Wednesday, December 18, 2013

THE BUTTERFINGERS ANGEL... • Stray Dog Theatre

William Gibson wrote this play with music in 1975 for his church, to be performed in their annual Christmas pageant.  The full title, "The Butterfingers Angel, Mary & Joseph, Herod the Nut, & the Slaughter of 12 Hit Carols in a Pear Tree", is Gibson's wacky take on the Nativity story -- perfect for this season of holiday offerings.

Beginning with the cast entering and singing the lyrics, "Fill the stage with bits of folly…" to the tune of "Deck the Halls", you get an idea of what the evening will hold.  The Annunciating Angel (Joseph Corey Henke) has been sent to earth, loaded down with a horn that he's not very good at playing and a script he's desperately trying to follow, with orders to give news of a very special birth that's about to take place.  Our butterfingers angel is a little on the clumsy side, but he's determined to see his task through to the end even though he's got his fair share of challenges, starting with immediate tension with a belligerent tree (Alyssa Ward), who winds up filling an important role in the story.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

THE MOUSETRAP • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The season's first snowfall this past week in St. Louis provided the perfect setting for the Rep's current production, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”.  A month ago I mentioned that "The Woman in Black" was the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of London's West End.  Well, "The Mousetrap", at over 25,000 performances, is numero uno.  Originally a radio broadcast written in 1947 for Queen Elizabeth, it premiered onstage in 1952, and has been running ever since.  The plot is pretty simple -- guests at an English manor house are snowed in while there's a murderer on the loose, yet the production at the Rep elicits the play's snug, straightforward charm that displays why, after 60 years, this lesser play of Christie's is her most popular.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

PTERODACTYLS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

This 1993 comedy mines the depths of a popular trope -- the dysfunctional family.  But the bite in playwright Nicky Silver's black comedy plunges it into the darkest of places, and it's getting a smart production at St. Louis Actors' Studio.  It starts with a history lesson of sorts presented by Todd Duncan (Nathan Bush).  After laying out an assortment of general misinformation, he talks about the dinosaurs and their extinction.  Then, we get introduced to a new variety of antiques headed for annihilation -- his family.

He has returned to his well-to-do Philadelphia home after five years to inform them that he's contracted AIDS and needs a place to stay.  Todd's sister Emma (Betsy Bowman), plagued with psychosomatic illnesses, is engaged to "Salad City" employee and film geek Tommy (James Slover), after a three week courtship.  When we meet Todd's mother Grace (Penny Kols), she breezes home after shopping in what seems like a whirlwind tour of her own living room.  She maintains the facade of being the matriarch of a relevant family by drinking and planning events.  Her husband Arthur (Whit Reichert), a bank president, appears to have good intentions in his attempt at being a good father, but tends to confuse the memories of his own childhood with that of his childrens'.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 • Mustard Seed Theatre

This a capella musical documents a true and all too brief period of time during the First World War on Christmas Eve.  At dawn, only months into the war, after hearing and trading carols across the trenches, a German soldier crossed the lines of the Western front into no-man's-land wishing a "Merry Christmas" in native tongues.  Seeing that he was unarmed, British and French soldiers eventually did the same.  They ended up meeting in the middle where they exchanged gifts of puddings and cigarettes, sang songs, played a little soccer, and together buried their dead.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

FREUD'S LAST SESSION • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (Studio Theatre)

Mark St. Germain's 2009 play, inspired by Dr. Armand Nicholi Jr.'s book, The Question of Goddepicts a fictional meeting between Sigmund Freud, an atheist, and C. S. Lewis, a former atheist and now devout Christian.  As you can imagine, the play offers a good dose of intellectual banter along with a little humor, including conversations about the concept of God, myth, suffering, sadomasochism and music.  Among other things.

Freud (Barry Mulholland) has invited Lewis (Jim Butz) to his London home to meet him.  Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is curious about how Lewis, a writer and scholar, could compromise his intellect by embracing Christianity.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

THE WOMAN IN BLACK • Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Stephen Mallatratt's 1987 play was adapted from Susan Hill's book bearing the same name, and it continues Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble's "Season of the Monster."  In London where "The Woman in Black" debuted, it still holds the record as the second longest-running non-musical play in the history of the West End, after Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap."  The Chapel's architectural features and intimate theatre space make it a fitting spot for this Victorian-era ghost story that's set in an empty theatre in London.

We begin with Mr. Arthur Kipps (B. Weller) rushing through a passage he's reading from a manuscript.  After being criticized for his horrible delivery, the Actor (Jared Sanz-Agero), steps onto the stage and tries to give Kipps some tips for a better, more emotional performance.  He tells him that if he wishes to perform this piece and keep the attention of the audience, it's going to have to be trimmed down considerably as well.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

THE TRIVIA JOB • OnSite Theatre Company

Ready for a little trivia night action?  "The Trivia Job", written specifically for OnSite by Dan Rubin, makes its debut in Soulard.  In keeping with OnSite's tradition of producing plays in site-specific locations, this one takes place at the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater St. Louis, and includes three rounds of trivia -- "The Good", "The Bad", and "The French."

Some members of the fictional St. Francis Parish are putting on the trivia night to raise money for the expensive repairs needed to restore their tornado-damaged church.  That's their story, anyway.  What they're really planning is a bank heist.  After being welcomed by Allison (Ann Marie Mohr), a rather high-strung member of the parish, she stumps for donations and stalls while we wait for the master of ceremonies.  Listening in to her table, we learn that the trivia night is just a cover for a planned robbery of the Anheuser-Busch Credit Union -- which happens to be just down the street.  Along with Allison, there's her daughter Patricia (Julia Zasso), willing but soft-spoken participant Betsy (Michelle Hand), and the orchestrator of it all, Maxine (Donna Weinsting) -- all playing together on a team called, the "Knitting Ministry".  They were thrown off slightly when the original mc had to bow out after coming down with the shingles, but they called in the unsuspecting Father Calvin Truss (Ben Nordstrom) as a replacement, who finally arrives, gasping and out of breath.  As the night goes on, not only do we get to play trivia, we also get to see how their plan goes down.  Will they be successful?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD • New Line Theatre

George A. Romero's classic horror film may not seem that scary to audiences today, but when "Night of the Living Dead" was released in 1968, it scared the crap out of people, and is believed to have provided the prototype for countless zombie films that followed.  New Line Theatre begins its 23rd season with the musical based on this film, but it's no tongue-in-cheek affair.  What powers this musical isn't fast-paced action, madcap choreography or shambling flesh-eaters.  It's the tension generated by watching six terrified people who find themselves together, trapped in a farmhouse, struggling to survive the night.

