happened to attend a very interesting lecture brought to St. Louis by the Archeological Institute of America entitled Secret of the Great Pyramid. Invited to attend a small, private, post-lecture event with the presenter, a strange and eerie connection between the musical EVITA and the Great Pyramid at Giza was revealed. By way of introduction, the presenter, Egyptologist and National Geographic Scholar, Dr. Bob Brier of Long Island University, it was revealed, has been dubbed “Mr. Mummy” and that he has inspected the remains of Eva Duarte de Peròn! Not knowing previously that she had been mummified, I asked him about Che’s mysterious words from the conclusion of the beautiful performance the previous evening:

Money was raised to build a tomb, a monument to Evita. Only the pedestal was completed and Evita’s body disappeared for seventeen years…

“What transpired during this protracted time,” I asked Dr. Brier. Mr. Mummy related that the military, upon Evita’s death in 1952, had “stolen” her body, fearful that it would become a revered icon of the working class of Argentina, causing riots among the populace and result in her burial site being a pilgrimage destination. After her death, it is likely that Peròn, himself, ordered her body to be mummified, not in the well-known Egyptian method of dessication and wrapping, or by “wet” methods employing formalin as was Lenin’s body (also examined by Brier), but by a much rarer, and more costly, permeation with paraffin (some sources say glycerin). Painstakingly executed by famous anatomist and pathologist, Dr. Pedro Ara, the second, more permanent embalming consumed more than one year of his time and cost more than $100,000 US dollars (almost $900,000 today). As such, according to Brier, although she has been dead for 61 years, she is the best-preserved mummy in the world, despite having been displayed on Peròn’s dining room table for nearly two years! So effective is the preservation, that one point, the military, seeking to confirm that this was indeed the real body of Eva Peròn and not an elaborate sculpture, cut off a finger and part of an ear in order to perform verification testing.

After mummification and clandestine acts to keep her body safe, she was secretly transported to Italy where she was interred in a small cemetery under a false name. When Argentine political upheaval brought Peròn back to power in late 1973, her body was moved from Peròn’s villa in Spain where it had been moved in 1971, back to Argentina. When Peròn, himself, died in July 1974, both he and Evita lay in state together. Despite having died 22 years before, Evita’s coffin was open while Juan’s remained closed!

Today, Evita is buried in a glass-covered coffin, within a concrete cocoon more than 20 feet below ground, the multi-chambered interment constructed by a bank vault company, is said to be capable of withstanding nuclear attack, perhaps still the best-preserved body ever.

Sadly, this performance of EVITA won’t last that long in St. Louis and is playing at the Fox only until October 20th.

**  ***  *  **  ***  **  *  ***  **


New Dance Horizons II

Touhill Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Runs October 4 & 5, 2013

Ah, another season of dance has begun, brought to us by Dance St. Louis. Sometimes we forget how much talent we have in our own backyard. This performance gave the opportunity for four St. Louis companies to shine. Add to that four guest choreographers taking each company in hand (and foot) to create some innovative numbers.

I’ll start with my favorite one first. Land’s Edge by MADCO, was originally choreographed by members of Pilobolus but reconstructed by Jude Woodcock. The dance begins with several couples in 1800s costumes that are dancing ballroom-style, but you as watch you realize that they aren’t quite normal. In fact, they look a bit like... zombies? Yes, zombies. There is a more normal-looking solitary man who is scrunching around on the floor. Suddenly, the body of a young woman, laying motionless on her back, scoots across the floor. Yes, scoots as though she were being pulled by something but you can’t see by what. Very intriguing! There is a fluidity in her but she is not moving--as though she were dead, as in having drowned. The solo guy comes over to check her out and nuzzles her as animal would sniff and move around something without using hands. Then, the zombie couples come to look. Two men (who I will call “Frick” and “Frack”) interacting with each other (almost as though they are one body) and pass around the lifeless body of the tiny female dancer. She did an outstanding job of keeping her body loose so she could be moved, lifted, and passed around. As with many Pilobolus dances, there is a great deal of balance and leverage happening. Eventually, the lifeless dancer does start to move on her own and is taken in by the zombie clan until suddenly another pair of legs appears almost off-stage (as though another body is washing ashore). This is dance theatre complete with an interesting story line and was most enjoyable. There’s so much to watch and figure out while still eliciting a feeling of observing some strange little movie. Great stuff!

Leverage Dance Theatre presented a number called Encounters With The Infinite choreographed by Nejla Yatkin of NY2Dance. A solo dancer in a huge ballroom gown with pouchy sides makes minimal movements with her arms and upper body. This is dance of mystery as dancers disappear and reappear in her huge gown or out of a pile of paper snow. The gown that has been abandoned and motionless stands up, and another dancer suddenly grows very tall, being held by two others who are hidden under the costume. How did those three dancers sneak back into the dress right after they rolled off the stage? A mystery! The dancers were accompanied by pianist Daniel Schene, slightly off-stage as he performed Lizst, Debussy and Shuman.

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company performed One choreographed by Uri Sands from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre among others. The dance is about Ms. Henrietta Lacks, who in 1951 was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer when some of her cells were propagated for medical research without obtaining her permission. These freely-dividing mutant cells multiplied uninhibited, and grown in research laboratories around the world, became known as the "HeLa" cell line. Her immortal cells are continuing to help humankind; even the polio vaccine was tested on her cells. I guess you could say she is still among us today.

In this dance, a group of women, starts with their backs to the audience with spastic arm movements as though they were wringing their hands. As the dance progresses, there is wonderful coherence when all the dancers are moving in unison as though they are a flock of birds all moving together but there will still be one with spastic hand movements (the lone cancer cell?). This dance also ends with paper snow and buckets that appeared to be for catching the snow.

St. Louis Ballet presented beautiful, structured dance in Figurant with choreography by Emery LeCrone. St. Louis Ballet is recognized for its high artistic caliber and they were graceful, beautiful, and the most traditional dancers of the evening. The choreography was splendid, too. However, the music all string and shrill, dissonant, hyper-fast movements, had me on edge and assaulted my sensitive ears. I heard a gentleman exclaim, “I have to turn down my hearing aid.” Sometimes music can enhance the performance and sometimes it takes away from the superb dancers.

Thanks to Dance St. Louis for another terrific evening of culture, art, and entertainment. St. Louis is fortunate to have so many good dance companies to enjoy.


***  **  *  ***  *  ***  *  **  ***


September 2013

Cabaret

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Runs September 11 through October 6, 2013

A young American writer named Cliff (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) goes to Berlin to work on a book. There he meets a cabaret singer and is quickly enchanted by her. Sally Bowles (Liz Pearce) is seemingly a free spirit as she flits around from one relationship to another. But Cliff is not the all-American guy either as he had a tryst with a man or two in Gay Paree (pun intended). However, Sally sings her heart out in hopefulness that this relationship will work in Maybe This Time.

There’s a second couple: proprietress of the hotel, Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray) has a suitor, an older gentleman with a fruit stand and some money. Prior to meeting him, she sings her acceptance of her droll life in So What?...

The sun will rise and the moon will set

and you learn how to settle for what you get.

However, Herr Schultz (Michael Marotta) takes a liking to her and they plan a wedding only to be stopped by Hitler. Darn it. Herr Schultz is Jewish and Fraulein Schneider is a realist who recognizes the way the world is going. At first, she’s the only one who does as Sally and Cliff tend to be sleepwalking and unaware of the spread of Nazi Germany.  

But wait, back to our first couple, Sally gets pregnant. She has no idea who the father might be but it could be Cliff. As he’s realizing the hold that Hitler has on Germany, he begs Sally to return to America with him. Alas, she does not and has an abortion instead so she can continue her life as a night-club singer.

All this is overseen, overshadowed and over-played by the Emcee (Nathan Lee Graham, a Webster University Theatre alumnus who has done numerous shows on Broadway) as the master of ceremonies. He reflects and shows the audience the wild freedom of the times conveyed in various strange costumes such as one with a tuxedo on one side and a frilly dress on the other. Is he a man or a woman? His androgynous character is not too convincing in the song Two Ladies...  I’m the only man, ja!

In the end, every one goes their separate way as the Nazis take over and Sally Bowles reminds us:

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb

It isn’t that long a stay

Life is a cabaret, old chum

Come to the cabaret

The stage was designed to double as the Kit Kat Club and the hotel where most of the characters live. The balcony and spiral staircase are nicely utilized in some of the dance sequences. Also, the music by “even the orchestra is beautiful,” announced by Emcee in the beginning, was hidden and occasionally revealed behind a curtain onstage, did a great job with the score.

The first act was bit long. It seemed to take a while to develop the story even with some of the high points of fairly well-known songs. Tomorrow Belongs To Me seems to be a ballad for the Nazis, but it’s actually a beautiful song in a different context. It was written for the stage production by John Kander and Fred Ebb in the style of a traditional German song to stir up patriotism for the "fatherland". Although it has sometimes been mistaken for a genuine "Nazi anthem" and has led to the songwriters being accused of anti-Semitism, the writers are, in fact, Jewish.

Also, The Money Song was interesting with those creatures in the huge masks.

The singing by everyone was fantastic and stirring. Top notch singers all. It’s a great show, just be prepared for a long evening. It runs through October 6th.

***************
July 2013

Les Misérables

The Muny, Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs July 15-21, 2013

An incredible story, an exquisite production, a rousing score, an awesome cast! We don’t think there could have been a miserable soul at The Muny’s presentation of the legendary Les Misérables on Monday night. The set, by Rob Morgan in his Muny debut, was very engaging, adaptable and detailed. And for this production, it seems the electronic backdrop screen was truly put to the test (and the problems of the first week easily forgotten) with near photographic images of street scenes, the sewers of Paris, and chambres des hôpitals. The value of this technical marvel is beginning to be realized in its flexibility and capability to render very complex images to enhance a production.

In this seasons’ earlier reviews, we thought we’d seen the best that The Muny casting could present, however, this week’s show set a new level of performance. The male leads, Hugh Panaro in the role of Jean Valjean, the paroled prisoner whose conscience leads him to a higher pathway than his nineteen years of forced labor do, and his police inspector nemesis, Javert, played by Norm Lewis, were so powerful and clear, precise and projected, one would have thought we were anywhere but an outside venue! Having one of these very accomplished Broadway stars on-stage at once would have been truly thrilling, but having the two of them play opposite one another created an evening where you couldn’t wait to hear them sing again. The result was that perhaps the longest show of the season seemed to fly by! Of the female characters, Lindsey Mader’s Muny debut performance as Eponine was the stand-out.

To forget to mention Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, the conniving innkeepers that everyone loves to hate, played by Michael McCormick and Tiffany Green, would be unfair. During curtain calls, interspersed with the rousing applause and cheers, one could hear the audience reacting with catcalls and boos in response to the unconscionable characters they played to a tee!

Finally, a stunning entry for Jimmy Coogan in the role of Gavroche! This young man, just entering the 6th grade in the fall, had the presence, bearing, and physical and vocal confidence of an actor three times his age! He wowed The Muny audience and they let him know at the end of the show. There’s a future in this business for Master Coogan if he continues to make himself known as he did in this show!

A fascinating story of redemption and misguided justice, love and the value of enduring commitment to one’s ideals based on French author Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables was the best so far in the 2013 season. Don’t let the hot weather deter you… you’ll forget all about the heat once the show begins!


**  ***  *  ***  **  *  **  ***  *  ***  **

South Pacific

The Muny in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs July 8-14, 2013

The audience at the Muny had no trouble imagining the meteorological environment of a small grouping of remote islands, the setting for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, originally adapted from James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”. It was a typical hot-and-humid St. Louis evening, but those who braved the close, stickiness were treated to one of the best shows we’ve seen at the Muny! Director Rob Ruggiero, musical director Brad Haak, choreographer Ralph Perkins, lighting designer John Lasiter, and scenic designer Michael Schweikardt assembled a team that created and produced a show that wowed the audience!

The hurdle of making such an impression could not have been an easy one as South Pacific is one of the most revered of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s creations as many theater-goers over the age of 50 recognize the music. Most people have heard the tunes (including Some Enchanted EveningBali Ha’iI’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, and I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy) enough to recognize them and some audience members were seen lip-synching each tune. And, in this day of karaoke, it’s not an unfamiliar experience that we are overwhelmed by the mediocrity of the best of imitators, if we can stand to listen that long. One by one, each of the six lead characters blew us away with the quality of their voices: Laura Michelle Kelly (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Ben Davis (Emile de Becque), Loretta Albes Sayre (Bloody Mary), Josh Young (Lt. Joseph Cable), Sumie Maeda (Liat) and Tally Sessions (Luther Billis)! We challenge you to recall a production with so many talented vocalists of that quality. Even those who had French dialogue to speak did so very well (kudos to the language coach)!

If the members of the South Pacific cast seemed familiar, it’s not surprising. We Muny “frequent fliers” are familiar with many of this cast from other Muny productions. Ben Davis and Tally Sessions had only two weeks off after nailing their roles in Spamalot, the opening production of the 2013 season. In addition to the direction team, Laura Michelle Kelly, Caitlin Chau and Spencer Jones (the latter two as Emile de Becque’s children, Ngana and Jerome) and Michael James Reed (as Comdr. William Harbison) all came back to the Muny this year after last year's crowd-pleasing The King and I. Why build something new when you have a great team capable of great performances!

Thank you, Mike Issacson, for bringing them all together... again!

**  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **

Nunsense Muny Style!

The Muny in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount
Runs July 1-7, 2013

We have to be fair about this: we’d never heard of Nunsense before, but there’s a similarity in the overall plot, a fundraiser for a charitable organization that results in hilarity and discovery of “hidden talent”, with the 1980 cult flick, “The Blues Brothers” (but with much less law-breaking). But Nunsense isn’t exactly a “mission from God”… more precisely, the survivors of a culinary accident need to raise money to finish burying their deceased fellow Little Sisters of Hoboken, precariously preserved in the convent kitchen freezer. It is witty and cute and religious, but you don’t have to be a graduate of a Catholic school in order to appreciate the humor (but some familiarity with religious dogma helps). We are even treated to a St. Louis Catholic High School fashion show! This show has lots of fun lines and surprises and doesn’t require you to say any Hail Marys afterwards.

This week’s show is actually titled Nunsense Muny Style! because of the St. Louis twist the production team puts on the original to make it unique. Dan Goggin, the enlightened one who, in 1985, dreamed up the concept as a line of greeting cards that morphed into the second longest-running off-Broadway show in history (the longest is The Fantasticks), put the Muny-spin on this production. He’s got the St. Louis spirit and puts it on stage for all of us to share.

Alumna of prior Muny seasons and bona fide Broadway actresses, Dee Hoty, Tari Kelly, Beth Leavel, and Terri White, St. Louis’ very own Phyllis Smith (of NBC’s The Office) make a great nun-convent-ional superfluity (look it up!) of nuns all by themselves, but add Muny-ensemble graduate Sarah Meahl, Muny-veteran Michele Burdette-Elmore, and Muny-virgin Rachel Abrams, you’d think that’s all you’d ever wanted to see in habits! But wait, St. Louis, even native son Ken Page dons a habit! Rounding out the non-conventional cast is Lara Teeter, head of the Webster Conservatory for Theatre Arts. The best heaven-sent cast since Jesus and the Disciples!

Don’t be afraid to go see Nunsense Muny Style! for fear of being struck by lightning because we all know that God has a sense of humor; why else would He create the platypus?


**  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **
June 2013

Shrek-The Musical

The Muny in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs June 24-30, 2013
Years ago, there was a video game called “Donkey Kong”… we felt that the Muny’s production of Shrek-The Musical could easily have been subtitled “Donkey King” given Michael James Scott’s performance as Donkey playing alongside Stephen Wallem (Shrek), Julia Murney (Princess Fiona), and Rob McClure (Lord Farquaad). No doubt that the latter three actors were excellent in their respective roles, but Donkey stole the show. And he probably had to… to have to follow Eddie Murphy’s role in the animated Dreamworks’ feature demands someone as “animated” as Scott. His vocalization and choreography were standouts in this show. Fiona and Shrek’s duet in I Think I Got You Beat was charmingly synergistic, and the mild potty humor competition at the end of the number evoked guffaws from the mature audience members and giggles and snorts from the predictably high proportion of under-12 guests.

The sets, although not extraordinary, were numerous and colorful, but the Muny’s revolving stage created a wonderful time-lapse mechanism for Fiona’s solo I Know It’s Today. Akin to the Shakespeare Festival’s use of a stage extension, the Muny has been creatively utilizing an elevated walkway at stage level encircling the orchestra pit, effectively bringing the action closer to the audience than in years prior.

In a mechanism strongly reminiscent of the marionette used in the staging of War Horse or a Chinese New Year’s Lion, Dragon (vocalized beautifully and powerfully by Natalie Venetia Belcon) was animated by a handful of actors under an armature, who formed the body and moved the legs, tail, wings, head and mouth. It seemed that the children in the audience really appreciated this presentation.

One further note: Rob McClure’s role of the halfling, Farquaad, must have taken a toll on his knees. Some clever staging mechanisms allowed McClure to assume the height-challenged role demanded by his character’s physical stature but in one hilarious scene, it was obvious that making the character appear to kneel when the actor is already on his knees is athletically challenging! Nevertheless, McClure pulled off the tedious task with humor, a bit of help from some props and costuming, and laudable ease. This was just one of the visual marvels of this performance demanded by the story’s fantastical nature, from Pinocchio’s elongating nose to Fiona’s “greening” as she assumes her “love’s true form” upon kissing Shrek in their impromptu wedding.

Shrek-The Musical runs until Sunday June 30, so treat the kids, and yourself, to an amusing evening in Fairy Tale Land.

And, by the way, those new fans are great! This week’s Monday night was much warmer than the “sweater and blanket” late September-like coolness of the 2013 Muny opening night last week. We were cool despite the near-90 degree temperatures after dark and couldn’t hear the fans which were running throughout the performance! Many thanks to the thoughtful generosity of The Muny Fan Club led by Harry and Sally Johnston and The Johnston Family Fund, allowing Muny-goers to sit in comfort throughout the show.

**  *  ***  **  ***  **  ***  *  **

Monty Python’s Spamalot

The Muny in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs June 17-23, 2009

St. Louis absolutely LOVES The Muny as evidenced by opening night of the venerable theater’s 95th season! Despite lightning and CWE window-rattling thunder, gusty winds removing healthy tree limbs in Forest Park, torrential downpours that left the intersection of Cherokee and Kingshighway under 2 feet of water by 6 pm, and threats of more of nature’s fury after “curtain” time, a huge crowd turned out for Monty Python’s Spamalot. Showtime was delayed by unresolved technical problems with the electronic light board (I suspect it will be remedied by Tuesday night’s performance) and the temperature dropped to a very un-Muny-ish 70 degrees (it felt much cooler, but I did check weather.com’s historical data for St. Louis), but despite rain, blow, and “ni” (sorry, couldn’t think of anything rhyming with “sleet”), the show did go on!

Executive Producer Mike Isaacson addressed the audience with his appreciation for giving him the opportunity to continue the Muny tradition. He announced that for his second season in St. Louis, a new Muny record had been set with 500 new season subscribers to bring the total to 23,500! In probably the only disappointment of the night, the much-anticipated new cooling fans, designed to be quiet enough to run throughout the performance, were turned off prior to the show’s start because of the cool weather! Muny-goers tonight will probably get the first experience as the temperatures should be a very-tolerable 80 degrees by showtime.

If you’ve seen the 1975 feature film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, you know most of this story but Spamalot is interlaced with some additional silliness both fresh and confiscated from other Python parodies such as “Life of Brian”. You may even be tempted to sing along with familiar ditties like “Knights of the Round Table” or “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, but the storyline is spruced up with contemporary references, so be prepared for surprises that keep it fresh and edgy.

We were very impressed with John O’Hurley’s (Seinfeld’s J. Peterman, Season 1 winner of Dance with the Stars) portrayal of King Arthur and the role of Lady of the Lake played by Michele Ragusa (previous Muny performances in Titanic and Singin’ in the Rain) whose character assumed a more significant one than in the movie. One of my favorite scenes in the movie finds Arthur and his knights encountering a castle as they seek others to join their quest for the Holy Grail. They are shocked to find that the castle is not only occupied by French soldiers but also ones who taunt them mercilessly. Chris Hoch does a wonderful, laughter-provoking performance as the Frenchman who force-feeds Arthur humbling food for thought: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.” Despite being almost 40 years’ old, that line provoked nearly 11,000 Muny fans to side-splitting laughter! It was fun from beginning to end in very Python-esque style!

Just when we thought it was over and the players were taking bows and accepting adulation from the audience, John O’Hurley had another surprise for us and brought playwright, song-writer, actor, and Python member Eric Idyl on-stage to a roar of approval from the very appreciative crowd. He briefly addressed the audience with his admiration for our braving the elements and explained two Muny achievements: the first time Spamalot had been performed outdoors and, this was largest single crowd to have seen Spamalot! He ended the night by leading the entire audience in singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and entreating us to video it with our phones and let the Guinness Book of World Records in on the record-worthiness of the event.

Remember that Muny shows debut on Mondays and run only one week (with few exceptions) and there are limited reserved seats. However, if you don’t get a ticket, you can always join the “fun crowd” at the back of the Muny by arriving about an hour before the gates open and taking a shot at the “free seats” (bring a glass-free picnic dinner and enjoy it while you wait in line!). The season is summarized below and summer always seems so short!

2013 Season Dates
(and show sponsors, thank you!)

Monty Python’s Spamalot Jun 17-23 (BMO Harris Bank)

Dreamworks’ Shrek, the Musical Jun 24-30 (US Bank)

Nunsense (Muny Style!) Jul 1-7 (Edward Jones)

South Pacific Jul 8-14 (Emerson)

Les Misérables Jul 15-21 (Wells Fargo Advisors)

Disney’s Mary Poppins, the Musical Jul 25-Aug 2 (Ameren)

Westside Story Aug 5-11 (BMO Harris Bank)


For tickets, the Muny box office is open 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week (314.361.1900) or use MetroTix Charge-by-Phone (314.534.1111).

********************
May 2013

Twelfth Night or What You Will

Shakespeare Festival

Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount 

Pray for drier weather because you are in for a comedic treat this year at the Shakespeare Festival. Rick Dildine returns for his fourth season to the SFSTL for his directorial debut and with Twelfth Night, he and his team have hit it over the fence! Replete with live music composed for this production, a marvelous set designed by Kevin Kline Award nominee and recipient Scott Neale, and a cast of enthusiastic, engaging actors, make this year’s presentation an evening full of tearful laughter you won’t want to miss.

As you might know, Twelfth Night is a comedy of errors incited by a tragic event complicated by identity- and gender-masking, love-at-first-sight, rivalry, devotion, and logic- and sobriety-challenged characters. The identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, are believably carried by Kimiye Corwin and Vichet Chum; they look enough alike that even if you don’t know the story, you can “see the resemblance” and comprehend the visual confusion with her brother when Viola assumes the disguise of a young man. Leslie Ann Handelman and Joshua Thomas are superb as Olivia and Orsino, but for us, Andy Patterson’s Feste, the “wise fool” of Olivia’s house, is the star of the night’s performance. We were also impressed with Haas Regen’s versatility as a musician above and beyond his role as Sir Andrew and the deliriously drunken Sir Toby Belch portrayed by Eric Hoffmann.

If you’ve never been to the Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, you should know what to expect and what to do to be prepared. First of all, it is a free event, but there are concession stands to augment your evening’s experience. You should be aware that although it is free, the performers are professionals and they work hard to provide a fantastic experience, so don’t go expecting mediocrity. Upon meeting director Rick Dildine the evening we attended, it was evident from his enthusiasm and sincerity that this was going to be a performance to appreciate. We were not disappointed.

On our first visit together in 2009 for The Merry Wives of Windsor, we brought a blanket, arriving about 30 minutes before showtime. We had eaten a very pleasant dinner at the Boathouse before the show and walked to the Glen. Of course, there were hundreds of people already there and finding a place to spread out our blanket without feeling “intimate” with our neighbors made it necessary to be pretty high up the hill. We could see the stage fine but it was hard to hear the dialogue because some of our neighbors obviously went to socialize. Of course, St. Louisans are very friendly and we can’t fault them on that, so if you want to hear what Shakespeare has to say, go early and sit towards the front. One improvement of the last few years (I don’t know when it was actually implemented) is the use of wireless microphones on the actors. This certainly has been appreciated by our experience.

We’d also suggest that you plan to go on an evening where the weather will suit your needs (this year has certainly been a lot cooler than some prior years, so be prepared for the chill after the sun sets). Of course, if it rains, as it has several nights in the first week of this season, the production may be called off. The policy is that if interrupted by rain, the delay could go as long as an hour before the performance is cancelled. Fortuitously, the natural bowl of The Shakespeare Glen faces northeast so that the setting sun won’t be in your eyes. Also, if you have trouble sitting without back support for several hours, it would be prudent to bring a low beach chair or study cushion so you can be comfortable throughout the evening. (If you bring a normal folding chair and park yourself in front of people who arrived before you, you might get some complaints when you obscure their line-of-sight.) If you don’t want to be burdened by folding chairs, there is a limited number of rental chairs available front-and-center. While we love the casual atmosphere of a blanket, we have found these chairs to be well-worth the $7 or $10 fee, and of course, you are making a contribution to this great St. Louis institution now in it’s 13th year.

We also suggest that you arrive early and patronize the concession stands (managed by the St. Louis Zoo) that provide some tasty offerings (including vegetarian options and wine, daiquiris and margaritas, and non-alcoholic beverages) for a reasonable price. On Thursday and Friday nights, you can pioneer a new SFSTL experience: communal dining catered by Bixby’s (the restaurant on the second floor of the Missouri History Museum). You reserve your meal and join other Festival guests for a very appetizing dinner before the show (visithttps://www.sfstl.com/whats-on/communal-dining-2013/ for the prix fixe package which includes the full-course meal and reserved seating for the play; use the link for details and to make reservations which are required). For those of you familiar with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis' dinner before the performance, this seems like a step up in terms of the proffered fare, but we only perused the online menu, so I can't offer a review of the meal. Of course, you can opt from those or two further options: eat at home or your favorite eatery, or bring your meal with you and enjoy the lovely summer we're having thus far in St. Louis!

Whatever you decide, and there are plenty of options, Dildine has done homage to William Shakespeare in his staging of Twelfth Night. You won’t leave without laughing... and even your children, so long as they are not less than 11- or 12-years old, will enjoy much of the humor. It’s obvious that the actors had a great time and, as a result, those St. Louisans’ savvy enough to attend had an evening to remember. Visit the Festival website for details and more information: https://www.sfstl.com.

The show runs from May 22 through June 16, every night except Tuesday nights. On Thursday nights, signing for the hearing-impaired is provided. The Green Show, a pre-show entertainment, begins at 6:30, as do the backstage tours. The mainstage event begins at 8 pm. After the play, a Washington University theater professor hosts a small talkback circle to discuss the performance and concepts related to the work. We found this to be a very enjoyable end to a wonderful evening.

* *** ** *** * *** ** *** *

March 2013

WarHorse

The Fox Theatre

Produced by The National Theatre of Great Britain and Presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Runs March 13-24, 2013

Reviewed by David Mount

Having seen the Spielberg movie adaptation of this story of the connection between man and horse set in Europe in the second decade of the 20th century, I was wondering how such a compelling tale could be portrayed on stage without live horses. While this production introduced parts of the Michael Morpurgo novel not included in the Hollywood version (to my recollection, anyway), it was an incredible and stunning demonstration of what can be done on stage. My son and I were so engrossed in the realism of the story that we held our breaths several times and were in awe of the magic that brought life to inanimate life-sized constructions of the central characters of this musical event.

Decidedly turning from the trend in special effects that employ computers to convince the audience that what they are seeing is real, this remarkable production engaged life-sized puppets of horses and other animals, and even a technologically-advanced war machine of The Great War, moving across the stage using the power of people. It sounds like it would be less-than-satisfying but I promise you, you MUST see how mesmerizing the effect of the realism portrayed by the puppeteers becomes. You will be reminding yourself that these aluminum, cane, leather, carbon-fiber and Tyvek constructions have no heartbeat save those of the actors giving them life. They gallop, trot, rear up and even breathe. There is no chasm of disbelief between puppet and reality, even when the horses “die” in the course of serving with the armies in 1914-1915 Europe. The art and emotion passing from the hands and bodies of the horse puppeteers must be held as the crowning glory of this show. Bravo!

