“Until The Flood”At The Rep Takes A Sober Look At Ferguson And Beyond

October 19, 2016
Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Dael Orlandersmith as teacher “Louisa Hemphill” that opens “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting a commissioned piece on their Mainstage that originated in their Ignite series of new plays. “Until The Flood” was written by and is performed by Dael Orlandersmith and opens up the discussion once again about the events in Ferguson and the national stage where it all played out. Of course, it’s still playing out in cities across the country but her one-woman show focuses on the citizens that were first affected by the tragedy.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Orlandersmith’s version of “Rusty Harden” during the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Playing eight characters in the span of 70 minutes, Ms. Orlandersmith brings pain, wisdom and enlightenment to the subject through a compilation of people she interviewed that were either in the mix or were affected by the events of the Michael Brown shooting. From teacher Louisa Hemphill to barber Reuben Little to a student who just wants to learn without fear and on to others who speak their minds about how this event changed lives forever. At times gritty, at times hopeful, these are real stories from real people and, no matter what opinions you hear, they are all valid points to consider and ruminate as the problems continue.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Connie” sips wine and speaks her mind in Dael Orlandersmith’s “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Director Neel Keller has brought Orlandersmith’s words and insights to the stage with power and sensitivity. One can’t help but be moved by her words and her performance. As she stoops over a chair playing a male character named Rusty or maybe sips wine as Connie as she opines on the events and their aftermath, she brings an intensity to each individual that you can believe and feel for. Paul, the student, simply sits backwards on a chair and you can feel his hurt and his desire to leave it all in the past and just continue his studies without fear of reproach or confrontation. It’s a dazzling tour de force that will undoubtedly live way beyond the Rep.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

Young student, “Paul” expresses his feelings of restlessness during the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

The spare but effective set featuring several acting areas for the various character is the creation of Takeshi Kata. Along with lighting designer Mary Louise Geiger, they have built a memorial to, not only Michael Brown, but all the lives that have paid for hatred and bigotry over the years. It’s a chilling moment as the dark candles that are part of that memorial that ring the stage slowly come to life towards play’s end when Orlandersmith utters the provocative final words before black out. It just gives you chills.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Dougray Smith” has a different point of view as Dael Orlandersmith presents her “Until The Flood” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Kaye Voyce’s costumes are precise accommodating each of the eight characters and the projection design of Nicholas Hussong becomes part of the story as the large screen at backstage expands and shrinks through each individual tale. This is a complex subject that takes on a real feel as it attempts to break down the events that have shaped our lives locally and on a global scale over the past several years.

Until the Flood written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Neel Keller and presented by Repertory Theater in St. Louis, Missouri on Oct 11, 2016.

“Reuben Little” talks as he sweeps his barber shop in the Rep production of “Until The Flood.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

“Until The Flood” is a heart breaking but hopeful story that should be seen by just so many people- you should be one of them. I love when readings of the Ignite series and its predecessor make it to the Mainstage or Studio Theatre and this one is a natural. It plays through November 6th at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Contact them at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

All Hail “The Rocky Horror Show” As Stray Dog Opens Their New Season

October 17, 2016

Michael Juncal as Frank ‘N’ Furter is delighted to see the scantily clad Kevin O’Brien and Heather Matthews in the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Nothing says Fall and Halloween better than a production of “The Rocky Horror Show” and Stray Dog brings it back with all of the zaniness, crowd reactions and scantily clad lads and lassies. If you’re familiar with the stage show or the movie (and who isn’t?), you’ll have a great time. If this is your “first time,” the audience alone will draw you in because you may miss most of the song lyrics due to some poor diction and the on stage band.