Rob Lippert's scenic design makes an immediate impression when you walk in -- the most realistic I think I've ever seen at New Line's current space.  Once the lights go down, it's hard to distinguish where the set ends and where the house begins, making the audience feel as confined as the characters.  In the opening number, "Perfect", the people who have all sought shelter in the farmhouse recall the earlier moments of their day, before everything went wrong.

Monday, October 14, 2013

EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

Five kids, a remote cabin in the woods, and an ancient Book of the Dead.  Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?  Ha!  Stray Dog's camp-tacular blood-fest is back -- complete with the traditional "Splatter Zone" seats.  "Evil Dead: The Musical", based on Sam Raimi's cult-classic horror flicks, "The Evil Dead" and "Evil Dead II", was a sold-out smash when Stray Dog produced it in 2010, so it's back to add a good dose of winking, gory mirth to the Halloween season.

Ash (Paul Cereghino) heads up our motley crew of college kids on their way to the woods for a weekend getaway.  He's taking his girlfriend Linda (Eileen Engel), his best friend Scott (C.E. Fifer), hoping to get lucky with the bubbleheaded Shelly (Angela Bubash) who's there for the ride, with Ash's goofy little sister Cheryl (Anna Skidis) tagging along.  Once at the cabin, they find weapons, a Book of the Dead and a tape recorder in the cellar -- left there by the owner, Professor Knowby.  Naturally, the guys read from the book and play the audio recording to antagonize the girls, and once the incantations from the book are played back, a multitude of demons are unleashed.  Meanwhile, the late professor's daughter, Annie (Brittany Kohl), anxious to investigate her father's work, heads to the cabin with her husband Ed (Michael A. Wells), and their guide Jake (Zachary Stefaniak).  Once they arrive, not expecting that a bunch of kids have broken in, they find that all hell has broken loose.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

EVITA • The Fox

"Evita" began as a rock opera released in 1976.  After lyricist Tim Rice became fascinated with Eva Perón through a radio program, he approached Andrew Lloyd Webber with the idea of a musical based on her life, and Lloyd Webber eventually took him up on it.  The success of the concept album they collaborated on led to a West End premiere in 1978, and a Broadway debut the following year that received seven Tony Awards out of ten nominations.

The musical follows Eva Duarte's iconic rise to power from a lower-middle-class outcast to the adored second wife of Argentine President, Juan Perón.  It begins, and ends, somberly with the death of Evita Perón, and the ensuing outpouring of grief.  From these opening moments, the play, through flashbacks, immediately sucks the audience into the life of this woman, who was deeply loved and revered as a saint by so many in Argentina, and seen by others as a narcissistic social climber.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

DIARY OF A MADMAN • Upstream Theater

Nikolai Gogol's 1835 short story, adapted by David Holman, chronicles Poprishchin, a civil servant working in St. Petersburg, and his downward spiral into madness through entries in his diary.  Upstream's compelling production of this first person account of one man's descent, is marvelous.

Aksentii Ivanovich Poprishchin (an impressive Christopher Harris), is a clerk of the ninth grade whose primary job seems to be sharpening quill pens for his boss.  He journals about his disdain for his job in the solitude of his attic apartment, with only the landlady's Finnish servant, Tuovi (Magan Wiles), for occasional company.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

THE GOOD DOCTOR • New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre transports us to 19th century Russia during the course of its season opener, "The Good Doctor".  Five actors play multiple roles across eight vignettes based on the stories of Anton Chekhov, considered to be one of the most prolific writers of short stories in history, through the comedic lens of the show's playwright, Neil Simon, whose style explores relationships, conflict and the "funny/sad" of life with his trademark one-liners and wisecracking humor.

David Wassilak, our narrator and stand-in for Chekhov himself (bearing quite a resemblance), welcomes the audience and ponders his writing.  Lamenting his assumption that his works are doomed to pale in comparison to the writings of his colleagues, the characters from his stories appear onstage and he guides us through a selection of them.  "The Sneeze" starts things off, with a low-level government worker and his wife (Aaron Orion Baker and Alina Volobuyeva) on a rare night out at the theatre, seated right behind his heavily medaled superior and his wife (Jason Grubbe and Teresa Doggett).  After an ill-aimed sneeze that splatters his boss, the clerk cannot possibly apologize enough.  Baker is very funny to watch as his hysterical paranoia about the consequences of his social blunder lead him to make a bad situation worse.

Monday, September 30, 2013

LONESOME HOLLOW • West End Players Guild

The residents of playwright Lee Blessing's "Lonesome Hollow" are sex offenders.  The town, set up to keep predators removed from the general population, is overseen by a private company, and those who live there are subject to the zealous authority of the staff, who operate with no interference.  The warped extremes and erosion of civil liberties that take place within this colony serve to scrutinize the definition of crime, the system of punishment and the likelihood of redemption.  Though Blessing paints his "soon-ish" scenario with forcible strokes, the premise is provocative, and made uncomfortably relevant by the recent developments in Farmington, Missouri that have been in the news lately.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

CHICAGO • The Fox

Currently in town for a quick stop at the Fox is Kander and Ebb's 1975 musical, "Chicago".  This story of murder, greed, corruption, and violence in the late twenties, bolstered with an irresistible vaudeville-styled score and the sleek choreography of Bob Fosse, has remained a favorite for decades, holding the record for the longest-running musical revival in Broadway history.

