Archive for October, 2013

“The Trivia Job” At OnSite Theatre Presents Hilarity And A Few Rounds Of Trivia

October 26, 2013
Donna Weinsting, Michelle Hand, Ben Nordstrom, Julia Zasso and Ann Marie Mohr in OnSite's "The Trivia Job."

Donna Weinsting, Michelle Hand, Ben Nordstrom, Julia Zasso and Ann Marie Mohr in OnSite’s “The Trivia Job.”

OnSite Theatre Company is always intriguing with their site-specific productions and their latest, “The Trivia Job,” really gets specific with a big plug for the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis where we, the audience, play trivia in their community room while a play is going on around us. The play, written by Dan Rubin, has a lot of local and current pop references as well to make us feel even more at home while we have fun. It is, of course, the world premiere as well- written especially for this group and this site.

Director Anna Pileggi has woven the story around the three-round trivia night so you really feel like you’re at a regular trivia game but the table with the cast members plot a bank heist between rounds and, during the final round, actually take the half-mile trip to the Anheuser-Busch Credit Union to pull off the robbery. It’s a clever ploy that might actually work in real life since most tables at trivia nights are so self-consumed that they probably really wouldn’t notice a table of folks that actually leave the game and get back “almost” on time which necessitates a little stalling by the one they left behind to cover them. In fact, during the first break, you suddenly look up and realize that the ladies of the middle front table are skulking through the hall carrying bags (which turn out to contain ferrets)- you have to see it and hear the elaborate plan to believe it.

onsitelogoIn the meantime, the priest who was supposed to act as the MC and question reader got sick so they had to call on a younger priest who gets suspicious as the trivia night goes on. Ben Nordstrom is perfect as the eager young prelate, Father Calvin Truss, who keeps going off on tangents about everything from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” to his summer work at Ted Drewes as a boy and his shady story of visiting parishioners  before arriving at trivia night with a snootful and the necessity for numerous trips to the “little boy’s room”- thus actually helping the larcenous ladies as they carry out their deed. He’s perfectly nerdy as he regales us with humorous tidbits that don’t always go over well. He then simply pulls out his best Johnny Carson joke-bombing expression and bravely carries on.

OnSite’s Artistic Director, Ann Marie Mohr as Allison, carries on as the “event” planner for the heist- which is meant to bail St. Francis Church out of the red. She clumsily explains the rules as, with her Catholic background, tries to relate the Catholic experience to this trivia night held in the Community Church with disastrous results. While at the table, she tries to lay down the plan to a forgetful Betsy, played with excellent comic timing by Michelle Hand. Ms. Hand gets to really shine as she turns a stall tactic at the microphone into a brilliant comedy routine involving, among other things, her fasciation with “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

triviaprogramDonna Weinsting is simply marvelous as the “butch” Maxine who has the plan down to perfection as she keeps insisting nothing can go wrong. She’s the one who gives the passionate plug for the Community Church and keeps us in gales of laughter with her off the cuff remarks as she expertly details how the heist is going to go. Rounding out the cast is Julia Zasso as Patricia, Allison’s daughter who has had a long-time crush on Father Calvin since they went to school together before his “calling.” Her moment to shine is when she must stay at the table to ward off suspicion while the others are actually pulling the heist. They each leave an article of clothing or accessory so Patricia can move around the table donning these items to make the rest of us think that all the ladies are actually still there. It’s really a riot and actually fools no one.

The unusually large anonymous donation announced at the end of trivia night seals the deal for Father Calvin’s suspicions but he has already been revealed to having experienced too many “wages of sin” himself that there’s not a lot he can do about it. “The Trivia Job” is a clever script and the questions for the three rounds are not “soft,” you really have to have a good knowledge of things trivial. And, since it is a trivia night, don’t forget to bring snacks along. Beer, wine and bottled water are also available for purchase throughout the evening and even a “50/50” game awarded at the end of the night and, of course, a prize for the winning table.