Michael Juncal lets it all hang out as Frank ‘N’ Furter in “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

But don’t let that little problem hold you back- this show is wild and chaotic and, at Stray Dog, it’s all over the place. Willing or unwilling audience participation is the order of the night as the actors often get up close and personal and, of course, the audience often talks back especially to yell “Asshole” every time Brad is mentioned and “Slut” every time Janet’s name crosses someone’s lips. That’s why “Rocky Horror” is more of an event than a play or musical. Program no-no’s may prevent what you often get away with watching the movie (which an awful lot of people did at midnight showings for over two decades) like shooting water pistols, lighting up lighters or other things that could impinge on an already hectic show. But all the fun and nonsensical plot twists are there along with big numbers like “The Time Warp,” “Hot Patootie” and “Science Fiction.”


Michael Juncal leads the way in the orgy that is “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Michael Juncal leads the way as Frank ‘N’ Furter- the “Sweet Transvestite From Transexual Transylvania” as his large frame bounces around the stage in lab coat or corset. He leads an alien race, don’t you know, who have come to keep Earthlings from destroying their own planet. Meanwhile, Brad (Asshole) and Janet (Slut) have car trouble and stumble on his castle and all of the crazy inhabitants.


Luke Steingruby makes his appearance as Rocky in the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Kevin O’Brien plays the nerdy Brad (Asshole) and Heather Matthews makes a lovely Janet (Slut). They soon loose their inhibitions as the crew of Phantoms release their libidos. Luke Steingruby makes a svelte and tanned Rocky- the creation of and lusted after by Juncal’s Frank ‘N’ Furter- though he finds Janet (Slut) a bit more to his liking. Corey Fraine, after his limber portrayal of Bat Boy last season, returns to play the equally flexible and over zealous Riff Raff. Michael A Wells plays the rocker Eddie and returns later as the inimitable Dr. Everett Scott.


The Phantoms and Frank entice Brad (Asshole) and Janet (Slut) during “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

Maria Bartolotta does a great job as Magenta and the Usherette who opens and closes the show and Sara Rae Womack is a delightful Columbia. Always crisp, clear and concise is the wonderful Gerry Love as the Narrator. The ensemble of Phantoms is terrific as they mingle before the show and, as I said, have a lot of interaction with the audience during the performance.


Michael A. Wells as Dr. Everett Scott explains a few things to the Phantoms during the Stray Dog production of “The Rocky Horror Show.” Photo: John Lamb

Justin Been has directed with a real flair for what makes this show tick. He pulls out all the stops and then goes a bit further. It’s a wild, controlled evening that never lets up. Chris Petersen leads the Stray Dog band and, besides occasionally drowning out the often clever lyrics, they do a great job of keeping the place rocking. Rob Lippert does his usual masterful job of creating the proper set including the screen that drops down to show before performance, during intermission and at curtain call scenes from some of the tackiest horror shows ever written. Tyler Duenow creates the mood with his lighting design and Eileen Engel’s costumes hit the right mark. Rounding out the creative team is choreographer Zachary Stefaniak Shaffner who plows through this iconic show with excellent movement and just the right touch of bawdiness.


The Phantoms seem to enjoy their visitor, Janet (Slut) during “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo:John Lamb

You know you want to see it. “The Rocky Horror Show” at Stray Dog Theatre is just crazy, nasty fun. It plays through Halloween Eve Eve- October 29th. So give them a call at 314-865-1995 to get in on the action.

Staging “Macbeth” Can Be Tricky- St. Louis Shakespeare Has A Lot To Be Proud Of With This One

October 12, 2016

Ben Ritchie as Macbeth in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Just this year alone I’ve seen “Macbeth” at Opera Theatre, the wild “Trash Macbeth” at ERA and now this unusual but highly satisfying production at St. Louis Shakespeare. It’s all in the interpretation and Suki Peters and company have done a broad mix of styles and surprises including just a touch of their off the wall alter ego- Magic Smoking Monkey. This is truly a “Macbeth” for the ages- dark and contemporary ages blending on stage.


The eerie witches pop up throughout the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

The classic three witches have a more prominent role in this production as they are scary with their predictions of Macbeth’s rise to power but then they take on the personas of household servants and others throughout the evening. Elizabeth Knocke, Taleesha Caturah and Katie Robinson provide the eerie sisters with a macabre feel which really carries over into their other duties as they “infiltrate” the rest of the play. They’re distinctive in manner and makeup and that makes them even creepier as the skulk around the castle.