This is a musical and the narration was beautifully rendered in lilting Irish style by John Milosich, the “Song Man”, as he is called. It must be daunting to perform in the shadow of such puppets, but he did earn our admiration. Albert, the young man who becomes so closely attached to his beloved horse, Joey, was evocatively and believably played by Alex Morf. The lighting and sound special effects are worthy of the warning provided before the start of the show. Loud explosions and bright flashes of light are very credible on-stage adaptations of explosions one would imagine in WWI.

Another ingenious idea employed in this production was the use of people as physical props. I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, but let me give you but one example of this: when the scene calls for a fence, actors move into place with semi-abstract fence sections. The scenery changes fluidly and gives a wonderful effect of detail and there’s no need to support the inanimate object; the actors double as people standing along the fence. How ingenious!

Finally, I was truly impressed by the unconventional set creativity that employed sketches by Rae Smith (you can see them here:http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover-more/digital-classroom/designer-sketchbooks/rae-smiths-sketchbook) that were projected onto a screen that looked like a piece of art paper torn from a sketchbook. If you could take your eyes off the stage for a moment, in some scenes, clouds were moving across the landscape and although these are pencil-line drawings, you will be stunned at how beautiful the subliminal effect truly is. Evidently, I’m not the only one who felt this way because one of the five Tony® Awards won by WarHorse in 2011 was for Best Set Design in a Play. Just one of many reasons beyond the actual story for seeing this show. It only runs until March 24th, so you will want to call MetroTix (314.534.1111) or visit the Fox box office. For more information, go toFabulousFox.com.

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *

February 2013

Carmina Burana

Performed by
The Nashville Ballet

Touhill Performing Arts Center

February 22-24, 2013

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

The crowd went wild! This was a huge production! One hundred twenty UMSL University Singers and Orchestra, The Saint Louis Bach Society and the St. Louis Children’s Choir, 60 musicians and 40 dancers of the Nashville Ballet made it a very powerful performance. It received an enormous stand of appreciation and ovation.

The evening began with a performance by the athletic and versatile dancers of MADCO to Bach’s Cantata No.10 and was choreographed by Dance St. Louis’ own Michael Uthoff. It was a much lighter piece in contrast to the dramatic Carmina Burana. It ended with what reminded me of an homage to Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” with the dancers clustered together and popping out of upturned arms.

Carmina Burana means “Song from Beuren” which is a district in upper Bavaria. It is from a collection of poems written in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries questioning conventional values and traditional religion. German Composer Carl Orff wrote the music for this iconic story in 1937.

The ballet begins with a single woman wearing a huge billowing skirt from which other dancers emerge. She is the Wheel of Fortune that determines the fate of human beings. Sadie Bo Harris, as Lady Fortune, was a stern taskmaster. Although ballet is usually graceful and flowing, she managed to keep her ballet body graceful but stiff, commanding, angular, and with sharp movements. It was in contrast to the warmth and sunshine of the other dancers when spring arrives with a smile on Flora’s face and a colorful dance around the Maypole.

The production is very dramatic and with the music being live packs some power. Sometimes it seemed the stage was a little crowded with the choir on risers on both sides. I kept wanting to push the side risers back further or to only have the large choir in the rear to give the dancers more of the stage. On some of the numbers, the choir was a little tentative as though they weren’t sure when to come in. The children’s choir was seated on the sides of the theatre and although their part was very short, they managed to be respectful though out the show.

After beginning with the unpredictable Wheel of Fortune, the ballet progresses through Spring, then down in the depths of the Tavern (noted as not a good place) and finally into a balance of the Court of Love and Cupid’s arrival. The subject matter is not religious but deals with fate and mortality, nature, drinking and sensual love. Some of the lyrics:

Oh fortune, you are like the moon, unpredict-able, changeable, ever waxing and waning, hateful life first oppresses then soothes and always fades to nothing.

Choreographer and Artistic Director Paul Vasterling did a fantastic job of conveying the feel of this Book of Poems to dance and Nashville Ballet is excellent and a joy to watch. Every dancer was very strong.

The audience leapt to their feet the moment the ballet ended and the standing ovation was one of the biggest I’ve seen. We are so fortunate, Lady Fortune, to have Dance St. Louis bring us these incredible productions.

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *

Carmina Burana

The Nashville Ballet

The Touhill Performing Arts Center

Presented by Dance St. Louis

February 22-24, 2013

Reviewed by David Mount

The ice storm on opening night prevented us from attending on that evening, but the performances on-stage the subsequent evening were far from freezing and the overflow crowd responded so favorably the performers couldn’t have felt ignored or unappreciated.


The Nashville Ballet Company, the three choirs, and three soloists presented a tour de force presentation that will be the talk of St. Louis for seasons to come. This is not intended to omit MADCO who presented a short dance choreographed to Bach’s Cantata No. 10 by Dance STL’s Artistic and Executive Director, Micheal Uthoff; it, too, was a beautiful performance by our local talent and a gorgeous artistic abstract interpretation of one of Bach’s most beautiful compositions.

The stage of the Touhill seemed almost small with all the artists on it performing Carmina Burana. Even with The St. Louis Children’s Choirs in the box seats to the right and left of stage and the UMSL Orchestra in the pit. The Bach Society of Saint Louis and the UMSL University Singers shared the stage with the dancers from Nashville Ballet, and their requisite precision seemed effortless from where we sat. Sadie Bo Harris, in the role of Lady Fortuna, was stunningly graceful and physically eloquent, her intense but changeable emotions exquisitely expressed. Seeing this piece for the first time was a real treat and we kept anticipating her return to the production. This is not to suggest that she was the only performer to present a memorable masterpiece to us; the entire company, especially Jon Upleger in the final pas de deux, did not disappoint, far from it.

This review would not be complete without giving credit to the three soloists whose vocals were wonderfully beautiful: Stella Markou, soprano, Jeffrey Heyl, baritone, and Tim Waurick, tenor.

On the way out of the Touhill, it was obvious that there were audience members who’ve seen this piece before and I heard not one comment that this was in any way less than the best that they’d seen Carmina Burana performed previously. A supreme collaborative perform-ance by what seemed to be more than 150 performers on and off the stage. If you didn’t see it, you missed one of our all-time most enjoyed productions.

Oh, and by the way, congratulations to Mr. Uthoff on two wonderful achievements with this presentation: the wonderful choreography of Bach’s Cantata No. 10 and finding the good fortune of fulfilling a cherished childhood memory. Hats off to Dance St. Louis!

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *

January 2013

STOMP

The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Jan 11 – 13, 2013

“Stomp” according to Merriam-Webster: an intransitive verb meaning to walk with a loud heavy step, usually in anger.

But, STOMP according to The Fox Theatre involves no anger, rather more than one hundred minutes of uninterrupted fun from eight fabulous performers on a custom-designed set, probably the largest “drum set” in the world!

The production of STOMP, originally created in Britain by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and continually revised for more than 20 years, was a blend of many things:

One-eighth odd things to “stomp” with, from matchboxes to brooms to recycled plastic cups and trash cans (no need for earplugs!)
One-eighth rhythms with global origins…
One-eighth pure energy…
One-eighth dance…
One-eighth comedy…
One-eighth creativity…
One-eighth acrobatics…
One-eighth light show…
And one-eighth sheer joy of the performers and audience.
If you counted nine eighths, you’re right! The extra eighth is for the fun you will have when you run to STOMP at the Fox!
**  *** * ** **** ** * *** **

December 2012

Wicked!

Wickedly Awesome... Awesomely Wicked!

Fox Theater

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs from Dec 12, 2012 through Jan 6, 2013

This holiday season St. Louis was treated to a clever and inventive genesis of the beloved iconic book and movie, The Wizard of Oz. We discovered the reasons behind the Cowardly Lion’s timidity, the Scarecrow’s lack of reason, and the heartlessness of the Tin Man. The audience finds out why monkeys fly and even falls in love with… the Wicked Witch of the West! With Glenda, not so much…

If Jeanna de Waal as Glenda was everything the public expects from their memories of the Judy Garland classic (a fairytale blonde with a great voice, in this tale she’s a spoiled beauty queen and certified ditz who descends and ascends magically in “bubbles” into the midst of her adoring court/chorus), then, Christine Dwyer as a very green Elphaba, (known to us as WWW…Wicked Witch of the West, of course!), blew these critics away with her powerful voice, stage presence and heartbreaking love story.

We wouldn’t be doing justice to this show or its backstage talent if we didn’t point out the incredibly stylish, inventive, spectacular costuming created by Susan Hilferty for the entire cast. Also impressive was the cast’s ability to don and doff such elaborate creations in “wicked” time. The sets, too, were stunning and elaborate, complete with a laser-eyed, smoke-belching dragon. Throughout the production, the scenic designer, Eugene Lee incorporated a sophisticated clockwork… which should inspire the audience to reflect on the wicked workings of the human mind.

All in all, this was a Wicked! holiday pleasure which was enjoyed by adults and children alike.

* * *** * ** ***** ** * *** * *

November 2012

Blue Man Group
The Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Runs Nov 20 - Dec 2, 2012

The fabulous Fox Theatre was invaded by three men wearing blue head masks and creating quite a stir. Who are these alien-looking creatures and where do they come from? Blue Man Group is an organization founded by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. The organization produces theatrical shows and concerts featuring experimental music, comedy and multimedia as well as recorded music and scores for film and television. Their philosophy is to celebrate the human spirit through music, art, science and theatre.

We were wildly entertained by their antics that are pretty hard to describe. The Blue Men interact with the audience first by walking on some of the chairs and picking seemingly random people out of the audience to take to the stage to be part of the show.

You know you’re in for something when the first two rows are wearing plastic parkas. This proved to be protection from paint that was squirted out in the extreme onto drums that when played caused the paint to leap into the air and splash some of the audience. Then there was a moment when a jello mold was propelled at great speed into the first few rows. I couldn’t see where it landed.

In some parts, the Blue Man Group behave like twelve-year old boys by tossing packages of paint into each others’ mouths that is then squished and spewed out forming a painting on a canvas. One Blue Man has way too many packets tossed into his mouth that he eventually forms into a shape (sort of like the mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) that he regurgitates and places in a woman’s oversized purse that he borrows.

There are Twinkies (soon to be extinct) that are cut up, divided again and again, and shared among the four (including a woman captured from the audience). Then a hole in their costumes at chest level opens up and spews cream and cake crumbs all over the desk. These antics were mildly entertaining but the grand finale was wildlyentertaining.

The show completely stops at one point as two audience members are spotlighted and filmed while coming to the show late to be seated up front and the multi-media screen reads out “You’re late” making a spectacle of late arrivals (although I’m sure they were plants).

They create music by pounding on PVC pipe that is in the shape of a Drumbone as they call itBy moving the end of it back and forth, it creates different tones. Some of the instruments are like xylophones. There’s also a band of several members, not Blue Men, who are in a loft visible above the stage. Music is a big part of the show. Blue Man Group received a Grammy nomination for its debut album Audio.

The PVC pipe instruments also change colors. Delightfully. The world of technology is featured as three screens come down with texting capabilities. The Blue Men seem puzzled by it. They never speak and they never break character. They stare perplexed and alien-like at the audience or at each other.

For the grand finale, the audience is encouraged to get up and shake their bootie with every possible word you can think of associated with “bootie.” The Blue Men were wearing some kind of PVC pipe instrument that they drummed on. This music was impossible to sit still through. Very large colored balls on the stage are hoisted out into the audience. While we are busy volleying the balls from place to place, they light up in a myriad of different colors. The Blue Men blasted us with reams of paper as the audience tried to keep up with the balls. After a few minutes, the unseen announcer says the Blue Men want their balls back and they are volleyed back to the stage.

Overall, it is a very enjoyable and unpredictable show. It’s party time with the Blue Man Group. You never know what they might do next. This show runs through December 2.
** * * * * * * * * **
October 2012

Circle of Eleven presents
LEO

Edison Theatre

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman
Runs October 5 & 6, 2012

I was intrigued when I saw the promotional photos of LEO. It looks like a man standing in a small room but he’s defying gravity. How does he do that? This is a show about physical theatre and optical illusion.

Remember the movie Royal Wedding where Fred Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of a room? It’s like that, only in the movie they were rotating the room. In Leo, the performer is rotating himself on three different walls while a camera mounted sideways shows us another version. You can see him in one room as he’s lying on the floor but in the room next to it, he’s leaning against the wall with his feet on the floor. His only props are a suitcase and a hat in what eventually becomes a slapstick show of mind-bending denial of the laws of gravity. You can switch back and forth to see what the performer is doing and then watch what the camera is showing in the projected version. Which is real?

After a while, all this switching for your brain and perception can make you drowsy. I needed to close my eyes occasionally. The performer goes through many phases being trapped in this small room. The synopsis of the story is about an ordinary man whose world becomes physically unhinged. His reaction goes from alarm to playfulness. He finds various props inside his small suitcase. A saxophone emerges from it and he plays it while tapping his feet. Mind you, the real performer is lying on his back but the projected version is leaning against the wall. He finds chalk and draws a chair to sit on, a table, a cat to keep him company, flowers, a gold fish in a bowl. He continues to expand his world. Eventually some of the creatures become animated in the projected version. The water from the gold fish bowl takes over the scene as the man adapts to swimming. Eventually his images become overlaid with a slight time lag. He is folding into himself and seemingly chasing himself around this small room. This goes on for a while as the tension builds and he is literally climbing the wall. He finally opens his suitcase on the floor (or the wall) and with light streaming from it, disappears inside the suitcase.

Although it is a one-man show conceived of and performed by Tobias Wegner, there is creative team that brings it all together. Wegner has a background in acrobatic training and has performed all over the world. It takes great strength to hold the positions and wall climbing that he performs. In the talk following the show, he said that his brain switches to what it will look like in the projection during the performance. This allows him to keep the proper body alignments that create the illusion.

Daniel Briere is the director from Montreal with a background in performing and creating new plays since 2003. Flavia Hevia, whose visual art has been seen around the world, is the set and lighting designer. Gregg Parks is the creative producer of Circle of Eleven in LEO, as well as SOAPThe ShowmyLIFE, and VERSUS.

This is a clever and creative idea that seems somewhat limited. The show runs an hour with no intermission. Even though it’s short, it could possibly benefit with a little more interaction. Perhaps with a second performer inside the room (he does draw a second chair and glass of wine at the table) as the two interact and keep from falling into each other which could create some interesting balance dynamics and expand the lone man’s world.
*****************

September 2012

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

HotCity at the Kranzberg Arts Center Stage

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

As viewed on Sep 8, 2012

For their first play of the 2012 fall season, this enterprising company presents Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday, a work of considerable substance and merit. Its author is EM Lewis, whose other work has earned productions and awards in many U. S. theatres, most notably the Guthrie.

The premise of this play is simple. A young married woman, Lynn Hallaby (played by Nicole Angeli) has decided to take off from her family, including her husband and child, despite his protests and the maneuvers of her Catholic family (the strange mother, the bumbling father and her exceeding emotional brother). She badly needs some distance from all of them and plans to become a commercial fisherperson in Alaska -- for an unspecified period of time.

The attempts of the various characters to prevent her early morning departure by bus include such stratagem as attempts to reset the kitchen clock, the savage slashing of Lynn’s backpack by her mother, Margie Hallaby (Peggy Billo), the sentimental appeal to old times by her father Hudson Hallaby (Joe Hanrahan), and the sobering reminder by her brother Kelly Hallaby (Charlie Barron) of her earlier failed suicide. In the midst of this confusion and mounting hysteria Lynn’s husband of ten years Ray Arendt (Eric White) reminds her of their early passion. Relatively unmoved by any of this, Lynn is determined to leave: “This is not who I want to be.”

And so, she departs, leaving all of these people behind with their various agenda and would-be claims upon her. Her mother, curiously enough, is the one who finally sanctions her departure, and I say curiously, because of all these characters, the mother is the least convincingly drawn. It is hard to know what to make of her.

At the beginning of the play she seems like awkward comic relief, then she’s desperate (perhaps crazy?), and finally she is wise enough to let her daughter go. I think the playwright needs to flesh out this character so that we may perceive the significance of her various behaviors

There is yet more plot -- Kelly, whose emotions are running high at the impending loss of his sister, finally comes out of the closet to the relief of his lover Gary White (Rusty Gunther), and the surprising acceptance on the part of his family of his homosexuality.

The play will of course remind one of Ibsen’sDoll’s House, the heroine in search of her identity, but a significant difference between the two works is that we are pretty sure from the outset that Lynn will leave, and only learn subsequently from the behavior of the other characters why she must. She remains pretty unmoved by the other characters (with the exception of her brother) through most of the action, is she fighting for her life? As written and acted, she seems like the most rational and well-balanced of the lot. It doesn’t add up to anything very dramatic or suspenseful. Human? Yes, also provocative in some of the other questions it leaves unanswered.

This production by HotCity was first rate, and distinguished by its highly credible, very moving ensemble acting. Emphasizing the strengths of the material, director Bill Whitaker has created an achingly real family whose love for each other is both palpable and toxic. The production values are also just right for this lower middle-class family: Sean Savoie’s well-conceived set; Jane Sullivan’s costumes; and Michael Sullivan’s unobtrusive lighting. Ms. Lewis was most fortunate in having these gifted artists at HotCity so carefully bring her play to life.

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July 2012

Dreamgirls

The Muny in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Run: July 16-22, 2012

The Dream lives on! Who’d have thought that 96 years after its creation, the dream of our city’s movers and shakers would be as alive as they were Thursday night watching the drama of the Motown sound's beginnings recreated?!? Even in the midst of our record-breaking streak of 100-plus degree temperatures, the crowd still fills the near-11,000 seats.

In one of the most incredible gatherings of voice talent we’ve experienced in our time in St. Louis, and indeed, Tony Award-winning Jennifer Holliday (as Effie) and Muny’s own discovery, Ken Page (as Marty), treated us to professional caliber performances live on the fabled Muny stage! Jennifer Holliday recreated her beloved role from the original Broadway musical, at the time, the most expensive musical in history. She recorded the R&B single “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”which reached number one on Billboard in 2006.

Ken Page debued his career on the Muny stage in 1973 and since 1994 he has performed here almost every summer. Indeed, he was in last week’s Aladdin as Jasmine’s father. He has another connection to Dreamgirls though, other than his current role as Marty, the aging traditional agent in this story; Ken was cast in the Dreamgirls motion picture as Max Washington, the owner of the nightclub where Effie gets her second chance. St. Louisans recognize his distinctive voice and gave him a warm welcome on his return this week in the live stage production.

It seems that Mike Isaacson continues to put together an awesome directorial staff: as in the previous weeks’ productions, choreography (Lesia Kaye), lighting (Seth Jackson) and scenic design (Michael Anania) are top notch as well. Robert Clater was a shoe-in for the directorship of this production having played all five of the principle male roles in the various productions of Dreamgirls and it showed: this was an incredible ensemble of talent that needed strong, capable direction to make all this talent function so smoothly.

One final note: While new technology is often questioned by traditional theatre-goers, it seems that they can grow on us once we see of what they are capable. Hence, we have to admit that the new video screen at the Muny, in conjunction with the rotating stage, enabled the audience to “eavesdrop” on the backstage conversation between Jimmy (Milton Craig Nealy) and Lorrell (Jennelle Lynn Randall) while other performers played to a second “audience”.

Frankly, even our dreams can't anticipate what Mr. Isaacson and his highly-talented Muny Team have waiting “in the wings” for us inJoseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which opens on Monday, July 23 and only runs through the 29th of this month. Get your tickets now!

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June 2012

The Music Man
Arena Stage – Mead Center

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

One of the most popular musicals that we have isThe Music Man, which played at Arena Stage under the direction of Molly Smith this summer. It presented a moving look at Americana and small-town life with a glorious cast and even more glorious music by Meredith Willson. It was first written for the stage in the sixties (Willson also wrote the book!) and made into a movie shortly after with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. It was one of the first times that we got to see Ron Howard, who, at the age of six or seven, played the part of Winthrop, the sweet, lisping, shy introverted brother of Marian. Ron Howard charmed audiences then and continues to do so with his fabulous direction in movies too numerous to mention.

Arena presented the robust, handsome Burke Moses as Harold Hill, the smooth-talking traveling salesman who rejuvenates the small town of River City, Iowa, selling musical instruments and uniforms with the promise that everyone can play the trombone or trumpet with the “think system”. The town music teacher, Marian played by the beautiful red-haired Kate Baldwin, isn’t buying into any of it until she realizes her shy little brother Winthrop, played by Ian Berlin, has come out of his shell with the excitement generated by Harold Hill. Eventually the entire town, including Marian, is under his spell. We are, too!

Encouraging her daughter, Marian, to settle down was Donna Migliaccio as Mrs. Paroo and Heidi Kaplan as Amaryllis. The rest of the cast included a great barbershop quartet, the mayor (played by John Lescault) and a full cast of grecian dancers and townspeople.

Great songs include “There Were Bells on the Hill” (which, by the way, was recorded by the Beatles), “Goodnight my Someone” which is, interestingly, the same melody as “76 Trombones”, but played at a slower beat, and “Ya’ got Trouble – Right Here in River City”. The music is infectious.

A delightful play with a stellar cast. We look forward to the next great American musical done by Arena Stage.


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Chicago

The Muny, Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

As performed June 25, 2012, runs through July 1, 2012

It was an even more beautiful summer evening than last Monday night with the house about as full as we’ve ever seen it. It’s been a long time since the movie by the same name and even longer since the original Broadway production, so while the Muny premier of Chicago was fun and entertaining last night, there was “a little something missing” from the mix of song and dance and treachery on the Muny stage.

Maybe that “little something” was a bit of disquiet caused by the realization that the sultry, sexy, seductive Roxy Hart is played by the same actress who played Ariel, the innocent, virginal, wide-eyed half-fish in The Little Mermaid last year at the Muny? Talk about growing up fast! Patti Murin’s Roxy was making men (and maybe some women) drop to their knees last night… good thing her nautical emperor father, King Triton, didn’t know about her secret weapon! Her sexiness volume was turned up to “extremely dangerous” in the number Roxy as she loses her demur green dress to perform with her “boys”… giggling, jiggling and posing as the brainless bimbo chasing her five minutes of fame as a murderous mistress in 1920s Chicago. They’d probably even have succumbed to Murin’s self-proclaimed “special skill” of “burping on cue”!

Even Velma Va-Va-Voom Kelly, played by Natascia Diaz, couldn’t hold up to that kind of assault. While Diaz’s voice was the strongest of the cast, her dancing second to none, voluptuous Velma is upstaged in the story by Roxy. We found her  both appealing and appalling at times so Diaz did her job in portraying the upstaged Velma when Roxy joined the prison lineup of murderous madams. It’s a difficult situation to follow the example of Queen Latifa as Mama Morton in the 2002 cinematic release, but Jackie Hoffman did a great job of stepping into some big shoes with a big voice and big laughs! While Justin Guarini projected a strong voice, danced well, and didn’t disappoint as a lawyer “slicker than snot”, there was a shortage of the Richard Gere charisma in his portrayal of Billy Flynn. And maybe that’s the rub in seeing a stage production of a very popular Hollywood product… it’s hard to measure up to the A-list cast of such a well-received movie.

I had anticipated more Bob Fosse influence in this show, but Denis Jones seems to have successfully transformed the choreography to create a slick, smooth production bearing his own signature. We are so lucky to have him here in St. Louis. Thanks to Mike Isaacson for giving him both jobs as choreographer and director!

So, let’s look at it this way: Chicago is well-done with some excellent talent, including the local talent, Dean Christopher as Mr. Cellophane, Amos, the nearly invisible husband of Roxy who at the end is, paradoxically, the only “real” character in the cast. Maybe things will solidify tonight or in the next five days… The Muny crew has a history of making things click.

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Thoroughly Modern Millie
The Muny, Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

As performed June 18, 2012

Runs through June 24, 2012

Almost 100 years and more than 53 million viewers after it opened in 1919, when The Municipal Theatre Association presented Robin Hood as the first show in the famed Forest Park venue, The Muny is alive and thriving!

To begin its 94th season, opening night brought Thoroughly Modern Millie to the outdoor stage of our beloved Muny for the first time in its history. In addition to the gorgeous weather, it was a treat for the eyes, ears, and souls of the nearly full house. After all, who wouldn’t appreciate the triumph of love over white slavers and the excitement of a surprise family reunion? The 1967 Hollywood version of the musical comedy set in 1922 Manhattan, originally starred Julie Andrews, Carol Channing, Mary Tyler Moore and Pat Morita and won 5 industry awards. Hard act to follow… but the Muny crew was up to the task.

The set was expertly designed and executed under the direction of Michael Anania… complete with a restored Model T (courtesy of Two Thums Computers) putt-putt-putting to center stage! Obviously, Seth Jackson, professor of design at Webster, has earned his creds by merit; his several industry awards for excellence attest to that fact.

As far as last night’s performance was concerned, we were truly impressed with the strong, crisp vocals from everyone. The tap dancing was well done also; with an ensemble as large as took the stage last night, a lot of talent and teamwork is needed to ensure the rhythms are crisp and distinct. We’ve seen groups of less than eight muddy the air, but the twenty-five ensemble members did an awesome job. Kudos to choreographer Chris Bailey on his Muny debut!

The acting talent goes deep on this production and St. Louis was treated to a guest appearance by Leslie Uggams whose voice as Muzzy was strong and clear even so many years after her regular TV appearances with Mitch Miller. Tari Kelly (as Millie) and Stephen Buntrock (as Trevor) delivered powerful performances in spoken, choreographic and vocal aspects of their roles. However, the biggest applause during the show and at the “curtain” was reserved for Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel who portrayed the villainous schemer and hotel hostess, Mrs. Meers… “so sad to be arr arone in the worrd”. Leavel has appeared in no less than… well, I counted at least six Muny productions since her debut here in The King and I in 1983, but St. Louis obviously loves her for good cause. Her Chinese sidekicks, Francis Jue and Darren Lee, also Muny alumni, were also strong as Ching Ho and Bun Foo despite Leavel’s stealing the stage whenever she appeared.

If the start of the 94th season at The Muny is any indication, then we’re in for six more weeks of excellence under new executive producer Mike Isaacson. With a twenty percent increase this year in season ticket sales, it is not a given that you’ll get seats the night of the show. Ensure your seats now by visiting the Muny box office (314.361.1900; 9 am – 9 pm, 7 days a week), calling MetroTix (314.534.1111; 9 am – 9 pm, 7 days a week). You can also order your tickets online at http://ev8.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetGroupList?groupCode=MUNY&linkID=muny or go tohttp://www.muny.org and click on “Tickets”.

Millie will be in town until Sunday night. Here’s the balance of the Muny season:

Chicago: Mon Jun 25 - Sun Jul 1

Disney’s Alladin: The New Musical: Thu Jul 5 - Fri Jul 13 (NOTE THE DATES DUE TO INDEPENDENCE DAY)

Dreamgirls: Mon Jul 16 - Sun Jul 22

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: Mon Jul 23 – Sun Jul 29

Pirates! (or Gilbert & Sullivan Plunder’d): Mon Jul 30 – Sun Aug 5

The King and I: Mon Aug 6 – Sun Aug 12

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May 2012

Othello

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis 2012

Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs May 25 through June 17, 2012

In 1997, a group of St. Louis theater lovers dreamt of a free, outdoor Shakespeare festival. Many said that it would never fly. How wrong they were! In the premier season of 2001, the staging of Romeo and Juliet drew almost 33,000 people and over the years it has been expanded from one week to four. To date, the Festival has entertained and educated more than 550,000 people, with last year’s attendance in excess of 63,000. This year has been blessed with gorgeous weather at the outset of the festival and if the quality of this staging of Othello is recognized, another attendance record may well be set. We’ve been encouraging all our friends to go see it.

There are only six stories that repeat themselves through time and space in history. The tragic story of young lovers separated by family, foes, and circumstance is one of them. Shakespeare used this theme in Romeo and Juliet and one might consider West Side Story to be a more contemporary version. It is employed in the story of Othello, a well-admired military leader who marries the love of his life, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy statesman. In this story, jealousy and greed, instigated by Othello’s trusted officer, Iago, are the motivations that lead to the tragedy in this tale.

The acting talent throughout the show was truly awesome, with the characters of Othello and Iago being brought to life so convincingly that the audience simultaneously cheered Justin Blanchard’s portrayal of Iago and booed his despicable deception of his sincere and trusting, but naïve boss, Othello. No doubt part of the ire towards Iago was due to the skillful staging of an at-first charismatic Othello by Billy Eugene Jones. The fights are well-staged and believable, the belly dancers authentic and the transplantation of time and place transparent, so deep is the talent at all levels of the production.

The scenery was ingeniously created for the multiple locales while having a very intriguing symbolic representation of the dynamism of the plot; as Machiavellian machinations of Iago’s scheming take hold of the characters, implant doubt in Othello’s mind and break down the trust in his marriage with Desdemona, the background is slowly revealed.

