Tuesday, February 26, 2013

THE BOOK OF MORMON • The Fox

I admit -- at one point I doubted that this show would ever come to St. Louis.  I saw it a couple of years ago in my favorite city and thought it would be too controversial.  But hey, look at me with egg on my face!  It's here, and I think you should try to get tickets.  ASAP.

This blog will be a bit of a quickie because I blogged about it in NYC. (and you can read that here…), but let's go over some broad strokes anyway, shall we?

Winning a slew of awards in 2011, The Book of Mormon offended many, but proved to others that the creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, best known for their animated series, "South Park", know a little something about musical theatre.  Following the story of a couple of squeaky clean, young Mormon missionary trainees serving their time in Uganda, The Book of Mormon can be brash and blasphemous, yet the structure of it seems so "textbook book musical" to me.  Right? --

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour Company
(c) Joan Marcus, 2013
Just with crude and incredibly dark subject matter, like female circumcision, AIDS, Ugandan Warlords and a very "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" (one of my favorite numbers... Dominus!!), and all while severely poking fun at the Mormon religion.  Okay so yeah, it can be really offensive, but I'm pleasantly surprised at the fact that despite this, I hardly saw any walkouts at the Fox at all!  Yay, St. Louis!!  Thing is, as offensive as it can be, it's more than just sophomoric one-liners.  In addition to a great score with some nifty tunes, it's got a sincere heart at the center that manages to address and salve the cuts that it inflicts along the way.

Go see it.  Seriously.  And again, you can check out the NYC 2011 review here.


THE BOOK OF MORMON

Book/music/lyrics by Robert Lopez, Matt Stone and Trey Parker
Directed by Casey Nicholaw
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through March 3 | tickets: $55 - $125
Performances Tuesdays, February 19 & 26, 8pm Wednesday February 20 & 27, 8pm, Sunday, February 24, 6:30pm, Thursday February 21 & 28, 8pm, Friday March 1, 8pm, Saturday Mar. 2, 2pm & 8pm, Sunday Mar. 3, 1pm, Sunday March 3, 6:30pm

THE BOOK OF MORMON First National Tour Company
(c) Joan Marcus, 2013
Cast:
Christopher John O'Neill (Elder Cunningham), Mark Evans (Elder Price), Samantha Marie Ware (Nabulungi), Grey Henson (Moroni), Derrick Williams (General) and Kevin Mambo (Mafala Hatimbi).

Creative:
Scenic Design by Scott Pask; costume design by Ann Roth; lighting design by Brian MacDevitt; sound design by Brian Ronan; hair design by Josh Marquette.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

PSYCHO BEACH PARTY • Stray Dog Theatre

High camp is in store for those who check out Stray Dog's latest offering, Charles Busch's Psycho Beach Party, that debuted off-Broadway in 1987.  This lively romp fuses those old beach blanket surfer flicks with a little Alfred Hitchcock, and because it's Charles Busch, there's some drag thrown in for good measure.  Hooray!

Chicklet Forrest (Ben Watts) wants to be a surfer girl on the 1960's Malibu beach scene, but everyone sees her as just a kid.  In addition to this, she's got a little multiple personality issue.  Her most formidable personality is called Ann Bowman -- a femme fatale type out to bring everyone she meets under her sway.

At the start, while Chicklet is hanging out with her friends, the blonde sex-kitteny Marvel Ann (Suzanne Burke), and best buddy, the rather dorky Berdine (Anna Skidis), they meet Kanaka (Paul S. Cooper), the cool kid of the Malibu surf, and his pals, Star Cat (Zach Wachter), a psychiatry student turned surf-bum, and surfer hangers-on, Provoloney (Jake Ferree) and Yo-Yo (Paul Edwards) -- these two are too busy denying the feelings they have for each other.  But none of them take Chicklet's surfing aspirations seriously, until her alter-ego, Ann Bowman, makes an appearance in front of Kanaka.  After a few moments of confusion, this persona gets Kanaka's engines revving.

Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest), Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka),
Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Sarajane Alverson (Bettina Barnes),
Paul Edwards (Yo Yo) and Anna Skidis (Berdine).
Photo credit: John Lamb
While Kanaka spends his time trying to trigger the reappearance of the dangerous seductress, Chicklet's additional personalities make some hilarious cameos.  There's also a glamorous film actress visiting the beach named Bettina Barnes (Sarajane Alverson), who's trying to lay low and avoid the press as she's trying to get out of her contract.  Actually, she'd probably kill to be in any movie, but she ends up hiring Berdine to be her secretary, while Provoloney and Yo-Yo dream of a career in the film business.  There's also Chicklet's incredibly controlling mother, Mrs. Forrest (a riotous Stephen Peirick), who prefers to do her housework wearing pearls and sipping martinis.

Suzanne Burke (Marvel Ann), Zach Wachter (Star Cat),
Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest),
Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka) and Paul Edwards (Yo Yo).
Photo credit: John Lamb
This cast is full of infectious energy with Watts leading the way as Chicklet.  He switches personalities with convincing over-the-topness, and is splendid in the role.  A close second to his performance is Skidis as Berdine, injecting every moment of her scenes with nerdy goodness.  Peirick wonderfully hams it up with a brilliant turn as Mrs. Forrest, Chicklet's mother.

