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.

B. Weller (Nye), Elizabeth Graveman (Mills) and
Jeff Kargus (Tuck).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The play centers around two very different inmates.  Tuck (Jeff Kargus) is a photographer who had consensual sex with one of his underage models.  His artistic nude photographs and books were deemed pornographic, and remorseful for his actions, he spends his time fixated on a labyrinth of bricks he's making for contemplation and atonement.  Then there's Nye (B. Weller), a pedophile and repeat offender who understands what he is, and is unapologetic for his compulsive behavior.  Convincing performances under Robert Ashton's precise direction give this character driven cautionary tale a lot of bite.  Kargus gives Tuck a quietly intense focus until he learns, along with the audience, the hopelessness of his situation.  Weller, who has the ability to inhabit just about any character completely, does great work as Nye.  Though he's apathetic and malicious, he provides what little humor there is in the play, while the physical and psychological experiments he's subjected to by the staff draw sympathy.  Mark Abels plays Glover, a pseudo-therapist who looks in on the prisoners with an affected sense of friendliness, but reminds them that he's the one who decides when Hell begins and when Hell is over.
Jeff Kargus (Tuck) and Mark Abels (Glover).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Considering his disgust with the crimes the residents have committed, he perceives their level of freedoms quite reasonable, despite the experimentation and the gunshots on the outskirts of town that are heard throughout the play.  Elizabeth Graveman portrays Mills, a staff member who subversively seduces an inmate, with tyranny and also a bit of mystery -- keeping you a little off balance about her character's motivations.  Rachel Hanks plays Tuck's sister, Pearl, who pays an ill-fated visit to Lonesome Hollow determined to get her brother released.  Hanks portrays Pearl with a streak of frantic agitation, desperate to get her brother out and taken aback by the harsh regulations she finds there.  Ken Clark's scenic design features Tuck's labyrinth as the focal point, surrounded by the audience on three sides, with Nathan Schroeder providing the shadowy lighting design.  Josh Cook provides the minimal sound design to great impact, with costumes by Beth Ashby.

Rachel Hanks (Pearl) and Mark Abels (Glover).
Photo credit: John Lamb
While redemption is unlikely and the possibility of release is improbable, the plot of West End Players Guild's season opener won't give you any easy answers, but plenty to think about on your way home.  It's playing until the 6th.  


LONESOME HOLLOW

Written by Lee Blessing
Directed by Robert Ashton
Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
through October 6 | tickets: $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Jeff Kargus (Tuck), B. Weller (Nye), Elizabeth Graveman (Mills), Mark Abels (Glover) and Rachel Hanks (Pearl).

Creative:
Scenic design by Ken Clark; lighting design by Nathan Schroeder; sound design by Josh Cook; costume design by Beth Ashby; fight choreography by Brian Peters; props, Rebeca Davidson; stage manager, Pauline Ashton.

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.

When Roxie Hart (Paige Davis) finds herself in the Cook County slammer for shooting her lover, Fred Casely (Jon-Paul Mateo), she needs a good lawyer to get her neck out of the noose.  A little fame from the papers parlayed into a possible vaudeville turn wouldn't hurt either.  Enter Billy Flynn (John O'Hurley), a slick attorney who, for the right price, can spin whatever story he likes to the press and dazzle any jury with song-and-dance.  Trouble is, he's been retained by Velma Kelly (Terra C. MacLeod).  Velma's a jailhouse diva whose name has dominated the papers, and she's planning a return to show business after her sensationalized trial right when Roxie takes over the headlines and shoves Velma's name down to second billing.  The chasing of celebrity and the manipulation of the press play out with one memorable tune after another, all under the clever conceit of presenting these numbers as a string of glossy vaudeville acts.

John O'Hurley (Billy Flynn).
Considering the number of times the leading roles in this show have been stunt-cast in the past (I mean, really?), it was nice to see an ensemble where the talent was uniformly spread.  John O'Hurley, best known for the role of J. Peterman on the NBC sitcom Seinfeld and host of the game show Family Feud, is featured here as Billy Flynn.  With a nice set of pipes, speaking or singing, O'Hurley embodies the smooth talking lawyer with swagger and pizzazz.  This tour also features Paige Davis as Roxie Hart.  That's right, that Paige Davis.  She held her own as a charismatically engaging and slightly goofy Roxie Hart, handling the choreography and vocals nicely.  Opposite Davis was Terra C. MacLeod as Velma Kelly, and her experience playing this role around the world was evident in every line, song, wry smirk and high kick.  Carol Woods lends her big voice and attitude to Matron "Mama" Morton and there were great turns also from Todd Buonopane, who makes Amos Hart, Roxie's put-upon husband, sweet and endearing, and D. Micciche as the lip-quivering soft-hearted journalist, Mary Sunshine.  The group of talented, firm-bodied ensemble members added oomph to each number with polished performances along with a great sounding orchestra, and the costume and lighting design sharply complement the mood of the show.