The run in Forest Park will last only until June 17th, so you have to act quickly to see this masterpiece. Remember that Tuesdays are off-nights. It’s free and it’s worth the walk from the free parking to Shakespeare Glen. Be sure to bring a blanket or lawn chairs; you can even buy a picnic dinner or snacks and something to drink to enjoy during the show. It’s a treat that will entice you to donate to the Festival and come back next year as well.

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March 2012

Bring It On

Fox Theatre

Reviewed by Verna Kerans and Keran Spicka

Run dates: March 27 – April 8, 2012

If you've ever been a cheerleader, this is the show for you! Don't compare it to the movie – it's a lot better than the movie ever was. For example, the amazing group that sings, dances and cheers had to be awesome to bring this together on the stage. Acrobatics, splits, tumbling, jumping, flipping, throws, and pyramids make for gravity-defying choreography. Tony Award-winning Andy Blankenbuehler is the Director/Choreographer. It was seriously breathtaking when the girls flew into the air. The group exhibited confidence that led us to see they had earned a great deal of respect in their routines. The routines, in the words of one cheerleader seeing this show with me was, “They were flawless.” One reason for their skill level is that they have been chosen from several groups that have already won cheerleading awards.

Cheerleading is not given its due. It really is a skill… and it is dangerous to learn these routines. It takes a lot of determination. The audience doesn't know the work, the strength and the injuries that go hand-in-hand with these performances.

Leading the cast are Taylor Lauderman (playing Campbell) who was found at the MUNY in the Legally Blonde show last summer, and Adrienne Warren (Danielle) the tough-talking leader of the new school gang, “The Crew”.

The message here seems to be - no matter what comes your way, work through it, keep at it. Life can change in a moment. Be prepared for any opportunity that offers itself to you.

This is the second show I have recently seen that is geared to teenagers. It's a great audience pleaser. Cultivating the younger teens is a great way to get the new members into the theatre.

Bring It On!!!

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Cavalia

Under the Big White Top

Downtown St. Louis

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

Hurry, you only have one more week to catch one of the best shows in town. If you love horses - and who doesn't - this show is for you. Beautiful, graceful, sleek and sturdy - they speed around the enormous tent with and without riders.

You don't even have to like horses to get excited about this show. It is a perfect match for all ages. Seating is fairly limited in the "big top" so you need to get your tickets now as the show only runs until April 16.

Besides flying hooves, there are flying aerialists performing the most amazing tricks as they are suspended in air. Lighting and slides on the backdrop make for a spectacular scene. One scene seemed to have slides from the caves at Lescaux in France.

The horses see the arena as a big playground and love performing. If they are not ready to do a certain trick during a show the trainers give them some leeway and they will do the trick at some other time. This show has oodles of riders and horses. I lost count after a while.

If you buy a VIP ticket you can have dinner before the show and tour the stables afterwards. Dinner included an enormous selection of food, wine and beer and dessert at intermission. What a deal. What a treat!!

I see that VIP tickets are very limited so go online or down to the Big Top and buy them now. Call 1-866-999-8111. The show is located near I-64 and South Tucker on the south side of the Interstate. Here is a map of the location and directions to the Big Top:


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April 2017

St. Louis Region Embraces Its Talent

Seventh Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition Finalists

Presented by The Fox Theatre Performing Arts Charitable Foundation

    The Fabulous Fox Theatre

 

April 8, 2017

Reviewed by Joan Leyden

An enthusiastic and culturally diverse audience packed the house at the historic Fox Theatre Saturday night to celebrate the talent of 29 finalists in 17 separate acts, competing for more than $30,000 in college scholarships and a variety of special prizes. Judged by a distinguished panel of performance professionals, including the artistic directors of...

Click here for the full review...

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March 2017

Dead Man Walking
November 2016

Women of a Certain Age

LuEster Stage
 Public Theater

Manhattan

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan
Runs through Dec 4, 2016

Teaser:  Richard Nelson returns to the Public Theater with the final installment of his three-play cycle about the Gabriel family.

There are few plays that hold a mirror up to life with such intensity as Richard Nelson's three-play cycle The Gabriels...

Plenty
Newman Theater
Astor Place, NYC

Review by Deirdre Donovan
Runs through Dec 1, 2016

Teaser:  The British actress Rachel Weisz tackles the plum role in David Hare’s play about British post-war disillusion, now in revival at the Public Theater.

British actress Rachel Weisz is in the catbird seat in David Hare's Plenty, his 1978 celebrated play about post-war disillusion...


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October 2016

Holiday Inn
Studio 54
Broadway, NYC

Review by Deirdre Donovan

As seen October 9, 2016

Runs through January 15, 2017

Thanks to Gordon Greenberg, theatergoers have a chance to see Irving Berlin’s patriotic musical Holiday Inn on a New York stage for the first-time ever. Greenberg, who directs the production, and wrote the book (with Chad Hodge), whips up a... 




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Dante's Inferno
is a Hellacious Trip Worth Taking
Synetic Theater
Arlington, VA

Reviewed by Hans Bachmann
As seen on October 1, 2016
Runs through October 30, 2016

For some inexplicable reason, I had never seen a Synetic Theater production before the opening night of its production of Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps it was my trepidation in attending a production that relied solely on movement, even though retelling a familiar story. My reticence was totally unfounded, and to those of you who may have similar reservations, I wholeheartedly entreat you to see this remarkable production.

This evocative production ingeniously conveys the dark elements of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem of lost direction and the poet’s perilous journey through nine levels of hell...




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The Encounter

Complicité Theatre Company
The John Golden Theatre

252 W. 45th Street, Manhattan, NY

A Review by Deirdre Donovan

The Complicité’s production of The Encounter has landed on Broadway and become an instant hit of the new theater season. Conceived, directed, and performed by the British actor-director Simon McBurney, it has wowed audiences in London, Edinburgh, and throughout Europe before coming to New York. With binaural technology and McBurney’s unique brand of storytelling, it is sure to leave a lasting impression on any theatergoer who visits the production.

Based on Petru Popescu’s book Amazon Beaming, McBurney sensitively retells the story of how National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre in 1969 got desperately lost among...


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Cats
Neil Simon Theatre
250 W. 52nd St., Manhattan, NY

A Review by Deirdre Donovan
As seen October 2, 2016
Opened July 31, 2016

There’s no purrr-haps about it. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic musical Cats is back on Broadway.

Directed by Trevor Nunn, it opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on July 31st in the midst of the summer tourist season and fry-an-egg-on-the sidewalk temperatures. But in spite of the sizzling heat, folks lined up at the box office on West 52nd Street, all hoping to get a ticket to the first-ever revival of the legendary show.

Okay, musical aficionados, you probably know the history of this landmark musical inside-out. But for those readers who might like a refresher on how it carved itself a niche into theater history, here’s the skinny on the show: Cats pounced into the Winter Garden Theatre in October 1982, ran for 7,485 performances, and kept purring away to audiences for a total of 18 years. It was, in fact, the longest running musical show on Broadway until its record was eclipsed by The Phantom of the Opera in 2006. Which, by the bye, is Lloyd Webber’s as well.

So what was its unique theatrical magic? Spectacle, spectacle, and more spectacle...




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September 2016

Follies

The Saint Louis Repertory Theater Company
The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts

St. Louis, MO

Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Ran September 7 through October 2, 2016

I was around when the Webster University Loretto-Hilton opened its doors. Named for its benefactor Conrad Hilton and the Loretto nuns who had a prime role in educating him, Hilton had somehow made friends with a young actress, Marsha Mason, who was attending Webster College. She told him how they needed a theater and, as I heard it, he gave a substantial amount to build what is now the theater at Webster. She is still around. Marsha Mason graduated from Webster, went to New York to be in a Neil Simon show and married him!!

A dear friend of mine, Michael Flanagan was the first artistic director of The St. Louis Repertory, or The Rep, in 1966. The back story of its conception and its history are very interesting. Unfortunately, Michael died in 1993. He would have enjoyed all the hoopla and the 50-year celebration that Follies commemorates.

In celebration of 50 years of producing shows, The Rep opened its season with a spectacle worthy...

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August 2016

Glimmerglass Festival 2016: Latest Edition Shows Chorus Becoming Major Asset

Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen August 12-14

As always, this summer’s season provided high-level solo and ensemble performances, but it also demonstrated the steadily growing strength of its musical core—especially the chorus, under the leadership of David Mooney.

From this aisle seat, special pleasure was enjoyed from Rachele Gilmore in The Thieving Magpie, Jamie Barton in The Crucible, and Luretta Bybee in Sweeney Todd, and they are far from the only ones.

Then there was dance-choreographer Meg Gillentine as Magpie. She didn’t sing a note but almost stole the show, except that no one can do that from Miss Gilmore.

Here’s a rundown, in the order in which I saw them on a very hot weekend in August...


June 2016

Kinky Boots Is A Perfect Fit Of A Show

Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Reviewed by Hans Bachmann

Ran June 14 through July 19, 2016

A stormy night in Washington, D.C. was no competition for the elecric performances on stage on the opening Thursday night of the national tour of Kinky Boots at the Kennedy Center. This musical reboot of a charming 2005 British film about a son's desperate attempt t keep his deceased father's shoe company alive is quite the force of nature itself. With driven anthems and touching ballads written by 80s pop star and LGBT activist Cyndi Lauper famous for the hits "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "True Colors" and a book by Harvey Fierstein who authored La Cage Aux Folles and Newsies, there was plenty of energy on stage to rival the thunder and lightning outside...


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The Wizard of Oz
The MUNY Theatre
at Forest Park
St. Louis, MO

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder
As seen June 15, 2016
Runs June 13 - 22, 2016

The 2016 Muny season certainly started with a bang and a flash...or two...or a few... What's not to like? One of America's favorite tales from 1900, Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, stage-cast in its 1939 movie version: a young girl lost, a quest for smarts, love, and courage...    




November 2015

Washington National Opera

Appomattox:
A Grand Pageant Traces Continuing Rights Struggle

Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen November 20, 2015

Appomattox is a grand pageant of history, supported by inventive music. Does that make it an opera? That's difficult to answer since an opera usually dramatizes in music the romance, rise and fall, heroism, tragic fault or, at least, adventure of a human or group of people. In the case of Appomattox the character at its heart is racial equality as exemplified by voting rights.

WNO's world premiere of the second version of the expansive Philip Glass-Christopher Hampton work is a genuine opera, but it tells a story that has yet... 



October 2015

Matilda The Musical

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs October 21 through November 1, 2015; as seen October 22

Roald Dahl’s children’s books are known across several generations and have been the inspiration for several movies. There are few children born after 1970 who haven’t read James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, if they’ve been raised to avoid books, god forbid, by parents like Matilda’s, they have likely seen the movies. Matilda was one of Dahl’s later books, published in 1988, aimed at children, but the story told by this well-presented play adapation has nuggets of truth for parents as well as for children. At the risk of diverging from the purpose of this review, few know that Roald Dahl also wrote children’s poetry, adult fiction and non-fiction titles! Several of his works were intriguing enough to be adapted for television’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. Only James Bond afficonados are likely to know that he wrote the screenplay for Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice.

As alluded to above, Matilda Wormwood is...

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL REVIEW

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Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horns and Strings

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
Glimmerglass Festival 2015, postscript
Candide Lead in Britten Solo Role

Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen October 3, 2015

Having seen Andrew Stenson in the lead male role in the comedic Candide as part of the Glimmerglass Festival 40th season, I was glad of the chance to see him in an entirely different setting a few weeks later with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra since he had been cited by Opera News in a cover photo and article on “25 Rising Stars.”

It was a fascinating experience. The work was Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings which is not often played and which I had never heard. It is a setting of six poems from the 15th through the 19th centuries dealing with the subject of evening; evening in the sense of dying of the day, and, subtly, with dying itself.

Stenson displayed an assured purity of tone as he worked through some difficult passages. It was quite beautiful. My last-minute seat was too close to the stage to tell if he filled Kodak Hall of the Eastman Theater which is about three times the size of Glimmerglass’ Alice Busch Theater. That might have been a question since he doesn’t have a really powerful instrument.

The work, written in 1943 while Britten was composing Peter Grimes, and reaching the full flowering of his powers, is complex and testing. It was written for two artists very close to Britten. The horn part, for French horn with natural harmonics (that is not using the keys), resulted in some notes that sound “wrong”. But the effect is beautiful. It was written with the help of the legendary horn virtuoso Dennis Brain for whom Britten wrote increasingly complex parts while writing music to go along with World War II radio reports in his native England. For the Rochester performance, RPO horn first chair Peter Kurau ably handled Britten’s demands.

The tenor part was written for Peter Pears, Britten’s lifelong companion, who first performed it and recorded it several times.

Others included in the Opera News list, who I’ve enjoyed in recent years at Glimmerglass, included Ryan McKinney, (as The Flying Dutchman and as the male lead in Carousel) and Nadine Sierra who teamed with Anthony Roth Costanzo in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, which for me was the highlight of the 2013 season.

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Carmen

Washington National Opera at The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

Runs September 19 through October 3, 2015

The opera Carmen by Georges Bizet is my favorite opera. The music is outstanding and emotionally moving. You will recognize the music as soon as you hear it. I always tell people this is good opera with which to introduce young people to the genre.

This Carmen was directed by...


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Destiny of Desire

Arena Stage Kreeger Theatre
Washington, DC

Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Runs through October 18, 2015

WOW! What a fun show! You still have a week to catch this wonderful play at Arena Stage. It closes on October 18, 2015. In keeping with a special celebration of women playwrights, Arena Stage presented Destiny of Desire. Written by Arena’s resident playwright, Karen Zacarias, it was inspired by the telenovelas that are a staple of Spanish TV. It has everything: music, great dancing, and a very talented cast. Everyone in the cast is Spanish but the story is in English so have no fear - you can understand every word.

Before the show, Ernesto del Rio...


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August 2015

Glimmerglass Festival 2015

Playing It Straight for 40th Season; Candide, Macbeth, Magic Flute, and a Baroque Masterpiece

Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen August 14-16, 2015

Glimmerglass Festival celebrated its 40th season by doing something unusual in today’s opera scene: they played it straight. The result was beautiful music, beautifully sung, with no distracting attempts at novelty.

Glimmerglass, like all regional and festival opera companies, gives bountiful opportunity to young artists with just the right mix of established stars and singers recognized as rising stars.

The biggest hits with audiences were Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, with lyrics by a number of writers, pulled together by the poetry of Richard Wilbur, and Verdi’s Macbeth, based quite closely on Shakespeare’s play and inspired by actual history. So I’ll start with those...


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July 2015

Buddy -
The Buddy Holly Story

The Muny, St. Louis

Reviewed July 13, 2015, runs through July 19

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

On a steamy opening night, under nonetheless benevolent skies (relative to the evening we watched My Fair Lady), The Muny celebrated the life and legacy of rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly. Having performed in St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium in 1958, only about 10 months before “the day the music died,” Holly’s encore has been long-awaited... 


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 June 2015

Smokey Joe’s Café

Stages St. Louis

Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Runs May 29 – June 28, 2015

Stages St. Louis kicks off a new season with their 100th production: a musical tribute to the iconic tunes of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The team began in 1950 when Leiber and Stoller were both 17. Their collaboration spanned 60 years, creating hit classics in four musical genres: Rhythm & Blues, Pop, Jazz, Cabaret and Rock & Roll. Major stars such as Ben E. King, Elvis, and Johnny Mathis turned the duo’s music into chart-topping hits. In a two-hour collection of Grammy Award-winning songs, theatergoers will enjoy nearly 40 Leiber and Stoller classics from three decades.

The history of Smokey Joe’s Café is noteworthy; it opened in 1995 on Broadway’s Virginia Theatre and had a record 2,036 performances--the longest running musical revue on Broadway. Songs are loosely grouped to follow the performers’ journey, reflecting on the generation that embraced the music. The director’s notes refer to a story thread between songs as ‘subliminal.’ It was indeed subtle, without detracting from enjoyment. Hits such as ‘I’m a Woman’, ‘Love Potion #9’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’, ‘Fools Fall In Love’, ‘Treat Me Right’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Yakety Yak’ keep the pace and focus with impressive vocals and choreography.

Lighthearted delivery makes this production fun. Particularly comedic were songs such a ‘Poison Ivy’ with singers scratching at themselves, two cabaret solos, ‘Don Juan’ and ‘Some Cats Know,’ delivered by the uber-talented J. Nycole Ralph (Brenda), and ‘Shopping for Clothes’ with three headless dancing mannequins backing up vocalist Richard Crandle (Victor).

It’s nearly the end of Act I before the first costume change, but Act II is more evenly paced. There were many stand-out songs in the second half including, ‘Pearl’s a Singer’, by Emily Afton (Pattie). Bronwyn Tarboton (DeLee) impressed with complex dance moves wearing a shimmy dress as she delivered ‘Teach Me How to Shimmy’.

A set backdrop highlights black and white images of artists propelled by the song-writing duo’s talents: Elvis, Ben E. King, Peggy Lee, Johnny Mathis, The Drifters, LaVern Baker, Big Mama Thornton and The Coasters. The lighting and sets were relevant and effective. Sound quality was excellent, leaving many wondering if a band was behind the set.

The most memorable set design was for ‘Spanish Harlem’, with a red-lit screen of shadowy silhouettes dancing elegantly behind it. Josh Dawson (Ken) delivered the song deftly in the foreground.

The musical revue ended strongly with ‘Stand by Me’, an anthem made famous by the recently deceased Ben E. King. It started with a touching solo followed by the full ensemble and ended with enthusiastic audience applause as they sang and swayed along.

Tickets start at $44. Running time two hours plus intermission. Appropriate for all ages. For more information and tickets: Tickets.StagesStLouis.org.

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May 2015


Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

The Barber of Seville

Loretto-Hilton at Webster University

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

As Seen Opening Night, May 23, 2015

The Barber of Seville at Opera Saint Louis? Popular for sure… a full house on opening night and certainly not my grandfather’s Figaro!

If the devoted opera lover was disappointed and angered… Rossini’s music was interrupted by policemen knocking and stomping, roosters crowing, guitar strumming and blender whirring, and Sterbini’s original libretto (in Italian) translated… the fun-loving opera-goer was delighted and surprised. The production was fresh, full of zany twists and turns. Beaumarchais would have approved: in this production, Figaro is a true master of ceremonies, a puppetmaster of sorts who eventually pulls all the strings in the true tradition of the Commedia Del Arte’s Harlequin.

The omnipresent eye, cleaved in two by scissors, tells the story from its onset: optometrist Dr. Bartolo will be hood-winked, figuratively blinded, by the Barber of Seville. Figaro, true to the iconic Fitzgerald’s all-seeing eye (also an optometrist’s sign), wears eyes on his coat, so he sees all, hears all, and speaks (and sings) volumes. The rooster, even more prominent, while a reminder that the play takes place during Feria de Abril, the traditional livestock fair in Seville, is the strutting, macho, promiscuous farmyard animal we know and love and to which most characters in the play can relate.

The voices? Emily Fons (Rosina), Dale Travis (Dr. Bartolo), Jeongcheol Cha (Don Basilio), and Eliza Johnson (Berta) were simply amazing. Jonathan Beyer (Figaro) and Christopher Tiesi (Count Almaviva), a touch weak in the opening act, certainly hit stride in the second.

During the overture, Saint Louis native Ryan McAdams’ orchestral conducting was so energy-laden and animated, one forgot there was nothing happening on-stage! Throughout the score, in many places, far from a cakewalk, the orchestra was thrillingly dynamic and in highest form. Kudos!

The entire audience, which laughed throughout the evening, was enthusiastically receptive at the performance’s conclusion, with everyone on their feet for the main characters’ bows, notably for Dale Travis, despite his villain role. The entire cast, including the chorus as a troupe of Keystone-esque cops, was entertaining to watch and hear. In the lobby, an informal poll, by yours’ truly, revealed that a great time was had by the overwhelming majority of audience members asked. Bravo and thank you for a spectacular season opener, Opera Saint Louis!

As a side note to our experience, one of many friends in attendance last night, only recently transplanted in St. Louis but a serious fan of opera (she went to the Met last month for a performance), wondered aloud to us, why, if opera is so strong in Saint Louis (as her Opera Theatre baptism evidenced), is the season only five weeks long? With such enthusiastic supporters and phenomenal performers, we are asking the same thing!

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Washington National Opera

Cinderella

Beautiful Music, Timeless Humor

Closes Season in Creative Production


Reviewed by Ed Cloos
Seen Opening Night, May 9, 2015

Gioachino Rossini's beautiful music, a creative Spanish director, humor that has kept audiences laughing for nearly 200 years and a dazzling performance by star mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard brought the Kennedy Center audience to its feet at the close. All good things.

The problem was that there can be too much of “good things.” The elaborate coloratura ornamentation that sets Cinderella apart from the other characters loses its effect when all of the characters do it. The humor has proven to be durably funny, but when carried to extremes the buffoonery slowed the pace of the production. It also detracted from the beauty of the singing by and between Angelina (Cinderella's name) and Prince Ramiro as they become lovers.

The lead roles were all dual-cast, but I saw just opening night of the two-week run so I can't comment on the alternates. Russian tenor Maxim Mironov was a fine Prince, especially in his love duet with Angelina and his aria, “Si, ritrovarla io giurno” (Yes, I swear I'll find her). His refined tenor didn't have the fireworks of some, but it was exactly suited to the mood of the opera.

Leonard also is a refined and not showy singer. In the first act she sings often—to the annoyance of her selfish step sisters—part of a song that begins, “There was once a king” who sought true love. We know that is to be the story of her life. Operas seldom have happy endings, but, as we all know, this one does. It isn't the magical story in the fairy tale, but a more realistic one in which Alidoro (bass-baritone Shenyang), the tutor and guide to the Prince, is the facilitator rather than the fairy tale's fairy godmother. His role is more acting than singing.

Equally as important a character is Don Magnifico, Cinderella's greedy (and desperate) stepfather. He's a baron and lives in a mansion, but he's broke and the mansion is falling apart. He carries the bulk of the comedy, and Italian baritone Paolo Bordogna was more than up to the task. His baritone is so smooth that he earned (well, at least somewhat) our sympathy for his plight.

To find his true love, the Prince visited the homes of eligible young women and they were to be invited to a ball in the palace, but he did it in disguise as his valet who was disguised as the Prince. Italian bass-baritone Simone Alberghini played the role of Dandini to the hilt, earning frequent warnings from the real prince to tone it down. That important role wasn't dual-cast. The problem I found was that while he was being counterfeit Prince, he wore a fancy costume and blond wig. When the true Prince was revealed, the costumes were switched, so Ramiro appeared to be as fake as Dandini.

So far I've described a standard production of La Cenerentola. It was anything but, thanks to the appearance of six giant rodents, one of which greeted opera-goers in the lobby. We kind of wondered what he was at that point. They were skilled dancers who creatively and humorously performed throughout in costumes that featured long tails and vaguely rodent-like masks. They were: Nancy Flores-Tirado, Damon Foster, A. Maverick Lemons, Monica Malanga, Alvaro Palau and Christopher Pennix. All but Foster have appeared in other WNO productions, but only Pennix was among the very effective dancers in the season-opening Florencia in The Amazon.

The evil sisters deserve credit, especially since it isn't the dream of every singer to appear totally loathsome. And they do have significant singing roles. Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Jacqueline Echols and Deborah Nansteel filled the bill nicely.

While my companion and I found the action moved along too slowly, it was through no fault of Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci. She moved the orchestra along at a snappy pace, while playing the recitatives herself from the podium on a cembalo (a kind of harpsichord).

This production is a team effort, both in the staging and the sponsorship. It is a co-production of Houston Grand Opera (where it opened eight years ago), Welsh National Opera, Grand Teatre del Liceu (in Barcelona, where it originated), and Grand Théâtre de Genève. The all-Spanish artistic team is led by director Joan Font. All are associated with his Els Comediants theater group in Barcelona. The designer of the extremely simple set and over-the-top costumes is Joan Guillén. Choreographer of the giant rats is Xevi Dorca. The lighting is a crucial part of the scenery, and that was designed by team member Albert Faura. Confused by the names Joan and Xevi? All are men.

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March 2015

Kinky Boots

Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

Runs Mar 24 thru Apr 5, 2014

Broadway at its best makes its way back to St. Louis for the Tony Award-winning show Kinky Boots sponsored by US Bank. Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price who has reluctantly inherited his father's bankrupt shoe factory. Charlie, the workers, and the shoe business need a miracle to stay current and profitable. None of them could have imagined that their needed miracle would show up as a 6-foot tall black drag queen named Lola. Charlie enlists Lola to help design a sturdier boot with flair, fit for the regalia that comes with being a drag queen performer. As soon as Lola hits the stage, it was clear there were fans in the audience. The Tony Award-winning story, songs, and choreography gifted to audiences by Harvey Fierstein, Cindy Lauper, and Jerry Mitchell respectively are just what theatergoers need after a long winter.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre will run Kinky Boots from March 24-April 5, Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m. Earlier performances are scheduled for Sunday, March 29 at 6:30 p.m., as well as a matinee performance on Thursday, April 2 at 1 p.m. Based on a 2005 hidden gem of a film, until now, and inspired by actual events, Kinky Boots will not disappoint with ticket prices starting at $25.

The ultimate message of Kinky Boots is to be true to yourself, live your passion, and to follow your dreams however unexpected they may be. The demeanor one usually reserves for a fun weekend in Las Vegas with friends is exactly what audiences bring to a Kinky Boots showing. Quick wit, lavish costumes, great song and dance routines and Lola. Lola's performance of the song, "Sex is in the Heel" got the party started early with hoots, and screams of encouragement from the audience. Darius Harper has some big shoes to fill and fill them he does as he effortlessly embodies the character of Lola.

Another not to be missed song is "The History of Wrong Guys" sang by the delightfully engaging Lindsay Nicole Chambers as Lauren as well as "Everybody Say Yeah" led by Steven Booth who plays Charlie. This lively routine which debuts the two-and-a-half feet of sex in the form of the first pair of red Kinky Boots includes conveyor belt choreography that sets the tone for a buzzing intermission.

This show is not to be missed and is a great springboard for well, Spring. The final number, "Raise You Up" begs for an encore which the cast delivers. Wear your cutest outfit and boots before you put them away for the season. If you're a go-getter and those boots are already packed away fret not for there is a photo-op available with a cardboard replica of the title star, the red Kinky Boots.

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January 2015

Safe House

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ran Jan 21 – Feb 8, 2015

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

An impactful and gripping drama that provokes thought and discussion long after the curtain has fallen, Safe House, a story of the dilemmas facing “free people of color” before the Civil War by Keith Josef Adkins, was inspired by his maternal ancestors in Harrison County, Kentucky. Pulling from familial history, Adkins models the characters of his deeply philosophical provocation based upon research on those family members as well as historical references of other individuals, events, and organizations of the pre-Emancipation era. It is perhaps his personal connection to this time, magnified by his deep personal conviction, not just to theater, but to telling important stories, that generates such a powerful draught that the audience becomes deeply engaged in the revelation of the prior events implied as the action unfolds on-stage. Saint Louis should feel privileged to have this be only the second production of a work that, by virtue of it’s content, should be guaranteed a lasting place in the deeply emotional memory of this country’s civil rights’ history.

There are only six players in this moving piece and we’d not previously experienced any of their work except for that of Michael Sean McGuinness (in The Rep’s Double Indemnity). It’s not surprising to be true for two of the cast, Raina Houston and Cassia Thompson, playing the roles of Clarissa and Roxie, since they are “just” Webster University acting majors. I say “just” because they stood tall alongside the seasoned professionals with long résumés to their credit: Will Cobbs (as Frank), Kelly Taffe (as Dorcas), and Daniel Morgan Shelley (as Addison). To casting director Rich Cole’s credit, this was a truly brilliant combination of talent pulled together to rebreathe life into the genius of Adkins’ genealogically-inspired characters. That said, we felt that Will Cobbs’ portrayal of Frank was indeed the most powerful one of the evening, simmering and willful, explosive and self-driven, his restraint of family loyalty finally overcome by his internal drive for self-determination and expression.

The success of this production, directed by Melissa Maxwell of the American Slavery Project’s Unheard Voices (www.americanslaveryproject.org), staged in the Studio Theatre, cannot be separated from the intimacy inherent in that venue, nor can the contributions of the scenic design team (Peter and Margery Spack), lighting designer (Mark Wilson), costume designer (Myrna Colley-Lee) and composer/sound designer (Scott O’Brien). While these reviewers have had limited exposure to The Rep’s work, this one production has us promising to make a concerted effort to not miss future offerings.

