The LaBute New Theater Festival Scores Again At St. Louis Actors’ Studio

July 26, 2016
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Bridgette Bassa and Jenny Smith in “Life Model” by Neil LaBute at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Four weeks in the summer we get exciting new theatre at the LaBute Festival hosted by St. Louis Actors’ Studio. This year is no less inspiring, kooky and delightful as young playwrights from around the country submit scripts that are dwindled down to six or so plays to be presented in tandem with a new one-act written by Neil LaBute to open each evening.

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Emily Baker in “Show Of Affection” at the LaBute New Theater Festival at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

The first set, running for two weeks featured Mr. LaBute’s “Life Model” which poses several layers of questions about what art is, the validity of said art and how different people are affected by art- by creating it, posing for it or critiquing it. Directed by John Pierson, it features Bridgette Bassa and Jenny Smith. Then Jeff Carter’s “Fire Sans Matches” is a take on a family outing that leads unexpectedly to the end of the world (have to see it to believe it!). Again directed by Mr. Pierson, it stars Emily Baker, Eric Dean White and Jeremy Pinson.

James Haigney’s “Winter Break” takes on modern problems that would have seemed routine only several years ago without the threat of terrorism. Michael Hogan directs this intense production featuring Jenny Smith, Leerin Campbell and Ryan Foisey. Finally, “Mark My Worms” by Cary Pepper is a delightful play that plays with words as a late playwright has left a script with typos that the director insists be played as written. Mr. Hogan once again directs with excellent work with the absurd and clever script by Emily Baker, Eric Dean White and David Wassilak as the supercilious director.

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Bridgette Bassa and Ryan Foizey at St. Louis Actors’ Studio and the LaBute New Play Festival. Photo: John Lamb

The second set of plays that is still running again features Mr. LaBute’s “Life Model” as the opening one-act followed by “American Outlaws” By Adam Seidel. This quirky cat and mouse game with two shady characters takes a bizarre turn after the actors leave the stage. Those actors include Eric Dean White and David Wassilak. It’s directed by John Pierson.

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Eric Dean White and David Wassilak in “American Outlaws” at the LaBute Festival at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

“Show Of Affection” by Laurence Klaven and directed by Patrick Huber tries to out-quirky the previous play with a very odd family that would give the Addams Family a run for their money. Bridgette Bassa as the daughter, Ryan Foizey as the son, Emily Baker as the mother and David Wassilak as the father put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Finally, “Blue Balls” by Willie Johnson and again directed by Mr. Huber make the evening complete with more dysfunction as suitor Eric Dean White has a close encounter with his date’s son, played by Ryan Foizey.

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Ryan Foizey and Eric Dean White in “Blue Balls” at the LaBute New Theatre Festival at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

St. Louis Actors’ Studio will once again be taking these plays to New York for a showing there in January and February. You’re invited to join them by calling 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information. Meanwhile, you can still catch the second set of one-acts at the Gaslight Theatre through July 31st. It’s a unique experience and this year is no exception. The one-act play is a lot of fun and these are all new and original scripts offered every year at the LaBute New Theatre Festival at STLAS.

“Mamma Mia” (Along With The Weather) Sizzle At The Muny

July 24, 2016

mia-juliaOne of the hottest nights of the year features a Muny show that gets both the cast and the audience working up a sweat- “Mamma Mia!” Nobody waits for the finale when you’re actually invited to get up and dance- people spontaneously stood and started moving with almost every ABBA number that broke out on stage. That’s the way it should be and the Muny is a perfect place for this kind of Public Display of Affection for the Swedish soft rock group and their electrifying music.

mia-menThe story is really nothing more than a thin plot to hold the songs together. In fact, it’s based (it would seem) on a failed musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane from the early 90’s called “Carmelina.” A young girl is getting married and she wants to invite her father but has no idea who he is. She and her mother live on a Greek island and even the mother is not sure who the father is since she had three men from her past who could all be the likely suspects. So this moves along with the music of ABBA and everyone is happy as the wedding finally takes place, Mamma is reunited with her true love and everyone gets to dress up in disco duds and dance the night away.

