Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Bit of News... • Yes, I’m gonna use the words “I” and “My” a lot

For those first hearing this, I'm bowing out of the St. Louis Theater Circle. This is nothing at all personal, as I value all of the new friendships I’ve made through the Circle, and this incredible theatre community. I'm still going to review shows, but I need to just ease back on the number of plays and musicals I see a little bit.

Honestly, my 9 to 5 job as a video editor has required more of my time lately -- called in for late weekday nights and weekend assignments, and that's made blogging challenging. And, as most know, I’m already challenged when it comes to getting stuff out on time. The annual number of shows required for members (40) is more than fair, considering the massive number of shows that happen in St. Louis during any given year -- but if I can't hold up my end of the bargain, I'd rather step aside, out of the group, relieve some of the pressure, and try to work on becoming a better reviewer/writer, while keeping the job that pays the mortgage.

When I started this blog, it was a refreshing hobby to fill in the creative holes that my job left open, while indulging a latent passion for theatre. The last thing I want is for theatre going and reviewing to become a chore, as opposed to a welcomed comfort. I admire our pros in the Circle who write beautifully thoughtful reviews in a timely manner. Alas, I’m not there yet. :)

I look forward to contributing to the Circle Awards Ceremony as I can, (and certainly promoting it and going, cause it’s hella fun) and again, I will continue to see shows and keep up the blog. And I’ll keep seeing all of you at shows and stuff -- a reward I'm grateful for. I just had to take a self-imposed “time-out” from the organization -- a group that I'm proud to have been one of several founding members.

Now, here’s where I pimp myself out -- if you haven’t already, please “like” my Facebook page, check me out on Twitter, Youtube, and of course, the blog, where you can catch up on a selection of our vast array of companies, and productions happening now and in the future.

Thanks to you all, and GO SEE A PLAY!!

Friday, October 7, 2016

CELEBRATION • New Line Theatre

Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s musical is pretty much devoid of any conventional narrative, with roots that reach back to ancient ritual and the winter solstice -- the planet’s shortest day and longest night. Clashes between Winter and Summer, from the beginning of time, have proven that the young inevitably conquer the old, and in Celebration, fresh ambition stamps out numb indifference. The musical premiered Off-Broadway in 1969, but lost a little bit of its magic when it moved to the bigger Ambassador Theatre on Broadway. Rarely produced, the musical has undergone revisions over a long period of time, and New Line Theatre is the first to premiere this revised version. Under the lively direction of Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, the intimate black box space at the Marcelle seems like a marvelous fit.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and Orphan (Sean Michael), a young innocent, is in the big city, hoping to get the rights to his farm back so he can grow living things. The deed to the land is currently held by William Rosebud Rich (Zachary Allen Farmer).
Orphan (Sean Michael), Potemkin (Kent Coffel)
and Mr. Rich (Zachary Allen Farmer).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
He’s a monocled millionaire with a Trumpy... (Trump-esque?) hair-piece, satin robe and all, who’s a successful manufacturer of artificial things. Despite his wealth, he’s empty, and wants to feel something -- anything, perfectly epitomized in Farmer’s deliciously poker-faced number, “Bored.” Potemkin (Kent Coffel), our narrator, is a huckster who offers to help Orphan maneuver the cruel ways of the world, and maybe sidle up to Rich for his own gains. Angel (Larissa White) is the scantily clad entertainer who’s slated to perform at Rich’s lavish New Year’s Eve party. She’s after some fame and success, laid out in her number, “Somebody,” accompanied by her wonderful “give-a-shit” Devil Girls who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. Orphan falls for Angel instantly, even though she’s soon claimed by Rich. A reckoning is imminent, climaxing during the big party, with Orphan and Angel realizing their mutual love, and Rich grasping for the last threads of relevance.

Larissa White (Angel).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Michael’s virtuous characterization as Orphan and White’s appetite for celebrity as Angel work together well as the lovers who yearn to be together, and Farmer is brilliant as Rich, selling his character with the most minimal of movements, telegraphing tons through his expressions. Coffel is an enigmatic, slightly ominous Potemkin, guiding us through, breaking the fourth wall -- even hipping us to upcoming key changes, and taking part in the action, with a great voice and charm. The strong-voiced ensemble of Revelers (Colin Dowd, Sarah Dowling, Christopher Lee, Todd Micali, Nellie Mitchell, Michelle Sauer and Kimi Short) provide a constant source of energy throughout -- typical of all of New Line’s shows.

