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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Theatre Etiquette Time

Okay, I've held off long enough. Theatre etiquette time.

A few folks have told me that the name of this blog would suggest someone who will only see shows at the Fox or "highbrow" intellectual stuff. Nope. Don't get me wrong, I love the Fox -- it's an absolutely beautiful space, but good heavens it's big. (That's what she said…)  I like small intimate theatres. And as far as intellectual shows go, I'm still waiting for someone to explain Bertolt Brecht to me. I mean, I think I get it, but the only Brecht show I've seen was a tad over my head, and not the greatest production in the world, so I left the theatre a little confused.

Anyway, a more appropriate title for this blog could be "St. Louis Theatre Etiquette Police".  When my friends suggested I start a blog, we thought it would mostly consist of a little good-natured berating of St. Louis audiences for their random atrocious behavior. Little did I know I'd actually start kind of reviewing shows, which I have fallen in love with doing, but tonight, I feel compelled to call out some stuff.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

AS BEES IN HONEY DROWN • Stray Dog Theatre

Who wouldn't want a shot at fame and fortune?  Nowadays, when our culture is drenched with glamour-seekers and reality tv show celebrities, this Douglas Carter Beane comedy about the takers, and the ones who are taken, is right on time.

Evan Wyler (a wonderful Martin Fox with the cutest head of curly hair you've ever seen) is a young, hot, flavor-of-the-month novelist, having his picture taken for a magazine, when he first meets Alexa Vere de Vere (an impressive, once you settle in to her, Sarajane Alverson).  She presents herself as a record producer who would like for Wyler to turn the story of her life into a screenplay.  She's a fast talking socialite seething with the guise of wealth and glamour, and poor Evan falls for it hook, line and sinker.  After paying him one-thousand bucks as an advance, Evan follows her around to document her life, and ends up falling for the facade she presents along the way, paying for things with his credit card, and sleeping with her.  Oh, did I mention Evan is gay?  Yeah.  Alexa's got some mojo, and Wyler and Alverson have amazing chemistry that's incredibly believable onstage.

While preparing for a trip with her to L.A. he discovers that his credit card is maxed out, and Alexa has gone bye-bye.  In an effort to track her down, Evan meets many of the people Alexa has left in her wake, and gets himself a little sweet revenge.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK (Preview) • Foxwoods Theatre


This is one of those shows that I wanted to see primarily just so I can say that I'd seen it.  I had to stand in the cancellation line for about an hour, and snatched up a ticket from a "broker" for a hundred bucks.  But hey, that's why I go to the big city.  It was actually sold out for the entire weekend, so I'm glad I got in.
Readings for this musical began in 2007, and even though it's not set to open until February 7th, it's already achieved historic status for a couple of reasons.  For one, the brains behind this one, Julie Taymor (or Julie "Paymore"), well known in theatre circles for THE LION KING and all of its associated spectacle, has already spent an estimated $65 million on this puppy -- the most expensive Broadway show in history.  It costs about a million bucks in operating costs a week.  Also, SPIDER-MAN (penned musically by U2's Bono and The Edge) ran out of money last year, had to cancel the first originally scheduled previews a couple of times and push back the opening, and there have also been a few broken bones, literally, along the way.  The night I saw it one of the female leads, Natalie Mendoza, was out because she had suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a rope backstage.  In Taymor fashion, this show was meant to be a theatrical spectacle, with around 27 flying sequences.  The rigging devices for these sequences are similar to the "four point" wire systems that are used for those "eye in the sky" cams you can spot at football games and stuff.  They've actually renamed the traditional "Dress Circle" seating area of the Foxwoods theatre the "Flying Circle".

BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON • Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

When you first walk into the 1078 seat Jacobs, you're met with a theatre that has been adorned with fairy lights, stuffed moose heads, bears and a horse hanging upside down over the orchestra seats.  There are portraits of dead presidents all over the place, and all kinds of assorted stuff on the stage.  This visual onslaught perfectly sets up BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, an "emo" rock musical that looks at how this roughneck frontiersman wound up in the White House.

