Monday, September 12, 2016

Love? Actually... • R-S Theatrics

Dedicated to presenting thought provoking St. Louis premieres, R-S Theatrics is at it again. R-S opens its “Season of Semi-Requited Love” with a collection of mostly musical one-acts to fill out a terrific evening, including its first-ever staging of a short opera by Steven Serpa.

Act 1 of the evening is a cabaret called “Out of a Bowl,” where random audience members come onstage and pull pieces of paper out of a bowl, and the corresponding numbers picked -- a mix of solos, duets and group numbers, are performed by members of the cast. The night I attended, Kelvin Urday performed “Mr. Brightside” by the rock band “The Killers” -- a song about crushing infidelity and its results. There was also Lindsay Gingrich, performing “Gooch’s Song” from Mame, Omega Jones and Eileen Engel in an entertaining, scenery-chewing "The Song That Goes Like This" from Spamalot, and a duet from Rent with Gingrich and Sarajane Alverson. The cabaret portion ended with a rousing group number, if memory serves, “Somebody to Love” from Queen.

Amaranth (Eileen Engel) and Thyrsis (Lindsay Gingrich).
Photo credit: Michael Young

The second act features the first opera produced by R-S -- Steven Serpa’s Thyrsis & Amaranth. In French writer Jean de La Fontaine’s Original Fables of La Fontaine, the main characters involved are a shepherd, Thyrsis, who loves a woman named Amaranth, a shepherdess, who’s not in love with him. Nice nod to the original story with that cute little sheep in the production’s poster. In Serpa’s version though, Thyrsis (Gingrich) and Amaranth (Eileen Engel) are bridesmaids at a wedding. Friends since childhood, Thyrsis tries to work up the courage to tell her friend the depths of her emotions with open hints, but is thwarted when Amaranth discloses her love for another. Engel as the unwitting heartbreaker and Gingrich’s sad realizations are poignantly rendered, and they also handle the challenging operatic score of about 20 minutes very well.

Derek (Kevin L. Corpuz), Tevin (Omega Jones),
Justin (Kelvin Urday), Andrew (Phil Leveling)
and Narrator (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: Michael Young
The third act is the short musical, 21 Chump Street, by composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, known for his mega-hit, the Tony Award-winning Hamilton, as well as his 2008 Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, which R-S is slated to produce in the fall of 2017. (Yes!!) 21 Chump Street was based on an episode of the weekly radio program, This American Life, where a teenager falls for a new girl at school. Justin (Kelvin Urday) is determined to win the affections of Naomi (Natasha Toro), even if it means trying to score a little weed for her. Little does he know, she’s an undercover cop tracking down dealers. Poor Justin. Sarajane Alverson is our narrator, and Derek (Kevin L. Corpuz), Tevin (Omega Jones) and Andrew (Phil Leveling) are Justin’s pals, confused by his uncharacteristic search for pot, and all executing some sweet dance moves courtesy of choreographer, Taylor Pietz.

Sarajane Alverson.
Photo credit: Michael Young
Colleen Backer, the production’s manager, has a refreshing, palate cleansing cameo as Maggie in David Lindsay-Abaire’s monologue, History Lesson. Maggie is a tour guide at Mount Rushmore on her last day at work, but her usual spiel to the tourists is peppered with jabs and insults aimed at her ex-lover, who happens to be her soon-to-be ex-boss. Backer does a fantastic job in the role.

R-S has taken up temporary residence at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, but only until they lay down stakes at their first permanent home at the Kranzberg Art Center and Black Box Theatre on Grand -- right down the street from the Fabulous Fox. R-S has also recently been one of a handful or so to be a part of the .ZACK Performing Arts Incubator space at the Cadillac Building at 3224 Locust Street -- headed by philanthropists and arts supporters Ken and Nancy Kranzberg. In addition to prop and set storage, restaurant space, and media support, they’ll also have access to a 202 seat  proscenium-style theatre space (perfect size, IMHO) to stage shows. This is where R-S will present the St. Louis premiere of In the Heights.

Omega Jones.
Photo credit: Michael Young
For now though, check out their latest production at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza! It’s playing until the 18th.

Love? Actually...