The Revelers.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
The score is brimming with a varied number of great songs. Hell, there’s even a little harpsichord action in there. Music director Sarah Nelson’s band is tight, and choreographer Michelle Sauer provides some nice moves for the Revelers, particularly during Potemkin’s “Not My Problem,” where the ensemble fills in as a robotic chorus, complemented with some eerie lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl. Sarah Porter’s costumes are fittingly eccentric, and Scott L. Schoonover provides the show’s cool mask design.

For a rare interpretation of a story as old as time -- the passage of time itself when old things are stripped away and born anew, check it out. It’s playing until the 22nd.

Potemkin (Kent Coffel).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Music by Harvey Schmidt
Book/lyrics by Tom Jones
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
through October 22 | tickets: $10 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm

Potemkin: Kent Coffel
Orphan: Sean Michael
Angel: Larissa White
William Rosebud Rich: Zachary Allen Farmer
Revelers: Colin Dowd, Sarah Dowling, Christopher Lee, Todd Micali, Nellie Mitchell, Michelle Sauer and Kimi Short

Mr. Rich (Zachary Allen Farmer)
and Angel (Larissa White).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Music Director: Sarah Nelson
Vocal Music Coach: Kyle Aucoin
Choreographer: Michelle Sauer
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Brendan O'Brien
Scenic Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Assistant Sound Designer: Elli Castonguay
Mask Designer: Scott L. Schoonover
Lighting Designer: Kenneth Zinkl
Props Master: Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Scenic Artists: Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson, Patrick Donnigan, Richard Brown and Paul Troyke
Box Office Manager: Jason Klefisch
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphics Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios
Photographer: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Sarah Nelson
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Keyboard 2: Sue Goldford
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Bass: Jake Stergos

Monday, October 3, 2016

REMEMBER ME • Shakespeare in the Streets: Maplewood

Shakespeare in the Streets, one of the outreach programs under Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Combining a community’s individuality and history with one of Shakespeare’s plays, past years have included Cherokee Street, the Grove, Clayton and Old North St. Louis. This year, Shakespeare in the Streets had its biggest audience yet, featuring Maplewood. Instead of one play though, playwright-in-residence Nancy Bell blends a mash-up of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and a dash of Romeo & Juliet, to tell a tale of shared community stories from the residents of Maplewood, and she does so skillfully. The production features professional actors and local residents and students, but also these magnificent puppets, up to about 15 feet tall, courtesy of the talented artists from Living Arts Studio. These striking creations represent Maplewood’s past -- or more appropriately, Maplewood’s ghosts.

Theseus, Mayor of Maplewood (Aaron Orion Baker)
and Hippolyta of Clayton (Jeanitta Perkins).
Photo credit: Michael Kilfoy, Studio X
Reminiscent of the opening of Midsummer, the wedding of Theseus, the mayor of Maplewood (Aaron Orion Baker) and Hippolyta of Clayton, (Jeanitta Perkins) is about to take place, but Maplewood’s spirits threaten to spoil the proceedings. We learn more about these ghosts through the research of our historian, Hamlet, played by Joanna Cole Battles. She learns about local figures like Vito, a father whose photo hangs in Mystic Valley New Age Gifts and More, and the spirits of Joseph Sunnen and John Collins, but the most looming figure of all (literally) is the ghost of Clara Clamorgan. Her story of interracial marriage and its heartbreaks in the early 1900s was thrillingly presented when her ghost appears larger than life on the roof of a building. These phantoms want to be remembered, so Hamlet stages a play-within-the-play designed to entertain Theseus and Hippolyta after their wedding, and also to remember and honor the ghosts of Maplewood’s past so they can be at rest.

Photo credit: Michael Kilfoy, Studio X
Lucy Cashion’s direction is marked by the unique style she brings to her shows at ERA, and Mark Wilson’s design and Jennifer ‘JC’ Krajicek’s costumes were excellent, along with the music and original songs by music director and composer, Joe Taylor. You can tell the team at Shakespeare Festival did their research.