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Tango Buenos Aires

Presented by Dance St. Louis

Touhill Performing Arts Center

Ran Jan 30 and 31, 2015

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

The touring history of the dance company Tango Buenos Aires speaks volumes for the level of performance one can expect from this very talented group of dancers, musicians and vocalists. Given the countries they’ve visited, it is obvious the draw this dance form extends well beyond its’ origins in Argentina and Hispanic culture. If you’ve not seen Tango Buenos Aires, you should make the commitment to go see them on their next visit to St. Louis… or even Chicago! It will be worth the drive.

The performers comprise a wide range of ages and yet some are surprisingly young when one considers the difficulty of this dance form. Indeed, two of the musicians, both bandoneon players were truly amazing artists, but to be fair, each of the band members played remarkable solos at one point or another. While one could watch this performance purely for the dance, the two acts, comprised of 25 separate numbers putting this intense and passionate dance form in the spotlight, were aptly applied to the life story of Eva Perón. The number of variations on the basic ballroom dance-class tango step is mind-numbing, limited only by one's imagination and skill!

Without a doubt though, it is the extreme precision and complexity of the couples’ legs weaving around and within those of their partner that make this dance stand out for me especially when performed at tempo vivacissimo! Blend that with the sensuality of entwined bodies, swirling hemlines and limbs, hips and lips, lifts and drags and you have a delicious recipe for drama and seduction. Watch this short video clip to get just a teasing taste of this two-hour treat.

While that complexity, precision and tension is the focus of the evening -- and the audience audibly gasps in awe repeatedly throughout the performance -- one number at the end of Act I grew to be an audience favorite. While some dance is involved, “Las Boleadoras” is a surprisingly impressive choreography employing bolas, a tool of the gauchos, or Argentinian cowboys, comprised of two wooden balls attached by a rope. By rotating their wrists, the balls orbit the body of the performer, and by allowing the ball to hit the stage accompanied by toe taps, heel clicks and stomps, a variety of staccato rhythms are created. By varying the speed and orbital path, the boleadoras mesmerized the audience for several minutes. Principally a tour de force by one of the boleadoras, he accelerated the bolos to blurring speeds, the whiz of the ropes through the air was unmistakable, the artists’ hands and arms moving as precisely as the feet and legs of the tango performers, with the audience jumping to their feet in adulation.

Truly a treat for the sensual, Tango Buenos Aires was in St. Louis by popular demand and if the audience response gave Dance St. Louis a clue, they’ll be back again! If you didn’t feel the temperature rise as they heated up the stage, you couldn’t have been there.


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December 2014


A Christmas Carol

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Runs Dec 12-14, 2014

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol over a century ago I wonder if he could've imagined that his story of atonement and human kindness would be so needed across the pond in the city of St. Louis, MO. French-speaking theater patrons, cadets from Missouri Military Academy, and several ethnicities were represented last night at The Fox Theatre for the Nebraska Touring Caravan's performance of A Christmas Carol. This adaptation by Charles Jones will be playing at The Fox Theatre until December 14, 2014.

The Fabulous Fox is even more fabulous during the holiday time. Approaching the theater all decorated to see a Christmas classic definitely puts one in the mood for the festivities of the season. Many generations were represented in the packed theater as evidence that Charles Dickens' tale of redemption still touches many hearts. The musicality and physical comedy provide great entertainment for even the youngest of theater-goers. Seamless set transitions coupled with spot-on English accents brings Dickens' classic to life once again with some of your favorite Christmas carols to add to the sprit of the occasion.

Christmas has its fair share of baddies who would rather do away with the holiday all together, The Grinch, Mr. Potter, and The Magician from Frosty the Snowman, but none of these characters earns their redemption the way Ebeneezer Scrooge does. Scrooge, a stingy, grumpy miser who holds people and Christmas with the same disdainful contempt, is transformed before our eyes thanks to ghostly intervention. Bob Cratchit cannot even sneak an extra piece of coal past old Scrooge to warm his hands while he toils away working on Christmas Eve. Scrooge is appalled at the notion of giving to the poor. However, by the end, after visits from the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, he is filled with the milk of human kindness and demonstrates as much.

The theater is filled with laughter from attentive children as proof that the performers are holding their attention throughout, no one more than Ebeneezer Scrooge himself, played by Paul Kerr, who eats soup with such exaggeration and physicality that the kids and adults can't help laughing heartily. Kerr's transformation from the bent-over, cantankerous money grubber to a generous, joy-filled, and buoyant Christmas convert is believable to say the least and inspiring to say the most.

A Christmas Carol provides a no-fail family tradition. It is a Christmas ghost story for all ages. What a great way to share classic literature with any young ones in your family. Live theater endears itself to children's need for stimuli and speedy banter. It is a feast for all the senses. During intermission ushers don carriers and sell Serendipity homemade ice cream. There are plenty of delicious food and drink to purchase as well as a fun photo booth to make for a memorable night. Come early or plan to stay later for your photos in and around The Fox Theater to hopefully commemorate what is sure to be a family tradition for years to come.

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Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash

The Repertory Theatre
of St. Louis

Loretto-Hilton Center, Browning Mainstage

Runs December 3 – December 28, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Presenting the story of a prolific musical icon who transformed multiple musical genres so profoundly it earned him the rare honor of being inducted into three music halls of fame (rock and roll, country and gospel) can’t be easy. The artistic team at The Rep succeeds with Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.

Cash was a simple, but haunted man who found solace in music. This story of his career and life, created by Richard Maltby, Jr., directed and starring Jason Edwards, spans Cash’s life from his family’s humble sharecropper beginnings in rural Arkansas to his rise to fame in 1950s Nashville where he met June Carter and then shaped American music for decades to come.

This musical features 30 songs from Cash’s songbook and outstanding performances by four main players (Jason Edwards and Derek Keeling, both as Cash, plus excellent performances from Treena Barnes and Allison Briner.) Their singing, guitar playing and acting talents are broad as they invite the audience to travel the often windy roads of music, love, faith and struggles of addiction.

The first few scenes can be confusing with only costume changes signaling the multiple parts the players represent. With both Edwards and Keeling playing Cash, and Cash’s childhood origins setting the story, it’s a bit complex. That aside, the upbeat, inspiring music is enjoyable from start to finish.

The set is straightforward and cogent. Its anchor is the exterior of Cash’s childhood home in rural Arkansas; a large screen backdrop effectively adds historical references through beautifully lush black and white photos of rural America. The deft combining of imagery and sound adds depth to the scenes: A picture of railroad tracks mixed with a faint train whistle transport you to Arkansas along with the Cash family. A memorable lighting effect created a prison cell with shadows on the stage floor representing cell bars.

The musical ensemble consists of an upright bass, trumpet, several guitars, accordion, harmonica, fiddle, keyboard and drums. The music is artfully integrated with the set by musicians playing primarily on the Cash’s home porch. Lots of masterful guitar playing by the main characters adds another layer to the excellent musicianship.

The production shows how Cash called upon his humble beginnings then used his talents to spotlight causes and advocate for prisoner rights and struggles of Native Americans. Amongst numerous stand-out scenes, there are ten actors with guitars in a semicircle playing and singing “I’ve Been Everywhere” with rounds of city names Cash toured. In “Going to Memphis,” a prison yard scene, a player rhythmically drops a chain into a wooden box as a background effect. The silly song, “Dirty Old Egg Suckin’ Dog,” was delightful. Major hits resonated with all such as “Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, A Boy Named Sue, I Walk the Line, Cry, Cry, Cry and Daddy Sang Bass.”

For Cash fans, this production is a must-see. For those like me with limited familiarity of his life and songs, it’s serves as an important history lesson and worthy tribute to “The Man in Blackwho forever altered the course of 20th century music.

Tickets start at $21. Appropriate for all ages. For more information and tickets: repstl.org.


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Annie

The Fox Theatre, Saint Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Dec 2-7, 2014

Everyone knows Annie, the comic strip curly-haired redhead, she and her dog spookily drawn with eyes having no pupils. The 1920s strip that featured cliff-hanger episodes captured the attention of the Sunday “funnies” faithful, even into the 1960s when my father, having grown up enjoying it, would read Annie comic strips to me and my younger brothers. I’d always wondered why Sandy and Annie (and everyone else) only had circles for eyes and Dad never seemed to have an answer, but everyone in the Fox was focused on the charming and affable star of this stage musical that is fit for all members of the family regardless of age. With the staying power of songs like “Tomorrow” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, this show is also appealing by virtue of the message of looking to the future with an optimistic outlook. It’s popularity is evidenced by Annie being the 13th longest-running American show on Broadway and Hollywood having cashed in three times, making big-screen and TV versions in 1982, 1999, and one opening this month, December 2014.

With a moniker like Issie Swickle, Daddy Warbucks has nothing on the young star of Annie. And if she continues to perform as she did this night, it seems she’s not counting solely on name recognition by itself. This youngster has so much on-stage poise and a voice that seems to have come from someone much older and more experienced. Even if she were named "Jane Doe", she’d be remembered for her performance in this iconic story of the eternally optimistic foundling who charms her way into the all-business heart of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (played by the equally-memorably named Gilgamesh Taggett). Ms. Swickle holds her own when vocally paired with Taggett and Lynn Andrews who stands out as Ms. Hannigan, the abusive, alcohol-swilling (“…it’s for medicinal purposes”), overbearing orphanage overseer.

It wouldn’t be fair to ignore Annie’s six orphanage friends, all of whom have an intensity that is unexpected for their age. In one of the opening numbers, “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” the young ladies sing in staccato-sharp, precise timing as they scrub the floor on their hands and knees. It is very well-done, well-sung and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Lilly Mae Stewart (as Molly), Adia Dant (as Pepper), Isabel Wallach (as Duffy), Angelina Carballo (as July), Lillybea Ireland (as Tessie), and Sydney Shuck (as Kate) all gave commendable performances through out the evening. We also felt that Garrett Deagon (as Rooster) and Ashley Edler (as Grace) deserved mention in their respective supporting roles. Frankly, there’s so much musical talent on stage for this production that it seems unfair to leave anyone out.

In large portion, the success of this production has to be acknowledged as due in great measure to the creative production team. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt created some of the most intricate, detailed and efficiently altered sets we’ve ever beheld at the Fox yet they didn’t detract from the focus of the story. Also very notable were the period costumes by Suzy Benzinger. Direction by Martin Chamin propelled the performance briskly, giving a sense of fluidity and a show that had no dull moments. The choreographic heritage of Liza Gennaro is really fun: her father was a Tony awardee in 1977 for his choreography of the original Annie Broadway production (which garnered six additional Tonys including Best Musical and Best Score). Besides creating her own work for this show, she retains portions of her father, Peter Gennaro’s original work.

We suggest that you go see this great show, especially if you have children between 5 and 13, or even if you don’t!

Details for obtaining tickets, whether online, by phone, or at the box office, are at the Fox Theatre website: http://www.fabulousfox.com/how_to_buy.aspx


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November 2014

Motown The Musical

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Runs Nov. 18 - Nov. 30, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

This cast and ensemble of 32 talented actors, singers and dancers delivers a mind-bending 60 musical numbers that span more than two decades and represent some of the best music ever made. Motown The Musical is a big and impressive walk through time.

Berry Gordy Jr., the musical visionary and founder of the Detroit Motown record label, developed this expansive musical and its account of events of the 60s and 70s. He produced it along with SONY Music Entertainment Chairman and CEO, Doug Morris and Tony Award producer Kevin McCollum. The production looks at how artists shaped the label and how the label and Gordy (played adroitly by Clifton Oliver) shaped them. Gordy has a gift for spotting talent and molding it for stardom; he closely managed artists’ public image, their dress, their choreography and helped them rise to national and international success. Musical superstars such as The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Steve Wonder and The Jackson 5 all flourished under Gordy.

The story begins in 1983 in California, then quickly jumps back to 1938 in the Gordy family home in Detroit. It traverses the rise of Motown and defining U.S. events, concluding where it began with the 1983 opener of a 25th anniversary Motown reunion show to honor a reluctant Gordy.

The full orchestra sparkles in this show. To pack the most musical punch into the two and a half hour production, they play 60 shortened versions of memorable musical numbers representing a vast collection of hits that spur the audience to dance in their seats. The solo trumpets on hits such as My Girl represent the quintessential Motown sound.

As the production strolls down memory lane, a historical thread running through it includes glimpses of the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, segregation and racial tensions and how these events shaped music. It’s both serious, and humorous and serves as a wonderful reminder of the iconic influence of these two defining musical decades. For those wanting to continue the musical enjoyment, a soundtrack CD (available for sale in the Fox lobby) is a testament to the 25 astounding years of Motown and this production.

The cast and ensemble don’t impersonate the Motown icons they play such as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Instead, they skillfully represent the superstars through outstanding vocals, costume design and choreography. (The hilarious rendition of Ed Sullivan by local Doug Storm was a standout scene.) A simple wood frame structure representing album covers makes up the set’s core. Album imagery and other visual guides projected onto the frames add depth to the scenes. Simple, but detailed sets fade in and out around the frames.

The uber-talented Allison Semmes who plays Diana Ross gets personal with the audience with an impromptu cameo by a brave man who sang a few lines from Reach Out and Touch. Semmes encourages the audience to hold hands with a neighbor and make the world a better place. With arms raised, hands held and voices lifted in song, it seemed everyone did just that -- even if for just a few moments.

Motown The Musical’s timing is apt for recent St. Louis events. A few scenes depicting race riots and racial tension (including uniformed police with clubs) clearly moved the audience to reflect and converse on racial issues of our time.

Tickets start at $25. Running time is two hours and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission. Appropriate for all ages, though some language and adult themes. For more information and tickets: http://www.fabulousfox.com.

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A Kid Like Jake

The Repertory Theatre
of St. Louis

Reviewed by Joe Williams-Nelson

Runs Oct 29 – Nov 16, 2014; seen Nov 6

There will be feelings... shared, expressed, and felt when you take in Daniel Pearle's first professionally produced play. He has honed his skills for sure. His writing makes the audience feel as if we are being voyeuristic into the lives of a young couple whose four-year old son is showing signs of either gender identity disorder or has a vivid imagination and a more than grand admiration for the Disney princesses.

We never see Jake in the play, however his presence is surely felt as we watch his well-intentioned mom endure the changes in Jake while at the same time suffering through the mentally strenuous hoops she must jump through to get her son accepted into a proper kindergarten program. The older audience laughs at these mental gymnastics as they are well acted onstage by Leigh Williams playing Alex, the mom.

Alex consults with Judy, brilliantly embodied by Susan Pellegrino who is the learned counselor trying to offer support professionally but with the touch of a friend during what proves to be a testing time for Alex and Greg (the dad). Four characters total, there is need for a nurse on several occasions played by Jacqueline Thompson, one interchanging set, and many emotions are a lot to ask of the basement theater of The Rep. There is open seating and no intermission so fill up and empty appropriately for the two-hour running time.

A Kid Like Jake has ten more dates with us here in St. Louis. It runs through November 16, 2014. Seth Gordon has directed these actors to the point of transcendence as they really present the daily frustrations of parenting, marriage, failed expectations, and unconditional love with stark realism. The dad is brought to life by actor Alex Hanna. He so wants to make everything better for his wife, for Jake, for himself. The frustrations are palpable. Even the program does its job of priming the audience for the subject matter. There is an article entitled, "My Son Wears Dresses" written by Seth Menachem for the Huffington Post included among the sponsor pages and highlights of things to come for the theater community of St. Louis.

This award-winning play will spark great conversations so go with a group of thinkers and talkers. The talkers will have much to analyze on the ride home, and the thinkers will examine how they have and will handle unexpected life matters from now on.

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October 2014

Dirty Dancing

Fox Theater, Saint Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Oct 21 – Nov 2, 2014

The choreography on-stage at the Fox was steamy but there was even more to like than just the dancing with this stage production of the 1987 movie classic. The credit-packed cast of this story of love and aspiration for something better is worthy of the audience appreciation. A strong performance by Samuel Pergande in the role of dance instructor Johnny Castle was boosted further by his dance prowess and ballet-trained Jenny Winton as his off-hours dance partner, Penny Johnson. This helped to offset a less-than-steamy chemistry between Johnny and Baby (Jillian Mueller), perhaps an unfair expectation because of our cinematic experience with Swayze and Grey. To the credit of the balance of the cast and choreographer Michele Lynch, their dancing skills were also strong, fueled by a non-stop list of musical hits from the sixties played by a hot eight-piece live band.

Jon Driscoll and Stephen Brimson Lewis blended the exceptional video and projection and set designs. A diverse collection of scene backgrounds helped to convey the story in a lively and believable way with little on-stage accoutrement except for a cabin interior and a screen door. Projected rainstorms, rivers, and fields were great backdrops to Johnny and Baby’s dance lessons. Jennifer Irwin’s costume design was exceptional and brought us into the 60s along with the more than forty hit songs that couldn’t help but be recognized by anyone over the age of 30!

No one expected, however, one thing that took both of us by surprise with great pleasure: Jennlee Shallow’s solo vocals on several numbers, including “The Time of My Life” (on which she is joined by Kevin Munhall) were incredible. Look her up using the link on her name and you’ll see what a great opportunity it is to see her perform! Thank you to Dance St. Louis, the fabulous Fox Theater and US Bank’s Broadway Series for bringing to Saint Louis such great entertainment show after show!

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July 2014

Quills

Wool Studio Theatre, JCCA, St. Louis

Reviewed by Kathe Dunlop

Runs Thu Jul 31 - Sun Aug 17, 2014

Quills, a revival of Doug Wright's 1995 play at the Wool Studio Theatre (directed by Brooke Edwards), could be described as lubricious, salacious and extremely funny. The story of the last days of the infamous Marquis de Sade at the Charenton insane asylum is a triumph of theatre in the Grand Guignol tradition. Google “Grand Guignol” and you will find bloody images paired with sexy enticements. The cover of the play's program captures it – a heaving bosom pierced by a writer's quill.

But Quills is not a bodice ripper. Rather, it is a very relevant portrayal of the battle between art and censorship, and the hypocrisy of the ruling class.

Ted Gregory is sensational as the Marquis, fearlessly using his almost naked body, simpering leers and Wright's terrific dialogue to charm and shock both the Abbe de Coulmier (Antonio Rodriquez) and the audience. His wife Renee Pelagie (Stacie Knock) is his match, prancing and preening her way to the heights of society. Her timing and body language are superb.

The other characters are delightfully versatile. Wright's dialogue is complex and intricate but they toss it off as if they were born in the 18th century. One quibble is that older ears may miss some of the nuance.

The staging of the play is very original, using a simple thrust set to portray everything from the asylum director's office to the Marquis' cell. The lighting was suitably dramatic, especially when a gruesome discovery is revealed at the end of the first act. Equally dramatic was the use of sound, portraying amputations and beheading. (Opera Theatre's Dialogue of the Carmelites could have learned something from Quills.)

Showtime, the premium cable channel, has a Grand Guignol series, Penny Dreadful. They might do well consider of miniseries of Quills.

Quills, produced by Max and Louie Productions, runs through August 17, 2014 at the Wool Theatre at the JCCA. More information can be obtained on maxandlouie.com


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How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying

Stages St. Louis, Reim Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Runs Jul 17 - Aug 18, 2014

Crazy fun! We can heartily recommend How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying. It will play through August 17 at the Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. Wonderful, regionally-known actors are at their best in this show.

Ben Nordstrom as J. Pierrepont Finch reads a book on how to get ahead without any education or talents Through clever moves and flattery he comes on-board and moves right up the corporate ladder at World Wide Wickets. Making a few enemies along the way, Bud Frump, played by Joseph Medeiros, is his #1 nemesis and who, being a relative of the boss can never seem to get ahead as Finch has done. Finch's girlfriend, Rosemary, is played by Betsy Dilellio. She has a grand voice and is a great partner in this role. They have a wonderful number together, Rosemary, near the end of Act I.

Whit Reichert plays the boss at WWWickets, J.B. Biggley. He and Nordstrom are familiar soubrettes in St. Louis and seeing them play together is a joy. Never before have I seen them do such great work as they do in this show together. One spectacular dance they do is an old fight song from Old Ivy. Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf, it alone is worth the price of admission.

This show took the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 and has enchanted Broadway for years, the latest starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. I can easily see Nordstrom in this part on Broadway. I can only hope he can take Matthew Broderick's place in all the roles he has had in the last few years.

Yet another familiar face is Steve Isom playing Bert Bratt. (Isom, by the way, has a daughter in the lead role of JoJo at the Muny this week in Seussical; she does a fabulous job, yet is only a senior in high school!!! You can only imagine what a future she has ahead of her. Congratulations to both of you!)

This delightful musical also has Heather Ayers as the boss’ luscious girlfriend, Hedy LaRue. The cast is huge and worth watching in each engaging number especially, Coffee Break.

Direction by Michael Hamilton is again spot-on and you still have two weeks to catch it. The set for this show is a series of rectangles that can change their lighting in each scene and with the addition of a few set pieces in a clever design by James Wolk with lighting by Matthew McCarthy.

Call for tickets at 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis.org

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SEUSSICAL

The Muny at Forest Park
St. Louis

Ran Jul 22 - 28, 2014

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Dr. Seuss still works magic on all ages! We went to the Muny to see Seussical apprehensive, expecting it was going to be directed primarily at kids. While it kept even the 18-month old twins in the row in front of us mesmerized (they were better behaved than some older kids and even some adults behind whom we’ve been unfortunate to sit during earlier shows this year), this production had sufficient content to retain adults’ attention. As we settled into our seats, it was evident by the whimsical set by Robert Mark Morgan, that there were creative minds on this production taking Seuss’ admonition to “think all the wonderful things one can think” truly to heart.

Blending elements and characters from many of Seuss’ 46 childrens’ books, the story of Seussical merges morphed versions of the well-known sagas of Horton Hears a Who! and Horton Hatches the Egg. With witty lines written in rhymes (sorry, couldn’t resist) and anapestic meter, the tools Theodor Seuss Geisel used to capture the attention of pre-readers and aid those learning to read, it is not surprising that the clever stageplay (co-contributors of Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Monty Python’s Eric Idle) captivated nearly everyone in the audience, a nearly-full house on a nearly-perfect evening. It was, in fact, as if Seuss himself had written the weather forecast, the rain confining itself to a drizzle that fizzled: about two minutes into intermission, a light smattering of rain came pitter-pattering (why stop now???)… for all of about three minutes and then wheezed out on the breezes that brought it in. Five minutes later, Act Two commenced.

Having both performed on the Muny stage as well as having directed last season’s Shrek, John Tartaglia was captivating, energetic, fun and mischevious as The Cat in the Hat, but truly, the entire cast was amazing choreographically as well as vocally. Kirsten Wyatt, as Gertrude McFuzz, and Julia Murney, as Mayzie La Bird, were perfectly cast against one another and were well-received by the audience, young and old and everyone between. While Abigail Isom (as JoJo), Stephen Wallem (as Horton), and the Wickersham Brothers (Raymond J. Lee, Blakely Slaybaugh, and Omari Tau) were also strong performers, we were most impressed by The Sour Kangaroo, a Seussical marsupial with attitude brought to life by Liz Mikel of NBC’s Friday Night Lights. Her out-of-pouch offspring, Chastity Jones, demonstrated the attitude and voice that will open doors for her beyond Seussical.

We were truly impressed with the production and content of this show. Seuss was one creative mind, who still from beyond the grave, inspires so many other creative minds, to influence all of us from our innocent toddler-hood right through our “nothing-new-under-the-sun” age!

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June 2014

Tarzan

The Muny in Forest Park
St. Louis

Runs Jun 25 – Jul 2, 2014

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Tarzan at the Muny!

On Wednesday, June 25, this amateur critic went to the Muny with no expectations and few reservations: How could anyone, however talented, come up with a jungle populated by apes in the midst of the city? Well, a very talented design team certainly did!

From a “jungle gym” rotating set to incredibly intricate, sophisticated costumes, I WAS in the jungle and saw Tarzan grow up and swing (twice!) above a delighted audience!

The Phil Collins’ melodies were familiar, the voices and choreography strong, Little Tarzan (Spencer Jones), a delight and St. Louis institution Ken Jones an added bonus and yet… it left me wanting more… maybe Tarzan was not the best Muny night but certainly a very good, solid Muny performance. Come and join the Muny fun in Forest Park!

The balance of the season offers:

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, The Broadway Musical (Jul 7 -13)

The Addams Family (Jul 14 – 20)

Seussical (Jul 22 – 28)

Grease (Jul 31 – Aug 8)

Hello, Dolly! (Aug 11 – 17)

Tickets are available from the Muny Box Office open daily (9 am – 9 pm) through the season, or via MetroTix by phone at 314.534.1111 or on the web via www.muny.org.

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Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2014

Gertrude Stein and
Alice B. Toklas

Come Alive in Commissioned “27”

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

Seen June 17

Thanks to an extended cover story in Opera News, Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ 27 was a major event long before its first performance June 14. Now it is clear that it is one of the important new works of the young 21st Century.

It is a musical interpretation of the Paris salon hosted by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who lived as husband and wife throughout most of the first half of the 20th Century. Composer Ricky Ian Gordon has written a true opera with a range of different voices, rhythms and colors.

One of the most beautiful musical moments is the duet sung at the end of Act 1 by Elizabeth Futral as Alice and Stephanie Blythe as Stein. Gertrude’s brother Leo, her companion and housemate since they were children, has slammed out of the room—it turns out to be forever—after reviling young Pablo Picasso’s portrait of the writer. Alice starts it off: “Look at me, Gertrude. Let me hear the bells that chime your genius. That only chime for genius.” That is a theme that runs throughout the opera.

All this at 27 Rue de Fleurus where they played host to some of the great—and not so great—artists and writers of the century. It is a handsome four-story building near the Luxembourg Gardens. A plaque next to the entrance commemorates their lives there. The women didn’t actually stay closeted in the salon for 40 years, but it is the only scene and all the action takes place there. The walls were covered with paintings, but in Allen Moyer’s set design the walls are papered with a design of two doves and a nest. Empty frames as directed by the libretto represent the art.

Fascination with Gertrude Stein came to Gordon when, at 17, he was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and just coming down with what turned out to be a terrible cold. He recalls he spent a week in bed “eating tangerines and reading about Gertrude and Alice and their milieu” in Charmed Circle. But he certainly didn’t get up and start writing an opera about them.

That story is told in the program by James Robinson, OTSL artistic director and stage director for the production. He had worked with Stephanie Blythe, and they’d become close friends. He was anxious to bring her to St. Louis as part of a planned cycle of three commissioned new operas, but they hadn’t defined a suitable project. Blythe was fond of the work of Ricky Lee Gordon, and she and Robinson agreed it would be great if he could create a work for her. He’s the one who came up with the idea of a fantasy on the life of Stein and Toklas, an inspiration he’d held for the 40 years that had passed since his teenaged experience in Pittsburgh. Through mutual contacts in New York, Royce Vavrek signed on to write the libretto which he did very quickly.

As a way to compress four decades into five brief acts, he came up with the idea to open with Alice knitting, representing the idea of knitting the memories of their lives together.  She actually was a needlepoint expert. The text isn’t taken from Stein’s writing, but it uses—liberally—the device of repetition that characterized some of her writing. The result is almost as abstract as many of the paintings in her collection.

Alice Babette Toklas managed all aspects of the household, including ushering out guests when their welcome expired. Futral floated around the set, at times her feet seeming not to touch the floor. (Seán Curran’s choreography deserves notice.) Her clear sweet soprano made beautiful music of lines that made effective use of the repetition device. Blythe didn’t get as many chances for her mezzo to be pretty.

She does have a dramatic and vocally effective scene as Stein experiences a self-trial over the degree to which she was a collaborator of the Nazis while living on a farm in Belignin, near Lyon, in supposedly unoccupied Vichy France. She stands in empty frames, facing the accusations of her own portrait by Picasso as well as the other paintings. As the act ends she died in Alice’s arms.

There still is Act 5 to go, and Gertrude, now as her portrait, has her longest and loveliest song, the closest to an aria in the opera. Let’s call it The Flowers of Friendship aria.

The opera calls for a number of characters that are very important, but appear relatively briefly. The production solves that by using three men from the Gerdine Young Artists program. They play every part except for the two women—even the paintings themselves and the wives of the artists. Picasso, for example, so tenor Theo Lebow switches between characters to become F. Scott Fitzgerald and many others.

Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh has the key role of Leo Stein. He also is Man Ray, who photograph of the women in their salon is iconic, and many minor characters. Bass-baritone Daniel Brevik is Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway. Their different voices and physiques make possible the individuality of the characters they play. All three performed as seasoned veterans.

