Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE K OF D: AN URBAN LEGEND • Blue Rose Stage Collective

Along Cherokee Street's Antique Row, through an alleyway of rusty remnants and wrought iron running alongside Revisionist Inn, there's a crackling fire pit, hot cider, s'mores, and a makeshift stage on the back of a broken-down facade -- the perfect setting for playwright Laura Schellhardt's "The K of D", presented by director Tom Martin’s Blue Rose Stage Collective and featuring the dexterous Em Piro, the founder and creative fireball behind St. Lou Fringe. She inhabits over a dozen characters to present a legend that was generated by an odd series of events that followed the tragic death of a young boy.

After a few shared ghost stories, a girl from the audience says she’s got one – more urban legend than ghost story. She tells us about the rural town of St. Marys, Ohio, her group of rowdy childhood friends who spend their summers hanging out on a pier by a man-made lake, and Charlotte McGraw. It was Charlotte’s twin brother, Jamie, who was hit by a blue Dodge while he was skateboarding to school.
Em Piro
Photo credit: Todd Heilman
The death of her twin leaves her devastated beyond speech, and a dying kiss from him seems to impart Charlotte with a lethal knack that the group of friends try to figure out during the course of the play, along with a possible connection to the appearance of an eerie gray heron spotted on the lake. In addition to our narrator, the kids in the group include the muscle-head, a pair of brothers, the jaded leader beyond her years and the monied valley-girl. The adults include Johnny Whistler, the reckless redneck driver of the car that killed Jamie who moves next door to the McGraws, his flock of girlfriends, Charlotte's father, who's got a dark streak of his own, and her slightly deranged mother, obsessed with her accolades as a teacher. Then of course there's Charlotte herself, who stopped talking after her brother was killed.

Em Piro
Photo credit: Todd Heilman
After a professional premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in 2008, this play is picking up steam, being performed in more and more places, but Martin and Piro's choice to stage it outdoors is a brilliant first. Piro, slight in stature and huge on physical energy, deftly guides us through the tale, embodying the wide range of kids and adults with a quick change in voice and carriage. Atmospheric sound design by Michael Perkins helps color in the tone wonderfully, and Mark Wilson adds a bit of nifty stagecraft with shadow puppets and the use of a fan, as well as providing the scenic and lighting design, and Billy Croghan's original music effectively punctuates the story. Playwright Schellhardt, who spent her summers at St. Marys as a child, has an intriguing script, and though it's slender on payoff, the terrific creative elements of this production, along with Martin's well-paced direction and Piro's tireless performance, elevate the material to a unique night of memorable theater. It's playing until the 25th. Did I mention there's yummy cobbler for after the show? There's cobbler after the show.

Photo credit: Todd Heilman

Written by Laura Schellhardt 
Directed by Tom Martin
Revisionist Inn, 1950 Cherokee St.
through October 25 | tickets: suggested donation $10 - $20
Performances October 17 at 11pm, doors open at 10:30, October 24 and 25 at 10pm, doors open at 9:30

Em Piro

Shadow puppets, scenic and lighting design by Mark Wilson;  sound design by Michael Perkins; original music by Billy Croghan.

Billy Croghan and Gavin Duffy.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

BONNIE & CLYDE • New Line Theatre

"Bonnie & Clyde" made a brief appearance on Broadway in 2011 after a world premiere in California two years earlier. This musical isn't a remake of Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn's well known 1967 film starring Beatty and Faye Dunaway. It's another take on this infamous young pair of West Texas bandits, and despite a couple of Tony Award nominations, it only lasted for 36 performances on Broadway. So, what better local company to snatch it up and give it a fresh perspective, as it's done many times in the past ("Hands on a Hardbody", "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson", "High Fidelity"), than New Line Theatre?

The opening numbers introduce us to Bonnie Parker (Larissa White), who longs to be a star of the silver screen, and Clyde Barrow (Matt Pentecost), who longs for easy money and celebrity as an outlaw, like Al Capone and Billy the Kid -- his heroes. These two are trying to break away from the poverty of the Great Depression with a craving for wealth and fame. When they meet after Bonnie's car breaks down, there are immediate sparks. Clyde has just broken out of prison with his brother Buck (Brendan Ochs), and his bad-boy appeal and winning smile is a combination that Bonnie, antsy for a change of pace, can't resist. Buck, meanwhile, has to face the music of his God-fearin' wife Blanche (Sarah Porter), who wants him to turn himself in, finish his time in jail, and get right with Jesus. Bonnie and Clyde's reckless quest for notoriety, through robbing banks, grocery stores, and eventually shedding blood, leads them down a path that brings them closer to the goal, but ultimately to their ends.

