Archive for July, 2012

The Singing Nuns Are At It Again- This Time, “Sound Of Music” Gets the Stages Touch

July 28, 2012

Casey Erin Clark, as Maria, let’s us know that “The hills are alive with the sound of music” during the Stages St. Louis production. Photo credit: Peter Wochnicak.

Probably the most oft produced musical in the world, “The Sound Of Music” fills the air again but this time it gets the magic of a Stages production. Staying true to the original version despite inserting some of the movie music, this is a solid, well acted and well sung production that is the perfect way to see this old warhorse.

The first thing Stages got right is not playing the “cutesy” card with the children. These Von Trapp kids get by on talent and charisma. Phoebe Desilets, Grace Clark, Morgan McDonald, Braden Phillips, Julia Schweizer, Matthew Howard and Heidi Giberson are all smart, well disciplined actors who don’t resort to mugging to get to the heart of these charming children. Miss Giberson also gets to shine with her exuberant ┬árendition of “16 Going On 17” with co-star Matt Leisy. The kids get a real work out in this show and they shine in “Lonely Goatherd,” “Do-Re-Mi” and the number that helps them again at plays’ end, “So Long, Farewell.”

Casey Erin Clark is nothing short of delightful as the full-of-life Maria who wants a calling as a nun but just doesn’t fit into that mold. She handles the pesky opening title number with a charm and sense of wit that I’ve never seen in the numerous stage productions I’ve seen of this show. And her scenes with her fellow actors, especially the Captain, ring true to her character. Her only downfall is being forced to wear a stiff, ill fitting wig that looks like Pippi Longstocking without the pigtails. As Captain Von Trapp, David Schmittou continues his versatile ways on the Stages stage with emotion and a turn-on-a-dime sensitivity that really works.

William Thomas Evans, David Schmittou and Kari Ely tell us there’s “No Way To Stop It” during the Stages St. Louis production of “The Sound of Music.” Photo credit: Peter Wochniak.

Suzanne Ishee hits all the right notes as the Mother Abbess- especially the vocal notes that end her spectacular First Act closer, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” This is truly a highlight of the show. Kari Ely and William Thomas Evans bring the house down with their great characters- she as the Captain’s betrothed and he as a businessman who is willing to go along with the horrors of the upcoming war but makes the ultimate sacrifice during the gut-wrenching finale. They have two songs that were cut from the film version but really carry the impetus of the story. Glad to see them performed again with the impact they deserve.

Stages veterans John Flack and Zoe Vonder Haar sparkle as part of the Von Trapp household and both portend the tragedy that is about to hit their beloved Austria- though they take separate ways to that end. And, as “assistants” to the Mother Abbess, Karin Berutti and Michele Burdette Elmore are nuns taking opposing sides in the “Maria” controversy. Ms. Elmore gets the best laughs of the evening when she discovers some “unmentionables” in Maria’s suitcase.

The Von Trapp children bid us “So Long, Farewell” during “The Sound of Music” at Stages St. Louis. Photo credit: Peter Wochniak.

As usual, the Stages chorus and extras- a large number of them in this show- are precise and powerful. Nobody takes second fiddle in this musical- they all have an important role and play it just that way. The team of director Michael Hamilton and choreographer Dana Lewis has once again put a top-notch show on stage for us. Although restricted by the small stage, scenic designer Mark Halpin has managed to bring a “big” feel to the show and Lou Bird’s costumes along with the strong lighting design of Matthew McCarthy bring us full circle.

You love it or you hate it, but “The Sound Of Music” is an iconic musical that has not lost its charm on stage over the years despite the enormous popularity of the film. With the solid Stages cast, it’s a pleasure to see it again with songs and scenes intact. ┬áTo see how it’s meant to be done, catch it at Stages through August 19th. Give them a call at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

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St. Louis Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” Brings The Bard’s Lesser Known Work To Life

July 24, 2012

Beautiful stage pictures and some compelling confrontations help to bring this little produced Shakespeare tragedy to life for, in my recollection, the first time on a St. Louis stage. Be sure to read the concise notes in the program before this one gets started because the somewhat convoluted plot may confuse. Our hero, Caius Martius- also later tagged with the moniker Coriolanus, is a Roman general, then defects to the enemy in the Volscian city of Corioles but then returns to Rome when the citizens of that city find him a bit sneaky and abrasive as well- to put it simply. All due to some bad PR from his enemies.

Reginald Pierre as “Coriolanus” in the St. Louis Shakespeare production.

Despite some odd staging choices- such as making the opening mob scene more like a modern day “occupy” movement and having folks walking around Rome with cell phones- director Donna Northcott has given us some vivid and stunningly beautiful stage pictures. Even the curtain call is dramatic and impressive with the large cast giving us an eerie, final reminder of the tragedies that have preceded. Add to this the simple but strong set design of Amanda Handle and the dramatic lighting- including a powerful cyclorama that dominates the proceedings- by Steve Miller, and you’ve got one of the most beautiful productions I’ve seen.