This puppy is rolling out of town tomorrow with one more performance tonight and 2 performances Sunday, so get your tickets while you can!


CHICAGO

Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Music by John Kander
Directed by David Hyslop
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through September 22 | tickets: $30 - $80
Performances Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm

Paige Davis (Roxie Hart).
Photo credit: Len Prince.
Cast:
Paige Davis (Roxie Hart), Terra C. MacLeod (Velma Kelly), John O'Hurley (Billy Flynn), Todd Buonopane (Amos Hart), Carol Woods (Matron "Mama" Morton), D. Micciche (Mary Sunshine), Shamicka Benn-Moser (Go-To-Hell Kitty), Thomas Bevan (Bailiff/Court Clerk), Christophe Caballero (Swing/Dance Captain), Ian Campayno (Doctor/The Jury), Mitchell Dudas (Harry), Naomi Kakuk (Hunyak), Stephanie Maloney (Mona), Jon-Paul Mateo (Fred Casely), Jennifer Mathie (Swing), Drew Nellessen (Aaron), Laura Oldham (Annie), Lindsay Roginski (June), Sherisse Springer (Liz), Christopher VanDenhende (Sergeant Fogarty/The Judge), Colt Adam Weiss (Swing) and Corey Wright (Harrison).

Creative:
Choreography by David Bushman; scenic design by John Lee Beatty; costume design by William Ivey Long; lighting design by Ken Billington; sound design by Scott Lehrer; orchestrations by Ralph Burns

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.

Liz Pearce (Sally Bowles) and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Cliff).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Clifford Bradshaw (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), a young American writer, has travelled to Berlin for inspiration for his novel.  After finding a cheap boardinghouse, he finds himself at the Kit Kat Club, where he becomes fascinated with the uninhibited freedom he finds within its walls, and falls for one of the club's headliners, Sally Bowles (Liz Pearce).  While he drinks in the offerings of this new self-indulgent world with Sally, political powers in Berlin are shifting.  Cliff eventually sees what's coming, but Sally refuses to acknowledge the Nazi threat that lurks like a shadow on the doorstep.  The Emcee (Nathan Lee Graham), our "one-man Greek chorus", is our host at the club, and from the electric opening number "Willkommen", to his "Money Song" to "I Don't Care Much", Graham glides through these, sometimes with goose-steps at the end, in grand style, and chilling indifference.

Michael Marotta (Herr Schultz) and
Mary Gordon Murray (Fräulein Schneider).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The most compelling connection is the one between Fräulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray), the owner of the boardinghouse, and the doomed romance with her Jewish boyfriend, Herr Schultz (Michael Marotta).  The relationship between these two is where the imposing Nazi threat becomes most clear, and Murray and Marotta deliver charming, funny, and heartbreaking performances.  Herdlicka and Pearce also turn in solid performances as Cliff and Sally.  Pearce's powerful, "Maybe This Time", included from the film version, and "Cabaret", are highlights in an alluring performance as her free-wheeling Sally Bowles.  Herdlicka provides a nice counter-point as Cliff, the bi-sexual American novelist, whose vision of the future is clearer.

Nathan Lee Graham (the Emcee).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Fabulous costumes were provided by Angela Wendt and Michael Schweikardt's scenic design handsomely accommodates a few different locations, and features an upper level walkway and an illuminated Kit Kat sign.

I'd never seen "Cabaret" before (what?!), and only remember snippets of the 1972 film with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli.  If there was any production that I'm glad was "my first", it's this one.  Go see it!  It's playing until the 6th of October.


