Archive for June, 2016

Bright, Breezy And Simply Dazzling- “42nd Street”Takes Over The Muny Stage

June 27, 2016

42-42It’s the ultimate backstage musical that has wowed audiences for years. But the Muny has brought a show that simply staggers in scope and dazzles with those tapping feet in this version of “42nd Street.” It never lets up and even after the curtain call, they try to top themselves with a golden staircase and a reprise not to be missed.

Director and choreographer Denis Jones appears to be infused with the soul and spirit of Busby Berkley as he has captured the era of the 30’s in both style and substance. The musical numbers are unparalleled and the talented cast executes with that same spirit. Shuler Hensley is a tough Julian Marsh with a bit of a marshmallow center. His lead on “Lullaby Of Broadway” is spectacular and has the audience gasping for air along with the exhausted dancers. What a number!

42-peggyNewcomer Jonalyn Saxer is the little waif, Peggy Sawyer, who turns into an overnight sensation. Let’s hope she returns to the Muny stage very soon- a real find. Veteran Emily Skinner does a star turn as Dorothy Brock and, I can’t help it, I just love her number, “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me.” Jay Armstrong Johnson is delightful as the brash Billy Lawlor and does a great job with the quintessential number, “Dames.”

42-dorothyAnn Hardada and Jason Kravits are stand outs as the creators of the show that’s about to go on tour and stop the second act with their “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” number. A strong ensemble and singing and dancing chorus simply amaze with their dexterity and stamina. It wasn’t the hottest night of the year so far at the Muny, but it certainly took every ounce of sheer will and electrolytes to get through this one.

Musical director Ben Whiteley led a strong orchestra and the clever set design by Michael Schweikardt fit the mood perfectly. Rob Denton’s lights were exquisite and the costume design of Andrea Lauer was nothing short of brilliant including the wonderful chorus numbers that belied the depression of the era that brought such bright, sprightly shows to the forefront.

42-finaleAfter a season that kept me away from the Muny in my (still) role of caregiver, it was great to get back in the saddle and see what this place was designed for- big, splashy musicals that entertain a new generation as well as treat us old timers to a bit of nostalgia on a grand and glorious scale. Catch “42nd Street” at the Muny through June 30th and then enjoy the essential summer, 4th of July musical next week as “The Music Man” comes to the stage.

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Stages’ 30th Season Opens With Contemporary Comedy, “It Shoulda Been You”

June 24, 2016

itshouldA big anniversary season for Stages-St. Louis and they open it with a light, contemporary musical that closed on Broadway last season- “It Shoulda Been You.” The terrific cast breezes through this unusual offering and makes it perhaps better than it really is. Veterans and newcomers alike punch the laugh lines and make the unimpressive score soar. What really works is the unexpected twists throughout the play that make this wedding day something you’re not likely to experience yourself and certainly not anything like the romantic movie musicals of old. But it all works.

itshould-toastWith a book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music by Barbara Anselmi, “It Should Been You” throws the audience for a loop with some mature themes and then the bombshell happenings that change the whole feel of the typical happy wedding day. It’s surprising but certainly refreshing and works well when you go with the flow and embrace the concept. The dueling mothers of the bride and groom are intense and Stages’ veterans Zoe Vonder Haar and Kari Ely practically steal the show with their pointed barbs and steely eyed looks. These two ladies have been entertaining audiences for years- especially at Stages- and they don’t disappoint with these two brilliant performances.

itshould-hairClaire Manship as Jenny takes the major spotlight, however, as the second fiddle to younger sister Rebecca who is getting married. Deemed to overweight by her mother and believing the years of emotional abuse that makes her feel inferior to Rebecca in every way, she breaks out of her shell as the evening goes on and really drives it home with the show-stopping number, “Jenny’s Blues.”

Stacie Bono and Jeff Sears make a lovely bride and groom and carry through with their “little secret” while entertaining with strong singing voices and superb stage presence. David Schmittou is excellent as the father of the groom who tries to break out of his stoic attitude with his son and it turns into an entertaining, if awkward, song and dance number. Michael Marotta is equally adept at carrying off the father of the bride duties with humor. And Zal Owen is a charmer as Marty- the fly in the ointment and Rebecca’s ex boyfriend while Jessie Hooker is a delight as the bride’s best friend, Annie. And Erik Keiser also shines as the groom’s best man.

itshould-twodanceAlbert, the wedding planner, is a model of efficiency as portrayed by Edward Juvier with his uncanny psychic abilities and easily adapting to every emergency that inevitably pops up on every wedding day. Morgan Amiel Faulkner does a brilliant turn as horny Aunt Sheila and John Flack makes a few brief but memorable appearances as hard of hearing Uncle Morty. More excellent work by veteran Stages perfumers Steve Isom and Michele Burdette Elmore as the over zealous catering staff.

