Archive for June, 2012

Stray Dog’s New Works Laboratory Looks At Work-In-Progress, “Dispersion”

June 29, 2012

A unique look at a work in progress is being offered at Stray Dog’s home at Tower Grove Abbey. Admission is free but the chance to see a new play in development is priceless. Playwright Joel Henning Doty and the cast is on hand after the play to join the audience in a discussion of the work. And the work, “Dispersion,” is a fascinating look at a family drama with one twist- the mother is in a coma and only the audience and an on stage “angel” can hear her reactions to those around her.

The title comes from the mother’s fascination with prisms and the way the clear light refracts and explodes in various colors as it passes through the glass crystals. This clearly becomes a metaphor for her and her family as their opinions of the “worth” of her life in the coma disperse in every direction, dividing the family even more than it already is. The daughter who is ready to sign the papers to take her off life support, the son who believes she may still recover, the adopted daughter who may understand her better than her natural offspring and the deceased father who appears in flashback all show a dysfunctional family that may- or may not- come together after this tragedy.

The play is given a minimally staged presentation with actors on stage with scripts using few set pieces and props. Minimum rehearsals and a lot of rewriting and discussion went on leading up to this three-performance week-end presentation. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell, directed with a wonderful cast that included Andra Harkins as the mother, Charlotte, Katie Puglisi as the nurse/angel, Rachel Hanks as the daughter, Aaron Paul Gotzon as the son, Alyssa Ward as the adopted daughter and Chuck Lavazzi as the husband. They managed to bring the characters to vivid life despite carrying scripts.

Then the audience gets to put in their two-cents’ worth and the comments varied from high praise to truly helpful suggestions. As director Bell noted before the discussion started, there are no “bad” comments- everything is helpful when you’re trying to get a show from page to stage. The actors also got a chance to comment on how the process worked for them and how they managed to develop their characters in a shorter rehearsal period.

Who knows if “Dispersion” will evolve any further than workshop? Playwright Joel Henning Doty is a member of the Dramatists Guild and has had several successful productions of her work find fruition in the past. This one certainly has that potential even though, like any work at this point, does need a little fine tuning. We’re just thankful for the opportunity to see the work and, hopefully, help start it on the road to that success. Join the crowd at Stray Dog Theatre this week-end and take advantage of the opportunity to see this rare event.

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Insight’s “And The World Goes ‘Round” Brings Us Great Singers Singing Great Songs

June 17, 2012

The cast of “And The World Goes ‘Round” at Insight Theatre Company.

Director Edward Coffield and company had a few problems, evidently, getting this show on stage as one of the actor/singers left the cast and there were a couple of obvious holes in the “script” as a result. But wow, what a night as these folks put on a revue of Kander and Ebb music, “And The World Goes ‘Round,” that shows what  depth these guys had beyond their obvious hits.

Most of the cast has been entertaining us at Insight or around town at various theatres but they gel perfectly together in this ensemble. Katy Tibbets returns after her triumph last season in “She Loves Me” and dazzles us with stunning solos such as “Colored Lights” from “The Rink” to duets and work with the entire company. Clear, crisp and emotional, she really delivers the message behind the music. For pure fun, you can’t beat the opening of the second act, “Ring Them Bells,” as performed by the belting voice of Johanna Elkana Hale. She also gets to bring us the opening title number of the show as we’re introduced to the cast in semi-silhouette.

Charlie Ingram (with Katy Tibbets in the background) extols the virtues of Sara Lee at Insight Theatre’s “And The World Goes ‘Round.”

Rounding out the ladies of the ensemble is Stephanie Long who shakes and stirs with the specialty number from “The Act,” “Arthur In The Afternoon.” She also has a magnificent turn with Johanna in the Kander and Ebb classic from “Chicago,” “Class” with a slight change of venue that works like a charm. Charlie Ingram gets us in a hungry mood with their great specialty number, “Sara Lee” and then gives a great rendition of “Marry Me”- again from “The Rink” in a wonderful Act II moment when all three couples pair up for love songs (some unrequited, some reuniting and some just falling in love). It’s a powerful vignette.

