Albee’s Legacy Lives With A Strong Production Of His “Three Tall Women” At STLAS

September 27, 2016
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Amy Loui, Jan Meyer and Sophia Brown in Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

Having just died 2 weeks ago at age 88, Edward Albee is probably our greatest American playwright (although there a few strong contenders of his generation) and the piece that St. Louis Actors’ Studio chose for this, their 10th season opener, is the closest he came to putting his life on stage- “Three Tall Women.”

I’ve only seen this play once before so the story did not immediately come to mind, but as this production unfolded, I remembered what a brilliant piece of theatre it is. Women A, B and C are meeting in Act I. A is a 91 year old woman, using a cane and experiencing a bit of forgetfulness, if not downright dementia. B is a middle aged caregiver and C is a young lawyer from the older lady’s long time personal firm. As the act unfolds, we learn a lot about the older woman and a bit about the mind set of the other two.

Jan Meyer is strong willed as the older woman and, even when she forgets things like the passing of the lawyer who usually handles her affairs or details about her late husband, she is rock solid in her convictions and what she needs and wants. The caregiver, played with an easy manner- as if she’s been with the older woman for some time- by Amy Loui, is superb in her subtle ways of avoiding the woman’s wrath and what she thinks she needs and wants. Finally, the young lawyer is given a brilliant, stoic performance by newcomer to our local theatre scene, Sophia Brown. Her sarcastic and ramrod demeanor is in strong contrast to the character she portrays in the final act.

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Sophia Brown, Jan Meyer and Amy Loui in “Three Tall Women” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

In that second act, all three women appear in formal wear and combine to create the persona of one woman at three stages in her life. Woman A has suffered a stroke at the end of the first act and now Ms. Brown plays her at age 25, Amy Loui at age 52 and Jan Meyer as the same age we saw her in the first act but without the cane and without the affect of aging on her physical and mental capacities. Finally, Michael B. Perkins appears briefly as a non-speaking catalyst to the cavalcade of her life as her son who, of course, does not react to what are obviously memories of the lady’s life as she lay dying.

The woman represents Albee’s mother and the bedside visitor is Mr. Albee himself. His was obviously not a happy life and, although not totally mean-spirited, “Three Tall Women” is indeed autobiographical. Director Wayne Salomon has crafted an exquisite portrait of the artist- playwright Albee- with a very haunting portrayal by three very talented women. This play mesmerizes as it crackles with dry wit and a poignant finale that explores the various stages of life for all of us.

Patrick Huber’s striking set design fits the mood of the play perfectly and is enhanced by his lighting design as well. The Carla Landis Evans costumes fit the portrayal of the three ladies in both acts quite well with an almost bizarre touch added by the formal wear.

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Sophia Brown, Jan Meyer, Michael B. Perkins and Amy Loui in Albee’s “Three Tall Woman” at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

STLAS has been offering quality theatre going into this tenth season and it looks like we’ve got a great ten years (and more) ahead of us. For a disturbing and provocative evening of theatre, don’t miss “Three Tall Woman” by the master, Edward Albee at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. It runs through October 9th at The Gaslight Theatre.

 

 

Lightweight “Sister Act” Is Elevated By Cast And Production Values At Stages

September 16, 2016
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Photo: Peter Wochniak

Stages St. Louis closes their 30th Anniversary season with a frothy treat- “Sister Act.” Like “Nunsense,” it appeals to the Catholic crowd with a lot of references that may be funny only to people who were raised in that faith. But, despite the lightweight nature of the show, Stages has brought their “A” game once again. Michael Hamilton has directed with a flair for silliness and the Stephen Bourneuf choreography excels.

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Steve Isom is somewhat shocked to find Corrine Melancon in his usual spot in the confessional as she listens to Dan’Yelle Williamson. Photo: Peter Wochniak

For those who remember the Whoopi Goldberg film and the sequel, this is pretty close to the original with a Las Vegas showgirl- Deloris Van Cartier- who witnesses her boss and boyfriend kill one of his gang members. When he finds out, one police officer in particular takes Deloris under his wing and gets her into a semi-witness protection program. He puts her in a convent and disguises her as a nun and only the Mother Superior knows her real identity. Deloris takes on the challenge of making the choir of nuns turn from off-key attempts at hymns to a more upbeat approach including choreography and specialty numbers. It works and eventually even gets the attention of the Pope. But her identity gets blown due to the publicity and a final confrontation when the gun is put to her head. But it’s a musical so everything turns out alright.