mia-weddingMuny favorite Julia Murney returns to play Donna, the mother and she belts some of the most intriguing music from the group including “The Name Of The Game,” “S.O.S.” and “Our Last Summer.” The men in her life are played by a strong trio including our town’s Ben Nordstrom as the British banker, Harry, Bill Austin and Justin Guarini as her long-lost love. Also bringing a lot of pizzazz to the stage is Ann Harada as friend Rosie and a delightful Jenny Powers as Tanya.

mia=3shotThe young lovers, Donna’s daughter Sophie and her fiancé Sky, are played with appropriate mooniness and verve by Brittany Zeinstra and Jason Gotay. The back up ensemble is quite lively and fit in well in this show because of the chance for production numbers and specialty numbers to help fill out the plot line. The big finish is really something to behold as the brightly colored costumes and mix of dance moves both on stage and off make “Waterloo” a fitting tribute to ABBA’s spirited songbook.

Director Dan Knechtges and choreographer Jessica Hartman keep things moving- as well they should to celebrate this unique song cycle of a show. Michael Horsley’s orchestra keeps pace and Leon Dobkowski’s costumes fit the eclectic feel of the show beautifully. Tim Mackabee’s set and the lighting design of Nathan W. Sheuer are also top notch.

-finaleAlthough you may think you’ve seen “Mamma Mia!” a the Muny before- you have not. It seems the show comes to town every few years (I’ve seen it at least five times) but this is actually a Muny debut. Get there quick as the show runs through July 28th with another favorite, “Fiddler On The Roof,” following closely on their dancing heels.

 

Mixed Bag With “John & Jen” As Insight Presents This Small But Mighty Musical

July 18, 2016
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Photo: John Lamb

The Andrew Lippa score is gorgeous and there’s a lot of it- “John & Jen” is pretty much sung-through with two 45-minute acts and an unusual story by Lippa and Tom Greenwald. Insight Theatre Company brings us this rarely done show that explores the bond between brother and sister in the first act and, after a tragedy ends it, reveals act two with the sister and her son- who she has named after her brother.

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Photo: John Lamb

Spanning 1952 to 1971, Act One sees Jen welcoming her younger brother to the world and, as time moves on, we see the inseparable bond that has been built between them. But a case of abuse in the family leads to a split between the two and John joins the Navy and is deployed to Vietnam. Act Two (1972 to 1990) then sees the same bond being built between Jen and her son, John. This also is put asunder by circumstance and the different dynamic from brother and sister to that sister and her son. It’s a moving story and the song cycle that is the score and largely the book is simply breathtaking at times and highly entertaining most of the time.

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Photo: John Lamb

Musical director Larry D. Pry does a masterful job with this most difficult show musically. With he at piano, Adam Kopff on percussion and Christo Bachmann on cello, they always have complete command of the score and sound just amazing. Likewise Director Trish Brown moves the action along and hits all the right spots between sentimentality and humor. It is a moving story and she captures the essence of it. Tip of the hat as well to choreographer Taylor Pietz. She also seizes every moment and what it means to John and Jen as they travel a sometimes difficult road together. From a slow do-si-do in the first act to a very energetic and amusing “Little League” number in the second act, she dazzles with all the right moves in a show that is as heavily choreographed as it is blocked.

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Photo: John Lamb

Spencer Davis Milford is absolutely wonderful as the John the brother and John the son. He moves from little boy to maturity- twice, and acts and sings the part with dexterity. Jenni Ryan is Jen and she commands the stage from an acting standpoint but can’t seem to handle the upper register when singing this beautiful score. At times pitchy and often not able to hit the notes at all, it takes away from an otherwise splendid production. She may well fall into a more comfortable place with the music as the show continues but opening night was a bit of a letdown. It’s a shame because she really handles the role well and is adept at all the right touches as she ages while Spencer gets to play boy-to-man in both acts.