The visitors are all presented as humorous characters. Young Picasso enters wearing the head of a bull. Sure, his Minotaur period came decades later, but this is about the women, not Picasso. Hemingway enters dragging the carcass of a rhinoceros. Of course, he did that only in the stories he told. Still, this isn’t in any sense a comic opera. It creates its own category.

James Schuette designed the costumes, and they required considerable ingenuity. James Mayer designed the set. Wig and makeup designer Tom Watson managed to make the women look very much like their characters did.

Will 27 have a life of regular performance? I’d bet on it, and the audience that leapt to its feet as the lights died seemed to agree.

The 2014 season also includes new productions of Mozart’s Magic Flute and Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, reviewed here separately. Also Donizetti’s Elixir of Love which I wasn’t able to see.

Next year is OTSL’s 40th anniversary season. It includes new productions of Rossini’s Barber of Seville, Puccini’s La rondine, Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, and the American premiere of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart. The final in the series of three commissioned new works will be Shalimar the Clown, based on a story by Salman Rushdie, but that won’t be until the 2016 season.

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Billy Elliot, The Musical

The Muny, St. Louis

Runs Jun 18-22, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

One of the most beautiful St. Louis summer evenings heralded the kick-off of the 96th MUNY season. Sunny and warm, but not too humid with cooling breezes (even without the silent-running fans) made for a receptive crowd for Billy Elliot, The Musical on Monday evening. Reporting over 21,000 subscribers, Mike Isaacson gave notice that as the second largest subscriber base in the US, that Philadelphia was in our sights. The simple fact that as the first US theater to do a production after Broadway and national tours demonstrates that The Muny is dedicated to bringing St. Louisans the very best in musical theater. This event was quite a demonstrative illustration of that commitment.

With music by Elton John and lyrics by the book’s author, the original feel of the Broadway production is retained, but the reworked choreography (by Alison Levenberg) makes for a grand sense when ensemble takes to the vast Muny stage. Against a backdrop of the historic 1984 crackdown on unions by Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the miners’ and families of Billy’s town experience the bond-crushing effect of the Conservative government’s crackdown on the miners’ union. It is Billy’s resistance to boxing that leads him to discover his talent for emotional expression through dance and a surprising healing of a catastrophic rift in his own fragmented family.

While the cast as a whole was well-chosen, the standout was without question, Tade Biesinger, a truly amazing 14-year old talent. He is well-qualifed having played Billy in the London West End production of Billy Elliot as well! We watched the young man’s performance with anticipation as his character “starts from scratch” and indeed, at the outset, there’s not much to impress as one would expect from a novice. At the story progressed however, the skills of the actor became much more obvious as Tade demonstrated why he has been so highly honored in his short life! By the end of the production, his confidence as a performer and as the character come to light. It must be so difficult, as someone with the considerable skills of the young artist, Tade, to deliberately appear to have so few as the boy, Billy, transitioning from boxing to ballet.

While many technical aspects of the production such as lighting (John Lasiter), costumes (Nicky Gillibrand and Tracy Christensen), and scenic design (Robert Mark Morgan) were up to Muny expectations, we were a bit miffed about the balance of vocals and orchestra. We’d hoped that being opening night the techies would bring the orchestral amplification down but disappointingly, we struggled to understand the lyrics throughout the show despite having no issues with the dialog.

In any case, the imbalance was probably resolved by Tuesday night’s production and it is certainly a show worthy of going to see. I wouldn’t want to miss this production or ANY of the balance of the 2014 Muny season if the opening night success is an indication of what’s yet to come!
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Henry IV and Henry V

Shakespeare Festival St Louis

Runs May 17 through June 15, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

Without a doubt, this is a grand undertaking for any theatrical organization: a remarkably demanding two-play offering for the 2014 Shakespeare in the Park season. Rest assured, however, the challenge, like that of Henry V’s historical confrontation at Agincourt, was met and bested!

The double-billing of this father-son tale of challenge, succession and success is actually three pieces of The Bard’s four-part epic dramatizing the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. In this presentation, Henry IV Parts I and II are combined into one night’s staging (directed by Tim Ocel) and played in tandem with Henry V (directed by Bruce Longworth) on alternating nights. On two Saturdays in June the company will present a “double feature” with a dinner break between these engaging and actor-challenging works.

While every role was outstandingly played and the performances worthy of a far better critic than me, I am in awe of Jim Butz. I am not sure from where his endurance comes such that he is able to put every morsel of his soul into the ever-escalating energy needed to plausibly accomplish the transmutation of Prince Hal morphing into King Henry V. This is a character transfiguration of historical proportions: from the tush-chasing, chummy, royal brat and parental disappointment, drunkenly frittering away his time in a bawdy tavern whilst plotting infantile, criminal pranks almost becoming reincarnated as a charismatic and motivational leader urging his ragged and weary men from the verge of desertion to a stunning victory against an invading French juggernaut.

Indeed, as Mr. Butz so convincingly portrays, perhaps it is Shakespeare’s image of a weak, inexperienced, and vulnerable boy-prince of un-stimulated, and thus undiscovered, mettle that gives the French dauphin and his royal dowdies too much confidence leading to their historical staggering loss at Agincourt, consequently allowing Henry V access to the French princess and, ultimately, the French throne foreshadowing by centuries an European union. In any case, Mr. Butz is very believable and it is truly moving to see the realization of his maturation by his father, King Henry IV, played by Michael James Reed. If for no other reason, go to the Festival to see our local star show how it is to be done!

Also notable were the performances from Charles Pasternak as Hotspur in Henry IV and the French Dauphin in Henry V. In the former, the well-played intensity of the high-strung and over-eager Hotspur, despite admirable loyalty to his cause, imports despicability for his thirst to kill Prince Hal. Then, in Henry V, as the haughty, overly confident and prideful Dauphin, one might sense this as another potential outcome of overly permissive parents! I am looking forward to seeing Pasternak in other roles. Bravo!

The basic, yet very versatile set design (Scott C. Neale) for both stagings consisted of a simple gridwork of wooden slats, sometimes augmented with a throne or pub trestle table and chairs, and once with the red cross on a white field as Henry’s army crosses the Channel to France. As usual, the lighting was very apropos, both dramatic and sensitive when appropriate (Matthew Lealon Young for Henry IV; John Wylie for Henry V).

I want to commend the sound of this year’s performance: while the background audio for these shows has always been very evocative and inspiring, the spoken clarity of these two presentations was more distinct than I remember in past years. Certainly the skills of Sound Designer Rusty Wandall and the sound engineers are involved, but perhaps there is an equipment attribution to credit here as well as Suzanne Mills’ continued involvement as speech coach.

If you’ve never been to the Festival, expect a family-friendly environment (although there is for younger or sensitive audience members an advisement for violence, it is neither as drawn out nor as graphic as we’ve seen in productions elsewhere). It is inevitable that intermingling of people from all walks of life occurs, with enthusiastic attention from all ages and regions of our community. There is live entertainment from performance artists including young students of Shakespeare, striving to become the next Jim Butz or Dan Haller (who was outstanding in Henry V). Food, including catered meal of restaurant quality as well as “festival fare” can be purchased on-site. Bring your blankets (and coolers) or rent a folding chair to enjoy the show for a mere fraction of the price you’d pay in a theatre. You can even bring your own wine or purchase it by the glass or by the bottle on-site. Safe, engaging, entertaining, enlightening and, maybe you haven’t enjoyed Shakespeare before, you might experience the birth of a life-changing evening. If you haven’t been, it would be a shame not to try, at least once. Unless you are so worldly that you’ve “seen it all” and have no further opportunity for growth, there is something for everyone. It is a known romantic event for couples in all stages of relationship!

We’ve been blessed in Saint Louis for the creative and driven visions of Executive and Creative Director, Rick Dildine, for as he told me in a recent one-on-one, he has been striving to achieve an event in this Shakespeare Festival that merits the use of the word “festival.” While the 14th century etimology of the word suggests a feast, usually religious, it has subsequently come to indicate a series of coordinated or related events, sometimes comprising several days, usually in the same place. Rick’s dream for this happening has been expansive and ambitious, seeking to grow the relaxed but energetic atmosphere by cloning the various tents and events like “The Green Show” and other performance artists. No doubt his vision has grown not only the festival but the attendance since his arrival in 2009. It is no small feat this Saint Louis’ gem has been noticed nationwide and draws attendees from beyond the metropolitan area and the outlying counties.

Of course, free events like this are not born, nor grow and thrive, without support from regional arts organizations and contributions from corporate and private donors. There is a good reason Saint Louis has been blessed by the existence of this annually anticipated event: individuals and organizations with dedication to the region’s economic, social and intellectual health commit time, money, material, and personnel to promoting and supporting the initiative. For that reason, I encourage you to seek out and thank those associated with the Shakespeare Festival and encourage them to continue the commitment that has allowed us, citizens of Saint Louis, to benefit.

The show runs from May 17 through June 15 in Shakespeare Glen, just steps away from the Art Museum, but give yourself time to find parking and opportunity to relax; there’s so much more than just settling into your seat and watching one, or more, great performances, for free, in a beautiful outdoor setting on a lovely summer evening! Bringing an umbrella helps to keep the rain at bay!

Schedule of performances here!

Shakespeare Festival Saint Louis details are at their website.

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They’re Playing Our Song

Stages Saint Louis

Runs May 30-June 29

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

Stages opened its 28th season with They’re Playing Our Song, a Broadway musical gem. This pop-tune filled comedy-love story by award-winning author Neil Simon is inspired by the prolific American composer Marvin Hamlisch and lyricist Carol Bayer Sager. With an array of jazzy numbers and witty dialogue, this production entertains from start to finish. Performances by Broadway actor Seth Rettberg (as Vernon Gersch) and New York actress Maria Couch (as Sonia Walsk) are engaging and near flawless.

Though the instrumental portion was pre-recorded, Rettberg and Couch’s live vocals are so impressive, I suspect many audience members had to reminder themselves the singing was live and not pre-recorded, professionally mixed and mastered.

Rettberg and Couch play the two leading characters, but throughout the production are each supported to great comedic effect by their own three person ‘Greek choruses’ representing their egos who act as their inner voices. The songs and choreography deftly advance the storyline and never feel like interruptions. The story follows the highs and lows of the unlikely partnership of Vernon, a somewhat neurotic composer and Sonia, a free-spirited lyricist, from their first meeting through their professional songwriting partnership and unlikely romantic pairing.

Simon’s musical originally opened on Broadway’s Imperial Theatre in 1979 staring Lucie Arnaz and comedian Robert Klein where it secured a place in musical theatre history with 1,082 performances.

The sets of They’re Playing Our Song are thoughtfully constructed, with lighting and sound all being complementary. There is little to criticize with this family-friendly production, but it is long at 2 ¾ hours including an intermission. If you’re not a night owl, the afternoon performances offer a welcome alternative to the 8 pm performances.

The production continues through June 29 with nightly shows Tuesday through Sunday plus afternoon shows on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets range from $20 to $57. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit stagesstlouis.org.

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May 2014

Windmill Baby

Upstream Theater at The Kranzberg Arts Center

Grand and Olive, St. Louis

Runs Apr 25-27, May 1-4, May 8-11

Reviewed by David Mount

Under-attended and under-appreciated: Those two words I would use to describe the Patrick White Award-winning, Australian-written and –themed play, Windmill Baby, conveyed in its entirety by 2008 Missouri Arts Award winner and St. Louis-native, Linda Kennedy. It’s certainly not either because of Ms. Kennedy’s performance, or ticket prices, or by the lack of intimacy of the Kranzberg Arts Center Black Box Theater (it’s currently set up for about 60 guests), or the wonderful musical accompaniment of Iranian-born musician Farshid Solanshahi on various string, percussion and wind instruments.

Windmill Baby, penned expertly by Australian David Milroy, embraces Aboriginal culture and exposes cultural exploitation of the iconic tribal natives of that continent as he relates the story of Maymay, an elderly Aboriginal woman who has returned to a place in her past where she feels the urge to take care of some “unfinished business” of deep psychological and emotional content. Although she has integrated into modern Australian culture, she finds the strength to re-address the powerful memories of unresolved parts of her former life. Linda Kennedy, a powerful force on the stage even when surrounded by her fellows, is stunningly adept in her portrayal of not just Maymay, but more than 10 other characters all integral to the backstory of this compelling tale, including a convincing role as a dingo-mongrel, Skitchim. In previous exposure to Ms. Kennedy, we’d previously not realized the vocal range she possesses, but save for her lips moving as she impersonates male characters, you’d swear the words had to be coming from a man’s mouth!

Milroy has very skillfully interwoven the racial and ethnological elements of this multi-layered critique of how native minorities are treated by immigrants, much like Europeans treated Native Americans in North America. It is this underlying theme and that of inevitable racial discrimination and mistreatment that become additional powerful themes in Kennedy’s portrayal of Maymay and her relationships with people in her past.

Musician Farshid Soltanshahi is a nearly constant participant in the evolution of the story, initially providing beautiful classical guitar as the audience gathers in the theater. Throughout the portryal, his expert musical skills help to evoke the mood and timbre of the performance very much like a movie soundtrack, almost always there in the background but not intrusively. However, it is his mastery of several instruments and the unique sounds he produces on them that will send shivers through your body and make the hair on your arms and back of your neck respond as Maymay lapses into and out of her ghostly encounters with those in her past. We look forward to hearing him play again and it is very clear why he is a two-time nominee of the Kevin Kline award! Another gem in St. Louis!

Director Philip Boehm, as we spoke with him in person before the play, is as soft-spoken as most anyone you’ve met and social, but he is by far not unapproachable. He deserves great admiration for his work on this production as it seems he’s allowed Ms. Kennedy to reach out, or perhaps given her access to dive deeply into herself, to enact Maymay and her past.

A simple set, designed by MICDS teacher Patrick Huber and scenic artist Cristie Johnston, looking very much like a neglected cattle station in the Australian outback, is well-executed and –used for the one-scene play which covers the space of just an afternoon, or is it years? The staging of the work, coupled with the music and strong lighting design by Tony Anselmo, 2013 Arts for Life winner, and light board operator Bob Clifford, help us move with Maymay through the sensation of time-compressed recollection.

My companions and I talked about this production almost from the time it ended, about 90 minutes without intermission, well past midnight and at breakfast the next day. I say “almost from the time it ended” because the powerful delivery of the deeply meaningful and symbolic content of this play leave one in awe and wonder, and hopefully, full of questions, some with and some without answers.

The production continues this week with nightly shows Thursday through Sunday starting at 8 pm except for Sunday, May 11 starts at 3 pm. Tickets are a bargain at $20-30 for unreserved seating, but you might want to reserve your tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.

***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***

April 2014

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Runs Apr 29 – May 11, 2014

Reviewed by David Mount

The strong lead voices of Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young in the Webber-Rice collaboration, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, pulled this production through from beginning to end. Confident and comfortable in front of a very receptive opening night crowd at the Fox, the ability to work well together on-stage may be due in part to the fact that this duo are married in real life having met in a production of Hair. Of course, fans of American Idol may recall DeGarmo as an audience favorite on that program or as Angelina on The Young and the Restless. This is a large cast, not unexpected since each of Jabob’s sons are present as are some daughters-in-law, and this grand ensemble does a great job backing the main characters.

The well-worn biblical plot gets a boost in the stage production, especially from Pharaoh, the quintessential egocentric Egyptian whose rescue of Joseph reveals the cryptic meaning of Joseph’s dreams and allows Joseph to rise to his eventual position of power. Of course, how much more egotistical can a ruler get than a pharaoh, being regarded as a god, after all? Well, Ryan Williams in the role of Pharaoh has the best role of all in this show… it seems that Pharaoh’s alter ego is none other than Elvis and the servant girls give him total satisfaction by sighing and fainting with every snappy roll of his hips, much to the delight of the audience.

One of the audience’s favorite numbers is that in which Joseph’s brothers are sitting at a long table eating which is reminiscent of a popular Monty Python scene in which the table utensils are used as percussion instruments. But Jacob’s sons go Python one better with a very enjoyable “clearing of the table” that was clever, complex, and a visual riot! It’s so good that if you somehow missed it in midshow, an encore version of it is offered after the cast takes their bows! It is one of the shows highlights.

While it seemed that the sound was off a bit in the first part of the evening making some of the dialog and lyrics difficult to discern, perhaps muddied a bit by some poor audio levels adjustment, by the end of the first act it seemed to have been remedied.

One cannot not miss the very effective lighting design by Howell Binkley, a five-time Helen Hayes awardee as well as recipient of many other recognitions. This production makes his skills a major contributing factor in the success of the show.

Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office on the night of the production or in advance from Metro Tickets by phone (314.534.1111) or online at metrotix.com.

***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***

Fiasco Theater Shakespeare’s

‘The Two Gentlemen’

Is Finely-Tuned Fun

Folger Theater,
Washington, DC

Runs April 17 through May 25

Reviewed by Ed Cloos

Washington audiences have their first chance to see the innovative Fiasco Theater of New York in a production of Shakespeare’s early comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It’s a not-to-be missed chance. It runs through May 25.

Like a finely-tuned string quartet (well, they actually are a sextet, but you get the idea) the four men and two women make their fast-paced way through the non-stop word –play, confusing message, and double-entendre humor. You won’t miss any of that last because they underline it.

Fiasco Theater, just four years old, started as an idea for six young actors and MFA holders to make their own work rather than wait for someone to call. A very favorable New York Times review led to early success and a producer for the second season. The success hasn’t stopped. The six founders since have found lots of other work, but they continue to perform in ensemble as much as possible.

Their method is to create a full experience of Shakespeare on an empty stage, using only a few simple props and no more than a suggestion of costume changes. The Folger Shakespeare Library is so elegant that the stage is hardly bare. Since the actors simply move to the back of the stage when they are off, costume changes are very limited lest “bare” become a corporal reality.

The result can be a little confusing. Emily Young first appears as Lucetta, maid in waiting to Lady Julia (Jessie Austrian). Minutes later, and for most of the play, minus headpiece and apron she is Lady Sylvia, the object of affection for the same men who lust over Julia (Noah Brody as Proteus and Zachary Fine as Valentine. Paul Coffey and Andy Grotelueschen play the other various male characters.

They play musical instruments, sing a little and one even (very convincingly) plays a dog.

To try to tell the contorted plot wouldn’t get across the humor that is at once both broad and subtle.

The program notes contain a brief essay on the idea that the central same-sex relationship (really just two men who are close friends) seems to be elevated over male-female marriage. Maybe, but no such deep thinking is needed to enjoy the polished fun.

Fiasco got its start with its production of The Bard’s early tragi-comedy Cymbeline. That plot is even more complex, and more than 20 characters are involved. Multiple productions to critical acclaim attest that it can be done. A Times review called it one of the most clear ever. Folger audiences will get a brief chance to see for themselves May 28 through June 1.

***  **  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **  ***
Always… Patsy Cline

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza

Runs April 22 - June 22, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

An authentic tribute to a country music legend featuring a fabulous 6-piece live band and outstanding acting sums up the production of Always…Patsy Cline. Stages opened their 2013 season with this production and broke attendance and box office records. This second run opens the 2014 season and is likely to repeat that success in the intimate 240-seat Playhouse at Westport. The show is live theater and music at its finest.

Though no one could possibly duplicate Patsy Cline’s voice, Jacqueline Petroccia, comes eerily close in her performance with not only her vocals, but looks as well. (I occasionally had to remind myself I hadn’t travelled back in time for a Cline concert.)

This true story centers on the friendship of Louise Seeger (Zoe Vonder Haar) a Texas housewife and adoring fan and on Cline’s early years of country music success. Though the women only met once, their friendship endured over years of letter writing until Cline’s untimely death. In our world of sensory stimulation overload, it was refreshing to experience two powerhouse performers and the live music of The Bodacious Bobcats. They balanced one another well and flawlessly transitioned narrative to song.

Written and originally directed by Ted Swindley, the story is interwoven with 27 Cline songs that frequently leave one breathless at their conclusion. The intimacy of the Playhouse enhances the audience integration with the production. Vonder Haar’s warm, and vivacious character engages and flirts with audience members as she walks amongst the rows, kisses heads of balding men and invites interaction throughout the play. Her energy is infectious; one can’t help but smile and sing along. The joy that Louise Seeger found in Cline’s music and friendship is palpable.

The set design, costumes, sound, lighting and make-up are impressive. From Vonder Haar’s Texas accent to a petticoat that peeked from beneath Petroccia’s dress, it all seems so real. Tribute concerts can vary widely in success in paying homage to legends. With the concluding standing ovation, it was evident the audience was impressed.

Tickets are $50-$60. Two hours including a 15-minute intermission.

Appropriate for all ages. For more information, photos, videos, and tickets:

http://www.stagesstlouis.org/Shows/Always-Patsy-Cline/

***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***

Once

Fabulous Fox Theatre
in Saint Louis


Runs April 8-20, 2014

Reviewed by Gayle Wilson

The adage that people come into one’s life for a reason, a season or a lifetime is the premise of Once. But with this production, the star is music -- mostly heartfelt acoustic numbers and upbeat Irish songs. It was adapted for the stage from an Irish film of the same name and claims eight Tony Awards including best musical and a 2013 Grammy for best musical theater album.

Before theatergoers even find their seats, they are drawn in by Once. There’s no curtain awaiting its raising or pre-recorded filler music here. Instead, the stage buzzes with audience members who I wondered might be unintentional extras. They naturally become part of the Dublin bar that is the main set and after milling about, they meander to their seats as music brings the production to life. Several cast members further engage the audience with lively Irish song. These actors aren’t just playing instruments on stage; they are telling a love story about making music.

Guy (male lead Stuart Ward), is an inarticulate, lonesome soul, bewildered by a failed relationship that he’s not yet moved on from. He’s lost in his music and a stalled life. Girl (female lead Dani de Waal), is tethered to her young daughter, mother and estranged husband. The lives of these two musicians, he Irish and she Czech, unexpectedly change through the connection they forge with music and later with each other. Witty dialogue and laughs nicely balance heartache as music leads the story through the week in which it unfolds. Some challenges with understanding lyrics occasionally make following the story tricky.

Girl and her Czech family add a multicultural element to the storyline. It’s handled well by a LED board that scrolls their native Czech in various scenes. It’s used brilliantly in one touching scene to translate Girl’s hidden feelings that she cloaks in her mother tongue. The board adds a layer of authenticity to the family’s immigrant roots that one might otherwise be lost in spoken English layered with a foreign accent.

There are as many as 12 very talented musicians on stage playing at different times yet every song has its own natural leader. Solos and duets are commanding throughout, with instrumentation and movement all delivered exceptionally.

The set is versatile. In many scenes, it uses a mirrored bar backdrop, allowing the audience to see the audience on the stage (and not just their backs) as they, too, are enveloped in the musical performances.

This reviewer expects a big rush of Once soundtrack downloads. No need to hurry though, as its songs will reverberate in your head for days following this production.

Once plays through April 20th. For a synopsis of the show, click (http://www.oncemusical.com/). For ticket information and purchase, contact the Fox (http://www.fabulousfox.com/shows) or Metrotix (http://www.metrotix.com or call  314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949). Tickets are $25 to $95 and the show runs 2 ½ hours including one intermission. PG audiences for strong language.

***  **  ***  *  ***  **  ***

March 2014

Moby Dick

Washington National Opera

Kennedy Center

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

Modern operas don’t really interest me as much as classical operas. I am a Verdi-Puccini-Wagner kind of person. But I was intrigued by the thought of seeing Moby Dick as an opera. How in the world would they produce this one? As I found out: with a lot of great scenery of sails and rigging and projections that were terrific and wonderful lighting and clouds scudding across the sky.

The libretto was based on the novel by Herman Melville and the music was composed by Jake Heggie. The setting was designed by Robert Brill and the lighting was by Gavan Swift. And I must mention the projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy which captured the excitement of the last few moments of Ahab’s life in what can only be described as, an obsessive search for Moby Dick.

In order to be in this chorus you had to be young and virile and able to mount rope ladders and an amazing background of wall that had climbing steps. What a challenge! Mounting these wall pieces, a lot like climbing walls in sports complexes, would allow the characters to look as if they were in boats and we were looking down on them in the ocean. Hard to describe but fabulous to behold. These boats then could fall into pieces and sailors fall into the ocean. Well done!!

The opening notes were lovely and the aria between Ahab and Starbuck were musically interesting as well, but I am afraid I cannot say the same for a lot of in-between recitative.

I enjoyed Pip, sung by soprano Talise Trevigne, who has a lot of musical credits to her name. Other standouts in the cast are Eric Greene as Queequeg and Matthew Worth as Starbuck. Ahab, sung by Carl Tanner had a powerful voice. The singing was stirring and the Washington National Opera Chorus was great as usual, but alas, I am still a fan of Carmen and probably will never change at this late date in my life. The music of the Washington National Symphony under the direction of Evan Rogister was beautiful.

***  **  ***  **  ***

Motionhouse Dance Theatre

Edison Theatre, St. Louis

Runs March 21-22, 2014

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Dance is no longer limited to the floor. The heck with the laws of gravity. Motionhouse Dance Theatre dances, leaps, slides, slithers, rolls and splats on a wall that curves to the floor. The performance Scattered is 70 minutes of non-stop action about water. A video is projected onto the curved wall — frozen water, underwater, waterfalls, swimming pools, the ocean and even what it’s like without water. Images of dry, cracked mud appear as the dancers are poised on the wall like sticky-footed geckos with the their fingers stuck in the mud cracks.

A couch appears on the video that the dancers seem to sit on. The background seems real. As the dancers scale the 10-foot curved wall, they hit the exact point that a splash occurs in the video. Although the wall looks like it’s a touchscreen reacting to the pressure of the dancers, it’s really very practiced good timing. The dancers are part of the background and the background is constantly changing. An escalator appears on the screen and the dancers run up it. Or they drop down from the top of the wall on bungee cords becoming part of the projected images. Plastic water bottles become schools of fish in the dancer’s hands as they dart in and out of the ocean--until a water-cooler bottle comes along and scares the smaller ones away.

This is the first stop of Motionhouse’s US tour. Founded in 1988 by Kevin Finnan and Louise Richards, Motionhouse has become one of the leading dance theatre companies in the UK. It’s highly physical and strenuous dance. Some of the dancers were holding ice packs on bruised ankles during the comments at the end of the performance. Can you imagine your choreographer saying, “Okay dancers, today we are going to run up a 10-foot wall over and over and over again for 70 minutes?”

The video is created in collaboration with Logela Multimedia from the Basque region of Spain. The dancers interact with the video as it all comes together like a mosaic. You’ve probably never seen anything like this before. This is a mind-boggling show. Catch them on tour if you can.

https://edison.wustl.edu/tickets/

http://www.motionhouse.co.uk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_RpNGF_d-g


****  **  ***  **  ****  **  ***  **  ****

We Will Rock You

Fabulous Fox Theatre
St. Louis

Runs March 18-30, 2014

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Weak plot. Strong female lead. Satisfying ending. The music of Queen. If you are accustomed to reading things on the fly because everyone communicates in tweets, there’s the shortest version of a review I can give you. However, if you have more time and are curious, keep reading.

This is a musical based on the music of Queen that vaguely strings together a story line from unrelated songs. The plot is weak and silly. It’s sometime in the future and the world has turned into gaga girls and robotic behavior. The evil guys such as Killer Queen (Jacqueline Arnold) and Khashoggi (P.J. Griffith) want to squelch the creative types so they can keep their power. The creative types hang out at the Hard Rock Cafe while they wait for a savior that has been predicted. The savior is Galileo (Brian Justin Crum) but he doesn't know it. He just has bits of words running through his head which turn out to be the lyrics to rock-and-roll songs. He meets a rebel girl that he calls “Scaramouche” (Ruby Lewis). She steals the show. She had us at her first song Somebody to Love and kept us rivetted throughout the show with a great voice and good comedic timing. If you are not familiar with Queen’s music, you may not recognize these names. “Who is Scaramouche?”, I wondered. Is it a character Freddie Mercury made up? Through the power of Google, I learned he is a roguish clown character from Italian comedy who wears a black mask and sometimes glasses. But this Scaramouche is not wearing either of those but struts about in cute little boots and a renegade miniskirt.

Anyhow, the beginning of this musical is muddy. We aren’t sure exactly what is going on, but if you stick with it, the second act is worth it. Ben Elton, British comedian, writer, and director keeps the jokes contemporary by referencing social and technological changes. The characters are named after rock stars: A well-muscled fellow is named Britney Spears. Another male is Katy Perry who tells jokes about fireworks and “roar”, titles of two well-known Perry songs.

