Archive for August, 2012

Twists And Turns Enhance “The Violet Hour” Plot At Max And Louie’s Latest

August 27, 2012

Betsy Bowman, Jake Ferree, Antonio Rodriguez, Monica Parks and Drew Pannebecker discuss their predicament in Max and Louie’s production of Richard Greenberg’s “The Violet Hour.” Photo credit: John Lamb

I know, with plays like “Killer Joe” and “Great American Trailer Park Musical” in town recently, I did a double-take too thinking this play was called “The VioleNt Hour.” But not the case, it’s much more tame and intriguing than that, referring to that moment of dusk when the sky becomes awash with purples, reds and yellows- “The Violet Hour,” the latest effort at Max and Louie Productions.

This is the name of a book written by young Denis McCleary, friend and college pal of newly established book publisher, John Pace Seavering. He’s anxious for his friend to get him published but the tome fills over three crates of typewritten pages. The reason he’s so desperate is his girlfriend from a well-to-do family needs to impress said parents that she’s not marrying a ne’er-do-well. But John is also secretly dating a significantly older African American singer who has written her memoirs about her life in a family of sharecroppers. He can only afford to publish one book at this time with his fledgling business so this becomes the crux of a much larger and more complicated series of events that unfold. Add the manic young assistant to the publisher, Gidger, and you’ve got enough dramedy for one play. Oh, and by the way, this all takes place in Manhattan in 1919- a very significant part of the story.

Monica Parks consoles Drew Pannebecker during Max and Louie’s production of “The Violet Hour.” Photo credit: John Lamb.

A mysterious machine arrives at John’s office and it begins spewing paper- seemingly unprovoked. It’s what is printed on these massive volumes of paper that sets the real “suspension of disbelief” wheels in motion. Without revealing a major plot twist, the problems in the moment seem to fade in the light of what John and Gidger find out as the relentlessly peruse the pages. It’s news that will affect everyone involved in this little circle of unsuspecting friends. Then in a final plot twist worthy of J.B. Priestley’s “Dangerous Corner,” the unexpected happens and you’re not sure if you’re witnessing “Groundhog Day” or “The Butterfly Effect.” This clever Richard Greenberg script is fascinating and a delight to watch. A prolific playwright, Mr. Greenberg is responsible for the big hit at the Rep’s Off Ramp series several years ago, “Take Me Out.”

As John, Drew Pannebecker is outstanding. He is grace under pressure but gets thrown for a loop when circumstances are revealed through this unusual machine. His assistant, Gidger, is given an perfectly controlled manic performance by Antonio Rodriguez. Not many actors could pull of this character quite as effectively as he does. Jake Ferree is superb as the buddy- he spews off the astute dialogue worthy of an Ivy League grad but also lets the basic instincts take control when describing his fiance. As that fiance, Betsy Bowman turns in a divine performance and Monica Parks is perfect as the renowned singer with obvious grace and charm.

Antonio Rodriguez, Drew Pannebecker, Jake Ferree and Betsy Bowman in Max and Louie’s “The Violet Hour.” Photo credit: John Lamb.

Sydnie Grosberg Ronga keeps it all moving at a solid pace and makes the outrageous plot twists seem all too real. A marvelous set design by Mark Wilson adds to the believability as do the lights of Maureen Berry and the costumes of Ryan Hanson. A special nod to whoever designed the “spewing paper machine” effect.  It all comes together in a delightful evening of surprises topped by an A-1 cast that pulls it off flawlessly.

You haven’t got long- “The Violet Hour” only runs through September 2nd at COCA’s Black Box Theatre. So give Max and Louie a call at 314-795-8778 for tickets or more information.

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“Lion King” Never Fails- Delight For Young and Old Alike

August 18, 2012

“The Lion King” has roared onto the Fox Theatre stage again and it’s just as charming- just as powerful as it was 15 years ago when it won the Tony for Best Musical. There’s something magical about this show because it weaves so many new elements together while harking back to the basics of successful musicals that sustain a show through the years.

From those first iconic notes that Buyi Zama sings as Rafiki at the show’s opening to the eventual parade of animals that march across the stage and through the audience, you know you’re in for a treat unlike anything else. Those animals are the primary “magic” of “The Lion King.” Julie Taymor’s original designs creating realistic African denizens of the jungle using puppets and masks create the spectacular feel of the environment we’re swept into for the next two and half hours. They are stunning, beautiful and still hold the rapt attention of kids and adults alike. What a wonderful achievement in theatre.