Liz Pearce (Sally Bowles), Hunter Ryan Herdlicka (Cliff),
Michael Marotta (Herr Schultz), Dana Winkle (Fräulein Kost) and
Blake Ellis (Ernst).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
CABARET

Book by Joe Masteroff
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Music by John Kander
Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge 
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 6 | tickets: $16.50 - $76
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesday to Friday at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 5pm, selected Saturdays at 9pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Nathan Lee Graham (the Emcee).
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Cast:
Hunter Ryan Herdlicka* (Clifford Bradshaw), Nathan Lee Graham* (The Emcee), Bradley Benjamin* (Kit Kat Girl Rosie and Ensemble), Angelica Richie (Kit Kat Girl Lulu, Telephone Girl, Two Ladies and Ensemble), Jolina Javier* (Kit Kat Girl Frenchy, Two Ladies and Ensemble), Dana Winkle* (Kit Kat Girl Fritzie, Fräulein Kost and Ensemble), Blake Ellis* (Ernst Ludwig), Timothy Hughes* (Customs Officer, Max and Ensemble), Mary Gordon Murray* (Fräulein Schneider), Michael Marotta* (Herr Schultz), Liz Pearce* (Sally Bowles), Carl Draper* (Bobby, German Sailor and Ensemble), Sean Maddox* (Victor, German Sailor and Ensemble), Blake Clendenin (German Sailor and Ensemble), Dennis Kenney* ("Her", German Sailor and Ensemble)
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Musical supervision by Christy Crowl; scenic design by Michael Schweikardt; costume design by Angela Wendt; lighting design by John Lasiter; sound design by Acme Sound Partners; stage manager, Glenn Dunn; assistant stage manager, Shannon B. Sturgis.

Musicians:
Conductor/keyboard, Henry Palkes; drums, Erin Elstsner; bass, Ann Muehlmann; woodwinds, Elsie Parker; trombone, Marquita Reef; trumpet, Mary Weber.

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.

Jack Dryden (George Gibbs) and Taylor Pietz (Emily Webb).
Photo credit: John Lamb
While Mrs. Gibbs (Peggy Billo) calls her kids, Rebecca (Lily Orchard) and George (Jack Dryden), down to breakfast, Mrs. Webb (Amy Loui) does the same with her kids, Wally (Charlie B. Southern) and Emily (Taylor Pietz).  We also meet Simon Stinson (Michael Brightman), the church choir director and town drunk, Professor Willard (Paul Balfe) shares some geological tidbits about the area, and we see the budding romance between Emily Webb and the neighbor boy, George.  Mr. Webb (Alan Knoll), the local newspaper editor, tells us that Grover's Corners isn't the most cultural town, but the young folks seem to return to settle down.  The Stage Manager injects from time to time, and tells us about the futures of the younger residents, and how others will die.

Taylor Pietz (Emily Webb),
Joneal Joplin (Stage Manager)
and Jack Dryden (George Gibbs).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The second act, three years later, focuses on the relationship between George and Emily and their eventual marriage.  We get a flashback of the couple when they fall in love, courtesy of our Stage Manager, and the rest of the act plays out with more milk deliveries, father-in-law talks, and wedding day jitters.

The Stage Manager shows us the town cemetery and its more recent graves at the top of act three.  This act takes place nine years later, and some of those whom we've met now sit together in rows of chairs.  After the others are joined by a new resident on the hilltop, there is a sobering realization about the wondrous nature of the unappreciated moments in life -- a lesson briefly recognized by those on the hilltop, while the living remain painfully unaware.

The cast is solid throughout, and includes many St. Louis veterans.  Joplin is as comfortable and easy as a rocking chair as the Stage Manager, guiding us through the evening with understated charm.  Additional cast members, including Billo and Loui as Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb, John Contini as Doc Gibbs, and Knoll's Mr. Webb, were all brought to life with home-spun finesse.  Pietz, usually seen in musicals, does excellent work here as Emily.  She makes the transition from school girl to nervous young bride smoothly and contributes to the final act with heartbreaking credibility.  Dryden does great work as George Webb, from an energetic young boy to his sweet courtship and his earnest intentions as a young groom -- ringing true with small town appeal.  There was strong support from Brightman as the troubled Simon Stinson, Balfe as Professor Willard, Donna Weinsting's gossipy and emotional Mrs. Soames and Eric Dean White as Constable Warren.  Under Tom Martin's wonderful direction, along with the rest of the ensemble and commendable performances by the kids, the cast members paint a nostalgic portrait of Americana.  Cherol Bowman Thibaut was responsible for the lovely costumes, and Mark Wilson provides the striking lighting design, as well as scenic design.