Maxwell Knocke provides tense moments for Macbeth as Banquo’s ghost in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Ben Ritchie has had a great career so far at both St. Louis Shakespeare and throughout the local stages but his interpretation of Macbeth is simply one of the best. He’s convincingly stern and at times malevolent as he handles some of Shakespeare’s greatest moments but there’s a twinkle in his eye and dastardly grin that accompany other moments and it’s unlike any other Macbeth we’ve seen. Great performance.


Michelle Hand mesmerizes as Lady Macbeth in the St. Louis Shakespeare production. Photo: John Lamb

Accompanying him in his nefarious machinations is another St. Louis treasure, Michelle Hand as Lady Macbeth. She is remarkable as she follows through with the guidance of the three witches and forces Macbeth’s hand in disposing of all of the obstacles in his way. Her hand washing scene as she sleepwalks through her nightmares is particularly effective. Maxwell Knocke is wonderful as the live and ghostly Banquo who helps drive Macbeth out of his mind and Scott McDonald is solid as the Thane of Ross.

Kim Curlee does a fine job as “dead man walking,” Duncan and his son, played by Eric Lindsey is equally powerful as he rises to power at play’s end. In a brilliant piece of interpretation by director Suki Peters, Macduff and Lady Macduff become a lesbian couple- which has serious and unusual implications during the final scene when Macbeth finds his head on a spike. Maggie Wininger is an outstanding Macduff and proves an able warrior while Wendy Farmer is superb as Lady Macduff fighting for her children.


Maggie Wininger as Macduff and Eric Lindsey as Malcolm in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

Chuck Brinkley provides the actual comedy relief in the play as the Porter along with other roles and another quirky interpretation is Dustin Allison’s Thane of Lennox who rattles nuts in his hand and pops them into his mouth during his scenes. Shane Signorino and Michael Pierce provide help as murders for hire- along with other roles and Dan McGee tackles a couple of roles as well. The rest of the ensemble shines as well.

Chuck Winning provides an effective set that includes a gnarly, large girthed tree at back center that provides a haunt for the witches and several others. Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design provides the proper mood including the various colors at the tree top that makes the witches even scarier. JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on as well making both Mr. Ritchie and Ms. Hand look impressively royal and giving Ms. Wininger’s Macduff a skin tight leather number that dispels any thoughts that they might be trying to pass her off as a man.


Ben Ritchie and Michelle Hand as the deadly duo in the St. Louis Shakespeare production of “Macbeth.” Photo: John Lamb

Yes, this is “Macbeth” but you will be pleasantly surprised how fresh and approachable this production is. Suki Peters’ direction is clean and crisp and the touches of dark and not so dark humor and unusual touches throughout make for a treat around every corner of Scotland’s bonnie plains. It only plays through this week-end, October 16th at the Ivory Theatre so contact them at boxoffice@stlshakespeare.org to get tickets for this one.

“Suspended” At Upstream Theater Doesn’t Leave The Audience Dangling

October 11, 2016

Phillip C. Dixon and Reginald Pierre in “Suspended” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Opening their 12th season, Upstream Theater brings us an insightful one act that draws two former friends together and then seems to force them apart in “Suspended” by Israeli playwright Maya Arad Yasur. The title, the play itself and even the two characters seem to be metaphors for their lives and perhaps life in general.

As the audience enters, the two window washers hang suspended high over a big city behind a wall of non-existent glass. One is in plain sight, the other we just see his feet dangling above the top of the stage. They eventually settle in next to each other as Benjamin awkwardly lowers the ropes holding his small wooden seat that has his bucket, washer, squeegee and more hanging as precariously as he is. His friend Isaac has recommended him for the job which he claims is an easy way to make a buck.