Matt Pentecost (Clyde)
and Larissa White (Bonnie).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Pentecost and White's chemistry propels the piece, and both turn in solid performances. Pentecost is half badass and half spoiled brat as Clyde, and White is impressive in her first professional appearance. Once Bonnie gets a whiff of thrill from smuggling a gun into the jail for Clyde, she's all in, later gleefully signing an autograph during a bank robbery. While these two crazy kids may not have a lot in the way of introspection, they both have loads of charm, even as their crime spree, along with Bonnie's poems, lands them on the front pages of the paper. Their ballads to each other, "How 'Bout a Dance?" and "Bonnie" are standouts. Ochs turns in a great performance as Clyde's brother Buck, tempted to follow his brother but pushed to do the right thing. He and Pentecost sound great in "When I Drive". Porter adds a nice dose of humor as Buck's high-strung religious wife Blanche. She may be brassy, but she's sweet in her satisfaction with what she has in "Now That's What You Call a Dream". Strong performances also include Zachary Allen Farmer who lends his soulful voice to the Preacher, Christopher “Zany” Clark as the unflappable Sheriff Schmid, Reynaldo Arceno as Ted Hinton, a lawman who's carrying a torch for Bonnie, and swears to bring Clyde down, Mara Bollini in a brief but memorable appearance as Governor Ferguson and Alison Helmer as Bonnie's distraught mother, Emma.

Cast of New Line Theatre's "Bonnie & Clyde"
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Under Jeffrey Richard Carter's musical direction, the New Line Band is tight, handling Wildhorn's score of depression-era blues, folk, gospel and rockabilly superbly. Rob Lippert's meticulous set features an old gas station, a jail, office and an old Ford center stage that plays into the violent opening and closing of the show. Lippert is also responsible for the lighting design, with costume design by Porter and Marcy Wiegert, who nail the attire, especially the leads, whose duds become swankier as their crimes accelerate. These details, along with Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy's precise direction, work together seamlessly.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Preacher)
and Kimi Short (Cumie Barrow)
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Seeing this production makes it hard to understand why it didn't last longer in NYC. But in the hands of Miller and Dowdy, this tale of ill-fated kids who became nationally known outlaws presents them as they were -- products of their time, which was certainly enough to bring them the fame they both wanted, and definitely worth seeing. Check it out. It's playing until the 25th.


Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Don Black
Book by Ivan Menchell
Directed by Scott Miller & Mike Dowdy
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through October 25 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Matt Pentecost (Clyde Barrow), Larissa White (Bonnie Parker), Brendan Ochs (Marvin "Buck" Barrow), Sarah Porter (Blanche Barrow), Reynaldo Arceno (Ted Hinton), Mara Bollini (Governor Miriam Ferguson), Christopher “Zany” Clark (Sheriff Schmid), Kent Coffel (Guard/Capt. Hamer), Zachary Allen Farmer (Preacher), Joel Hackbarth (Henry Barrow), Alison Helmer (Emma Parker), Ann Hier (Eleanore), Marshall Jennings (Judge/ Shopkeeper/Bank Teller), Nellie Mitchell (Stella), Kimi Short (Cumie Barrow/Trish) and Christopher Strawhun (Deputy Bud).

Scenic & lighting design by Rob Lippert; sound design by Tim Ceradsky; costume design by Sarah Porter & Marcy Wiegert; props by Kimi Short; stage manager, Gabe Taylor.

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Jeffrey Richard Carter; guitar, D. Mike Bauer; violin, Nikki Glenn; second keyboard, Sue Goldford; bass, Andrew Gurney; percussion, Clancy Newell; reeds, Robert Vinson.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ASSASSINS • The November Theater Company

There's a new theatre company on the scene folks, and the November Theater Company has chosen for its inaugural production, "Assassins", with a book by John Weidman and score by my hero, Stephen Sondheim. This bold musical that debuted off-Broadway in 1990, jumps historical timelines to parade before us a powerless group on the fringes, who have found the "American Dream" out of reach, so they claim what that dream has, for them, disclaimed, through successful and unsuccessful attempts on the life of a US President. And yes, it's a comedy, but it's a dark one.