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Kevin Curtis, Keith Boyer, Myles McHale and Kent Overshown in “Sister Act” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Danielle Williamson as Deloris is nothing short of spectacular or, as she says in song, “Fabulous, Baby.” She glides and bounces around the stage- even in a nun’s habit- at break-neck speed. She is full of life in leading the nuns in numbers such as “Raise Your Voice” and “Take Me To Heaven” (a retooled number from her Vegas act) and then the curtain call number, “Spread The Love Around.” As the reluctant and often scandalized Mother Superior, Corrine Melancon is a gift from heaven as well. She gets a couple of meaty, thoughtful musical numbers as well including “Here Within These Walls” and “I Haven’t Got A Prayer.”

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Dan’Yelle Williamson and Corinne Melancon in the Stages-St. Louis production of “Sister Act.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Steve Isom kills it as the Monsignor who has obviously been secretly hoping for his big chance as he really gets into the musical numbers along with the nuns with a great deal of relish. Deloris’ mobster boyfriend is played with a sweet, menacing touch by Kent Overshown and his little band of gangsters- Myles McHale, Keith Boyer, Kevin Curtis and John Flack. Poor Mr. Flack is the early victim of the trigger happy Curtis (Overshown) but not to worry, he gets a very special role near show’s end. Curtis Wiley shines as the protector of Deloris as he has obviously fallen for her and gets a great specialty number, “I Could Be That Guy.”

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The newest “nun” (Dan’Yelle Williamson) has her own way of saying grace at the dinner table in “Sister Act” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

It’s all about the nuns in this one and they are a happy, bouncy group including the shy Sister Mary Robert (Leah Berry), Michele Burdette Elmore in a wonderful turn as Sister Mary Lazarus, Sarah Michelle Cuc as Sister Mary Patrick, and a “host” of others featuring Kari Ely, Peggy Billo, Morgan Amiel Faulkner, Angela Sapolis, Julia Johanos, Paula Landry, Laura Ernst, Erin Kelley, April Strelinger and Jessie Hooker. Both Ms Faulkner and Ms Hooker also play Deloris’ back up singers in Vegas. Lots of great folks in the ensemble as well- a Stages hallmark.

The big question is- how do you make a nuns habit interesting? Well, costumer Brad Musgrove has solved that problem with sequins and outrageous colors. From burgundy glitter to blue sequins to heavenly white habits, he has transformed this indistinct little cloister to “fully clothed” showgirls for their popular Sunday morning singing. The James Wolk set design is very versatile featuring a sliding “break away” church edifice that converts to all of the Vegas stages, police precincts, apartments and every nook and cranny of the convent. And the Sean M. Savoie lights are spectacular as well. Add the musical direction of Lisa Campbell Albert and you’ve got a show.

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Deloris Van Cartier in her Vegas act during the Stages-St. Louis production of “Sister Act.” Photo: Peter Wochniak.

“Sister Act” is a no-brainer. Just sit back and let the glitz and glamour of Vegas and, eventually, Queen of Angels Cathedral take you away for a few hours. You’ll get some laughs, some outstanding musical numbers and powerful performances from a cast that obviously enjoys what they’re doing. “Sister Act” plays at Stages-St. Louis through October 9th. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

 

Zaniness With A Dark Side At The Fox As Tony Winner “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder” Brings The Laughs

September 16, 2016

gent-trioLoaded with laughs, impressive performances and a “killer” set, “A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” sweeps into town at the Fox Theatre. We root for the anti-hero as there are more laughs than murders- and that’s because the murders are quite funny as well.

With book and lyrics by Robert L. Freedman and music and lyrics by Steven Lutvak, this one is based on the original source material of the wonderful Alec Guiness film “Kind Hearts And Coronets” in which Guiness plays the eight members of a family that have to be eliminated in order for a wrongfully abandoned member to become the rightful heir. In this production, John Rapson takes on that role and becomes almost unidentifiable in each guise as he brilliantly dies time and time again over the course of this two act musical. He does everything from falling through the pre-sawn ice while skating to shooting himself (or, in this case, “herself”) while playing Hedda Gabler to being attacked by bees to the quite mundane dying of natural causes (although poison may have played a role).

gent-ladyAs the perpetrator of all of these nefarious deeds is Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro. When his late mother’s long time friend, Miss Shingle (the perky and quite snoopy Mary VanArsdel)  pays a visit, she reveals that he is in line to inherit the estate and holdings of the powerful stock exchange magnate, Asquith D’Ysquith. His mother had been disinherited by the family after he was born. So it soon becomes his mission to literally get away with murder multiplied by eight to regain the wealth and prestige he feels he is owed. Massey is superb as he wins over the audience with one preposterous ruse after another to reach his goal.

gent-policeHe is ably and surreptitiously abetted by his one true love, Sibella, played with the proper haughtiness and sex appeal by Kristen Beth Williams. Since she believes Montague to be on the fast track to poverty, she abandons him to marry a man she believes will be rich and influential. She soon learns of Monty’s “potential” and pries her way back into his life. In the meantime, Monty has found comfort with one of the D’Ysquith cousins (someone he doesn’t have to kill, thankfully), Phoebe. Adrienne Eller is a real charmer but we soon find she can have a dark side as well.

