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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.

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