Buddy Holly (Ryan Knowles) of the Hard Rock Cafe does the best job of explaining what is going on except when he is asked what things mean he always replies, “We don’t know.” The secrets are hidden on a plastic box they call a “vyd-e-o ta-pee.” Scaramouche, the brightest of the bunch, figures out how to put it that plastic box that little slot at the bottom of the “tal-a-vi-zon”. A mysterious statue overlooks the group of “bohemians” known only as “Mercury”. The old “ta-pee” jams in the machine but leads the group to Graceland.

After some plot meanderings, Galileo finally finds the hidden guitar outside the gates of Graceland, but it is Scaramouche who pretend-plays it. Galileo shines and finally his true power is revealed as he belts out We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.

Don’t sneak out early during the curtain calls to avoid the traffic or you’ll miss the best part. After the bows and applause, a message is displayed on the screen: “So, you want to hear Bohemian Rhapsody?” Finally, the entire company pounces back onstage and rocks out. It is a very satisfying grand conclusion like a yummy dessert at the end of a good meal. Freddie Mercury called Bohemian Rhapsody a “mock opera”. Rest in peace, Freddie. Thanks for all the great music. This show is lots of fun, especially if you love the music of Queen.

Tickets are $25 to $90.

http://www.fabulousfox.com/shows_page_multi.aspx?usID=358

We Will Rock You video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnryNrQp5Z8


****  ****  ****  ****  ****

February 2014

Diavolo

Touhill Performing Arts Center

Presented by Dance St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Ran Feb 28 - Mar 1, 2014

Chances are, you’ve never seen anything like Diavolo. It is truly remarkable, a very high-energy performance that refers to its distinct style as “Architecture in Motion.” It’s more like a well-oiled machine with incredible precision, timing, balance and momentum. The extremely athletic performers sometimes seem to fly through the air as they are propelled off of a structure that rolls back and forth. It’s challenging enough to be dancing on a stage but try to imagine dancing on a surface that is rocking back and forth like a ship being tossed about in the swell of large waves. With backgrounds in dance, gymnastics, tumbling, and acrobatics, the dancers are springing everywhere at once.

There were only two performances but they were both packed with plenty of punch. Transit Space implemented skateboard ramp structures that became bridges and morphed into sliding boards conveying a street scene with restless youth searching for meaning. With a soundtrack of poetic voice artists, the dancers employed wheel-less skateboards and some breakdancing, this piece rolled into a theme about feeling lost and yearning for connection to the gang. It was very energetic with every possible way of moving and using the interactive structures as the performers leaped, rolled and slid off of them. The structures varyingly functioned as sliding boards or bridges or walls or mirrors.

The second dance aptly named Trajectoire (trajectory), makes complete use of a large wooden structure which is like a boat rocking about in the waves. The rocking is created by the dancers moving from one side to the other. The timing must be impeccable, otherwise, the dancers would bump into each other as they leap and hang off the structure or roll under it as it rocks up. There was a collective gasp from the audience as it rolled backward and starts forwards again as a female dancer propelled by the movement flies through the air and lands in the arms of several other dancers on the floor. Talk about a leap of faith… She can’t even see where she’ll be hurling her body until the “boat” has rolled forwards. It was breathtaking. It ends with the smallest dancer sliding slowly out of sight as the structure is tipped up. The theme is described as “a visceral and emotional journey through the ebb and flow of the human experience as the performers struggle to find their balance on a voyage of destiny and destination.”

This company from Los Angeles was founded in 1992 by Jacques Heim, the artistic director. He was born and raised in Paris, France and has worked extensively for other companies in dance, theatre and TV including Cirque du Soleil, in creating their performance KA.

It was an incredible performance. Truly mind-blowing. The performers give their all… and then some and they received much appreciation and a standing ovation.

***  **  ***  *  ***  **  ***



Diavolo

Presented by Dance St. Louis

Touhill Performing Arts Center, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Ran Feb 28 and Mar 1, 2014

Diavolo’s founder, French-born Jacques Heim, describes his distinct transformational choreography style as “architecture in motion”. By blending the repertoires of diverse dynamic physical expressions such as ballet, acrobatics, gymnastics, contemporary dance, martial arts and street dance, he and his troupe search for “the relationship between the danger of our environment and the fragility of the human body.” The motivations behind both well-conceived, and well-written pieces were no less trivial: Heim’s psycho-social intentions consider our interactions with and reactions to our physical surroundings as well as with our fellow humans. If it sounds eclectic, that was the wonderful and compelling outcome of the literally breath-taking performance of Diavolo at the Touhill on Friday night!

The conjunction of all those movement styles coupled with the collosal set pieces in the two socially non-trivial creations performed on stage, demanded near-olympic fitness and focus from the young performers. Both pieces, Transit Space and Trajectoire, required precision and high skill level on the part of the dancers to convey the message safely. It was not infrequent that one or more performers were literally flying through the air, propelled by their own muscles and aided to superhero proportions by the physics of skateboard ramps and rocking platforms that were essential to the production.

Transit Space was very clearly a strong message about our modern societal motivations, in finding ourselves and our purpose in society as a whole as well as our narrower personal social sphere. Researched in collaboration with skateboarders in Los Angeles, it incorporated movement and physical environment typical of that culture, but imported strong influence in acrobatics, gymnastics, breakdancing and capoeira, the Brazilian martial arts form. A narrative accompanied the drums-driven music, sharing with the audience the transformation of the performers from lost strangers to interdependent and collaborative partners. While tense and lacking connection between the participants at the onset of the piece, as the interactions between the dancers became less distant, individual displays of skill were replaced by connectivity evidenced by collaborative movements and consequentially, an obvious playfulness that evoked a strong feeling of elatement.

More relaxed, emotional, poetic and haunting, Trajectoire's demands on the dancers was no less demanding. Precise timing and positioning, as well as physical prowess and mental focus were essential as the choreography of this piece resulted in dancers being propelled more than twenty feet by the huge half-cylinder's boat-like rocking movement, apexing at perhaps fifteen or more feet above stage, to be caught, hopefully, by as many as four fellow performers! More than once, the audience's collective gasp could be heard above the musical score. Heim's message in this piece focused on the need to find balance in one's journey in life and the resilience of the individual despite serious challenges to our deepest being.

The evening was exciting and uniquely entertaining. The utilization of the large set pieces was artfully done and contributed to, rather than distracted from, the choreography and message. There is no doubt that the audience loved both pieces from the standing ovation at the finish of the night’s performance and the fervency of the applause before intermission. If you love dance, Diavolo is fascinatingly energetic and compellingly meaningful. We’d suggest that if you think dance is boring, irrelevant, and not for adrenaline junkies, the next time Diavolo comes to town, you’re in for both a very pleasant surprise and, by the time the curtain falls, a desire to experience more Diavolo!

***  **  ***  *  ***  **  ***

Mother Courage and Her Children

Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theatre

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

Runs Jan 31 through Mar 9, 2014

When I read that Mother Courage was going to be a musical, I cringed – but I had forgotten about Mahogany, Three Penny Opera, and so many others too numerous to mention here. A musical in the Bertolt Brecht sense is different from an Andrew Lloyd Weber or an Oscar Hammerstein and the Mother Courage at Arena is spectacular. As I overheard someone say as we milled about before the show, “It’s seamless”. And, yes, it was that and much more.

The role was made for Kathleen Turner. After Lotte Lenya, Brecht could have had her in mind. She was wonderful. That golden throaty voice. The role could have been written for her.

Her supporting cast was also very strong, especially her daughter Kattrin (Erin Weaver) and her two sons, Elif (Nicholas Rodriguez) and Swiss Cheese (Nehal Joshi). We have seen both Joshi and Rodriguez in Oklahoma! last year as the Traveling Salesman and Curly --- both great roles.

Mother Courage has one mission in life… SURVIVAL. Follow the war and sell her goods, especially a lot of vodka. She is free with her hospitality and fierce in her determination to keep going. She loves her children and wants only the best for them. She also wants a lot of money. Those two goals do not always mesh.

When she finds a chicken, she knows she must sell it for the highest price she can get and in the process she finds herself aligned with a cook who sees a future with her but without her daughter. This remark, of course, causes Kattrin to flee. As I watched Kattrin throughout this play, I marveled how much she could express making only guttural sounds. What a difficult part that awards her so much attention!

James Sugg wrote the music to the lyrics that Brecht included at the beginning and the end of each act and using similar techniques to enliven each act reminiscent of Kurt Weill. The song that really seemed to channel Weill for me was sung by the flashy, red-booted whore, Yvette (Meg Gillentine), whilst making her rounds. With her little feathered hat, she reminded me of a lot of scenes from Mahogany that Audra McDonald had done a few years ago. The stamp of Weill in that song stuck in my mind longer than any other song that Sugg wrote for this remarkable production.

Molly Smith directed this fantastic production and stated that she was very proud of this work that followed her goals of Perseverance Theatre in Alaska. The lighting was by Nancy Schertler and the translation of this edition was by David Hare. The set is spare with brown and black color and a cart that Courage pulls around the stage throughout the performance. The only spot of color are the red boots that intrigue and enliven the difficult life of Kattrin.

After seeing this play I got out my heavy enormous book about Brecht, Brecht and Co.: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama by John Fuegi. It is published by Grove Press and when I got my copy it only cost $20. Reading about Brecht is fascinating. He was a genius but at the same time had a few strange habits and was a great womanizer. I can recommend this book. You will not be able to put it down.

You should also not miss this production which only runs through March 9, 2014. Call for tickets at 202-488-3300 or stop by Arena Box Office at 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington, D.C.


***  **  ***  *  ***  **  ***

January 2014

Wizard of Oz

Ballet Memphis

Presented by DANCEstl

Touhill Performing Arts Center, St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Ran January 24 and 25, 2014

Taking a classical film, such as The Wizard of Oz, and turning it into a dance can be challenging. How do you get those film effects into a ballet? With Steven McMahon’s sometimes clever and interesting choreography, of course! In conveying the tornado, for example, the set was a three-tiered structure that the dancers turned faster and faster until it almost spun off the stage.

Dorothy (Julie Niekrasz), a wisp of a girl, was enchanting, light as a feather, innocent and convincing in her role. The Munchkins were children dressed-up as flowers in very cute floral costumes. The Scarecrow (Travis Bradley) did a great job of keeping his joints loose and his body off-balance. The Tin Man (Dylan G-Bowley), by contrast, was appropriately very stiff and unbending even after his joints were oiled. The coward of the group, Mr. Lion (Kendall G. Britt, Jr.), was just plain silly in a costume that wiggled and shivered as he trembled his mane, eliciting the most laughs from the audience. He was a very slim lion, being a dancer. Even Toto was there, albeit just a stuffed animal in a basket.

The Wicked Witch (Crystal Brothers) was marvelous and almost reptilian in her emerald green make-up and costume. She commanded attention with her stance and her dance. Glinda (Virginia Pilgrim) was suitably sweet as she came to the rescue. In the dreaded “Sleep Scene,” when the foursome crossed through the poppy field, the poppies were portrayed by dancers. At the end of the scene, Glinda saved the group with magical mylar snow, enchantingly scattered by dancers across the stage. Very nice effect.

Finally, the travelers arrived in Emerald City, where a large green curtain hid the Wizard (Rafael Ferreras, Jr.) who cast a huge scary shadow on the wall. Through his gestures, he commanded them to steal the Wicked Witch’s broom. During their raid on the Wicked Witch, the flying monkeys attacked the foursome again and again. It looked like all was lost as the Wicked Witch entered the stage in a queen-like, long flowing cape. When Dorothy threw pretend water on her, there was a sudden flash and the Wicked Witch disappeared leaving only her cape behind. Great scene!

Returning to Oz, the Wizard gestured to each of them that they already had what they were looking for and awarded them. Then he departed in a hot-air balloon, unfortunately without Dorothy. Glinda instructed Dorothy to click her heels together and we were taken back to Kansas to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.

Ballet Memphis offered us exceptional dancers and a great evening of entertainment.

***  **  *  **  ***  **  *  **  ***

December 2013

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Arena Stage, Washington, DC

Reviewed by Verna Kerans
Runs through Jan 5, 2014

In 1983, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier starred in the movie version of this story. In case you are too young to remember this movie, it created quite a stir. Basically, white girl falls in love with black man. He happens to be a doctor so that made the story a bit more palatable for the squeamish. How much has changed? A lot, as a matter of fact. Now we can openly talk about this and laugh and realize that things definitely have changed.

Back in 1967, there were not a lot of mixed marriages so bringing that to the screen was a challenge but the actors were so wonderful that the movie had no chance of failing and brought to the forefront a lot of what was changing in our country.

Todd Kreidler helped adapt the play with the assistance of Kenny Leon. They adapted the play from the original screenplay by William Rose.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner (you will remember him from The Cosby Show) plays Dr. Prentice. He has met the pretty young daughter Joanna Drayton, played by Bethany Anne Lind, while they were working together. It won’t give anything away to say that both sets of parents are opposed to this union and therein lie some of the best lines. This is an extremely funny play with lots of good messages. Others in the cast include Lynda Gravátt as Matilda Banks; Eugene Lee as John Prentice, Sr.; Valerie Leonard as Hilary St. George; and Michael Russotto as Monsignor Ryan, along with Atlanta-based actors (who appeared in the True Colors production) Andrea Frye as Mary Prentice (originally as Matilda Banks), Tom Key as Matt Drayton, and Tess Malis Kincaid as Christina Drayton.

The writers expanded the original movie by adding a priest and the parents of Doctor Prentice. Since it has been so very long since I saw this movie, I am assuming the movie had a maid who is funny but in this production, the actress delivers all her lines with her back to us as she exits Arena’s stage and I missed nearly every one of her lines. I know they were good as the audience on that side of the stage laughed loudly.

This play has everything: humor, poignancy, reflections on race, down-to-earth feeling, and lots of surprises.

When Arena set out to present this, they asked Todd Kreidler to expand the story with Kenny Leon, to make for a fuller, more meaningful plot. David Esbjornson has taken charge as director, and he says that Kreidler is largely faithful. Guess is still set in 1967, yet Esbjornson thinks the play will come across as “slightly rougher than the movie.”

The play will run through January 5, 2014. Don’t miss it. I loved it!!!

Call the Box Office at 202-488-3300.


***  **  *  **  ***  **  *  **  ***


ELF The Musical

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Runs December 17-29, 2013

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Here’s the story: Buddy, the human baby mistakenly climbs into Santa’s sack and gets transported to the North Pole where he is raised by elves who wear their shoes on their knees. That’s because they are walking on their knees to look shorter (which doesn’t really work and did have me worrying about their knees). However, by age 28, Buddy starts to notice that he is a good bit taller than his family. When he learns the truth from Santa, he runs off to New York to find his real father, a very busy and grouchy publisher stressed to the max with Christmas deadlines. After a tiny bit of conflict, Buddy saves the day by making up his own story, wins his father over and convinces him to relish in the spirit of Christmas which creates enough energy to get Santa’s grounded sleigh up and running again. Meanwhile, Buddy finds a girlfriend and saves Christmas for those who believe.

Super-sugary sweet, like the syrup that Buddy pours on everything, this is a holiday show about capturing the Christmas spirit and it is well-played at a high-octane level by Matt Kopec who keeps the ball rolling. His child-like innocence and bounce-off-the-walls attitude is also supported by his girlfriend, his stepmom, little brother and eventually, his father.

Hats off to the scenic designer (Christine Peters) and the many scene changes quietly and flawlessly dropping down from above or sliding in from the sides. In fact, it was so seamless, I’m not sure I even saw them changing scenes but there were nineteen scene changes in all. The lighting on the curtain casting shades of pink and lavender and colors of the costumes was a feast for the eyes in beautiful, bright colors. Live music adds even more excitement to the show.

There were solid performances by all. Missing some of the bite of the movie with Will Ferrell, ELF, The Musical is primarily for little ones and they should love it. By the way, they offer ice cream at the Fox during intermission now. Dust off your Christmas spirit, take the family and enjoy ELF through December 29.

Tickets are available online at metrotix.com or by calling 534-1111.


**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **


November 2013

Sister Act

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Reviewed Nov 19, 2013

What a show to bring on the 2013 holiday feeling! The stage production of the hit movie Sister Act arrived in St. Louis just before Thanksgiving and the nearly-full capacity crowd really felt the spirit of this audience favorite. With a great score and lyrics by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater that easily connected with the audience and told the story in nearly breakneck speed, the cast delivered wonderful performances that were strong and clear. Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris Van Cartier, an aspiring signer hiding from a boyfriend with murderous intent, was a godsend. She and her fellow cast members gave inspiring and convincing performances making it easy to forget that one was at the theatre. Standouts in the cast included Florrie Bagel as the irreverently ebullient Sister Mary Patrick and Mary Jo McConnell, standing in (on the night of this review) as Sister Mary Lazarus whose “God rap” brought down the house. However, the outstanding performance of the evening was delivered by Chester Gregory as “Sweaty Eddie” Souther, specifically his fantasy as a nightclub singer. Contributing to that daydream imagery was a great wardrobe double-change on-stage, reinforcing the movie-magic-like transformation from timid-but-determined Philly cop to Prendergrass-style soul performer and back.

Scenic designer Klara Zieglerova created a truly inspiring set for the sanctuary that magically allowed for the traditional stained glass windows to become Vegas-like for the finale. Lez Brotherston’s costuming for The Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith must have used all the leftover glitter and sequins from the disco era but the incredible effect under the stage lights was spectacular!

There is no question that Sister Act will move your spirit, just in time for the holidays! So moving, in fact, that the Pope makes an appearance just to experience Deloris’ heavenly transformation of the once-tone-deaf convent choir. You have to be there to believe it!

Sister Act plays through December 1st. A synopsis of the show can be found here. Contact the Fox for ticket information. Runs through December 1, 2013.


**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles

The Fox Theatre St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman
November 15-16, 2013

What fun! As a teenager in the 60s, I wasn’t quite old enough to catch the real Beatles when they toured St Louis in 1966. Although I saw all the other greats of this extremely creative time in musical history--Hendrix, Joplin, Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream, etc., etc., I did not see the Beatles. Rain’s tribute to the Beatles is as close as I’ll come and it’s quite enjoyable.

I know every lyric of every song of their music. It’s amazing how well my memory can work from that time period. This show is more than just four guys dressing up and singing like the Beatles--they act like them, too--a certain stance, a shake of the head, a way of moving, but mostly they do sound very much like the vinyl recordings that I listened to over and over again.

The use of multimedia images enhances the performance with video documentation of the time period. Astronauts, man’s first walk on the moon, Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam war, and ecstatically dancing hippies are some of the images splashed across the screen. The show starts in black and white with the life-changing Ed Sullivan show where the Beatles were introduced to the world, in their little mod tailored suits with a cartoon of multi-layered screens in the background showing the Beatles being chased by animated screaming girls. A video of psychedelic colors and swirls adds pops of color to the Sgt. Pepper period. Another costume change takes us to Abbey Road with one favorite song after another and the reminder that the Beatles music still works very well and lives on even though two of the originals are long gone. Long live the spirit of George Harrison and John Lennon and the two still living, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. What an amazing contribution they made to popular culture.

The lights and fog machine are a show in themselves and created an atmosphere of the time period. Cameras pan the audience and flash various unsuspecting dancers onto the screen. Standing ovations brought the performers back out to finish off with Hey Jude and Let It Be leaving us with watery eyes including my own. A great show.

Although the guys pretending to be the Beatles are not famous, these guys are talented musicians and skillfully sound and sing like the original Fab Four. My friend kept asking “Is this taped?” The fifth player (a non-costumed non-Beatle) in the back is introduced later in the show and has a tiny solo of non-Beatle music but also adds synthesizer and keyboards to round out their sound.

Mark Lewis is the founder of Rain (originally called Reign). He transformed the original group from a bar band doing Beatle’s songs into what it is today—a Broadway show.


**  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **

October 2013

Disney’s
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The Fabulous Fox Theatre
St. Louis

Reviewed by Anne Quinn

Run: Oct 30 – Nov 1, 2013

This childhood film favorite blew into town yesterday with all its Disney-esque flags flying! Due to the generosity of The Fox management the audience was liberally salted with happy and costumed viewers between the ages of 2 and teen. Young theatregoers were greeted with varied activities including dancing, singing and artwork. Thrilled kids were then ushered to their seats for an exciting evening watching Belle and the hapless Prince (as the Beast) play out their story once more.

The production featured Hilary Maiberger as Belle and Darick Pead as the Beast. Both performers played their characters with vocal talent and vigor. The combination of Tim Rogan as Gaston and Jordan Aragon as Lefou was perfectly matched in this campy version of the fairy tale. Gaston’s outstanding voice and physique were well complimented by the agility and antics of his sidekick, Lefou.

Production numbers choreographed by Matt West were exciting, especially the “Mug” dance featuring the ensemble and Gaston and Lefou. All special effects were well received with the exception of the witch turned specter who enchanted the Prince.

There were a few instances where this stage production included some rather adult actions and/or costuming which may have been too sophisticated for the young audience (hopefully) to notice. The hearts under the cancan dancers skirts and the very skimpy outfits on the cleverly costumed scene changers case in point.

The young cast was charming and interesting in the question and answer session following the performance to the delight of those who stayed behind.

This production runs from November 1 through November 3 at the Fox Theatre.

  ***  *  **  *** **  ***  **  *  ***



An Evening with
Judy Collins

Edison Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Reviewed on October 12, 2013


As a teenager of the 60s, I grew up listening to Judy Collins’ music. Although I don’t have any specific memories that were evoked during the concert, there is a general feeling of nostalgia for a time when the world was a vastly different place... at least to my 16-year-old mind. The question is, “can the performer, who is now 74, match the sound that she had when I listened to her album, Wildflowers, repeatedly on my rickety old turntable?” Yes, she can! Her voice isn’t as full or pure as it was 40 years ago and it gets a bit shrill when she goes for those high notes but my ears are not as good as they used to be either! For the most part, she sounds great and delivers a lovely performance.

Judy Collins looked like an angel in her white sparkly outfit, her full, long, white hair swept up on the sides and glowing from the lighting that sometimes cast a beautiful lavender hue. During the first half, she was accompanied by a pianist while she played guitar and told amusing stories in between songs about her Irish heritage and her history. I learned about her relationship with Stephen Stills that resulted in his famous song, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. She told another story about being in a house with a group of people while a newcomer named Bob Dylan was crafting songs in the basement and the sounds came wafting up the staircase. She sang all the old favorites starting off with Both Sides Now, written by Joni Mitchell, and a very heartfelt Tambourine Man, (thank you, Bobby Dylan) followed by Helplessly Hoping by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

After the intermission, she reappeared dressed all in black, her slender figure in skin-tight pants with high-heeled boots. It’s hard to believe she is in her 70s. Seated at the grand piano, she treated us to a very soulful Albatross, one of my personal favorites. Although Judy Collins does many songs by others such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, the hauntingly beautiful Albatross is one she wrote…

And in the night the iron wheels rolling through the rain
Down the hills through the long grass to the sea
And in the dark the hard bells ringing with pain
Come away alone
Come away alone... with me.

One of her best-known songs is Send in the Clowns by Stephen Sondheim from the Broadway musical, A Little Night Music. She sang it with such sincerity, there were some misty eyes in the audience including my own.

Judy Collins is also an artist and a writer of several books such as Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. She is charming, entertaining, and cracking jokes and telling stories while tuning her guitar. An evening with Judy Collins is a very pleasant evening indeed.



EVITA

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs Oct 8-20, 2013

The audience, predictably, left the Fox on Tuesday night, singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and lead Caroline Bowman certainly deserved the standing ovation from an appreciative audience. However, were it not for the lack of familiarity with the lyrics beautifully rendered by Josh Young as Che, from the exuberant laudations of the near-full house, I’m sure that this powerful, evocative delivery by Young would have been the recessional that evening. His voice was the most outstanding of the performance and was so recognized by theater-goers.

We were, at first, critical of the variation in vocal qualities exhibited by Ms. Bowman, once clear and soft, at times harsh, thin and strained, almost hoarse. However, upon returning home, we found documentaries online, of contemporary newsreel footage of Señora Peròn’s voice. What seemed, en theatre, to be a weak performance, was actually a realistic rendition of Eva’s actual vocal qualities. How important it is to have depth knowledge when attending a production based on history! Bravo, Ms. Bowman!

Yes, the familiar musical from the team of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the life of María Eva Duarte, the 15-year old bastard daughter of a wealthy rancher, from the streets of a small village of Argentina, fast-forwards through her migration to Buenos Aires as she seeks to become an actress. But it is her rise from this successful, albeit relatively miniscule, role to that of her worldwide legendary status and her ongoing legacy in Argentina that is the focus of this production. Her chance meeting of the future, three-time president, Colonel Juan Peròn, provides her with the role of a lifetime, catapulting her onto the world stage of politics and personality. Blessed with good looks and a fiery spirit, she not only rescues the souls of the descamisados, the desolately poor working class of Argentina, but becomes the de facto leader of the feminist and suffragette movements of the troubled South American republic despite the strong hand of the military and the wealthy in the governance of the country. Her presence on the world stage brings Argentina to the front page of the newspapers and the newsreels of the theaters. But her unsuccessful battle against cervical cancer ends her life at a desperately young 33 years of age, birthing a bigger-than-life life-after-death.

The sets were wonderful, not extensive, but a creative blend of tall, handsome doorways, freestanding on stage, mixed with façades of proud political architecture equipped with extendable balconies that enhanced the sense of intimacy and reality. And if you’ve seen any of the documentaries made about Evita Peròn, you’ve seen those balconies from which the beloved couple made their appearances. The set very closely mirrored these newsreel images.

Neil Austin’s lighting was stunning and very effective, in part due to the fog-machine haze in the theatre throughout the production. It accentuated the presence of the spotlights on those in the focus of attention. He augmented the set design by not forgetting to illuminate the inside of the palace and causing rays of light to be cast onto the streets through those windows, adding to the dramatic reality on stage.

Indeed, the overall success of this legendary mini-history of this legendary figure, is obviously due to Michael Grandage’s capable direction. The production moves with alacrity and other than the intermission, there’s scarcely a moment of silence. An early difficulty in understanding the sung lyrics of Evita, Che, and Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone) seems to have been resolved by the sound engineers about 20 minutes into the show, so this under-modulation is not a problem by the time Sean MacLaughlin in the role of Peròn makes his first appearance. This cast and crew are very capable, experienced, and make seeing this tour production worthy of your evening’s attention.

Parenthetically, the night after EVITA, we happened to attend a very interesting lecture brought to St. Louis by the Archeological Institute of America entitled Secret of the Great Pyramid. Invited to attend a small, private, post-lecture event with the presenter, a strange connection between the musical EVITA and the Great Pyramid at Giza was revealed. By way of introduction, the presenter, Egyptologist and National Geographic Scholar, Dr. Bob Brier of Long Island University, it was revealed, has been dubbed “Mr. Mummy” and that he has inspected the remains of Eva Duarte de Peròn! Not knowing previously that she had been mummified, I asked him about Che’s mysterious words from the conclusion of the beautiful performance the previous evening:

Money was raised to build a tomb, a monument to Evita. Only the pedestal was completed and Evita’s body disappeared for seventeen years…

“What transpired during this protracted time,” I asked Dr. Brier. Mr. Mummy related that the military, upon Evita’s death in 1952, had “stolen” her body, fearful that it would become a revered icon of the working class of Argentina, causing riots among the populace and result in her burial site being a pilgrimage destination. After her death, it is likely that Peròn, himself, ordered her body to be mummified, not in the well-known Egyptian method of dessication and wrapping, or by “wet” methods employing formalin as was Lenin’s body (also examined by Brier), but by a much rarer, and costly, permeation with paraffin (some sources say glycerin). Painstakingly executed by famous anatomist and pathologist, Dr. Pedro Ara, the second, more permanent embalming consumed more than one year of his time and cost more than $100,000 US dollars (almost $900,000 today). As such, according to Brier, although she has been dead for 61 years, she is the best-preserved mummy in the world, despite having been displayed on Peròn’s dining room table for nearly two years! So effective is the preservation, that one point, the military, seeking to confirm that this was indeed the real body of Eva Peròn and not an elaborate sculpture, cut off a finger and part of an ear in order to perform verification testing.

After mummification and clandestine acts to keep her body safe, she was secretly transported to Italy where she was interred in a small cemetery under a false name. When Argentine political upheaval brought Peròn back to power in late 1973, her body was moved from Peròn’s villa in Spain where it had been moved in 1971, back to Argentina. When Peròn, himself, died in July 1974, both he and Evita lay in state together. Despite having died 22 years before, Evita’s coffin was open while Juan’s remained closed!

Today, Evita is buried in a glass-covered coffin, within a concrete cocoon more than 20 feet below ground, the multi-chambered interment constructed by a bank vault company, is said to be capable of withstanding nuclear attack, perhaps still the best-preserved body ever.