For an evening of fun and laughs, you can’t go wrong with this latest from OnSite Theatre Company. From laundromats to bowling alleys to child care centers and now trivia in a church hall, it’s always an unexpected treat with original scripts written specifically for the site. Give them a call at 314-749-8302 or contact them at onsitetheatre.org for tickets or more information. “The Trivia Job” plays through  November 9th.

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One Night Only Showing Of London Cast Of “Merrily We Roll Along”- “It’s A Hit!”

October 24, 2013

merrily posterOn Wednesday night, October 23rd, a nationwide showing of the London revival of “Merrily We Roll Along” had theatre fans flocking to the cinema (in St. Louis it was at the Mills Theatre and the Gravois Bluffs Theatre). This version of the Stephen Sondheim near-hit is probably the best one yet- although it’s still not perfect. But that’s the nature of this show. It’s always been one of his best scores but some of the songs and parts of the book by George Furth (based on the original Kaufmann and Hart play of the same name) have always had some problems. Although almost two and a half hours long, it’s still the most streamlined version and the outstanding cast, performing at the Harold Pinter Theatre, is stellar. Maria Friedman’s direction is crisp and clean and that helps move this multiple set show along- thanks to the versatile basic set by Soutra Gilmour.

The cast of the London revival of "Merrily We Roll Along" perform "It's A Hit."

The cast of the London revival of “Merrily We Roll Along” perform “It’s A Hit.”

Since the show is presented backwards with an intense fight scene at one of Franklin Shephard’s parties begins the evening, it starts out heavy but then gets lighter and more hopeful as the evening continues and we see the three friends and those around them regressing back to the rooftop where they first all got together and sing the stirring “Our Time.” Getting there, however, is sometimes pretty rough as failed marriages, failed expectations and different ideas on career paths make for complications and eventually break up the old gang. And thus, the first scene is full of bitterness and consternation.

Jenna Russell, Clare Foster, Mark Umbers and Damian Humbley in "Merrily We Roll Along."

Jenna Russell, Clare Foster, Mark Umbers and Damian Humbley in “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Mark Umbers is rock solid as Franklin Shepard, the gifted composer who early on teams up with Charlie Kringas who writes his lyrics and then Mary Flynn who begins putting together reviews for them to perform in basement clubs and wherever else they can showcase their talents. Mr. Umbers transforms from his haughty and gregarious self in the opening scene and transitions back into the energetic songwriter who is surprised when people really like his music. As his lyricist, Charlie, Damian Humbley is spot on. He shines throughout and particularly in the frenetic “Franklin Shephard Inc.” number during an NBC interview where he gets all of his frustrations out at the expense of Shepard.

Josefina Gabrielle (center) surrounded by her "friends" at one her parties in the London production of "Merrily We Roll Along."

Josefina Gabrielle (center) as Gussie surrounded by her “friends” at one her parties in the London production of “Merrily We Roll Along.”

Jenna Russell is simply fantastic as their friend, Mary. Her lifelong infatuation with Frank doesn’t deter her from writing a best selling novel but she never manages to express her feelings and the audience knows it would do no good anyway. She tosses off laugh lines with ease and displays a crystal clear singing voice. As their first female foil in their reviews, Beth, Clare Foster plays an ingenue with a Southern charm who manages to  charm the pants off of Frank. This leads to his first marriage.

But before we get “back” to that point, we see Frank’s infatuation with Gussie, the star of his and Charlie’s first show. She’s got her eye on him from the moment she and her husband spot them in one of their supper club gigs and she invites them to one of her posh parties to introduce their newest song, “Good Thing Going.” She’s the perfect vamp as she begins to wrap Frank around her finger and eventually “steals” him away from Beth. As her husband, Joe, Glyn Kerslake is suave and the producer with power who finally signs them to write their first musical, “Musical Husbands”- even though (as we later see) he rejected them the first time they met him at his office with some of their material.

The cast of "Musical Husbands" in the London revival of "Merrily We Roll Along."

The cast of “Musical Husbands” in the London revival of “Merrily We Roll Along.”