Peter Merideth shines as well including his overwhelming duet with Martin Fox as they bring two wonderful songs together, “Sometimes A Day Goes By” from “Woman Of The Year” and “I Don’t Remember You” from one of my favorite “lost” Kander and Ebb shows, “The Happy Time.” Martin Fox then gets to bring down the house with a delightful new take of one of their best known numbers and shows, “Cabaret.” With this talented cast of singers, there should be a few more folks putting on musicals out there in St. Louis theatre-land. With the one cast member dropping out, Mr. Coffield has inserted choreographer Emily Fisher into a couple of numbers and she does quite well, but obviously a bit nervous with the probable lack of rehearsal time. She does, however, bring us dynamite choreography from bumps and grinds to razzle-dazzle and great ensemble dancing.

The cast of Insight Theatre Company kick up the Kander and Ebb a notch during the revue of their music in “And The World Goes ‘Round.”

Stephen Neale is truly outstanding as the show’s musical director and even gets to do a little warbling himself throughout the evening. The simple, effective set design is by Seth Jackson and he has also done wonders with the lighting design providing a very cabaret feel to the revue. And director Edward Coffield has given us vivid stage pictures with every move these delightful actor/singers make. With powerful songs from their most popular shows, specialty songs and music that we don’t get to hear that often from some of their lesser known shows like “The Happy Time,” “The Rink,” “70, Girls, 70,” “Woman Of The Year,” “Kiss Of The Spider Woman” and “The Act,” “And The World Goes ‘Round” shows us how prolific these guys were.

You don’t want to let this one get by you. It only runs through June 24th, so give them a call at Insight Theatre at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information.

Great Cast, Stunning Tech Work Make “Alice In Wonderland” Work At OTSL- Now About That Music

June 14, 2012

Ashley Emerson as Alice joins David Trudgen as the March Hare and Aubrey Alicock as the Mad Hatter in Opera Theatre-St. Louis’ production of “Alice In Wonderland.” Photo credit: Ken Howard.

Cute, petite with a voice and facial expressions that just knock you out, Ashley Emerson makes the final show in Opera Theatre-St. Louis’ season worth the trip. Her supporting cast and a design team that gets the look and feel of “Alice In Wonderland” perfect, unfortunately can’t help out in the music department. Although the St. Louis Symphony and conductor Michael Christie sound perfect, the dissonance and odd melodic threads in the score are not- if you’ll pardon the expression- my cup of tea.

There are a few exceptions such as the on-stage clarinet “caterpillar,” James Meyer who hits just the right notes for choreographer Sean Curran’s brilliant dance and performance as the colorful caterpillar. And the impressive rap-style delivery by Jenni Bank as the Duchess is a highlight as well. David Trudgen turns in a great performance as the always late White Rabbit and the mad March Hare while Matthew DiBattista is a scream as the mouse as well as the Dormouse.

Ashley Logan as the cook, Jenni Bank as the Duchess and Ashley Emerson as Alice cavort on stage as Tracy Dahl as the Cheshire Cat observes from above. Photo credit: Ken Howard

Tracy Dahl is a real stand out as the Cheshire Cat. You never tire of her wonderful Soprano ringing through the Loretto-Hilton theatre. Ashley Logan also turns in a delightful comedy turn as the cook and Julie Makerov and Bradley Smoak are a trip as the Queen and King of Hearts. Aubrey Alicock is a wonderful Mad Hatter and, as do the rest of the powerful cast, doubles up as more of the wild characters that inhabit the Lewis Carroll classic.

The technical crew outdid themselves with a tricky set that the cast and crew handled quite nicely. A series of bookcases, hutches and other massive pieces of furniture are turned and moved throughout the 2-hour, no intermission opera to open up or get projected on for an endless variety of settings. Allen Moyer gets kudos for the set design while Greg Emetaz developed the fascinating and surprisingly workable video images that create effects such as Alice growing small, then large and she and the rabbit falling down the rabbit hole. The Cheshire Cat’s famous smile also works well with the help of these “special effects.”

Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design kicks into high gear as well including a sumptuous overall look and some specials that help tell the complicated story. Director James Robinson has brought it all together in fine fashion as the action moves quickly despite what look like complicated set changes. The James Schuette costumes add color and humor to the proceedings as do the wig and make-up designs of Ashley Ryan. This is a very difficult show to pull off because of all of the outlandish characters and settings and this creative team has done wonders in wonderland. Hats off (mad hats and otherwise) to them all.

Hernan Berriso as the Knave of Hearts, Julie Makerov and Bradley Smoak as the Queen and King of Hearts and Aubrey Alicock as the Mad Hatter hold court with members of the chorus as onlookers during “Alice In Wonderland” at Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Photo credit: Ken Howard.

Though probably a creative and innovative score, the Unsuk Chin music is not to my taste. It does wander all over the place but, other than a few moments, I found it to be too dissonant and lacking in power for me. The David Henry Hwang libretto serves the story well but it too seems to wander and can’t really encompass a work as vast as “Alice In Wonderland.” It is, however, quite entertaining and brings these outlandish characters to vibrant life.

There are many opera fans who will praise the score, I’m sure. For me, although the music did not thrill me, I can still highly recommend this show for the aesthetics of the performances and superb technical work. Love the voices, love the humor and love the overall look of “Alice In Wonderland.” It plays in repertory with the three other operas through June 23rd. Call Opera Theatre at 314-961-0644 for tickets or more information.

Oh, Yeah! Stages Opens 2012 Season With A Rockin’ Rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin'”

June 11, 2012

The cast of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at Stages-St. Louis.

Not only was the joint jumpin’ on opening night, it was swaying, swinging and tapping toes as Stages-St. Louis starts off with a loud, raucous and totally satisfying production of the Fats Waller musical, “Ain’t Misbehavin’. Director Michael Hamilton, staying true as an homage to the original cast, has the cast listed as “characters” of the original Tony winning cast of 1978. But, by any name you want, this musical revue comes out smelling like a “Honeysuckle Rose.”

Willena Vaughn resembles Nell Carter in stature and in song. She can mellow out such great numbers as “Mean To Me” and bring down the rafters with upbeat songs like the smashing duet she does with Raena White, “Find Out What They Like.” This naughty number was one of the highlights in a show filled with them. As Armelia, Raena White is a powerhouse soloing on “Squeeze Me” and teaming with cast members as well. Rounding out the ladies of the ensemble is Wendy Lynette Fox as “Charlaine.” She gets to shine in the solo, “Keepin’ Out Of Mischief Now” and dazzling us while teaming up with the guys and other gals throughout the short, two acts.

Eric LaJuan Summers oozes his way through “The Viper’s Drag” at Stages-St. Louis production of the Fats Waller musical, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

The men get to shine too including “Andre,” played with style and grace by Eric LaJuan Summers. His “Viper’s Drag” is not only impressive vocally and physically, but he really gets to have fun- in particular with one of the ladies in the front row. Dwelvan David as “Ken” has another show-stopper in the hilarious “Your Feet’s Too Big” and is a stand out in the ensemble work as well. After all is said and done, this is really an ensemble show and these five move like a well-oiled machine as they belt, slink and slide across the stage like they’ve been doing this show together for years.

Probably the most significant thing about this production is that Stages finally has room for a live band- they usually use “canned” music. The onstage sextet is simply outstanding led by Adaron “Pops” Jackson pounding the keys right in the middle of the singer/dancers on his old upright. They get a chance to shine on their own as they jam during the opening of the second act. This is such a welcome sound for a Stages show that you wish they had room somewhere in the small Kirkwood theatre for a live band every show. They do such magnificent work, it’s a shame that the actors can’t perform with live music on a regular basis.

Kudos to the rest of the off stage personnel as well. Peggy Taphorn blends her delightful choreography beautifully with Michael Hamilton’s solid direction. James Wolk has given us a tremendous, colorful set built around a series of arches including endlessly creative combinations with an arch of piano keys, highlighted by the powerful lights of Matthew McCarthy. Lou Bird’s costumes are reminiscent of the original production as well with snazzy ’30’s and ’40’s looks.

Willena Vaughn and Dwelvan David are smooth as honey during the “Honeysuckle Rose” segment of “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at Stages-St. Louis.

