Monday, January 30, 2012

The Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards Nominations

It's that time again!  The Kevin Kline Awards honor excellence in St. Louis professional theater, and are presented by the Professional Theatre Awards Council, and the nominees for the Seventh Annual Kevin Kline Awards are out!

The Award winners will be announced in a ceremony on Monday, April 2nd at the Loretto-Hilton Theater, and it's open to the public.  Congratulations to all of the nominees!  Yay, theatre!!!!

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences
The Giver", Metro Theatre Company
Chanticleer!", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis/Imaginary Theatre Company
Trail of Tears", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis/Imaginary Theatre Company
Cruel to be Kind?", Shakespeare Festival Education Tour
Elves and the Shoemaker", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis/Imaginary Theatre Company
Outstanding New Play or Musical
Till We Have Faces", Mustard Seed Theatre
The Montford Point Marine", The Black Rep
Falling", Mustard Seed Theatre
The Winners", HotCity Theatre
Hit-Story", OnSite Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design
Dorothy Marshall Englis, "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Garth Dunbar, "Awake and Sing!", The New Jewish Theatre
Michele Siler, "The Death of Atahualpa", Upstream Theatre
Brad Muskgrove, "Disney’s 101 Dalmatians", Stages St. Louis
Teresa Doggett, "The Royal Family", Act Inc.
Dorothy Marshall Englis, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Lou Bird, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
JC Krajicek, "Palmer Park", St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Outstanding Lighting Design
Josh Smith, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Matthew McCarthy, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Phil Monat, "Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Matthew McCarthy, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Kirk Bookman & Steve O’Shea, "God of Carnage", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Robert M. Wierzel, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Set Design
Scott C. Neale, "Cooking With Elisa", Upstream Theatre
Regina Garcia, "Ruined", The Black Rep
Gianni Downs, "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Scott C. Neale, "Awake and Sing!", The New Jewish Theatre
Scott C. Neale, "The Taming of the Shrew", Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Michael Ganio, "Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Sound Design
Rusty Wandall, "Macbeth", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Josh Limpert, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Rusty Wandall, "Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Rusty Wandall, "Circle Mirror Transformation", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Daniel Baker & Aaron Meicht, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Ensemble Play
In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
"The Real McCoy", The Black Rep
The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Circle Mirror Transformation", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play
Linda Kennedy, "Pericles", The Black Rep
Peggy Billo, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Emily Baker, "Just Desserts", St. Louis Actor’s Studio
Julie Venegoni, "Savage in Limbo", OnSite Theatre
Linda Kennedy, "Blood Wedding", Upstream Theatre
Hayley Treider, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play
Bob Harvey, "The Price", Avalon Theatre Company
Chauncy Thomas, "The Real McCoy", The Black Rep
Jason Cannon, "Awake and Sing!", The New Jewish Theatre
Gary Wayne Barker, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Jonathan Foster, "Falling", Mustard Seed Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play
Andrea Frye, "Ruined", The Black Rep
Kari Ely, "Sirens", The New Jewish Theatre
Brooke Edwards, "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea", Non-Prophets
Michelle Hand, "Falling", Mustard Seed Theatre
Susan Louise O’Connor, "God of Carnage", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play
Gary Wayne Barker, "Shadowlands", Mustard Seed Theatre
J. Samuel Davis, "Ruined", The Black Rep
John Pierson, "Closer", St. Louis Actor’s Studio
Bobby Miller, "Awake and Sing!", The New Jewish Theatre
Bob Thibaut, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Brian Dykstra, "Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Danny McCarthy, "Circle Mirror Transformation", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Director of a Play
Andrew Moodie, "The Real McCoy", The Black Rep
Edward Coffield, "The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Steven Woolf, "Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Stuart Carden, "Circle Mirror Transformation", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Jeremy B. Cohen, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Production of a Play
In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
"Awake and Sing!", The New Jewish Theatre
The Immigrant", The New Jewish Theatre
Red", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
God of Carnage", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Circle Mirror Transformation", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Outstanding Musical Direction
Michael Sebastian, "Beehive", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Charles Creath, "Black Pearl Sings!", The Black Rep
Lisa Campbell-Albert, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Michael Horsley, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Joe Schoen, "Godspell", The Mustard Seed Theatre
Outstanding Choreography
Kelli Barclay, "Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
Dana Lewis, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Pepper Clyde, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Dana Lewis, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Alicia Gbaho, "Black Nativity", The Black Rep
Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical
Beehive", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Legally Blonde", The Muny
Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Godspell", The Mustard Seed Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical
Jessica Vaccaro, "A Chorus Line", Stages St. Louis
Michele Ragusa, "Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
Julia Cardia, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Melinda Crown, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Amy Loui, "Godspell", The Mustard Seed Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical
Curtis Holbrock, "Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
Ken Page, "Little Shop of Horrors", The Muny
Lewis J. Stadlen, "Bye Bye Birdie", The Muny
Steve Judkins, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical
Lisa Estridge, "Beehive", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Debra Walton, "Beehive", The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Denise Thomas, "Black Pearl Sings!", The Black Rep
Alexis Kinney, "The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Alli Mauzey, "Little Shop of Horrors", The Muny
Jenny Powers, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical
Leigh Wakeford, "Disney’s 101 Dalmatians", Stages St. Louis
Tony Yazbeck, "Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
James Bleecker, "Thrill Me", Max & Louie Productions
David Schmittou, "Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Andrea Frye, "Black Pearl Sings!", The Black Rep
Rick Conant, "Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
John Miller-Stephany, "Little Shop of Horrors", The Muny
Mark Schneider, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Deanna Jent, "Godspell", The Mustard Seed Theatre
Outstanding Production of a Musical
Singin’ in the Rain", The Muny
The Secret Garden", Stages St. Louis
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", The Muny
Victor/Victoria", Stages St. Louis
Godspell", The Mustard Seed Theatre