Friday, September 20, 2013

CABARET • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is starting its 47th season with a stunning production of "Cabaret", winner of eight Tony Awards when it premiered in 1966.  The original source material for "Cabaret" was Christopher Isherwood's 1939 semi-autobiographical short novel, "Goodbye to Berlin".  This was adapted into John Van Druten's play, "I Am a Camera" in 1951.

There have been many takes on this classic about 1930's Berlin and the excesses enjoyed by the free-spirits at the Kit Kat Club whose eyes remain shut to Hitler's rise to power, but this Rep production, brilliantly directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, is absorbing and vibrantly fresh with an ominously beguiling tone.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

OUR TOWN • Insight Theatre Company

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning drama about the lives, loves and deaths in Grover's Corners has been around since 1938, and Insight Theatre is celebrating the play's 75th anniversary with a marvelous staging.  Whether you've seen it before or not, this production is worth a look.

The three acts of "Our Town", titled Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Eternity, detail the ordinary activities of residents living in a small New Hampshire town between 1901 and 1913.  The Stage Manager (Joneal Joplin) serves as our genial host for the evening, and addressing us directly, tells us about the play, the director and the cast we'll be seeing.  Then he gives us the lay of the land of Grover's Corners on a typical day at dawn.  While he identifies the schools, churches and grocery stores, cast members are chalking out an illustration of the town against a black surface at the back of the stage.  (A very cool touch from the director, but I'll get to that in a minute.)  We soon come to meet neighboring families -- the Webb family and the Gibbs family, in the midst of their daily routines.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE • HotCityTheatre

"Entertaining Mr. Sloane", written by English playwright Joe Orton, is currently getting a jaunty revival at HotCity.  This sordid little comedy that premiered in 1964 may have lost some of its shock value over the years, but none of the fascination in watching these characters behaving badly.

Kath (Lavonne Byers), who lives on the edge of a dumping site with her grumpy father, Kemp (Bill Grivna), or “Dada” as she calls him, comes home one day with young, good-looking Mr. Sloane (Paul Cereghino), whom she says she met at the library.  Sloane, immediately identifiable as a smooth opportunist, overflowing with self-assured swagger, needs a room, and Kath, about 20 years his senior, is desperate to have him.  REALLY desperate.  She swears that her intentions toward Sloane are maternal, but the barely restrained excitement she displays when tending a wound of his (just inside his thigh, wouldn't you know), says otherwise.  While they both take turns seducing each other, Kath's brother Ed (Michael James Reed) stops by.  His visits are rare because of a falling out he had with his dad, but he wants to meet this Mr. Sloane.  Ed has an inflated ego (Lord only knows why), and thinks of himself as a successful, honorable type, but his repressed attraction to Mr. Sloane betrays him, too.  He insists on having a few words with Sloane, and decides that this young orphan needs guidance with a steady hand, and hatches an idea to employ Sloane as his chauffeur.  Little leather black cap and everything.  Sloane goes with the flow, engaging in conversations with Ed about erotics…  oops, I mean, athletics, and agrees to Ed's suggestions, much to the chagrin of his sister who wants Sloane all to herself.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

PARADE • R-S Theatrics

In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish Yankee living in Atlanta, was accused of raping and murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan, an employee at the National Pencil Factory where Frank worked as the superintendent.  He was jailed for two years, then kidnapped and lynched in 1915.  So yeah, let's make a musical out of that, right?  In 1998, Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown did, and transformed these horrible real-life series of events into a beautifully scored musical that garnered Tony Awards for best book and best score, though it had a relatively short run of 85 performances.  It's a challenging piece, so what better company to stage it than one that seems always up for a challenge -- R-S Theatrics.

The play begins with a young soldier (Zach Wachter) heading off to the Civil War, taking in his views of the "Old Red Hills of Home".  Fast forward to 1913, and Atlanta, still bruised from having had their butts kicked almost fifty years earlier, is not a place where Leo Frank (Pete Winfrey), a Jew from Brooklyn, has ever felt comfortable.  As an outsider, he aloofly regards the South as "the land that time forgot".  His wife Lucille (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), a non-practicing Jew, is happy in her native Georgia and glad she married well, but is still dissatisfied with her lot, and in some ways couldn't seem more different from her husband.

Monday, September 2, 2013

SWEENEY TODD OBCR vs. Film Soundtrack - "God, That's Good!" • Video Ramblings

Okay so, I got a little bored over the Labor Day weekend and did this.  Yes, sometimes having a YouTube Channel is a dangerous thing…  :)

Thanks for watching!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

COMPLICATED LIVES: AN EVENING OF SHORT PLAYS • Stray Dog Theatre | WHAMMY! THE SEVEN SECRETS TO A SANE SELF • HotCity Theatre

I saw a couple of cool theatre things in August that have ended, but wanted to give a little shout-out to, so let's start with…

COMPLICATED LIVES: AN EVENING OF SHORT PLAYS

Stray Dog Theatre annually hosts a New Works Laboratory where new plays are workshopped, with free performances and encouragement to participate in a talk-back after the show with the playwright and cast.  It's a neat opportunity to be in on the creative process as these pieces-in-progress ready for further development.  This year, four short plays by St. Louis actor and playwright, Stephen Peirick, were featured in a presentation called "Complicated Lives".

Sunday, August 25, 2013

THE LYONS • Max & Louie Productions

You think you've got a messed up family?  Think again.  Max & Louie Productions closes its 2013 season with a brutally comedic look at one of the most caustic families you're likely to ever meet -- "The Lyons".

The play begins with Ben Lyons (Bobby Miller) lying in a hospital bed dying of cancer while his wife, Rita (Judi Mann), leafs through decorating magazines.  Now that the patriarch of the family is not long for this world, she figures there's no time like the present to think about revamping the living room she's always hated, describing their old sofa as "some washed-out shade of dashed hopes" with a carpet "matted down with resignation".