The clever multi-level set and poignant projections following their lives is the brilliant work of Kyra Bishop and, combined with the often subdued but effective lights of Oliver Littleton make for a wonderful look. Leah McFall’s costumes also work well for this family story that features both triumph and tragedy.

jj-porchBeing a collector of Broadway, off Broadway and everything else in the form of vinyl and CD’s for years, I’ve always admired Andrew Lippa’s scores and this one for “John & Jen” is very good indeed. Insight Theatre Company has brought it to our town and it’s worth the wait. Catch it now until July 31st. Give them a call at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information.

 

All The Pieces Fit In Glorious “Grey Gardens” At Max & Louie

July 13, 2016
Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

Reviewing a production is, of course, a personal viewpoint and every one of the several critics we have in our town will vary in their opinions. But with “Grey Gardens,” the current musical from Max & Louie Productions, I think we’ll join forces in our praise for just about every aspect from casting and direction down through the technical creators. If it isn’t flawless, it comes pretty darn close.

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

With a book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, “Grey Gardens” tells the real life story of the relatives of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and their prominence in social circles in the 40’s to their bizarre decline and definite anti-social behavior in the 70’s. Still living in their magnificent mansion in East Hampton where we first see them preparing for a promised engagement of Little Edie Beale to Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr. in 1941, we see a broken down mother and daughter in the same, deteriorated mansion swarming with cats and a life of accumulated trash in 1973.

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

This show offers a break out performance for Debby Lennon in the dual roles of Edith Bouvier Beale (in the 1941 segment) and her daughter, Little Edie Beale in Act II which takes place in 1973. A singer and performer for many years in St. Louis and elsewhere, Debby Lennon blows the roof off the Wool Center at the home of New Jewish Theatre with a tour de force unlike anything we’ve seen in some time. Her “big” Edie is brash and overpowering with a gusto and ego that can’t be held back. Culminating in a show stopping finale to Act I with the ballad, “Will You?,” it is a no-holds barred performance. In Act II, playing “little” Edie, her demeanor is much the same with delusional touches that solidify her mastery of the character and the entire show ending with the heart-wrenching duet with Donna Weinsting (now playing the older Edie), “Another Winter In A Summer Town.”

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

Donna Weinsting brings a clever madness to the aged Edith that hovers between semi-coherence and outright insanity. In an odd, controlled way, she portrays this decline into despair and delusion with a sense of dignity. Tom Murray is a boisterous, frustrated J.V. “Major” Bouvier in Act I. His dissatisfaction with Edith is apparent but he is gentle and witty with the youngsters (great performances from Phoebe Desilets as young Jackie Bouvier and Carter Eiseman as Lee- the future Lee Radziwell)- especially in the clever musical number, “Marry Well.” In the second act, Mr. Murray does a splendid turn as Norman Vincent Peale in one of Big Edie’s many fantasies.

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

Another great turn by Terry Meddows as the gay, raconteur friend of Edith as her accompanist and “hanger-on,” offering encouragement in her musical career. Madeline Purches absolutely stuns as little Edie during the 1941 sequence- displaying a beautiful singing voice and great acting chops as she manages to destroy her future by alienating the young Kennedy and driving him away from what he can see is sheer madness. As Joseph Kennedy, Will Bonfiglio turns in another great performance (so good in the recent “Old Wicked Songs” at NJT in the same space)- even locking down the famous Kennedy accent. In the second act, he becomes the only friend and odd “gentleman caller” of big Edie. Is he taking advantage of her? Most likely, but he also offers her much needed companionship. Omega Jones rounds out the cast as the long-suffering butler to the Beale/Bouvier clan and is still loyal to the two ladies as we see in his passionate performance in Act Two.

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

Nothing works without the inspired direction of Annamaria Pileggi. Her insight and deeply involved compassion for this story and characters is felt from the very beginning and continues through the heartbreak of the second act. Along with the witty and almost retro choreography of Robin Berger, it makes for a totally satisfying look at this bizarre story. Jennifer JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on including the beautifully rendered blousy trousers of Terry Meddow’s character- very Cole Porter-ish. Michael Sullivan’s lights are sheer perfection.