Sunday, January 29, 2012

OLEANNA • HotCity Theatre

HotCity is kicking off their 2012 season with this tense, explosive play written by David Mamet, that will surely leave an impression as you head to your car after the show.

The play begins in the office of John (John Pierson), a college professor, who is meeting with one of his students, Carol (Rachel Fenton).  Carol, meek and self-effacing, has received a failing grade on a paper, and is seeking the help of her rather condescending, smug and verbose professor.  Carol admits that she is having a difficult time understanding John's class, his book, and just about everything he's saying most of the time.  She quotes from her extensive notes and frantically jots down everything he says to her, but she remains overwhelmed by the material, is offended by his assertion that higher education is like "systematic hazing", and thinks she's stupid.  John tries to console Carol by opening up and telling her that he wasn't the best student himself back in the day, but key points during this conversation are interrupted by phone calls from John's wife.  John, who's an inch away from being granted tenure along with a sizable raise, is also getting ready to close on a new high dollar house.  His wife keeps calling about last minute details and wants him to come out to the property.  After numerous interruptions, one coming just as Carol was going to reveal something about herself, John eventually offers to give her an "A" in the course if she would agree to come back to his office for talks about the coursework.  After an innocent hand on the shoulder is quickly shrugged off by Carol, the first act ends.

Rachel Fenton (Carol) and John Pierson (John).
Photos by Todd Studios
The second act reveals a more composed Carol, informing John that the tenure committee is reviewing her recent complaint against him -- accusations of sexual harassment and pornography.  John tries to make Carol understand that he had no ill intentions, but she'll have none of it.  The power starts to shift, and John is freaked out at the prospect of possibly losing his "in-the-bag" tenure.  In a desperate effort, as Carol starts to walk out of the office, John blocks her exit and she screams out for help.

The final scene shows that the arc of these two have completely been switched around.  Carol now wields all of the power, and John seems to be at her mercy.  The way this power swap happens however, is pretty whack.  Political correctness displayed from its worst angle.

John Pierson (John) and Rachel Fenton (Carol).
Photos by Todd Studios
These two characters, these stark representations, don't leave you with many options -- you're a misogynistic pig or an outrageous feminist.  No win.  But food for thought, no doubt.  Interestingly enough, Mamet wrote this play in 1992 -- right after the Clarence Thomas hearings.  Yeah.  Remember him?  Pubic hair on a soda can, anyone?