The Elton John and Tim Rice music and lyrics combine with a book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi to further enhance this story that started out as a Disney animated classic. This current cast is spectacular as well. A rotating cast of the youngsters brought us a delightful performance when we saw the show by Zavion J. Hill as the young Simba. Powerful voice and some crazy but controlled dance moves make him an instant star. His lovely little co-star, Kailah McFadden, was also a treat as the young Nala. Equally effective are Jelani Remy and Syndee Winters as the grown-up versions.

Dionne Randolph is a powerful Mufasa and the wonderful work of Mark David Kaplan as the bird, Zazu, almost steals the show. Nick Cordileone and Ben Lipitz are outstanding as the comedy duo of Timon and Pumbaa who get the great first act closing number, “Hakuna Matata.” And Brent Harris is powerfully evil as Uncle Scar with Tryphena Wade turning in a first-rate job as Sarabi.

This is certainly an ensemble show, however, as the score of animals from the leaping gazelles to the long-necked giraffes and the hysterical hyenas as well as all of the others forming that  delightful menagerie that becomes the background of “The Lion King.” Kudos again to Julie Taymor, director as well as designer of the puppets and masks along with Michael Curry, the delightful Garth Fagan choreography and a wonderful set and lighting design by Richard Hudson and Donald Holder respectively.

With a nod to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” “The Lion King” offers up a great story that may have a few frightening moments for the youngsters with this stage version, but seemed to delight rather than scare the kids the night we enjoyed the show. It’s a powerful piece that still holds together and still holds an audience spellbound after 15 years of bringing us all joy and enjoyment. Catch it at the Fabulous Fox through September 2nd. Call 314-534-1111 or go to fabulousfox.com for tickets or more information.

St. Louis Shakespeare Makes Short Work Of Their Namesake And The Audience Reaps The Benefits

August 12, 2012

Jamie Kurth, Josh Payne and Ben Ritchie “ham” up the Bard in “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”

The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of “The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (abridged)” gets a first-rate showing at St. Louis Shakespeare’s latest offering. Too many “Shakespeare’s” in that sentence? Well, you’ll want even more when the play ends at Grandel Square. In fact, you’re never sure just when it will end because they must do their final play, “Hamlet,” three more times before they can call it a night- speedy, speedier and in reverse. That’s the kind of nonsense you’ll see throughout this performance and it will have you rolling in the aisles. But be careful, because the actors are frequently in the aisles as well.

There have been a few productions of this “Shakespeare Lite” laugher in our town before but, like “Godspell,” it’s easily updated and open for more topical humor so it always stays fresh. St. Louis Shakespeare skewers everything modern and local including themselves with a reference to their last production of “Coriolanus.” This is not your father’s Shakespeare and it’s definitely not your 15th Century Shakespeare, but it will probably give you a good insight into why everyone who loves theatre loves this man’s work.

The actors work in sync and you have to gape in amazement at some of the accomplishments they pull off when reducing all 36 plays (and even the sonnets) into an hour and a half. Jamie Kurth starts things off with a serious note that soon turns silly and that sets the tone for the evening. Ben Ritchie plays the official Shakespeare scholar and he too succumbs to the dumb. Joshua Nash Payne rounds out the devilish trio and gets the dubious distinction of playing most of the women in the plays.

“Romeo and Juliet” leads off the evening and the bizarre telling of this tragedy lasts 12 minutes- which means, as Ben Ritchie  tells us, we’re likely to be here for another seven-plus hours. So they try to speed things along by making short work of “Titus Andronicus” as a cooking show complete with Julia Child. And if you’ve ever seen this play as Shakespeare wrote it, you’ll know how appropriate this approach is. Then the entire slate of comedies gets boiled down to a quick pastiche that has our troupe racing through a composite smashing all of the comedies into one, short soap opera.

Josh Payne, Ben Ritchie and Jamie Kurth take a different spin on Shakespeare’s plays as St. Louis Shakespeare presents “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).”

Josh, who has never been a fan of “Hamlet,” decides to skip out at intermission and Ben follows to persuade him to return. As Act II opens, Jamie is left to entertain the returning audience by passing around a 3×5 card encapsulating all of the sonnets to be passed among all of us while he talks on his cell phone to see if our other two intrepid actors will return in time to bring us “Hamlet.” They do and more audience participation ensues as we deal with the id, ego and super ego of Ophelia. Then we wind it all up with the aforementioned triple re-play of “Hamlet” as we reluctantly leave this tireless trio.

