Archive for July, 2017

Old Dog, New Tricks As “A Chorus Line” Gets A Fresh Look At The Muny

July 31, 2017

A fresh look at photos and resumes with the current production of “A Chorus Line” at the Muny.

I’ve never been a big fan of the children’s and teen chorus at the Muny through the years as they often distract from a musical that doesn’t need “fixing.” But this new look of “A Chorus Line” benefits from the younger kids as they serve as visual reminders of how these fledgling dancer/singers got the urge that got them this far. Thanks to director/choreographer Denis Jones, this somehow breathes new life into a show that never really got old or stagnant. It’s still the same, sparkling look at the heartbreak of auditioning, but this makes it so much more real.


Bianca Marroquin powers through the dynamic “Music and the Mirror” number in “A Chorus Line” at the Muny.

A brilliant cast including an outstanding chorus bring this Broadway love story to life. Bianca Marroquin leads the way as Cassie who has had a few star turns but is now trying to turn her life around again by auditioning for the chorus of a new show. The show’s director, Zach- a strong performance by Ivan Hernandez- is a former director and lover of Cassie and he keeps pushing her to tone it down- don’t pop the head, don’t flick the kicks, etc.- so she blends in the way a chorus member should. Her “Music and the Mirror” dance is breathtaking.


Hannah Florence delights with her description of improv in the Muny production of “A Chorus Line.”

Hannah Florence makes a delightful Diana who relates the story of how she couldn’t deal with acting class- especially the improv sessions where she had to “melt like an ice cream cone” and other ridiculous exercises. She then stops the show with the iconic “What I Did For Love.” Sean Harrison Jones also dazzles as Mike who envied his sister taking dance classes and insisting “I Can Do That.”


Sean Harrison Jones and his younger self and his sister’s younger self help explain how he got interested in dance during “A Chorus Line” at the Muny.

Paul’s touching story of dealing with coming out is handled with aplomb by Ian Paget. It’s a tale that really resonated with audiences back in the 70’s and, although not a musical number, has a cadence and delivery that truly soars like one of the marvelous songs by Marvin Hamlisch. Sharrod Williams delivers the edgy send off to “Hello Thirteen” with an in-your-face performance and Mackenzie Bell as Val titilates with the “Dance Ten, Looks Three” showstopper.


Ivan Hernandez as Zach sits in the Muny audience to instruct dancers on stage during “A Chorus Line.”

The entire cast simply radiates with this loving look at the gypsies that inhabit the background of most musicals. It has been the musical most endeared to everyone show has ever done theatre in any capacity. Musical director Ben Whiteley lovingly accompanies the dedicated actors who bring every ounce of love to the score. Andrea Lauer’s costumes hit the right notes as well.

The Paige Hathaway set design is effective but the use of the mirrors- particularly at the dramatic finale leave a little to be desired. Rob Denton’s lights are perfect and the visual look to Nathan W. Scheuer’s video designs enhance the proceedings as well.


The classic finale of “A Chorus Line” dazzles the Muny audience.

“A Chorus Line” is the definitive backstage musical and it never fails to disappoint. What the Muny has done is tweak it just enough to make it, for the most part, ¬†even more entertaining than is has been over the past 40-plus years. It makes it fresh without destroying the original intent and just makes us even happier to see it again. See “A Chorus Line” at the Muny through this Friday.


The LaBute New Theater Festival cont.

July 27, 2017

Reggie Pierre, Spencer Sickman and Ryan Lawson-Maeske screw with your mind in “How’s Bruno” at the LaBute New Theater Festival at St. Louis Actors’ Studio

That’s how it’s billed in the program at St. Louis Actors’ Studio- “LaBute New Theater Festival cont.” This one features, as usual, a return of the play specifically written for the festival by Neil LaBute and it’s nice to get to see it again and discover new meanings and nuances about the production. Then we have another absurdist play to round out the first act and a longer- almost an hour long- new production to finish the festival.

“Hate Crime” by Mr. LaBute and directed by John Pierson features a plot to kill a man’s new husband on the day of their wedding to be carried out by that man’s new lover. Chauncy Thomas and Greg Hunsaker are a powerful pair and you get subtle- and sometimes not so subtle- hints along the way that things are not going to go as planned. We don’t eventually find out just how things go if the wicked deed is carried out- but we get to speculate how we think it will all go.