This play was a bold choice to me, and Annamaria Pileggi's precise direction propels this short three-act from the beginning, with the tension and pauses in all of the right places.  John Pierson was pitch-perfect as the professor who's just a little full of himself, but displays just enough affability to allow us to sympathize with him and the situation he's found himself in at the end.  Rachel Fenton's transformation from the weak powerless one to the calculated contemptible one was a little chilling -- in a good way.  The whole play takes place in John's office, and Lex Von Blommenstein's set served the story well, along with Mark Wilson' lighting design, Scott Breihan's costumes and sound by Michael Perkins.

It's quite a thought provoker that's only playing one more weekend at the Kranzberg.  Check it out and see what you think.


Written by David Mamet
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through February 4 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

John Pierson* (John) and Rachel Fenton (Carol).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Lex Von Blommenstein; lighting design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Scott Breihan; sound design by Michael Perkins; stage manager, Kate Koch.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

AVENUE Q • [insert name here] Theatre Company

[insert name here] Theatre Company, recently a project under the wing of Stray Dog Theatre, took a hiatus in 2011, but now they're back with this dynamic furry-faced coming-of-age musical that still maintains its edge.  Debuting on Broadway in 2003, this Tony Award winning musical may have puppets in it, but as lovable as they are, they're often naughty and foul-mouthed, so leave the kids at home.  For the rest of you, sit back and enjoy this energetic cast of humans, and their fuzzy counter-parts as they all endeavor to find their way in a fictitious neighborhood in New York City -- winking, dirty and Sesame Street style.  Yay!!!

Princeton (Wes Jenkins), having just graduated with a B.A. in English, is off on his own looking for a place to live.  Avenue A is completely out of the question.  Too much $$$$, but Avenue Q looks affordable.  Shortly after moving into the neighborhood, Princeton learns that life after college can kick your ass, once he's laid off 7 seconds after signing his lease on an apartment.  The landlord is Gary Coleman (Nki Calloway).  That's right -- the Gary Coleman, and INH Theatre Co. continues the tradition of casting this character as a black woman (love), and Nki Calloway has a strong voice and does a great job as the put-upon landlord -- a child-star who has had to sue his parents.  Princeton soon gets to know the rest of his neighbors.  There's Kate Monster (Connie Reinhardt), a cute monster who's a kindergarten teacher, Trekkie Monster (Paul Cereghino), a monster with a soft spot for internet porn, (one of the best numbers in the show -- worth the price of admission) Rod (Wes Jenkins) a closeted homosexual and his roommate Nicky (Paul Cereghino) along with a couple of Bad Idea Bears (Troyer Coultas) -- hilarious.  There's also our humans -- Brian (Troy Turnipseed) an aspiring comic, and his Asian fiancee, Christmas Eve (Nicole Robbins), a therapist with no clients along with the aforementioned Gary Coleman.

It's cozy in the LGBT Center of St. Louis, where the show is performed, and because I've been to more than a few meetings in their upstairs space, I was curious to see how they would pull it off.  With seating for around 70 or so, there's not a lot of room for the actors to perform, but they make the most of every inch, and have transformed the Center nicely.  There were a couple of lighting miscues the night I saw it and some of the technical aspects of the show were a little unpolished, but I'm sure that will smooth out as the run continues.

The puppets look great -- impressive replicas of the Broadway versions, so kudos to Character Translations, Inc.  The actor/puppeteers were fantastic with their puppeteering skills -- also a credit to the director, Chris Owens, who did an excellent job with this show.  Mind you, sometimes the actors take on different puppets, and sometimes they voice puppets that they aren't operating.  A tricky little maneuver that this cast handles with aplomb.  Connie Reinhardt is one that pulls double-duty as Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut.  She eventually settles into the higher vocal range of Kate Monster, but she shines as Lucy the Slut, and her performance is committed and quite good.  She also bears an eerie resemblance to Stephanie D'Abruzzo, who originated the role on Broadway.  Wes Jenkins is wonderful as Princeton and Rod -- another double duty role that he commits to completely.  Paul Cereghino's Trekkie Monster, Nicky and Ricky was splendid.  He's so cute, too.  Nicole Robbins was very funny as Christmas Eve.  Vely, vely funny!  <-- Get it?!  No offense intended...