Thyrsis & Amaranth
Music/lyrics by Steven Serpa
21 Chump Street
Music/lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Christina Rios
through September 18 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Thyrsis (Lindsay Gingrich).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Act 2
Amaranth: Eileen Engel
Thyrsis: Lindsay Gingrich

Act 3
Narrator: Sarajane Alverson
Derek: Kevin L. Corpuz
Tevin: Omega Jones
Andrew: Phil Leveling
Naomi: Natasha Toro
Justin: Kelvin Urday

Musical Director: Leah Luciano
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Alex Moore
Naomi (Natasha Toro).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Assistant Stage Manager: Angel Eberhardt
Production Manager/Cameo: Colleen Backer
Choreographer: Taylor Pietz
Scenic Designer: Keller Ryan
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Costume Designer: Amy Harrison
Sound Designer: Mark Kelley
Technical Advisor: Scott Schoonover
Sound Board Operator: Sam Toskin
Production Interns: Amy Riddle & Sydney Scott
Pianist: Leah Luciano
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Percussion: Devin Lowe
Electric Bass: M. Joshua Ryan
Violin: Shaylynn Sienkiewicz
Cello: Alexander Schutt
Artistic Director: Christina Rios
Associate Managing Director: Alex Moore

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY • New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre closed its 25th anniversary season with an unlikely choice. It was an intimate, one-act, one-person musical about a British girl, Emma, living in the States and steering her way through the ups and downs of a string of romantic journeys. This lesser known musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ SuperstarPhantom of the Opera) was initially conceived as a cycle of shows for television. It eventually became the first act of Song & Dance in the early 80’s debuting in the West End, and then was finally re-introduced as a stand-alone one-act in 2003, with an Off-Broadway debut in 2008. While one-person shows fill some with dread, I would say to you; fear not. New Line veteran Sarah Porter definitively came into her own here. With a sung-through score of over 20 songs, Porter holds the evening together with a style that made it look easy.

After leaving her boyfriend in New York (“Let Me Finish”), Emma ends up with a show-business bigwig in Los Angeles, dreamy-eyed over her fancy new digs, but skeptical of the spurious LA Scene in a superbly comic “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,” with every humorous line hit squarely on the head.
Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
"Take That Look Off Your Face” comes on the heels of finding out she’s been cheated on, and “You Made Me Think You Were In Love” is swift and sharp, after misleading implications leave her heartbroken again. Porter delivers the title song, “Tell Me On a Sunday,” with a somber tint, this time pleading for an easy letdown. By the end, Emma has spun what she’s learned the hard way to satisfying results -- achieving her own autonomy in the world.

Webber’s style is imprinted all over this score of varied tunes, with clever lyrics by Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr.. Porter, vocally dexterous, not only skillfully handles the score, but also navigates the emotional terrain with an open-faced fragility and spunk. Also notable is the fact that for the first time in New Line’s history, this show was solely directed by another New Line vet, its associate artistic director, Mike Dowdy-Windsor. It says a lot that Scott Miller, New Line’s founder and artistic director, is comfortable handing over the reins, but they’ve co-directed several shows together, and Dowdy-Windsor has a sharp understanding of the show, paces it out beautifully, and most importantly, doesn’t get in the way of the story.

Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Rob Lippert's scenic design, complete with a cityscape backdrop, provides a few different playing spaces, and lights them evocatively. Porter provides her own costume design, maintained a credible dialect thanks to coach Laurie McConnell, and music director Nate Jackson and his band of five hold it down with a beautiful performance of the score.

So yeah, this show is over (like... way over -- apologies to the cast and crew), but New Line is ramping up for its 26th season, kicking off with Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Celebration. You can check out details about New Line's upcoming season here.


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed by Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
Run Concluded

Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Emma: Sarah Porter

Directing Intern: Daniel Washelesky
Music Director: Nate Jackson
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Sound Intern: Elli Castonguay
Props Master: Kimi Short
Dialect Coach: Laurie McConnell
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Nate Jackson
Cello: Eric Bateman
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Bass: Jake Stergos

Sunday, August 14, 2016

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

In 1992, Weekly World News published an outrageous, recurring story about a “bat child” spotted in a southern cave in West Virginia. Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (book) and Laurence O'Keefe (songs) turned this tabloid tale into a musical about a family that takes Bat Boy in, and the effect this addition has on the family and their rural town of Hope Falls. As you might imagine, the show’s camp-factor is high, but Stray Dog Theatre’s production also unearths the show’s inherent themes of “otherness,” bonding, prejudice and fear, and grounds it with some strong, ardent performances.