Reginald Pierre wipes the window during the Upstream Theater production of “Suspended.” Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

The two are immigrants have escaped a war ravaged country and, after some idle chatter about their homeland, they begin to delve deeper into their relationship and what happened before they were forced to leave. Benjamin probes while Isaac seems reluctant to go down that path. We eventually come to the crux of the problem that forced Isaac to do something rather despicable to allow Benjamin’s sister to escape an even more heinous fate.

But the journey is the entertaining part of this play as the two banter, scold each other- in particular Isaac reprimanding Benjamin for not bringing anything to eat. He shares his food and they seem to be settling back into a friendship until old wounds are reopened.


Phillip C. Dixon as Benjamin and Reginald Pierre as Isaac in “Suspended” at Upstream Theater. Photo: ProPhotoSTL.com

Reginald Pierre is a solid actor and he proves to be most capable seated in the same spot and only the occasional swipe of a large cloth-like sponge and the follow up wipe of a squeegee to break the monotony of not being able to move around the stage. Phillip C. Dixon is also wonderful as his friend Benjamin who drops the pithy and even sarcastic line from time to time. They have the camaraderie of old friends and make watching window washers highly gratifying. They often comment about the folks inside the “window” and wonder if they know they’re really being spied on. Benjamin even waxes philosophic on this phenomenon as he wonders since the stains are mostly on the inside- meaning the people they can never aspire to be- why are they wasting their time washing the outside.

Another great St. Louis actor and director, Linda Kennedy, has directed “Suspended” with a great feel for getting the most out of two actors on stage for over and hour and being physically stagnant. They move, jostle and even almost fall at one point, but the play and their dialogue is the thing and Ms. Kennedy makes the most of it.

The rest of the technical team also shine as the inspired set of Cristie Johnston is a marvel and the lights of Tony Anselm not only make the most of their suspended life but also indicates the passage of time and other significant moments within the play. Linda Kennedy also designed the appropriate costumes and Dan Strickland brings a nice sound design to the proceedings including appropriate traffic and other outdoor noises- subtle but effective. And, for the first and probably last time in any program anywhere, there’s even a credit for window washing consultant- that’s Matt Johnson. But hey, the guys have to look authentic.


Phillip C. Dixon and Reginald Pierre wash windows and discuss life during the Upstream Theater production of “Suspended.” Photo: Pro PhotoSTL.com

As usual, Upstream Theater brings us provocative and thoughtful theatre. “Suspended” is a story that unfolds slowly but gets to the heart of the matter. Thanks to two outstanding performances and excellent direction, “Suspended” becomes a show that you shouldn’t miss. It plays at the Kranzberg Center and you can give them a call at 314-863-4999 for tickets or more information.

“Golda’s Balcony” At New Jewish Relives Her Strength As She Rose To Power

October 10, 2016

Lavonne Byers on the set of “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arab nation brought about tensions that continued and even brought them to the brink of nuclear intervention. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed thanks to their Prime Minister, the first woman to hold that position, Golda Meir. In “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre, Lavonne Byers actually becomes this brave woman as she tells her story of struggle and doubt as she was thrust into a most dangerous and critical position that affected her country and the world at large.


Henry Kissinger looms in the background during the NJT production of “Golda’s Balcony” with Lavonne Byers. Photo: John Lamb

Fighting the stigma of a woman in power along with the advice from people like Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Dayan and the hesitancy of U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger to provide aid to her country, she had to double down on her resolve to keep Israel safe and avoid nuclear war. “Golda’s Balcony,” by award winning playwright William Gibson, shows her reluctance, her fears and eventually her tenacity that made her one of the most respected leaders in modern history. As she says at one point, “Survival is a synonym for Jewish.”


Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Lavonne Byers is one of our treasured actresses encompassing a wide range of roles over the years she’s spent on local stages. It is incredible how she morphs into this role and, except for the distinguishing characteristic of Ms. Meir’s rather bulbous nose, she really captures her persona and demeanor. It’s an incredible performance that takes us on an incredible 95 minute journey through stages of her life as well as the incredible guts she displayed in resolving the possibility of one of the worst catastrophes of the modern world.