This cheeky in-your-face downtown musical, recently brought uptown, examines the controversial seventh president of the United States, during a time when the country was in its adolescence -- in the language and music of today, with Jackson being portrayed as an irresistible tight jeans wearing rock star type.  "Old Hickory"'s life is presented in a series of scenes (by a narrator in a motorized wheelchair, infatuated with Jackson) that come off more like skits, with songs like "Populism, Yea, Yea!" and "Ten Little Indians", performed with boundless energy by the young cast and the onstage 3 piece band.  The highlights of Andrew Jackson's life (played by a very compelling Benjamin Walker), include him being orphaned early in his life, his military career, his rise to power as the people's president, and his infamous forced relocation of Native Americans.  There are tons of anachronisms and parallel lines drawn in the show, like when Jackson, dripping with sexual energy, tells us about his "stimulus package".

Sunday, December 5, 2010

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN • Belasco Theatre

In all honesty, I'm not sure how objective I'm going to be able to be on this one (seeing shows in NYC always kinda clouds my objectivity), but I'll do my best.

Based on Pedro Almodóvar's 1988  film of the same name, WOMEN got a lot of negative buzz when it was in previews last month.  Without the benefit of an out-of-town tryout, this show had to work out the kinks in front of a full-price paying New York audience.  Oof!

You've got the main character Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), a movie voice dubber, who's just been dumped by her longtime asshole boyfriend Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell) at the center of the story.  As the plot unfolds, we're eventually introduced to Ivan's bitter first wife Lucia (Patti LuPone) recently released from an institution and looking to get even with Ivan, their son Carlos (Justin Guarini), his passionless fiancée Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone, who I saw in the Starbucks by 45th and 7th), and Pepa's best friend Candela (Laura Benanti), a model who's discovered she may be dating a terrorist.  Then there's this taxi driver who's kind of like the narrator.  Also, there's Lucia's lawyer, and this motorcycle couple who keeps popping up.  All of these people are rolling with love's punches in some way, and once everyone's stories come together, I thought it was a joy to watch -- but it takes awhile to come together.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Heart ASSASSINS

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Second, I don't mean I literally love assassins -- that would be messed-up.  I mean I love the musical ASSASSINS.  It's the latest recording I've been listening to non-stop, and I wanted to share.  And, it's the holiday season, and I'm in Little Rock Arkansas with not much else going on so…

Here's the skinny:  ASSASSINS is a lesser known musical with music and lyrics by my hero, Stephen Sondheim, that takes a look at some of the more notable individuals who have attempted to take, or have taken, the life of a US President.  Debuting off-Broadway in 1990, it received a Broadway production in 2004.  I was first introduced to this gem via a staging at New Line Theatre a few years ago, and promptly bought the original cast recording.


2004 Broadway production
This black comedy of a show pokes holes in, or shoots bullets through, one of the great American myths: Anyone can grow up to be President.  Well, that's not really true is it?  For those who have found the American Dream out of their reach, perhaps a .38 Smith & Wesson is easier to come by.  This show doesn't glorify these successful and unsuccessful assassins, nor does it ask you to sympathize with them, but it does attempt to show you where they're coming from.  While they're considered enemies of society, they're also undeniably products of it as well.

Monday, November 15, 2010

SOUTH PACIFIC • The Fox

Well, now I can mark a classic off the list -- I've seen SOUTH PACIFIC in person.  I posted an entry about this show when the revival was aired on a PBS "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast here.  Since this will be a second viewing, I guess I'll just hit the highlights, shall I?

As the "About" section on this blog suggests, thanks to my wonderful parents, classical music is really my first love, so the fact that this show is traveling with a big-ass 26 piece orchestra -- yay!  There really is some absolutely beautiful music in this show, and a gorgeous overture.  I wet my pants a little.  Sadly, some seated around me still don't realize that the overture is part of the show, which annoys me.  I may have to post a whole separate entry about that soon…

From what I've read, this show (that debuted in 1949) did its part in addressing some major social issues for its time.  Set in the South Pacific during WWI, we have a Navy Nurse, Nellie Forbush, and an Officer, Lt. Cable, who find themselves falling for people of a different race.  I did notice this time around how all of the black "seabees" were always huddled together, away from the white officers.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

OLD ROCK HOUSE PREVIEW: Stew from PASSING STRANGE

It's not every day you get to see a Tony winner in a really intimate venue, but this Thursday, Stew from PASSING STRANGE will be at the Old Rock House.  Stew authored the show’s book and lyrics, composed (with Heidi Rodewald) its music, and was the lead guitarist and musical narrator too.

PASSING STRANGE, a rock ’n’ roll musical about an artist in search of himself made a big splash in 2008.  There really wasn't anything like it on Broadway at the time, and its high-spirited, passionate presentation was lauded by the critics for daring to be different -- doing its share to redefine what musical theatre is.