Reginald Pierre is a force to be reckoned with as Coriolanus. His power brings him up in the people’s eyes but soon begins to destroy him as well. It’s a great performance filled with majesty and nuance. Donna Postel also shines as his mother, Volumnia, the real power behind the throne. His mentor and cheerleader, Menenius, is given a first-rate reading by Richard Lewis. He’s one of the few of the evening, unfortunately, who clearly brings Shakespeare’s speech to brilliant life.

Michael Juncal is a sturdy, no-nonsense Volscian leader, Aufidius. He welcomes the defection of Coriolanus until the Roman general begins to usurp his power and popularity which leads to the final confrontation. Brian Kappler and Paul Devine give us a good pair to hate as the tribunes who plot to destroy Coriolanus- just because they have the backing of the people and wish to abuse that power. Tim Callahan as a general is strong as well and Betsy Bowman is a perfect match for the hero/tragic figure that is Coriolanus.

As with any cast of this mass, you get some good, some bad, and some so-so. That is the real tragedy of this production. You’ve got some real power and talent and then you’ve got some folks who seem to lose the spirit of the language and flow of Shakespeare. It doesn’t completely destroy the overall production, but it gives it enough glitches here and there to destroy your concentration and lose the majesty that this piece otherwise should engender.

So, kudos to Donna Northcott and company for bringing us the first ever St. Louis production of this Shakespearean tragedy and you’re in for a treat despite the few flaws. Just enjoy the exciting fight sequences, the machinations of war and politics and the strong stage pictures that unfold before your eyes. “Coriolanus” plays at St. Louis Shakespeare Company at the Grandel Square Theatre through July 29th. Call them at 314-361-5664 for tickets or more information.

Insight’s “The Fox On The Fairway” Proves It’s All In The…Uh, Timing

July 9, 2012

Julia Crump, Ed Reggi, Michael Amoroso and Jenni Ryan bring some frenzy to “The Fox On The Fairway” at Insight Theatre Company’s production.

Playwright and author Ken Ludwig has brought us more than a few laughs- most notably with the farce, “Lend Me A Tenor.” His latest attempt, “The Fox On The Fairway,” is a farce that doesn’t quite get that frenetic treatment at Insight Theatre Company. Despite some excellent work from a delightful cast, the pace is more like a drawing room comedy and therefore misfires on the essence of his intent.

Director Tlaloc Rivas tries to squeeze the comic nature out of the play, but both dialogue and movement needs to be more fast-paced than it is. Although I have seen bad productions of the aforementioned “Lend Me A Tenor,” the secret to that show is ┬áslamming doors, near-miss communication and crisp but intelligible dialogue. The same is true with “The Fox On The Fairway” but these elements are, for the most part, missing and, while the production is a funny one, it isn’t the hilarious farce it’s supposed to be. As I said in my header, it’s all in the timing.

Ed Reggi, as the general manager of an exclusive country club, and Jenni Ryan as his assistant and long time “secret” love, come closest to providing the proper spirit in a few of their scenes that ebb and flow with the needed chemistry to make this play work. They are truly a great pair who make the dialogue crackle and burn. Michael Amoroso and Julia Crump as the young lovers who turn out to be quite a match on the golf course as well, don’t quite pull off the frenetic pace as their dialogue is more melodramatic than frenetic and the one scene where they get to bring in the “slamming doors” comedy is hampered by a swinging door rather than one that “slams.”

Jenni Ryan and Susie Wall try to keep their cool during their confrontation in Insight Theatre’s “The Fox On The Fairway.”

Veteran Susie Wall single-handedly saves the end of the first act with a dramatic entrance and ensuing confrontation with her philandering hubby. She literally lights the much-needed spark that gives us hope for a wild and wooly second act. Rounding out the cast is Bob Harvey as the manager of the rival country club who is trying to extend the match play streak that they’ve held for the past five years. Despite the proper air of superiority and smug satisfaction, his delivery also fails to give us that much needed desperation that a farce should engender.

The great set design by William Schmiel could only be improved by more of the “slamming” doors I’ve mentioned while Sean Savoie’s lights and the costumes of Laura Hanson both add nice touches to the production.

Another “hazard” of doing a show about golf is that you can’t really show the action that is taking place. So actors are forced to stand and stare into the audience as if they’re following a drive or a putt which tends to slow down a show that depends on non-stop action. So, despite making a couple of faux pas about golf in general, the suspension of disbelief is acceptable but bringing non-action to the action of a game just doesn’t work.

So “The Fox On The Fairway” is a reasonable and enjoyable comedy but it falls short in the real intent of Ken Ludwig’s script- a frenetic farce that should have us laughing out loud instead of the occasional chuckle. See it at Insight Theatre through July 15th.