Directed by Suki Peters, the opening number kicks off in a carnival setting with a gathered variety of malcontents, urged on by the carnival's ominous Proprietor (Jon Hey) to step right up to the shooting gallery and grab a prize, with the help of an assortment of guns he's more than happy to sell you. Whether it's Leon Czolgosz (Nick Kelly), a rage-filled steel worker with anarchist leanings who killed President McKinley, or would-be assassins like John Hinckley (Nate Cummings), who tried to take the life of President Ronald Reagan to garner the attention of Jodie Foster, these sad historical footnotes are presented as vignettes over the course of the play. Charlie Barron, wonderful as the Balladeer, serves as our narrator, introducing us to certain characters and questioning the motives of others from an affably smug distance, turning in a strong performance as a "special guest" near the end. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln to avenge the South, wanders throughout the crowd like an "OG", or "OA" in this case, played with cocky charm by Michael Amoroso.

Nick Kelly (Leon Czolgosz), Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau),
Mitch Eagles (Guiseppe Zangara), Patrick Blindauer (Sam Byck),
Michael Amoroso (John Wilkes Booth), Jon Hey (Proprietor),
Nate Cummings (John Hinckley)
and Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme).
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
Strong performances also include the reliable Jennifer Theby-Quinn as hippy love-child Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a member of the infamous "Manson family" who tried to kill President Gerald Ford, teaming up with a very funny, pantsuit wearing Jessica Townes as Sara Jane Moore. There's also Mitch Eagles as Italian immigrant, Guiseppe Zangara who attempted to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt, Patrick Blindauer as the ranting, Santa Claus suit wearing Sam Byck who planned to fly a plane into the White House when Nixon was in office, and Patrick Kelly as pompous zealot, Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield, with Nancy Nigh making a terrific appearance as a subtly staunch Emma Goldman.

Sondheim and Weidman don't display these successful and unsuccessful assassins before us to glorify or condemn them. They're presented as enemies of society, but undeniably products of it as well.

Charlie Barron (The Balladeer), Jon Hey (Proprietor)
and Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau).
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
This is an ambitious choice for the new company, but not without its hiccups. The show contains a lot of humor, but it's also got a dark side, and while the comedy landed, the menacing undertones that give this show its edge didn't always come through. The cast sounds quite strong in several numbers like "The Gun Song", "Ballad of Guiteau" and the closing "Everybody's Got the Right", under Charlie Mueller's musical direction, but canned music is tricky. I imagine it's like hopping on a treadmill that's already running -- while you've got to get on at the right pace, you've also got to keep up, and some of the performances seemed hindered, not being allowed the flexibility to breathe or quicken their gaits, and the music didn't quite encompass the full scope of Sondheim's marvelous score. This, in a show where the music plays a huge part in the shaping of these historic characters, is unfortunate. Scenic designer Jason Townes provides a great two-tier set, well worn and dotted with faded red white and blue accents, including a nifty, underused set piece with past President's heads mounted on a wheel of fortune. Meredith LaBounty's costumes inform a wide range of characters from different time periods nicely, with lighting design by Russell Warning, sound design by Emily Hatcher, and projections by Bob Singleton.

Cast of November Theater Company's "Assassins"
Photo credit: Katie Puglisi
While this production fell a little short of its aim, it's still worth checking out if you've never seen it, and it'll be exciting to see what November Theater Company does next. It's playing until October 5th.


Book by John Weidman
Music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim 
Directed by Suki Peters
Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave.
through October 5 | tickets: $25
Performances Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Michael Amoroso (John Wilkes Booth), Charlie Barron (The Balladeer), Patrick Blindauer (Sam Byck), Will Bonfiglio (Ensemble), Nate Cummings (John Hinckley), Mitch Eagles (Guiseppe Zangara), Brittany Kohl Hester (Ensemble), Jon Hey (Proprietor), Nick Kelly (Leon Czolgosz), Patrick Kelly (Charles Guiteau), Dorothy Hendrick LaBounty (Ensemble), Nancy Nigh (Emma Goldman/Ensemble), Jennifer Theby-Quinn (Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme), Jessica Townes (Sara Jane Moore), Kelvin Urday (Ensemble) and Mike Wells (Ensemble).

Scenic design by Jason Townes; costume design by Meredith LaBounty; sound design by Emily Hatcher; lighting deign by Russell Warning; projection design by Bob Singleton; musical direction by Charlie Mueller; stage manager, Emily Hatcher.


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