gent-iceA small ensemble keeps things busy as they play multiple roles to flesh out the individual stories of these family members who meet their Maker. But with the inimitable John Rapson bouncing around the stage, all eyes are usually on him and guessing what fate may befall him as a member of the D’Ysquith family. Along the way we are treated to some quite wonderful and clever musical numbers including the rhapsodic “I Don’t Understand The Poor” from Lord Adalbert (Rapson), “Better With A Man” with Henry (Rapson) and Monty and “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” (again, Rapson). One of the show stoppers is when Monty tries to keep Sibella and Phoebe from discovering each other in “I’ve Decided To Marry You.” Almost like a French farce, two doors separating two rooms by a hallway keeps the action going while all three manage to sing while doors are slamming and women are being separated from each other.

gent-mansThose doors and the clever “toy stage” set design is the clever work of Alexander Dodge who, in conjunction with projection designer Aaron Rhyne bring a striking set and even more impressive special effects to the show. Musical director Lawrence Goldberg brings the wonderful score to life and director Darko Tresnjak keeps the play moving at near break-neck speed throughout.

gent-table“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder” is one of the funniest musicals you’re likely to see this season. The dark humor and splendid cast make it a treat not to be missed. It plays at the Fox Theatre through September 25th.

 

Strindberg Southern Style As The Black Rep Opens With “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John”

September 12, 2016
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Miss Julie embraces John as Clarissa storms out in “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep. Photo: Phillip Hamer

Big anniversaries going on all over town with our theatre friends. As we already mentioned, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is celebrating their 50th season and the Black Rep is not far behind- opening their 40th season. Two wonderful milestones. The celebration at the Black Rep is in a retelling of August Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece “Miss Julie.” This one is also set in 1888 but in the Reconstruction Era in Virginia and called “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” This is the Midwest premiere of the play by Mark Clayton Southers.

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Clarissa brushes Miss Julie’s hair during the Black Rep production of “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” Photo: Phillip Hamer

Two decades after emancipation, Clarissa and John are still living on the plantation of tobacco grower, Mr. Hodge. His daughter, Miss Julie, is a frequent visitor to Clarissa and John’s home on the plantation as they still cook and tend to chores for the Hodge family. The only problem is, Miss Julie is a bit too friendly with John. He is a learned man and quite strong- two qualities Miss Julie finds irresistible. During the course of the first act, we get hints about the family and their former slaves and the family dog figures prominently in the mix- which leads to the dramatic turn of events in Act II.

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Clarissa embraces John during a tender moment in “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” at the Black Rep. Photo: Phillip Hamer

Eric J Conners is a powerful force as John. He dominates the stage and knows exactly how to play this little cat and mouse game with Miss Julie. Alicia Reve Like is a beautiful but tragic Clarissa. She knows the path these two are going down but she’s upset with Miss Julie and even puts her in her place more than once. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she can only play out the scenario and hope for the best.

Laurie McConnell is the most tragic figure of all- she has had unsuccessful suitors in the past but she is drawn to John. Still clinging to the life when she could lord over John and Clarissa, she finds herself in a series of faux pax and dangerous affections. McConnell has had quite a year on stage ranging from the tragic school teacher dealing with the mother of a dead student in “Gideon’s Knot,” the alcoholic Joanne in “Company” and now the misguided daughter of the manor who is trying to seduce her servant. Give this girl a comedy!

Andrea Frye has directed this clever script of Mark Clayton Southers. Transferring the tragedy of Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” to the reconstructed American South is nothing short of brilliant. And Frye’s  precise direction brings out every nuance in this well crafted story. Jim Burwinkel’s set is perfect match to the material and Kathy Perkins’ lighting design adds to the powerful script. Jennifer (J.C.) Krajicek has designed the perfect costumes to show the contrast of characters as well.

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Clarissa drags Miss Julie from the house during the Black Rep’s production of “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John.” Photo: Phillip Hamer

“Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” is powerful theatre, well directed and a splendid cast who exemplifies the quality and longevity of the Black Rep. Congratulations to Ron Himes and the staff at the Black Rep and may we see many, many more successful years. “Miss Julie, Clarissa and John” plays at the Black Rep at the Edison Theatre of Washington University through September 25th. Call them at 314-534-3807 or visit theblackrep.org for tickets or more information.

Iconic “Follies” Opens Rep’s 50th With Beautiful Girls, Beautiful Story, Beautiful Music

September 11, 2016
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Emily Skinner as Phyllis and Christiane Noll as Sally in “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

This is it, folks- you’re into the “Follies” and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (opening their 50th season) brings all the thrills and chills of this bigger-than-life musical to grand and glorious life. Stephen Sondheim’s signature masterpiece doesn’t get performed often because of the scope and breadth of this show but, after 50 years of waiting (and fewer years of my wife nagging Rep Artistic Director Steve Woolf), “Follies” has finally arrived and St. Louis is in for a treat.

