R-S Theatrics Continues To Knock It Out Of The Park- This Time With “Love? Actually…”

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Sarajane Alverson sings during the opening act cabaret at R-S Theatrics “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

Specializing in works that have never played our area, R-S Theatrics has brought us a three act musical extravaganza, mostly about unrequited love, under the umbrella title of “Love? Actually…” Opening with an out of a bowl cabaret, they move on to give us a beautiful operatic piece based on a French fable with a little twist and then closes with a one-act musical by today’s hottest composer/lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda. By the way, R-S will be performing his first full-length musical next season, “In The Heights.”

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Omega Jones performs in the cabaret section of “Love? Actually…” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Since both one-act musicals are short- about 20 to 25 minutes each, they’ve fleshed out the evening with a unique concept. Audience members who have been chosen by a “secret lottery” come on stage and draw performers and musical numbers out of three on stage bowls to determine how the first act of entertainment will go. One is for soloists, the next for duets and finally a group number. Everything from Gooch’s number from “Mame” to the silly “A Song Like This” from “Spamalot” were performed by this talented cast the evening I attended. Of course, each evening will be different. Clever and we get to see some of the versatility of the singers before we get into the “meat” of the program.

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Eileen Engel and Lindsay Gingrich in “Thyrsis & Amaranth” at R-S Theatrics production of “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

I have never heard of Steven Serpa but I’ll be looking for more from this talented composer after hearing his delightfully melodic score for the one-act musical, “Thyrsis & Amaranth.” Based on one of the fables by La Fontaine (yes, I had to look it up), the original tale had a shepherd and shepherdess discussing the unusual pain felt from this feeling called love and the resulting pain from unrequited love. Mr. Serpa has updated the story to a modern wedding and the characters have been changed to a pair of bridesmaids. One has secret feelings for the other but the object of her affection never has a clue and, in fact, is more interested in one of the groomsmen. No matter the gender, we’ve all been through that sinking feeling when you realize the one you love from afar is even further away than you can imagine.

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Lindsay Gingrich pines in the background while Eileen Engel has other thoughts on her mind in “Thyrsis & Amaranth” at R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Eileen Engel is absolutely perfect in the almost “will o’ the wisp” role of Amaranth. She listens to her friend but has her mind elsewhere and isn’t picking up on the clues to her feelings. Lindsay Gingrich is the love sick Thyrsis as she pours her heart and soul into her attempt to seduce but to no avail. Wedding guests and even the bride and groom move through the scene in silent animation as this heart-breaking story unfolds. With the gorgeous music and wrenching lyrics of Steven Serpa, “Thyrsis & Amaranth” becomes the main feature of the evening managing to even trump the wildly entertaining final piece by Mr. Miranda.

Called “21 Chump Street,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s take on the plot of the film “21 Jump Street,” sees a young police officer infiltrating a high school in order to nab drug peddlers. She dupes a young man who shows interest in her but is not involved in the drug culture to score her some marijuana. As the officer, Naomi, Natasha Toro plays it hard nosed all the way. She responds to the flirtations of Justin, played with a raw innocence by Kelvin Urday and, despite his hesitation, he manages to land some weed and thus falls into her trap and is arrested. One burning question is evident as Justin sums it up at play’s end.

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Natasha Toro as Naomi in “21 Chump Street” at “Love? Actually…” presented by R-S Theatrics. Photo: Michael Young

Sarajane Alverson is the narrator/teacher and does a wonderful job while three male students round out the cast as they hip hop and grind their way through the delicious Taylor Pietz choreography. Kevin L. Corpuz, Omega Jones, and Phil Leveling shine as they back up Justin in his attempts to woo the new “student” with numbers like “Everybody’s Got A Cousin” (who can score some pot). With the typical powerful music and delightful lyrics that we’ve come to love from this “Hamilton” creator, “21 Chump Street” closes out a perfect evening of unrequited love that is also the main theme of the opening cabaret.

Director Christina Rios has the knack to bring these tales to glorious life and, ably assisted by the wonderful work of the aforementioned Taylor Pietz and the grounding work of musical director and pianist Leah Luciano, makes this another thought provoking and highly charged evening of theatre from R-S Theatrics. The set design work of Keller Ryan is impeccable and the lights of Nathan Schroeder are just the right touch for the small Westport stage while Amy Harrison’s costumes are wonderfully appropriate from the matching bridesmaids dresses to the bursts of color for the students.

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Kelvin Urday as Justin pleads with Natasha Toro as Naomi in “21 Chump Street” at the R-S Theatrics presentation of “Love? Actually…” Photo: Michael Young

Although the small interior of the Playhouse at Westport Plaza is a nice, cozy space, I don’t think it will accommodate the crowds that will begin to swarm to this wonderful evening when word gets out. This is a winner in every sense of the word and it plays only through September 18th. Give R-S Theatrics a call at 314-252-8812 to get your tickets or more information on “Love? Actually…”

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