This score is full of numbers with beautifully layered harmonies, and the cast nailed them -- high-fives to Lea Eilers's vocal direction.  Here's what I love about this show -- the tunes are very "Sesame Street" -- catchy, tuneful little numbers that are a joy to listen to.  Earworms.  Whether the number is about internet porn, racism or sex, these melodies and harmonies get into your head and stick -- just like those nifty Sesame Street tunes.  Love…
Let's face it -- it's neat hearing puppets say "fuck".  Better yet, it's neat actually seeing puppets...  fuck.  It's a grand time that's only going on for one more weekend.  Go see it!  Oh, and this show got a mention in one of my previous blogs -- again -- leave the kids at home.  Unless you're like a hippy or something, which I think is totally cool.


Book by Jeff Whitty
Lyrics/music by Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx
Directed by Chris Owens 
The LGBT Center of St. Louis, 4337 Manchester Ave.
through January 28 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Wes Jenkins (Princeton/Rod), Troy Turnipseed (Brian), Connie Reinhardt (Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut), Paul Cereghino (Trekkie Monster/Nicky/Ricky), Nicole Robbins (Christmas Eve), Nki Calloway (Gary Coleman), Bryant Fogelbach (Bad Idea Bear/Ricky) and Troyer Coultas (Bad Idea Bears/Newcomer).

Vocal direction by Lea Eilers; music direction by Joseph Eckelkamp; choreography by Kelly Stevens; lighting and sound design by Lucas T. Pate; scenic design by Kyle Jeffery; animation design by Robert Lopez; puppet design by Character Translations, Inc.; graphic design by Lucas T. Pate; stage manager, Matt Schneider.

Keyboard 1, Joseph Eckelkamp; keyboard 2, Tim Clark; percussion, Clarence "Clancy" Newell; bass, Chad Haley; reed, Rebeca Parisi.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Often when I'm writing blog posts, I try to remind myself not to use too many adjectives.  And then there's this post…  I'm not even sure where to start it's so good.

The Rep. is currently presenting Stephen Sondheim (my hero) and James Lapine’s achingly beautiful Sunday in the Park with George, and this production, exceptionally directed by Rob Ruggiero, is impressive.  The "George" of the title is French painter, Georges Seurat.  Seurat developed a technique of painting called pointillism in the 1880's, in which small dots of basic color are juxtaposed to form different hues when viewed from a distance.  This Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award winning musical uses Seurat's masterpiece (a two-year effort), "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", as a jumping off point, but this show is about way more than just a painting.  It's about one of Sondheim's favorite themes -- human connection (and/or the lack of being able to obtain it).

Erin Davie as Dot, Kari Ely as Nurse, Ron Bohmer as George
and Zoe Vonder Haar as Old Lady. © Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
"White.  A blank page or canvas.  The challenge: bring order to the whole.  Through design.  Composition.  Tension.  Balance.  Light.  And harmony."  These opening lines introduce us to George (Ron Bohmer) who's sketching his lover and model, Dot (Erin Davie) -- foremost featured in the painting.  As the Rep's stage becomes filled with massively impressive (<-- those adjectives, like I warned…) sliding set pieces (Adrian W. Jones) and warm, dappled lighting (John Lasiter), George initially seems dismissive and consigned to his sketchbook while Dot craves closer attention.  But she is happy to oblige him as she poses for his sketchings in the hot sun.  She notices in her delightful opening number, "Sunday in the Park with George", that "artists are bizarre, fixed and cold", but she loves him, and admires his talent.  But loving an artist can be a challenge because sometimes there's not much room for anything else but the artist's "art", while you're left feeling incomplete.  And for the artist, it may be difficult to become attached to what you can't control outside of your own studio.  (cough,thiscouldSObeaboutSondheimandmanyartistsofwhatevermediacough,cough)

Ron Bohmer as George and Erin Davie as Dot.
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

This sets up the main dynamic for much of the rest of the show.  The first act looks at the 1880's George, completing his masterwork and the scrutiny that comes along with it, but we're also treated to wonderful scenes featuring some of the subjects from his current project.  These two-dimensional figures take on a third dimension for a time, and we see their interaction with each other and George, brought to vibrant life by the amazing ensemble along with gorgeous costumes courtesy of Alejo Vietti.