Dunsi Dai has created two different worlds- both in magnificent fashion as set designer. From the opulence of the First Act to the decadence of the second, it’s a feat that is as powerful as it is persuasive. Along with the Claudia Horn prop design, this production transports you to two very different but equally effective worlds. The musical direction of Neal Richardson also blends into this production with ease. This is a captivating score and the use of piano, cello and violin is an excellent choice. At times you’d swear there was a full orchestra backing up the actors and at other times the subtlety of the music is astounding.

Theatre production on July 6, 2016

Photo: Dan Donovan

Enough cannot be said for this Max & Louie production of “Grey Gardens.” Every piece of the puzzle fits together splendidly to bring laughs and tears to an eager audience. Do not miss the chance to see this exquisite presentation that you will never forget. It plays through July 30th.

 

 

Ensemble Shines In Low Key “Music Man” At The Muny

July 8, 2016

music-76Hot, humid weather slowed things down for the opening night of “The Music Man” at the Muny but that didn’t stop the singers and dancers from pumping some much needed life into this production. A great supporting cast added to the effort to keep things from wilting. This is an all-American classic and the music alone can lift your spirits so, despite the humidity, the audience enjoyed the Meredith Willson score.

music-quartetThe cheers were long and loud for the delightful barbershop quartet as J.D. Daw, Adam Halpin, Joseph Torello and Ben Nordstrom blended beautifully with the classic “Lida Rose” and the rest of the melodic ditties when these sworn enemies constantly get distracted by Harold Hill’s music cues to elude their prying for his credentials. Veteran Broadway and film star, Mark Linn-Baker is a blusterous Mayor Shinn and Nancy Anderson is also wonderful as his bewildered wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn.

Todd Buonopane shines as Harold Hill’s (or should we say, Greg’s) friend, Marcellus Washburn and leads the crowd in the rousing “Shipoopi” number. Local favorite, Michael James Reed, plays the thorn in Professor Hill’s side, Charlie Cowell- anvil salesman and Elizabeth McCarthy is a precious Mrs. Paroo. Owen Hanford charms as Marian’s brother, Winthrop and Halli Toland as Zaneeta and Colby Dezelick as Tommy Djilas are a great pair.

music-troubleWhat slows the show down are the two leads- Hunter Foster as Harold Hill and Elena Shaddow as Marian- the infamous librarian. In a very low key performance, Mr. Foster seemed to have trouble with lines on opening night including some of the lyrics. While Ms. Shaddow seemed a bit “older and wiser” than her youth would indicate. Being a strong ensemble show with “can’t miss” music, it didn’t completely dampen the crowd (the St. Louis weather took care of that), but it did seem to distract from the usual, bubbly feeling you usually get from “The Music Man.”

music-mayorDirector Rob Ruggiero kept the show moving and choreographer Chris Bailey kept the dance moves sprightly and energetic. Musical director James Moore kept up the spirit of this lively show and Amy Clark’s costumes are right on the mark. The Michael Schweikardt set design is a bit off putting as well as we had several set pieces portraying different settings and we really didn’t get a chance to visit the actual Madison Park Fairgrounds, although the bridge for the lovely “Till There Was You” was excellent. John Lasiter’s lighting design is also to be commended.

music-librarySo, “76 Trombones” blazed the way and it’s always a delight to see this stirring, classic American musical. With a few bumps in the road, it’s still a wonderful show that will stir you and occasionally bring a tear to your eye. “The Music Man” plays at the Muny through July 11th to be followed by the Mel Brooks creation, “Young Frankenstein.”

July 7, 2016

jayA rock, an anchor, a cheerleader, a great man in the St. Louis theatre community. We will miss you, we will always remember you. RIP Jay V. Hall

Bright, Breezy And Simply Dazzling- “42nd Street”Takes Over The Muny Stage

June 27, 2016

42-42It’s the ultimate backstage musical that has wowed audiences for years. But the Muny has brought a show that simply staggers in scope and dazzles with those tapping feet in this version of “42nd Street.” It never lets up and even after the curtain call, they try to top themselves with a golden staircase and a reprise not to be missed.