Joneal Joplin (Stage Manager).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Martin's production is also made special by the way he treated some elements of the play.  According to what I've read, Thornton Wilder specified in the script that the play should be performed with little scenery, no set and minimal props, with the characters miming their interactions with the objects they come in contact with -- all effectively engaging the imagination of the audience.  These traditional elements remain, but Martin has steeped the play in theatricality by having the cast members provide the sound effects for doors, milk bottles and thunder with props -- all while standing downstage right and left.  While stringing beans, the actors snap their fingers during their pantomime.  Actors provide the clucking of yard chickens as they are fed by Mrs. Gibbs.  Along with the chalk illustrations and titles written by the cast, these clever additions heighten the intimacy of the play.

Ahead of its time, obliterating the fourth wall and never letting us forget that we are watching a play, this classic takes idealized memories of a time when the milk was still delivered and automobiles were rare, and sets it against a universal reminder about the marvelously mundane, and the brevity of life, with charm and gravity.  I would go ahead and get a ticket if I were you.  It's playing until the 29th.


OUR TOWN

Written by Thornton Wilder
Directed by Tom Martin
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through September 29 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Joneal Joplin* (Stage Manager), John Contini* (Dr. Gibbs), Peggy Billo* (Mrs. Gibbs), Alan Knoll* (Mr. Webb), Amy Loui* (Mrs. Webb), Jack Dryden (George Gibbs), Taylor Pietz (Emily Webb), Charlie B. Southern (Wally Webb) and Lily Orchard (Rebecca Gibbs), Joe Kercher (Joe Crowell), Robert Thibaut (Howie Newsome), Paul Balfe (Professor Willard), Caroline Kwan (Woman in balcony), Louisa Wimmer Brown (Lady in the box), Michael Brightman (Simon Stinson), Donna Weinsting (Mrs. Soames), Eric Dean White (Constable Warren), Braden Phillips (Si Crowell), Austin Pierce (Sam Craig) and Tom Wethington (Joe Stoddard).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic, lighting and technical design by Mark Wilson; costume design by Cherol Bowman Thibaut; sound design by Victoria Meyer; musical direction by Charlie Mueller; properties by Jim Ryan; stage manager, Sarah Johnson.

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.

Paul Cereghino (Mr. Sloane) and Lavonne Byers (Kath). 
Photo credit: Todd Studios
These people are whack, but they attract and repel.  None of them are what they seem to think they are.  They're willing to use each other for what they can get, capable of more than you'd guess, and also a couple of cans short of a six pack.  Dada is the lone dissenter who doesn't fall for Sloane's charm.  His suspicion about the young guest's murderous past brings out an ominous side to Sloane early on that sets the dynamic of the whole play on a calamitous trajectory.

Director Bill Whitaker keeps the pace high throughout this farce, and the production is bolstered by a very strong cast.  Byers combines an unpredictability that makes you slightly nervous with a frenzied state of confusion and great comic timing, making you want to see what Kath will do next.  Cereghino has the looks and a magnetic caginess to pull off the pliable Mr. Sloane with credibility.  Reed also brings his role of Ed alive, underscoring Ed's pompous facade with a lecherous core.  It's hard not to chuckle at every tottering step Grivna takes as Dada.  Blind as a bat, but the one with the clearest vision, Grivna doesn't get lost in the shuffle of the other characters.  C. Otis Sweezy provides the handsome set, with lighting by Sean Savoie, sound design by Zoe C. Sullivan, and spot on costumes by Becky Fortner.

Bill Grivna (Kemp) and
Paul Cereghino (Mr. Sloane).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
From the pre-show announcement, courtesy of Kath, to the hilarious events that unfold, you might find it hard to root for any of these people, but that doesn't make their entanglements any less fun to watch.  It runs until the 21st at the Kranzberg.


ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE

Written by Joe Orton
Directed by Bill Whitaker
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through September 21 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm
Update: 9.21 3pm matinee CANCELLED

Cast:
Lavonne Byers (Kath), Bill Grivna* (Kemp), Michael James Reed* (Ed) and Paul Cereghino (Sloane).
* Member Actors' Equity Association


Creative:
Scenic design by C. Otis Sweezy; lighting design by Sean Savoie; sound design by Zoe C. Sullivan; costume design by Becky Fortner; properties, Meg Brinkley; stage manager, Kate Koch.