EVITA won’t last that long in St. Louis and is playing at the Fox only until October 20th.


**  ***  **  *  ***  *  **  *** **


September 2013

Cabaret

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Runs September 11 through October 6, 2013

A young American writer named Cliff (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) goes to Berlin to work on a book. There he meets a cabaret singer and is quickly enchanted by her. Sally Bowles (Liz Pearce) is seemingly a free spirit as she flits around from one relationship to another. But Cliff is not the all-American guy either as he had a tryst with a man or two in Gay Paree (pun intended). However, Sally sings her heart out in hopefulness that this relationship will work in Maybe This Time.

There’s a second couple: proprietress of the hotel, Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray) has a suitor, an older gentleman with a fruit stand and some money. Prior to meeting him, she sings her acceptance of her droll life in So What?...

The sun will rise and the moon will set
and you learn how to settle for what you get.

However, Herr Schultz (Michael Marotta) takes a liking to her and they plan a wedding only to be stopped by Hitler. Darn it. Herr Schultz is Jewish and Fraulein Schneider is a realist who recognizes the way the world is going. At first, she’s the only one who does as Sally and Cliff tend to be sleepwalking and unaware of the spread of Nazi Germany.  

But wait, back to our first couple, Sally gets pregnant. She has no idea who the father might be but it could be Cliff. As he’s realizing the hold that Hitler has on Germany, he begs Sally to return to America with him. Alas, she does not and has an abortion instead so she can continue her life as a night-club singer.

All this is overseen, overshadowed and overplayed by the Emcee (Nathan Lee Graham, a Webster University Theatre alumnus who has done numerous shows on Broadway) as the master of ceremonies. He reflects and shows the audience the wild freedom of the times conveyed in various strange costumes such as one with a tuxedo on one side and a frilly dress on the other. Is he a man or a woman? His androgynous character is not too convincing in the song Two Ladies...  I’m the only man, ja!

In the end, every one goes their separate way as the Nazis take over and Sally Bowles reminds us:

Start by admitting from cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum
Come to the cabaret

The stage was designed to double as the Kit Kat Club and the hotel where most of the characters live. The balcony and spiral staircase are nicely utilized in some of the dance sequences. Also, the music by “even the orchestra is beautiful,” announced by Emcee in the beginning, was hidden and occasionally revealed behind a curtain onstage, did a great job with the score.

The first act was bit long. It seemed to take a while to develop the story even with some of the high points of fairly well-known songs. Tomorrow Belongs To Me seems to be a ballad for the Nazis, but it’s actually a beautiful song in a different context. It was written for the stage production by John Kander and Fred Ebb in the style of a traditional German song to stir up patriotism for the "fatherland". Although it has sometimes been mistaken for a genuine "Nazi anthem" and has led to the songwriters being accused of anti-Semitism, the writers are, in fact, Jewish.

Also, The Money Song was interesting with those creatures in the huge masks.

The singing by everyone was fantastic and stirring. Top notch singers all. It’s a great show, just be prepared for a long evening. It runs through October 6th.

*******************

July 2013

Les Misérables

The Muny
Forest Park, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs July 15-21, 2013

An incredible story, an incredible production, a rousing score, an awesome cast! We don’t think there could have been a miserable soul at The Muny’s presentation of the legendary Les Misérables on Monday night. The set, by Rob Morgan in his Muny debut, was very engaging, adaptable and detailed. And for this production, it seems the electronic backdrop screen was truly put to the test (and the problems of the first week easily forgotten) with near photographic images of street scenes, the sewers of Paris, and chambres des hôpitals. The value of this technical marvel is beginning to be realized in its flexibility and capability to render very complex images to enhance a production.

In this seasons’ earlier reviews, we thought we’d seen the best that The Muny casting could present, however, this week’s show set a new level of performance. The male leads, Hugh Panaro in the role of Jean Valjean, the paroled prisoner whose conscience leads him to a higher pathway than his nineteen years of forced labor do, and his police inspector nemesis, Javert, played by Norm Lewis, were so powerful and clear, precise and projected, one would have thought we were anywhere but an outside venue! Having one of these very accomplished Broadway stars on-stage at once would have been truly thrilling, but having the two of them play opposite one another created an evening where you couldn’t wait to hear them sing again. The result was that perhaps the longest show of the season seemed to fly by! Of the female characters, Lindsey Mader’s Muny debut performance as Eponine was the stand-out.

To forget to mention Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, the conniving innkeepers that everyone loves to hate, played by Michael McCormick and Tiffany Green, would be unfair. During curtain calls, interspersed with the rousing applause and cheers, one could hear the audience reacting with catcalls and boos in response to the unconscionable characters they played to a tee!

Finally, a stunning entry for Jimmy Coogan in the role of Gavroche! This young man, just entering the 6th grade in the fall, had the presence, bearing, and physical and vocal confidence of an actor three times his age! He wowed The Muny audience and they let him know at the end of the show. There’s a future in this business for Master Coogan if he continues to make himself known as he did in this show!

A fascinating story of redemption and misguided justice, love and the value of enduring commitment to one’s ideals based on French author Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables was the best so far in the 2013 season. Don’t let the hot weather deter you… you’ll forget all about the heat once the show begins!


        **  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **

South Pacific

The Muny in Forest Park
St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs July 8-14, 2013

The audience at the Muny had no trouble imagining the meteorological environment of a small grouping of remote islands, the setting for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, originally adapted from James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific”. It was a typical hot-and-humid St. Louis evening, but those who braved the close, stickiness were treated to one of the best shows we’ve seen at the Muny! Director Rob Ruggiero, musical director Brad Haak, choreographer Ralph Perkins, lighting designer John Lasiter, and scenic designer Michael Schweikardt assembled a team that created and produced a show that wowed the audience!

The hurdle of making such an impression could not have been an easy one as South Pacific is one of the most revered of Rodger and Hammerstein’s creations as many theater-goers over the age of 50 recognize the music. Most people have heard the tunes (including Some Enchanted Evening, Bali Ha’i, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, and I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy) enough to recognize them and some audience members were seen lip-synching each tune. And, in this day of karaoke, it’s not an unfamiliar experience that we are overwhelmed by the mediocrity of the best of imitators, if we can stand to listen that long. One by one, each of the six lead characters blew us away with the quality of their voices: Laura Michelle Kelly (Ensign Nellie Forbush), Ben Davis (Emile de Becque), Loretta Albes Sayre (Bloody Mary), Josh Young (Lt. Joseph Cable), Sumie Maeda (Liat) and Tally Sessions (Luther Billis)! We challenge you to recall a production with so many talented vocalists of that quality. Even those who had French dialogue to speak did so very well (kudos to the language coach)!

If the members of the South Pacific cast seemed familiar, it’s not surprising. We Muny “frequent fliers” are familiar with many of this cast from other Muny productions. Ben Davis and Tally Sessions had only two weeks off after nailing their roles in Spamalot, the opening production of the 2013 season. In addition to the direction team, Laura Michelle Kelly, Caitlin Chau and Spencer Jones (the latter two as Emile de Becque’s children, Ngana and Jerome) and Michael James Reed (as Comdr. William Harbison) all came back to the Muny this year after last year's crowd-pleasing The King and I. Why build something new when you have a great team capable of great performances!

Thank you, Mike Issacson, for bringing them all together... again!

**  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **

Nunsense Muny Style!

The Muny in Forest Park
St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs July 1-7, 2013

We have to be fair about this: we’d never heard of Nunsense before, but there’s a similarity in the overall plot, a fundraiser for a charitable organization that results in hilarity and discovery of “hidden talent”, with the 1980 cult flick, “The Blues Brothers” (but with much less law-breaking). But Nunsense isn’t exactly a “mission from God”… more precisely, the survivors of a culinary accident need to raise money to finish burying their deceased fellow Little Sisters of Hoboken, precariously preserved in the convent kitchen freezer. It is witty and cute and religious, but you don’t have to be a graduate of a Catholic school in order to appreciate the humor (but some familiarity with religious dogma helps). We are even treated to a St. Louis Catholic High School fashion show! This show has lots of fun lines and surprises and doesn’t require you to say any Hail Marys afterwards.

This week’s show is actually titled Nunsense Muny Style! because of the St. Louis twist the production team puts on the original to make it unique. Dan Goggin, the enlightened one who, in 1985, dreamed up the concept as a line of greeting cards that morphed into the second longest-running off-Broadway show in history (the longest is The Fantasticks), put the Muny-spin on this production. He’s got the St. Louis spirit and puts it on stage for all of us to share.

Alumna of prior Muny seasons and bona fide Broadway actresses, Dee Hoty, Tari Kelly, Beth Leavel, and Terri White, St. Louis’ very own Phyllis Smith (of NBC’s The Office) make a great nun-convent-ional superfluity (look it up!) of nuns all by themselves, but add Muny-ensemble graduate Sarah Meahl, Muny-veteran Michele Burdette-Elmore, and Muny-virgin Rachel Abrams, you’d think that’s all you’d ever wanted to see in habits! But wait, St. Louis, even native son Ken Page dons a habit! Rounding out the non-conventional cast is Lara Teeter, head of the Webster Conservatory for Theatre Arts. The best heaven-sent cast since Jesus and the Disciples!

Don’t be afraid to go see Nunsense Muny Style! for fear of being struck by lightning because we all know that God has a sense of humor; why else would He create the platypus?

**  ***  *  ***  ***  *  ***  **


June 2013

Shrek-The Musical

The Muny in Forest Park
St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs June 24-30, 2013

Years ago, there was a video game called “Donkey Kong”… we felt that the Muny’s production of Shrek-The Musical could easily have been subtitled “Donkey King” given Michael James Scott’s performance as Donkey playing alongside Stephen Wallem (Shrek), Julia Murney (Princess Fiona), and Rob McClure (Lord Farquaad). No doubt that the latter three actors were excellent in their respective roles, but Donkey stole the show. And he probably had to… to have to follow Eddie Murphy’s role in the animated Dreamworks’ feature demands someone as “animated” as Scott. His vocalization and choreography were standouts in this show. Fiona and Shrek’s duet in I Think I Got You Beat was charmingly synergistic, and the mild potty humor competition at the end of the number evoked guffaws from the mature audience members and giggles and snorts from the predictably high proportion of under-12 guests.

The sets, although not extraordinary, were numerous and colorful, but the Muny’s revolving stage created a wonderful time-lapse mechanism for Fiona’s solo I Know It’s Today. Akin to the Shakespeare Festival’s use of a stage extension, the Muny has been creatively utilizing an elevated walkway at stage level encircling the orchestra pit, effectively bringing the action closer to the audience than in years prior.

In a mechanism strongly reminiscent of the marionette used in the staging of War Horse or a Chinese New Year’s Lion, Dragon (vocalized beautifully and powerfully by Natalie Venetia Belcon) was animated by a handful of actors under an armature, who formed the body and moved the legs, tail, wings, head and mouth. It seemed that the children in the audience really appreciated this presentation.

One further note: Rob McClure’s role of the halfling, Farquaad, must have taken a toll on his knees. Some clever staging mechanisms allowed McClure to assume the height-challenged role demanded by his character’s physical stature but in one hilarious scene, it was obvious that making the character appear to kneel when the actor is already on his knees is athletically challenging! Nevertheless, McClure pulled off the tedious task with humor, a bit of help from some props and costuming, and laudable ease. This was just one of the visual marvels of this performance demanded by the story’s fantastical nature, from Pinocchio’s elongating nose to Fiona’s “greening” as she assumes her “love’s true form” upon kissing Shrek in their impromptu wedding.

Shrek-The Musical runs until Sunday June 30, so treat the kids, and yourself, to an amusing evening in Fairy Tale Land.

And, by the way, those new fans are great! This week’s Monday night was much warmer than the “sweater and blanket” late September-like coolness of the 2013 Muny opening night last week. We were cool despite the near-90 degree temperatures after dark and couldn’t hear the fans which were running throughout the performance! Many thanks to the thoughtful generosity of The Muny Fan Club led by Harry and Sally Johnston and The Johnston Family Fund, allowing Muny-goers to sit in comfort throughout the show.

**  *  ***  **  ***  **  ***  *  **
Monty Python’s Spamalot

The Muny in Forest Park

St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount
Runs June 17-23, 2013

St. Louis absolutely LOVES The Muny as evidenced by opening night of the venerable theater’s 95th season! Despite lightning and CWE window-rattling thunder, gusty winds removing healthy tree limbs in Forest Park, torrential downpours that left the intersection of Cherokee and Kingshighway under 2 feet of water by 6 pm, and threats of more of nature’s fury after “curtain” time, a huge crowd turned out for Monty Python’s Spamalot. Showtime was delayed by unresolved technical problems with the electronic light board (I suspect it will be remedied by Tuesday night’s performance) and the temperature dropped to a very un-Muny-ish 70 degrees (it felt much cooler, but I did check weather.com’s historical data for St. Louis), but despite rain, blow, and “ni” (sorry, couldn’t think of anything rhyming with “sleet”), the show did go on!

Executive Producer Mike Isaacson addressed the audience with his appreciation for giving him the opportunity to continue the Muny tradition. He announced that for his second season in St. Louis, a new Muny record had been set with 500 new season subscribers to bring the total to 23,500! In probably the only disappointment of the night, the much-anticipated new cooling fans, designed to be quiet enough to run throughout the performance, were turned off prior to the show’s start because of the cool weather! Muny-goers tonight will probably get the first experience as the temperatures should be a very-tolerable 80 degrees by showtime.

If you’ve seen the 1975 feature film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, you know most of this story but Spamalot is interlaced with some additional silliness both fresh and confiscated from other Python parodies such as “Life of Brian”. You may even be tempted to sing along with familiar ditties like “Knights of the Round Table” or “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, but the storyline is spruced up with contemporary references, so be prepared for surprises that keep it fresh and edgy.

We were very impressed with John O’Hurley’s (Seinfeld’s J. Peterman, Season 1 winner of Dance with the Stars) portrayal of King Arthur and the role of Lady of the Lake played by Michele Ragusa (previous Muny performances in Titanic and Singin’ in the Rain) whose character assumed a more significant one than in the movie. One of my favorite scenes in the movie finds Arthur and his knights encountering a castle as they seek others to join their quest for the Holy Grail. They are shocked to find that the castle is not only occupied by French soldiers but also ones who taunt them mercilessly. Chris Hoch does a wonderful, laughter-provoking performance as the Frenchman who feeds Arthur humbling food for thought: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.” Despite being almost 40 years’ old, that line provoked nearly 11,000 Muny fans to side-splitting laughter! It was fun from beginning to end in very Python-esque style!

Just when we thought it was over and the players were taking bows and accepting adulation from the audience, John O’Hurley had another surprise for us and brought playwright, song-writer, and actor Eric Idyl on-stage to a roar of approval from the very appreciative crowd. He briefly addressed the audience with his admiration for our braving the elements and explained two Muny achievements: the first time Spamalot had been performed outdoors and, this was the largest single crowd to have seen Spamalot! He ended the night by leading the entire audience in singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and entreating us to video it and let the Guinness' Book of World Records in on the record-worthiness of the event.

Remember that Muny shows debut on Mondays and run only one week (with few exceptions) and there are limited reserved seats. However, if you don’t get a ticket, you can always join the “fun crowd” at the back of the Muny by arriving about an hour before the gates open and taking a shot at the “free seats” (bring a glass-free picnic dinner and enjoy it while you wait in line!). The season is summarized below and summer always seems so short!

2013 Season Dates (and show sponsors, thank you!)

Monty Python’s Spamalot Jun 17-23 (BMO Harris Bank)

Dreamworks’ Shrek the Musical Jun 24-30 (US Bank)

Nunsense (Muny Style!) Jul 1-7 (Edward Jones)

South Pacific Jul 8-14 (Emerson)

Les Misérables Jul 15-21 (Wells Fargo Advisors)

Disney’s Mary Poppins The Musical Jul 25-Aug 2 (Ameren)

Westside Story Aug 5-11 (BMO Harris Bank)

For tickets, the Muny box office is open 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week (314.361.1900) or use MetroTix Charge-by-Phone (314.534.1111).
******************
May 2013

Spring to Dance 2013

Touhill Performing Arts Center, St. Louis

Sponsored by Dance St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Shows reviewed: Thu May 23 and Sat May 25

This is the sixth annual Dance St. Louis extravaganza. Every year, I am impressed with the smoothness resulting from the amount of planning and organizing required to pull off 30 different dance performances by dance companies from all over the U.S. (with a fair number from St. Louis) to strut their stuff over three nights. I attended both Thursday and Saturday night performances.

Starting out in Lee Theatre on Thursday night:

Joselyn Renae Simms, Standards: a duet with a male and female fighting over a dress that conveys fitting into a certain slot, almost a yoke of expected behavior. Choreographed by Ms. Simms and nicely done.

Saunders in Motion, Treading Thin: a dance exploring the transitional state between awake and sleep, the conscious and subconscious. This was originally performed at COCA.

Leverage Dance Theatre, Were They Allies? A contemporary dance of women interacting in various quirky and slightly goofy relationships.

DAMAGEDANCE, Finding Flight: Four women with their backs to the audience, support and lean on each other until finally breaking out of safety and comfort to take bold, giant steps forward.

Then, in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall, the evening continued with:

Big Muddy Dance Company, Three for Four (world premiere): These four guys did not miss a beat with interesting, fast-paced choreography, complex partnering, and a mix of conventional and comedy.

Grand Rapids Ballet, The Envelope: This was the favorite of the evening with choreography by David Parsons. This clever dance is based on passing an envelope among the dancers costumed in black hoods and goggles. The dancers position their arms so that it almost looks like they’ve been put on backwards. This performance was entertaining, clever, well-danced, and amusing.

Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theatre, Tales from the Book of Longing: A dancer (who can also sing) starts out with a sombre dance about longing and frayed relationships teetering on the edge of interaction. Not sure about the big wall that cut the stage in two.

Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Push Past Break: Oh my, those tappers can dance and incorporate tap dancing into anything resembling blues and hip-hop. One of them sings as well.

ODC/Dance, Cut-out Guy: Five men lifting and carrying each other around the stage conveying acts of courage and vulnerability from childhood stories to some dissonant music that became grating the longer it went on.

Jennifer Muller/The Works: There are angels among us. In this dance, a woman is grieving and despondent, but an angel comes down from a trapeze to support and carry her.

Big Muddy Dance Company, The 40’s: This ensemble came back for another performance of high-stepping contemporary jazz/Broadway conveying that flamboyant time period.

Phew, what a night! Came back for more on Saturday but skipped the early performance in Lee Theatre. There was plenty of dance going on, even in the lobby: everything from Hawaiian to African to Latin--much energy and excitement.

Settling into our seats in the Performance Hall we enjoyed:

Dance Works Chicago, Dance Sport: A clever way of combining dance and sports. Two sportscasters give us play-by-play commentary on the dancer’s performance complete with replays in slow motion. Very creative idea but the music overpowered the announcers and I couldn’t hear the announcer on the right; I was seated on the left.

Sewan Dance, Hoop Dance: Native American Eddie Madril danced an original form of hoop dance designed to restore balance and harmony. This was a refreshing change from the other forms of dance and was well-received by the audience.

Joffrey Ballet, Le Corsaire: Classical ballet danced beautifully by two dancers with lifts and holds that went on forever. Elegant and stylish fantastic performance that I would have liked to enjoy a little longer.

St Louis Ballet, La Vie: This was the biggest dance company. It seemed as though the stage was crowded with dancers, the choreography was chaotic, the women tall and graceful in their halter dresses, the men not so statuesque. The men’s costumes looked like they had just wandered in off the street in wrinkled, sweat-stained shirts and loose shirttails.

Robert Moses’ Kin, Speaking Ill of the Dead: “We regret to inform you,” is the soundtrack as dancers convey various forms of receiving that message and dealing with shock and grief. Good choreography by Robert Moses.

Alvin Ailey, Pas De Duke: As in Duke Ellington, that is. A jazzy number with St. Louis’ pride in Antonio Douthit and Alicia Graf Mack, both tall, striking, amazing dancers whose extension goes on forever. Always a crowd pleaser and they’ll be back for more next year with Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in April 2014.

Spanish Dance Theatre, Bolero: They were back with another performance of Bolero starting out with female dancers on the floor with their backs to us; graceful arm movements build to the dancers standing; then, on come the flamenco dancers building into an explosion of Spanish dance and numerous curtain calls.

So much dance for just $15 a night! We are so fortunate to have Dance St. Louis and their sponsors who support the arts Ameren, Emerson, Whitaker Foundation, UMSL, Edward Jones, RAC, Missouri Arts Council, Art Works, and Fox. Every year, more and more people discover this amazing event.

***  *  **  ***  ***  **  *   ***

Twelfth Night or What You Will

Shakespeare Festival

Forest Park, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount 

Pray for drier weather because you are in for a comedic treat this year at the Shakespeare Festival. Rick Dildine returns for his fourth season to the SFSTL for his directorial debut and with Twelfth Night, he and his team have hit it over the fence! Replete with live music composed for this production, a marvelous set designed by Kevin Kline Award nominee and recipient Scott Neale, and a cast of enthusiastic, engaging actors, make this year’s presentation an evening full of tearful laughter you won’t want to miss.

As you might know, Twelfth Night is a comedy of errors incited by a tragic event complicated by identity- and gender-masking, love-at-first-sight, rivalry, devotion, and logic- and sobriety-challenged characters. The identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, are believably carried by Kimiye Corwin and Vichet Chum; they look enough alike that even if you don’t know the story, you can “see the resemblance” and comprehend the visual confusion with her brother when Viola assumes the disguise of a young man. Leslie Ann Handelman and Joshua Thomas are superb as Olivia and Orsino, but for us, Andy Patterson’s Feste, the “wise fool” of Olivia’s house, is the star of the night’s performance. We were also impressed with Haas Regen’s versatility as a musician above and beyond his role as Sir Andrew and the deliriously drunken Sir Toby Belch portrayed by Eric Hoffmann.

If you’ve never been to the Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, you should know what to expect and what to do to be prepared. First of all, it is a free event, but there are concession stands to augment your evening’s experience. You should be aware that although it is free, the performers are professionals and they work hard to provide a fantastic experience, so don’t go expecting mediocrity. Upon meeting director Rick Dildine the evening we attended, it was evident from his enthusiasm and sincerity that this was going to be a performance to appreciate. We were not disappointed.

On our first visit together in 2009 for The Merry Wives of Windsor, we brought a blanket, arriving about 30 minutes before showtime. We had eaten a very pleasant dinner at the Boathouse before the show and walked to the Glen. Of course, there were hundreds of people already there and finding a place to spread out our blanket without feeling “intimate” with our neighbors made it necessary to be pretty high up the hill. We could see the stage fine but it was hard to hear the dialogue because some of our neighbors obviously went to socialize. Of course, St. Louisans are very friendly and we can’t fault them on that, so if you want to hear what Shakespeare has to say, go early and sit towards the front. One improvement of the last few years (I don’t know when it was actually implemented) is the use of wireless microphones on the actors. This certainly has been appreciated by our experience.

We’d also suggest that you plan to go on an evening where the weather will suit your needs (this year has certainly been a lot cooler than some prior years, so be prepared for the chill after the sun sets). Of course, if it rains, as it has several nights in the first week of this season, the production may be called off. The policy is that if interrupted by rain, the delay could go as long as an hour before the performance is cancelled. Fortuitously, the natural bowl of The Shakespeare Glen faces northeast so that the setting sun won’t be in your eyes. Also, if you have trouble sitting without back support for several hours, it would be prudent to bring a low beach chair or study cushion so you can be comfortable throughout the evening. (If you bring a normal folding chair and park yourself in front of people who arrived before you, you might get some complaints when you obscure their line-of-sight.) If you don’t want to be burdened by folding chairs, there is a limited number of rental chairs available front-and-center. While we love the casual atmosphere of a blanket, we have found these chairs to be well-worth the $7 or $10 fee, and of course, you are making a contribution to this great St. Louis institution now in it’s 13th year.

We also suggest that you arrive early and patronize the concession stands (managed by the St. Louis Zoo) that provide some tasty offerings (including vegetarian options and wine, daiquiris and margaritas, and non-alcoholic beverages) for a reasonable price. On Thursday and Friday nights, you can pioneer a new SFSTL experience: communal dining catered by Bixby’s (the restaurant on the second floor of the Missouri History Museum). You reserve your meal and join other Festival guests for a very appetizing dinner before the show (visit https://www.sfstl.com/whats-on/communal-dining-2013/ for the prix fixe package which includes the full-course meal and reserved seating for the play; use the link for details and to make reservations which are required). Of course, you can opt from those or two further options: eat at home or your favorite eatery, or bring your meal with you and enjoy the lovely summer we're having thus far in St. Louis!

Whatever you decide, and there are plenty of options, Dildine has done homage to William Shakespeare in his staging of Twelfth Night. You won’t leave without laughing... and even your children, so long as they are not less than 11- or 12-years old, will enjoy much of the humor. It’s obvious that the actors had a great time and, as a result, those St. Louisans’ savvy enough to attend had an evening to remember. Visit the Festival website for details and more information: https://www.sfstl.com.

The show runs from May 22 through June 16, every night except Tuesday nights. On Thursday nights, signing for the hearing-impaired is provided. The Green Show, a pre-show entertainment, begins at 6:30, as do the backstage tours. The mainstage event begins at 8 pm. After the play, a Washington University theater professor hosts a small talkback circle to discuss the performance and concepts related to the work. We found this to be a very enjoyable end to a wonderful evening.

* *** ** *** * *** ** *** *

March 2013

WarHorse

The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Produced by The National Theatre of Great Britain and Presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Runs March 13-24, 2013

Reviewed by David Mount

Having seen the Spielberg movie adaptation of this story of the connection between man and horse set in Europe in the second decade of the 20th century, I was wondering how such a compelling tale could be portrayed on stage without live horses. While this production introduced parts of the Michael Morpurgo novel not included in the Hollywood version (to my recollection, anyway), it was an incredible and stunning demonstration of what can be done on stage. My son and I were so engrossed in the realism of the story that we held our breaths several times and were in awe of the magic that brought life to inanimate life-sized constructions of the central characters of this musical event.

Decidedly turning from the trend in special effects that employ computers to convince the audience that what they are seeing is real, this remarkable production engaged life-sized puppets of horses and other animals, and even a technologically-advanced war machine of The Great War, moving across the stage using the power of people. It sounds like it would be less-than-satisfying but I promise you, you MUST see how mesmerizing the effect of the realism portrayed by the puppeteers becomes. You will be reminding yourself that these aluminum, cane, leather, carbon-fiber and Tyvek constructions have no heartbeat save those of the actors giving them life. They gallop, trot, rear up and even breathe. There is no chasm of disbelief between puppet and reality, even when the horses “die” in the course of serving with the armies in 1914-1915 Europe. The art and emotion passing from the hands and bodies of the horse puppeteers must be held as the crowning glory of this show. Bravo!

This is a musical and the narration was beautifully rendered in lilting Irish style by John Milosich, the Song Man”, as he is called. It must be daunting to perform in the shadow of such puppets, but he did earn our admiration. Albert, the young man who becomes so closely attached to his beloved horse, Joey, was evocatively and believably played by Alex Morf. The lighting and sound special effects are worthy of the warning provided before the start of the show. Loud explosions and bright flashes of light are very credible on-stage adaptations of explosions one would imagine in WWI.

Another ingenious idea employed in this production was the use of people as physical props. I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, but let me give you but one example of this: when the scene calls for a fence, actors move into place with semi-abstract fence sections. The scenery changes fluidly and gives a wonderful effect of detail and there’s no need to support the inanimate object; the actors double as people standing along the fence. How ingenious!

Finally, I was truly impressed by the unconventional set creativity that employed sketches by Rae Smith (you can see them here: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover-more/digital-classroom/designer-sketchbooks/rae-smiths-sketchbook) that were projected onto a screen that looked like a piece of art paper torn from a sketchbook. If you could take your eyes off the stage for a moment, in some scenes, clouds were moving across the landscape and although these are pencil-line drawings, you will be stunned at how beautiful the subliminal effect truly is. Evidently, I’m not the only one who felt this way because one of the five Tony® Awards won by WarHorse in 2011 was for Best Set Design in a Play. Just one of many reasons beyond the actual story for seeing this show. It only runs until March 24th, so you will want to call MetroTix (314.534.1111) or visit the Fox box office. For more information, go to FabulousFox.com.