“How’s Bruno” by Cary Pepper and directed by Nancy Bell is an absurdist look at how an innocent reply to a mistakenly sent email can cause a lot of problems. In this case, the silly dialogue and nonsensical situations are cause for a lot of laughs if not a lot of plot. Chauncy Thomas returns as a mysterious man in a jaunty hat who surreptitiously tries to pry information out of Spencer Sickmann who quickly becomes sorry he ever jokingly ¬†answered the email. Reggie Pierre and Ryan Lawson-Maeske provide more Monty Python-esque humor including stunning double-takes. It fails to close out satisfactorily but offers a lot of laughs and sight gags along the way.

Finally we have “Sin Titulo” by Tearrance Chisholm. Linda Kennedy directs with a keen eye and a sly wink of the eye with some of the dialogue and situations. Patrice Foster and Reggie Pierre are a married couple who are still smarting from the Trump upset. Even their apartment shows signs still hanging around from the prior election in 2008 which they also worked on diligently. Her brother, a good performance by Jaz Tucker, is a complicated character who causes more trouble than he’s worth. In fact, the play is more of a character study than anything else as these three interact on several levels as they struggle with their own existence and the fear they have of what their country may suffer. It’s a solid effort that could probably stand a bit more rewriting to make it a more cohesive script. But it’s really worth it just to hear Mr. Pierre belting out the title songs of old favorites like “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons.”


Jaz Tucker, Reggie Pierre and Patrice Foster try to resolve family and political matters in “Sin Titulo” at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presentation of the LaBute New Theater Festival.

This series of plays at St. Louis Actor’s Studio and the LaBute New Theater Festival closes this week end- July 30th. So get down there and catch some of the best theatre and actors you’ll find in our area. You won’t regret it.

Ron Himes To Be Honored At National Black Theatre Festival

July 20, 2017

himesA stalwart in our theatre community, Ron Himes, will be the recipient of the Larry Leon Hamlin Producer Award later this month at the 2017 National Black Theatre Festival. As the head of the Black Rep in St. Louis for 40 years, Mr. Himes has produced hundreds of plays including classics, contemporary, new plays and musicals- most relating to the African-American experience. Long revered both nationally and internationally as a major artistic institution, the Black Rep has garnered many awards and accolades over the years.

The National Black Theatre Festival is held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Mr. Himes’ award will be presented on July 31st along with such other distinguished awards including the Sidney Poitier Lifetime Achievement Award going to Lou Gossett. Mr. Himes’ award is given to the person who is recognized for profound contributions producers have made to the American Theatre and the entertainment industry as a whole. Larry Leon Hamlin, for whom the award is named, is the late Founder, Executive Producer and Artistic Director of the North Cariolina Black Repertory Company.

Other activities covering the 6 day Festival include theatre productions, workshops, films and seminars. Our congratulations go out to Ron Himes and the entire Black Rep organization. He will be directing the opener of their 41st season, “Dot” by Colman Domingo.

It’s Not Exactly Shakespeare- It’s Not Exactly Elvis, But “All Shook Up” Is Fun At The Muny

July 15, 2017

all-griesidickI’ve never been a big fan of the so called “jukebox” musicals where songs from an artist, singer, etc. are weaved into a story. Some are very successful like “Jersey Boys,” Mamma Mia” and the granddaddy of them all, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” These exceptions to the rule normally offer a bit more meat to the script. This week’s offering at the Muny is a lesser known one called “All Shook Up” and features the music of Elvis based very loosely on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

all-timcarolineAn enthusiastic cast, great direction and choreography and an eye-popping set design help weave a bit of a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. With Tim Rogan as the biker Chad and Caroline Bowman as mechanic Natalie, the usual twists and turns take place including gender bending high jinks and a few mistaken identities to shake up this 1950’s town that represents the beginnings of rock and roll. Both leads do a great job with singing, acting and gyrating hips. Hollis Resnik returns to the Muny stage as the mayor, while Felicia Finley and Liz Mikel do outstanding work as well. Local notables include Lara Teeter and Jerry Vogel while Barrett Riggins, Ciara Alyse Harris and Paul Schwensen round out the major cast.