This reverse telling of the story is not too complicated as Sondheim’s songs remind us throughout that we’re traveling back in time to eventually see these three friends from the beginning. The exhilaration, the phony friends, the obvious power struggles within the friendship and those from outside sources as Franklin soon takes a different path than Charlie thinks he should, all add up to a compelling musical and, with that soaring score of Stephen Sondheim, it just makes for a perfect evening. It’s a polished production and, as I said, probably the best version of “Merrily We Roll Along” that’s been rolled out thus far.

Short And Sweet “Comedy Of Errors” Works Well For St. Louis Shakespeare

October 23, 2013
Ben Watts as Dromio and Christopher LaBanca as Antipholus in St. Louis Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors."

Ben Watts as Dromio and Christopher LaBanca as Antipholus in St. Louis Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors.”

Everything has been trimmed down for the current St. Louis Shakespeare Company’s version of “The Comedy Of Errors.” It’s a slim 70 minute one act, adapted by Alec Wild. Characters have been cut from the action (including one Antipholus and one Dromio). And the bare bones set completes the sleek, sweeping rehash of one of the greatest comedies of all time. And yet, it all works with a quick-fire prologue, a splash of color added to costumes to distinguish between the two sets of twins and a few actors tackling several roles.

Director Jef Awada keeps things moving with the help of scenic designer George Spelvin who creates all the necessary surroundings using some scaffolding, two sets of rolling stairs like you find at Home Depot and a rolling door frame that takes on double (or maybe triple) duty- all painted white against a black curtain backdrop.  Actors do all of the quick scene changes swinging the stairs and door frame around stage to denote everything from the house of Antipholus of Ephesus to a goldsmith’s shop and even transportation on and off or across the stage as actors (particularly Dromio) use the stairs like a taxi to transport them from one place to another.

Speaking of Dromio, Ben Watts creates the two Dromio’s with his cheeky, frenetic style- perfect for the always rattled slave to Antipholus. He simply shines in the lengthy but hilarious speculation on the lady he meets who is round as a sphere- describing where every country on the globe may be situated on her body (reminiscent of Groucho Marx with his wonderful “Lydia, The Tatooed Lady”). Also creating two distinct characters for Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus is Christopher LaBanca. These two make a wonderful pair as they stumble and grope their way through confusion until the final resolution where the twins are revealed to each other. How do they do this with only one actor playing both roles? You’ll have to see it to discover the clever reveal at play’s end.

Maggie Conroy as Adriana and Julia Crump as Luciana in "The Comedy Of Errors" at St. Louis Shakespeare.

Maggie Conroy as Adriana and Julia Crump as Luciana in “The Comedy Of Errors” at St. Louis Shakespeare.

Maggie Conroy is a fiery Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus. She doesn’t back down when her husband doesn’t seem to recognize her and fights her way through all the confusion. As her sister, Luciana, Julia Crump is sweet and lilting of speech as she finds the bright spot to every dilemma that crops up with the havoc of twins showing up for Antipholus and Dromio.

The supporting cast is effective and hard working including Andrew Kuhlman in several roles including the confused goldsmith who is waiting to get paid for a necklace he has delivered to Antipholus. Shane Bosillo has fun as Dr. Pinch, among others. Nikki Lott and Andrew Rea complete the cast in several roles as well.

The costumes of Felia Davenport work well and, as I said, the frantic feel of all of the rolling pieces just add to the joy of confusion that “The Comedy Of Errors” puts forth. With the Rep having done such a grand scale production just last year, it’s wise that St. Louis Shakespeare tackled this lighter and more ethereal script. It works well and provides all of the humor and panache of the original- although it’s probably more effective if you’ve seen the play in its entirety before.

“The Comedy Of Errors” plays through October 26th at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre as presented by the St. Louis Shakespeare Company. Call them at 314-361-5664 for tickets or more information.

“Fly” Soars Beyond The Rep Stage And Into A World Of Reality Turned Magic

October 20, 2013
The Tuskegee recruits get their initial "drill" from their Captain in "Fly" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The Tuskegee recruits get their initial “drill” from their Captain in “Fly” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

By now we’ve all heard and seen stories of the brave men who broke all barriers to become the first Black fighter squadron in World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen fought racism both in the service and from the outside world but, when it came down to getting the job done, they proved they were superior to those who scorned their ambition and their ability. “Fly,” the current Mainstage production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, is a testament to these men as well as a mesmerizing story that, though based in fact, is presented with an almost ethereal treatment that lets the magic of the stage transform us to another time and place.