Keep an eye out for their next production -- they only run for one weekend, they’re free, and always a unique experience.

Francisco, a sophomore at MRH High School (Stephen Vita Tronicek)
and Ms. Bottom, drama teacher at MRH (Phyllis Thorpe).
Photo credit: Michael Kilfoy, Studio X

Written by Nancy Bell
Directed by Lucy Cashion
On Sutton Blvd. between Marietta & Hazel
Run concluded | tickets: FREE
Performances 8pm nightly

Theseus, Mayor of Maplewood: Aaron Orion Baker*
First Sister, Co-owner of Mystic Valley: Emily Baker
Hamlet, a Maplewood native: Joanna Cole Battles*
Second Sister, Co-owner of Mystic Valley: Anna Grimm
Hippolyta of Clayton, engaged to Theseus: Jeanitta Perkins
Bernardo, a junior at MRH High School: Reginald Pierre
Third Sister, Co-Owner of Mystic Valley: Traci Ponticello
Ms. Bottom, long-time beloved drama teacher at MRH: Phyllis Thorpe
Horatio, friend of Hamlet: Rachel Tibbetts
Francisco, a sophomore at MRH High School: Stephen Vita Tronicek
Osric, a wedding entertainer: Michael Weidle

Photo credit: Michael Kilfoy, Studio X
Voices of Maplewood Ghosts
Clara Clamorgan: Jeanitta Perkins
Ten-Foot Ghost: Emily Baker
Charles Ames: Phyllis Thorpe
Streetcar: Ashleigh Owens
Charles Rannells: Michael Weidle
John F. Kennedy: Patrick Meyers
Slave: Reginald Pierre
Joseph Sunnen: Stephen Vita Tronicek
John Collins: Aaron Orion Baker*
Vito: Benjamin Kaplan
Marilyn: Anna Grimm
Mr. Mines: Jason Meyers
Mrs. Mines: Shelley Nicole Spence

Production Designer: Mark Wilson
Costume Designer: Jennifer ‘JC’ Krajicek
Music Director/Composer: Joe Taylor
Production Manager: Tom Martin
Stage Manager: Richard B. Agnew*
Master Electrician: Toby Beck
Properties Master: Meg Brinkley
Sound Mixer: Casey Hunter
Assistant Stage Manager: Wilson Webel
House Manager/Playbill Design: Michael B. Perkins

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

Fiddle: Kevin Buckley
Theremin: Josephine Kaplan
Accordion: Ashby Laws
Guitar/Drums: Matt McGaughey
Mandolin: Jason Scroggins
Bass: Jacob Stern
Keyboards: Joe Taylor
Drums/Trumpet: Philip Zahnd

Friday, September 30, 2016

FOLLIES • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep’s 50th anniversary season kickoff was met with a palpable buzz -- and for good reason. While comfortably residing within the canon of Sondheim musicals, Follies is not often produced, but the Rep has pulled out all the stops on this one in an impressive reminder of why this musical is so cherished.

It’s 1971, and the home of the “Weismann's Follies” has long since seen its last lavish production number, and a reunion is taking place. Set designer, Luke Cantarella’s gorgeous backdrop of the dilapidated Weismann Theatre, is where the shadows of yesteryear mingle with the present talk of glamorous days gone by, and attempts to reverse the past bring regret. With a nimble cast of 28, including four sharp leads, a sweet 12-piece orchestra and Rob Ruggiero’s shrewd direction, the Rep’s production of this classic is a definitive one.

Phyllis (Emily Skinner) and Sally (Christiane Noll).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
After thirty years, the former Weismann Follies girls and their husbands are getting together for one last hurrah before the building is to be demolished to make room for a parking lot. Those in attendance catch up with each other and reminisce about their glory days, as spectral twins look on. These grand divas have one last glorious go at their old songs, often mirrored by their ghostly counterparts who share the space. Show-stopping numbers, including Zoe Vonder Haar’s Hattie in an irresistibly nostalgic “Broadway Baby,” Nancy Opel as Carlotta in a resilient “I’m Still Here,” and E. Faye Butler bringing down the house in Stella’s "Who's That Woman?” are highlights.