Drawn from Stew's experiences, this show follows a character called Youth, as he makes tracks out of his middle-class Los Angeles surroundings, and heads to the hash cafes of Amsterdam and the artists' community in Berlin.  Along this coming-of-age journey, Stew interjects insightful, wry commentary as he looks at himself as he once was.

Additional info. about Stew can be found here.

Check it out this Thursday, and enjoy this clip from their Tony Award performance!

Monday, November 8, 2010

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT • Muddy Waters Theatre

Eugene O'Neill's plays are no joke.  They tend to drift toward tragedy, where life guarantees struggle, and people born into this world are doomed.  LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, a semi autobiographical drama, is considered to be his masterpiece, and it's currently receiving a striking production from Muddy Waters Theatre.

The play takes a look at a day in the life of the Tyrone family at their Connecticut summer home, starting at around 8:30 on an August morning in 1912.  First there's James Tyrone (Robert Ashton), the patriarch of the family.  At one time he showed promise as a Shakespearean actor, but he chose to join a more lucrative touring production that travelled from city to city doing one-night stands.  Now he's a third-rate actor, and an alcoholic miser.  He has two sons, also alcoholics.  Jamie (Joshua Thomas), followed in his father's footsteps pursuing a career in theatre, but in the eyes of his dad he's little more than a "Broadway loafer", content to sponge off of the family for his drinking and whoring around.  The youngest, Edmund (Aaron Baker, representing Eugene O'Neill), is the sensitive one -- a poet with a fondness for Nietzsche, Ibsen and Baudelaire.  He also has a horrible cough -- a likely sign of consumption in those days.  Last but not least, there's the matriarch, Mary (Kari Ely).  She has recently been released from a sanatorium, put there for the treatment of her morphine addiction of many years.  After she's released, her decline doesn't take long as Edmund's cough persists, and her need to escape returns.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

MARRY ME A LITTLE • Citilites Theatre

Stephen Sondheim isn't one to shirk away from addressing complicated emotions.  In fact, he usually looks them dead in the face with an insightful honesty, tempered with humor and wit.  So many of his songs examine that human tendency toward connection, and the fact that there aren't always happy endings.

These themes run throughout Citilites' production of MARRY ME A LITTLE, directed by Seth Ward Pyatt.  This one-act musical revue uses a collection of Sondheim's “trunk songs”.  Some were cut from shows like FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, COMPANY and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  Others were written for shows that never caught on.

Friday, October 29, 2010

NEXT FALL • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Organized religion can be a bitter pill for many to swallow.  Particularly if you happen to be gay.  That's the underlying tension in the Rep's Studio Theatre opener NEXT FALL, fresh from a Broadway run where it played the Helen Hayes Theatre from March to July 2010, garnering 2 Tony Award nominations for best play and best direction of a play.

It centers around a modern gay couple, Adam and Luke.  Adam (Jeffrey Kuhn), is a neurotic, sarcastic but lovable New Yorker.  He's also an out and proud 40 year old atheist.  His partner of four plus years, Luke (Colin Hanlon), is a southern boy -- an aspiring actor in his 30's and a devout Christian, who has yet to come out to his parents.  He prays before he eats.  And after sex.  He also believes that we all sin and that his homosexuality happens to be his sin.  Hmm…  Modern "Odd Couple" anyone?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre


Nothing says Halloween like $35 splatter seats!  At Stray Dog's production of EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL, a few extra bucks entitles you to seats in the first couple of rows (if you dare) and a white "I Survived the Splatter Zone" t-shirt, sure to be drenched with fake blood by the end of the show.


This musical send-up is based on Sam Raimi's cult-classic horror flicks, "Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead 2".  It ran off-Broadway in 2006 after enjoying success at Just for Laughs, a Montreal Comedy festival in 2004.  You don't have to be a fan of the Evil Dead films to enjoy this show though.  A vague familiarity with the horror/slasher genre is all you'll need.  I mean, when a story starts out with five college kids heading off to a remote cabin in the woods, you kinda know the deal.