Golda Meir (Lavonne Byers) retells a story as she contemplates the outcome of war during “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The various players in the events that occurred during this tempestuous time are all brought to the forefront and we’re treated to a history lesson like no other. Gibson’s superb script keeps you on the edge of your seat as one actress holds your attention and creates suspense with some much needed touches of humor throughout.


Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir seeking God’s intervention in her struggle during the New Jewish production of “Golda’s Balcony.” Photo: John Lamb

Henry I. Schvey returns to NJT to direct Lavonne Byers and he has molded her into this wonderful force to be reckoned with. He obviously has a powerful grasp on the story and the timeline of the incidents described in the play and he has crafted a riveting production. Helping out is the magnificent set designed by Peter and Margery Spack- powerful beams overshadowing the office space of Golda Meir with the back walls becoming a screen to project the actual photos from the encounters she faced during her tenure.

Kimberly Klearman’s lights also enhance the mood of the production and the costume chosen for Ms. Byers is the work of Michele Friedman Siler. Robin Weatherall also created a powerful sound design for the show.


Lavonne Byers as Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” at NJT. Photo: John Lamb

Trying to hold on to land acquired during the six day war of 1967, Israel, led by Golda Meir, took a stand and avoided a nuclear war that could have destroyed the area and caused serious repercussions around the globe. See “Golda’s Balcony” at New Jewish Theatre through October 30th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.

Complex “Arcadia” Takes A Fresh Approach At West End Players Guild

October 6, 2016

Kristin Rion as the young Thomasina in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” seems to take on a life of its own and that life seems to be different with every production I’ve seen. Crossing over the centuries and offering witty and beautiful language and vague concepts that often boggle the mind of right-brained reviewers, it’s nice to have a fresh, relatable production to savor. West End Players Guild opens their season with this funny and serious look at one family in the same house pondering like questions two centuries apart.


Michael Cassidy Flynn as Septimus and Kristin Rion as Thomasina in “Arcadia” at WEPG. Photo: John Lamb

In 1809 in Derbyshire, England, we meet the young upstart, Thomasina Coverly as she explores mathematical problems in her head that belie her tender age of 13 and baffle her tutor, Septimus Hodge. He is soon confronted by Ezra Chater, the cuckolded friend who seems both upset and flattered by the attentions of Septimus to his wife. Architect Richard Noakes seems oblivious to all of the actions going on around him and Lady Croom also seems to be off in her own little world but has a thing or two to say as she observes the whirlwind of activity around her. An old friend of Septimus happens to be Lord Byron and he figures prominently- though he doesn’t appear- in both the 19th and subsequently the 21st century property.

Kristin Rion is a delight as the precocious Thomasina. Clever and smart, she doesn’t realize that some of the concepts she is espousing will become discoveries by others in years to come. Michael Cassidy Flynn as Septimus is properly fussy and taken by his young student on several levels. Andrew Kuhlman is hilarious as the wronged gentleman who can’t decide if he feels taken advantage of or honored. And Carl Overly, Jr. also turns in a brilliant performance as the often funny while trying to be serious architect.

Ann Marie Mohr is a wonderful Lady Croom who pops in and out offering bits of wisdom and advice. Anthony Wininger is the straight laced Captain Brice and Scott De Broux makes a perfectly groomed butler.


Andrew Kuhlman as Ezra and Carl Overly, Jr. as Noakes in the WEPG production of “Arcadia.” Photo: John Lamb

Meanwhile, in the same house some 200 years later, we meet ancestors of these folks as the time and story jump forward and back through several scenes in two acts. The scholarly Hannah Jarvis is in deep discussion with the pretentious Bernard Nightingale as he attempts to track down clues as to Lord Byron’s influence on the Coverly family and any evidence of his visits to the country home. Chloe Coverly and Valentine Coverly seem disinterested in the matter altogether and fail to see any sense in pursuing that or any other aspect of the family tree.

