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Friday, December 30, 2011

Can I just talk about Stephanie J. Block for a minute? • Thank you.

Hello again theatre peeps, and Happy Holidays!  You know what the Holiday season brings -- among many other things, it's also typically when I ramble on about random stuff, so here goes…
I love Stephanie J. Block, aka, Broadway Crush #1.  I know, big surprise.  Why you ask?  Well, the first time I saw her was when she came through St. Louis with the first National Tour of WICKED as Elphaba in 2005.  That show is what prompted me to see more theatre.  I just thought to myself, "I enjoy this too much to not do more of it".  The rest is history.  Okay.  Not really history, but you get my point…

Saturday, December 10, 2011

KRAPP'S LAST TAPE • The Black Mirror Theatre Company

Samuel Beckett wrote of his character in KRAPP'S LAST TAPE, "Krapp has nothing to talk to but his dying self and nothing to talk to him but his dead one."  This hour-long, one-act, one-man classic is said to be the closest thing to an autobiography he'd ever written, and its current staging, the second show from the newly founded Black Mirror Theatre Company, is marvelous.  

The space where the show is presented, the Firecracker Press on Cherokee Street, is a graphic design studio and letterpress printshop.  This showroom is filled with handmade posters, stationary, and a ton of other little artistic knick-knacks for sale.  In enlarging Krapp's profession to include printing, this location served as the perfect backdrop.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

THE LAST NIGHT OF BALLYHOO • New Jewish Theatre

The plays I've seen from The New Jewish Theatre often seem to be these intimate little "slice of life" affairs that offer lessons that sneak up on you.  This 1997 Tony Award winning play by Alfred Uhry (author of DRIVING MISS DAISY), with solid direction by Gary Wayne Barker, is no exception.
It's the Holiday Season in a 1939 well-to-do German Jewish community in Atlanta, Georgia.  "Gone With the Wind" is about to make its film debut, and a flighty, young Lala Levy (Rachel Fenton) cannot wait to soak up the atmosphere of this highly anticipated premiere.  Lala's social climbing mother, Beulah "Boo" Levy (Peggy Billo), is more concerned with securing a suitable gentleman to take Lala to "Ballyhoo" -- an annual celebration for southern Jews that culminates on the last night with a dance.  Lala, a college dropout who's not the most popular girl, is one of the only ones in her circle of friends who is still unmarried.  Lala and Boo live on one of the finest streets in Atlanta with Boo's single brother, Adolph (Greg Johnston), head of the Dixie Bedding Company, and their seemingly simple and endearing sister-in-law, Reba Freitag (Laurie McConnell).  Although they boast a Jewish heritage that goes back 150 years, the Levys and the Freitags have hardly any idea what it means to be Jewish, aside from a couple of Yiddish words here and there.  They are so assimilated into the predominantly Christian South that the opening scene has Lala decorating their Christmas tree -- without the star on top (which makes it okay).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GODSPELL • Mustard Seed Theatre

A musical about the New Testament?  Sure, why not?!  Originating as a thesis project that ended up running off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1971 (where it ran for 5 years and 2,000+ performances), GODSPELL transferred to Broadway in 1976 and ran for another 500 or so shows.  This musical is presented as a series of lessons based on the Gospel of Matthew.  The original production was set in a playground, but has since been set in various locations -- everywhere from a museum to a McDonald's.  Because there is no specific setting for the play in the script, directors are able to be creative and tailor the show's particulars to fit the times, the city, etc.  This production, beautifully directed and innovatively staged by Deanna Jent, takes place in the streets of St. Louis.  They even worked in the theme to "Angry Birds"!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MURDERING MARLOWE • West End Players Guild

Charles Marowitz's fictional account of a rivalry between two real-life figures, playwrights Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, is an intriguing, slick little play, and under Robert A. Mitchell's wonderfully paced direction, completely entertaining.  I'm just gonna say right now you should get a ticket.

All that is known about Marlowe's death in May 1593 is that he was stabbed in the eye following an argument over a bill.  Marowitz takes this nugget and weaves a tale that seems incredibly plausible.

In 16th century London, Christopher "Kit" Marlowe (John Wolbers) is all the rage.  His works dominate Elizabethan theatre, although he's considered by many to be a canker on the English landscape due to his blasphemy, drinking, and his willingness to engage with just about anything with an orifice.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE • Muddy Waters Theatre

Muddy Waters closes their 2011 season with Paula Vogel's 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning comedic drama, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE.  Vogel's incredible script deals with some very unfunny things -- incest, alcoholism, pedophilia -- but it's also packed with humor and surprisingly manages to draw out some unexpected pathos.  Maybe that's why it won the Pulitzer.

L'il Bit (Laurie McConnell) serves as the narrator for much of the play, recalling driving lessons with her Uncle Peck (B. Weller).  With a family who gives each other nicknames for their genital characteristics, having an Uncle "Peck" can only mean one thing…  Peck is a war vet and recovering alcoholic, and it's during these driving lessons that he starts molesting L'il Bit, starting from the time when she was 11 years old.  These encounters continued until L'il Bit was 18.  Through these years, we not only learn about Peck's less than savory inclinations, but also about how these moments on the road are some of the only times in her life when L'il Bit feels able to enjoy a feeling of control -- when she's behind the wheel, driving.  Trapped within her suburban Maryland family, L'il Bit revels in these driving lessons with her Uncle, but as she approaches the legal age of 18, and she's receiving letters from Uncle Peck (also anxiously counting down the days till her 18th birthday -- when he hopes to fully seduce her),  L'il Bit truly takes control, and puts an end to their trysts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES • R-S Theatrics

The latest play on offer from R-S Theatrics, written by Rajiv Joseph, looks at the relationship of Kayleen (Christina Rios) and Doug (Mark Kelley) over the course of 30 years.  These two are… well… damaged.  Physically and emotionally.  Doug is a thrill seeking daredevil who wears his scars like badges of honor.  Depressed self-hater, Kayleen, suffers from stomach upsets, and sometimes cuts herself.  They first meet in the nurse's office at age 8 after Doug has ridden his bike off the roof of the school, cracking his head open, and Kayleen is having a stomach ache.  Their inquiries about each other's outside and inside wounds ring true to what an 8 year old would say -- "does it hurt" or "can I touch it?", but as they grow older, this self-destructive behavior seems to be what keeps bringing them together.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

CIRCLE MIRROR TRANSFORMATION • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

So, while everyone else in St. Louis was watching the World Series (Yay, Cards!), I was in an acting class -- room #107 at the Shirley Community Center in Shirley, Vermont.  This is the setting for Annie Baker's clever and funny off-Broadway play that premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2009, and won 2010 Obie Awards for Best New American Play, Performance, Ensemble and Direction.