The petty arguments that arise when the latest four recruits get together is soon transplanted by a mutual respect as they battle the rigorous training as well as the prejudices they encounter from their commanders, other members of the military and even the bomber pilots they accompany on missions into Germany. As they prove their worth and eventually garner the respect they deserve, it becomes apparent that they bond in even more special ways than men in war usually do. Tying together a short opening in the present to a ceremony- again in present day- at the end of this 90 minute production, the meat of the play is one of the most inspiring and well told we’ve seen on any stage in recent history. 

Omar Edwards as the Tap Griot in the Rep's production of "Fly." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Omar Edwards as the Tap Griot in the Rep’s production of “Fly.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

You realize you’re in for a special evening when a Tap Griot, a tap-dancing narrator, opens the show without saying a word but expressing a wealth of feeling through dance. Along the way he backs up emotions expressed through the four actors playing the future “aces” and generally tells parts of the story through spectacular tap routines. Omar Edwards is this wizard with the fleet feet and is also credited with creating the tap environment as the “tap improvographer.” Hope Clarke is also credited as choreographer in this fascinating interpretation of the Tuskegee Airmen. She’s responsible for some knock-out moments as well including a precision drill-like moment and some delightful, playful banter with two bomber pilots.

The four gentlemen portraying the trainees are all spectacular. There were a few times when lines were hard to understand for one reason or another, but the men are so engaging, so different from each other and so well-tuned to each other that you can’t help but feel drawn to all of them. Eddie R. Brown III is the bundle of ego called W.W. or, as he is more often called, “Chicago.” Terrell Donnell Sledge is the one with the most flight experience while David Pegram and Will Cobbs round out this quartet of powerful actors. 

The pilots get their first flight experience in one of the cleverest moments in "Fly" at the  Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The pilots get their first flight experience in one of the cleverest moments in “Fly” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Greg Brostrom is their less-than flattering captain who shines during their turns as first-time pilots in the training sequence. Also well “choreographed” using two metal chairs that serve as the cockpit. Timothy Sekk and Cary Donaldson play several characters throughout including the two bomber pilots who quickly learn to respect the exploits of these daring fighter pilots. 

Technically, this is a massive show with video and sound playing a major role in telling the story of “Fly.” Beowulf Boritz has designed a perfect basic set that gives the first indication as you enter the theatre that this play will soar with a very streamlined look that almost flies off the Rep stage. Five various shaped screens hang at an angle along the back wall on which are projected clouds, American flags, soaring planes and other pertinent scenes. Clint Allen is the projection designer of these often intricate and well coordinated images. Rui Rita and Jake DeGroot provide the equally stunning lighting design and the Toni-Leslie James costumes are on the mark. John Gromada is responsible for the wonderful sound design and composer with music, falling bombs and the sounds of soaring planes highlighting a spectacular “feeling” as you watch this magical story unfold.

A stirring moment during the Rep's production of "Fly." Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

A stirring moment during the Rep’s production of “Fly.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“Fly” was written by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan and Mr. Khan also directed the production. His unparalleled vision of this story has translated so well to the stage that the audience leapt to their feet in a standing ovation before the show even ended on opening night. It’s simply a remarkable piece and one that can’t be missed. The story is exhilarating and, whatever you’ve seen about the Tuskegee Airmen in the past will take on even more meaning once you’ve seen “Fly.” Playing through November 10th on the MainStage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, “Fly” is nothing short of outstanding. Give the Rep a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

“Night Of The Living Dead” At New Line Brings Surprises- All Good Ones

October 15, 2013
The cast of "Night Of The Living Dead" question their fates. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast of “Night Of The Living Dead” question their fates. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

When you know you’re going to see a musical based on the George A. Romero film, “Night Of The Living Dead,” you’re expecting either a lot of blood and gore or perhaps some silly songs turning it into a tongue-in-cheek like “Evil Dead-The Musical” currently playing at Stray Dog Theatre. Instead this new musical is more of a cantata that builds suspense through tension and almost operatic recitatives with recurring themes of dread, puzzlement and anxiety. With the strong singing and acting of the New Line Theatre cast and the flawless direction of Artistic Director, Scott Miller, it is one of the most frightening evenings ever at a musical.

