Thursday, October 29, 2015


The Fox Theatre’s regional premiere of “Matilda,” a British import that has won multiple awards, has the power of knowledge and empowerment at its heart, with a little genius at its center, who ultimately conquers the adults who try to keep her down.

Matilda Wormwood (Mabel Tyler) was born to possibly the worst parents on the face of the planet. Mrs. Wormwood (Cassie Silva) is a flighty, ballroom dancing obsessed mom, and Mr. Wormwood (Quinn Mattfeld), a less than honorable car salesman with quite a head of hair, is a dad dismissive of Matilda, still unable to accept she’s a girl, and not the second son he had hoped for. Both parents are infuriated with Matilda’s love of books and her voracious reading, and totally oblivious to her extraordinary intelligence. Matilda's only solace is found at the library, where she captivates the librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones), with her stories. Unfortunately, things get worse for Matilda once she’s enrolled in Crunchem Hall Elementary, a school that’s run by a tyrannical Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness in drag), who is determined to make the kids’ lives a living hell, often referring to them as maggots. Luckily for Matilda, there’s Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood), a teacher at the school who’s an ally to the kids and an admirer of Matilda’s brilliance, but also under the thumb of the school's headmistress. Matilda comes to learn that Miss Honey also had a sad childhood, and together, they conspire to stand up to Trunchbull.

Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood)
and Jennifer Blood (Miss Honey)
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
I’ve never read Dahl’s novel, but I imagine in book form, the airheaded nature of most of the adults would come off as a little less ridiculous than it struck me in the musical adaptation. But then again, that ridiculousness makes the points of the show more palpable -- especially for kids, because after all, the kids in the show are the ones who ultimately triumph over the adults, and in fine fashion. Tyler, one of the three rotating Matildas, was marvelous on opening night, making it easy to cheer her on, and Ryness as the former Olympic hammer-throwing champion, Miss Trunchbull, is about as over-the-top nasty as you could imagine, and he successfully milks every line for comic effect. Blood and Jones turn in great performances as the sympathetic adults, and Mattfeld and Silva are great as Matilda’s silly parents. Musically, the ensemble members handle “Revolting Children” and “When I Grow Up” beautifully (the huge swings in the latter number present a great set piece), but the production’s treble-heavy sound, and maybe the clipped nature of the line deliveries, posed a problem. Not being familiar with the story, I could barely understand many of the lines nor most of the lyrics. A quick read of the Wikipedia article beforehand would have served me well. Rob Howell’s scenic design is a clever mix of lettered blocks and tiles, and his costume design ranges from the Crunchem school uniforms to the more outlandish attire of the Wormwood parents.

Bryce Ryness (Miss Trunchbull)
and Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood)
and The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Audio issues aside, it’s a show that has its share of magical moments, and will charm adults and kids alike. Just read a synopsis before you go. It’s playing at the Fox until the first.


Music/lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly, based on Roald Dahl’s  children's novel
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through November 1 | tickets: $30 - $88
Performances Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm & 7:30pm, Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm

Danny Tieger (Michael Wormwood),
Cassie Silva (Mrs. Wormwood)
and Quinn Mattfeld (Mr. Wormwood)
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Matilda: Mabel Tyler
Miss Honey: Jennifer Blood
Mr. Wormwood: Quinn Mattfeld
Miss Trunchbull: Bryce Ryness
Mrs. Wormwood: Cassie Silva
Mrs. Phelps: Ora Jones
Nigel: Cal Alexander
Amanda: Kayla Amistad
Ensemble/Ass’t Dance Captain: Michael Fatica
Acrobat: Natalie Wisdom
Ensemble: John Michael Fiumara
Ensemble: Shonica Gooden
Bruce: Evan Gray
Alice: Cassidy Hagel
Tommy: Maliki Hurd
Dance Captain/Ensemble: Michael Jablonski
Ensemble: Stephanie Martignetti
Hortensia: Megan McGuff
Escape Artist: Ian Michael Stuart 
Swing: Serena Quadrato
Eric: Aristotle Rock
Rudolpho: Jaquez Andre Sims
Doctor/Sergei: Ian Michael Stuart
Michael Wormwood: Danny Tieger
Lavender: Serena Quadrato  
Ensemble: Darius Wright

The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
Scenic, Costume Designer: Rob Howell
Sound Designer: Simon Baker
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Orchestrator: Chris Nightingale
Illusion: Paul Kieve
Associate Choreographer: Kate Dunn
Voice Director: Andrew Wade
Music Director: Matthew Smeadal
Children’s Music Director: Bill Congdon
Production Stage Manager: Victoria Navarro
Stage Manager: Mitchell B. Hodges

Thursday, October 22, 2015

ANGEL STREET (GASLIGHT) • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

It’s the perfect time of year for the Rep’s current Mainstage production -- right when Autumn’s chill starts to set in. Patrick Hamilton’s dramatic thriller premiered on the West End in 1938 under the simple name, “Gas Light,” but opened under the title “Angel Street” when it debuted in New York a few years later. The popularity of the play and the film adaptations that followed, resulted in the coining of the term “gas-lighting,” defined as “a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.”