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E. Faye Butler leads the ladies in “Who’s That Lady?” during “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

With a wonderful mix of Broadway vets and local talent, the cast of “Follies” is nothing short of incredible. With a lengthy string of Tony nominations and wins, this cast is like a who’s who of the Broadway community. Emily Skinner and Christiane Noll lead the way as Phyllis and Sally- the two rivals in the old days of the Follies and now reuniting at the theatre as it is on the brink of being torn down for a parking lot. Sally loved Ben who is now married to Phyllis while Sally married Buddy who was part of that foursome who acted together on stage and double dated after just about every performance.

Meanwhile Ben Stone (Bradley Dean) still has a soft spot for Sally but, as we find out, he has a soft spot for almost anyone in a skirt. Adam Heller is Buddy and he reluctantly comes to the reunion because he knows the romance between Sally and Ben will probably reignite. All of the principles get to shine in solo numbers and production numbers alike.

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Christiane Noll sings the heart breaking “Losing My Mind” during “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Emily Skinner simply sizzles as she confronts Ben with “Could I Leave You?” and then knocks us dead during the “Loveland” sequence with “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.” During that marvelous pastiche in Loveland, Christiane Noll drops the mike (figuratively) with one of Sondheim’s most tragic love songs, “Losing My Mind” and also teams up with Bradley Dean in the moving first act closer, “Too Many Mornings.” Adam Heller delights with his unrequited love songs, “The Right Girl” and “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” during his “folly” in the loveland numbers. Bradley Dean expresses concern in “The Road You Didn’t Take” and then gets that moving finale which- I remember- threw the opening night crowds during the original run of the show on Broadway as he faltered during the big finish, “Live, Laugh, Love.”

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Bradley Dean and Emily Skinner as Ben and Phyllis at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of Sondheim’s “Follies.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The other ladies of the Follies are well represented by a bevy of Broadway and regional theatre sensations including Nancy Opel who blows us away as Carlotta with the iconic “I’m Still Here” and Amra-Faye Wright as the French beauty, Solange and her rendition of “Ah, Paris!” E. Faye Butler leads the ladies in the fast-paced “Who’s That Woman?” and local favorite, Zoe Vonder Haar lifts the lid off the Rep with her animated “Broadway Baby.” Dorothy Stanley and James Young also shine as “patter partners” in the soft shoe number, “Rain On The Roof.” Finally, Carol Skarimbas as Heidi and Julie Hanson as her younger self, bring the beautiful “One More Kiss” to glorious life.

With the 30 year reunion, the ghosts of the past are a prominent part of the show. With special lighting and other effects, you continually see shadowy images on the walls and, of course, beautifully clad ghosts of the ladies as they appeared in the original Follies start of the show gliding across the stage as the mysterious overture plays. Then they appear as mirror images during the ladies’ solos and get seriously involved with moving full length mirrors during that sobering “Who’s That Lady?” number.

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Adam Heller in “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” in “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The ghosts of Ben, Phyllis, Sally and Buddy are most prominent as they continually interconnect with their younger selves during the stirring “Waiting For The Girls Upstairs” and again prominently during the Loveland sequence with “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow/Love Will See Us Through.” But they “haunt” their contemporary counterparts throughout the show and even appear to interact with them in pivotal scenes. Kathryn Boswell as young Phyllis, Sarah Quinn Taylor as young Sally, Michael Williams as young Ben and Cody Williams as young Buddy are brilliant performers and smoothly transition into these haunting scenes.

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The opening of the “Loveland” sequence during Sondheim’s “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Rep veteran Joneal Joplin is perfect as showman Dimitri Weismann, another Rep vet and Black Rep managing director, Ron Himes, is Max Deems and Robert DuSold rounds out the major cast as Roscoe. The powerful ensemble does remarkable work in multiple roles including the ghostly presence of the Follies girls. Valerie Maze is AMazing as conductor and pianist as the impressive orchestra leads the way for the memorable Sondheim score under the musical supervision of Brad Haak.

The ever-steady Rob Ruggiero gives “Follies” the nuance and majesty it deserves as director. He weaves the spell and we can’t help but follow on the edge of our seats. Choreographer Ralph Perkins has staged the musical numbers with heart and soul. The technical team has treated this show like their baby with a masterful set by Luke Cantarella, haunting (I keep using that word) lighting at the hand of John Lasiter and simply outstanding costumes from Amy Clark. I can’t say enough how every aspect of this production has come together for one of the most impressive and stunning performances we’ve seen in St. Louis.