Marty (Lynne Wintersteller) is holding a six-week course in creative drama.  Her four students include her enthusiastic husband James (John Ottavino), Lauren (Charlotte Mae Jusino), a brooding 16 year old, Theresa (Kate Middleton), a perky actress newly transplanted from New York City, and newly out of a toxic relationship, and Schultz (Danny McCarthy), a recently divorced carpenter.  On some level, all of these people are trying to connect in some way.  Now, in the program notes by Gillian McNally, it's pointed out that creative drama is defined as "an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact and reflect upon human experience."  What better framework could there be to learn about these five people and watch them in turn discover each other?  Under Stuart Carden’s evenly-paced, invisible direction, it works pretty well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

GOD OF CARNAGE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

All of us have, at some point, had one of those, "Man, what an effed up evening that was!  What the hell just happened?" kind of experiences.  This play is kinda like that.  Written by Yasmina Reza and translated from French by Christopher Hampton, it opened on Broadway in 2009, scoring Tony Awards for best play, best actress and best direction.

The Raleighs are getting together at the Brooklyn home of the Novak's because the Novak's son has had two teeth knocked out as a result of a playground fight with the Raleigh's kid.  <-- Yes, really long sentence.  Alan Raleigh (Anthony Marble) is a lawyer, constantly interrupting the proceedings with cell phone calls about a drug he's representing that has recently been found to cause some bothersome side-effects.  His wife Annette (Susan Louise O'Connor) deals in wealth management.  Veronica Novak (Eva Kaminsky) is writing a book about Darfur, and her husband Michael Novak (Triney Sandoval) sells domestic hardware.  They meet each other with the best of intentions, but with the help of ample amounts of rum, these four upper-middle class adults jettison their civilized guises to expose their untamed and wickedly universal selves underneath.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NUTS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Ooo, I love a good courtroom drama.  And there's a fine one going on right now at the Gaslight Theater, kicking off St. Louis Actors’ Studio's season.  Possibly best known for its 1987 film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss, Tom Topor's NUTS… you know what I mean… opened as a play off-off Broadway in 1979 and transferred to Broadway the next year.  The play all takes place inside a courtroom in New York's Bellevue Hospital, and although the play itself can seem a bit static at times, the dynamic performances from the high-caliber cast within it are anything but.  It’s three acts with two intermissions, but once the first act gets going, the rest of the show flies by.

The play begins on the day of Claudia Faith Draper's sanity hearing (a compelling Lara Buck).  She's a high-priced call girl who has been indicted for manslaughter.  She claims she killed one of her clients in self-defense, but the state is trying to have her declared mentally unfit to stand trial.  The state's witness, her arrogant psychiatrist Dr. Rosenthal (Steve Callahan), has determined that Claudia is a paranoid schizophrenic and should be hospitalized for her own good, and for the good of the state.  Her mother and stepfather, Rose and Arthur Kirk (Donna Weinsting & John Contini), fearing that the details of Claudia's profession would be exposed in an embarrassing public trial, side with the state.  Claudia insists that she's completely sane, and is equipped with an explicit understanding of the law.  She knows that if she is denied the right to stand trial, because of the way New York's "Mental Hygiene Law" works, she could possibly be committed for up to 17 years.  Claudia is going up against the system, and even though she has the help of her public defender, Aaron Levinsky (William Roth), she seems pretty much on her own.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

THE WHO'S TOMMY • Stray Dog Theatre

Take a young boy, nullified into a practically catatonic state by witnessing a violent act at home, abuse from a vile uncle and a vicious cousin, a pinball machine, a rise to messianic fame and some kick-ass rock music -- what do you get?  You get THE WHO'S TOMMY, Stray Dog Theatre's strikingly ambitious season opener.

Pete Townshend and The Who's double concept album is considered by many to be one of the first rock operas.  It is at any rate, one of the best known, and it attained massive success when it was released in 1969.  1975 brought a star-studded psychedelic film version, and then a Broadway musical adaptation in 1993 (Alice Ripley made her Broadway debut in it) that won Tony Awards for original score, scenic design, lighting design, choreography, and direction.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

THE ADDAMS FAMILY • The Fox

The Addams Family began in 1938 as a series of single panel cartoons published in The New Yorker, created by cartoonist Charles Addams.  Since then, they have been adapted into a television series, an animated series, and films.  So, it was just a matter of time before it ended up as a staged Broadway musical, right?  This show has been re-tooled for the national tour, and it kicks off The Fox's Broadway series.

Musicals that have been adapted from popular franchises don't tend to fare too well with NYC critics, and it opened last year to some nasty reviews, but who the hell cares about theatre reviews anyway?! …Oh wait...

Friday, September 30, 2011

DIRTY BLONDE • Dramatic License Productions

A clever look at the bawdy, naughty film star, Mae West, is what's on offer at Dramatic License Productions.  Mae West was a true icon, and a pioneer when she started out in vaudeville.  With her sexually provocative stage shows and salacious one-liners, what she may have lacked as far as talent, she made up for with chutzpah, pushing the envelope of censorship.