Buddy (Adam Heller).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The relationships at the center of this gathering though, are a pair of mismatched couples. Phyllis (Emily Skinner), acerbic and perfectly coiffed, is married to Benjamin (Bradley Dean), a wealthy, suave politician. They make a strikingly elegant, “living the life of luxury“ couple -- informed by Amy Clark’s knockout costume design. Then there’s the other couple -- Buddy (Adam Heller), a moderately successful salesman, who’s married to Sally (Christiane Noll), both more modest in dress and character, but no less wary of what this reunion might dredge up.

Ben (Bradley Dean) and Phyllis (Emily Skinner).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Ben and Buddy were best pals back in the day, and Sally and Phyllis were roommates. This is when Sally loved Ben and Ben loved Sally, and the rifts that formed back during this foursome’s wooing days are remembered. Old bruises are reopened into fresh wounds, particularly on display in a bold second act of heartbreaks and psychological meltdowns. Heller’s frantic "The Right Girl,” Skinner’s caustic rendition of "Could I Leave You?" and Noll’s potent torch song, "Losing My Mind" are second act gems, and under conductor and pianist Valerie Maze, the orchestra is in fine form.

Sally (Christiane Noll).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
This is the last week to catch this Sondheim classic, so I suggest getting a ticket. Like, right now -- get a ticket.


Book by James Goldman
Music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through October 2 | tickets: $18 - $81.50
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays to Fridays at 8pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Hattie (Zoe Vonder Haar).
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Sally Durant Plummer: Christiane Noll*
Phyllis Rogers Stone: Emily Skinner*
Buddy Plummer: Adam Heller*
Benjamin Stone: Bradley Dean*
Carlotta Campion: Nancy Opel*
Hattie Walker: Zoe Vonder Haar*
Solange LaFitte: Amra-Faye Wright*
Theodore Whitman: James Young*
Stella Deems: E. Faye Butler*
Heidi Schiller: Carol Skarimbas*
Roscoe: Robert DuSold*
Emily Whitman: Dorothy Stanley*
Dimitri Weismann: Joneal Joplin*
Max Deems: Ron Himes*
Young Phyllis: Kathryn Boswell*
Young Ben: Michael Williams*
Young Sally: Sarah Quinn Taylor*
Young Buddy: Cody Williams*
Young Heidi: Julie Hanson*
Ensemble: Kristen Smith Davis*, Gaby Gamache*, Luke Hamilton*, Julie Hanson, Dan Horn*, Adrienne Howard*, Drew Nellessen*, Brenna Noble, Kara Overlien and Brett Thiele*

The Follies ensemble in Loveland.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Choreographer: Ralph Perkins
Music Supervisor: Brad Haak
Scenic Designer: Luke Cantarella
Costume Designer: Amy Clark
Lighting Designer: John Lasiter
Sound Designer: Randy Hansen
Conductor: Valerie Maze
Orchestral Reduction: David Siegel
Casting Director: Pat McCorkle, McCorkle Casting, Ltd.
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit*
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli*

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

Conductor/Piano: Valerie Maze
Reed I: Mike Buerk
Reed II: Mike Karpowicz
Trumpet I: Andy Tichenor
Trumpet II: Vicky Smolik
Trombone: Tom Vincent
Harp: Wesley Kelly
Drums: Steve Riley
Percussion: Chris Treloar
Violin: Tova Braitberg
Cello: Marian Drake
Bass: Jay Hungerford

Monday, September 12, 2016

Love? Actually... • R-S Theatrics

Dedicated to presenting thought provoking St. Louis premieres, R-S Theatrics is at it again. R-S opens its “Season of Semi-Requited Love” with a collection of mostly musical one-acts to fill out a terrific evening, including its first-ever staging of a short opera by Steven Serpa.