Sunday, August 18, 2013

TIME STANDS STILL • Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre continues its season with a thoughtful character study of sorts by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Donald MarguliesA couple of his plays that I've seen before ("Collected Stories" and "Dinner with Friends") seem to drop the audience into the everyday lives of everyday folks who are on the edge of transition, with gratifying observations about how the characters evolve and are changed during the passage of time.  This captivating production is no exception under John Contini's refined direction.

The play starts with James (Chad Morris) attentively escorting Sarah (Jenni Ryan), his partner of eight years, into their Brooklyn loft.  She's a photojournalist returning to the states with a splintered leg, an arm in a sling and shrapnel scars she suffered from a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq.  James, a reporter, was there too, but had a breakdown and left before her accident -- having to go into therapy to work through the horrors he witnessed.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

THE SUNSET LIMITED • Theatre Lab

There's another new theatre company on the scene, folks -- Theatre Lab, and according to the "About" section provided in the program, the "Lab" part of its title "…indicates that our company likes to experiment.", with intentions of presenting a variety of work chosen by the performers, when the work is ready, and a commitment to a high level of quality.  Well so far, score.  Theatre Lab has come out of the gate with a striking two-hander written by the author of No Country for Old Men, novelist and playwright, Cormac McCarthy.

As the audience files into the Gaslight Theater, the characters, simply noted as "Black" (Robert Mitchell) and "White" (Zachary Allen Farmer), are engaged in a card game onstage.  As their dialogue unravels, we learn that Black has brought White back to his run-down New York City apartment after snatching him from the path of an oncoming passenger train.  Black, an ex-con and devout Christian is cool and relaxed, affably extolling the bible to White, a disillusioned professor, agitated and anxious to leave.  What follows in this intermission-less hour and a half or so, is a bit of a ping-pong match of existential exchanges -- prodding each other for the basis of their opposing beliefs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

INTO THE WOODS • Ozark Actors Theatre

Road trip!!

OAT's season closer, "Into the Woods", was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  In Sondheim and Lapine's 1987 Tony award winning morality tale, familiar storybook characters, along with a few new ones, venture into a dark forest for different reasons.  They may be known from children's stories, but these woods -- an allegorical rite of passage of sorts, offer up some hard lessons and somber themes for the group that leave the lot of them changed from when their journey began.

After the opening line, "Once upon a time…", our Narrator (Lanin Thomasma) introduces us to our primary players -- Cinderella (Sabra Sellers), Jack (Michael Detmer) and a Baker and his wife (Blane Pressler and Brittany Proia), whose wishes force them all "into the woods".  Cinderella wants to go to the King's Festival and Jack is ordered by his mother (Laura Light) to head to the market to sell his best friend, the family cow, Milky White (Rebecca Light).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

LEGALLY BLONDE, THE MUSICAL • Stages St. Louis

"Legally Blonde, The Musical" was adapted from the 2001 film and premiered on Broadway in 2007 after a San Francisco tryout.  This female empowerment flavored confection about Elle Woods, a Malibu sorority girl who gains admission to Harvard Law School in an attempt to win her ex-boyfriend back, capitalizes on the popular girl power themes that charged the 2003 sensation, "Wicked", and wraps its central theme within high-octane choreography and lots of valley-girl pink.  Pinkness.  Pink-ti-tude?

The driving force behind the current Stages production is the tireless Michelle London as Elle.  She's got strong pipes, dances wonderfully, looks perfect, and brings a great deal of personality to a demanding role.  After the opening number, one of the show's most memorable, "Omigod You Guys",  Elle prepares for a proposal of marriage from her self-absorbed boyfriend, Warner Huntington III (Brandon Davidson).  What she gets, is dumped.  Warner needs a "serious girl" and Elle doesn't fit the bill.  Buoyed by her Delta Nu sisters, particularly her own personal Greek chorus -- Margot (Melinda Cowan), Serena (Julia Johanos) and Pilar (Sarah Rolleston), Elle decides to follow Warner into Harvard Law to prove that she can be more brains and less bombshell.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL II • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Part two of the LaBute New Theater Festival started last Friday with the second set of four new plays that will run until the 28th, along with LaBute's "The Possible", written especially for the festival.

When Hank (David Wassilak) has the chance to meet his favorite actor (Paul Cooper) from his favorite tv show, he's beside himself.  In his cabin in the woods, this park ranger gets to talk to his idol, the guy who plays "Lyle" on a show called "Blood Brothers".  Never mind that the young actor is initially bound and gagged.  Hank just wants to hang out, that's all.  And talk.  Hank's intimate familiarity with every episode of every season of this series provides the humor.  Something I could never identify with.  Ha!  Kidding…  (Downton Abbey?  The Walking Dead?  Anybody?)  But there's a nice dose of tension in there too once the depths of Hank's obsessive connection with the show bubble to the surface and the young actor's aggravation with the position he's put in by the baggage of celebrity come to a head.  Directed by Wayne Solomon and written by Rachel Fenton, who is also featured in, "The Possible" and "Present Tense", "Blood Brothers" is a perfect start to the evening with fine performances from Cooper and Wassilak.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS • Stray Dog Theatre

Roger Corman's 1960 low-budget cult classic about a nebbishy flower shop employee named Seymour who raises a carnivorous plant, inspired a long-running off-Broadway production with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken.  This spawned another popular film adaptation in 1986 and a 2003 Broadway revival.  Under Justin Been's direction, it's getting a scrumptious treatment at Stray Dog, closing out its tenth season with another solid production.

The cast is led by a marvelous Ben Watts who plays Seymour Krelborn, the orphan stuck in Mr. Mushnik's Skid Row flower shop.  As the unlikely hero of this dark comedy, Watts brings his vocal talents and ability to deftly disappear into any role.  Love him.  Our Greek chorus -- Chiffon (Jamie Lynn Marble), Crystal (Maria Bartolotta) and Ronette (a priceless Mark Saunders in drag), all equipped with good voices and attitude, kick off the show with a rousing "Little Shop of Horrors" and appear throughout, commenting on and engaging in the action.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL I • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Tony-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute's plays include, "In the Company of Men", "The Shape of Things", "Fat Pig", "reasons to be pretty" and "Reasons to Be Happy", that just closed off-Broadway.  His film credits include "Nurse Betty", "The Wicker Man", and "Death at a Funeral".  His body of work is often characterized as misanthropic, but with a style that is relatable, carrying weight in his words and unflinching honesty -- he calls it like he sees it. 