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Bradley Dean in the finale of “Follies” as presented at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The audience on opening night shouted and applauded throughout the evening and then leapt to their feet before the curtain call could even commence. This was a remarkable evening of theatre and will continue to be so throughout this run (just may have to see it again- or several more times) before that run ends. Speaking of which, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis continues with Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” through October 2nd. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 and grab those tickets while you can. You won’t see this show or a production this grand in St. Louis for a long time.

 

R-S Theatrics Continues To Knock It Out Of The Park- This Time With “Love? Actually…”

September 5, 2016
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Sarajane Alverson sings during the opening act cabaret at R-S Theatrics “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

Specializing in works that have never played our area, R-S Theatrics has brought us a three act musical extravaganza, mostly about unrequited love, under the umbrella title of “Love? Actually…” Opening with an out of a bowl cabaret, they move on to give us a beautiful operatic piece based on a French fable with a little twist and then closes with a one-act musical by today’s hottest composer/lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda. By the way, R-S will be performing his first full-length musical next season, “In The Heights.”

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Omega Jones performs in the cabaret section of “Love? Actually…” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Since both one-act musicals are short- about 20 to 25 minutes each, they’ve fleshed out the evening with a unique concept. Audience members who have been chosen by a “secret lottery” come on stage and draw performers and musical numbers out of three on stage bowls to determine how the first act of entertainment will go. One is for soloists, the next for duets and finally a group number. Everything from Gooch’s number from “Mame” to the silly “A Song Like This” from “Spamalot” were performed by this talented cast the evening I attended. Of course, each evening will be different. Clever and we get to see some of the versatility of the singers before we get into the “meat” of the program.

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Eileen Engel and Lindsay Gingrich in “Thyrsis & Amaranth” at R-S Theatrics production of “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

I have never heard of Steven Serpa but I’ll be looking for more from this talented composer after hearing his delightfully melodic score for the one-act musical, “Thyrsis & Amaranth.” Based on one of the fables by La Fontaine (yes, I had to look it up), the original tale had a shepherd and shepherdess discussing the unusual pain felt from this feeling called love and the resulting pain from unrequited love. Mr. Serpa has updated the story to a modern wedding and the characters have been changed to a pair of bridesmaids. One has secret feelings for the other but the object of her affection never has a clue and, in fact, is more interested in one of the groomsmen. No matter the gender, we’ve all been through that sinking feeling when you realize the one you love from afar is even further away than you can imagine.

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Lindsay Gingrich pines in the background while Eileen Engel has other thoughts on her mind in “Thyrsis & Amaranth” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Eileen Engel is absolutely perfect in the almost “will o’ the wisp” role of Amaranth. She listens to her friend but has her mind elsewhere and isn’t picking up on the clues to her feelings. Lindsay Gingrich is the love sick Thyrsis as she pours her heart and soul into her attempt to seduce but to no avail. Wedding guests and even the bride and groom move through the scene in silent animation as this heart-breaking story unfolds. With the gorgeous music and wrenching lyrics of Steven Serpa, “Thyrsis & Amaranth” becomes the main feature of the evening managing to even trump the wildly entertaining final piece by Mr. Miranda.

Called “21 Chump Street,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s take on the plot of the film “21 Jump Street,” sees a young police officer infiltrating a high school in order to nab drug peddlers. She dupes a young man who shows interest in her but is not involved in the drug culture to score her some marijuana. As the officer, Naomi, Natasha Toro plays it hard nosed all the way. She responds to the flirtations of Justin, played with a raw innocence by Kelvin Urday and, despite his hesitation, he manages to land some weed and thus falls into her trap and is arrested. One burning question is evident as Justin sums it up at play’s end.

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Natasha Toro as Naomi in “21 Chump Street” at “Love? Actually…” presented by R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Sarajane Alverson is the narrator/teacher and does a wonderful job while three male students round out the cast as they hip hop and grind their way through the delicious Taylor Pietz choreography. Kevin L. Corpuz, Omega Jones, and Phil Leveling shine as they back up Justin in his attempts to woo the new “student” with numbers like “Everybody’s Got A Cousin” (who can score some pot). With the typical powerful music and delightful lyrics that we’ve come to love from this “Hamilton” creator, “21 Chump Street” closes out a perfect evening of unrequited love that is also the main theme of the opening cabaret.

Director Christina Rios has the knack to bring these tales to glorious life and, ably assisted by the wonderful work of the aforementioned Taylor Pietz and the grounding work of musical director and pianist Leah Luciano, makes this another thought provoking and highly charged evening of theatre from R-S Theatrics. The set design work of Keller Ryan is impeccable and the lights of Nathan Schroeder are just the right touch for the small Westport stage while Amy Harrison’s costumes are wonderfully appropriate from the matching bridesmaids dresses to the bursts of color for the students.