This play covers a lot of ground considering it has only 3 actors.  It starts off introducing us to Charlie (John Reidy) and Jo (Kim Furlow).  They're two modern day fanatics who LOVE Mae West, and run into each other in a Brooklyn cemetery at Mae's crypt on August 17, the anniversary of her birth.  Jo is a lonely actress who temps more than she acts, and Charlie is a mild, quiet man who works at the New York Public Library Film Archives.  They strike up a friendship, and the ambiguous relationship between these two Mae West devotees grows during the course of the play.  By the end of it, they both get to "be" Mae West -- in a sense.  There are also scenes involving a young Mae (also Kim Furlow), with the various men of her life (John Reidy and B. Weller).  These follow her beginnings on the vaudeville stage, honing her persona, testing the boundaries of what she could get away with, and taking a few tips from a couple of drag queens -- a hilarious scene that suggests these queens helped give Mae West some finishing touches that solidified the indelible images that come to mind when we hear her name.  There are also scenes that show a young Charlie meeting Mae when he was 17 and she was an aging sexpot in her 80's, still trying to work it for all it was worth.  These scenes were some of the most compelling for me, with a rather sad Mae taking delight in looking at old pictures of herself, and Charlie, completely smitten, and Joe Frisco (B. Weller), a long-time friend of Mae's and hanger-on hoping to get lucky again.  Even into her mature years, she insisted that she looked like a woman of 26.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

PASSING STRANGE • New Line Theatre

New Line's season opener rocks.  Literally.  Never letting you forget you're watching a play, PASSING STRANGE challenges the preconceptions about what a musical is -- a musical for people who don't think they like musicals.  It's a high-octane, allegorical, semi-autobiographical account of a musician, Mark Stewart, who goes by the single name, Stew, and his journey of self-discovery.  It opened on Broadway in 2008, garnering a Tony Award for Best Book.

Stew (Charles Glenn) serves as the older, wiser narrator, looking back on "Youth" (Keith Parker) who serves as his rebellious younger self, our Hero for the evening.  Pivotal scenes from Stew's life are played out with Youth, and a fully engaged ensemble.  Strong numbers like, "Baptist Fashion Show", "Amsterdam", and "May Day", shine a full light on the electrifying strength of this cast that a New Line production always promises.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

THE WINNERS • HotCity Theatre

So, how does winning a butt-load of cash in the lottery change your life?  Or more intriguingly, what temptations and behaviors do new-found financial freedom uncover? That's at the center of THE WINNERS, written by David L. Williams.  This play won HotCity's GreenHouse new play competition last year, and it's receiving a full production in its St. Louis premiere in the cozy black-box confines of the Kranzberg.

What's the first thing Cassie (Shanara Gabrielle) and her husband Kurt (Shaun Sheley) do after raking in $337 million?  What else?  They buy a hooker for the night!  See, Cassie used to have the hots for an Asian classmate in college, but she never experimented, so they hire "Tiffany" (Sasha Diamond) a young attractive escort, so Cassie can live out her fantasy.  Naturally her husband was all for it.  After awkward small talk and money negotiations they get down to business.  All of the "action" takes place offstage, but once the first round is over, there's a bit of animosity in the air.  Cassie and Kurt seem to do a little "power-tripping" in light of their upper-hand in the situation, and they proceed to run Tiffany through a series of rather humiliating scenarios.  Throughout the night, we also hear from a crying Shirley, the couple's daughter, over the baby monitor.  Shirley's almost two years old, but not yet able to talk.  Weary of always having to go up and check on the baby, Cassie and Kurt have Tiffany go up to check on her to give themselves a break.  Geez.  Have the hooker do the dishes too while you're at it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

RED • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

"What do you see?"

That's the first question painter Mark Rothko poses, almost pleads, to his new apprentice Ken in the opening minutes of the Rep's scorching season opener, John Logan's RED.

Mark Rothko's "multiforms" led to the development of Color Field Painting in the 1940's and 50's.  Although he is considered a master abstract expressionist, he shunned labels of any kind applied to his style.  You know -- that temperamental artist thing.

The play takes place in Rothko's 1950's art studio after he's been given a $35,000 commission (over $2 million today) to paint a series of murals for Manhattan's new Four Seasons restaurant.  Ken, an aspiring young artist himself, has been hired as Rothko's assistant.  He does everything from fetching Chinese food and preparing Rothko's canvases, to being a sounding board for the master and his intellectual ramblings.  Before Ken even has a chance to answer Rothko's initial question, he's given instructions on how to perceive his art -- "Let it work on you.  Let it pulsate.  Now what do you see?".

Sunday, September 4, 2011

FALLING • Mustard Seed Theatre

With an estimated 1 in 110 kids having an ASD, or Autism spectrum disorder, many of us are familiar with autism to some degree -- in a once or twice removed kind of way.  But seeing the challenges of a family with an autistic son up close and personal in Mustard Seed's first show of their season, written by artistic director, Deanna Jent, is a powerful and touching experience.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

THE CONVERSATION • The Black Mirror Theatre Company

There's a new theatre company in town folks, and THE CONVERSATION, written by St. Louisan Dennis Corcoran, is The Black Mirror Theatre Company's inaugural performance.
This play focuses on a discussion between Queen Elizabeth I and Gráinne Ní Mháille, or Grace O'Malley.  Grace was an Irish pirate and chieftain of the Ó Máille clan.  In the 16th century when England was in the process of trying to gain rule over Ireland, many Gaelic chieftains were handing over their land to the monarch and adopting fancy English titles, but Grace was a thorn in England's side -- a "bleeding ulcer" who refused to submit.  Her notorious exploits on the sea also posed a threat to England's purse.  When Grace's son and half-brother were imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth's armies, she sailed to English soil to seek favor and petition their release.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RESTORATION • St. Louis Shakespeare

Ah, the class system.  It never really goes away, does it?  Whether you're in 18th century England or 21st century America, injustice is a timeless subject that Edward Bond considers in RESTORATION, currently on stage at the Grandel presented by St. Louis Shakespeare.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

THRILL ME: THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY • Max & Louie Productions

Let me just start off by saying, there is some interesting pre-show chatter that goes on sometimes.  "My cousin's uncle got him out of jail".  "Yeah, and the prosecuting attorney was my aunt's brother-in-law".  This was the kind of small talk going on before Max & Louie's opening night performance of Stephen Dolginoff's THRILL ME:  THE LEOPOLD AND LOEB STORY.  This musical is based on the true story of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, "thrill killers" who were sentenced to life plus 99 years for the murder of a young boy.  With songs like "Nothing Like a Fire", "Way Too Far" and "Ransom Note", the dark nature of this "crime of the century" seems unlikely material for a musical, but as director Brooke Edwards points out in her notes, this show concentrates less on the crimes and more on the relationship between these two young well-to-do law students from Chicago.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR • St. Louis Shakespeare

In the latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare, Mistresses Ford and Page are up to mischief in Windsor.