Rounding out the cast are Brad Frenette and Missy Karle. Director and choreographer, Stephen Bourneuf gives the light touch with great results. Great pacing makes the show bounce along and, without an intermission and just at two hours long, it doesn’t seem overly long. Lisa Campbell Albert provides musical direction, Garth Dunbar’s costumes are beautiful and the Sean M. Savoie lighting strikes just the right chord. The complex and constantly changing set design of James Wolk is nothing short of marvelous. Being a new play to me, I thought we might be treated to French farce seeing six doors on stage, but they get a surprising number of uses as they transform throughout the evening.

itshould-weddingparty“It Shoulda Been You” is an unusual choice for Stages who normally go for established musical fare. But this contemporary comedy is an excellent choice to open this significant anniversary season. It doesn’t blow you away like some of their productions but offers a delightful take on an age-old tradition that’s anything but predictable. Enjoy “It Shoulda Been You” through July 3rd at Stages-St. Louis. Contact them at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

 

Insight Opens Season With Strong Sondheim Classic: “Company”

June 22, 2016
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Bobby’s birthday is a time for contemplation in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: John Lamb

Only the second musical that had music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and it won a slew of awards including a Tony for best musical of 1970. After quite an absence on area stages, “Company” has returned and Insight Theatre Company gives us a touching look back at this iconic production. A delightful cast gives this sometimes dark and sombre musical a wonderful treatment thanks to the spot-on direction of Doug Finlayson.

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Martin Fox as Bobby and Laurie McConnell as Joanne in Insight Theatre Company’s “Company.” Photo: Peter Spack

Bobby is turning 35 and is still single- a fact not lost on the five couples surrounding him in his apartment complex. Throughout the evening and beyond they offer advice- some good, some bad, some questionable- as they plan a surprise party that isn’t really a surprise. Add three of the girls he is currently seeing, and you’ve got a mix that keeps this show moving in several directions at once. Martin Fox captures the essence of Bobby in a spectacular performance that culminates in the most solid presentation of the epic finale, “Being Alive,” that I’ve ever seen. The character he develops throughout the evening makes his frightened plea in this song plausible and heart-wrenching.

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Cherylnn Alvarez and John Hey in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company. Photo: Peter Spack

The droll, almost stoic performance of Michael Brightman as Larry is a stand out as well. While Laurie McConnell as his wife, Joanne, brings a sexy, boozy quality to her and then just blows the roof off the theater with her rendition of another Sondheim classic from the show, “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Jonathan Hey as David and Cherlynn Alvarez as Jenny seem to be the most stable of all the couples as their comfort with each other and their life bolsters Bobby’s confidence in married life.

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Stephanie Long as Amy has a few doubts about “Getting Married Today” in Insight Theatre Company’s production of “Company.” Photo: Peter Spack

Phil Leveling as Harry and Meghan Baker’s Sarah always seem to be in competition with each other to the point of an impromptu karate match in their living room. Cole Gutmann as Peter and Taylor Pietz as the Southern charmer, Susan, are on the road to divorce but they are still together and seem to be in love- which adds to Bobby’s confusion. Which leads to him to another great Sondheim number that he crushes, “Someone Is Waiting.”

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Bailey Reeves, Melissa Gerth and Samantha Irene in the iconic “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” in “Company” at Insight. Photo: Peter Spack

Matt Pentecost is Paul and Stephanie Long is Amy and she does a great job with Sondheim’s breath-taking (literally) number, “Getting Married Today.” Finally we have the three women in Bobby’s life currently starting with the ditzy airline hostess, April. Bailey Reeves gives her real charm and she joins the other two in a striking moment in their love/hate relationship with Bobby in “You Could Drive A Person Crazy.” Melissa Gerth does double duty as Kathy and the show’s choreographer and shines in both roles. Finally, Samantha Irene plays the quirky Marta.

The impressive Peter Spack set design is a multi-level, modern look and Laura Hanson’s costumes are very effective. Although the show is somewhat dark in content, the actors should not be in the dark. David Blake’s lights are erratic- particularly on the extensively used upper level. Some singers get their heads cut off or are left completely in the dark.

Besides the lights, opening night was a bit ragged at times. But the show is so tight that those few missteps will be taken care of as the show continues. Also, it didn’t appear that the show was “updated” which means that the opening sequence in which Bobby uses a cell phone is a bit off-putting.

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The married couples brighten up Bobby’s Day with “Side By Side By Side” as the second act opens at Insight’s “Company.” Photo: John Lamb

“Company” is dear to the hearts of us long-time Stephen Sondheim fans who played the LP of the original cast until the grooves wore down. It’s good to see it holds up as a bit of nostalgia and Doug Finlayson and his cast has given us something we can love all over again. See “Company” at Insight Theatre Company through July 3rd. Contact them at 314-556-1293 for tickets or more information.