Corey Fraine is the show’s intrepid and agile titular character, equipped with pointy ears and fangs. After being discovered by the Taylor kids, an alarmed Bat Boy takes a bite out of Ruthie (Lindsey Jones), gets a beatdown from Ruthie’s brother Rick (Michael A. Wells), and is taken to the Parker’s home to be put down. Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly) is the local veterinarian, but by the time he gets home, Mrs. Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) has taken a liking to the little fella, and their teenage daughter, Shelley (Angela Bubash), takes to Bat Boy with all the passion of a child smitten with a puppy.

Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly), Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine)
and Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Mr. Parker goes along with the plan to keep him, perhaps trying to mend the widening rift in his marriage, but that goodwill doesn’t last long. In one of the show’s best numbers, “Show You a Thing or Two,” Bat Boy, now called “Edgar,” is civilized My Fair Lady style, by the steadfast efforts of Meredith, while Shelley and Edgar become close. This all pushes Thomas further from his family, while the townsfolk, already on edge from the rapid loss of their cattle, want nothing to do with this outsider, and are out for blood.

The cast of 10 covers over 20 roles, often mixing gender roles right before your eyes. The ensemble numbers are given a wonderful lift with choreography by Mike Hodges, strong voices, and the band, under the musical direction of Chris Petersen. The growing frustrations of Thomas Parker are brought to life by Kelly, stuck in a loveless marriage, with great work in the number “Dance With Me, Darling,” and Schmid’s conventional housewife Meredith Parker contributes strong acting and a lovely voice, particularly in the number “Three Bedroom House,” performed along with Bubash, whose depiction of a moody teen is spot-on, complete with stomping, pouting and eye-rolling.
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine), Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) and Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Shout-outs also to Michael A. Wells as the strong-voiced Rick and an animated Reverend Billy Hightower in “A Joyful Noise,” Tim Kaniecki as Pan in “Children, Children” and Colin Dowd as a hilariously sanctified Lorraine.

The night I saw it there were a couple of moments where the timbre seemed off, but it wasn’t a vibe coming from the cast -- it was coming from the space itself. This past July, the Stray Dog family, and the St. Louis theatre family, lost SDT’s longtime production manager Jay V. Hall to suicide. Though that indescribable loss hung in the air, director Justin Been and the cast and crew performed this show with its typical exuberant devotion, now softly pronounced with somber hues, making the show more visceral. The show must go on after all, and to Stray Dog’s credit, it has -- in grand fashion.

Front: Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) Middle,
l to r: Roy (Michael A. Wells), Bud (Tim Kaniecki),
Maggie (Sara Rae Womack),  Clem (Lindsey Jones)
Back, l to r: Institute Man (Colin Dowd),
Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly)
and Sheriff Reynolds (Josh Douglas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Go see it. It’s playing at Tower Grove Abbey until the 20th.


Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music/lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, August 10, 17 and 2pm Saturday, August 20

Shelley Parker: Angela Bubash
Sheriff Reynolds/Delilah: Josh Douglas
Lorraine/Mrs. Taylor/Father/Institute Man: Colin Dowd
Bat Boy/Edgar: Corey Fraine
Ruthie Taylor/Ned/Clem/Mother: Lindsey Jones
Bud/Daisy/Pan/Doctor: Tim Kaniecki
Thomas Parker: Patrick Kelly
Meredith Parker: Dawn Schmid
Rick Taylor/Rev. Billy Hightower/Roy/Young Thomas: Michael A. Wells
Maggie/Ron Taylor/Young Meredith: Sara Rae Womack

Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Assistant Director: Robert M. Kapeller
Choreographer: Mike Hodges
Costume Designer: Cara Hoppes McCulley
Dance Captain: Sara Rae Womack
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Musical Director: Chris Petersen
Property Design: Justin Been, Gary F. Bell
Scenic Carpentry Assistance: Richard Brown, Doug Burge, Kathleen Dwyer, Cory Fraine, Melanie Kozak, Robert J. Lippert, Paul Troika, Kate Wilkerson
Scenic Designer: Robbert J. Lippert
Sound Designer: Justin Been
Stage Manager: Robert M. Kapeller

The Band
Bass: Michaela Kuba
Musical Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: M. Joshua Ryan
Drums: Joe Winters

Thursday, July 14, 2016

GREY GARDENS • Max & Louie Productions

In 1975, a documentary by Albert and David Maysles related the story of two cloistered, interdependent, eccentric residents living in a wealthy East Hampton neighborhood. After years of prosperity, the ocean of money slowed to a trickle for Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), yet they persevered within the walls of a dilapidated, 28-room mansion named Grey Gardens. Though this once glorious, now filth-ridden estate had become overrun with cats, raccoons, fleas (the filmmakers had to wear flea collars), and had practically no running water, Big and Little Edie remained there, in secluded squalor, for over 50 years. The film won acclaim for its “direct cinema” styled rendering of these two fascinating women, and in 2006, this material was adapted into a musical by Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics). Max & Louie Productions seems to have gotten all of the right people in all of the right places to make this St. Louis premiere soar.