Sir John Falstaff (Martin Casey) is broke when he visits Windsor, and plans to woo Mistresses Ford and Page (Suki Peters & Jamie Marble) to get at the wallets of their husbands.  Fellas, if you're gonna write a nearly identical love letter to two women, make sure they don't find out about it, please.  That's the mistake Falstaff makes.  Once the Mistresses find out, they are bent on making a fool of him -- not really a difficult task.  Master Page (Chris Jones) doesn't give this buffoon much thought, but Master Ford (Ben Ritchie ) is jealous like crazy, so he disguises himself as "Master Brook" to try to get to the bottom of the "Fat Knight" and exactly what his intentions are.  Mistresses Ford and Page have a great time causing Falstaff to endure all kinds of humiliation as payment for his sloppy flirtations -- everything from being submerged in a filthy mess of smelly laundry to being poked and prodded by the local townsfolk.  Poor Falstaff.  In the end though, everything turns out fairly well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

THE CRUMPLE ZONE • Citilites Theatre

Ah, the holidays.  Supposedly a time of mirth and merriment for families and friends right?  Well, not always.  If there's one thing this play about infidelity, love and friendship demonstrates, it's that the holiday season can be just as unfulfilling for gays as it can be for straight folks.  Sounds like an engaging play though, right?  Well, not really.

Set in a small apartment in Staten Island, our cast of characters includes Terry (Keith Thompson), the incredibly lonely and neurotic unemployed actor who has a tremendous crush on Buck (Troy Turnipseed). But Buck is the lover of Alex (Seth Ward Pyatt), Terry's roommate.  He's working as a Santa Claus at the Staten Island Mall.  Then there's Matt (Anotnio Rodriguez), Alex's long-term boyfriend who is out on the road touring with a musical adaptation of "Salem's Lot".  There's also Roger (Devin Przygoda) who is picked up by Terry on the Staten Island ferry.

Friday, June 17, 2011

THE VISIT • Stray Dog Theatre

After seeing this play, I could hardly wait to rush home and google Tragicomedy.  This 1956 play in three acts by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt presents some pretty absurd ideas, but getting sucked into how irrational ideas eventually become rationalized during the course of a story like this is chilling, but uncomfortably familiar at the same time.
As the play begins, the town of Güllen is gathered at the train station planning a grand welcoming for Claire Zachanassian (a commanding Julie Layton).  She's a billionaire home town girl who has scheduled a visit to her old stomping grounds.  With the loss of the town's industries, Güllen is drowning in its own poverty, and they hope that Claire might throw some bank their way.  Anton Schill (R. Travis Estes), who runs the general store, has been assigned the task of buttering her up.  She arrives early and catches the townsfolk off-guard.  After a blustery welcome by the Burgomaster (Jan Niehoff), Claire announces her intentions -- she is willing to offer 1 billion marks, half to the town and half to the citizens, in exchange for the life of one of the most popular guys in town.  That's right -- Anton Schill.  See, Anton and Claire were sweethearts back in the day, but Anton got her pregnant when she was 17.  Claire lost a paternity suit against Anton and turned to prostitution for awhile to get by after being forced out of town, so Claire's looking for some revenge.  I mean uh, justice.  The town is appalled and rejects her offer, but Claire asserts that she'll wait.

Monday, June 13, 2011

TONY AWARDS AFTERGLOW

In celebration of the big winner tonight…  Oh…  last night…  I felt compelled to post another song from THE BOOK OF MORMON -- the opening number called "Hello!".  Congratulations to all of the Tony Award nominees and winners!

Yay, theatre!!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

WAR HORSE • Vivian Beaumont Theatre

Well, here on the day of the 65th Annual Tony Awards, I've finally gotten around to posting about this show -- my favorite from this past NYC trip.

I rarely cry at the theatre.  It's happened twice -- once during WICKED's "For Good" (I was seeing it with my best friend so… you know…) and then once during the first 10 minutes of  THE LION KING because it was just so visually beautiful.  But during WAR HORSE?  I cried like a little bitch.

This play with music was adapted from a children's book of the same name that was written by Michael Morpurgo.  There's also a Steven Spielberg film in the works.  Admittedly, the book for this play has received some criticism for its simplicity, but whatever.  The real draw of this production is the life-sized horse puppets (along with a very animated little puppet goose) developed from the creative talents of the Handspring Puppet Company.  Kind of like AVENUE Q, after awhile you don't even see the puppeteers.  The team of 3 or 4 operating the horses disappear, and you're looking at a horse on stage.  The twitching ears, head shaking, the subtle movements of the front legs and hooves, the flutter of the tail, that spark in the eyes -- theatre magic, baby…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

THE IMMIGRANT • New Jewish Theatre

Not all Jews who escaped the pervasive violence in Russia ended up in Manhattan's Lower East side.  About 10,000 ended up in Galveston, Texas through a resettlement program called the Galveston Movement.  The New Jewish Theatre closes its season with THE IMMIGRANT, directed by Edward Coffield, a play that serves as a tribute to the playwright's grandparents, Haskell and Leah Harelik and their migration to Hamilton, Texas.