Southern Charm Mixes With Southern Sarcasm At Stray Dog Theatre’s “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress”

June 19, 2016
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Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson and Frankie Ferrari dishing the dirt during “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

Five bridesmaids get together after the wedding and dish on the bride, the groom, and life in general in “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Reminiscent of a lot of similar Southern comedies featuring female casts, it reminds me most of the great play, “Vanities” (I wish someone would produce that one again). Film and TV writer kingpin, Alan Ball, wrote this laugh filled comedy and the Stray Dog cast squeezes every laugh out of the script.

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The girls of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The reception is at the bride’s family manse and her sister, Meredith, explodes into her own room ticked off about something only to run into the ditzy Frances already seeking refuge there. They begin to commiserate as the other ladies eventually enter- all trying to avoid the party, the people and the awkward occasion. Seems that none of the ladies, including the sister, can understand why they’ve been chosen as bridesmaids since none of them like the bride and feel the bride doesn’t like them.

Sarajane Alverson leads the way as the calm, cool and almost collected voice of reason as Trisha. That doesn’t hold her back from dishing the dirt with the rest of the girls. She really is a fine actress who tackles a wide range of roles with depth of character- even in a silly little comedy like this one. Eileen Engel as Frances, is the typical uptight Southern Belle ¬†as she reminds everyone constantly that “she doesn’t drink, do drugs (fill in the blank) because she is a Christian.”

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Sister of the bride (Lindsay Gingrich) has conspicuously changed into more comfortable tennis shoes as the girls of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” continue ignoring the reception going on outside. Photo: John Lamb

Shannon Nara delights as a flaky Georgeanne who, at one point declares that she “may be a bitch and may be a slut- but she has her standards.” Lindsay Gingrich is the disgruntled sister Meredith and, despite being sister to the bride, has no problem bashing her as much as the other ladies do.

Frankie Ferrari is wonderful as the lesbian sister of the groom who has a wry, dry sense of humor and quips her way through the funny script. Rounding out the cast is Kevin O’Brien as one of the boys they all seem to have had relations with of one sort or another and he, for some reason, shows up in the room at play’s end and hooks up with Trisha.

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Last minute touch-ups at the vanity mean nothing as the ladies never quite make the reception in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress.” Photo: John Lamb

As a Southern pastiche almost like one of Ball’s more famous sit-coms, “Designing Women” with a slight mix of the Cybill Shepherd comedy he wrote, this works for an evening of fun and light entertainment that keeps the audience laughing all night long. Stray Dog Artistic Director, Gary F. Bell has directed the show with an emphasis on those laughs and keeps the play moving at a good pace. Eileen Engel does double duty as costumer and has managed to make five of the ugliest bridesmaids dresses you’re likely to see- no matter how many weddings you’ve been in. Mr. Bell also designed the effective set and Tyler Duenow’s lights enhance the proceedings.

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The ladies pose during the finale of “Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

“Five Women Wearing The Same Dress” sparkles with a charming cast who really deliver the goods. They make the most of the behind-the-scenes look at bridesmaids letting it all hang out after a wedding none of them would have attended had they not been in the wedding party. You’re invited- it plays through June 25th at Stray Dog Theatre. Give them a call at 865-1995 for tickets or more information.

New Line’s “Atomic”Cast Brings The Morality Of The Bomb To The Forefront

June 5, 2016
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Reynaldo Arceno, Zachary Allen Farmer and Sean Michael go over blueprints in “Atomic” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The Manhattan Project, which created the atom bomb, is usually portrayed as a pioneering moment for the scientists involved in solving the riddle of the right mix of atoms, fission and the spark to make it all into a weapon of mass destruction. What “Atomic,” the musical does is show us the struggles of those scientists with the issues of morality that haunted them from their creation. What hath man wrought? Either the story of creating the bomb or this moral landscape that they suddenly discovered when they realized it would destroy a mass amount of innocent human beings doesn’t sound like a good basis for a musical. But a talented New Line cast manages to make it a gripping tale of men and women feeling for their fellow man.

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Ann Hier and Zachary Allen Farmer in a duet from New Line’s “Atomic.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

With book and lyrics by Danny Ginges and music and lyrics by Philip Foxman, “Atomic” really does not resonate like some of the more outrageous musicals that New Line has become famous for. And in the wrong hands, this could, if you’ll pardon the expression, blow up in their faces. But directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy have energized the story by casting powerful singers and actors and bringing out the heart of the story without getting too sappy or preachy.

