Archive for August, 2017

Existential “Snow White” Is Perfect Fit For Quirky St. Louis Fringe Festival

August 23, 2017
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Some of the motley crew of dwarves? in “Snow White” by ERA at the Fringe. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Is it an existential retelling of a favorite fairy tale or, as they tell us in hand outs, “Snow White” from another planet? Whatever the case, ERA has brought us a bizarre and highly entertaining evening at the Fringe Festival. Snow White? Yes, although a bit bored with her lot. The evil stepmother? Yes, but having trouble carrying out her plan to do in Snow- so maybe she’ll choose someone else instead. The handsome prince? Yes, but he’s a bit too self-centered and, frankly, lazy to carry out his mission so he becomes a monk instead.

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Katy Keating as Snow White’s biological mother and often narrator of “Snow White,” casts an eye to the future. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Lucy Cashion has brought us outlandish takes on other classics including the brilliant “Oedipus Apparatus” last year at WEPG. This one is truly ambitious and convoluted and, even if you have trouble following it, it’s still one entertaining piece of theatre. Maggie Conroy shines as the sometimes bewildered evil stepmother. Toting one of those long cigarette holders stolen from an old Noel Coward play, she dominates with her ranting and raving and conspiring with the mirror. The mirror is a projection on a screen over the back of the stage and it offers prerecorded messages from those looking into the “mirror” for advice. The mirror even talks back through whatever character is facing it but with the resonant voice of Randy Brachman telling it like it is.

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Mitch Eagles and Maggie Conroy spy on the neighbors- or is it the audience in ERA’s “Snow White” at the Fringe Festival. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Julia Crump is the perfectly whiny Snow White wondering where the action is and why her prince isn’t interested in her life style living with seven “grown up” dwarves. Katy Keating is Snow White’s biological mother and narrator of the piece as she continues to relate increasingly dire news of how the young one died. Will Bonfiglio makes a charming prince who perhaps has the most existential conversations of the evening and eventually decides life is easier as a monk so he can be an onlooker instead of a participant.

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Reginald Pierre as dwarf “Kevin” spouts off in “Snow White” as ERA’s entry into the St. Lou Fringe. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

The seven gentlemen who share their abode and feelings with Snow include a hip Reginald Pierre who has mastered the “looking busy with a hair pick” mode and the nervous note-taker, Henry, as portrayed by the always spot on Carl Overly, Jr. Alex Fyles is the cowboy, and others in the motley crew include Mitch Eagles, Anthony Kramer, Gabe Taylor and Pete Winfrey- each with a distinctive style as they each bring something to the table.

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The cast of ERA’s “Snow White” playing at the St. Lou Fringe Festival. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Speaking of table, they partake in a wild and wicked salad making sequence that would have Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg inviting them over for Thanksgiving dinner. It brings a whole new meaning to “is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just making fruit salad?” As they go off stage- and sometimes on stage- they do a shuffle off to Buffalo while uttering the classic Snow White mantra, “Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho.”

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The radical leader of the “dwarves,” Mitch Eagles as Bill, gets tied up during “Snow White” at ERA’s St. Louis Fringe presentation. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Joe Taylor provides the creative musical score and also is the video director of the clever mirror sequences. Marcy Wiegert brings the right touch to her delightful costumes- some traditional, some slightly left of center. And the whole, wild, upside-down world of “Snow White” is adapted, scene designed and directed by the one and only Lucy Cashion.

When I was a student at Florissant Valley Community College in the mid 60’s, a friend of mine and I who specialized in re-writing classic American musicals in different genres, tackled several stories that were staged at the college. One of them was “Carbon Black and The Eight Dwarves.” We were unconventional as well- instead of writing  new lyrics for the songs in Disney’s classic film, we featured the same lyrics but changed the tunes- for instance, the dwarves sang “Oh, We Whistle While We Work” to the tune of “There Is A Tavern In The Town.” So I’m used to an unorthodox take on Snow White.

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Another group shot of the cast of “Snow White” at the St. Lou Fringe as presented by ERA. Photo: Meredith LaBounty

Equally Represented Arts (ERA), has brought a whole new meaning to fairy tales in general and to “Snow White” in particular. Unfortunately, as the St. Louis Fringe Festival flies by very quickly, you only have until Saturday to catch the madness that is “Snow White.” Go to the St. Lou Fringe Festival site and get your tickets now- it’s playing at the recently revamped Grandel Square Theatre.