The second act jumps forward to Seurat's great-grandson, also an artist struggling with connection and the commercialism of the time.  "George.2" endures fancy gallery affairs in an effort to obtain grants to finance his series of "Chromolumes" -- modern art machines using lights, lasers and color.  In a trip to the original setting of his great-grandfather's La Grande Jatte, new lessons are learned by George.2, and a new appreciation is gained for the art of achieving connection outside of yourself.  And your art.

Erin Davie as Dot, Ron Bohmer as George and Cast.
© Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr. 
Ron Bohmer was an impassioned George with a great voice.  Actually, everyone had great voices.  Erin Davie made a flirty, playful and marvelously realized Dot and Marie.  (I love that Seurat's love interest is named "Dot".  Brilliant.)  I saw Erin Davie a few years ago in "Grey Gardens" and later in "A Little Night Music" (another display of Sondheim's genius), and yes, I love her.  Can't say enough about the rest of the performers either.  Numbers like "Gossip", "Sunday" and "It's Hot Up Here" are beautifully performed by this perfectly cast ensemble. Some standouts for me included the surly boatman, Steve French, Celestes #1 and #2, (Meggie Cansler and Audrey Rae McHale), Chris Hietikko's Jules, Zoe Vonder Haar's Old Lady, the Southern visitors, Whit Reichert  and Rebecca Watson, and Kari Ely as the Nurse and Harriet Pawling.  Most play double roles in the first and second acts, and they are all excellent.  The creative crew also wowed with the aforementioned scenic design, costumes and lighting along with sound and musical direction by Michael Hooker and F. Wade Russo.  Seurat would have been proud -- taking all of these singular elements that form something much richer when combined and taken in from a few steps back.  Love…

Zoe Vonder Haar as Blair Daniels, Erin Davie as Marie
and Meggie Cansler as Elaine. © Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Many regard this show as one of Sondheim's greatest works, and for good reason.  I find it interesting that Suerat approached his art almost scientifically.  Kinda like Sondheim.  Right!?!  Although this musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama after it opened, it got only mixed reviews when it made its Broadway debut in 1984.  Yet you've got this lovely leitmotif (one of a few), particularly in "Color and Light" from the first act, in which Sondheim mimics Seurat's pointillistic brush strokes in his melody and lyrics.  Sigh… I'm sorry.  I just think Sondheim is a genius.  And just a quick note -- a couple of people sitting next to me left at intermission.  Idiots…

This show has confirmed my belief in two things -- The Rep is the bomb, and Stephen Sondheim is the Einstein of theatre.  Go see it right now.  For real.  This show should not be missed.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,
Georges Seurat, 1884

Music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through January 29 | tickets: $19 - $77
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm Wednesdays–Fridays at 8pm Selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm Saturdays at 5pm Selected Saturdays at 9pm Sundays at 2pm Selected Sundays at 7pm

Ron Bohmer (George), Erin Davie (Dot and Marie), Meggie Cansler (Celeste #1 and Elaine), Nyssa Duchow (Young Woman in Park), Kari Ely (Nurse and Harriet Pawling), Mark Emerson (Louis and Billy Webster), Steve French (Boatman and Dennis), Abbey Friedmann (Louise), Chris Hietikko (Jules and Bob Greenberg), Charlie Ingram (Horn Player and Photographer), Jacob Lacopo (Boy Bathing and Waiter), Jamie LaVerdiere (Franz and Charles Redmond), Deanne Lorette (Yvonne and Naomi Eisen), Sean Montgomery (Soldier and Alex), Jordan Parente (Young Man and Waiter), Audrey Rae McHale (Celeste #2 and Party Guest), Whit Reichert (Mr. and Lee Randolph), Zoe Vonder Haar (Old Lady and Blair Daniels) and Rebecca Watson (Freida, Mrs. and Betty).

Scenic design by Adrian W. Jones; costume design by Alejo Vietti; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by Michael Hooker; musical direction by F. Wade Russo; choreography by Ralph Perkins; stage manager, Champe Leary; assistant stage manager, Tony Dearing.

Conducted by F. Wade Russo; concertmaster, violin, Alison Rolf; violin, viola, Tova Braitberg; cello, Marcia Mann; french horn, Nancy Schick; reeds, Michael Buerk; keyboard, Henry Palkes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

THE SEAFARER • West End Players Guild

This 2006 play from Irish playwright, Conor McPherson, is currently onstage presented by the West End Players Guild, and if you're into Irish plays, this one's for you.  This show also shares the same name of an old English poem that deals with the hardships of life, God, the devil and the afterlife.  Cool, right?!