Having fallen in love with the documentary years ago, I think it’s safe to suggest that your enjoyment of the show will be enhanced by having a familiarity with the original film. So, you know, click here for that. 

Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and Little Edie (Madeline Purches).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
After a short prologue, the first act gives us a fictional glimpse into the well-heeled life of the Beales in Grey Gardens’ heyday. It’s 1941 and the Long Island manor is buzzing with activity, getting ready for an extravagant celebration of the engagement of Little Edie (Madeline Purches) to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Will Bonfiglio), and Big Edie (Debby Lennon) is heading the preparations -- ordering the set-up of chafing dishes, the chilling of vichyssoise and the preening of privets. It soon becomes clear that Lennon and Purches couldn’t have been better cast. This potent duo have impressive vocal chops, and, under Annamaria Pileggi's outstanding direction, depict all of the tricky intricacies of their relationship and mannerisms early on that carry over to the second act credibly and beautifully -- Lennon’s transformation is amazing, and Purches gives you just a hint of instability under a poised exterior.

Little Edie (Madeline Purches),
Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows)
in the background.
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Terry Meddows is also on hand as George Gould Strong, Big Edie's kept, gay piano accompanist, who plays referee between the women when Little Edie begs her mom to hew down the number of songs she plans to sing at the gathering, feeding her hunger for the limelight and long-held aspirations of a career in show business. Tom Murray is strong as Big Edie’s imperious father, "Major" Bouvier, and Bonfiglio does some great work as the cautious but enthusiastic groom-to-be. Omega Jones is solid as the starched butler, Brooks Sr., and there are delightful appearances from Carter Eiseman and Phoebe Desilets as the young pair, Lee Bouvier and Jacqueline Bouvier, respectively, interrupting the preparations by begging their aunt Edith to entertain them with a song. A fateful telegram upends the festivities, and that sets up the second act.

Speaking of the second act, there’s a neat trick here -- Little Edie is now played by Lennon -- the first act’s Big Edie, and Big Edie is portrayed by an unyielding Donna Weinsting. Now thirty-two years later, the second act closely mirrors the documentary. Big Edie is now practically bed-ridden, but Weinsting plays her with that same feisty core, now weighed down by the frailties that come with age, while Lennon portrays Little Edie with her eccentricities now full-blown. Despite their poverty, the unabashed quirkiness and poignantly forlorn world of the Beales begs you to laugh with them, as opposed to at them.

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Jerry (Will Bonfiglio).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Omega Jones who plays the butler in the first act carries over nicely as the easier-going groundskeeper, Brooks Jr. in the second. Bonfiglio also makes a skillful transition from Joe Kennedy Jr. to the Beale’s good-natured layabout handyman, Jerry. Jennifer JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on, as is Dunsi Dai’s scenic design and Michael Sullivan’s evocative lighting design. Dialect coach Ariel Saul keeps everyone in that distinct Northeastern tone, and the orchestra, under the direction of Neal Richardson, sounds bigger than it is. It's obvious that director Annamaria Pileggi gets this play, extending those silent beats to get the most out of the mounting tensions that hint at the moments to come, along with memorable performances from her talented cast. The numbers "The Five-Fifteen,” "Peas in a Pod,” a foreboding “Will You?,” the wonderfully barefaced "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" (the documentary lovers will adore the reference 'S-T-A-U-N-C-H'), and a haunting "Another Winter in a Summer Town" are standouts.

Jerry (Will Bonfiglio), “Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Get tickets, and go see it now. As Little Edie would say, it’s absolutely terrific, honestly.