all-hollisresnickThe energetic ensemble really comes to the forefront as so many of the Elvis hits turn into production numbers. Jessica Hartman provides the smart choreography that turns into a mix of 50’s and some updated moves that dazzle the audience. Steady direction by Dan Knechtges brings the semblance of a story to life- so reminiscent of other original productions of the genre including “Cry Baby” that New Line brought to us a few years back.

all-Those massive and spectacular sets designed by Luke Cantarella dominate the production along with the brilliant graphics designed by Greg Emetaz. Dynamic musical direction by Charlie Alterman rocks the 50’s sound and Leon Dobkowski’s costumes are every bit as colorful and fun as the set. And it’s all lit with bold strokes by John Lasiter.

all-groupMuch like the aforementioned “Mamma Mia,” you won’t find a lot to ponder with the plot of “All Shook Up.” Just sit back and have fun as you dance in the aisles to the hits of Elvis. Next week we get the more traditional “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” “All Shook Up” runs through July 19th.

LaBute Festival Rides High Again At St. Louis Actors’ Studio In Part I

July 8, 2017

Nancy Bell and Chauncy Thomas discuss politics in “Percentage America” at the LaBute New Theater Festival at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Fifth year and the LaBute New Theater Festival is just as feisty as ever. Once again, renowned playwright Neil LaBute attended opening night of the first of two sets of programs for the festival and has written the opening play especially for the program. St. Louis Actors’ Studio will once again carry these plays to New York in January but we get to see them in their first productions.

labute, chauncy,greg,

Chauncy Thomas and Greg Hunsaker eat a little, plot a little during “Hate Crimes” by Neil LaBute at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio LaBute New Theater Festival. Photo: Patrick Huber

Playwrights across the country submit scripts of their one act plays and a committee cuts them down to the plays to be presented here. This year, five new voices will be heard as well as Mr. LaBute’s new offering. His latest is “Hate Crime” and is directed by STLAS veteran actor and director, John Pierson. Chauncy Thomas and Greg Hunsaker play lovers who are plotting some very serious business. Both actors are intense and perform the often rambling script while leaving us on the edge of our seats. As a matter of fact, on opening night, the audience was most likely expecting another scene until you realize what really happened- don’t want to give it away, but you get enough hints throughout the telling dialogue leading up to the somewhat abrupt ending.


Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Spencer Sickmann and Reggie Pierre all wait for a train that may not come in “Waiting For Erie Lackawanna” at the LaBute New Theater Festival at STLAS. Photo: Patrick Huber

John Pierson directs the second offering of the evening as well, the witty script by Ron Radice called “Waiting For Erie Lackawanna.” A mix of “Waiting For Godot” and “No Exit,” three men wait on a platform for the Erie Lackawanna train but, as one person points out, that train hasn’t run for over twenty years. Absurdist dialogue at times and a nifty switch and double switch of their identical briefcases make for an entertaining piece as Spencer Sickmann does his best John Cleese with sudden outbursts of shouting and foot stomping at seemingly inappropriate times. Reggie Pierre offers the voice of authority and Ryan Lawson-Maeske brings a befuddled and bewildered dupe to their taunting game.


Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow get more than they bargained for in “Sacred Space” at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio LaBute New Theater Festival. Photo: Patrick Huber

After intermission, Sophia Brown and Kim Furlow bring us a somber piece written by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich. As the two ladies prepare for a Jewish cleansing of the dead ceremony, text messages start popping up all around them. In “Sacred Space,” we are given an other-worldly tribute to those cut down in their prime in the Orlando night club shooting. Nancy Bell directs with a keen eye, evoking a few laughs but concentrating on the profound reading of the names.