The set (Josh Smith) draws you in -- a warm, rustic cedar paneled framing and a thrust stage.  In addition to the title being projected onto the back of the set, the play begins with projections that set up the story that include real photos from the Harelik family album as well as photos from the harrowing journey to America.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

BARE • New Line Theatre

Some themes are universal.  The high school years tend to expose many of these coming-of-age themes -- especially at a co-ed Catholic Boarding School -- where you might happen to be gay.  With about 33 songs and very little dialogue, BARE (or alternatively, BARE:  A POP OPERA) is truly a pop opera.  When this show was first presented in 2000, there were some comparisons to RENT, but I think I liked this one better.
The kids are getting ready to put on the school play, ROMEO AND JULIET.  Within this framework, we see the struggles of Jason and Peter's attraction to each other -- Peter willing to be "out", and Jason, trying to stay "in".

Monday, May 30, 2011

SLEEP NO MORE • The McKittrick Hotel

I'm not really sure where to even start with this one.

SLEEP NO MORE is currently being presented in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea by Punchdrunk, a British theatre company.  Their audiences don't sit and watch -- they roam.  Punchdrunk deals in the realm of site specific productions, and after running this show abroad, they've brought their latest to the Big Apple.  Even their website is cool.

Punchdrunk has claimed a couple of downtown warehouses and transformed them into a truly immersive theatre going experience.  This presentation combines the story of MACBETH, a little Alfred Hitchcock thrown in, and as far as I can tell (by googling the names from the program), the Paisley witches, supposed Scotland witches tried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, in 1697.  Who knows what else might have been in there that I missed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

THE BOOK OF MORMON • Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Okay, so there are gonna be some naughty words in here.

Nominated for about a dozen Tonys, this is one of those shows that I felt like I just had to check out.  Thank goodness I got a ticket before the Tony nominations came out.  Probably saved a few bucks. (Broadwaybox.com -- some sweet savings here…)  Created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, best known for their animated series "South Park", this show follows two Mormon Elders and their missionary trip to Uganda.

At intermission a couple of incredibly well preserved New Yorkers behind me complained about the irreverence of this show.  Seriously?  You're seeing a musical comedy written by the "South Park" guys called THE BOOK OF MORMON.  With songs like "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream", "Hasa Diga Eebowai" (that translates into something that I don't even want to jot down here), and a dictator called "Butt-fucking naked" (I'm not kidding), if you don't know what you're getting into when you walk in, you're in for a night of unashamed blasphemy.  If you're up for it, you're gonna see a very entertaining musical.

Friday, May 27, 2011

THE NORMAL HEART • Golden Theatre

This powerful 1985 off-Broadway play about the early days of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in NYC is receiving a striking Broadway revival at the Golden Theatre.  THE NORMAL HEART follows a group of men who form an organization in an effort to bring attention to this baffling disease that is rapidly claiming the lives of gay men.  The group's leader and main agitator is Ned Weeks (based on the playwright, Larry Kramer), an outspoken writer whose in-your-face tactics often rubbed others the wrong way, but were necessary during this time when many even in the gay community were pretty ambivalent about what was happening.

It's explosive, contentious, urgent and the weight of it makes your heart race.  The stark set was the first thing that stood out to me.  At first glance, it looks like plain white bricks, but upon closer inspection you can see embossed phrases like, "How come nobody is paying any attention to 'it'", "Everything, everything is too little too late", and "blood transfusions".  Joel Grey & George C. Wolfe's direction does try to make the most of the welcome humor in the show, but for the most part, it's pretty grueling.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK • Second Stage Theatre


I love New York.  Particularly the area of Manhattan that falls within 7th and 9th Avenues between 40th and 54th, roughly.  Theatre District, baby!  That's why I've been coming here for the last 6 or so years and I'm grateful for the ability to do it.  That being said, this latest play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Lynn Nottage, was first up on the list.

Inspired by the struggles of actresses like Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, MEET VERA STARK takes a look at film industry racism, but it does so in some fairly hilarious and unexpected ways.  With many black actresses of 1930's Hollywood being confined to playing the maid or the nanny, Nottage follows her fictitious title character's climb up the Hollywood food chain to modest celebrity through to the 1970's.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

SUICIDE, INCORPORATED • R-S Theatrics

So, let's say you've found yourself at the end of your rope and suicide is seemingly your only option.  Well, nobody wants to leave behind a punk-ass note right?  You want to leave a suicide note of import.  A thorough explanation of your distress.  Something your loved ones will remember.  Enter Suicide, Incorporated.

Artistic director Randy Stinebaker discovered this play in Chicago where it premiered at the Gift Theatre.  Playwright Andrew Hinderaker, who wrote this play in memory of a friend, invited Randy to see it, then granted permission for RS Theatrics to present it as the first fully staged reading outside Chicago.  Lucky for us.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS • Max & Louie Productions

Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer, better know as Ann Landers, took over the Chicago Sun-Times's 'Ask Ann Landers' column in 1955 after the death of its creator, Ruth Crowley.  During the next 47 years, readers across the country wrote to Ann with questions about everything from sex and marriage, to how to properly hang toilet paper.  Questions you may not feel comfortable discussing with your priest, friends, or even your spouse could be shared with Ann Landers.  Lederer also weighed in on the more complex issues of the day, including politics, abortion and homosexuality.  She became a media celebrity, yet still answered every letter herself, as long as it had a return address, and her column was enjoyed by millions along with their morning cup of coffee.  This 2006 one-woman show, written by David Rambo, and fluently directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga, is set in 1975 and was based on Lederer's letters and life stories.

Monday, May 9, 2011

INTELLIGENT LIFE • HotCity Theatre

It's really been an extraterrestrial kind of week!

You guys remember Fox and Scully right?  That is, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the incredibly popular Fox network series, "The X-Files".  Well, much like that show, this play, written by Lauren Dusek Albonico, on the surface looks at the possibility of extraterrestrial life with a little subtext of religion and issues of blind faith thrown in.  This is the first professional production of this play that was a finalist in HotCity's GreenHouse New Plays Festival.