William Roth, founder and producing director for the St. Louis Actors' Studio, initially connected with LaBute when STLAS staged “The Shape of Things" in 2010 followed by a collection of his short plays called "Just Desserts" the next year.  LaBute agreed to lend his name to a festival of premiere one-acts -- The LaBute New Theater Festival, and submissions were accepted last October, with eight finalists and five high school finalists selected.  The festival kicked off this past Friday at the Gaslight Theater with the first four finalists.  These will run from the 5th to the 14th.  The second set of four will run from the 19th to the 28th.  The high school finalists were presented as readings on July 6th.  Submissions for next year's festival will be accepted from October 1 - December 31, 2013.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

1776 • Insight Theatre Company

Just in time for the 4th of July Holiday, 1776 looks back at the efforts to establish a new nation of independent states, breaking away from the rule of the British Empire.  Although there were some liberties taken with the historical accuracy of events, the culmination that happens with the tenaciously fought for signing of the Declaration of Independence gives a new appreciation for how the wheels of progress have always turned.  Slowly.  It premiered on Broadway in 1969 and received three Tony Awards including Best Musical.

As the lights come up on a striking tableau of the Second Continental Congress, we join them on a hot summer day in Philadelphia and a very annoyed John Adams (a dynamic and strong voiced Martin Fox).  In the midst of a growing war and increasing taxes from England, his arguments for American independence are falling on deaf ears.  Congress seems determined to postpone the very discussion of the topic indefinitely -- John Dickinson in particular, characterized wonderfully by Christopher Hickey.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

SHREK THE MUSICAL • The Muny

Shrek The Musical, based on the 2001 animated DreamWorks film that was in turn loosely based on William Steig's picture book, Shrek!, is making its Muny debut.  This story about an ogre who falls in love with a princess has enough fairy tale elements to please the kids, but also enough harmless adult humor to keep everyone else entertained.  It also manages to transcend the sight gags and fart jokes to give this musical an innocently sincere message about self-acceptance.  The production's eye-candy's not bad, either.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

ST. LOU FRINGE 2013

The second annual St. Lou Fringe has come and gone and although there were over two dozen performances varying from theatre and dance to workshops, music and street performances, I was only able to see two shows.  :(  Naturally I gravitated toward the theatre offerings, but that's the great thing about Fringe,  there's a wide variety of performance types and times to choose from.  Here's a look at This Is A Play, and Montana: The Shakespearean Scarface.


THIS IS A PLAY • R-S Theatrics

So, you've got a female actor, a male actor and an older female actor in an awful play about lettuce and small town family secrets.  Sounds pretty bad right?  But when the play is less about an actual play and more about the steady stream of each actors' inner thoughts, This Is A Play is anything but bad.  Through their inner monologues they berate the writer and the director for lines they don't get and directions they don't understand.  They also analyze their own performances, the performances of the other actors, and sometimes hang each other out to dry.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH • [insert name here] Theatre Company

A musical about a transgender singer from East Berlin?  You bet!  Hedwig became an off-Broadway hit in 1998 after gathering a cult following and ran for two years, inspiring a film released in 2001.  Now Hedwig Schmidt (a magnetic Paul Cereghino), and his band, The Angry Inch, are playing one of their tour stops, which happens to be The Focal Point on Sutton Avenue.

They're playing where they can, following Hedwig's former lover, rock-star Tommy Gnosis around the country, who is on his much more successful tour.  He broke Hedwig's heart and pilfered her music, and she tells us about him and other stories from her life during the set, starting with her days in Berlin as a "slip of a girly boy", then called Hansel.  Her quest to find her soulmate seemed promising after finding love with an American named Luther.  She agrees to marry him and move to Germany, so her mother gives her a passport, her name, and Hedwig gets gender reassignment surgery in order to legally get married.  The operation however, is completely screwed up, and Hedwig is left with an "angry inch".  After facing an uphill battle, struggling to fashion a new sense of self and sexual identity, Luther leaves Hedwig after they'd immigrated to a trailer park in Junction City, Kansas.  Hedwig voices her painful past through humorous self deprecation and one-liners, but also with Stephen Trask's heartfelt, tuneful songs like "Wig in a Box" and "Wicked Little Town".  She's backed up vocally by her current husband, drag-king, Yitzhak (Connie Reinhardt).

Monday, June 17, 2013

ST. LOU FRINGE PREVIEW

Just a quick shout out to remind folks that the second annual St. Lou Fringe is upon us!  It starts this Thursday and will run until the 24th in midtown St. Louis.  Em Piro, the festival's founder, hosted a preview this past Sunday offering a little taste of this year's performances, and there's a ton featuring local companies and artists from all over the country.  St. Lou Fringe offers theater, dance, music, comedy, street performers, workshops and then some with 30 performances to choose from.  For everything St. Lou Fringe, check out their website where you'll find information about the venues, parking, performances and after-parties.  A Fringe Badge can be purchased for 5 bucks, allowing entrance to the festivities.  Once you've gotten your badge, tickets for the individual performances can be purchased for $5 - $12.

So get ready to Fringe, St. Louis!  Get your badge, check out the performances, and get your tickets soon!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

THERE'S A GUN IN YOUR GOODBYE BAG • OnSite Theatre Company

Where else can you take in a show and get some laundry done at the same time, I ask you?  OnSite's distinctive characteristic is that its shows are staged "on site", and this world premiere written by St. Louis native Elizabeth Birkenmeier (who appeared in OnSite's Bowling Epiphany - The Revival! last season), takes place at Classic Coin Laundry in University City.