Once again, Stages-St. Louis has given us the “must see” production to kick off the summer theatre season. “Ain’t Misbehavin'” will keep you moving in your seat and may even get you to jump out of that seat from time to time. From Fats Waller’s music to music of other that he performed and made hits, this is the still the best musical revue ever put together. Minimal dialogue, the story of his music is told through that medium and it succeeds over and over again all night long.

See “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at Stages through July 1st. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 or at stagesstlouis.org for tickets or more information.

 

Acting And Singing Highlight OTSL’s “Cosi Fan Tutte” With A Subtle Twist That Changes Everything

June 4, 2012

The six principles of Opera Theatre- St. Louis’ production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.” Photo credit: Ken Howard

Opera Theatre- St. Louis continues their banner season with a splendid production of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.” The six principles and the Opera chorus are all in wonderful voice and some delightful stage direction and execution enhance this silly story with a typical powerhouse Mozart score. Director Michael Shell even offers his own subtle take on the proceedings in the final moments that make all the difference in this light-hearted romp.

But first to the singer/actors. Rachel Willis-Sorensen leads the way as Fiordiligi with the most intricate arias of the night and this soprano handles them with ease- often belying the fact of how difficult they really are. Along with facial expressions and body language that tell the tale of the woman who is tempted but refuses to yield, she is superb. You see, she and her sister are engaged to two soldiers who are swayed into testing their ladies’ fidelity and fake going off to war only to return disguised as rich, lusty Albanians. As her sister, Dorabella, Kathryn Leemhius is equally adept both vocally and in showing us the more willing sister when it comes to playing the field while they believe their fiances are fighting for their country. Her rich, clear mezzo-soprano is breathtaking.

James Maddalena, Liam Bonner and David Portillo in “Cosi Fan Tutte” at Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Photo credit: Ken Howard

As those scheming men, Liam Bonner is tall, lanky and full of mischief as Guglielmo. His remarkable baritone shimmers. And David Portillo returns to OTSL with his crystal clear tenor voice and also joins in the fun displaying some excellent acting skills. The essence of the plot is that the two ladies, when asked to make a choice of the two “Albanians,” choose the ones who are not their fiances- thus enhancing the true test of their fidelity.

Jennifer Aylmer just about steals the show with her brassy, bawdy rendition of the maid, Despina. Not only is this perky soprano a delight in her manipulation of the two ladies, but she gets to don disguises as well- an addle-brained doctor and a less than competent judge. She is remarkable. Rounding out the cast is James Maddalena as Don Alfonso who piques the interest of the boys in the first place by claiming that no woman on earth can resist the temptation of a man’s advances- even if she is devoted to her husband/fiance. The sly baritone pulls out all the stops in order to win the bet he has made with the gentlemen and appears to pop up in the oddest places at precisely the right moments.

Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Jennifer Aylmer and Kathryn Leemhius in Opera Theatre’s “Cosi Fan Tutti.” Photo credit: Ken Howard

Referring back to the subtle change that makes all the difference in this production of “Cosi Fan Tutte,” director Shell has put the happy couples into the customary stage poses for a happy finale, but, in the blink of an eye before the stage goes dark, something happens that gives a definite modern sway to this centuries old piece. It’s quite a surprise and, although we know the story has always been exceedingly sexist, this really gives a new twist to it. Also, the Jeremy Sams English translation of the Lorenzo Da Ponte libretto offers a much freer hand than most translations we’ve seen. A bit off-putting at times, but it works. Conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni has the St. Louis Symphony in a definite fast-tempo pace and it is delightful. I don’t envy the singers as those intricate quartets and sextets have to be difficult to sing- Mozart led the way for Stephen Sondheim, that’s for sure.

The rest of the technical team shines as well. The simple, effective and cleverly changing set design of James Schuette works beautifully as do his lovely costumes- particularly the outrageous designs he has put on our pseudo-Albanians.  Add the always brilliant lights designed by Christopher Akerlind and you’ve got the total package. In fact, this is probably the best all-around production of the season so far. Everything works.