 

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“In The Heights” Brings The Heat As R-S Theatrics Powers This Local Premiere

August 21, 2017
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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Before “Hamilton” ran away with the Tony’s, Lin-Maneul Miranda won his share of Tony’s for “In The Heights-” including Best Musical. Now we finally get to see that show thanks to R-S Theatrics with their usual smooth and exciting production values. This one’s incredibly hot with the salsa rhythms and a series of story lines centered on the Hispanic community in Washington Heights.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

In one of her dream productions, R-S Theatric’s Artistic Director, Christina Rios, takes the reins as director of “In The Heights” and brings us a scintillating production that brings the house down. Jesse Munoz plays one of the lead characters, Usnavi (if you haven’t guessed where he got the name, the show will explain) and he gives a charming, almost laid-back performance that’s effective for the role. We see the love blossom between he and Vanessa, played with spark and sass  by Natasha Toro.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Another love story we follow is that between Camila and Benny, played with style and longing by Cassandra Lopez and Marshall Jennings. Since Benny works for her father, their love is a bit on the sly as both his father, a stern yet caring Jaime Zayas and his mother, another laid back performance by Maritza Motta-Gonzalez don’t approve of their relationship

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Stealing the show is Anna Skidis Vargas as hairdresser Daniela. Together with her partner in style, Gabriela Diaz as Carla, they rock the house with the first act number, “No Me Diga” and then Skidis starts the fun going in the second act with “Carnaval Del Barrio” which lights up the stage with a powerful ensemble number.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Cecily A .King roots another story as Claudia’s mother. We see teen Claudia with a lovely performance by Isabel Garcia and then young Claudia featuring nice work by Alora Marguerite. As the grandmother, Abuela Claudia, Carmen Garcia blows us away with her feature number and provides the foundation for this little family of saints and sinners who inhabit the barrio.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

As usual, the ensemble stands out in an R-S Theatrics show and the crisp direction and amazing achievements of choreographer Cecily A. King on this small stage are highlights.  And the always marvelous work of conductor Leah Luciano gets an extra lift with an expanded orchestra including nice work by Ron Foster on trumpet and Mike Hansen on drums and Peter Gunn on percussion- two sounds essential to this musical. The whole orchestra is right on.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

I’m still having a bit of difficulty falling in love with .Zack space- it’s a bit too cumbersome at times- particularly for a full fledged musical production. But Keller Ryan has provided a very workable set that includes a lot of quick scene changes with items being rolled off and on. Sarah Porter’s costumes are colorful and perfect while the lighting of Nathan Schroeder is great but we had a few missed cues on press night. Once this show gets moving and the adrenal builds for full houses, it’s all going to work to perfection.

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

“In The Heights” is a massive undertaking but R-S Theatrics has surprised us before and they’re doing it again. It runs through September 3rd but most performances are sold out- in fact they’ve just added a Thursday night performance to accommodate the demand for tickets. Give them a call at 314-252-8812 and keep your fingers crossed that you get to see this wonderful production.

Love/Hate Relationship At Center Of “The Color Of August” At SATE

August 13, 2017
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The two actresses find out what parts they will play and stare at each other before going offstage to dress for their parts in “The Color Of August” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

The two ladies in the latest production of Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble have not seen each other in many years. As the hour long production of “The Color Of August” unfolds, we find that they have obviously had a serious relationship in the past and now it’s gone a bit sour. Or has it? This love/hate game that they play reveals how they can both get under each others skin but also how deep their love really goes.

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Ellie Schwetye as Laura tries to reach out to Rachel Tibbetts as Maria in SATE’s production of “The Color Of August.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Two actors who have shone together and separately on stage before are reunited for this psyche-out piece that really stretches the boundaries of convention- Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye. Most recently we saw them in the riveting two character play, “Cuddles” in the same space- The Chapel. The catch here is that each evening a coin toss decides which lady will play which role- they both have learned and rehearsed both roles. On opening night, Rachel Tibbetts played Maria and Ellie Schwetye played Laura.

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In this version, Rachel Tibbetts is Laura and Ellie Schwetye is Maria in “The Color Of August” at Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. Photo: Joey Rumpell

We are seated before an obvious artist’s studio space with a paint splattered drop cloth covering the floor of the main stage. Maria enters and rearranges photos on the wall just off stage, naming each one as she turns, hangs and adjusts each one. They are all the same subject in various poses- Laura. When Laura enters, her cool approach makes you wonder if they really are friends. They soon embrace but the switch is turned so often in the play that you never really know if they are old friends or bitter enemies.