That’s precisely what’s going down in the gloomy Manningham home on Angel Street in 1880’s London.

Janie Brookshire (Bella) and Clark Scott Carmichael (Jack).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
When we meet Bella Manningham (Janie Brookshire), she’s an anxious, jittery bundle of nerves, and her domineering husband of five years, Jack (Clark Scott Carmichael), is a man of little patience. In fact, he’s really kind of a jerk with barely a trace of compassion in him. He berates her for losing or misplacing things, and plays on Bella’s fear of heading towards the same fate as her mother, who died in an asylum for the mentally ill. When Bella insists that she’s hearing things in the house, Jack tells her that she’s imagining it. When she tells him that the gas lights dim and brighten on their own when she’s alone in the house at night, after Jack has gone off to God knows where, he accuses her of losing it. The housekeeper, Elizabeth (Amelia White), is sympathetic, while their impudent maid, Nancy (Rachel Kenney), spends her time flirting on the sly with Jack, pushing Bella to further despair. During one of Jack’s outings, Bella receives a visitor -- a retired Detective named Rough (Geoffrey Wade), who seemingly comes to help her, armed with a few tidbits about the house and theories of his own. That's when things really kick off.

Geoffrey Wade (Rough)
and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Under Jenn Thompson's beautifully paced direction, there are fine performances from Brookshire as Bella, a woman unhinged under the thumb of her husband, desperate to please and grateful for the smallest kindness. Carmichael imparts some nice shading in his performance as Jack, despite his character being oppressive and stony. Kenney is opportunistic and cheeky as the maid Nancy, and White is carefully gauged as the watchful housekeeper, Elizabeth. Wade turns in a great performance as Detective Rough -- charming, resolute, and just quirky enough to be quite engaging whenever he’s onstage.

The creative contributions in this production are marvelous, starting with Wilson Chin’s exceptional scenic design, deftly revealed over the course of the play (that's all I'll say, as seeing it for yourself is a real treat), enhanced with the addition of Peter E. Sargent’s precise, eerie lighting design. Rusty Wandall’s sound design of macabre music, ticking clocks and ominous droning adds a distinct chill to the proceedings, and David Toser’s finely detailed costume design epitomizes 19th century London.

This scrumptious production is guaranteed to captivate. If I were you I'd get a ticket right now, and see it before it’s too late. Seriously.

Amelia White (Nancy) and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey


Written by Patrick Hamilton
Directed by Jenn Thompson 
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through November 8 | tickets: $21 - $79.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays through Fridays at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Bella Manningham: Janie Brookshire*
Jack Manningham: Clark Scott Carmichael*
Nancy: Rachel Kenney*
Detective Rough: Geoffrey Wade*
Elizabeth: Amelia White*
Bobby: Andrew Oppman
Bobby: Josh Roach

Geoffrey Wade (Rough) and Janie Brookshire (Bella).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Scenic Designer: Wilson Chin
Lighting Designer: Peter E. Sargent
Costumer Designer: David Toser
Sound Designer: Rusty Wandall
Casting Director: Rich Cole
Stage Manager: Champe Leary*
Assistant Stage Manager: Tony Dearing*

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Monday, October 19, 2015

DOGFIGHT • Stray Dog Theatre

“Dogfight” takes place in November, 1963, as a group of rambunctious young Marines, fresh out of boot-camp, head out for a testosterone-fueled night on the town in San Francisco before they ship off to Vietnam. Based on the 1991 film that bears the same title starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, Stray Dog’s season opening production, skillfully directed by Justin Been, presents a heady mix of morality, mortality and poignancy in this rousing coming-of-age story.