Director and choreographer Denis Jones appears to be infused with the soul and spirit of Busby Berkley as he has captured the era of the 30’s in both style and substance. The musical numbers are unparalleled and the talented cast executes with that same spirit. Shuler Hensley is a tough Julian Marsh with a bit of a marshmallow center. His lead on “Lullaby Of Broadway” is spectacular and has the audience gasping for air along with the exhausted dancers. What a number!

42-peggyNewcomer Jonalyn Saxer is the little waif, Peggy Sawyer, who turns into an overnight sensation. Let’s hope she returns to the Muny stage very soon- a real find. Veteran Emily Skinner does a star turn as Dorothy Brock and, I can’t help it, I just love her number, “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” Jay Armstrong Johnson is delightful as the brash Billy Lawlor and does a great job with the quintessential number, “Dames.”

42-dorothyAnn Hardada and Jason Kravits are stand outs as the creators of the show that’s about to go on tour and stop the second act with their “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” number. A strong ensemble and singing and dancing chorus simply amaze with their dexterity and stamina. It wasn’t the hottest night of the year so far at the Muny, but it certainly took every ounce of sheer will and electrolytes to get through this one.

Musical director Ben Whiteley led a strong orchestra and the clever set design by Michael Schweikardt fit the mood perfectly. Rob Denton’s lights were exquisite and the costume design of Andrea Lauer was nothing short of brilliant including the wonderful chorus numbers that belied the depression of the era that brought such bright, sprightly shows to the forefront.

42-finaleAfter a season that kept me away from the Muny in my (still) role of caregiver, it was great to get back in the saddle and see what this place was designed for- big, splashy musicals that entertain a new generation as well as treat us old timers to a bit of nostalgia on a grand and glorious scale. Catch “42nd Street” at the Muny through June 30th and then enjoy the essential summer, 4th of July musical next week as “The Music Man” comes to the stage.

Stages’ 30th Season Opens With Contemporary Comedy, “It Shoulda Been You”

June 24, 2016

itshouldA big anniversary season for Stages-St. Louis and they open it with a light, contemporary musical that closed on Broadway last season- “It Shoulda Been You.” The terrific cast breezes through this unusual offering and makes it perhaps better than it really is. Veterans and newcomers alike punch the laugh lines and make the unimpressive score soar. What really works is the unexpected twists throughout the play that make this wedding day something you’re not likely to experience yourself and certainly not anything like the romantic movie musicals of old. But it all works.

itshould-toastWith a book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music by Barbara Anselmi, “It Should Been You” throws the audience for a loop with some mature themes and then the bombshell happenings that change the whole feel of the typical happy wedding day. It’s surprising but certainly refreshing and works well when you go with the flow and embrace the concept. The dueling mothers of the bride and groom are intense and Stages’ veterans Zoe Vonder Haar and Kari Ely practically steal the show with their pointed barbs and steely eyed looks. These two ladies have been entertaining audiences for years- especially at Stages- and they don’t disappoint with these two brilliant performances.

itshould-hairClaire Manship as Jenny takes the major spotlight, however, as the second fiddle to younger sister Rebecca who is getting married. Deemed to overweight by her mother and believing the years of emotional abuse that makes her feel inferior to Rebecca in every way, she breaks out of her shell as the evening goes on and really drives it home with the show-stopping number, “Jenny’s Blues.”

Stacie Bono and Jeff Sears make a lovely bride and groom and carry through with their “little secret” while entertaining with strong singing voices and superb stage presence. David Schmittou is excellent as the father of the groom who tries to break out of his stoic attitude with his son and it turns into an entertaining, if awkward, song and dance number. Michael Marotta is equally adept at carrying off the father of the bride duties with humor. And Zal Owen is a charmer as Marty- the fly in the ointment and Rebecca’s ex boyfriend while Jessie Hooker is a delight as the bride’s best friend, Annie. And Erik Keiser also shines as the groom’s best man.

itshould-twodanceAlbert, the wedding planner, is a model of efficiency as portrayed by Edward Juvier with his uncanny psychic abilities and easily adapting to every emergency that inevitably pops up on every wedding day. Morgan Amiel Faulkner does a brilliant turn as horny Aunt Sheila and John Flack makes a few brief but memorable appearances as hard of hearing Uncle Morty. More excellent work by veteran Stages perfumers Steve Isom and Michele Burdette Elmore as the over zealous catering staff.