Book by Doug Wright, based on the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through July 30 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Saturday July 30, 2pm & 8pm

Brooks Sr. (Omega Jones), Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon),
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier (Phoebe Desalts),
Lee Bouvier (Carter Eiseman)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
“Little” Edie Beale/Edith Bouvier Beale: Debby Lennon*
"Big" Edith Bouvier Beale: Donna Weinsting 
Young "Little" Edie Beale: Madeline Purches
Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr./Jerry: Will Bonfiglio 
J.V. "Major" Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale: Tom Murray*
George Gould Strong: Terry Meddows* 
Brooks Sr./Brooks Jr.: Omega Jones
Lee Bouvier: Carter Eiseman
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier: Phoebe Desilets

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).

Assistant Director: Anna Richards
Choreographer: Robin Berger
Stage Manager: Claire Stark
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Set Designer: Dunsi Dai
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
Sound Designer: Casey Hunter
Costume Designer: Jennifer JC Krajicek
Wardrobe Head/Wig Master: Emma Bruntrager
Props Designer: Claudia Horn
Dialect Coach: Ariel Saul
Technical Director: Brian Connor
Assistant Technical Director: Martin Moran
Production Manager: Bess Moynihan
Master Electrician: Nathan Schroeder
Lighting Technician: Scott Russell McDonald
Run Crew: Traci Clapper
Run Crew: Wilson Webel
Run Crew: Jimmy Bernatowicz
Lighting Board Operator: Jason Boes
The real life Big and Little Edie Beale.
Managing Director: De Kaplan
Producer/Artistic Director: Stellie Siteman
Program Design: Jen Schmitz

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Musical Director/Pianist: Neal Richardson
Cello Player: Ethan Edwards
Violinist: Kyle Twomey

Sunday, July 3, 2016

COMPANY • Insight Theatre Company

When Company opened in 1970, it was considered a “concept musical.” Abandoning a linear narrative, its vignettes center around a milestone birthday for Robert, a single guy living in New York city. Bobby, as his friends call him, is the favorite third wheel among his "good and crazy" married friends, and though he extols the virtues of the single life (much to the envy of his male buddies), the attempts to set him up with a nice girl to settle down with, the frustrations of the women he's dating, and the reflections that always come with turning a year older, shake the comfort of his bachelor status.

Full disclosure -- I think Stephen Sondheim is a genius. His sharp lyrics, counterpoint melodies and tight harmonies are no joke, and tricky to pull off. Under Doug Finlayson’s direction, Insight Theatre Company’s production has some blemishes, but comes close to hitting this one out of the park.

Martin Fox and the cast of Insight Theatre Company’s Company
Photo credit: John Lamb
Playing out on Peter and Margery Spack’s slick set, Bobby is about to turn 35 and his married friends are throwing him a surprise party. Martin Fox is solid as the amiable bachelor, and does a wonderful job with "Someone Is Waiting.” The passively-aggressive couple Sarah (Meghan Baker) and Harry (Phil Leveling) are the first of his married friends we meet, with one trying not to consume carbs and the other trying not to drink. Jonathan Hey and Cherlynn Alvarez are convincing as David and his “square” wife Jenny, inviting Bobby over for a little stoner action, and Cole Gutman and Taylor Pietz are the oddly matched Peter, metropolitan and curious, and Southern charmer, Susan. Matt Pentecost is loving and attentive as Paul, and Stephanie Long is quite funny as his reluctant bride-to-be, Amy, and she nails Sondheim’s clever patter song "Getting Married Today,” though some of the lines in the higher register during the number are difficult to understand. This audio problem also plagued the trio of Bobby’s girlfriends, Bailey Reeves as the simple-minded stewardess April, Melissa Gerth as Kathy, the one who got away, and Samantha Irene as the free-spirited Marta in their number, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." Laurie McConnell and Michael Brightman are jaded couple Joanne and Larry, and McConnell’s performance is a standout, particularly her rendition of one of the most recognizable songs in the score, "The Ladies Who Lunch.”

Martin Fox and the cast of Insight Theatre Company’s Company
Photo credit: John Lamb
Seeing Bobby come face-to-face with an existential crisis of sorts, weighing the pros and cons of married life through his friends, is warmly gratifying, and originally mounted during a time when such things weren’t really examined in musicals of the day. The play is firmly set in the 70’s but the opening number has Bobby checking his messages on a cell phone. A small quibble, but it threw me a little. Still, it’s well worth checking out this Sondheim classic -- you’ve got one more chance!