Zachary Allen Farmer leads the way as Leo Szilard, the “neutron” man who tackles that particular dilemma of the problem. He is the most passionate about suddenly realizing what they have done and the consequences such a bomb will have on millions of people. He’s always been a solid performer and singer and this show really gives him the chance to show off his acting chops. As his girlfriend and eventual wife, Ann Hier is superb as Trude Weiss. She sympathizes with his torment but also knows that what has been created cannot be undone.

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Members of the Manhattan Project in “Atomic” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Bringing a certain stoicism and some of the best humor of the evening to the table is Ryan Scott Foizey as Arthur Compton. He is also a consummate professional who we just don’t see enough of on local stages anymore. Reynaldo Arceno is the hard-nosed member of this scientific family as Enrico Fermi. Another powerful singing voice and a strong-willed determination to make their project a success. Larissa White shines again, this time as the level-headed Leona Woods who must play devils advocate and keep the order in this often disruptive group.

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Larissa White, Victoria Valentine and Ann Heir assume the persona of the Andrews Sisters for New Line’s latest musical, “Atomic.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Jeffrey M. Wright plays the dual role of Paul Tibbets and later as the “face” of the Manhattan Project, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Another solid performer who has been doing well on the cabaret circuit but we really miss his powerful performances on the local stage as well. Sean Michael is solid as Edward Teller- part of the scientific family and rounding out the cast is a delightful performance by Victoria Valentine in multiple roles including a bartender, physicist and a wonderful turn with the other two girls in the second act opener as a would-be Andrews Sisters trio.

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A powerful moment in “Atomic” at New Line Theatre (facing us is Jeffrey M. Wright, Reynaldo Arceno and Larissa White. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

As always, New Line’s musical maestro, Jeffrey Richard Carter has put a splendid band together- this time featuring the addition of strings which lend an authentic touch to the period. Rob Lippert’s set and lighting design is spectacular. Playing in the center with audience members on each side makes for a more intimate setting and helps to get into the mindset of these concerned (for the most part) scientists when they realize what their weapon will be doing. Sarah Porter’s costumes are perfect for the era and Benjamin Rosemann’s sound design is a beautiful complement to Mr. Lippert’s special lighting effects for the testing of the bomb.

Not the usual rabble-rousing and somewhat irreverent musical that we’ve become accustomed to, but “Atomic” is da bomb anyway but in a more subtle, almost sophisticated way. Catch is at New Line at the Marcelle Theater through June 25th. Contact them at newlinetheatre.com for more information or to order tickets.

“Macbeth” Makes First Appearance At OTSL With Strong Direction And Performances

June 1, 2016
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Photo: Ken Howard

A powerful score by Giuseppe Verdi leads this brilliant production of “Macbeth” at Opera Theatre-St. Louis. This is the first go-round for this opera at OTSL and it makes a big splash with strong voices, magnificent acting and an eerie presence. Having just seen “Trash Macbeth” at ERA earlier, this is a great complement to the lunacy of that production- they both tell the story but both get the Shakespeare tragedy across with a new twist.

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Photo: Ken Howard

Conductor Stephen Lord got a grand reception on opening night and it is well deserved for his reputation alone. But he takes the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra to new heights with this unusual but very Verdi score. Roland Wood is a somewhat stoic yet powerful presence as Macbeth. His fine baritone commands the stage from the opening with the coven of witches through his fear at a court banquet when Banquo’s ghost appears into the final battle. Robert Pomakov is a steely and malevolent Banquo. After his death at the hands of Macbeth, he makes an eerie appearance that matches the dark and ominous mood of the play.

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Photo: Ken Howard

Julie Makerov blows us away as Lady Macbeth. Her lovely soprano leads the way through her plotting and planning death to her eventual spin into madness. It’s a truly outstanding ¬†performance that shakes the OTSL audience to the rafters. The entire company including the chorus are just magnificent. A beautiful blend of voices combine to make the ensemble pieces simply ring with power and wonderful harmony.

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Photo: Ken Howard

Strong stage direction by Lee Blakeley and choreography by Sean Curran make this a must see of the season. The bloody final battle is very effective. The grim and dark set design of Alex Eales fits the play perfectly and the wonderful lights of Christopher Akerlind keep the dark theme going with spots of hot, white light popping up in many of the scenes to provide startling contrasts.

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Photo: Ken Howard

Verdi’s music is very unusual for such a bloody and brooding play with several lighter interjections among the many appropriate arias and ensemble pieces. But it fits the play so well and transitions the scenes very well.

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Photo: Ken Howard

“Macbeth” is a worthy addition to the 2016 season offering a classic composer with a classic Shakespeare tragedy to great effect. It plays in repertory with three other operas and has a final performance on June 26th. Contact Opera Theatre-St. Louis at 314-961-0644 for tickets or more information on the season.