A basement "office" serves as headquarters for a motley crew of Utah alien chasers.  There's Robin (Aarya Sara Locker) -- a dedicated believer, Beau (Scott Schneider) -- her slacker ex-boyfriend, and Gary (Kevin Beyer) -- a recovering alcoholic who has been kicked out of his house, along for the ride.  They all think they may have just hit the mother lode.  Enter Aethan (Parker S. Donovan), a highly intelligent boy who has run away from home.  Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Beau and Gary kidnap this kid, convinced at the time that Aethan is not of this world.  They soon learn that he's not an alien, just a highly intelligent boy with a knack for telekinesis and his own version of pig latin.  These special qualities are more than enough to convince Robin that this kid is the real deal -- a bona fide alien.  The reality of the situation is kept from Robin though, and we're given a peek at just how far people are willing to extend a non-truth, and how little it takes for believers to believe.  Things get more complicated when the disappearance of Aethan hits the news.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

DARK MATTERS • Stray Dog Theatre

How far can "willing suspension of disbelief" take you?  Well, if you see Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's DARK MATTERS at Stray Dog (directed by Justin Been), trust me.  You will find out.

In the mountains of rural Virginia, where the Clearys moved about six months earlier from Washington D.C., Mom has gone missing.  Bridget Cleary (Sarah Cannon) hasn't returned home after going to get groceries, and her husband Michael (David Wassilak) and son Jeremy (Tyler Whiteman) are starting to freak out a little.  Bridget, a writer and amateur astronomer, has been known to wander off into the night to stargaze, but never before it gets dark, and now it's been a couple of days.  The local Sheriff (John Reidy) seems eager to help, and informs Michael that his wife has been seen, but the news of where she's been seen introduces another set of possibilities and questions for her husband.  Okay, I'll just tell you -- she's been seen at this local dive bar, and according to someone who works there, she's also been seen walking off with truckers into the parking lot, or to nearby motels.  There are some family details concerning Dad that also come to the surface after the Sheriff does a little poking around for clues, but they don't do much as far as advancing the story, and just seem to confuse the plot.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

AGNES OF GOD • Avalon Theatre Company

I had only seen the movie version of this play, so when I found out that Avalon was doing it, I couldn't wait to see it.

Okay, so you've got this young nun, Sister Agnes, who's been found passed out in her room at the convent with a dead baby in a wastepaper basket.  And lots of blood.  Psychiatrist Doctor Livingstone is called in to try to figure out whether Sister Agnes is mentally fit enough to stand trial for manslaughter.  The convent's Mother Superior seems to know more than she's willing to admit, but is fiercely protective of Sister Agnes, and insists that Agnes claims to have no memory of what's happened.  Mother Miriam Ruth also believes that the conception of the baby may have been the result of something miraculous.  Well, the cynical Doctor isn't buying it.  Flashbacks of the past events are replayed with a simple turning of a chair, and through scenes with the Doctor directly addressing the audience, we learn about her own issues with the Catholic Church.  We also find out about the turbulent past of Mother Miriam Ruth and Sister Agnes.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Patter Songs Kick Ass • "Model Behavior" from WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

Okay so, this week I got my OBCR of WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN in the mail.  I posted a blog about it when I saw it in the Big Apple, and at the time I wasn't completely sold on David Yazbek's music and lyrics.  Well, after listening to the recording (a few times), I like it much more than I did.  It's grown on me -- you know how that happens sometimes.  It was assumed that there wouldn't be a cast recording at all -- closing early and everything -- but the powers that be decided to go for it.  Luckily.  But the song that left one of the biggest impressions in NYC is still my favorite -- a fantastic little patter song called "Model Behavior".
In this number, Pepa (Sherie Rene Scott), who's just been through a painful break-up, has come home to an answering machine bursting with messages from her best friend Candela (Laura Benanti), a fashion model.  See, she is desperately trying to reach Pepa because not only is Candela in love…  again…  but is afraid her newest boyfriend may be a terrorist.

Laura Benanti (Candela)
WOMEN ON THE VERGE
OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

It's a great tune with some interesting music and orchestrations.  I would suggest listening with earphones.  I know I know, but seriously -- you can hear the bassline better.  This song confirms my belief that patter songs are a lovely thing, and Laura Benanti is a goddess…

Enjoy!



BONUS TRACK!!
I just think this number, "On The Verge" is cool too.  That's all.  More bassline love, and the harmonies, and that subtle string action in the background around 1 min. and 48 sec. --  love…  Enjoy this, too!



Saturday, April 23, 2011

AWAKE AND SING! • New Jewish Theatre

This Clifford Odets play debuted in NYC at the Belasco Theatre in 1935.  To me, it's a little "slice of life" kind of action, where you're dropped into the world of this lower-middle-class Depression-era Jewish family, and you get to be a fly on the wall of their lives over the course of a year or so.

Welcome to the Bronx and the Berger family.  In the 1930's, America didn't seem to live up to its reputation of being the land of opportunity.  For this family, it's a land where making ends meet is a daily struggle.  Their cramped tenement apartment houses three generations.  First there's the matriarch, Bessie (Elizabeth Townsend), a domineering selfish mother who manipulates the lives of everyone in the place, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a future for the family, regardless of the cost to her children's aspirations.  Her submissive husband Myron (Gary Wayne Barker) is content to do what his wife wants, enduring her insults and is frankly hilarious in delivering his timid lines.  Hilarious, but kind of sad too.  There's also their children Hennie (Julie Layton), whose hopes for a better life are dashed with an unwanted pregnancy, and Ralph (Aaron Orion Baker), desperately trying to escape his family's economic misfortunes, hanging his hopes on a girl he's completely smitten with.  To him, she's "like French words."  Grandpa Jacob (Bobby Miller), a Marxist and retired barber also lives in the apartment, and urges his grandson to aspire to be something.  To fight, so "life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.”  The Bergers have also taken in a boarder, Moe Axelrod (Jason Cannon), a cynical veteran who lost his leg in WWI.  He's got a little thing for Hennie, but you'd never know it given his incredibly misogynistic tendencies.  His antagonistic relationship with Hennie is fun to watch.  At one point, Hennie tells Moe, "For two cents, I'd spit in your eye!"  There's also Bessie's successful but swarmy brother Morty (Jerry Vogel) who drops by every now and then, and Hennie's eventual immigrant husband Sam (Jordan Reinwald).  Over the course of this play, we're witness to how the hard times have effected this family and how they each, in their own way, battle for a better life -- by hook or by crook.