A cantata is usually based on religious themes and there is some “praying” during the musical interludes that connect the zombie apocalypse but it reminded me a lot of Bernstein’s mini-opera, “Trouble In Tahiti,” with several musical elements blending to tell a compact but effective story. Especially effective were the three “Broadcast” sequences with alternate actors singing “We interrupt this broadcast” as the story from the radio or TV (the story is still set in 1968, the time of the original movie), is sung-through with the actors alternating bits and pieces of the emergency network broadcasts. Barbra’s frenetic plea in “Johnny & Me” is also quite powerful as is the calm delivery of Helen and Harry as they sing about a “Drive” in the country. And again, snippets of most of the songs are repeated throughout the lengthy one-act to emphasize the confusion and frustration on this band of people who are thrown together at this abandoned house as the living dead attempt to get to get at them.

Zachary Allen Farmer, Joseph McAnulty and Mike Dowdy explore the upper story in "Night Of The Living Dead" at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Zachary Allen Farmer, Joseph McAnulty and Mike Dowdy explore the upper story in “Night Of The Living Dead” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Zachary Allen Farmer turns in another superlative performance as Ben. He’s the self-proclaimed leader as he enters the house and discovers Barbra cowering and unable to speak. Marcy Wiegert is superb as the vulnerable waif who can’t seem to comprehend what’s going on around her. Mike Dowdy and Sarah Porter also earn raves as a married couple with an ailing daughter who, for some strange reason, they leave in the basement during most of the action. She’s evidently suffering from a high fever and sleeping throughout most of the play. Phoebe Desilets plays the young Karen who finally emerges from under her covers as the finale draws near.

Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert contemplate their fate in the basement during New Line's production of "Night Of The Living Dead." Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert contemplate their fate in the basement during New Line’s production of “Night Of The Living Dead.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Rounding out the cast are Mary Beth Black as Judy and Joseph McAnulty as Tom, a young couple who are just as freaked out and confused as everyone else trapped in this house. They also turn in convincing performances and bring strong voices to the eclectic score. The musical features music by Matt Conner, book by Stephen Gregory Smith and lyrics by Smith and Conner.

This is quite an accomplishment for New Line’s artistic staff as well including an effective set and lighting design by Rob Lippert. He deals with four different acting areas including the front room, a kitchen, an upstairs bedroom and the cellar- all cleverly accessible without too much suspension of disbelief. He also provides highly effective visual effects including explosions and other activities outside the house along with the help of sound designer Kerrie Mondy. Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert also pull double duty as the costume designers with great results.

The cast of "Night Of The Living Dead" huddle around the TV as they sing the compelling "Broadcast" at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast of “Night Of The Living Dead” huddle around the TV as they sing the compelling “Broadcast” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The usual great job as well with the New Line Band, this time with Sue Goldford as conductor and piano along with an additional five members including another keyboard, strings and percussion.

The fun and frolic of “Evil Dead” at Stray Dog and this more cerebral and psychological thriller, “Night Of The Living Dead” at New Line provide a great one-two punch for the upcoming Halloween season. Most of the pre-show talk with other audience members was whether we’d need plastic sheets for the splattering blood, but instead you had to get your mind wrapped around the terror of the unknown and unexpected as this amazing story unfolds in terrifying and compelling fashion. With the unusually beautiful score and the power of these fine actor/singers, “Night Of The Living Dead” is one musical you don’t want to miss. Evidently this is only the second production of the show nationally but, like so many other Scott Miller productions, news of this one should spread fast and it could become the new “cult” favorite.

“Night Of The Living Dead” runs through November 2nd at the old CBC High School on Clayton Road. Call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 for tickets and visit newlinetheatre.com for more information of this production and the rest of the New Line Theatre season.