While guitarist Rob Birkenmeier provides the welcoming pre-show music, we staked out our places to sit.  Some sat in chairs and others were perched on top of washing machines in the middle of the laundromat.  During the course of the play we meet people who, while waiting for their loads to get done, share their stories -- stories about kindred spirits met and loves lost.  Ruby (Amanda Swearingen), sleeping on one of the machines, is the first one we meet.  She has a hard time telling her waking life from her dream-reality because she's experimenting with polyphasic sleep, napping for 20 minutes 6 times a day.  She'd hoped that a dryer cycle would allow enough time for a little snooze, but since it's not timing out the way she'd planned, she talks to us.  There's a boy she met in Michigan where things got too heavy and she split, a girl she was really into, and one who was really into her.  She doesn't deal with emotionally challenging terrain too well, and usually ends up lying to get herself out uncomfortable situations.  After a bit, Iva (Michelle Hand) comes in barking orders at a young man.  We learn that the guy she's with is a drifter, and she's taken him off of the street and to the laundromat, thinking he probably needs clean clothes.  As bossy and neurotic as she is, she tries to do the right thing -- to comfort.  She talks about her husband who dresses in women's clothes, and a boy she met whose father drowned in Michigan.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre really seems to be on a roll.  In the past couple of seasons, they've handsomely produced everything from Psycho Beach Party to The Who's Tommy to Spring Awakening and the epic Angels in America.  In celebration of Stray Dog's 10th anniversary season, they're going back to their roots, producing the first play the company presented, John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation.  This 1990 Pulitzer Prize nominated play was inspired by a true story and popularized by the 1993 film bearing the same name.  The six degrees of separation theory asserts that everyone is connected to everyone else on the planet by a succession of six or fewer people.  This play is less about the theory though, and more about how you manage the realities within your own circle.

We begin in the posh Fifth Avenue apartment of art dealer Flanders and his wife Ouisa Kittredge (Gerry Love and Sarajane Alverson).  They’re snooty high society types but are always trying to angle their way up to higher rungs on the social ladder.  They're preparing to entertain their wealthy friend Geoffrey (Robert Ashton) in hopes of talking him into parting with $2 million for a Cezanne painting.  The schmoozing is interrupted when a young black guy named Paul (Greg Fenner) is let in by the doorman.  Paul is bleeding from a knife wound he got during an attempted mugging and claims to have ended up at their home because he attends Harvard with the Kittredges' children.

Monday, June 10, 2013

THE CHERRY SISTERS REVISITED • R-S Theatrics

R-S begins its season with Dan O’Brien's The Cherry Sisters Revisited.  The play, inspired by the real-life Cherry Sisters, was part of the 34th Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2010.  These five Iowa farm girls formed a vaudeville act in the 1890's and eventually became renown.  For being completely talentless.  Once the Cherry sisters took their show on the road, it gained a reputation for being an absolute train wreck.  This propelled the sisters, schadenfreude style, to the Olympia Theatre on Broadway where they were greeted with jeers, catcalls and "truck-garden bouquets" of thrown vegetables.

The Cherry sisters included Effie (Rachel Tibbetts), our narrator and the biggest dreamer of the five, Lizzie (Mollie Amburgey), the pretty one, Addie (Beth Wickenhauser), the witty one who wrote most of the act, Jessie (Ellie Schwetye) the tightly wound but caring mother figure and Ella (Nicole Angeli), the mentally addled one.  There's also Pops (B. Weller), the drunken patriarch of the Cherry family who, though found dead at the beginning of the play, makes appearances to insult his daughters throughout.  In fact, the opening lines from Effie are, "Do you believe in ghosts?  You in the audience?  Because you’re looking at one".  This line sets an almost eerie tone from the get go, but then quickly plunges into Effie's recollections of her peculiar family.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

CHAPTER TWO • Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre kicks off its season with a play that, like many Neil Simon plays, is largely autobiographical.  Chapter Two, premiering in 1977, chronicles the grief Simon suffered after the death of his first wife, and his struggle to start a new life with his second wife, Marsha Mason (who btw will be in town tomorrow, June 9).

We begin with novelist George Schneider (John Pierson) returning to his NYC apartment after a month-long European vacation -- a failed attempt to work through his grief.  His brother Leo (Jerry Russo), a good natured fast-talking press agent, is determined to lift him out of his doldrums with a blind date or two, but George insists that he's got his writing to keep him occupied.  He's not ready yet.  Across town, actress Jennie Malone (Katy Tibbets) is also in no mood for cheering up, no matter how hard her saucy friend Faye (Jenni Ryan), tries.  Jennie is still nursing wounds from her recent divorce from a football player, so she's not ready either.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

BUKOWSICAL • New Line Theatre

New Line closes its 22nd season with Bukowsical, another wonderfully executed regional premiere.  Charles Bukowski, an American German-born poet, short story writer and novelist, was considered the "godfather" of a North American literary movement called Dirty Realism – a style that described in plain language the seedy lives of ordinary people and the drudgery of the everyday.  He wrote for the dispossessed.  Railing against the social conventions of the time, he gained some notoriety in the 70's for the profanity-laden honesty in his autobiographical fiction.  Bukowski didn't shy away from odious topics like whoring, boozing, gambling and violence.  That was his world, and he held nothing back.  He achieved cult figure status for awhile and was dubbed a "laureate of American lowlife" by Time magazine.  The Sacred Fools Theatre in Bukowski’s hometown of Los Angeles gave Bukowsical its first showing in 2006.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

THE WIZ • The Black Rep

The Black Rep concludes its 36th season with The Wiz (full title -- The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz"), adapted from L. Frank Baum's classic children’s novel and patterned after the indelible 1939 film.  The Wiz made a lasting impression when it premiered in 1975.  Featuring a score of 1970's R&B, rock and gospel, it was the first Broadway musical to feature an all-black cast, and dazzled mainstream audiences racking up seven Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Direction and Best Musical.  It also inspired the commercially unsuccessful and altogether bizarre 1978 film, featuring Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Diana Ross as Dorothy, among many others.