Justin Been's sound design adds melodramatic musical punctuations that underscore much of the show and the costume design (Alexandra Scibetta Quigley) and scenic design (Justin Been) perfectly complement the action.

Check it out -- it's a great time.


Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest)
and Stephen Peirick (Mrs. Forrest).
Photo credit: John Lamb
PSYCHO BEACH PARTY

Written by Charles Busch
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through February 23 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday performances are at 2pm and 8pm

Cast:
Ben Watts (Chicklet Forrest), Paul S. Cooper (Kanaka), Zach Wachter (Star Cat), Jake Ferree (Provoloney), Paul Edwards (Yo-Yo), Anna Skidis (Berdine), Suzanne Burke (Marvel Ann), Stephen Peirick (Mrs. Forrest) and Sarajane Alverson (Bettina Barnes).

Creative:
Costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; scenic and sound design by Justin Been.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

SPEED-THE-PLOW • New Jewish Theatre

NJT’s third show of its 16th season features its first play by David Mamet -- Speed-the-Plow, directed here by Tim Ocel.  Debuting in 1988, this play, as many Mamet plays like American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, November and Oleanna do, looks at moral corruption and power -- exploring the dirty underbelly of human nature with rapid-fire dialogue and a generous sprinkling of "f" words.  Love…  In this case, the underbelly involves the big Hollywood movie-making scene and the trade-offs that are made, and what makes those trade-offs seem worthwhile.

Bobby Gould (Christopher Hickey) has recently started a new job as the head of production at a major Hollywood studio.  His friend Charlie Fox (Michael James Reed), who's never been quite as high on the totem pole, has all but secured a Hollywood hit-maker to do a film -- a “prison/buddy” flick, guaranteed to make a butt-load of money for Bobby and Charlie both.  Bobby's agreed to pitch it to his boss and have the studio green light the picture, but they’ve only got 24 hours to secure the deal.  While patting themselves on the back and Charlie dreaming of what it will be like to be a ridiculously rich man, they compare their future hit to a novel that Bob’s boss has asked him to read.  A “courtesy read” before they reject it.  It’s called, “The Bridge or, Radiation and the HalfLife of Society", written by an "Eastern sissy writer".  The novel concerns the end of the world with lofty notions about the decay of civilization.  Charlie and Bobby mock it for being too intellectual and abstract to have the makings of a blockbuster.

Michael James Reed (Charlie Fox) and
Christopher Hickey (Bobby Gould).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In the midst of all this, once they finally get their coffee from Bobby's temporary secretary, Karen (Sigrid Sutter), Charlie bets Bob 500 bucks that he can't get Karen to sleep with him.  Charlie suggests that with all of his newly gained power and influence, people may not honestly like Bob for himself, but rather for his position, and Bob's confident veneer starts to crack.  Bobby knows what he is, and what his business is about, but has been able to comfortably settled into it.  Bob and Charlie are two self-described “whores” and “slaves to commerce”, and when wealth and power present themselves in the face of more artsy enterprises, commerce will always trump art.

Sigrid Sutter (Karen) and Christopher Hickey (Bobby Gould).
Photo credit: John Lamb
In an effort to get Karen in the sack, Bobby talks to her about the realities of Hollywood movie-making, and asks Karen to give "The Bridge" a read, hinting that it may advance her career.  Karen enthusiastically reads the novel, and connects with it.  Later that night at Bobby's place where he is trying to seduce her, she attempts to convince him that "The Bridge" should be made into a film instead of the prison film.

The confrontations that follow as the play unfolds show Charlie's tenacity, Karen's ulterior motives and Bobby's struggle with trying to justify the choices he makes.

Michael James Reed (Charlie Fox) and Sigrid Sutter (Karen).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Known for his way with language, using it like a weapon when he chooses to, Mamet’s dialogue can be tough to pull off.  Notes in the press kit reveal that he "actually uses a metronome during rehearsals to perfect the actors' delivery of it."  Again -- love…  A couple of the scenes between Hickey and Reed weren’t quite firing on all cylinders on opening night, but the rhythms settled in during the course of the play, and Reed made for a very energetic, money hungry Charlie Fox and Sutter plays Karen with a beguiling naiveté.  Dunsai Dai's smart set features wooden blinds and suspended black-and-white photographs of Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Morgan Freeman, Ellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Brad Pitt and then some.  Maureen Berry's lighting design, Matthew Koch's sound design and Michele Friedman Siler's costume design all work together nicely.

Check it out!  It's playing until the 24th.


SPEED-THE-PLOW

Written by David Mamet
Directed by Tim Ocel
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through February 24 | tickets: $35.50 - $39.50
Performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm

Cast:
Christopher Hickey* (Bobby Gould), Michael James Reed* (Charlie Fox) and Sigrid Sutter (Karen).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Dunsi Dai; lighting design by Maureen Berry; sound design by Matthew Koch; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; fight choreographer, Shaun Sheley; stage manager, Mary Jane Probst.

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