 

“Evil Dead-The Musical” Returns To Stray Dog With Bloody Results

October 11, 2013
Anna Skidis, C.E. Fifer, Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel and Paul Cereghino contemplate what's in the basement during "Evil Dead-The Musical" at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

Anna Skidis, C.E. Fifer, Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel and Paul Cereghino contemplate what’s in the basement during “Evil Dead-The Musical” at Stray Dog. Photo: John Lamb

When you’ve got a proven hit and Halloween is in the air, why not bring back a revival of “Evil Dead-The Musical?” So thinks Stray Dog Theatre and we, the audience, agree. Not officially zombies, but rather Candarian Demons, they provide the same results as they stiff-walk their way around a bloody stage after being shot, chain-sawed and otherwise unsuccessfully “killed” by our hero. In an effort to update, they might consider calling them the Kardashian demons but I think that reality program may already give “Evil Dead” a run for it’s frightening life.

A big, broad spoof of- not only the original movie version- but of the horror story in general, “Evil Dead-The Musical” gives us plenty of laughs, crude humor, plenty of blood and, of course, song and dance. Anna Skidis is the only member from the original cast to reprise her role and what a campy performance she gives. Being the first to be attacked by the demons, disguising themselves as trees, she spends most of the play in the basement and occasionally pops up through trap door to deliver screams and bad puns. A real treat. Our hero,  Ashley, played to the hilt by Paul Cereghino, displays perfect comic timing with the quirky lines and the Bruce Campbell poses. As his girlfriend, Eileen Engel is the perfect foil showing the same tongue-in-cheek bravado including songs like the duet, “Housewares Employee.”

Paul Cereghino, Brittany Kohl and Zachary Stefaniak ponder what's lurking on the other side of the door in Stray Dog's "Evil Dead-The Musical." Photo: John Lamb

Paul Cereghino, Brittany Kohl and Zachary Stefaniak ponder what’s lurking on the other side of the door in Stray Dog’s “Evil Dead-The Musical.” Photo: John Lamb

The other members of the “five teens breaking into a cabin in the woods-what could go wrong?” scenario include C.E. Fifer as Ash’s best friend Scott and his newest girlfriend, the clueless Shelly- given a wonderful performance by Angela Bubash. When the cabin owner’s daughter arrives with her boyfriend and a mountain-man guide they hire to get them there, more laughs and a lot more blood ensues. Brittany Kohl is hilarious as the preppy young blonde, Annie, looking for her father. When Ash eventually disposes of her boyfriend, she quickly latches onto him and reveals her penchant for hopeless men with the hilarious trio, “All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons.” As her boyfriend, Ed, Michael A. Wells is obviously “whipped” by the dominant Annie but gets a chance to shine with his specialty number, “Bit-Part Demon.” But just as he is about to rise above that status, he gets summarily shot down with cane in hand, denying him his big finish.

Zachary Stefaniak  is nothing short of brilliant as the backwoodsman, Jake. A big man, he surprises with his dancing prowess and his strong singing voice and gets the best gig of the evening by showering the “splatter zone” in the audience when he finally meets his demise. Rounding out the cast is Jeff Loeffler as the spirit of Professor Knowby who gets in on the fun of the multi-level finales. It’s all played out with the help of the great band featuring Chris Petersen as musical director and keyboardist along with Adam Rugo on guitar and banjo and Bob McMahon on percussion. The Nathan Marshall set design is effective and handles some of the blood-letting in surprise fashion while Tyler Duenow’s lights enhance the creepy atmosphere. Jamie Lynn Marble’s choreography is appropriately funny and effective while Alexandra Scibetta Quigley’s costumes handle the wear and tear of breaking away and getting bloody quite nicely.

The cast of Candarian Demons zombie-walk through "Evil Dead-The Musical" at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The cast of Candarian Demons zombie-walk through “Evil Dead-The Musical” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Director Justin Been brings it all together in fine fashion with an emphasis on camp. You’ll find yourself laughing at the silly situations and outrageous lines along with the raunchy lyrics and wonderful make-up effects created and realized by Sarah Castelli. No brain matter was harmed during the performance (with the possible exception of the audience) but it’s one big trip through every horror film you’ve seen with all the cliches and more of the fun. “Evil Dead-The Musical” runs at Stray Dog Theatre through November 2nd. Contact them at 314-865-1995 or at straydogtheatre.org for tickets or more information.

