Archive for March, 2016

“Old Wicked Songs” At New Jewish Bonds Two Generations With The Help Of Schumann

March 18, 2016
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Jerry Vogel as Mashkan and Will Bonfiglio as Stephen in “Old Wicked Songs” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

The young and the old lock in a battle during the insightful play, “Old Wicked Songs,” at New Jewish Theatre. We know the “old” will win out from the very beginning but it’s fascinating to watch both on this journey of growth and understanding. With Schumann’s song cycle “Dichterliebe” leading them, the two go through the expected series of emotions as they attempt to expand their artistic capabilities.

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Professor Mashkan (Jerry Vogel) tries to instruct Stephen (Will Bonfiglio) as he attempts the song cycle in “Old Wicked Songs” presented by New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Two of the best local actors- one young, one older- meet to create these meaningful characters who we learn to love as the evening progresses. Jerry Vogel is the wise and somewhat weary Professor Mashkan who has fallen on hard times at the university in Vienna, Austria. The students are no longer beating down his door to study with him. In fact, the only student he has managed to acquire is a former child prodigy pianist from America who has somehow lost his spark and attempts to recapture it by studying piano in Vienna. That student is Will Bonfiglio as Stephen Hoffman who is surprised and angry to find out that his piano professor, Dr. Schilling, has passed him off to vocal professor Mashkan in an attempt to make him aware and appreciative of the singer in the process by studying vocal interpretation.

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Jerry Vogel contemplates his latest student in the New Jewish production of “Old Wicked Songs.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Schumann’s song cycle becomes a major character as his “Dichterliebe” or “Poet’s Love” divides the scenes of the play into eight “movements” and a “Coda.” Using the poetry of Heinrich Heine’s “Lyrisches Intermezzo,” Schumann has created a lovely cycle which incorporates the unity of sadness and joy that Professor Mashkan believes every artist must experience before becoming truly great. So these two seemingly opposite characters build a relationship that goes beyond the music into emotions that are deep and help them to know each other as well as help each other.

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Jerry Vogel as Professor Mashkan explains the pain and joy that must infuse your work to Will Bonfiglio as Stephen Hoffman in “Old Wicked Songs” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Playwright Jon Marans has created a play that ebbs and flows like a musical composition. Yes, the music is at the heart of the production but the real heart in the production is the strength and resolve of teacher and student and the life lessons they each learn from one another. It’s a beautiful script handled by two truly great actors. Tim Ocel has directed with heart as well. We suffer through the pains of the professor as he attempts to hold onto his dignity while charging for the pastry he serves to his student in order to afford a cab. We also see the pain of lost drive and talent from the young man as he tries to be strong and in control until he realizes that this man and he have so much in common.

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Teacher and student embrace during a moment of painful discovery in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Old Wicked Songs.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

The Dunsi Dai set design is exquisite- an atelier music studio in 1986 Vienna. It becomes another matter for discussion between the two men as the younger one prefers the modern buildings in his native America while the professor tries to show him the beauty of the older buildings in his home. Maureen Berry’s lighting design is beautifully imagined and kudos to sound designer Robin Weatherall in coordinating the masterful music of Schumann to the two characters as they delve into the music and lyrics of the “Dichterliebe.” Appropriate costumes from Michele Friedman Siler who shows the steadiness of the professor as opposed to the transitions of Stephen.

Take two incredible actors and give them a beautiful script and you get “Old Wicked Songs.” This production runs at New Jewish Theatre through April 3rd.

 

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“Molly’s Hammer” At Rep Studio Proves A Peek Into The Past Reveals Our Future

March 16, 2016
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Joe Osheroff as Bill and Nancy Bell as Molly in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

A world premiere at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre featured an opening night audience that included the playwright and the subject of her play, Molly Rush. “Molly’s Hammer” proves a worthy addition to the cannon of stories about protesters who make a difference- in both big and small ways.

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Nancy Bell as Molly and Kevin Orton- this time as Daniel Berrigan in the Rep Studio production of “Molly’s Hammer.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Set in 1980 and into 1981, “Molly’s Hammer” tells the story of one woman’s crusade to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. From her home in Pennsylvania, we see her washing dishes in the opening scene and telling us about her concerns for her children in a world where one push of a button could start a war that would “nuke” the entire world. Despite protests about her action from her husband, Bill, Molly decides to join activists Daniel and Phillip Berrigan and others in a trip to the General Electric plant to participate in a peaceful protest against a company that provides warheads for the nuclear weapons. Molly takes her trusty household hammer along and starts hitting those warheads and even succeeds in breaking one.

Father Daniel Berrigan had been jailed many times for civil disobedience and now Molly must sacrifice being with her family and join him in jail while watching her husband begrudgingly soon leaning toward her side. It really becomes a matter of do I give up the things I love and worked for in order to make a statement and hopefully make even a small change? Which leads to the next question- will any of this make a difference? Molly feels it is a sacrifice worth making and, after we see her (back home in the comfort of her family), we do too.

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Nancy Bell wielding the infamous hammer as Molly Rush in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Studio Theatre. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The incredible Nancy Bell delivers a bravura performance as the somewhat mousy yet dedicated Molly. Showing her performing the domestic tasks such as washing dishes, folding laundry and helping her son with his homework, it is a sharp contrast to the feisty- if low-key- determination in her fight to rid the world of such weapons. She enfolds the audience in her cause and you can’t help but admire her tenacity.