The title refers to a callous tradition -- a party where the Marine who brings the ugliest date wins a cash prize, and privates Eddie Birdlace (Brendan Ochs) and his two best buddies, Boland (Luke Steingruby) and Bernstein (Kevin O'Brien) plan to scour the town in search of the homeliest girl to be judged. Eddie meets a shy, guitar-playing Rose Fenny (Shannon Cothran), working in her mom’s diner, and asks her to join him for a night out, and she hesitantly agrees, excited, but with no idea of what's in store. The party is in full swing by the time Eddie and Rose arrive, and while Boland and Bernstein are anxious for the slow dance, where the dogfight entrants are judged, Eddie’s reluctance to go through with it is eventually overcome by "Semper Fi" bravado, and naturally, the evening doesn’t go well. Not all of the women are taken off guard though. Marcy (Sara Rae Womack), a shrewd street-walker in on the take, refuses to be a victim of the game. Eddie’s conscience prompts him to take Rose out on a proper date, and in the process of falling for her, the both of them (the "hawk" and the "dove") come into their own in different ways.

Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny)
and Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Peter Duchan’s book is rock solid and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s wonderful songs and impressive musical themes propel the story perfectly with beautiful melodies and thick harmonies. Under Chris Petersen's musical direction, the band sounds strong and tight (Yay, strings!!). Ochs and Cothran display an honest chemistry onstage, and splendid voices. Cothran’s acting is exceptional, and musically, she knocks her numbers out of the park, with a rending "Pretty Funny." Ochs is authentic and charming as he gives way to his moral sense. His "Come Back" is chilling. They are bolstered by a strong supporting cast, including a very versatile Steingruby and O'Brien as Eddie’s Marine pals. Womack, as Marcy, absolutely nails her number, “Dogfight”, Tracey Herweck is funny as a dead-pan Ruth Two Bears -- another dogfight entrant, and Jason Meyers effectively handles a variety roles. Rob Lippert’s scenic design features a handsome silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge, with Tyler Duenow’s lights and Gary F. Bell’s spot on costume design.

With top-notch performances, great music and creative contributions, this stirring St. Louis premiere should not be missed. Get a ticket and check it out.

Kevin O’Brien, Ethan Isaac,
Michael Hodges, and Brendan Ochs.
Photo credit: John Lamb

Music/lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Peter Duchan
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday, October 24 at 2pm

(l to r) Sara Rae Womack (Marcy)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Rose Fenny: Shannon Cothran
Eddie Birdlace: Brendan Ochs
Pete: Jason Meyers
Boland: Luke Steingruby
Bernstein: Kevin O'Brien
Stevens: Mike Hodges
Fector: Sean Michael
Gibbs: Ethan Isaac
Sergeant: Jason Meyers
Peggy: Belinda Quimby
Librarian: Melanie Kozak
Mama: Jenni Ryan
Marcy: Sara Rae Womack
Lounge Singer: Jason Meyers
Ruth Two Bears: Tracey Herweck
Suzette: Belinda Quimby
Chippy: Jenni Ryan
Waiter: Jason Meyers
Big Tony: Jason Meyers

Brendan Ochs (Eddie Birdlace)
and Shannon Cothran (Rose Fenny).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Production Director, Technical Director: Justin Been
Artistic Director, Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Wig Stylist: Priscilla Case
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Music, Vocal Director: Chris Petersen
Choreographer: Zachary Stefaniak

Cello: M. Kuba
Bass: M. Joshua Ryan
Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: Adam Rugo, Substitute 10/14, 10/16 & 10/17: Lliam Christy
Percussion: Bob McMahon, Substitute 10/23 & 10/24 evening: Joe Winters
Violin: Steve Frisbee

Monday, October 12, 2015

HEATHERS • New Line Theatre

“People will look at the ashes of Westerburg and say, ‘Now there's a school that self-destructed, not because society didn't care, but because the school was society.”’ That line that J.D. says strikes a core truth in Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s black musical comedy “Heathers,” based on Daniel Waters and Michael Lehmann’s 1988 cult classic film. That sentiment is also a thread that runs through many New Line Theatre productions, so it’s appropriate that New Line begins its 25th anniversary season with this surprising new musical. It’s also pretty cool that they open in a sweet new theatre space it can permanently call home -- the Marcelle in Grand Center.