“Evita”-Lite Makes For A Powerful New Production Of This Classic Lloyd Webber Musical

October 11, 2013

evitaA dramatic overhaul of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice story of Eva Peron’s rise and early demise as the real ruler of Argentina emphasizes the dance (especially the Tango) while trimming some of the songs to make a tighter but highly enjoyable new look at this classic musical that’s more like an opera. Although some of the cuts in this “Evita” were jarring at times, it’s really a magnificent new concept to a show that’s been around including several runs at the Fox. This time the Fox Theatre presents this most recent Broadway revival.

The first thing you notice is a more Latin beat to the music. More closely aligned to the country that made Eva Peron a “star,” it’s got an earthy drive that makes for a more realistic and manic feel to the show. In fact, the chorus in the first number on opening night at times had a tough time keeping up with the pace, coming in a beat or so late several times. But this frantic pace help to make the show take on a whole new meaning. The tango steps throughout- even with the slower numbers- also helped to establish a sense of place. The classic flick of the foot behind the partners leg was predominant throughout almost every number. A smoother opening also helped to move the show along, eliminating the first time the casket comes on stage and making the infamous look at Evita’s early career even more stunning.

Caroline Bowman as Eva and Sean MacLaughlin as Peron (seated) as Josh Young as Che and the chorus surround them in "Evita" at the Fox. Photo: Richard Termine

Caroline Bowman as Eva and Sean MacLaughlin as Peron (seated) as Josh Young as Che and the chorus surround them in “Evita” at the Fox. Photo: Richard Termine

The choreography has changed dramatically as well- eliminating some old favorites such as the clever rocking chair roulette during “The Art Of The Possible” and even the precision military march during the “Charity Event” sequence. But this emphasis on the more classic dance really keeps the show rolling along (to quote another lyric) and makes for a smoother and just as entertaining musical.

Che- always more of an “everyman” than the anachronistic and more famous rebel from later in history, is given a powerful portrayal by Josh Young. He moves more freely being out of the more traditional military garb and Mr. Young really delivers in both song and dance. Caroline Bowman is an electric Eva. From her early days as a floozy climbing the ladder of success to her more influential floozy as the First Lady of Argentina, she is mesmerizing and wins us over as easily as the original Evita won over the people of Argentina. She has a lovely voice that belts out “Buenos Aries” as easily as she melts the heart of her people with “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

Caroline Bowman as Eva Peron in the famous balcony speech- "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina"- at the Fox Theatre. Photo: Richard Termine

Caroline Bowman as Eva Peron in the famous balcony speech- “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”- at the Fox Theatre. Photo: Richard Termine

Sean MacLaughlin is a wonderful, if somewhat young Peron. He, as well, displays a wonderful singing voice and, to go along with the theme of this production, turns in a delightful dancing performance as well. Usually the straight-backed military man, he moves in the traditional tango fashion from their first meeting in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.” Christopher Johnstone is a strong Magaldi, the first big rung on the ladder for Eva, and Krystina Alabado gives a magnificent rendition of “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” as the mistress who is dismissed when Peron latches onto Eva. The entire singing and dancing ensemble help to bring this show to glorious life.

Michael Grandage has directed with flair and the inspired new choreography of Rob Ashford really makes this production rock. With some major and many minor changes, this “Evita” is something different but still something awesome as it plays through October 20th at the Fox Theatre. Tickets can be bought through MetroTix at 314-534-1111.