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.
Zach Wachter (Frankie Epps) and
Beth Wickenhauser (Mary Phagan).
Photo credit: Michael Young
On Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday commemorating fallen Civil War heroes, Leo has plans to take care of some business at the factory instead of staying at home for a picnic to watch the big parade with Lucille.  While Leo is at work, Mary Phagan (Beth Wickenhauser), a young employee, stops by for her paycheck, and the next thing you know, the police are at the Franks' doorstep accusing Leo of Mary's murder, whose body had been found in the basement of the factory.  While Leo is vilified by the locals and his presumed guilt is fueled by the newspapers and fabricated by politicians and ambitious lawyers, his relationship with Lucille beats as the heart of the piece.  Played out against a tragic backdrop, they discover their devotion and love for each other in the most trying of times before a heart-breaking end. 

Pete Winfrey (Leo Frank).
Photo credit: Michael Young
This huge cast is headed by the show's exceptional leads, Winfrey as Leo Frank and Theby-Quinn as Lucille Frank.  Pete Winfrey -- geez, the pipes on this guy!  He turns in a solid performance as the martyr at the center of the story, and his distinctive voice commands from his first number, "How Can I Call This Home?" through to his solemn end.  Theby-Quinn portrays Lucille's conversion from a remote Southern belle to a courageously hopeful defender of her husband with a beautiful voice and a convincing performance, notably her number, "You Don't Know This Man".  During the trial scenes, she's completely engaged as each concoction was revealed.  Their duets together, "Leo At Work" / "What Am I Waiting For?" and "All the Wasted Time" were beautiful.
Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lucille Frank).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Performance highlights include Wickenhauser as Mary Phagan, from her first appearance to later ones during testimony and flashbacks, and Zach Wachter who kicks off the show as the young soldier and as Frankie Epps, a young boy who flirts with Mary on her way in to work.  Marshall Jennings plays the janitor Jim Conley impressively, particularly during his bogus but crucial testimony against Leo, "That's What He Said".  Shawn Bowers gives Newt Lee, the night watchman at the factory, a deep, rich voice.  His duet with Alexis Coleman, who plays Minnie McKnight, the Frank's maid, "A Rumblin' and A Rollin'", where the domestics wonder if this much outrage would have been generated had the young victim been black, was another standout number.  Ken Haller does a nice job with his portrayal of Hugh Dorsey, the prosecutor and real villain of the show, along with Kevin Hester as Governor Slaton, who reopens the case.  The factory girls, Iola, Monteen and Essie (Caitlin Mickey, Macia Noorman and Maggie Murphy), sound great together in their number, "Factory Girls/Come Up to My Office" and Kay Love's testimony as Mrs. Phagan, "My Child Will Forgive Me", was tender and heartrending, with a sharp sting aimed at Leo at the end.

Ken Haller (Hugh Dorsey) and the cast of PARADE.
Photo credit: Michael Young
With a very minimal scenic design and set pieces being brought in for certain scenes, director Christina Rios had a sizable cast to handle, and the staging was good in the challenging Ivory Theatre, with the exception of the crowd scenes which sometimes lacked the frenzied energy needed to convey the passion and anger of the townsfolk.  Elizabeth Henning provides the appealing period costumes, and Nathan Schroeder provides the lighting design.  Musical director Leah Luciano and the orchestra did a great job with the score, made up of various styles of music, and made a big enough impression that I bought the OCR later that night.  There is so much weight in the songs of Jason Robert Brown, the show's composer and lyricist, with dissonant droning and haunting harmonies, and the orchestra and cast handled these quite well.

GP Hunsaker (Guard), Marshall Jennings (Jim Conley) and
Kevin Hester (Governor Slaton).
Photo credit: Michael Young
This is not a musical that gets produced very often, so it was wonderful for me to get the opportunity to see it.  Don't let it pass you by!  It's playing through the 15th with discount options to choose from that you can check out and keep in mind for next time on their website.  Go see it!