Book by George Furth
Music/Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through July 3 | tickets: $10 - $35
Performances Sunday at 2pm

Robert: Martin Fox
Harry: Phil Leveling
Sarah: Meghan Baker
David: Jonathan Hey
Jenny: Cherlynn Alvarez
Peter: Cole Gutman
Susan: Taylor Pietz
Paul: Matt Pentecost
Amy: Stephanie Long*
Larry: Michael Brightman
Joanne: Laurie McConnell*
April: Bailey Reeves
Kathy: Melissa Gerth*
Marta: Samantha Irene

Stage Manager: Savannah Throop
Technical Direction: Joshua Noll
Musical Direction: Catherine Edwards Kopff
Scenic Designer and Scenic Painter: Peter Spack
Lighting Design: David Blake
Scenic Designer and Props Master: Margery Spack
Costume Design: Laura Hanson
Sound Design: Brett Harness
Choreography: Melissa Gerth

Piano/Conductor: Catherine Edwards Kopff*
Trumpet: Dan Smith
Reeds: Rebecca Parisi
Bass: Guy Cantonwine
Percussion: Adam Kopff*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States and American Federation of Musicians Local 2-197

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ATOMIC • New Line Theatre

The origins of the atomic bomb don’t initially sound like your typical musical theatre fare. But Danny Ginges and Philip Foxman’s Australian import about the unleashing of the world’s first nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII, along with the lead up to it, provide plenty of cloudy emotional fallout, and in that respect, it’s right up New Line’s alley. Spanning a period of time from the 1930’s to the end of the 50’s, this story looks at the moral complications that come with creating of a weapon of annihilation -- born from science, but ending with massive human casualties, and heavy consciouses.

Zachary Allen Farmer, in an imposing and compassionate performance, is Hungarian born Jewish physicist Leo Szilard, who flees Germany to escape the looming shadow of Hitler’s Nazis. After winding up in America with his long-time girlfriend Trude (Ann Hier, impressive in a juicy role), he meets and collaborates with other brilliant physicists in a World War II arms race. A passionate Reynaldo Arceno is Nobel Prize-winning Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, Sean Michael gives a strong performance as the obnoxious “father of the hydrogen bomb,” Edward Teller, and a fittingly harsh General Groves.
(l-r) Victoria Valentine, Reynaldo Arceno,
Ryan Scott Foizey, Sean Michael, Jeffrey M. Wright,
and Larssia White, singing "Little Fire,"
in New Line Theatre's ATOMIC.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Larissa White is the confidently capable American physicist Leona Woods, and Jeffrey M. Wright plays Robert Oppenheimer with cocky assurance, as well as Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay -- dropping “Little Boy,” the first of two atomic bombs. Ryan Scott Foizey’s boldly devoted performance as American physicist Arthur Compton bridges the divide between the physicists and the military, with Victoria Valentine, very capable in multiple roles.

New Line’s directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy keep the play running smoothly with the action running down the middle of Rob Lippert’s set, with audience members on either side. Sarah Porter’s period costume design hits the mark, with sound design by Benjamin Rosemann and lighting design by Lippert. Under the musical direction of Jeffrey Richard Carter, the band  effectively handles the score of this driving rock musical, with the stirring “Greater Battle,” and “World of Gray” being standout numbers.

Zachary Allen Farmer as Leo Szilard
and Ann Hier as Trude Weiss.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Atomic is still early in its life, only having had a handful of stagings after an off-Broadway run a couple of years ago, and though New Line’s run is over, it’s exciting to know that contemporary shows like this are being produced right in our own backyards.


Book/lyrics by Danny Ginges 
Music/lyrics by Philip Foxman
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
Run concluded | tickets: $10 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Leo Szilard: Zachary Allen Farmer
Trude Weiss: Ann Hier
Enrico Fermi: Reynaldo Arceno
Arthur Compton: Ryan Scott Foizey
Edward Teller/General Groves: Sean Michael
Larissa White, Victoria Valentine, and Ann Hier.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
Physicist/Bartender/Factory Girl: Victoria Valentine
Leona Woods: Larissa White
J. Robert Oppenheimer/Paul Tibbets: Jeffrey M. Wright

Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic and Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Props Master: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak and Kate Wilkerson
Nuclear Physics Consultant: Kathleen Dwyer
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffrey Studios
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Jeffrey M. Wright as Paul Tibbets and
Zachary Allen Farmer as Leo Szilard.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg.
The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Guitar/Keyboard: Adam Rugo
Cello: Eric Bateman
Bass: Jake Stergos
Violin: Twinda Murry
Percussion: Clancy Newell

Friday, June 17, 2016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Royal nuptials, a romantic mis-match, an amateur theatre troupe, and a band of mischievous fairies in an enchanted wood. What could happen, right? You’ll find out in Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s delightful production of one of the Bard’s most accessible comedies, happening now in Forest Park, and it’s got all of the elements to entertain folks of all ages.