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Kelvin Urday as Justin pleads with Natasha Toro as Naomi in “21 Chump Street” at the R-S Theatrics presentation of “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

Although the small interior of the Playhouse at Westport Plaza is a nice, cozy space, I don’t think it will accommodate the crowds that will begin to swarm to this wonderful evening when word gets out. This is a winner in every sense of the word and it plays only through September 18th. Give R-S Theatrics a call at 314-252-8812 to get your tickets or more information on “Love? Actually…”

Mustard Seed Theatre Opens Their 10th Season With A Strange And Haunting Tale- “Kindertransport”

August 22, 2016
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Hannah Ryan as Eva and Kelley Weber as Helga in “Kindertransport” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The first time I had heard of the kindertransport was a play based on the life of Ruth Westheimer at New Jewish Theatre last year in a bravura performance from Susie Wall. Dr. Westheimer was a kindertransport child herself. Now Mustard Seed Theatre is opening their 10th season with a marvelous script by Diane Samuels based on the stories she has compiled about this unusual and somewhat controversial program set up in 1938.

I’m sure it didn’t seem controversial at the time- a group was formed in war torn countries during the Nazi regime to protect children (particularly Jewish children) from the horrors of the concentration camps and the violence against Jews at the hands of Hitler. The British based Movement for the Care of Children from Germany provided transport for younger children into Britain- some staying with foster parents, others staying at hostels, schools or farms. The problem being that these children had to be torn away from their parents with the hope that they would be reunited after the war. A lot of them did not and some, as we see from “Kindertransport,” had difficulty rekindling a relationship with their family.

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Brian J. Rolf and Hannah Ryan in a scene from Mustard Seed Theatre’s “Kindertransport.” Photo: John Lamb

Director Deanna Jent has taken the raw emotions laid out by the playwright and spilled them out over two acts, each encompassing less than an hour each. The lives affected are often hard to watch but Jent’s powerful lead brings us a story that we won’t soon forget. We first meet young Eva- a remarkable performance from Hannah Ryan- as her mother Helga- rock solid portrayal from Kelley Weber- as she explains to her daughter that she must go on the train and they will all meet up again soon in England. Being a child of nine, Eva can’t comprehend why she has to go without her family.

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Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux and Katy Keating in “Kindertransport” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Flash forward to the 1970’s in England and we meet Evelyn as she is discussing her daughter Faith’s move out of the house into her own apartment. Michelle Hand gives a stoic and highly charged performance as Evelyn and Katy Keating is her vacillating daughter. Trouble ensues when Faith discovers a box of Evelyn’s keepsakes including a German children’s book and some photographs. Kirsten De Broux- with another great performance as her grandmother, Lil, tries to trivialize the mementoes away but Faith is adamant and demands an explanation from her mother. That’s when the true story of this family is revealed and pain and hurt roll over them and us like a tidal wave.

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Katy Keating, Michelle Hand and Kirsten De Broux in Mustard Seed’s “Kindertransport.” Photo: John Lamb

When Helga comes to England it’s just too late as her daughter’s lifestyle and her perfect British accent tell her what has truly happened. It’s a heartbreaking story that one wouldn’t expect from a program that was designed to save the children of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Austria. Rounding out the cast is Brian J. Rolf in a series of roles including a Nazi soldier, a mailman and a few other characters.

The Kyra Bishop set design is spectacular with a spacious attic space on two levels that doubles and triples as a few other settings as well. Michael Sullivan’s lighting design enhances the story and Jane Sullivan’s costumes hit just the right note for the 30’s and 70’s locales. Again a special shout out to Nancy Bell as vocal coach and Marlene Rene Coveyou as German language coach- particularly in the case of young Hannah, her German was impeccable and all of the accents from the cast were spot on.

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Kelley Weber and Hannah Ryan in “Kindertransport” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Everyone will probably react to “Kindertransport” in a different way but everyone will be affected by this unusual play. It’s a good thing to read the program before the play starts to make yourself more familiar with the kindertransport program. As I said, I had never heard of it until the Ruth Westheimer play but this play makes the assumption that you may already know about the program. Enjoy a stirring evening with truly wondrous performances all around as “Kindertransport” plays at Mustard Seed Theatre through September 4th. Give them a call at 314-719-8060 or contact them at http://www.mustardseedtheatre.com for tickets or more information.