Kelly Schaschl, Chauncy Thomas and Nancy Bell in “Percentage America” at the LaBute New Theater Festival presented by St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Finally, Nancy Bell takes the stage herself as half of an arranged date hooking up with Chauncy Thomas in “Percentage America.” After the nervous exchanging of truths and half truths cutting through both of their “resumes,” we’re offered a political satire focusing directly on the Trump administration and the follies surrounding it. Kelly Schaschl is relegated to a stage right seat and she offers commentary throughout as various newscasters and even a young victim of a Rose Garden “misunderstanding” in a very provocative and telling look at politics and lies as perpetrated by our current president. John Pierson directs and the clever and thought provoking script is by local playwright and playwright in residence at Washington University, Carter W. Lewis. A very good way to end the evening of one-acts with humor and, as we look at the world now, a not-so outlandish satire.


The cast of this year’s LaBute New Theater Festival gather for a curtain call at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

The first set of one acts runs through July 16th with a second set running from July 21st to the 30th. Always entertaining, always eye-opening. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.

“Forum” An Immediate Hit As St. Louis Audience Roots For New Pseudolus At Muny

July 7, 2017

forum-companyThe news from this week’s Muny production, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” is the lead actor succumbing to St. Louis pollen and allergies. Peter Scolari had to bow out when his already aggravated sinuses caused him to lose his voice so last week’s Scuttle The Seagull, Jeffrey Schecter came in on two days noticed and learned the extensive role of Pseudolus- the Roman slave who is eager to be “Free”- and, despite carrying around his “side” script, won over the audience with a near flawless production on opening night.

forum-courtesansStephen Sondheim’s first show that featured both his music and lyrics, “Forum” has long been a staple of musical theatre. It’s not a hard show to love with funny one-liners, complicated relationships and and grand chase scene at the end with mistaken identities and a few other surprises. Director Gary Griffin has brought all the broad humor and madcap mayhem worthy of the show. Musical director, Brad Haak gives the actors a lot of leeway as well with the sometimes complicated songs (they even cut one of my favorites, “Pretty Little Picture” which is somewhat of a tongue twister for the lead) and allows them to slip in as needed. The Alex Sanchez choreography is simple but effective (maybe because of the last minute cast change) but the songs carry themselves so well that it doesn’t matter. “Everybody Ought To Have A Maid” is the highlight of every production of “Forum” and this one is no exception. The crowd is roaring for every built in reprise.

forum-maidAs for the cast, Mr. Schecter will probably lose the carry on script a few shows in but, even with that slight encumbrance, he does amazing well for such a complicated role. He has managed to capture the sly and often surreptitious Pseudolus attitude with a wink of the eye to the audience and a clever portrayal of the original con man. Aiding him in his activities is John Tartaglia as the nervous servant, Hysterium, of the household of Senex and Domina. The gangly Tartaglia is perfectly suited to this role in his solo, “I’m Calm” and, of course, dressed as the ingenue Philia in the closing sequence.

forum-philiaSpeaking of Philia, Ali Ewoldt is perfect as the innocent and always befuddled courtesan chosen by Lycus for Captain Mile Gloriosus. When Hero, son of Senex and Domina, falls for her, Pseudolus must find a way to spirit her out of the house of ill repute and get the two lovers out of town. Marrick Smith makes a wonderful Hero as he has the looks and often the mental powers of Philia to make them a perfect pair. And, as Lycus, Jason Kravits is properly oily and a bargaining match for Pseudolus.

forum-dominaMark Linn-Baker and E. Faye Butler shine as Senex and Domina. She has the overpowering tone to bring Senex to his knees and displays a wonderful singing voice in her solo, “That Dirty Old Man.” Nathaniel Hackmann displays a powerful conceit as the proclaims upon his entrance, “Stand aside everyone, I take large steps.” Rounding out the principle cast is a delightful performance from St. Louis actor, Whit Reichert as the befuddle Erronius who interrupts the proceedings occasionally as he wanders noisily across the stage in his efforts to walk seven times around the Seven Hills of Rome.

forum-milesThe supporting cast of Proteans and Courtesans are a great addition to the comedy and the Tim Mackabee scene design is a perfect fit for the vast Muny stage. Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are functional and funny while the Rob Denton lighting design is right on the mark with a few dazzling moments.

forum-whitDespite the “drama” of the last minute stand in for the lead role, it’s “Comedy Tonight” all the way for the Muny production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum.” It plays through July 11th, so get your tickets now for the bawdiest and funniest show of the season.