Monday, April 18, 2011

TILL WE HAVE FACES • Mustard Seed Theatre

TILL WE HAVE FACES is a novel by C.S. Lewis that retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche.  There are variations of this myth, but (very) basically, it goes something like this:  The goddess Venus becomes jealous of Psyche's astounding mortal beauty.  She orders her son Cupid to fly to her and with the aid of his golden arrows, cause her to fall in love with a beast (or not to fall in love at all), but upon seeing her, Cupid falls in love with Psyche, and has her carried away to his palace.  Cupid visits her each night for a little, you know, but asks that she never try to see his face, or discover his true form.  After the prodding of Psyche's jealous sisters, who convince her that she may well have been sleeping with a monster, she does succeed in seeing his face one night, and discovers his identity and falls even more deeply in love with him.  In the process though, Cupid wakes up and sees that Psyche has defied his order, and banishes her from his palace.  Psyche seeks atonement and Venus gives her four impossible tasks that Psyche completes, and she and Cupid live happily ever after.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

NEXT TO NORMAL • The Fox

So, I'm not even sure where to begin.

Those who know me are well aware of the fact that I fell in love with this musical a couple of years ago when I saw it in NYC (twice), and I was euphoric when I found out that it would be included in this year's Fox Theatre season.  Not only could my friends finally see what all the fuss was about, but they would get to see it with my girlfriend, I mean, the 2009 Best Actress in a Musical Tony Award winner (winning for this very role), Alice Ripley.

I was very curious to see the reaction from St. Louis audiences to this show.  I distinctly remember last March when AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY was here and proved too much for some to handle, with many unfortunate walk-outs at intermission.  Although there is a good amount of humor in NEXT TO NORMAL, like AUGUST…, this show deals with some major shit -- bipolar disorder, pharmaceutical "treatments", grief, suicidal impulses -- and it does so with a relentless honesty.  Really grabs you by the throat.  But unlike AUGUST…, this is a musical -- a contemporary musical with its style drifting more towards SPRING AWAKENING rather than your Rodgers and Hammerstein type fare.  I didn't think I would like it initially because I knew there weren't going to be any french horns or anything, but those preconceptions were quickly forgotten once I was sucked in to this bold roller coaster ride of a show.  The New York Times called it not a feel-good musical, but a "feel-everything musical" when it debuted on Broadway in April of 2009.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

THE DEATH OF ATAHUALPA • Upstream Theater

I had no idea what to expect seeing this show.  See, this story is one that has been orally handed down through generations in the Andes Mountains in the language of the Incas -- Quechua.  It's receiving its world debut in English here in St. Louis, and chronicles the story of, that's right, you guessed it, the death of Atahualpa, the last of the lords of the Inca.  Spanish conquistadors captured him, took him for ransom, and killed him in 1533, spurring the decline of the Incan Empire.

A wonderfully fitting tone is set as you walk into the theatre, as members of the Latin band, Son de America, play Andean music and cast members engage with each other on the Kranzberg's sparse black set.  What unfolds in the next hour is a unique theatrical presentation of this age old folkloric tale.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Sixth Annual Kevin Kline Awards • Loretto-Hilton Center

Woo-hoo, the Kevin Kline Awards!  Or if you'd like, think of them as the Tonys -- St. Louis Edition.  They were held yesterday at the Loretto-Hilton Center, and guess who got to go?  Me!  Actually, they were kind enough to ask that I present an award along with the lovely Greg Johnston (who had the wherewithal and good taste to request that Parliament Funkadelic's "Flashlight" be the last song of the night at the after-party).  I was very honored to be included in the festivities.  I got to hang out with and meet some wonderful people and had a fabulous time.  I also had to fight the urge to gawk and point.
Okay, I'll get to the winners in a minute…
As some of you well know, I love me some theatre people, so I was like a kid in a fancy black-tie and sequined candy store.  I must have approached 5 or 6 people to exclaim, "Oh my God I loved you in so and so".  "Oh my God you were so good!"  I stopped just short of seeing if Ka’ramuu Kush wanted to make out.  He's so handsome…  Along with a few others, but I'll leave that alone, shall I?  Yep.  I was that guy.  Do I care?  No, not really.  I mean hell, I got to take a picture with Kari Ely!!  She's the bomb.  I might frame it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

IN THE NEXT ROOM OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

It's the end of the Gilded Age, a time when sex for women is something that's not enjoyed, merely tolerated, and women are suffering from "hysteria" all over the place.  Dr. Givings has harnessed the newfangled power of electricity with a new treatment.  Enter the prototype electronic vibrator -- a device that the doctor has found very successful in treating his patients when applied to their nether regions, producing "paroxysms" in women, and the occasional male patient.  This method of treatment used by physicians during the late 19th century is historically documented, and serves as the basis for Sarah Ruhl's 2009 Tony nominated play.  Although the situations presented provide plenty of hilarity, it's the exploration of the emotional underpinnings of the subject matter that give this play its heart.