The most popular clique in Westerburg high school revolves around a fearsome trio of Heathers -- Heather Chandler (Sicily Mathenia), Heather Duke (Cameisha Cotton) and Heather McNamara (Larissa White). The Heathers, along with a couple of meathead jocks, Ram (Omega Jones) and Kurt (Clayton Humburg), revel in their vicious exhibitions of supremacy, and are willing to humiliate anyone who isn’t popular enough to have a place within their orbit.
(l-r) Larissa White (Heather McNamara),
Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke )
and Anna Skidis (Veronica).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Veronica (Anna Skidis), having gained entry into the inner-circle due to her hall pass forgery skills, enjoys the prestige but despises the way others in school are treated, primarily one of her oldest, best friends, Martha Dunnstock (Grace Seidel). Then Veronica falls for J.D. (Evan Fornachon), a leather-clad new student who also has a menacing hatred for high school nobility, and puts a major beat-down on the jocks on his first day. The Heathers don’t approve of her new beau, but Veronica is already half past give-a-shit, and J.D. is determined to teach the members of the in-crowd a permanent lesson by offing them and making it look like suicide.

In the 25-plus years since the film hit the screens, bullying, school shootings and teen suicides have spent their fair share of time in the spotlight of television news cameras, but the mix of memorable songs and insightful nods puts a comfortable distance between the cruelties of high school and the audience. I was curious about the way this story would play out in the midst of a few recent mass-shootings. It didn’t matter. If anything, it made this musical more relevant than ever.

Evan Fornachon (J.D.).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The detailed direction of Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy keeps the pace and the staging animated and engaging, and the acting and singing chops of Skidis, who carries much of the show, are on glorious display as Veronica. Fornachon’s unhinged disposition as J.D. comes through his performance and his strong vocals that can be coarse and tender at the same time. Their voices blend impressively in "Our Love Is God” and “Seventeen.” Mathenia as the “HHIC” (Head Heather in Charge) -- Heather Chandler, never drops her air of perfect nastiness, even after she’s been offed. White’s Heather McNamara bubbles with lighthearted snark, but her performance nicely informs that she’s dealing with more than she lets on, exemplified in her excellent number, “Lifeboat.” Cotton’s Heather Duke is totally down for taking over the red scrunchie of power with aloof dominance once there’s a void, and Humburg and Jones turn in great performances as neanderthal jocks, Kurt and Ram, in “Blue,” along with Cotton and White (and yes, the song is about blue balls). Seidel, as Veronica’s abandoned, heartbroken and persecuted best friend Martha, practically stops the show with a powerfully poignant “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” and Lindsey Jones also does great work as Ms. Fleming, a hippie teacher who just wants the students to get in touch with their feelings in “Shine a Light,” while also capitalizing on the tv opportunity the tragedies have afforded.

(l-r) Cameisha Cotton (Heather Duke),
Sicily Mathenia (Heather Chandler)
and Larissa White (Heather McNamara).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Rob Lippert is responsible for the show’s scenic design, as well as the wonderful design for the Marcelle’s black-box space, and Sarah Porter’s 1980’s costume design sets the time and a huge array of individual characters handsomely. Jeffrey Richard Carter’s musical direction keeps the band tight and right, and Robin Michelle Berger punctuates the show with exciting choreography.

From the 80’s tunes that set the mood when you walk in, right up until the end, New Line’s anniversary kicks off with what they do best -- providing hilarious, daring, sometimes unsettling, but always unflinching, insightful looks at the world we live in, and those on the fringes. Go see it.

Grace Seidel (Martha Dunnstock).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg


Book/lyrics/music by Laurence O'Keefe and Kevin Murphy
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy 
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
through October 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Veronica Sawyer: Anna Skidis
 J.D.: Evan Fornachon
Heather Chandler: Sicily Mathenia
Heather Duke: Cameisha Cotton
Lindsey Jones (Ms. Fleming) and the “Heathers” company.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Heather McNamara: Larissa White
Martha Dunnstock: Grace Seidel
Ram Sweeney: Omega Jones
Kurt Kelly: Clayton Humburg
Young Republicanette: Brenda Bass
Preppy Stud: Kevin Corpuz
Hipster Dork: Colin Dowd
Beleaguered Geek: Alex Glow
Kurt’s Dad/Veronica’s Dad/Principal Gowan: Joel Hackbarth
Ms. Fleming/Veronica’s Mom: Lindsey Jones
Ram’s Dad/Big Bud Dean/Coach Ripper: Chris Kernan
Stoner Chick: Victoria Valentine

Clayton Humburg (Kurt) and Omega Jones (Ram).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Directing Intern: Jeremy Hyatt
Music Director: Jeffrey Richard Carter
Choreographer: Robin Michelle Berger
Stage Manager, Lighting Technician: Gabe Taylor
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master, Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Scenic Artists: Kathleen Dwyer, Melanie Kozak, Gary Karasek and Kate Wilkerson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sue Goldford
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Bass: Andrew Gurney
Violin: Twinda Murry
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Trumpet: Patrick Swan


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