Rounding out the cast are Brad Frenette and Missy Karle. Director and choreographer, Stephen Bourneuf gives the light touch with great results. Great pacing makes the show bounce along and, without an intermission and just at two hours long, it doesn’t seem overly long. Lisa Campbell Albert provides musical direction, Garth Dunbar’s costumes are beautiful and the Sean M. Savoie lighting strikes just the right chord. The complex and constantly changing set design of James Wolk is nothing short of marvelous. Being a new play to me, I thought we might be treated to French farce seeing six doors on stage, but they get a surprising number of uses as they transform throughout the evening.

itshould-weddingparty“It Shoulda Been You” is an unusual choice for Stages who normally go for established musical fare. But this contemporary comedy is an excellent choice to open this significant anniversary season. It doesn’t blow you away like some of their productions but offers a delightful take on an age-old tradition that’s anything but predictable. Enjoy “It Shoulda Been You” through July 3rd at Stages-St. Louis. Contact them at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

 

Insight Opens Season With Strong Sondheim Classic: “Company”

June 22, 2016
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Bobby’s birthday is a time for contemplation in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Only the second musical that had music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and it won a slew of awards including a Tony for best musical of 1970. After quite an absence on area stages, “Company” has returned and Insight Theatre Company gives us a touching look back at this iconic production. A delightful cast gives this sometimes dark and sombre musical a wonderful treatment thanks to the spot-on direction of Doug Finlayson.

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Martin Fox as Bobby and Laurie McConnell as Joanne in Insight Theatre Company’s “Company.” Photo: Peter Spack

Bobby is turning 35 and is still single- a fact not lost on the five couples surrounding him in his apartment complex. Throughout the evening and beyond they offer advice- some good, some bad, some questionable- as they plan a surprise party that isn’t really a surprise. Add three of the girls he is currently seeing, and you’ve got a mix that keeps this show moving in several directions at once. Martin Fox captures the essence of Bobby in a spectacular performance that culminates in the most solid presentation of the epic finale, “Being Alive,” that I’ve ever seen. The character he develops throughout the evening makes his frightened plea in this song plausible and heart-wrenching.

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Cherylnn Alvarez and John Hey in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: Peter Spack

The droll, almost stoic performance of Michael Brightman as Larry is a stand out as well. While Laurie McConnell as his wife, Joanne, brings a sexy, boozy quality to her and then just blows the roof off the theater with her rendition of another Sondheim classic from the show, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Jonathan Hey as David and Cherlynn Alvarez as Jenny seem to be the most stable of all the couples as their comfort with each other and their life bolsters Bobby’s confidence in married life.

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Stephanie Long as Amy has a few doubts about “Getting Married Today” in Insight Theatre Company’s production of “Company.” Photo: Peter Spack

Phil Leveling as Harry and Meghan Baker’s Sarah always seem to be in competition with each other to the point of an impromptu karate match in their living room. Cole Gutmann as Peter and Taylor Pietz as the Southern charmer, Susan, are on the road to divorce but they are still together and seem to be in love- which adds to Bobby’s confusion. Which leads to him to another great Sondheim number that he crushes, “Someone Is Waiting.”

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Bailey Reeves, Melissa Gerth and Samantha Irene in the iconic “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” in “Company” at Insight. Photo: Peter Spack

Matt Pentecost is Paul and Stephanie Long is Amy and she does a great job with Sondheim’s breath-taking (literally) number, “Getting Married Today.” Finally we have the three women in Bobby’s life currently starting with the ditzy airline hostess, April. Bailey Reeves gives her real charm and she joins the other two in a striking moment in their love/hate relationship with Bobby in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy.” Melissa Gerth does double duty as Kathy and the show’s choreographer and shines in both roles. Finally, Samantha Irene plays the quirky Marta.