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The ladies toast to their complicated relationship in SATE’s “The Color Of August.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Maria has become a successful artist and has married while Laura has struggled but is “comfortable” with her life as a struggling artist. As the evening progresses, we find power plays unfold as old wounds are opened and reminiscing brings about both good and bad memories. The capper of their many secrets revealed to each other results in a perverse and highly erotic painting “duel” that leaves them both covered head to foot in paint. Then the slightly off stage water fountain that has been off and on during the production comes into play as each takes a symbolic “cleansing” to clear their paint, their feelings and their friendship.

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Ellie Schwetye as Maria directs Rachel Tibbetts as Laura in the proper pose in “The Color Of August” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Local actor Will Bofiglio has translated and adapted the original Paloma Pedrero script with a true flair for the dramatic. It’s a very powerful piece- especially in the hands of these two actresses and the tension filled direction of Lucy Cashion, it becomes a piece that keeps you engrossed for the short span of time that their world exists to us. Both the editing of the script and acting as dramaturg is Miranda Jagels Felix.

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Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts in the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble production of “The Color Of August.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Bess Moynihan shines again with a deftly crafted set design which, as is so often the case, offers action both on the main stage and spilling out into the front of the stage. It’s a clever, functional set that makes an excellent space for Ms. Tibbetts and Ms. Schwetye. Bess also designed the lights which highlight the various playing areas without intruding on the life altering action taking place. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes are perfect while director Lucy Cashion also produced an effective sound design.

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Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye greet each other at the opening of “The Color Of August” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

“The Color Of August” is a haunting piece that follows you around long after you’ve seen it. SATE has done it again with an absorbing play that is brilliantly acted. You won’t want to miss this intriguing and somewhat mysterious play. It plays at The Chapel through August 19th. Give them a call at 314-827-5760 for tickets or more information.

“9 To 5” Slightly Naughty But Mostly Nice At Stages St. Louis

August 9, 2017
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Summerisa Bell Stevens, Corinne Melancon and Laura E. Taylor as the 3 women who change the workplace in “9 To 5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochnicak

If you remember the 1980 film of the same name, “9 To 5” the musical will take you back to the world of women being paid less in the work place and putting up with sexual harassment. Wait a minute- this is 2017 and isn’t that still going on? Despite the lack of equality in the last 37 years, the premise of the story still gets a lot of laughs and these three crazy women will win your heart in the Stages St. Louis production. Some spicy language and a few dicey situations make this a musical for the grownups, however.

Dolly Parton wrote the delightful title number and starred in the film and now she has penned new numbers to flesh out the stage version which includes a book by Patricia Resnick. Playing the Dolly Parton role on stage here is a delightful “clone” of Dolly named Summerisa Bell Stevens. As Doralee, she conquers the advances by the boss as well as the  behind her back sneers from the other women in the office who truly believe she’s having an affair with him. Her sweet, Southern drawl in both speech and song is perfect for  the role.

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Laura E. Taylor as Judy in the Stages St. Louis production of “9 To5.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Corinne Melancon- a Stages’ favorite- scores again as Violet who is widowed with a son (nice work by Jacob Flekier) and trying to move ahead in a world that always keeps women one step away from advancement. Rounding out the trio of precocious females is Laura E. Taylor as Judy. Naive and innocent, she quickly loses her inhibitions when the ladies hatch a plan to “kidnap” the boss, leave him harnessed in his own bedroom and use the embezzlement  proof they find as a means to get back for his philandering and sexist ways.

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Summerisa Bell Stevens dreams of hogtying her boss in “9 To5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

The ladies rule the show with individual numbers and group numbers. They each get to shine in a dream sequence where they each surmise about how they’ll get back at him. The object of their wrath is Franklin Hart, Jr. and Joe Cassidy brings him to devilish life. He, like most sexist pigs, is both consciously and unconsciously unaware of his infractions. Even a taste of what these ladies bring to light doesn’t sink in and he denies, of course, all allegations against him. It’s a performance rich in oozing oiliness mixed with charm.

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Kari Ely as Roz gets a little too frisky with her boss, Joe Cassidy as Mr. Hart in the Stages St. Louis production of “9 To5.” Photo: Peter Wochniak

Kari Ely practically steals the show with her turn as Roz, Mr. Hart’s private secretary and middle aged spinster who is in love with her boss. Her two solos are superb including the  soulful “Heart To Hart” and the wildly bawdy “5 To 9” in the second act. Jason Michael Evans shines as the love interest of the reluctant Violet.