Act 1 of the evening is a cabaret called “Out of a Bowl,” where random audience members come onstage and pull pieces of paper out of a bowl, and the corresponding numbers picked -- a mix of solos, duets and group numbers, are performed by members of the cast. The night I attended, Kelvin Urday performed “Mr. Brightside” by the rock band “The Killers” -- a song about crushing infidelity and its results. There was also Lindsay Gingrich, performing “Gooch’s Song” from Mame, Omega Jones and Eileen Engel in an entertaining, scenery-chewing "The Song That Goes Like This" from Spamalot, and a duet from Rent with Gingrich and Sarajane Alverson. The cabaret portion ended with a rousing group number, if memory serves, “Somebody to Love” from Queen.

Amaranth (Eileen Engel) and Thyrsis (Lindsay Gingrich).
Photo credit: Michael Young

The second act features the first opera produced by R-S -- Steven Serpa’s Thyrsis & Amaranth. In French writer Jean de La Fontaine’s Original Fables of La Fontaine, the main characters involved are a shepherd, Thyrsis, who loves a woman named Amaranth, a shepherdess, who’s not in love with him. Nice nod to the original story with that cute little sheep in the production’s poster. In Serpa’s version though, Thyrsis (Gingrich) and Amaranth (Eileen Engel) are bridesmaids at a wedding. Friends since childhood, Thyrsis tries to work up the courage to tell her friend the depths of her emotions with open hints, but is thwarted when Amaranth discloses her love for another. Engel as the unwitting heartbreaker and Gingrich’s sad realizations are poignantly rendered, and they also handle the challenging operatic score of about 20 minutes very well.

Derek (Kevin L. Corpuz), Tevin (Omega Jones),
Justin (Kelvin Urday), Andrew (Phil Leveling)
and Narrator (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: Michael Young
The third act is the short musical, 21 Chump Street, by composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, known for his mega-hit, the Tony Award-winning Hamilton, as well as his 2008 Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, which R-S is slated to produce in the fall of 2017. (Yes!!) 21 Chump Street was based on an episode of the weekly radio program, This American Life, where a teenager falls for a new girl at school. Justin (Kelvin Urday) is determined to win the affections of Naomi (Natasha Toro), even if it means trying to score a little weed for her. Little does he know, she’s an undercover cop tracking down dealers. Poor Justin. Sarajane Alverson is our narrator, and Derek (Kevin L. Corpuz), Tevin (Omega Jones) and Andrew (Phil Leveling) are Justin’s pals, confused by his uncharacteristic search for pot, and all executing some sweet dance moves courtesy of choreographer, Taylor Pietz.

Sarajane Alverson.
Photo credit: Michael Young
Colleen Backer, the production’s manager, has a refreshing, palate cleansing cameo as Maggie in David Lindsay-Abaire’s monologue, History Lesson. Maggie is a tour guide at Mount Rushmore on her last day at work, but her usual spiel to the tourists is peppered with jabs and insults aimed at her ex-lover, who happens to be her soon-to-be ex-boss. Backer does a fantastic job in the role.

R-S has taken up temporary residence at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, but only until they lay down stakes at their first permanent home at the Kranzberg Art Center and Black Box Theatre on Grand -- right down the street from the Fabulous Fox. R-S has also recently been one of a handful or so to be a part of the .ZACK Performing Arts Incubator space at the Cadillac Building at 3224 Locust Street -- headed by philanthropists and arts supporters Ken and Nancy Kranzberg. In addition to prop and set storage, restaurant space, and media support, they’ll also have access to a 202 seat  proscenium-style theatre space (perfect size, IMHO) to stage shows. This is where R-S will present the St. Louis premiere of In the Heights.

Omega Jones.
Photo credit: Michael Young
For now though, check out their latest production at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza! It’s playing until the 18th.

Love? Actually...

Thyrsis & Amaranth
Music/lyrics by Steven Serpa
21 Chump Street
Music/lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Christina Rios
through September 18 | tickets: $15 - $25
Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Thyrsis (Lindsay Gingrich).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Act 2
Amaranth: Eileen Engel
Thyrsis: Lindsay Gingrich

Act 3
Narrator: Sarajane Alverson
Derek: Kevin L. Corpuz
Tevin: Omega Jones
Andrew: Phil Leveling
Naomi: Natasha Toro
Justin: Kelvin Urday