The action is connected through the imminent wedding of Duke Theseus of Athens (Paul Cereghino) and Amazonian Queen, Hippolyta (Jacqueline Thompson), along with a pair of mixed up kids in love. And not in love. Hermia loves Lysander, but an arrangement has already been made promising her to Demetrius. Hermia couldn’t care less about Demetrius, but her bff Helena has eyes only for him. What a hot mess.

Meanwhile in the woods outside Athens, the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon (Timothy Carter) and Titania (Nancy Anderson) are having a little spat of their own.
 Oberon (Timothy Carter)
and Titania (Nancy Anderson).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
To get some revenge, Oberon sends his “knavish sprite" Puck, here played by twins, Austin Glen Jacobs and Ryan Alexander Jacobs, off on a quest. Puck’s mission is to find a flower called love-in-idleness and apply the nectar of it to the eyelids of a sleeping Titania, that will cause her to fall for the first creature she sees when she wakes up. Having overheard the plight of the pair of lovers, Oberon also instructs Puck to give them a helping hand with a little love juice for Demetrius as well to smooth things out. Then we have our crew of actors, also in the woods, rehearsing a play for the royal wedding of the Duke and the Queen. Not only does Puck apply the juice of the flower to the wrong guy, he also goes rogue and transforms the head of Bottom (Stephen Pilkington), the most ardent of the actors, into the head of a donkey. Hilarity ensues.

There’s a nifty illustrated guide provided by the Post-Dispatch that lays everything out here -- it’s also posted near the entrance of Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, where SFSL’s plays are performed.

Artistic and executive director of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Rick Dildine, also directs the play, written sometime between 1590 and 1597, and keeps all of the action of this delectable comedy dancing along at a nice clip and easy to follow. The production features an agile cast, with Rachel Christopher as Helena and Cassia Thompson as Hermia providing a great dose of physical comedy.
Oberon (top/Timothy Carter), Lysander (Justin Blanchard),
Demetrius (Peter Winfrey), Hermia (Cassia Thompson)
and Helena (Rachel Christopher).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
The charismatic Carter and Anderson as Oberon and Titania are also standouts. Scott Neale’s multi-leveled set of doors, lamps and trees, set off with beautiful lighting design by John Wylie and Rusty Wandall’s sound design, make this an evening not to be missed, not to mention striking costumes by Dottie Englis and original scoring by Brien Seyle and Matt Pace, and songs by Peter Mark Kendall. Grab your blankets, stock up your picnic baskets, and head to the park!


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rick Dildine
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
through June 26 | tickets: FREE; Premium seating: $20
Performances nightly at 8pm, except Tuesdays; 6:30pm Green Show

The fairies begin to tie up Bottom (Stephen Pilkington)
after Titania (Nancy Anderson) falls in love with him.
Photo credit: J. David Levy
Titania: Nancy Anderson*
Cobweb: Myke Andrews
Lysander: Justin Blanchard*
Oberon: Timothy Carter*
Theseus: Paul Cereghino
Helena: Rachel Christopher*
Peaseblossom: Gabriela Diaz
Mustardseed: Raina Houston
Puck: Austin Glen Jacobs
Puck: Ryan Alexander Jacobs
Snug/Lion: Alan Knoll*
Snout/Wall: Reginald Pierre
Bottom: Stephen Pilkington*
Peter Quince: Michael Propster*
Egeus: Whit Reichert*
Flute/Thisby: Jay Stalder
Hermia: Cassia Thompson
Hippolyta: Jacqueline Thompson
Starvling: Jerry Vogel*
Philostrate/Moth: Ben Watts
Demetrius: Peter Winfrey

Puck (Ryan Jacobs).
Photo credit: J. David Levy
Scenic Designer: Scott Neale
Costume Designer: Dottie Englis
Lighting Designer: John Wylie
Sound Design: Rusty Wandall
Original Score, Composer: Brien Seyle/Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Original Score, Music Director: Matt Pace/Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Original Songs: Peter Mark Kendall
Voice and Text Coach: Suzanne Mills

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States


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