Nicole Angeli turns in another stellar performance as the somewhat low key Hannah, seeming more perturbed than interested in Nightingale’s enthusiasm. John Wolbers gives a superb, over the top performance as the erratic Nightingale. His exuberance is overpowering yet realistic. Erin Renee Roberts is as cool as a cucumber as Chloe and, along with Jaz Tucker as Valentine, bring us all down to a reality that is careening off the charts every time Bernard Nightingale enters the room. Mason Hunt rounds out the cast as the only member of the Coverly family who crosses over the centuries- as Gus and Augustus.

Ellie Schwetye has directed this masterful play with a great eye for detail in both centuries as well as a deep understanding of all of the various and eccentric characters. “Arcadia” runs smoothly through the transitions until the final brilliant scene where the centuries seem to overlap. The Tracey Newcomb-Margrave costumes are wonderful and the set traveling through the centuries is great as well.


Nicole Angeli as Hannah and John Wolbers as Nightingale in “Arcadia” at West End Players Guild. Photo: John Lamb

This is quite an undertaking for a company that always rises to meet the challenges and this, their 106th season, gets off to a fine start. “Arcadia” runs through October 9th at West End Players Guild. Contact them at 314-667-5686 for tickets or more information.

“Celebration” A Sensation

October 5, 2016

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical, “Celebration,” has been on my bucket list long before bucket list was a thing. It opened in 1969 and I’ve been listening to the original cast album (now CD) for all 47 of those years. I’ve loved every minute of it and now  New Line Theatre has finally answered my prayers and brought it to our local theatre scene.


Kent Coffel as Potemkin adds the signature glitter to the Jones/Schmidt creation, “Celebration” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Tom Jones himself has said that the show should never have been a Broadway show- more likely the success would have been sweeter had it been off-Broadway or further. Reminiscent of their world-wide hit from almost ten years before, “The Fantasticks,” it has as lot of their signature music, the throwing of the glitter, the very similar transition from First Act to Second and bitter mixed with sweet.


Kent Coffel, Zachary Allen Farmer and Larissa White in New Line’s “Celebration.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Based on folklore and allegory from several countries but based primarily on the controversial book, “The Golden Bough” by Sir James George Frazer, “Celebration” is an exploration of the tales of winter and summer, old and young and the inevitable passage of time that naturally follows. A young orphan meets the wise yet slightly corrupt Potemkin and, clinging to his “piece of the sun” as symbolized, originally, by a crystal from a church window (although this new version doesn’t mention the stained glass), he   attempts to maneuver his way through pain and torment and bring himself into the light.


Larissa White and Sean Michael sing the cynical “I’m Glad…” second act opener during “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

He soon meets Angel who is under the thumb of the “richest man in the Western World,” William Rosebud Rich. As these characters, joined by a group of Revelers, approach New Year’s Eve, we have all the components of old succumbing to young as winter steps aside for summer. Being an allegory, it’s a plot that must be experienced to be appreciated. Add the bouncy, cynical, often jazzy score and you’ve got the makings of yet another musical that fits perfectly into the black box of the Marcelle that is the home to New Line.


The Revelers and cast celebrate during New Line’s production of “Celebration.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Kent Coffel is a superb Potemkin. He leads the Revelers in the opening title number as they weave through the audience then moves on to the desperate “Survive” and then to the cynical “Not My Problem.” As the narrator of the piece, he is always popping up to either smooth over situations or stir the pot. Sean Michael is a sensitive Orphan as he sings the plaintive “Orphan In The Storm,” the revelation of “My Garden” and then the beautiful first act closing duet, “Love Song.”


Sean Michael as Orphan is reprimanded by Mr. Rich, played by Zachary Allen Farmer in “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sharing that “Love Song” is Angel- a stunning performance by Larissa White in a role that combines hard as nails with naiveté. Opening the second act, another throw back to “The Fantasticks,” as they sing the sarcastic duet, “I’m Glad To See You’ve Got What You Want.” Rounding out the major cast is a solid and hilarious performance by New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer as Mr. Rich. Making his entrance in a wheelchair pushed up a steep ramp by several panting and puffing revelers, a Trump-style wig adds a touch of reality to our fable. He sums up his current life with “Bored” and a cry for the return of his youth with “Where Did It Go?”

