Friday, June 22, 2012

LAUGHTER, TEARS & THE RIGHT STUFF • ST. LOU FRINGE

In case you haven't heard, there's a Fringe festival going on right now in St. Louis!  Before I get into that, let me give you a quick review of the show I saw earlier tonight.
The West End Players Guild is presenting three short plays written by Stephen Peirick for the Fringe Festival entitled Laughter, Tears and the Right Stuff.  The first play, The Right Stuff, is a rollicking peek at three women who are reliving their high-school days, camping out for concert tickets.  Why camp out when there's the internet?  Unnecessary?  Maybe.  But all of the girls end up enjoying their throwback days on the sidewalk.  (I totally did that for Prince and the Revolution tickets once.)  The second play, The Goodbye Party, takes a serious turn as Lilly (Emily Baker) tries to cope with her loss in the midst of a wake.  The last play, The Third Time, looks at the humorous challenges of a couple who find themselves, for the third time, at the fertility clinic.  This is a really brief description of the plays (apologies), but trust me, all of Peirick's plays that I've seen are quality.  He has a way of sucking you in by slowly peeling away the layers of his characters and their various situations, that you almost can't help but become invested in them.  All of the performances are also top notch (Stephanie Merritt, Sarajane Alverson, Ann Hier, Emily Baker, Nancy Nigh and Jason Meyers).  Definitely worth checking out.  It was a great Fringe kickoff for me, and I hope to see more plays during the weekend.

Monday, June 18, 2012

BOWLING EPIPHANY - THE REVIVAL! • OnSite Theatre Company

You really can't beat a night of theatre and bowling, right?  OnSite Theatre specializes in "site specific" plays.  Every show is set in a different location suited to the play, and trust me, this provides an exciting layer to its productions.  OnSites' five year anniversary presentation takes place at Epiphany Lanes and features three short plays.  Better still, you can get a frame of bowling in during the intermissions!  This presentation is truly set up for a great time.  Plays that are the perfect length, set in a perfectly encompassing location, with Joe Hanrahan's direction, and a talented, tight cast of three -- Elizabeth Birkenmeier, Antonio Rodriguez and Donna Weinsting -- you can't go wrong.

Friday, June 15, 2012

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ • Stages St. Louis

Stages' first show of its season splendidly hearkens back to the music of the 1920s and '30s.  It's not a traditional "musical".  It's a musical revue -- in tribute to the tunes of Thomas "Fats" Waller, a classically trained musician, best known for his infectious, brilliant compositions that helped lay out the blueprint for the sound of the Harlem Renaissance.

After an initial run at the Manhattan Theatre Club's cabaret in 1978, Ain't Misbehavin' transferred to Broadway featuring pianist, Luther Henderson, who adapted Waller's music for the revue, Nell Carter, Armelia McQueen, Charlaine Woodard, André DeShields, and our own Ken Page, a St. Louis native, and won three Tony Awards.  Cast member names remain assigned to the original Broadway "real-life" cast, and the nature of the show yields very little that is spoken.  But with this music, who cares?!

This strong-voiced ensemble delivers each number with inexhaustible energy and style.  The range of music will entertain you, make you laugh, make you think, and maybe bring a lump to your throat.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

HIGH FIDELITY • New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre has revived High Fidelity after giving this musical its first regional premiere in 2008.  Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, High Fidelity suffered a short life on Broadway, but New Line's artistic director, Scott Miller, has a thing about reviving Broadway flops.  Seeing the potential and the heart at the center of this rock musical, he and his trusty crew at New Line gave it a new life then, and it's even better this time around.

Rob (Jeffrey M. Wright) is a rock music aficionado and owner of a record store, Championship Vinyl.  He values few things more than his treasured collection of records, and Rob has his favorite music categorized biographically, from his first school-boy crush to his more recent heartbreaks.  He, along with his pals who work with him at the store, have a definite musical preference.  Sex Pistols = Yes.  John Tesh = No.  In the winning opening number, "The Last Real Record Store on Earth", we learn that he's just been dumped by his live-in girlfriend Laura (Kimi Short).  This latest breakup has moved Rob to examine his dating history, and Liz, (Talichia Noah), a mutual friend of Rob and Laura's, checks in on him from time to time to try to help him get his priorities in line, although he does end up stalking Laura's new hippie boyfriend, Ian (Aaron Allen) and has a hilarious rap-style revenge fantasy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

9 CIRCLES • R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics has settled nicely into its new home at the Black Cat Theatre in Maplewood with a searing production of Bill Cain's 9 Circles.  The title is a reference to Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem, "Divine Comedy".  It chronicles Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and begins with "Inferno", where Hell is depicted as nine descending circles of suffering located within the earth.  In Cain's play, scenes are introduced as "circle one, circle two", and so on as the audience follows Private Reeves’ descent into his own psychological hell of the Iraqi war.  This play also seems to point an accusatory finger at the war, posing questions about whether or not it, or previous unwelcome wars for that matter, were worth it, and considers the moral complications of war, and the very thin line between military action, and plain old violence.

Reeves is an army "grunt" who has just been informed that he's been honorably discharged from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He signed up when he was 19 years old under a “moral waiver” that allowed him in, despite his past arrests, lack of an employment history, and personality disorder.  When his sergeant informs him that he is being discharged for his horrifying crimes, Reeves asserts that “we are here to kill people”, and cannot understand why his actions warrant being booted out of the army -- the one place Reeves has felt at home.

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