The impressive Peter Spack set design is a multi-level, modern look and Laura Hanson’s costumes are very effective. Although the show is somewhat dark in content, the actors should not be in the dark. David Blake’s lights are erratic- particularly on the extensively used upper level. Some singers get their heads cut off or are left completely in the dark.

Besides the lights, opening night was a bit ragged at times. But the show is so tight that those few missteps will be taken care of as the show continues. Also, it didn’t appear that the show was “updated” which means that the opening sequence in which Bobby uses a cell phone is a bit off-putting.

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The married couples brighten up Bobby’s Day with “Side By Side By Side” as the second act opens at Insight’s “Company.” Photo: John Lamb

“Company” is dear to the hearts of us long-time Stephen Sondheim fans who played the LP of the original cast until the grooves wore down. It’s good to see it holds up as a bit of nostalgia and Doug Finlayson and his cast has given us something we can love all over again. See “Company” at Insight Theatre Company through July 3rd. Contact them at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information.

Southern Charm Mixes With Southern Sarcasm At Stray Dog Theatre’s “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress”

June 19, 2016
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Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson and Frankie Ferrari dishing the dirt during “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Five bridesmaids get together after the wedding and dish on the bride, the groom, and life in general in “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Reminiscent of a lot of similar Southern comedies featuring female casts, it reminds me most of the great play, “Vanities” (I wish someone would produce that one again). Film and TV writer kingpin, Alan Ball, wrote this laugh filled comedy and the Stray Dog cast squeezes every laugh out of the script.

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The girls of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The reception is at the bride’s family manse and her sister, Meredith, explodes into her own room ticked off about something only to run into the ditzy Frances already seeking refuge there. They begin to commiserate as the other ladies eventually enter- all trying to avoid the party, the people and the awkward occasion. Seems that none of the ladies, including the sister, can understand why they’ve been chosen as bridesmaids since none of them like the bride and feel the bride doesn’t like them.

Sarajane Alverson leads the way as the calm, cool and almost collected voice of reason as Trisha. That doesn’t hold her back from dishing the dirt with the rest of the girls. She really is a fine actress who tackles a wide range of roles with depth of character- even in a silly little comedy like this one. Eileen Engel as Frances, is the typical uptight Southern Belle  as she reminds everyone constantly that “she doesn’t drink, do drugs (fill in the blank) because she is a Christian.”

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Sister of the bride (Lindsay Gingrich) has conspicuously changed into more comfortable tennis shoes as the girls of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” continue ignoring the reception going on outside. Photo: John Lamb

Shannon Nara delights as a flaky Georgeanne who, at one point declares that she “may be a bitch and may be a slut- but she has her standards.” Lindsay Gingrich is the disgruntled sister Meredith and, despite being sister to the bride, has no problem bashing her as much as the other ladies do.

Frankie Ferrari is wonderful as the lesbian sister of the groom who has a wry, dry sense of humor and quips her way through the funny script. Rounding out the cast is Kevin O’Brien as one of the boys they all seem to have had relations with of one sort or another and he, for some reason, shows up in the room at play’s end and hooks up with Trisha.

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Last minute touch-ups at the vanity mean nothing as the ladies never quite make the reception in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress.” Photo: John Lamb

As a Southern pastiche almost like one of Ball’s more famous sit-coms, “Designing Women” with a slight mix of the Cybill Shepherd comedy he wrote, this works for an evening of fun and light entertainment that keeps the audience laughing all night long. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell has directed the show with an emphasis on those laughs and keeps the play moving at a good pace. Eileen Engel does double duty as costumer and has managed to make five of the ugliest bridesmaids dresses you’re likely to see- no matter how many weddings you’ve been in. Mr. Bell also designed the effective set and Tyler Duenow’s lights enhance the proceedings.

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The ladies pose during the finale of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” sparkles with a charming cast who really deliver the goods. They make the most of the behind-the-scenes look at bridesmaids letting it all hang out after a wedding none of them would have attended had they not been in the wedding party. You’re invited- it plays through June 25th at Stray Dog Theatre. Give them a call at 865-1995 for tickets or more information.


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