Sarah Porter- Cute, Cuddly And Looking For Love In “Tell Me On A Sunday” At New Line

August 20, 2016
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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

A true super girl, Sarah Porter has been featured in a host of New Line shows and costumed just as many or more. Now she steps to the forefront as Emma in a song cycle by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Tell Me On A Sunday,” which is part of his “Song And Dance” experimental musical originally starring Bernadette Peters on Broadway. Sarah nails it, kills it and every other theatrical cliche you can think of with a stellar breakout performance.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Always a stand out in any show she’s done, she just jumps out at you on stage in both bizarre and demanding roles but usually as part of a larger cast. I really loved her zany antics in “Rent” a few years back. But now she gets to stand alone and bring joy, tears, heartbreak and resiliency  to a role that brings over twenty songs in just over an hour as a young British girl tries to find love in America. From New York and a brief stint in Hollywood, we root for Emma as she follows her instincts from one man to another in her search for true love. Unfortunately, her instincts aren’t holding up too well and, as she tells us through her correspondence to her mum in England, she kisses a lot of frogs but can’t seem to find her prince.

Of course the signature song in “Tell Me On A Sunday” is “Unexpected Song” but the score is filled with a delightful compendia of great Andrew Lloyd Webber music with lyrics supplied by both Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr. “Take That Look Off Your Face” becomes an anthem for Emma and has, in real life, become an oft featured background tune for Lord Webber himself in his appearances. “Come Back With That Same Look In Your Eyes” is a plaintiff plea for a love affair that she knows will end soon and the title song is another plea- this time for breaking the news of a break up as gently as possible. “It’s Not The End Of The World” becomes a recurring theme as well as Emma’s spirit convinces her there’s always new hope around the corner.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

This is an excellent one-act musical that really showcases a performer. Sarah Porter not only sings the role with perfection, her acting is superb and she maintains that British accent throughout in a show that’s completely sung. Facial expressions, body language and the range of disappointment, hope and joy in her voice make for a character and a show that you can’t help but fall in love with. What a stunning performance.

For the first time in New Line history, the show has not been directed by Scott Miller. His long time associate director and co-director in many productions, Mike Dowdy-Windsor has taken the reins and created a most likable and lovely show. He has guided Porter through the wonderful world of Emma with heart and soul.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The lovely set and lights are provided by Rob Lippert. He has once again brought a workable and inspired design to the show- as he has for New Line and other companies around town. The New York skyline complete with a full moon dominate and he’s even managed to make the short California scene memorable with a classic piece of furniture and even convincing us Emma is dipping her toes into a Hollywood swimming pool.

Sarah Porter has once again double-dipped as performer and designer of her own costumes. She runs the gamut from trendy to super casual, lingerie and into sophistication. And a special note to her dialect coach, Laurie McConnell. She obviously taught her well and saw to it that she maintained the accent throughout.

Let’s face it, New Line surprised us with a Frank Wildhorn show recently and now, despite the obvious appeal of “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (both shows they’ve done in the past), they have dipped into the Andrew Lloyd Webber collection to pull out this gem. But when you’ve got Sarah Porter lurking in all of those other featured roles, you’ve got the right lady at the right time and it’s the right time to showcase her talents.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

There aren’t as many performances as usual with this one-act musical, so plan on getting to New Line by August 27th to catch this talented and lovely lady, Sarah Porter as Emma in “Tell Me On A Sunday.” Tickets available at MetroTix, 314-534-1111 and go online at newlinetheatre.com for more information.

 

 

Two Powerful Actors In Epic Battle Of “Inherit The Wind” At Insight

August 15, 2016
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Alan Knoll as Matthew Brady and Susie Wall as Mrs. Brady in “Inherit The Wind” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

As current as any of today’s headlines during this election year, “Inherit the Wind” pits religion versus science based on the Scope’s Monkey Trial. In that famous trial, Clarence Darrow battled William Jennings Bryan for the right of a teacher to use Darwin’s “Origin Of The Species” in a classroom- supposedly mocking the teachings in the Bible.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee wrote “Inherit The Wind” to use that trial to help expose the tyranny of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his infamous Communist Witch Hunt in the 1950’s. As we see once again, the play is relevant to almost any era. In the play a young teacher is put on trial in a small Southern town and the infamous Matthew Harrison Brady comes to town to defend the Bible against this heathen. But the equally celebrated Henry Drummond takes up his cause and resorts to using the teachings of the Bible against his esteemed opponent to attempt to exonerate his young charge.

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John Contini as Drummond, contemplates the Bible versus Darwin in the Insight Theatre Company production of “Inherit The Wind.” Photo: John Lamb

As the powerful Brady, Alan Knoll oozes Southern charm to drawl his way through Bible thumping tirades. He commands the role with the mastery of the stage veteran he is. Matching him stride for stride is the incomparable John Contini as Henry Drummond. He also uses a certain country charm to outmaneuver Brady until the courtroom battle erupts in tragedy. These two powerhouses of the local stage just own this show. In this large cast, they simply dominate the proceedings.