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Corinne Melancon as Violet opens the second act with the spangly version of the businessmen in “9 To 5” at Stages St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak

Another St. Louis and Stages favorite, John Flack handles multiple roles including the CEO of the company, Tinsworthy, who enters looking like Colonel Sanders and is eventually convinced that Mr. Hart needs to be relocated. Zoe Vonder Haar does a great job as the office pool lush and Steve Isom is perfectly reptilian as Judy’s ex who tries to work his way back to her when his fling with his secretary fizzles. Of course, the usual outstanding work is done by the supporting cast of characters, singers and dancers. Everything is precise and rehearsed to a fare-the-well so what you always see on stage is perfection.

Michael Hamilton moves the show at a steady pace as director and musical stager. Dana Lewis handles the choreography in fine fashion and the eclectic and electric set design is the work of James Wolk. The Sean M. Savoie lighting design is superb while Brad Musgrove provides a delightful costume theme and Lisa Campbell Albert is right on the mark with the lively music direction.

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A happy ending? What else? Stages St. Louis presents “9 To 5.” Photo: Peter Wochnicak

Though Dolly Parton’s music and especially her lyrics tend to be a bit too CW for my tastes, they do move the story along nicely. It’s pure fluff and sometimes that’s okay. The wild story really scored with folks back in 1980 and now this musical version earns high marks for bringing that feeling back to the stage this time around. “9 To 5” plays at Stages through August 20th. Call 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

St. Louis Shakespeare Brings “Charlie’s Aunt” Back To Life As “Is He Dead?”

August 7, 2017
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Millet languishes on his couch as his friends show little sympathy in “Is He Dead?” at the St. Louis Shakespeare Company. Photo: Ron James

Cross dressing is a staple of some theatre pieces like “Charlie’s Aunt” and even Shakespeare gave it a whirl in plays like “Two Gentlemen Of Verona.” This time a play by Mark Twain has been adapted by David Ives and “Is He Dead?,” though given a great cast and slapstick direction, St. Louis Shakespeare can’t help carry the script through as well as some of David Ives other re-works like one SLSC did a few years ago, “The Liar.”

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Zac McMillan- now as Daisy, confronts Ben Ritchie as Andre while the cast looks on in the St. Louis Shakespeare Company production of “Is He Dead?” Photo: Ron James

The “uncredited” Ben Ritchie (his name and character were somehow omitted from the program) brings out his best Snidely Whiplash as Monsieur Andre- the cad who is after the money owed him by the artist Jean-Francois Millet. He is also after his art collection which he believes some day may be worth something and he’s also after Millet’s girlfriend Marie and later, Daisy- but we get ahead of ourselves. Mr. Ritchie provides another hilarious performance that borders on the melodramatic (and that’s okay, since this is more melodrama than anything else).

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The “ladies”- Nicole Angeli, Zac McMillan, Molly McCaskill and Jennifer Quinn- gossip during “Is He Dead?” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

Zac McMillan provides most of the laughs as the artist who decides he would be better off dead as artists are revered more, it seems, once they have died. He can avoid his long list of creditors as well. He comes back to life as his long-lost sister, Daisy (now we see where these plot twists are going). Four of Millet’s friends are always hanging around the garret as well including fine performances from Jacob Cange, John Fisher, Jack Zanger and Basil Thorpe who also takes on multiple roles of dysfunctional acquaintances and/or creditors who pop in and out of the artist’s life.

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The gentlemen discuss Millet’s problem during the St. Louis Shakespeare Company production of “Is He Dead?” Photo: Ron James

A delightful performance from Molly McCaskill as Marie brightens things up considerably and her friend, Cecile is given a nice turn by Natalie Walker- who also gets to do a bit of cross dressing. Timothy Callahan delivers with a devilish performance as a dirty old man who has the occasional mental lapse.

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Timothy Callahan as Leroux tires to woo Zac McMillan as Daisy to no avail in “Is He Dead?” at St. Louis Shakespeare. Photo: Ron James

The real treat of the evening is two society ladies given droll personalities by Nicole Angeli and Jennifer Quinn. Their nonsensical drivel and couched and subtle characters are the highlight of the play. Director Edward Coffield has granted every actor the chance to use broad gestures, multiple gasps, a few pratfalls and selfie-worthy poses to make sure you know this is broad comedy at its best.

Matt Stuckel has provided a versatile set while John Taylor has lit the show nicely. JC Krajicek gives the cast excellent and appropriate costumes with a little extra something to make Andre an unmistakeable villain- he even gets his own entrance music thanks to the Ted Drury sound design.

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A scene from the season opener of St. Louis Shakespeare Company- “Is He Dead?” Photo: Ron James

Perhaps more appropriate for the Goldenrod in its heyday, “Is He Dead?” is a fun evening but don’t expect the usual wit and sophistication usually provided by a David Ives play or adaptation. I’ve always been a big fan of Mark Twain- even read his two part autobiography- but maybe a play by a humorist who has been dead over a hundred years just isn’t relevant anymore.