A tip of the hat to the energetic group of revelers who bring almost a touch of evil to the story. They include Colin Down, Sarah Dowling, Christopher Lee (really?). Todd Micali, Nellie Mitchell, Michelle Sauer and Kimi Short.


Sean Michael listens to Kent Coffel as the Revelers look on in “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The only problem with the entire evening is mainly the fault of Mr. Jones and Mr. Schmidt and their inability to end the show properly after 47 years. Although several rewrites have taken place over the years, it still ends abruptly- this production adds to that glaring lack of denouement as the actors are scrambling off stage as the clock strikes twelve and the New Year begins. Then a black out and the audience doesn’t respond to closing applause until the stage lights come on and the cast appears for curtain call.

Sarah Nelson leads a strong band which brings out the clever and exciting score. Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor co direct and set the mysterious and sometimes eerie feel of the story beautifully to stage. Rob Lippert brings a spare but effective set to “Celebration” and Sarah Porter’s costumes are inspired. Kenneth Zinkl provides a nice lighting design that complements the set and story.


Zachary Allen Farmer as Rich and Larissa White as Angel during the finale of “Celebration” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

I have waited over 40 years for this and I am more than pleased. Mr. Miller informed me that the last known professional or semi-professional production of “Celebration” appears to have been 32 years ago. No wonder I’ve been starving in the Jones/Schmidt desert for years. It’s your chance now- don’t let another few decades go by. Catch “Celebration” at New Line Theatre through October 22nd. Contact them at http://www.newlinetheatre.com for tickets or more information.

“Defending The Caveman” Opens The New Playhouse @ Westport Plaza

October 1, 2016

cave-pubStages St. Louis has remodeled and reopened the Playhouse at Westport Plaza with their initial offering, “Defending The Caveman.” This was an easy choice because Kevin Burke has been doing his homage to the battle of the sexes since 2003 and the Rob Becker show has changed over the years but still focuses on a non-sexist, friendly look at what makes men and women different.

In two short acts, our host delves into the whole “hunter vs. gatherer” aspects of the two sexes. Not mean spirited or favoring one side over the other, Mr. Burke just examines what he has observed over the years to be why men and women may love each other, but why they quite often don’t understand each other. Everything from controlling the remote control to shopping versus NOT shopping to why women chatter constantly when they get together and why men communicate through grunts, one word answers or just sharing watching a ball game together without saying a word at all.

cave-westThe key to “Defending The Caveman” is opening up the audience and letting them share groans and comments to the easy going Mr. Burke. He ad libs a lot depending, I’m sure, on what kind of people are in the audience. On opening press night, he had a lively one. They had no trouble shouting out answers to his rhetorical questions or even when he didn’t really ask one. It’s a lot different show than I had expected because, after all the years this production has come to our town, this was the first time I had a chance to see it. I was impressed with how comfortable he is with the role and how personable he is during his lively exchanges with an audience eager to have fun.

Of course, having played the role for all those years, he’s updated and changed things around a bit. He now has a child and, with the video screen mounted on stage right, he is able to refer to it throughout including pictures of his daughter and wife as the play goes along. A lot like the famous War Between Men And Women that James Thurber had so much fun with many decades ago, “Defending The Caveman” takes a healthy, humorous and noble jab at this ever present “war” between the sexes.

cave-spear“Defending The Caveman” is a charming piece of theatre and a very appropriate opening to what we hope will be a successful revival of the Playhouse at Westport Plaza. I do hope they decide to do some substantial legitimate small cast plays and musicals as well as the lighter fare they have planned for the first season of shows but it’s off to a good start. “Defending The Caveman” plays at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 23rd. Visit them online at http://www.playhouseatwestport.com for tickets or more information.

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

September 27, 2016

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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.