Sharky (Matt Hanify) is returning to his coastal hometown near Dublin after being let go from his chauffeuring job.  Good thing too, cause his older brother Richard (Robert Ashton) needs some looking after -- another reason Sharky is heading home.  Richard is blind, after hitting his head in a spill into a dumpster.  Richard is also cantankerous and likes his drink, which sucks for Sharky because he's trying to give up the bottle. On Christmas Eve, no less.  Richard has invited a couple of blokes over for a little poker -- Ivan (Charles Heuvelman), who's practically a constant houseguest, avoiding his own home life, and Nicky (John Reidy), who is dating Sharky's ex (awkward).  Nicky shows up with a bottle of booze, and a mysterious Mr. Lockhart (Barry Hyatt).  Sharky has some dark secrets from his past, and during a few moments alone between the two of them, it appears that this Lockhart guy seems to know everything about them.  Turns out, the devil spends his time on Christmas Eve collecting overdue souls, and Lockhart is intent on collecting Sharky's.  Really interesting premise -- a bunch of moonshine soaked Irish guys getting together for some Pre-Christmas cheer, and the Prince of Darkness shows up in a snazzy suit trying to get Sharky to "come through the old hole in the wall" with him.  Spooky…

Barry Hyatt (Mr. Lockhart), Robert Ashton (Richard),
Charles Heuvelman (Ivan), John Reidy (Nicky)
and Matt Hanify (Sharky).  Photo credit: John Lamb
But there are some things about this production that take away from the intriguing set-up.  The night I saw it, some of the pacing seemed very slow.  There were a few very pregnant pauses that took away from the impact quite a bit.  It's hard to stay engaged when there are some tentative line deliveries.  The dialects were also a little uneven.  When you've got a couple of guys nailing the dialect, and others…  well… not, it stands out like a sore thumb.  But hey, every night of theatre is different.  That's what makes it so neat.  Robert Ashton was a standout -- funny and bitingly credible as the crabby, and perhaps a little smelly Richard, along with Matt Hanify as the put-upon Sharky.  John Reidy also added a lot to the show as the good-natured Nicky.  Charles Heuvelman's Ivan has some secrets of his own, also drawing the attention of Mr. Lockhart.  Barry Hyatt as the menacing Prince of Darkness was often engrossing, although sometimes I thought he was from Brooklyn, not Ireland.  However, his description of Hell was chilling.  The set by Mark Wilson, lighting by Renee Sevier-Monsey, and sound by Steve Callahan were wonderful, and I love a cozy little theatre space.  That intimacy added a lot to the play's portents.  It is a show that mixes the naturalistic with a touch of the supernatural, and it's playing until the 15th.


Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by Steve Callahan
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through January 15 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Matt Hanify (Sharky), Robert Ashton (Richard), Charles Heuvelman (Ivan), John Reidy (Nicky) and Barry Hyatt (Mr. Lockhart).

Scenic design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Colleen Heneghan; lighting design by Renee Sevier-Monsey; stage manager, Bob Nickles.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Wow.  It's been a long time since I've been to a show.  Hello again, theatre.  I've missed you…

Next in the Fox's Broadway series is a show based on Jean Poiret's 1973 play that was later adapted into a musical in 1983.  That production won a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Book, Original Score and Actor.  Its 2004 revival won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical, as did this current revival from 2010.  Many of us may be most familiar with the 1996 film version with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, "The Birdcage".  Similar to "The Addams Family", "La Cage" involves an "I'm bringing a fiancĂ©e home whom the folks may not be too crazy about" scenario, packaged in rainbow colored sequins -- and it's a blast. 

Les Cagelles
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
Before the proceedings begin, there's a drag queen outside the Fox and in the lobby greeting the folks coming in.  They did this in NYC too, but for some reason, seeing this in St. Louis was way more fun.  Many people couldn't wait to get their picture taken with this seven-foot beauty -- others gawked with caution.  Ha!  I just thought to myself, "If this bothers you, you might wanna hop back into that Buick and head home."  The pre-show chitchat was entertaining and did a good job acclimating people to the vibe of the show.  A nice addition to the tour that serves its purpose well.  The team putting this tour together obviously did their research -- a couple of people came in a little late during the banter the night I was there and were greeted with, "Where did you guys come from, Granite City?!"