The familiar songs from "The Wizard of Oz" like, "We're Off to See the Wizard" and "If I Only Had a Heart", are molded into an urban frame of reference and replaced with "Ease On Down the Road", and "Slide Some Oil to Me".  The basics are the same -- after a tornado drops Dorothy (Sarah Stephens), into a strange land, she teams up with the Scarecrow (Ian Coulter-Buford), the Tin Man (Keith Tyrone), and the Lion (Herman Gordon), all headed for the Emerald City in search of The Wiz (Cedric Neal) for brains, a heart, courage, and a way back home.  There are also good and bad witches, monkeys, a pair of glittery shoes, some poignant life lessons, along with some plot detours from the film.  These detours yield some great songs and new scenes, but also some disconnects.  I suppose I'm used to the Wicked Witch of the West making her appearance earlier on, but in The Wiz, we're given a tasty little morsel of her wickedness, and then poof!  She's gone soon after with very little development leading up to it.  And why does the Wiz show himself so early?  Kind of takes the punch out of the reveal that he's just an ordinary guy, however stylish.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

AN ILIAD • Upstream Theater

Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare adapted An Iliad from Homer's epic poem, The Iliad, but the director's notes mention that the two shouldn't be confused.  In this powerful production from Upstream Theater, and under Patrick Siler's excellent direction, the retelling of this ancient story of the Trojan War is told with a contemporary voice that mourns the losses, cheers the heroics, curses the gods and wonders if man will ever evolve beyond the cycle of ruthless, bloody conflict.
  
After walking down the aisle and up onto the stage, The Poet (a remarkable Jerry Vogel) puts down his suitcase, opens a wooden box, takes out a couple of candles and incense, and asks for inspiration from the Muses, and his accompanying musician (Farshid Soltanshahi), to give him the strength to tell his tale.  He says he's been telling it for ages.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

MRS. MANNERLY • Max & Louie Productions

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's two-actor, one-act play was inspired by memories of an etiquette class he took as a child.  You get a taste of that right off the top during the pre-show announcement as Mrs. Mannerly advises us to mind our P’s and Q’s.

The play centers around Jeffrey (Charlie Ingram) reliving his time spent with Helen Anderson Kirk, better known as, "Mrs. Mannerly" (Donna Weinsting) in 1967.  For over thirty years she'd been running her locally acclaimed classes to try and restore some sense of decorum to the young residents of Steubenville, Ohio.  Jeffrey was never the athletic type.  He says that while other kids had play clothes, he had "reading clothes".  He loved "Ironside", "F-Troop" and wanted to be Bert Parks, and he was also innately polite.  He was admitted into Mrs. Mannerly’s manners class and while he may not have been thrilled about it at first, he was hungry for an opportunity to engage in anything where he could excel.  In addition to playing an adult and 10 year old Jeffrey, Ingram also portrays his fellow classmates -- ass-kissing Charles, runny-nosed Ralph, and two female students, Jaime and Kim.  In these classes, held in a second floor gym of the YMCA, Emily Post's etiquette book was the bible, good posture was a must, and any student who said "what" instead of, "I beg your pardon" was fined 25 cents.  The language of the kids does stray off into the profane, especially when imitating their families' typical dinner conversation.  Though she may be devoted to the development of social graces, Mrs. Mannerly also manages to elicit laughter with her unexpectedly salty one-liners.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

TALKING HEADS • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Talking Heads was originally a series of several monologues, written by British playwright Alan Bennett, for the BBC beginning in 1988.  The series was adapted for the stage in 1991 and premiered at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Sussex, England.  The selected monologues for this engrossing presentation by STLAS include, "Nights in the Gardens of Spain", "A Chip in the Sugar", and "Bed Among the Lentils".  This trio of monologues, while laced with humor, also share common threads of repression and isolation.

"Nights in the Gardens of Spain" features Elizabeth Ann Townsend as Rosemary, a gardening enthusiast who immediately sucks us in as she relates the events surrounding a shooting that took place in her quiet suburb.  The murderer was her neighbor, Fran, who shot her abusive husband.  Stuck in a passionless marriage with a man who ignores her, Rosemary becomes friends with Fran, and confides in us the story of Fran's trial, conviction, and prison time, where she visited her as often as she could.  While Rosemary's husband's primary concern is his determination to move them both to Spain, Rosemary and Fran's friendship deepens, and Rosemary learns more about the truth of Fran's marriage, as well as the proclivities of her own husband.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

SHLEMIEL THE FIRST • New Jewish Theatre

NJT's final show of its season is unique.  It's a musical adaptation of Isaac B. Singer's Chelm stories -- traditional, typically self-deprecating Jewish folk tales that involve foolish wisdom, where problems are solved the long way around with ill-conceived logic.  In Shlemiel the First, these tales are set to the tuneful, spirited, instantly recognizable klezmer music of Eastern European Jews.

Naturally, the story takes place in Chelm, a town believed to be occupied by fools.  It begins with Shlemiel (Terry Meddows) dozing away, while his wife, Tryna Ritza (Emily Baker), tries to wake him up.  She's got to get a move on to get out and sell her radishes, which brings in more for the family than Shlemiel's job as a beadle does.  In a number called, "We're Talking Chelm", the six wise men of the town (well, three people and three sock-puppets played by Mike Dowdy, Anna Skidis and Keith Thompson) exalt their brand of wisdom, while being guided by their leader, Gronam Ox (Todd Schaefer).  There's also Gronam's wife, Yenta Pesha (Johanna Elkana-Hale), who bemoans the fact that her blintzes aren't doing it for him anymore in a great turn by Elkana-Hale called, “Yenta’s Blintzes”.  Gronam has the idea, with the help of his wise men, to send Shlemiel out into the countryside to spread word of his esteem.  Mrs. Shlemiel comes to realize that she will miss him while he's gone, as will his children, Gittel and Mottel (Taylor Pietz and Mike Dowdy), but determined, and armed with his trusty dreidel, (adorned on one end with a radish), Shlemiel heads off.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

MAPLE AND VINE • HotCity Theatre

Contemporary life can be smothering sometimes, right?  With many of us spending our days tethered to our cellphones and laptops, wouldn't it be nice to live during a time where we weren't bombarded with constant stimulation?  Or would it?  HotCity explores these possibilities in its current offering, Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine.