Our ill-fated crew consists of our hero Ash, his girlfriend Linda, his little sister Cheryl, Ash's buddy Scott and his ditzy girlfriend Shelly.  Upon their arrival at the cabin, they discover a few "these will come in handy later on" weapons in the basement, a Book of the Dead left there by the previous occupant, a professor, and his audio recordings of incantations from the book, which of course they play back.  After that, all hell literally breaks loose.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

OEDIPUS KING • Upstream Theater

I kicked it up old school Friday, and I don't mean like a show from the 50's.  I mean like a show from 429 B.C., when OEDIPUS KING was written.  I felt compelled to read up on Greek tragedy a bit before seeing this show.  There were a few things I researched (and when I say research I mean surfing the net) that gave me a better footing when it comes to this stuff.  Here's what I learned -- Hubris is bad.  Dramatic irony is fun.  To be born is to know suffering and then die.  Oh, and don't mock the oracles.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

HIGH • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (pre-Broadway run)


This play comes to the Rep in collaboration with TheaterWorks in Hartford Connecticut where it ran from July 2 to August 22, and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park where it ran from September 4 to October 2.  Maybe St. Louis is lucky to be the last stop on the list -- HIGH is aiming for a Broadway run in 2011, resulting in much scrutiny and some significant rewrites since its opening in Hartford, so we can assume that the version we'll be seeing here will be very different from what was seen in Hartford.  Actually, the play may change while it's here in St. Louis.  The night I went, there was a post-show discussion and the director explained to us that there was a recent script addition that was omitted that performance.  That's how vigorously this play is being tweaked.  But don't get me wrong -- the fact that this show is a work in progress in no way implies that this is some half-baked idea of a play.  This show in its present form is tight and intense.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

NOVEMBER • St. Louis Actors' Studio

The St. Louis Actors' Studio begins its fourth season with David Mamet's NOVEMBER.  Mamet's known for exposing the more corrupt under-belly of things, exploring the decadence people are capable of with a writing style that has come to be known as "Mamet speak", exemplified in plays like his 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner, Glengarry Glen Ross.  Mamet also co-authored the screenplay for the 1997 film “Wag the Dog” that like NOVEMBER, featured Oval Office hijinks and manipulations -- with the president hiring a Hollywood producer to stage a fake war to distract the public from a sex scandal.

So, it's days before the election, and a very unpopular incumbent president, Charles H. P. Smith, is in a dire situation.  His poll numbers are "lower than Gandhi's cholesterol".  When he asks his lawyer why people hate him so much his lawyer replies, "Because you fucked up everything you touched."  Not only that, but his political allies have pulled the financial plug and his devoted speechwriter is on vacation.  Smith is desperate to get re-elected and secure the funds for his presidential library, or at least leave the white house with a little cash in his own pocket.  What's a commander-in-chief to do?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I LOVE MY WIFE • New Line Theatre


Ah, the 70's.  Reminds me of my beloved chocolate brown corduroy blazer and my parents' misgivings about my insistence that I be allowed to stay up to watch "Maude".  It was also a time when many in the country turned their attention to getting their groove on -- threesomes, foursomes, who cares?  It was the swingin' 70's!  But can the friendship of 2 couples survive the influences of the sexual revolution?  That's what we get to find out in New Line Theatre's 20th season opener, I LOVE MY WIFE.

This was opening night and a few of the for real reviewers, like the people who really know their shit were there.  I got chills.  Okay not really, but you could feel everyone's anticipation to see this show, which hadn't been staged in St. Louis for many years, and that was cool.  I also must say, there were a couple of chicks behind me who apparently were not aware of the "Excuse me, the show has started.  STFU" rule.  Luckily for me, they sat somewhere else for the second act.  At one point early on when one of the couples was getting into bed, one of the girls said, "Oh my God.  Are they gonna get in bed together?"  …  Uh, really?  Did you enjoy your season at the Muny?  But I digress…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beautiful Chord Progressions Kick Ass

Okay so, I was listening to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA a couple of days ago, and had forgotten how much I love "The Music of the Night".

What?

Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman
© Really Useful Group
I'm not sure why so many people hate this show.  Maybe it's backlash against the success the show has had.  Maybe people just don't care for Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Maybe it's a prejudice against specters.  Maybe the hate comes from the women who have actually had to sing this stuff.  But again, I love spectacle.  A subterranean lake with tons of dry ice, elaborate costumes and a crashing chandelier?  I'm in.  The music is big with a butt-load of strings and french horns, which I also love.  I'm sure many consider it just a bunch of style over substance -- I can understand that, but whatev.  That's the great thing about theatre -- there's room for everything, right?  Did I mention the subterranean lake and lush orchestrations?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MASTER CLASS • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is kicking off its 8th season with MASTER CLASS, a 1995 Tony Award winning play by Terrence McNally, here under the careful direction of Gary F. Bell.  It was inspired by a series of master classes given at the Juilliard School of Music in the early 70's by Maria Callas, one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century.