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The cast of “Is He Dead?” currently playing at St. Louis Shakespeare Company. Photo: Ron James

That doesn’t mean you won’t have an enjoyable evening with an excellent cast, sparkling direction and Zac McMillan spending more than half the play as a woman. It’s just not what I was expecting from Twain and Ives. “Is He Dead?” plays through this week-end, August 13th at St. Louis Shakespeare Company at the Ivory Theatre.

 

 

“Ragtime” Cuts A Wide Swath Across American Ideals On The Stray Dog Stage

August 7, 2017
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The cast of “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

In one of the most powerful events ever to hit a local stage, Stray Dog Theatre has tackled and overwhelmed with a magnificent production of “Ragtime,” the rarely performed Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens sweeping adaptation of the E. L. Doctorow novel. Strong singing and acting performances highlight this massive undertaking that hits every note and every tug of the heartstrings with unabashed brilliance.

“Ragtime,” the novel, is one of the most powerful novels ever written as Doctorow weaved real characters with fictitious ones to create a look at how the turn of the century made the early 1900’s not so different than what we’re experiencing now. It made quite an impression when I first read it and I have revisited it several times since. Using ragtime music from Coalhouse Walker, Jr. to center on the treatment of black people, the musical uses him as a focus but the struggle of immigrants and the white privilege that often condemned both brings us full circle to the 21st century.

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A scene from Stray Dog Theatre’s “Ragtime.” Photo: John Lamb

Omega Jones is a powerhouse as Coalhouse. His strong, steady singing voice and his portrayal of the rage that eventually catapults out of him are astounding. What a wonderful performance. As his lady, Sarah “brown eyes,” newcomer Evan Addams displays remarkable talent as well. An alumnae of the Artists-in-Training program at Opera Theatre St. Louis, she’s got a great future in both opera and musical theatre.

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Kay Martin Love as Mother and Evan Addams as Sarah in “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The heart of the show is Mother- she knows what is right and refuses to bow down to the pettiness of others, including her husband, in their treatment of others. Kay Martin Love, who is a veteran of both the musical and cabaret in town, is simply a knockout in the role. Her “Back To Before” number brings the house down. Phil Leveling does a superb job as well as Father. A member of our Theater Circle, Chuck Lavazzi, also does great work in several roles but rooted in his portrayal of the cantankerous grandfather.

Another one of our dearly beloved local actor/singers, Jeffrey M. Wright, takes the reins as  the immigrant, Tateh. With his rich baritone and consummate acting skills, he brings the soul of the “your tired, your poor” community to the forefront. His character is based on one of the real life people in Doctorow’s book- Hal Roach. If you’re not familiar with him, be sure to see how his character develops in this production. Angela Bubash also portrays a real person- the girl in the red velvet swing- Evelyn Nesbit. Her performance is delightful as she squeals with delight every time she makes an appearance. It’s all part of the “performance art” act she developed after her infamous marriage and involvement of a shooting between her husband and her lover.

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Cast of Stray Dog Theatre’s “Ragtime.” Photo: John Lamb

Laura Kyro returns to the Stray Dog stage in the role of activist Emma Goldman. She is a moving force as this no-nonsense fighter for justice. Jon Bee delivers as Mother’s younger brother as he becomes a force to reckon with as well as he follows Goldman’s advice and becomes active in the fight for the rights of Coalhouse. The supporting cast makes up the largest cast ever assembled on the Stray Dog stage- 26 singers, actors and dancers. Even in the small Tower Grove Abbey, they move around utilizing the aisles, stairs and the massive David Blake set to make the show feel as big as it is.

Director Justin Been does a remarkable job of making this show move as smoothly as it does. He also squeezes every ounce of energy and movement out of the cast as possible- quite an achievement. Mike Hodges also deserves kudos as choreographer- managing to move people effectively on the small stage. Eileen Engel’s costumes are powerfully appropriate and the Tyler Duenow lights enhance the production.

Another wonderful accomplishment is by musical director Jennifer Buchheit. With such a large cast and chorus, the ensemble manages to capture the sometimes complicated score with nuance and power. Each scene is right on the mark and the harmonies are unbelievable. This is a big undertaking for Stray Dog and they come out shining in every aspect. It’s a show not to be missed and it’s probably going to be one of the few times you get to enjoy this wonderful show with an absolutely beautiful score.

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Jon Bee as the younger brother takes charge in “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

A lot of performances are selling out, so give Stray Dog Theatre a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets and more information. “Ragtime” plays through August 19th.