The Good Cast (And Director) Help Make “The Good Doctor” A Winner At New Jewish

October 5, 2013
Alina Volobuyeva, Aaron Orion Baker and David Wassilak meet in the park during the New Jewish Theatre production of "The Good Doctor." Photo: John Lamb

Alina Volobuyeva, Aaron Orion Baker and David Wassilak meet in the park during the New Jewish Theatre production of “The Good Doctor.” Photo: John Lamb

Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, New Jewish Theatre has turned one of the less remarkable Neil Simon plays, “The Good Doctor,” into a highly entertaining evening. Based on Chekhov short stories, these eight little vignettes range from humorous to thought-provoking to missing the mark. But in the hands of director Bobby Miller and his wonderful cast, it all works out. With Chekhov himself narrating and even participating in a few of the short plays, these unrelated stories are all tied together neatly and efficiently. With David Wassilak cutting a dashing figure as the playwright/author, “The Good Doctor” is off to a great start as he explains his method and means of writing these stories and then leading us into each little pastiche.

“The Sneeze” opens the evening with Aaron Orion Baker and Alina Volobuyeva as a husband and wife uncustomarily attending the theatre and, by chance, sitting behind his boss and his wife, played by Jason Grubbe and Teresa Doggett. An uncontrollable sneeze leads to the young man insinuating himself on his boss over and over again as he tries to apologize and reapologize for the despicable act. If it teaches us anything, it’s “leave well enough alone.” In “The Governess,” Ms. Doggett teaches Ms. Volobuyeva a thing or two about standing up for yourself. A silly Three Stooges take off in “Surgery” has Mr. Baker as a young dentist giving painful fits to Mr. Grubbe as his “first” patient.

Alina Volobuyeva, Jason Grubbe, Aaron Orion Baker and Teresa Doggett await "The Sneeze" in "The Good Doctor" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Alina Volobuyeva, Jason Grubbe, Aaron Orion Baker and Teresa Doggett await “The Sneeze” in “The Good Doctor” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Rounding out the first act is probably the most successful and most clever story called “The Seduction.” We get a lesson from Mr. Wassilak as a well know Lothario who shows us how to seduce another man’s wife without even talking to her. Act Two then opens with a clever shell game played by Aaron Orion Baker on unsuspecting David Wassilak in an attempt to get paid for staging his own drowning. Things are left up to the audience’s imagination with the devastating final line. “The Audition” lets Alina Volobuyeva shine as all three sisters from Chekhov’s famous play as she almost unwillingly tries out for a part.

“A Defenseless Creature” is just a hoot as Jason Grubbe as a gout-inflicted bank manager tries to deal with Teresa Doggett as an irate customer who ignores the fact that she is the one who doesn’t have a leg to stand on until she wears him down with her persistence. Closing out the evening is “The Arrangement” as father David Wassilak tries to arrange for Mr. Baker as the son to experience his first time with a young lady of the evening (Ms. Volobuyeva). As only Neil Simon, by way of Anton Chekhov, can handle it- things don’t go as planned and the indoctrination may have to be put on hold.

Despite the obvious magic of both men (Chekhov and Simon) the usual modern stories that raise either uproarious humor of deep pathos from Simon don’t get a chance to come to fruition during these stories at the end of the 19th Century in Russia in “The Good Doctor.” There’s a spark here and there and the tales themselves are quite effective as short stories. But there are hits and misses when translated to the stage. Luckily, Bobby Miller and his group of fine actors wring every great moment from this script. They all get their chance to shine as well as play the straight man throughout these often quick-fire playlets. Add the wonderful set design of Dunsi Dai and the effective lights of Maureen Berry (although we do have occasional dark spots), and you’ve got an old world story that often still rings true today. The Michele Friedman Siler costumes are impressive and Bobby Miller has also provided the solid sound design.

Aaron Orion Baker attempts to diagnose patient Jason Grubbe in Neil Simon's "The Good Doctor" at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Aaron Orion Baker attempts to diagnose patient Jason Grubbe in Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

But huge kudos to David Wassilak, Alina Volobuyeva, Teresa Doggett, Aaron Orion Baker and Jason Grubbe for bringing these characters to life with honesty and sincerity. They make “The Good Doctor” rise above it’s mediocrity and reach the true potential that Doc Simon must have seen when he attempted this odd choice in his long and distinguished career. “The Good Doctor” plays at the New Jewish Theatre through October 20th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 or visit newjewishtheatre.org for tickets or more information.