John’s real life son, Jason Contini plays the persistent newspaper reporter sent to cover this historic case. He is a real observer for the audience as he reacts to the case and both men involved with a slightly jaundiced yet perceptive eye to the truths that are at stake. Pete Winfrey and Sigrid Wise are a delightful pair as the teacher and his girlfriend. The unfortunate thing for them is that her father is the local minister- a role played with relish as well as hell-fire-and-brimstone by Michael Brightman. Susie Wall is also wonderful as Matthew Brady’s wife.

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Sigrid Wise, Pete Winfrey and John Contini in “Inherit The Wind” at Insight. Photo: John Lamb

The rest of the large cast is well represented by some local favorites as well as a few names I didn’t recognize but they all do a credible job, some playing multiple roles. There seemed to be a few sound problems on opening night, the most glaring being with the rather soft-spoken judge who was always drowned out by his own gavel-banging. This hardly mattered as the play’s the thing and this one is a can’t miss favorite.

Director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga handled the large cast well as she moved them on and off in groups several times across the wings jutting out through the audience. The on stage action is tense and she brought the dramatic tension out with a masterful touch. Kyra Bishop designed the almost laid back but quite efficient set which made good use of just a few scene changes. Sean Savoie’s lights added to the mood and Tracey Newcomb-Margave costumed the show appropriately.

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Rivals Alan Knoll and John Contini as Brady and Drummond in the Insight production of “Inherit The Wind.” Photo: John Lamb

It is always a treat to revisit a classic like “Inherit The Wind.” It’s a provocative reminder of no matter how things change, they always remain the same. With today’s penchant for ignoring the separation of church and state and substituting beliefs for fact is still prevalent and will always be with us. That’s why religion and politics are always hot buttons and all we can do is try to let cooler heads prevail as we just try to get along. Insight Theatre Company will present “Inherit The Wind” through August 28th. Give them a call at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information. Go for the classic play and to see two stellar actors do their thing.

Stray Dog And Muny Close Out Their Seasons With “Bat Boy” And “Aida”

August 12, 2016
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Photo: John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre closes out their current season with a cult musical, “Bat Boy: The Musical.” A lively cast and a very funny script enhance this wild look at a young boy who was conceived by a pair of humans with a little intervention by a group of bats. The result is a clever and off-kilter musical that has splendid moments and a lot of laughs and cringe-worthy moments. It’s all based on a story printed many years ago by one of the tabloids that became a classic in its own right.

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Photo: John Lamb

Corey Fraine is a wonder as the Bat Boy- eventually known as Edgar. He twists his body like a Hindu rubber man as he cowers from humans until he is “tamed” in a “Rain In Spain” parody that is absolutely brilliant. Soon he’s even serving tea to his surrogate parents played to the hilt by Patrick Kelly and Dawn Schmid. And another great performance from Angela Bubash as the daughter and soon Bat Boy’s lover. Great work all around by a supporting cast of townspeople who sometimes cross-dress to “fill out” the local folks including Josh Douglas, Colin Dowd, Lindsey Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Michael A. Wells and Sara Rae Womack.

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Photo: John Lamb

It all comes together under the superb direction of Justin Been with a band led by Chris Petersen and choreography by  Mike Hodges. Robert J. Lippert provides a multi-level set and Tyler Duenow’s lights enhance the look of Hope Falls, West Virginia. Cara Hoppes McCulley finishes it all off with just the right costuming touch.

We unfortunately lost the teddy bear of Stray Dog, Jay V. Hall, last month but this production of “Bat Boy” was one that he would have loved- the usual tongue-in-cheek approach to offbeat musicals that he loved. “Bat Boy: The Musical” plays at Stray Dog Theatre through August 20th.

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Photo: Phillip Hamer

In a fitting finale to a beautiful summer of shows on the Muny stage in Forest Park, Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida”spends a dazzling week lighting up the surroundings and bringing us to Ancient Egypt. Michelle Williams is powerful in the title role as she takes over these often haunting and memorable songs. Zak Resnick is a force to be reckoned with as well as Radames.

Local favorite and super star of Broadway, Ken Page, takes a major role in the season finale as well as Nubian king, Amonasro. His commanding presence is always a welcome sight on the Muny or any other stage. Another Missouri born and bred performer, Taylor Louderman shines as Amneris and Lara Teeter also joins in the fun in the role of Pharaoh. Wonza Johnson and Patrick Cassidy round out the major cast but the usual excellent work from the ensemble is prominent in this production as well.

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Photo: Phillip Hamer

Director Matt Lenz keeps a nice pace throughout and musical director Andrew Graham gives proper due to the underrated musical score. Jon Rua’s choreography is a perfect fit and the set design of Tim Mackabee is a highlight. Nathan W. Scheuer’s lights are right on the mark and the unusual but very satisfying costume design of Robin McGee gives a fresh approach to “Aida.” This final show of the season at the Muny is one for the record books- it finishes off a very satisfying season with very few glitches in casting or procedure. We look forward to next summer.