PARADE

Book by Alfred Uhry
Music/lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Christina Rios
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through September 15 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Shawn Bowers (Newt Lee) and
Alexis Coleman (Minnie McKnight).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Cast:
Pete Winfrey (Leo Frank), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lucille Frank), Beth Wickenhauser (Mary Phagan), Marshall Jennings (Jim Conley), Ken Haller (Hugh Dorsey), Kevin Hester (Governor Slaton), Caitlin Mickey (Iola Stover), Macia Noorman (Monteen), Maggie Murphy (Essie), Shawn Bowers (Newt Lee/Riley), Alexis Coleman (Minnie McKnight/Angela), Kay Love (Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton), Zach Wachter (Young Soldier/Frankie Epps/Guard), Derick Smith (Old Soldier/Judge Roan), Bradley Behrmann (Britt Craig/Mr. Peavy), Robert Breig (Tom Watson/Officer Starnes) and GP Hunsaker (Officer Ivey/Luther Rosser/Guard).

Creative:
Musical direction by Leah Luciano; asst. director.choreography by Maria I. Straub; costume design by Elizabeth Henning; lighting design by Nathan Schroeder; sound design by Mark Kelley; dialect coach, Nikki Lott; stage manager, Sarah Lynne Holt.

Musicians:
Piano, Leah Luciano; violin, Connor Coffey; french horn, Matthew Geary; clarinet, Michael Montague; double bass, Charles Schuder; percussion, Dustin Shapiro.

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".

Katie Puglisi (Meredith).
Photo credit: Stephen Peirick
The first of the four was "On Solid Ground", and begins with Meredith (Katie Puglisi) meeting her mom Adele (Nancy Crouse) for dinner, or so she thinks -- celebrating what would have been her parents' 40th wedding anniversary.  For the past four years since Adele's husband's death, mother and daughter have carried on this tradition with a night out, but Meredith has been lured not to a restaurant, but to an airport, by her mom, who has more adventurous plans in mind.  Crouse's character was the more laid-back of the two, but convinces when she explains how a discovered bucket list has now given her a new sense of loving responsibility, now that her husband is gone.  Puglisi's Meredith is more rigid and reserved, but finally comes around to loosening up a bit in a moment of bonding between her character and Adele that was sweetly poignant.  Crouse and Puglisi played well off of each other, along with Eric Dean White as Richie, a flight instructor who works at the airport.  This play had the least amount of heft with not as much going on under the surface, but served as a nice start to the evening with good performances.

Antonio Rodriguez (Marty), Betsy Bowman (April)
and Jan Meyer (Donna).
Photo credit: Stephen Peirick
“The Dock” finds Donna (Jan Meyer) sneaking out of her son's wedding for a few minutes to have a cigarette.  She notices Marty (Antonio Rodriguez) is there too, a childhood friend of her son's.  After he admonishes her about smoking, they have an interesting little conversation.  Marty, facing his thirties and attending his best friend's wedding, is at one of those junctions where you look back at your life fondly and somewhat remorsefully, and wonder about the future warily.  After Donna imparts a little seasoned knowledge about growing older, she goes back inside to join the reception and April (Betsy Bowman), another long-time friend of Marty's comes out on the dock with a half-empty bottle of wine.  In the drawn-out conversation that follows, they examine their lives and share past mistakes -- things they didn't know about each other.  It comes off as a realistic account of their experiences, but is rambling in fashion.  It would be cool to see how April and Marty end up, given the spark between them that seems to take them off-guard, but I also wanted to see more of Donna at some point as well.  It's dialogue heavy, but rings true with good performances from Meyer, Rodriguez and Bowman.

Kate Frisina-White (Carrie) and Nancy Nigh (Sabrina).
Photo credit: Stephen Peirick
“Tangled Mess" kicks off the second act with Carrie (Kate Frisina-White), a hair stylist, returning to the home she once shared with her ex-girlfriend Sabrina (Nancy Nigh), an attorney.  She's coming back for the blender she says she owns, but Sabrina is startled and surprised to learn that Carrie kept a spare key.  We learn that Carrie initiated their break-up, leaving Sabrina to face chemotherapy alone.  Sabrina, wearing a synthetic wig, is angry and hurt, but gives the impression that she misses Carrie as much as Carrie misses her.  Details about their relationship are revealed bit by bit, and after they both share their sides of the story, seeing them end on hopeful terms is rewarding.  Convincing performances from Frisina-White, the more butch of the two, regretful and caring, while Nigh is timid as the slightly aloof, sympathetic Sabrina.  For me it was a sobering commentary about the courage and selflessness it takes to stand by one you love when they are suffering, no matter how painful it may be to you.