Suki Peters has directed this nonsense with a flair for fun and a keen eye for the Bard. It’s non-stop action and, due to the always suspect acoustics in the Grandel and the constant state of laughter, we unfortunately miss a few of the “throw away” lines that keep coming rapid-fire. The cluttered set of Amanda Handle is perfect and the costumes of JC Krajicek are delightful- right down to the various colored tennis shoes. Several dressers help out backstage and onstage at various points including Morgan Elaine Hatfield, Sara Rae Womack, Meg Brinkley and Maggie Murphy. They are an integral part of making this madhouse a success.

If you’re not a big fan of Shakespeare, this may change your mind. And if you know his plays well, this will keep you doubled over with laughter. “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” is an evening in the theatre you won’t soon forget. Join the crowd as St. Louis Shakespeare Company brings us a more bizarre side of the Bard through August 19th.

Rude, Crude and Obnoxious- And That’s The Way We Like It- As Stray Dog Delivers Delightful Trailer Trash

August 4, 2012

The trio of Kay Love, Kim Furlow and Jessica Tilgham wax rhapsodic on the joys of trailer park life in Stray Dog’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Photo credit: John Lamb

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is no “Sound Of Music” and it’s definitely not what you think of when making lists of well known musicals, but you can’t ask for better entertainment than Stray Dog Theatre’s current production of what has to be the local premiere of the trash talkin’, off the wall show that would fit right in with the crowds who adore Maury and Jerry Springer.

Obviously  not for the faint of heart who cringe at four letter words, this musical gets down and dirty with implausible nonsense that makes for entertainment like you’ve never seen before. Kim Furlow, Artistic Director of Dramatic License Productions, moonlights at Stray Dog as the owner of the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park in Starke, Florida. She belts out the bouncy, sparkling David Nehls score with gusto and drops the great Betsy Kelso one-liners like a pro. It’s a delight to see her having so much fun on stage and it definitely carries through to an appreciative audience.

The first act finale of Stray Dog’s “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” brings disco back- even if it is trailer trash disco. Photo credit: John Lamb

Her cohorts include Kay Love as Lin (short for Linoleum, ’cause that’s where she was born) and Jessica Tilghman as the oft-hysterically pregnant Pickles. This trio act as a “Greek Chorus,” if you will who don several costumes to portray characters such as strip club studs and even roadkill victims like rabbits and deer (you have to see it to believe it). This threesome is the best thing on stage since the Kingston Trio.

Lindsey Jones and Zachary Stefaniak are a hoot as the feuding couple in the middle trailer. She’s an agoraphobiac who hasn’t stepped out in the fresh air for twenty years and he’s a sympathetic husband who tries to lure her out for their twentieth anniversary with a pair of tickets for the Ice Capades. When this fails, he turns to the new lady in town, a pole dancer named Pippi. Jamie Lynn Marble is a riot as the exotic dancer on the run from her abusive boyfriend.

That boyfriend, Duke, appears and Keith Parker, Jr. shines as the nutcase who suffers everything from road rage to an addiction to sniffing permanent markers- which he attaches as a bracelet to his wrist. Doesn’t sound like the story line to “Sound of Music” either, does it? It’s outlandish and the plot twists make you stretch your suspension of disbelief like a tightly wound rubber band, but it’s just so much fun that your gales of laughter tend to make your mind accept it all as gospel.

Kim Furlow, Kay Love and Jessica Tilgham become road kill for Keith Parker, Jr.’s road rage in “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Photo credit: John Lamb.

Director Justin Been serves it all up with proper tongue-in-cheek and is helped with a great set design by David Blake and lights from Tyler Duenow. Alexandra Scibetta Quigley’s costumes are first rate and the only complaint of the evening is the miking of the cast. It seemed to garble some of the dialogue and especially the lyrics. Of course, some of that had to do with laughter as it tended to drown out whatever came next. But small complaint for a show that gives us so much bang for our buck, if you’ll pardon the expression.

You’ll get a kick out of the specialty numbers, the great “Sally Jesse Raphael” take-off, the throbbing disco beat First Act finale and the wild and wacky show finale. This show has a little bit of everything- most of it, as I said, rude, crude and obnoxious- so sit back and enjoy the ride. Obviously, leave the kids home for this one- take them to see the other local production of the aforementioned “Sound of Music.” Then get them a babysitter and come see something that will get Mom and Dad past the hills of Austria and into the Armadillo Acres Trailer Park.

“The Great American Trailer Park Musical” is the last show of Stray Dog’s ninth season and their impressive tenth season is coming with another line-up of shows that will please. Visit their website at http://www.straydogtheatre.org for info on that new season and to order tickets for this one.