From what I've read, in addition to being a solid operatic actress with great depth of feeling and an impressive vocal range that was instantly recognizable, she was also reportedly a temperamental diva who was at the center of controversy and scandal later in her career.  As a result of her possibly reaching too far too fast, taking on vocally demanding roles, and not having the benefit of early formal training, her career was cut short by the age of around 40 when her voice began to decline.  It's around this time when McNally's fictional account takes place.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yay Stephen Sondheim Theatre!

Today marks a very special day in my book.  It's the day when the marquee of the newly dedicated Stephen Sondheim Theatre is unveiled and lighted at a 6:30 PM ceremony at 124 W. 43rd Street in Manhattan's Theatre district.

Stephen Sondheim is a huge part of why I love musical theatre.  He also has a lot to do with why some popular contemporary music has become oftentimes as boring as a box of rocks to me.  After listening to Sondheim shows filled with unpredictable melodies, brilliant lyrics and beautifully layered orchestrations (love to Jonathan Tunick),  I have become one of those people who listens to NPR or musicals in the car.  Yeah.  I'm one of those.  

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for ROAD SHOW, PASSION, ASSASSINS, INTO THE WOODS, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, SWEENEY TODD, PACIFIC OVERTURES, THE FROGS, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, FOLLIES, COMPANY, ANYONE CAN WHISTLE and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, as well as the lyrics for WEST SIDE STORY, GYPSY and DO I HEAR A WALTZ?  I'm sure I'm leaving a few out, but regardless, he's the bomb.  And no, I'm not really sure why I always feel the need to capitalize the names of shows.  Adds gravitas maybe…

Monday, September 13, 2010

SHREK THE MUSICAL • The Fox

I was doubtful.  I mean, I truly believe that there's room for everything when it comes to theatre, but sometimes things can get lost in screen-to-stage musical adaptations -- particularly when you're dealing with animated movies.  Character development and plot can give way to overdone gags and spectacle, which may be fine for the kids, but may leave the adults wanting a little more substance over theme park.  Then I remembered that hey, I kinda liked the movie when I saw it years ago.  Not only that, but I have no problem admitting that I love stagecraft.  Bring it -- smoke machines, gigantic set pieces, witches on cherry pickers -- I'll sit there with my mouth hangin' half open for minutes on end.

Luckily, in The Fabulous Fox Theatre's season opener, there was not only a fair bit of stagecraft, but a relatively decent plot behind DreamWorks' first musical venture, SHREK THE MUSICAL (music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire).  The tale is one that is quite familiar -- "You can't always read a book by its cover", "It's what's inside that counts", "What makes you different makes you special"… you know.  But this show was able to deliver these lessons with sincerity, as opposed to assaulting you with a ton of eye-candy to distract you from the fact that there's really nothing else going on at the core.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

EQUUS • HotCity Theatre

Giddyup psychodrama!

If anyone has any doubts about the variety and quality of theatre we have here in the Lou, they should make tracks to the Kranzberg Arts Center to check out HotCity Theatre's production of EQUUS.  I saw this last night with a couple of friends and I.  Loved.  It.

The play, written in 1973 by Peter Shaffer, was recently revived in NYC with Harry Pott… I mean Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths.  Here in St. Louis, it's admirably directed by Doug Finlayson.  The play centers on Alan Strang, a young English stable boy who has blinded six horses with a metal spike, and his psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who is talked into taking him on as a patient.  Buckle up, right?

What would drive a 17 year old boy to commit such a violent act against animals he loved -- animals he'd come to worship as deities?  As Dysart tries to find the answer to this question, and the details of Alan's life are revealed in a series of therapy sessions and flashbacks, we learn about both characters.  We learn about Alan, and how apparently, living with a mother who's a religious zealot and a father who's a restrained atheist can really mess with your head.  And we learn about Dr. Dysart, the man trying to figure him out.  In the process of dissecting his patient, slowly winning his trust, Dysart uncovers not only how the combination of societal, religious and sexual influences (with a little shame thrown in) have affected the mind of this kid, but the doctor also comes to realize that "curing" him would be in a sense, for him, breaking Alan's spirit -- a spirit and passion the doctor feels he has never known.  Does "normal and well-adjusted" = "happy and fulfilled"?  It's kinda heavy, dude.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Touhill Preview: THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