Joe Osheroff is wonderful as her sympathetic yet frustrated husband. We see their love unfold through a series of flashbacks and soon understand why this helps to eventually bind them even closer together. It helps that Bill has his list of reasons determined to stop Molly’s crusade but each one, as it is laid out, seems to fall apart next to the force of her cause. A truly brilliant performance is turned in by Kevin Orton as all of the other characters. From Daniel Berrigan to her twelve-year-old son to the smarmy judge and others, he makes each character spring to live- sometimes juxtaposing each other. It’s a true tour de force.

 

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Nancy Bell as Molly consoling her twelve-year-old, played by Kevin Orton in the Rep Studio production of “Molly’s Hammer.” ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Director Set Gordon tells a dynamic story in the simplest of terms. It resonates with today’s audience because of how close we may be again to a dangerous time in history where the world could easily become endangered by the worst enemy of all- man. The Gianni Downs set design is a magnificent series of bright red scaffolding intersected with plywood squares and rectangles woven in. Combined with the great lighting and projection designs of Mark Wilson, it makes for a powerful statement enhancing the otherwise simply told story. Lou Bird provides a lovely costume design as well.

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Kevin Orton as the judge admonishing Molly in “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Make no mistake, this story has parallels to today’s world. Protests are erupting  in response to men instead of machines, but the underlying threat is still there. For those of us who lived through these (and other terrifying times), it simply reminds us of no matter how things change, they really stay the same. Originally conceived as a long one-act, “Molly’s Hammer” has been shifted to two 45-minute or so acts. I think the play could be cut here and there to trim it down to a more reasonable one-act but it’s still satisfying because of the content and, more importantly, because of the trio of actors and straightforward direction.

Catch “Molly’s Hammer” at the Rep Studio between now and March 27th. For some it will be nostalgia, for some it will be a history lesson, for all it should be a sobering moment of how the past can reflect the present and future.

Teen Angst Continues At New Line Theatre With “American Idiot”

March 6, 2016
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The three friends, played by Frederick Rice, Brendan Ochs and Evan Fornachon try to plan their lives in “American Idiot” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Musicals about angry and angst-ridden teens have been successful in the past at New Line Theatre- most notably “Hair” and “Rent.” Now the post 9-11 crowd gets to put their voices out there with Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Thanks to the New Line corp of young talent, it works beautifully with singers that are actors leading the way and the pulsing sounds of the Green Day score carrying us along.

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Brendan Ochs and Larrisa White confront the reality of their relationship in New Line’s “American Idiot.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Three friends are introduced after the stirring words of W echo throughout the small auditorium in his post 9-11 rhetoric. Although their lives take different directions, they are united in their search for answers to a world no one seems to understand anymore. Evan Fornachon is a stand-out as the tripped out Johnny. With Sarah Porter as his sometimes girlfriend (he even refers to her as Whatsername), this duo together and separately carry some of the best music in the powerful score. The plaintiff “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” stops the audience cold with pithy lyrics and a captivating melody. From tender moments to raucous sex, this couple is a brilliant statement on the sentiment of the time.

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Part of the company of “American Idiot” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The other guys in the group include Brendan Ochs as Will and Frederick Rice as Tunny. Will plays house with Heather and is soon saddled with a baby. They both shine, particularly in the “Too Much Too Soon” sequence. Heather, a powerful portrayal by Larrisa White, stops the show with Clayton Humburg in their “Rock And Roll Girlfriend” number. Tunny joins the Army and is wounded and hallucinates during a PTSD/drug induced number, “Extraordinary Girl” with Sicily Mathenia as a Liberty-wannabe.

Another stand-out is Chris Kernan as St. Jimmy- a pusher, philosopher, panderer who explodes in several numbers including his swan song. As in any show exploring such intense subjects, the ensemble is an important part- taking on supporting roles and driving the music and dance with a frenzy that keeps the audience moving to the beat. The New Line ensemble includes Kevin Corpuz, Cameisha Cotton, Jeremy Hyatt, Omega Jones, Sean Michael, Ariel Saul, Tanya Sapp and Gabe Taylor.

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Sarah Porter and Evan Fornachon with ensemble in New Line’s “American Idiot.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Nothing would work in this production withoutthe wonderful New Line Band led by Sue Goldford- also on keyboards. Clancy Newell gets to shine as percussionist and the twin guitarists (with many more guitars they switch out during the show) are D. Mike Bauer and Aaron Doerr. Andrew Gurney is on bass and then the unusual use of strings include Twinda Murry on violin and Jessica Nations on cello.

Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy bring their usual spirit and flair to the proceedings and keep the show moving at a frenetic pace on a stage that’s long but not very deep. Sarah Porter doubles up on costume design and the Rob Lippert set works beautifully in the small surroundings. Kenneth Zinkl’s lights also enhance the production. The driving force behind it all is the great score of Green Day. From the chilling “21 Guns” to the unusual closing number- “Time Of Your Life”- it flows and gets the point across.

Check out newlinetheatre.com to get ticket info or more information on this outstanding show. “American Idiot” plays at the Marcelle Theater through March 26th.