Sarajane Alverson (Ava) and Colleen M. Backer (Maggie).
Photo credit: Stephen Peirick
The last piece, “Peeping", has Ava (Sarajane Alverson) visiting her friend Maggie (Colleen M. Backer), who is rattled after being the object of a peeping tom.  Ava, the "Lavern" to Maggie's "Shirley", tries to get her to calm down while waiting for Maggie's husband to come home by passing the time with stories of her past sexual exploits, even though Ava happens to be married.  Maggie seems ill at ease with all of this talk, but once she reveals a thing or two about herself, the tension in the play quickly mounts to a surprising twist at the end.  Alverson and Backer work well together comically, much like they did in Peirick's "Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs", and this was probably my favorite.  White makes a brief appearance in this play at the very end as an expected (by Maggie) and unexpected (by Ava) guest.

It was a great night of theatre with an enlightening talk-back.  I've always enjoyed Peirick's plays in the past, and "Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs" earned him a St. Louis Theater Circle nomination for Outstanding New Play last year, while his short plays have received productions or staged readings in nine states, with "Tangled" being a Winner at the 2013 New Plays from the Heartland in Normal, Il.

Kudos to him, and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Cast:
Sarajane Alverson, Colleen M. Backer, Betsy Bowman, Nancy Crouse, Kate Frisina-White, Jan Meyer, Nancy Nigh, Katie Puglisi, Antonio Rodriguez and Eric Dean White.

Creative:
Props and costume design by Keaton Treece; scenic design by Stephen Peirick; stage manager, lighting and sound design by Justin Been.


(Front row) Anna Skidis, Chuck Harper, Maggie Conroy,
(Second row) Mikey Butane Thomas, Greg Fenner, and
(Top) Jeffrey Skoblow.
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
Next up is…
WHAMMY! THE SEVEN SECRETS TO A SANE SELF • HotCity Theatre

I missed "Whammy!" the first time it came around as part of HotCity's 2011 season.  I had the opportunity to catch it when two benefit performances were presented earlier in August, after the production was invited to participate in the New York International Fringe Festival.  I'm glad I saw it.  There were precious few selections from outside the New York area, so it's pretty cool that "Whammy!" made the cut.

Mikey Butane Thomas, Anna Skidis,
Greg Fenner, Maggie Conroy and Chuck Harper. 
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston
Its creator, Chuck Harper, Associate Director of HotCity Theatre and Asst. Professor of Performance at SIUE, wondered what would happen if you took a wry look at the “self help” business through the lens of Stanley Kramer’s 1964 comic film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  He ended up with a daring physical theatre piece where five people, “The Quimbies”, are willing to do whatever it takes to improve their lives, deal with their issues and assimilate as normally as they can.  They do this with the help of each other, and Dr. G. -- seemingly there to oversee their endeavors.  He guides them, and us, through the "seven secrets to a sane self" in a series of structured improvisation (this ensemble was not without a copious supply of energy), and seems disheartened with what he sees one moment, and caught up in the shenanigans himself the next.  The play as a whole allows for a wide margin of interpretation, but the "movement activities" of the group, fascinating in themselves to watch, are grounded in a familiar humanity, regardless of how surreal.  Watching the successes and failures of these individuals (sometimes with folding chairs), their interactions with each other (sometimes with rope), all while working their way through issues ranging from sexual addiction to suicide, disclosed through compelling monologues, is like the trippiest group therapy session you could imagine.

Maggie Conroy, Mikey Butane Thomas, Chuck Harper,
Jeffrey Skoblow, Anna Skidis and Greg Fenner.
Photo credit: Valerie Goldston

Is it your typical theatre fare?  Not at all.  But is it engaging?  Well, with a robust selection of music, soundscapes and enthusiastic performances by the cast, I thought so.  It's kind of hard to describe, which is why I'm excited to have a promotional clip for the show here and also included below, featuring the original production and cast (Julie Venegoni, Kate Frisina-White, Mikey Butane Thomas, Chuck Harper, Greg Fenner and Maggie Conroy).  After the initial staging, the show was tweaked a bit with a couple of new actors -- Anna Skidis as one of the Quimbies and Jeffrey Skoblow as Dr. G.

"Whammy!" was well-received in NYC and you can read the NYTheatre.com review by clicking here.  Harper says of the experience, “The Fringe was a gas.  Our audiences were great and the reception was better than I hoped for.  We got back on Sunday night, exhausted, but the best kind of exhausted".

Yay for them!  Here's the clip--



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