First of all, let me just start off by saying that you can get some pretty interesting looks when you're listening to cast recordings in the car with the windows down.  "Yeah, I'm listening to some GREY GARDENS!  You gotta problem with that?!?"  Geez…

Anyway, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS has recently popped up on the radar (C.S. Lewis' novel adapted for the stage by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean).  This play is enjoying an open run in NYC and stars Max McLean as Screwtape -- McLean will take a short break from the New York production to perform the role in St. Louis -- and I'm really kind of annoyed that I'm not going to be able to go.  I've got an HRC Dinner Gala to go to that night.  <--- Ah… see that's where I reveal a bit more about myself.  Now there's like a little bond between us!  There will be two showings -- 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. for one day only -- September 25.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fox Preview: SOUTH PACIFIC

Last week PBS aired a "Live from Lincoln Center" broadcast of SOUTH PACIFIC.  This show with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, debuted in 1949 and is considered by many to be one of the greatest musicals of all time.   

It was revived on Broadway in 2008 and was initially supposed to be a limited run, but ended up going for two years -- it closed a couple of days ago, on August 22.  The revival won seven Tony Awards when it opened and the original production won ten as well as the Pulitzer Prize.  I watched the broadcast to see what was up, honestly thinking I would be kinda bored, regardless of the number of songs from it that have become classics like "Bali Ha'i", "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair", "Some Enchanted Evening", "There is Nothing Like a Dame" and "Happy Talk".  Well, I was really charmed by it.  I was also unaware of the fact that this show dealt with racism as much as it did.  Pretty ballsy for a musical from the late 40's.

As you may have guessed, the setting is an island in the South Pacific during World War II.  A young Navy nurse, Nellie Forbush, falls for an older Frenchman named Emile de Becque.  I love how in musicals people can fall in love during the course of a two and a half minute song.  Then there's the handsome Lieutenant Cable who arrives on the island to head a mission to try to spy on the Japanese.  He's set up with Liat, the daughter of a Tonkinese "entrepreneur" called "Bloody Mary".  Things go sour though when Nellie finds out that Emile has two children by his Polynesian wife who has since passed.  Then those Little Rock roots come out and she starts to have second thoughts -- just as Lt. Cable has second thoughts about bringing a Tonkinese girl home.  There's a song called "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" where Cable explains to Emile that prejudice is not something you're born with -- it's something you have to learn.  That song may seem a bit ordinary nowadays, but again, ballsy for its time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

MAN OF LA MANCHA • Insight Theatre Company

8.20.2010

Tonight after a lovely dinner with my favorite Jew, Amy Fenster Brown, we headed to Heagney Theatre to check out Insight Theatre Company's production of MAN OF LA MANCHA (book by Dale Wasserman, lyrics by Joe Darion and music by Mitch Leigh).  Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves is a nice little space with around 350 seats.  Not really a bad seat in there.  I'd never been in there before, nor had I seen this show, that debuted in 1965.

So, it's Spanish Inquisition time and our protagonist Miguel de Cervantes -- poet, playwright, actor and tax collector -- has been thrown into the slammer for foreclosing on a church that failed to pay its taxes.  A Catholic church.  Not the best move during the Inquisition.  Upon arrival, the other prisoners inform Cervantes and his attendant that before he faces the Inquisition, he must face a mock trial by his fellow inmates.  If they find him guilty, they get all of his belongings.  In an effort to save his stuff, most importantly his cherished manuscript, he agrees and offers as his defense, a play.  The prisoners agree -- I mean, who cold turn down a little entertainment when you're awaiting the Inquisition -- and with them joining in, the play within the play begins.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Heart EVITA

So, I'm a little obsessed with EVITA (Thank you, New Line Theatre).  Yes, I know -- I'm quite late to the party.  I know this thing has been around for forever, but this happens every now and again (okay, it happens a lot) when I see a show that I've never seen before, and fall in love with the music and/or the story. In this case I fell for both.

I got the Original Broadway Cast Recording in the mail a few days ago, and have been listening to the piss out of it.  With very little dialogue, this rock opera has such a mix of styles I never get bored.

Okay, bear with me -- one of the first songs in the show, “Requiem for Evita/Oh, What a Circus”, is a great example.  In this song, Che (our cynical narrator) begins by reflecting on the hysterics that ensue in Argentina after the announcement of Eva Perón’s passing.
Okay, here we go...