“Cosi Fan Tutte” offers gorgeous Mozart melodies, and though there’s no real outstanding arias, they’re all beautiful. It’s a great addition to what has been a fantastic year so far for Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Catch it in repertory with three other shows through June 22nd. Call them at 314-961-0644 for tickets for more information.

“High Fidelity” Offers High Jinks In High Style At New Line

June 3, 2012

Jeffrey M. Wright rocks it out in New Line Theatre’s production of “High Fidelity.” Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

It’s rare when a theatre repeats itself (except for the Muny) but New Line Theatre thinks enough of the “little musical that could,” “High Fidelity,” that they have brought it back for a second look. Actually, in 2008, Scott Miller resurrected what was then a dead and gone musical that not only failed on Broadway, but failed to get a licensing agent- thus exiling it to musical theatre limbo for a few years. But once he contacted the creative team behind it and convinced them he could make it work, it became a critical hit here in 2008 and is destined for the same in 2012.

Since then, regional, college and community theaters have picked it up and had success with it. As indeed they should- it’s a nifty little show that has a lot of heart and a lot of great music. It’s not for the faint of heart as the dialogue and lyrics are peppered with profanity but it all fits into the story of a young man who owns a record store and is trying to get his relationships back in order- particularly with one young lady.

Jeffrey M. Wright and Kimi Short reprise their roles from the 2008 production as Rob and Laura- the misfiring couple who we know really belong together. So it’s really a coming of age story for them both but for Rob in particular as we meet his “Desert Island All Time Top 5 Breakups” in a number that is truly the essence of this play. As we meet this bevy of beauties that have jilted or been jilted from Rob’s life in the past, we can see why Laura at first appears to be just another in a long, lovely line. But his next failed relationship and her brief go-round with a transcendental (when’s the last time I used that adjective to describe a character?) creep start the road back to each other. Both Wright and Short are wonderful. He powers through this superlative score with a bravado that shows why he’s collected a series of girlfriends. And her sweet innocence shows through the firm resolve to eradicate him from her life.

Terrie Carolan and Mike Dowdy find their way to love as Anna and Dick in New Line Theatre’s “High Fidelity.” Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

The series of characters moving through “High Fidelity” make it work beautifully. Two former non-purchasing customers at Championship Vinyl have become regulars at running the store with Rob and he can’t fire them because, as he says, they don’t demand raises and are always there. Mike Dowdy turns in another wonderful performance as Dick, the shy nerd who eventually meets the girls of his dreams and does everything wrong before finally winning her over. Zachary Allen Farmer is the other zany clerk who keeps insisting he’s got a band and, near the end of the show, he proves that he’s not only right, but belts out a number that nearly stops the show.

Kimi Short leads the way as Laura in “Number 5 With A Bullet” in New Line’s “High Fidelity.” Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

Aaron Allen delights with his hippie, peace-loving character who almost steals Laura away- no, not a chance. Margeau Baue Steinau also shines as the wacky folk-singer that becomes Rob’s next catch until she one-ups him by moving on for Lyle Lovett. These brief encounters precipitate another of the great songs from this score, “I Slept With Someone.” Inhabitants of the record store play a key role in the proceedings as well including Todd Micali who doubles as a drop-dead Bruce Springsteen. Ryan Foizey also gets to show his chops with a super Neil Young impersonation while Nicholas Kelly gets laughs as “Klepto Boy” who is the worst shoplifter you’ve ever seen.

The girls power the show with great looks, great moves and dynamite vocals. Talichia Noah plays Rob’s shortest one-night stand and doubles as Laura’s best friend, Liz, who is instrumental in getting these two star-crossed lovers back on the right track. Terrie Carolan also pulls double duty as a Rob-ex and the nerdy girl who is pursuing our nerdy clerk, Dick. Chrissy Young, the always super Taylor Pietz and Sarah Porter round out our lovely ladies who help Rob “discover” himself along the way through this charismatic musical.

Jeffrey M. Wright as Rob is surrounded by the women in his life in New Line Theatre’s “High Fidelity.” Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.