Dr. Givings' newest patient, Mrs. Daldry, is suffering from a sensitivity to light, mood swings, and a general nervousness that is causing her and her husband concern.  After a session with this rather scary looking implement, the color returns to Mrs. Daldry's cheeks, and she readily agrees to the suggestion that perhaps another treatment soon would be in order.  Tomorrow perhaps?  Dr. Givings conducts his treatments making small talk with clinical straightforwardness, and you get the feeling he's not really sure how his device works, only that it does.  If the paroxysm isn't achieved in about 3 minutes with his electronic device, he occasionally has to call on his nurse Annie for the uh… manual stimulation of his patients -- a particularly great scene.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

DRIVING MISS DAISY • Dramatic License Productions

Dramatic License Productions' 2011 season opener is a charming presentation of DRIVING MISS DAISY.  The revival of this play has been enjoying a run in NYC at the John Golden Theatre since October 2010, starring Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, but will close in April.  Now is a great opportunity to see St. Louis' production that will close sooner than that, but luckily, it's easier to get to Chesterfield than it is to get to NYC.

So, it's become obvious that it's just not safe for Daisy Werthan to drive herself anymore.  Her son Boolie has broken the news to her that whether she likes it or not, she's getting a driver, and Hoke Coleburn is the man for the job.  Both Daisy, a Jewish widow, and Hoke, a folksy black Southerner, are strong, proud personalities.  Daisy is convinced her accident was the car's fault, that LaSalles are better than Packards, and consistently denies claims that she's rich, often referring to her rough days coming up on Forsyth Street.  Hoke is an easy talker who appreciates Jews, and doesn't mind telling you of their virtuous thrift.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA • New Line Theatre

This Tony Award winning musical that debuted in 1971 was based on Shakespeare's comedy of the same name -- presumed by many to be his first play.  Not really the Bard's best work, but when adapted into a musical set in the 1970's, this crazy story of love, friendship, betrayal and the fickle nature of humans is brought new life.

We've got Valentine (a soulful voiced Eeyan Richardson) who is about to embark on a journey from the town of Verona to exciting Milan.  He tries to convince his best buddy Proteus (the always uproarious Zachary Allen Farmer) to come along, but Proteus is too in love with Julia (Jeanitta Perkins) to bring himself to leave.  Julia scorns Proteus.  She's "…Not interested in Love" (I find love alarming/I'm happier farming…) until she's "metamorphosed" by love's influence, and she soon falls for him.  Proteus is ordered by his father to go to Milan as well to broaden his horizons, and after he and Julia exchange rings and have a fond, bittersweet farewell, Proteus leaves, heartbroken.  Julia finds out later that that "fond farewell" has resulted in her being knocked up, (an addition to Shakespeare's original story) so she and her friend Lucetta (Terrie Carolan) decide to travel to Milan to tell Proteus in person, but dress as men (becoming the two gentlemen of Verona) to ensure a safe journey.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DVD Alert! 25th Anniversary LES MISERABLES Concert

Heads up folks!  On March 6th, PBS will air the 25th anniversary concert of LES MISERABLES.
This concert will feature Alfie Boe as Jean Valjean, Lea Salonga as Fantine, Nick Jonas as Marius, Norm Lewis as Javert, Matt Lucas as Thénardier, Jenny Galloway as Madame Thénardier, and Katie Hall as Cosette.
This concert will also be available on DVD today!

Happy viewing!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

MACBETH • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Ooo… Shakespeare's MACBETH
Nothing like a play that opens with witches and prophecies!

MACBETH is such a highly revered play by such a highly revered playwright that as excited as I was to see it, I was a little intimidated at the thought of blogging about it.  But then, a really cool thing happened:  This production removed a lot of the "mystery" of Shakespeare for me.  Let's face it, as eloquent as he is, Shakespeare can be hard to understand.  (It's good to read a little synopsis first…)  There's all this decorative language that our ears aren't that used to hearing.  If you're not that familiar with his stuff, you kind of have to aggressively pay attention to what's being said.  But once you get used to it, you have the realization that his plays aren't all that mysterious.  They're plays that were written to entertain everyone from Kings to the common folks who just wanted to drink a ton of beer and see a show.  They deal with themes that are as old as time.  Shakespeare just uses iambic pentameter a lot…  This is one of the reasons I really loved this production -- it brought me that realization.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

9 TO 5: The Musical • The Fox

In case you didn't know, this 1980's movie was adapted for the stage a couple of years ago, and now this girl-powered "little guy gets the better of the boss" musical has punched in at the Fox.

The show follows the movie pretty closely with only a couple of exceptions (Violet gets a love interest and you know... people sing and dance) and is drenched in a 1980's vibe.  Even the show curtain displays all sorts of images from around that time -- Jimmy Carter, the Muppets, Rubik's Cubes, Charlie's Angels...  I would have taken a picture of it, but I didn't because well… that would be illegal.

For those who've never seen or heard of the movie (both of you…) the show centers around Violet Newstead (Dee Hoty) -- the competent, qualified, but disregarded office manager, Doralee Rhodes (Diana DeGarmo) -- the busty secretary who's assumed to be the office floozie, the newly divorced and trying to make it on her own Judy Bernly (Mamie Parris), and their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Joseph Mahowald).

Many of the iconic scenes and lines from the movie are included in this production.  Everything from the girls getting stoned at Violet's place, that wacky hospital scene, Hart's… "confinement", the girls' fantasy scenes of how they would "off the boss" and of course the office lush Margaret (Jane Blass) who gets a lot a laughs.  "Atta Girl!".

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TRUE WEST • HotCity Theatre

Why is it that so much interesting stuff always seems to happen in the kitchen?  This is where the sibling rivalry of HotCity's first offering of their 2011 season, Sam Shepard's TRUE WEST, takes place.

There are these 2 brothers -- Austin (Scott McMaster), is a screenwriting family man who's watching his mom's house while she's on vacation in Alaska.  Then we've got Lee (Kevin Crowley), Austin's older brother, a wandering burglar who has dropped in to… "check out the neighborhood".  Austin is trying to put the finishing touches on a screenplay that he's scheduled to present to Saul (Alan Knoll), a fancy Hollywood producer, and Lee's visit is unexpected, and he's a bit in the way.  As Lee alternates between Pabst Blue Ribbon and Jim Beam, he antagonizes his little brother and his "white picket fence" life, while Austin is just trying to pacify the more intimidating Lee, while at the same time, trying not to piss him off.

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