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *

February 2013

Carmina Burana

Performed by
The Nashville Ballet

Touhill Performing Arts Center

February 22-24, 2013

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

The crowd went wild! This was a huge production! One hundred twenty UMSL University Singers and Orchestra, The Saint Louis Bach Society and the St. Louis Children’s Choir, 60 musicians and 40 dancers of the Nashville Ballet made it a very powerful performance. It received an enormous stand of appreciation and ovation.

The evening began with a performance by the athletic and versatile dancers of MADCO to Bach’s Cantata No.10 and was choreographed by Dance St. Louis’ own Michael Uthoff. It was a much lighter piece in contrast to the dramatic Carmina Burana. It ended with what reminded me of an homage to Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” with the dancers clustered together and popping out of upturned arms.

Carmina Burana means “Song from Beuren” which is a district in upper Bavaria. It is from a collection of poems written in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries questioning conventional values and traditional religion. German Composer Carl Orff wrote the music for this iconic story in 1937.

The ballet begins with a single woman wearing a huge billowing skirt from which other dancers emerge. She is the Wheel of Fortune that determines the fate of human beings. Sadie Bo Harris, as Lady Fortune, was a stern taskmaster. Although ballet is usually graceful and flowing, she managed to keep her ballet body graceful but stiff, commanding, angular, and with sharp movements. It was in contrast to the warmth and sunshine of the other dancers when spring arrives with a smile on Flora’s face and a colorful dance around the Maypole.

The production is very dramatic and with the music being live packs some power. Sometimes it seemed the stage was a little crowded with the choir on risers on both sides. I kept wanting to push the side risers back further or to only have the large choir in the rear to give the dancers more of the stage. On some of the numbers, the choir was a little tentative as though they weren’t sure when to come in. The children’s choir was seated on the sides of the theatre and although their part was very short, they managed to be respectful though out the show.

After beginning with the unpredictable Wheel of Fortune, the ballet progresses through Spring, then down in the depths of the Tavern (noted as not a good place) and finally into a balance of the Court of Love and Cupid’s arrival. The subject matter is not religious but deals with fate and mortality, nature, drinking and sensual love. Some of the lyrics:

Oh fortune, you are like the moon, unpredict-able, changeable, ever waxing and waning, hateful life first oppresses then soothes and always fades to nothing.

Choreographer and Artistic Director Paul Vasterling did a fantastic job of conveying the feel of this Book of Poems to dance and Nashville Ballet is excellent and a joy to watch. Every dancer was very strong.

The audience leapt to their feet the moment the ballet ended and the standing ovation was one of the biggest I’ve seen. We are so fortunate, Lady Fortune, to have Dance St. Louis bring us these incredible productions.

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *

Carmina Burana

The Nashville Ballet

The Touhill Performing Arts Center

Presented by Dance St. Louis

February 22-24, 2013

Reviewed by David Mount

The ice storm on opening night prevented us from attending but the performances on-stage the subsequent evening were far from freezing and the overflow crowd responded so favorably they couldn’t have felt ignored. The Nashville Ballet Company, the three choirs, and three soloists presented a tour de force presentation that will be the talk of St. Louis for seasons to come. This is not intended to omit MADCO who presented a short dance choreographed to Bach’s Cantata No. 10 by Dance STL’s Artistic and Executive Director, Micheal Uthoff; it, too, was a beautiful performance by our local talent and a gorgeous artistic abstract interpretation of one of Bach’s most beautiful compositions.

The stage of the Touhill seemed almost small with all the artists on it performing Carmina Burana. Even with The St. Louis Children’s Choirs in the box seats to the right and left of stage and the UMSL Orchestra in the pit. The Bach Society of Saint Louis and the UMSL University Singers shared the stage with the dancers from Nashville Ballet, and their requisite precision seemed effortless from where we sat. Sadie Bo Harris, in the role of Lady Fortuna, was stunningly graceful and physically eloquent, her intense but changeable emotions exquisitely expressed. Seeing this piece for the first time was a real treat and we kept anticipating her return to the production. This is not to suggest that she was the only performer to present a memorable masterpiece to us; the entire company, especially Jon Upleger in the final pas de deux, did not disappoint, far from it.

This review would not be complete without giving credit to the three soloists whose vocals were wonderfully beautiful: Stella Markou, soprano, Jeffrey Heyl, baritone, and Tim Waurick, tenor.

On the way out of the Touhill, it was obvious that there were audience members who’ve seen this piece before and I heard not one comment that this was in any way less than the best that they’d seen Carmina Burana performed previously. A supreme collaborative performance by what seemed to be more than 150 performers on and off the stage. If you didn’t see it, you missed one of our all-time most enjoyed productions.

Oh, and by the way, congratulations to Mr. Uthoff on two wonderful achievements with this presentation: the wonderful choreography of Bach’s Cantata No. 10 and finding the good fortune of fulfilling a cherished childhood memory. Hats off, to Dance St. Louis!

*   ***  *  **  ***   *   ***  **  *  ***   *


January 2013

Moulin Rouge®
The Ballet

by Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet
Sponsored by 
Dance St. Louis

at the
Touhill Performing Arts Center

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder

Ran Jan 25 & 26, 2013

Upon arriving in St. Louis some 15 years ago, someone told me that St. Louis was the Paris of the Midwest. I laughed (politely yet a bit worried about my Welcome Wagon friend’s state of mind since I am French-born) but didn’t think much of the comparison until I moved to the Central West End in 2009. Since that time, I have fallen in love with St. Louis and, if you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you I am an unabashed advocate of the city and all that it has to offer, especially as a center of performing arts.

However, it wasn’t until the Royal Winnipeg Ballet arrived that the Eiffel Tower (other than those ubiquitous souvenir-sized ones) and the Moulin Rouge complete with La Goulue, the Môme Fromage, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Zidler came to this city. I cannot help but wonder if many of the enthusiastic ballet lovers present at the Touhill on the 25th and 26th of January were aware that some of the events, characters and cultural references of the show were, in fact, very real. Did you know that the beautiful dancer ”La Goulue”, the greedy one, was named thus for her habit to finish off the Moulin Rouge’s patrons’ drinks? Or, that she ended her days as the fat lady of a circus in a tent painted by her long-time friend and admirer Toulouse-Lautrec? (What survives of the tent can be seen today at the Paris’ Musee d’Orsay.)

If you are familiar with the 2001 Hollywood version of the story, you’ll know the storyline: beautiful laundress and aspiring dancer falls in love with poet, Moulin Rouge owner becomes infatuated with his new dancer and jealous of her attention to said poet. Jealousy turns murderous but his rage finds the wrong victim. (Interestingly, the 1956 version starring José Ferrer focused on the life of artist Toulouse-Lautrec and his obsessions of art, absinthe, and amour.)

So, while the story is not a new one, the décor, the costumes, the energy and the dancing were certainly fresh and worthy of the ‘Gay Paris’ they were supposed to conjure in our minds, the audience bought it: lock, stock and barrel, awarding a standing ovation to the troupe and to the point of booing poor Oleksii Potomkin (despite his brilliant portrayal of the murderous Zidler) on opening night.

The cast of Moulin Rouge® showed St. Louis why they are one of the world’s best-known ballet companies with the beautiful performance that weekend in January. We sincerely hope they do not wait another year to come back or that they need to wait another year to be invited back! When they do, you need to be sure to come experience these wonderfully talented performers. Kudos to Canada and DANCEstl for bringing Paris to the Midwest!

 *** **  ***  **  ***  ** ***

Moulin Rouge--the Ballet
by Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Sponsored by DANCEstl

Touhill Performing Arts Center

January 25 & 26, 2013

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, founded in 1939, is one of the oldest ballet companies in North America. In 1953, it received its royal title and has gone on to begin a school and to become one of the top international ballet companies.


The tragic story of Moulin Rouge has plenty of fun before the twisted ending. The title means “Red Mill” conveying a cabaret in Paris where dance known as the Cancan is revered. A young artist falls for a launderette who has also captured the eye of the cabaret boss, Zidler who becomes very jealous and tries to steal Nathalie for himself. Although she does her best to shun his advances and profess her true love for the artist, Matthew, ultimately Zidler pulls out a gun to shoot Matthew but accidentally fatally wounds his beloved Nathalie. Toulouse-Lautrec tries to run interference for his artist buddy, Matthew, but does not succeed.


The skill and grace of the dancers was a joy. Jo-Ann Sundermeier (Nathalie) was practically weightless as she floated through the choreography. She portrayed both the excitement of young love and the vulnerabilities of having to follow her bosses commands to save her true love. Although it was hard to take your eyes off of Ms. Sundermeier, Dmitri Dovgoselets (Matthew) was also wonderful and had some great dance scenes rolling about on his easel while dueling artists with Yosuke Mino (Toulouse-Latrec). There were plenty of high kicks from the Cancan chorus as they knocked off the derby hats worn by the young men.


The choreography of Jorden Morris blended ballet, Cancan and tango. Have you ever seen the Cancan danced en Pointe? With a mix of various composers from Debussy to Ravel, the music and choreography kept the storyline moving.  A very romantic pas de deux to Claire de Lune was danced by the two young lovers across a foot bridge that seemed to appear out of nowhere. The stage design was remarkable in it’s ability to morph into different shapes with the Red Mill, Eiffel Tower, the elevated tower dressing room and basement of the cabaret. The lighting was also stellar casting foreboding shadows of the Red Windmill on the back wall. 


The performance was well received and given a justified standing ovation.


It was fantastic. That’s all I have to say.


***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***  **  ***

STOMP

The Fabulous Fox Theatre
St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount
Runs Jan 11 – 13,  2013

“Stomp” according to Merriam-Webster: an intransitive verb meaning to walk with a loud heavy step, usually in anger.

But, STOMP according to The Fox Theatre involves no anger, rather more than one hundred minutes of uninterrupted fun from eight fabulous performers on a custom-designed set, probably the largest “drum set” in the world!

The production of STOMP, originally created in Britain by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and continually revised for more than 20 years, was a blend of many things:

One-eighth odd things to “stomp” with, from matchboxes to brooms to recycled plastic cups and trash cans (no need for earplugs!)
One-eighth rhythms with global origins…
One-eighth pure energy…
One-eighth dance…
One-eighth comedy…
One-eighth creativity…
One-eighth acrobatics…
One-eighth light show…
And one-eighth sheer joy of the performers and audience.

If you counted nine eighths, you’re right! The extra eighth is for the fun you will have when you run to STOMP at the Fox!

* ** *** ** * *** * ** *** ** *

December 2012

Wicked!

Wickedly Awesome... Awesomely Wicked!

Fox Theater, St. Louis

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Runs from Dec 12, 2012 through Jan 6, 2013

This holiday season St. Louis was treated to a clever and inventive genesis of the beloved iconic book and movie, The Wizard of Oz. We discovered the reasons behind the Cowardly Lion’s timidity, the Scarecrow’s lack of reason, and the heartlessness of the Tin Man. The audience finds out why monkeys fly and even falls in love with… the Wicked Witch of the West! With Glenda, not so much…

If Jeanna de Waal as Glenda was everything the public expects from their memories of the Judy Garland classic (a fairytale blonde with a great voice, in this tale she’s a spoiled beauty queen and certified ditz who descends and ascends magically in “bubbles” into the midst of her adoring court/chorus), then, Christine Dwyer as a very green Elphaba, (known to us as WWW…Wicked Witch of the West, of course!), blew these critics away with her powerful voice, stage presence and heartbreaking love story.

We wouldn’t be doing justice to this show or its backstage talent if we didn’t point out the incredibly stylish, inventive, spectacular costuming created by Susan Hilferty for the entire cast. Also impressive was the cast’s ability to don and doff such elaborate creations in “wicked” time. The sets, too, were stunning and elaborate, complete with a laser-eyed, smoke-belching dragon. Throughout the production, the scenic designer, Eugene Lee incorporated a sophisticated clockwork… which should inspire the audience to reflect on the wicked workings of the human mind.

All in all, this was a Wicked! holiday pleasure which was enjoyed by adults and children alike.

* * *** * ** ***** ** * *** * *

November 2012

The Roman Tragedies
Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC

Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan
Ran Nov 16-18, 2012

All those holding tickets to Ivo van Hove’s Roman Tragedies at the Brooklyn Academy of Music saw the production, but nobody saw it alike. This six-hour theater marathon, a mash-up of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra, pushes the Bard forward and flavors him with ticker tape news feeds, sound bytes, tweets, and video. In a short run at the Howard Gilman Opera House at BAM (in Dutch with English titles), it was a real Shakespearean shebang.

Van Hove, who began his career in the 80s by staging his own texts, has gained an international reputation for his avant-garde staging of plays from the world repertoire. Some of his major productions include his remakes of Macbeth, Wedekind’s Lulu, Sophocles’s Ajax/Antigone, and O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. In New York, he has presented numerous works Off Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop (Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire, More Stately Mansions, Misanthrope, and The Little Foxes), garnering many accolades and several Obie nominations and two Obie awards. Last seen at BAM in 2011, he staged a piece based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1972 film Cries and Whispers. Indeed he frequently uses film to accent his stage productions, which may explain his omnipresent videos in his Roman Tragedies.

The traditional line between the actors and the audience is purposefully blurred in his new immersive work. Audience members could choose to sit in an orchestra or balcony seat in the capacious theater (2,090 maximum seating capacity), or wander freely onto the stage that had been morphed into a modern-day Roman amphitheater. Most decide to do both, and reaped the benefits of seeing the production from a distance and close-up.

Say what you will about this show, but never say it is dull. Van Hove takes Shakespeare’s triptych of Roman tragedies, deconstructs them, and turns them into a compact twenty-first century experience. True, he plays fast-and-loose with the Bard’s text. But you are still exposed to the essence of the Roman myths. In his Coriolanus, the hero is re-imagined as a product of the contemporary media: a composite of a flinty military general, arrogant aristocrat, and mama’s boy, all served up in a “sauce of lies.” In Julius Caesar, the posse of assassins looks like panel members who are participating in a CNN television program. Van Hove takes a different tack for his Antony and Cleopatra. In stark contrast to his philosophy of having actors share the stage space with audience members, he insisted that audience members leave the performance area and return to their seats in the theater to watch the final act of the play. Why? Well, one could speculate that van Hove wanted to underscore that Cleopatra was a diva to the nth degree (she often referred to herself as the god Isis), and that she wanted to be the star at her own death scene, without competing with any underlings. Sorry, folks. To get the full impact of this show, one had to check one’s ego at the door, and simply watch the action unfold in the high Roman fashion.

The downside to this production was that you didn’t get any Roman tragedy in its entirety. Yes, you could listen to Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia desperately trying to persuade her son to defect from the Volscians and return to his native Rome. Yes, you could witness the splendid funeral oration of Mark Antony next to Caesar’s corpse. The suicide of Antony and Cleopatra was well-done, too. Yet, you might have bemoaned that some of the most telling scenes, poetry, and set pieces from the three plays were streamlined or jettisoned from the show.

Novelty trumped tradition here. And, gratefully, the Belgian director has a deep regard for the classics, and his non-conventional theatrical choices tend to illuminate key moments in each play. Take, for instance, Enobarbus’s meditation on deserting his great master in Antony and Cleopatra. Here it was re-imagined as a nightmarish episode caught on video, in which the performer playing Enobarbus raced offstage, down the aisle, through the lobby and out onto the steps of BAM. All the action was projected on a giant screen above the stage, and the audience could watch the character Enobarbus as he had his mega-melt down on BAM’s steps, with real passers-by on Lafayette Avenue looking on in utter confusion. It definitely gave a new Vanhovian twist to the tragedy. Moreover, when the actor playing Enobarbus returned to the indoor stage moments later, he got the biggest applause—and laughs--of the evening.

This was an incredible one-of-a-kind theater experience. If you missed this epic trilogy, try catching van Hove’s next offering. It’s bound to change the way you view theater.

Performed on November 16, 17, & 18 at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, as a featured performance of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. For more information, visit www.bam.org

*** * * * * ** * * * * ***

Blue Man Group

Fox Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman
Nov 20-Dec 2, 2012

The fabulous Fox Theatre was invaded by three men wearing blue head masks and creating quite a stir. Who are these alien-looking creatures and where do they come from? Blue Man Group is an organization founded by Chris Wink, Matt Goldman and Phil Stanton. The organization produces theatrical shows and concerts featuring experimental music, comedy and multimedia as well as recorded music and scores for film and television. Their philosophy is to celebrate the human spirit through music, art, science and theatre. 

We were wildly entertained by their antics that are pretty hard to describe. The Blue Men interact with the audience first by walking on some of the chairs and picking seemingly random people out of the audience to take to the stage to be part of the show.

You know you’re in for something when the first two rows are wearing plastic parkas. This proved to be protection from paint that was squirted out in the extreme onto drums that when played caused the paint to leap into the air and splash some of the audience. Then there was a moment when a jello mold was propelled at great speed into the first few rows. I couldn’t see where it landed.

In some parts, the Blue Man Group behave like twelve year old boys by tossing packages of paint into each others’ mouths that is then squished and spewed out forming a painting on a canvas. One Blue Man has way too many packets tossed into his mouth that he eventually forms into a shape (sort of like the mashed potatoes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) that he regurgitates and places in a woman’s oversized purse that he borrows.

There are Twinkies (soon to be extinct) that are cut up, divided again and again, and shared among the four (including a woman captured from the audience). Then a hole in their costumes at chest level opens up and spews cream and cake crumbs all over the desk. These antics were mildly entertaining but the grand finale was wildly entertaining.

The show completely stops at one point as two audience members are spotlighted and filmed while coming to the show late to be seated up front and the multi-media screen reads out “You’re late” making a spectacle of late arrivals (although I’m sure they were plants).

They create music by pounding on PVC pipe that is in the shape of a Drumbone as they call it. By moving the end of it back and forth, it creates different tones. Some of the instruments are like xylophones. There’s also a band of several members, not Blue Men, who are in a loft visible above the stage. Music is a big part of the show. Blue Man Group received a Grammy nomination for its debut album Audio.

The PVC pipe instruments also change colors. Delightfully. The world of technology is featured as three screens come down with texting capabilities. The Blue Men seem puzzled by it. They never speak and they never break character. They stare perplexed and alien-like at the audience or at each other.

For the grand finale, the audience is encouraged to get up and shake their bootie with every possible word you can think of associated with “bootie.” The Blue Men were wearing some kind of PVC pipe instrument that they drummed on. This music was impossible to sit still through. Very large colored balls on the stage are hoisted out into the audience. While we are busy volleying the balls from place to place, they light up in a myriad of different colors. The Blue Men blasted us with reams of paper as the audience tried to keep up with the balls. After a few minutes, the unseen announcer says the Blue Men want their balls back and they are volleyed back to the stage.

Overall, it is a very enjoyable and unpredictable show. It’s party time with the Blue Man Group. You never know what they might do next. This show runs through December 2.

** * * * * * *** * * * * * **

Pilobolus

Dance StL and the Touhill Performing Arts Center

St. Louis, MO

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

As viewed by Nov 9, 2012, show runs Nov 9-10, 2012

Have you ever been mesmerized by the movements of a delicate mechanical assembly, with gears meshing, pendulum swinging, wheels turning, levers doing whatever they do? Or by a cluster of microscopic creatures interacting with one another in pond water or as in Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who? Perhaps you’ve had this experience macroscopically, such as when an immense, numberless gathering of critters, perhaps a flock of starlings or school of sardines, move in concert with one another, swooping and swirling, shifting en masse to unseen stimuli as though hardwired to a single, unidentified individual or a collective conscience? We felt this way last night although we had excitedly told our envious friends that we were to review a dance performance of the renowned Pilobolus Dance Theatre at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

A very much-anticipated performance by the athlete dancers of Pilobolus lived up to expectations on Friday night’s staging and took it to a level we'd not anticipated. Surprisingly ahead of the contemporary dance artistry curve despite being established more than 40 years ago, the creatively-inventive, physiologically- endowed and technology-rich dance company stunned, and delighted, the audience with each of the five pieces it presented. While audio and video technology played a key role in the evening’s staging, it was the performers who actually thrilled us. And, true to their stated daily goal, they had fun and gave us reason to smile and laugh, collectively gasp and hold our breaths as they astounded us with athletic prowess, physical strength, balance and synergistic collaboration.

Most of the time we think about a dance troupe as the dancers alone, but it is made strikingly obvious from the program that the behind-the-scenes artists (who are three times more numerous than the actual dancers on-stage) are also an integral part of this performance! From choreography to lighting to costumes and even videography and animation, this is a cutting-edge organization that strives for more than simple visual appeal and artistry in its impact on the audience.

It is inappropriate to try to satisfy your curiosity through a description of the five individual performances as the composite sense we had throughout the performance was quite different from all other dance presentations we’ve ever seen. It is undeniable that dance worth seeing relies on the intimate, sensual physical and emotional interplay between dancers. Pilobolus’ artists created the most intense mechanical-organismic sensation of intimate interactions in every on-stage movement. Between each of the five pieces in the 90-minute evening, while the stage is re-set by the crew, the audience is stimulated by AV presentation that creates a sensory anticipation of the piece to follow. The musical and visual score of this magical presentation is essential to the message conveyed to the audience.

Five stunning pieces are presented and the audience’s reactions were some of the most enthusiastic we’ve experienced. If you have the opportunity, there are two presentations today: at 2 pm and again at 8 pm. If not, keep your eyes open as it is pretty likely they’ll be back; this is the eighth visit of Pilobolus to St. Louis at DanceStL’s request.

If you can’t make it, DanceStL’s 2012-13 schedule includes the following exciting performances:

Jan 11-13, 2013: Stomp (in partnership with the Fox Theatre at The Fabulous Fox)

Jan 25-26, 2013: Moulin Rouge® - The Ballet by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Feb 21-24, 2013: Carmina Burana by the Nashville Ballet

Mar 9-10, 2013: MOVES by the New York City Ballet Goes (in partnership with the Fox Theatre at The Fabulous Fox)

May 23-25, 2013: 6th Annual Emerson Spring-to-Dance Festival

May 28-Jun 9, 2013: Anything Goes (in partnership with the Fox Theatre at The Fabulous Fox)

Contact DanceStL at 314.534.6622 for more details or visit dancestlouis.org

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October 2012

Medieval Madness at Renaissance Hall

Old Town Alexandria, VA

Reviewed by Verna Kerans

WOW! Great food, great ale, and a real sword fight!

Take yourself back into history with Thomas, the Duke of Salem, and Carla, his queen, in a fabulous Medieval Feast in Old Town Alexandria. The “wenches” (our serving maids) greeted us with a list of funny instructions that our hands were our utensils and the towels on the back of our chairs were our napkins. The special instructions also included standing when the Duke and Duchess arrive, a short story that explained many historical facts about the era when men were men and women were women (and nothing has changed!), and permission to shout “To the dungeon!” and “To the pillory!” when the occasion called for it. I noticed that the more ale the merry crowd drank, the easier it became to shout out “To the pillory!”

A silent friar blessed us before our dinner while a Gregorian chant rang out over his head. He circled the group and then turned around so we could see the message on his back: This space available. Throughout the dinner, the silent friar ran amongst the tables with amusing signs on his back advising us about too many things to even begin mentioning.

The food was plentiful and delicious starting with platters of plump sausages with honey mustard, tasty warm rolls, butter and apple pear sauce served family-style. After the first course of tasty sausages and rolls, great bowls of roasted carrots flavored with sugar and cinnamon and huge joints of roast beef arrived. Each roast was ample to feed groups of six and gentlemen were asked to carve the roasts. But that was not all. The next course to arrive was cornish game hens and each guest got a half a hen--way too much food for me--and little yam tots roasted to perfection. Last but not least, dessert was pound cake with jam guaranteed not to drip on your shirt.

Everyone got a bottle of beer and plenty of refills on water. Designated drivers had a fine selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from. A seasonal on-draught special, Oktoberfest Hacker-Pschorr straight from Germany could be purchased in mugs with a refill later. Also available was meade which I did not drink but my seatmate told me it tasted wonderful.

Between courses, our “wenches” amused us with double-entendre songs that will go right over the heads of any younger guests you’ve chosen to bring. So have no fear: little guests wilt love the knights dressed in genuine armor and during intermission will especially enjoy the sword fight competition that was “no holds barred”. All the time this eating and laughing is going on, music, wenches singing, and the friar running about, you and your seatmates can exchange banter and camaraderie. This is the perfect setting to bring a group celebrating any special occasion. Many people were asked to participate with a few written lines prepared in advance. Try your acting skills. You will have a blast.

The decorations on the wall are of special interest. Tapestries, flags, posters and decorations are all worth looking at when you have a break from the frivolity.

** * * * * *** * * * * **

Circle of Eleven presents
LEO

Edison Theatre, St. Louis

Reviewed by Lucy Moorman
October 5 & 6, 2012

I was intrigued when I saw the promotional photos of LEO.  It looks like a man standing in a small room but he’s defying gravity. How does he do that? This is a show about physical theatre and optical illusion.

Remember the movie Royal Wedding where Fred Astaire dances on the walls and ceiling of a room? It’s like that, only in the movie they were rotating the room. In Leo, the performer is rotating himself on three different walls while a camera mounted sideways shows us another version. You can see him in one room as he’s lying on the floor but in the room next to it, he’s leaning against the wall with his feet on the floor. His only props are a suitcase and a hat in what eventually becomes a slapstick show of mind-bending denial of the laws of gravity. You can switch back and forth to see what the performer is doing and then watch what the camera is showing in the projected version. Which is real?

After a while, all this switching for your brain and perception can make you drowsy. I needed to close my eyes occasionally. The performer goes through many phases being trapped in this small room. The synopsis of the story is about an ordinary man whose world becomes physically unhinged. His reaction goes from alarm to playfulness. He finds various props inside his small suitcase. A saxophone emerges from it and he plays it while tapping his feet. Mind you, the real performer is lying on his back but the projected version is leaning against the wall. He finds chalk and draws a chair to sit on, a table, a cat to keep him company, flowers, a gold fish in a bowl. He continues to expand his world. Eventually some of the creatures become animated in the projected version. The water from the gold fish bowl takes over the scene as the man adapts to swimming. Eventually his images become overlaid with a slight time lag. He is folding into himself and seemingly chasing himself around this small room. This goes on for a while as the tension builds and he is literally climbing the wall. He finally opens his suitcase on the floor (or the wall) and with light streaming from it, disappears inside the suitcase.

Although it is a one-man show conceived of and performed by Tobias Wegner, there is creative team that brings it all together. Wegner has a background in acrobatic training and has performed all over the world. It takes great strength to hold the positions and wall climbing that he performs. In the talk following the show, he said that his brain switches to what it will look like in the projection during the performance. This allows him to keep the proper body alignments that create the illusion.

Daniel Briere is the director from Montreal with a background in performing and creating new plays since 2003. Flavia Hevia, whose visual art has been seen around the world, is the set and lighting designer. Gregg Parks is the creative producer of Circle of Eleven in LEO, as well as SOAP, The Show, myLIFE, and VERSUS.

This is a clever and creative idea that seems somewhat limited. The show runs an hour with no intermission. Even though it’s short, it could possibly benefit with a little more interaction. Perhaps with a second performer inside the room (he does draw a second chair and glass of wine at the table) as the two interact and keep from falling into each other which could create some interesting balance dynamics and expand the lone man’s world.

*****************

Reviewed by Isabelle Heidbreder and David Mount

Run: July 23-29, 2012

What do Elvis, The Jackson Five, a classic low-rider, an evangelical preacher, several St. Louis landmarks and the biblical story of Joseph have in common? This week’s musical at the Muny, that’s what!

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice created this gem in 1968 prior to their Jesus Christ Superstar, as a 15-minute cantata for the St. Paul’s School in London, but some local artistic crafting has introduced Ted Drewes’ as a setting for our Muny-style Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And while it’s almost Muny cliché to have automobiles cruise to center stage at least once each summer, I’ll bet it’s a first that a customized, lowered and tricked-out classic hops on-stage! Believe me, the audience loved that! But there were many highlights in this oft-renewed and expanded work that kept us St. Louisans eager for the next lines.

While we saw lead Justin Guarini earlier this summer as lawyer Billy Glynn in Chicago, he seemed more at home and believable as Joseph. However, I think that most of the audience would say that the best performance of the evening, certainly the most amusing, was that of Austin Miller’s Elvis rendition of Pharaoh. He must have studied Presley’s movements and the addition of a mild parody of The King’s on-stage gyrations evoked laughter, hoots and whistles of appreciation from just about 11,000 folks in the seats. Indeed, his applause was deafening and served to provoke him into further Elvis-ing.

At least one awesome performance was turned in by Maurice Murphy as Judah, who styled as a Southern evangelical preacher. His musical pleadings to Joseph, complete with robed choir backup, to reconsider his harsh sentencing of Benjamin late in Act II were surprising and acknowledged by the Muny-goers.