As always, Scott Miller’s direction is right on the money. He has found the secret of making this Broadway disappointment into a vehicle for fun and frenzy that you just wish wouldn’t end. Choreographer Robin Michelle Berger keeps the action non-stop utilizing some traditional musical comedy moves with some “hot” moves from the ’90’s. Another stalwart in the New Line family is conductor Justin Smolik. His band just keeps rocking all night long. Scott L. Schoonover’s vibrant set works well with rolling record racks and vinyl and CD’s hanging throughout the “store.” The rest of the tech crew comes through too with a great lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl and appropriate costuming by Amy Kelly.

If you’re ready for flat-out fun, don’t miss this terrific show. It bubbles with personality and just makes you feel good all over. Outstanding performances lead the way and the almost lost score with music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Amanda Green along with the book by David Lindsay Abaire show that there’s life in any musical as long as it has heart, desire and a little help from Scott Miller. Join the excitement at New Line Theatre’s production of “High Fidelity” running through June 23rd at the Washington University South Campus Theatre (formerly CBC) in Clayton. Call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 or contact the theatre at newlinetheatre.com for tickets or more information.

 

R-S Theatrics’ “9 Circles” Shows How War Is Hell…And Then Some

June 2, 2012

Michael Scott Rash as Private Reeves in R-S Theatrics production of “9 Circles.”

Powerful acting tells a powerful story as R-S Theatrics moves into their new home at the Black Cat Theatre and bowls us over. “9 Circles” is based on the classic Dante’s “Inferno” section from his “Divine Comedy” and his vision of the nine circles of hell. It teams up nicely with that other classic- the phrase, “War Is Hell.” Here we find an American soldier returning from Iraq and his own personal hell during a post-war inquisition.

Danny Reeves is far from perfect. He was in an out of jail before maneuvering himself into the Army and being sent overseas. While there, he led an unauthorized siege on a family that led to their death, the brutal rape of their 14-year old daughter and then setting the daughter on fire. As the play opens, we see his “honorable discharge” from the Army far short of his scheduled departure. What follows is a series of events including a preliminary discussion on strategy for his military trial, psychiatric evaluations, a visit with a preacher and a criminal trial. It all leads him down a pre-destined path to disaster as he goes through a series of emotions that are worthy of Dante’s trip through Hades where his only “guide” is, not Virgil, but himself and his conscience.

Michael Scott Rash and Michelle Hand in “9 Circles” as presented by R-S Theatrics.

Newcomer Michael Scott Rash gives one of the most anguished and powerful performances we’ve seen in some time. Perfectly timed, his actions and reactions hit the mark in every scene. His final monologue is nothing short of perfection as he makes the despicable character of Private Reeves sympathetic. Every war has these misfits and, although the real heroes outweigh them, they play an integral part in making everything that makes war wrong even more unbearable to accept.

Michelle Hand is outstanding as well in multiple roles including an Army psychiatrist and a civilian prosecutor. B. Weller also shines in several roles that include a wonderful turn as the preacher who is fascinated as well as wary of this near maniacal soldier of misfortune. Rounding out the cast is John Wolbers who manages to give us two distinct characters as both a military and civilian lawyer. Solidified by the rock that is Michael Scott Rash, the acting ensemble gives us a memorable journey into this spiraling world of oxymorons (a recurring theme in the play) like “military justice” and the inner turmoil that brings a time bomb like Private Reeves into a situation that can destroy innocent civilians.

A menacing Michael Scott Rash confronts B. Weller as a preacher in the R-S Theatrics production of Bill Cain’s “9 Circles.”

Director GP Hunsaker has brought this story to stunning life and, for good measure, also designed and built a multi-functional set that brings the nine circles full circle. Playwright Bill Cain has given us an intriguing plot that serves up many issues as the action unfolds and is bound to prompt serious after-theatre discussion.

Also on the design team is David Hahn who brings us a stunning lighting design and the solid costumes of Cat Baelish while Mark Kelley’s sound design adds the proper mood to the proceedings. All in all, it’s a well-rounded production that brings total satisfaction to the audience. Obviously not recommended for a younger crowd, but it’s a thought-provoking piece for any serious theatre-goer.

Catch “9 Circles” at R-S Theatrics at the Black Cat Theatre through June 10th. Call 314-968-8070 for tickets or more information.