It's night as the lights come up on Katha (Shanara Gabrielle) and Ryu's (Alan C. David) NYC apartment.  Katha can't sleep.  Not only do they have noisy, inconsiderate neighbors, but Katha can't seem to get work out of her head.  She's completely burned out at her publishing job, and the everyday grind is complicated by the fact that she's having a difficult time dealing with a miscarriage she suffered six months earlier.  Her husband makes a nice living as a plastic surgeon, but Ryu's long hours at work have become unfulfilling for him as well.  One day, after impulsively quitting her job, Katha meets a man named Dean (Chad Morris).  He's unassumingly debonair in his suit, tie and hat, and has a friendliness about him that strikes Katha as a little unusual.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SMASH/HIT! • The Black Rep

Receiving its world premiere at the Black Rep, Smash/Hit!, written by Steve Broadnax and Michael S. Bordner, centers around "Money" (Ronald L. Conner), and his aspirations of making it big on the hip-hop scene along with his childhood friend, Chance (Matthew Galbreath).  The play also touches on other subjects -- the plight of poverty, post-traumatic stress disorder, father/son dynamics and homophobia in the black community.  It tries to cover a lot of ground.  Maybe too much.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

WAITING FOR GODOT • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Played out on a minimal set with a couple of stones, a leafless tree, and a backdrop of a blue cloudy sky, Waiting for Godot, as the title suggests, is about these two guys, Vladimir (Gary Wayne Barker) and Estragon (Terry Meddows), who are waiting for someone called Godot.  The men admit they don't remember how they know Godot, or if they even really know him at all.  Just about the only thing they do know is that when Godot shows up, everything will be better.  Hmm…  But what to do in the meantime…?

Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy (here pronounced GOD-oh, the way Beckett intended) that debuted in a small Paris theatre in 1953 has long been hailed as a classic example of the "Theatre of the Absurd".  It's practically devoid of dramatic conventions.  There's no solid plot.  Instead it's populated with the mundane details of what happens amidst the waiting.  The exchanges between Vladimir and Estragon (or Didi and Gogo -- their familiar names for each other), are where the wolfish, deeper themes of the play lay disguised (or in plain sight) as lamb's clothing.  This play presents the everydayness of life.  Whether they're bickering, eating carrots, trying to remember what day it is, or trading off hats and quick banter like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy, the dialogue between Didi and Gogo is where the overall landscape of the bleak, comic, repetitive and uncertain nature of the human condition is cleverly cloaked.

Friday, April 12, 2013

GYPSY: A MUSICAL FABLE • Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog continues its trend of not backing away from ambitious shows with its current production, Gypsy -- one of the most highly regarded book musicals in the canon of musical theatre.  Loosely based on the memoirs of famed striptease performer, Gypsy Rose Lee, there are many reasons this musical that premiered in 1959 about the stage mother of all stage mothers is regarded in such high esteem.  With a deeply-layered book by Arthur Laurents, clever lyrics by my hero, Stephen Sondheim and splendid, intricate music by Jule Styne, Gypsy not only has a reverence for "showbiz" itself and more than a few classic numbers (beginning with an old-school overture that you should definitely keep your pie hole shut for), but also, it centers around the complicated character, Mama Rose, who roots for and alienates those close to her.  It also has not one, but two major character arcs, where at the start there's a strong one and a weak one, and by the end, the strongest has become the weakest, and the weakest becomes the strongest.  Love…

Monday, April 8, 2013

CONVICTION • New Jewish Theatre

This engrossing one-act, one-man show covers a lot of ground.  Adapted from the novel “Confession” by Yonatan Ben Nachum, it's based on a true story centering around Andrés Gonzalez, a fifteenth century priest during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

It begins at the Spanish National Archives in the 1960's, where an interrogation is taking place.  There's been some Inquisition files concerning Gonzalez -- trying to be smuggled out by a man who had been working on a Spanish genealogy project.  We never see who is being interrogated, only the interrogator (Ami Dayan), the manager of the National Archives.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

CHILDCARE • OnSite Theatre Company

OnSite Theatre Company, like the name suggests, specializes in site-specific theatre -- very cool and quite exceptional in the local area.  Their latest offering is a world premiere that takes place at the Downtown Children's Center.

We start out meeting Joy (Maggie Conroy) and her aunt Roz (Elizabeth Townsend), who runs a daycare facility that's in need of more clients.  Roz is desperate to beef up the enrollment because the daycare's board has been on her about bringing in more revenue.  Her niece has been taking early childhood education classes and would love a shot at handling a class or two, but Roz insists she needs Joy at the front desk handling the secretarial duties.  Joy has also had some trouble in the boyfriend department, and is trying to keep the details from Roz because she doesn't want any information passed along to her mother.

Monday, March 25, 2013

THE WHIPPING MAN • The Black Rep

Matthew Lopez's intriguing play about a Jewish family of sorts premiered in 2011 off-Broadway and garnered Lucille Lortel, Obie and Outer Critics Circle Awards, and it's getting a powerful production in its St. Louis premiere at the Black Rep.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Inaugural St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Here they are folks, the nominees and award winners for the inaugural St. Louis Theater Circle Awards!  (Another organization in town owns the rights to the name "Louie's", so yeah.  We had to change that!)

Congratulations to all of the nominees and award recipients!

COMEDY

Outstanding Acting Ensemble
Jacob and Jack, New Jewish Theatre
The Comedy of Errors, The Rep
The Divine Sister, HotCity Theatre
The Foreigner, The Rep
The Violet Hour, Max & Louie Productions

ShareThis