Archive for January, 2016

“Georama” Offers An Unusual And Surprisingly Good Musical At The Rep Studio

January 24, 2016
Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Jillian Louis as Elizabeth and P.J. Griffith as John in “Georama” at the Rep Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniak.

Come for the “Georama,” stay for the fine acting, singing and great story that, according to the opening number, is about someone who should be known but isn’t. In the mid-ninteenth century, vaudeville and showboats were the entertainment of the day. A young sketch artist named John Banvard was “discovered” by a man named Taylor (who would later become quite a showman himself) and Banvard was soon designing backdrops for shows on the showboat.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Randy Blair as the soon to be famous P.T. Barnum in the Rep Studio production of “Georama.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

When the showboat owner wanted more, John Banvard came up with the idea for a moving panorama behind the actors that would transfer the action in the blink of an eye. This sparked the idea that made him his fortune, a giant moving panorama- now called a georama- that depicted the life all along the Mississippi River. It became a sensation and soon grew to a 3,000 foot extravaganza that traveled around the world complete with music and narration. When his ideas were soon stolen my other artists and entrepreneurs including the aforementioned Taylor who later became P.T. Barnum. his lavish life soon bankrupted him and eventually wiped his accomplishments from the history books. To add to his and the other johnny-come-latelys misfortunes, the art of photography soon came into prominence which almost made these panoramic scenes superfluous.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

P.J. Griffith as Banvard, Dan Sharkey as Chapman and Jillian Louis as Elizabeth in “Georama” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Now, thanks to the book of “Georama” by West Huler and Matt Schatz and music and lyrics by Schatz and Jack Herrick, we are finally introduced to Banvard and his incredible invention. Even they had trouble putting the story together since there is little in print about Banvard’s life and times. P.J. Griffith plays the dreamer, John Banvard, with a relish and optimism that is like no other. He cuts a dashing figure and his enthusiasm is infectious. He soon meets a preacher’s daughter who comes up with idea to enliven his panorama and comes up with the name “georama-” which is appropriate since it spans the entire length of the Mississippi. Jillian Louis is a lovely singer/actress who helps in the success and business decisions of John. She also joins in the music with a turn at the piano.

Georama presented by The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis on Jan 19, 2016

Elizabeth (Jillian Louis) and John (P.J. Griffith) land in London with their show in “Georama” at the Rep Studio Theatre. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Playing Taylor is Randy Blair who turns his character into the scheming and double-dealing P.T. Barnum. Always claiming to have the interests of John at heart, he soon leads to the downfall of his friend. Dan Sharkey plays the showboat captain and several other characters including the preacher and a star turn as Queen Victoria in a delightfully naughty number. Rounding out the cast are Emily Mikesell and Jacob Yates as musicians and joining in the acting chores from time to time.

With a real flavor for the period, this one-act, 90 minute musical is a real treat. Rousing music featuring piano and fiddle, a few ballads and even humorous numbers make for a varied and likable score. The script is also filled with clever lines and keeps the story moving quickly with dialogue and a bountiful number of songs. And, above all, the cast is a real charmer- you really like them all including the scoundrels.

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Dan Sharkey in his wonderful appearance as Queen Victoria with musicians Jacob Yates and Emily Mikesell in the background at the Rep’s “Georama” in the Studio. Photo: Peter Wochniack

Book writer West Hyler also directs this production with an eye for getting the story told without any wasted movement. The story zips along and we enjoy every minute of it. The real hero of our story, though, is scenic designer Scott C. Neale. His dynamic goerama, about 600 feet long, is a masterpiece in itself. We see some of Banvard’s work recreated but we also travel through locales along the journey with John and Elizabeth- the little church where they meet, their trips through the U.S. including Louisville, their opening in London, their trip to Egypt and their unsuccessful times in New York. It’s an incredible achievement and is a remarkable feat of engineering by the stage crew.

Margaret E. Weedon’s costumes are impeccable and just right for the period while Ann G. Wrightson provides the wonderful lighting design and Rusty Wandall’s sound design completes the flawless technical portion of “Georama.”

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P.J. Griffith as John with part of the magnificent Scott C. Neale georama in the background during the Rep Studio Theatre production of “Georama.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

This is simply an incredible piece for the Repertory Theatre Studio Theatre. How they accomplished this magnificent history lesson, filled with music and the spectacular georama is beyond belief- in a 90 minute show. Catch “Georama” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis now through February 7th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

 

 

 

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Royal Battle Lines Are Drawn In The Rep’s “The Lion In Winter”

January 16, 2016
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Jeffrey King as Henry and Carol Schultz as Eleanor in the Rep production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

12the Century England is starkly portrayed in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis opener for 2016, James Goldman’s masterpiece, “The Lion In Winter.” Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine aren’t on the best of terms but this seems to be de regueur for their marriage. But now Eleanor is out from her banishment to another castle for Christmas. An exile that Henry has placed her in for years. Now that their three sons are vying to be successor to the crown, the opportunity for king and queen and the three princes to scheme, plot and be on their worst behavior is ripe.

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Grayson DeJesus as Richard and Carol Schultz as Eleanor in “The Lion In Winter” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Goldman’s script is clever and, in the right actors’ hands (as it is here) at times can be hilarious. Sniping is the order of the day and the luscious delivery of Carol Schultz is perfect for the feisty Eleanor. Whether the line cuts like a knife or merely sarcastically and subtly pierce the armor, she delights in every turn of phrase. All the while she handles herself with the regal aplomb befitting the queen. Her desirable land in the Aquitaine is the reason for the long ago marriage in the first place and now she plans to give that land to the eldest, Richard. Henry feels the youngest, John, should be the next king and the middle son, Geoffrey, appears to be left in the lurch.

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Jeffrey King as Henry and Angela Janas as Alais Capet in the Rep’s production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Jeffrey King plays the king with the braggadocio that comes along with the territory. In spite of being outplayed time and again by Eleanor, he keeps his dignity and manages to meet her quip for quip throughout the play. And, in that long standing tradition of kings, Henry has a mistress- the current one being Alais Capet, daughter of the King of France. She is played with a great combination of innocence and allure by Angela Janas. She becomes a pawn that may prove more a detriment than an asset to Henry.

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Carol Schultz as Eleanor consoles Angela Janas as Alais in the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Lion In Winter.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The three sons are played with great diversity as they all have qualities that both help and hinder their drive for the throne. Grayson DeJesus is Richard, the steadiest of the three while Wilson Bridges languishes in the mediocrity that is the middle son. Finally, the foolish and perhaps a bit too immature John is given a strong portrayal by Kurt Hellerich. Rounding out the cast is Ryan Ward as Philip Capet, King of France. The cast is a strong one and offers a fascinating look at the squabbles that helped build England at this time in history.

The starkly cold yet effective set design of Joseph P. Tilford works beautifully in creating the mood of the period. Matthew J. LeFebvre’s costumes realistically portray the royals and the Thomas C. Hase lights continue the dark mood and hollowness that pervades the dank castle and its inhabitants.

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A scene from “The Lion In Winter” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Director extraordinaire Edward Stern returns to put his special stamp on “The Lion In Winter.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen the play on stage or re-watched the excellent film, but the humor brimming over throughout is not something I remember. It works so perfectly and enhances the story of this bickering and somewhat dysfunctional family. The 1966 Goldman script is just as powerful and delightful as it was when first written. Don’t miss this wonderfully acted and directed classic, “The Lion In Winter,” as it plays on the Rep Mainstage through January 31st. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.