- After the opening "Requiem", which is very requiemy... requiemesque... requiemish...? you hear for the first time the most recognizable leitmotif in the show at 3min. 03sec.
- Later, it goes into this kind of contemporary rock thing (well, contemporary for the 70's) at 5min. 22sec.  Che is angry...
- That goes right into this beautiful choral action a minute later at 6min. 22sec.
- And my favorite, they bust out into some orchestral splendor after which I immediately get chills at 7min 08sec. Yay tympani!!
- Oh yeah, and then Patti LuPone sings right around 8min., repeating the musical theme we hear Che sing at the beginning that's carried through that orchestral part.

The musical themes are so distinct that after a short while, when you hear them you immediately feel a sense of familiarity.  Like Les Miz or Sweeney Todd.  You know what those themes are connected to, and that always pulls me deeper into the story.  Love...  Not only that, but the show really seems to do justice to the weight of Eva's life, instead of relying on some cliche ending to bring it all together at the end -- like the unfortunate PIRATE QUEEN.

*sigh*  THE PIRATE QUEEN...  Oh well, that's another post.

Thanks for reading!   Until next time...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Soundtracks vs. Recordings and Other Ramblings

Yeah, those serious theatre folks can really get their panties in a knot about referring to cast recordings as soundtracks.  "Soundtracks accompany films. Cast Recordings refer to the recording of a stage show's songs.  The phrase 'Broadway Soundtrack' is a contradiction!  If live theatre had a soundtrack, it wouldn't be live theatre!  YOU MORON!!"  Yep, that's what they say...

So anyhoo, I recently bought the original Broadway cast recording of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  I was actually looking for the soundtrack but they didn't have it.  I was a little apprehensive because the soundtrack was so strongly seared into my brain I was afraid I might be a little let down.  As mentioned a couple of posts ago, the realization that there would be no marionettes in the stage version was a bitter pill.  I got the cd anyway, thinking it would be nice to have the lesser listened-to 1959 original.

Did it sound different?  Sure.  But I really like it.  I mean you know, for the most part.  I'm still a little partial to Julie Andrews over Mary Martin, the tempos are a little slower and I miss the extra music breaks and kids singing along more during "The Lonely Goatherd", but whatever.  There are always little variations here and there that make listening to different versions interesting.  The songs still make me happy and there's such a nice full orchestra.
... ... ...

Aw hell, who am I kidding?  I'll probably order the soundtrack before the week is out.
:)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

EVITA • New Line Theatre

7.31.2010

Last night -- EVITA (music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice), presented by New Line Theatre, the "Bad Boy" of musical theatre here in the Lou.

Now first off, I can't tell you how wonderful it was, after seeing a couple of things recently at the Muny with its 11,000 seats, to be back in the intimate 210 seat Washington University South Campus Theatre.  There's something about small venues I'm tellin' ya.  To me, theatre is all about getting your visceral experience on.  I think a degree of that tends to get lost in huge houses, but those smaller theatres where it's right in your face?  Love...  Also, at the start of the second act as the lights were dimming, I could hear a couple of audience members politely shushing their neighbors.  I like that.  In other words, STFU.

It had been awhile since I'd seen a New Line show, and I was once again reminded of how great their productions are, no matter how downsized they might be.  I'd also never seen EVITA before and this company did not disappoint.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC • The Muny

7.30.2010

It’s been a Muny kind of week!

Last night, I saw THE SOUND OF MUSIC under the stars at, once again, the Muny.  A musical about the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany?  Why not?!

Of course it’s about much more than just that.  This Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that opened on Broadway in 1959 focuses on Maria Rainer, a postulant turned governess to the seven children of a military man.  In the process of finding out whether or not she is ready for the monastic life, Maria wins over the kids, reintroduces music back into the family and melts the heart of their father, Baron von Trapp.  Aww…

CATS • The Muny

7.25.2010

Hey, it’s my first post!

So, I saw CATS this weekend at the Muny.  I’ve had my issues with the Muny.  Sure, it’s the nation’s oldest and largest outdoor theatre and has a long and established history.  No question, St. Louis is lucky to have it, but all forms of theatre etiquette seem to go bye-bye when you’re outdoors.  I went anyway with a couple good friends of mine for two reasons:

1. CATS, (composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber) was one of the first musicals I’d ever seen so I have a little soft spot for it.

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