Georges (George Hamilton) is the owner and master of ceremonies of La Cage, a drag bar on the French Riviera, and Georges's long-term partner, Albin (Christopher Sieber), is the headliner, Zaza.  The chorus members of the club, The Cagelles, and their opening number, "We Are What We Are", and all of their other numbers for that matter, show off some of the most athletic performances I've ever seen, and they welcome us into this shabby-chic little nightclub.

Christopher Sieber (ZaZa), George Hamilton (Georges).
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
Georges's son, Jean-Michel (the result of a one-night stand with a chorus girl), comes home to announce that he is engaged to Anne Dindon, and her parents are due to pay Georges and Jean-Michel a visit.  Trouble is, Anne's father, M. Dindon (Bruce Winant), is an ultra-conservative politician, all about "family values" and whatnot.  In addition, Jean-Michel is insistent that Albin, the more flamboyant of the pair, not be present when Anne's parents arrive, lest the wedding be completely spoiled.  Well, as you can imagine, farce ensues, but mixed in with the farce are some great numbers -- not least of all Albin's incredible act one closer, "I Am What I Am".

It was neat seeing the golden-hued George Hamilton, and he did an admirable job as Georges, from serving as our amiable host at the nightclub, to managing his parade of drag queens, to trying to coach Albin in a very funny "masculinity" lesson.  But as dapper and believable as he is in the role, he's not the strongest singer.  It doesn't really detract from the show though, because Christopher Sieber as Albin is marvelous in every aspect.  He's got a powerhouse voice, and his Albin/Zaza is hilarious, sincere, touching and completely inhabited.  He may be my first male Broadway crush.  WHAT?!?!  Yeah.

Christopher Sieber (ZaZa).
Photo credit: Paul Kolnik
With the current political climate regarding gay issues, and "La Cage" touring during an election year and all, even though this show is from the 70's, it strikes a familiar chord in more ways than one.  Personally, I love it when homophobic people are poked fun at, but more than that, this show ultimately shines a light on acceptance, love and true family bonds and values.  What could be better than that?!

Now to digress for a moment -- I hadn't seen a show at the Fox in awhile, and I was reminded of how it can kinda be like amateur night.  My Fox buddy Bruce and I were sitting in front of a group of 2 couples who obviously have no comprehension of what it means to use your "inside voice".  And also, if you're gonna bring a drink back into the theatre, and you have to chew the ice, could you *please* try to chew it with your stupid mouth closed?  I'd get into more detail, but I'm saving it all up for a St. Louis Theatre Etiquette Part 2 blog.

This tour will be in town till the 15th.  Check it out for a great night of unadulterated "be who you are" theatre!  Say hello to the drag queens while your'e at it.  They're working their tails off out there!


Book by Harvey Fierstein 
Music/lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Terry Johnson
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through January 15 | tickets: $15 - $70
Performances Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Sunday, January 8 at 7:30pm, Thursday, January 12 at 1pm

George Hamilton (Georges), Christopher Sieber (Albin), Billy Harrigan Tighe (Jean-Michel), Cathy Newman (Mme. Renaud/Mme. Dindon), Jeigh Madjus (Jacob), Gay Marshall (Jacqueline), Allison Blair McDowell (Anne), Dale Hensley (Francis), Ashley Kate Adams (Colette), Ken Clark (Etienne), Danny Vaccaro (Tabarro), Rylyn Juliano, Todd Thurston, Todd Lattimore, Christophe Caballerro, SuEllen Estey (Babette) Bruce Winant (M. Dindon) and "Les Cagelles", Matt Anctil, Mark Roland, Donald Shorter, Jr., Trevor Downey, Logan Keslar and Terry Lavell.

Choreography by Lynne Page; set design by Tim Shortall; costume design by Matthew Wright; lighting design by Nick Richings; sound design by Jonathan Deans; hair and makeup by Richard Mawbey; stage manager, Karyn Meek.


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