Musical Director: Leah Luciano
Stage Manager/Assistant Director: Alex Moore
Naomi (Natasha Toro).
Photo credit: Michael Young
Assistant Stage Manager: Angel Eberhardt
Production Manager/Cameo: Colleen Backer
Choreographer: Taylor Pietz
Scenic Designer: Keller Ryan
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Costume Designer: Amy Harrison
Sound Designer: Mark Kelley
Technical Advisor: Scott Schoonover
Sound Board Operator: Sam Toskin
Production Interns: Amy Riddle & Sydney Scott
Pianist: Leah Luciano
Guitar: D. Mike Bauer
Percussion: Devin Lowe
Electric Bass: M. Joshua Ryan
Violin: Shaylynn Sienkiewicz
Cello: Alexander Schutt
Artistic Director: Christina Rios
Associate Managing Director: Alex Moore

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY • New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre closed its 25th anniversary season with an unlikely choice. It was an intimate, one-act, one-person musical about a British girl, Emma, living in the States and steering her way through the ups and downs of a string of romantic journeys. This lesser known musical from Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ SuperstarPhantom of the Opera) was initially conceived as a cycle of shows for television. It eventually became the first act of Song & Dance in the early 80’s debuting in the West End, and then was finally re-introduced as a stand-alone one-act in 2003, with an Off-Broadway debut in 2008. While one-person shows fill some with dread, I would say to you; fear not. New Line veteran Sarah Porter definitively came into her own here. With a sung-through score of over 20 songs, Porter holds the evening together with a style that made it look easy.

After leaving her boyfriend in New York (“Let Me Finish”), Emma ends up with a show-business bigwig in Los Angeles, dreamy-eyed over her fancy new digs, but skeptical of the spurious LA Scene in a superbly comic “Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad,” with every humorous line hit squarely on the head.
Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
"Take That Look Off Your Face” comes on the heels of finding out she’s been cheated on, and “You Made Me Think You Were In Love” is swift and sharp, after misleading implications leave her heartbroken again. Porter delivers the title song, “Tell Me On a Sunday,” with a somber tint, this time pleading for an easy letdown. By the end, Emma has spun what she’s learned the hard way to satisfying results -- achieving her own autonomy in the world.

Webber’s style is imprinted all over this score of varied tunes, with clever lyrics by Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr.. Porter, vocally dexterous, not only skillfully handles the score, but also navigates the emotional terrain with an open-faced fragility and spunk. Also notable is the fact that for the first time in New Line’s history, this show was solely directed by another New Line vet, its associate artistic director, Mike Dowdy-Windsor. It says a lot that Scott Miller, New Line’s founder and artistic director, is comfortable handing over the reins, but they’ve co-directed several shows together, and Dowdy-Windsor has a sharp understanding of the show, paces it out beautifully, and most importantly, doesn’t get in the way of the story.

Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Rob Lippert's scenic design, complete with a cityscape backdrop, provides a few different playing spaces, and lights them evocatively. Porter provides her own costume design, maintained a credible dialect thanks to coach Laurie McConnell, and music director Nate Jackson and his band of five hold it down with a beautiful performance of the score.

So yeah, this show is over (like... way over -- apologies to the cast and crew), but New Line is ramping up for its 26th season, kicking off with Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Celebration. You can check out details about New Line's upcoming season here.


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Don Black and Don Black and Richard Maltby, Jr.
Directed by Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive 
Run Concluded

Emma (Sarah Porter).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Emma: Sarah Porter

Directing Intern: Daniel Washelesky
Music Director: Nate Jackson
Stage Manager/Lighting Technician: Michael Juncal
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Sarah Porter
Sound Designer: Benjamin Rosemann
Sound Intern: Elli Castonguay
Props Master: Kimi Short
Dialect Coach: Laurie McConnell
Scenic Artists: Patrick Donnigan, Gary Karasek, Melanie Kozak, Kate Wilkerson
Box Office Manager: Kimi Short
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy
Videographer: Kyle Jeffery Studios

The New Line Band
Conductor/Piano: Nate Jackson
Cello: Eric Bateman
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Reeds: Harrison Rich
Bass: Jake Stergos

Sunday, August 14, 2016

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

In 1992, Weekly World News published an outrageous, recurring story about a “bat child” spotted in a southern cave in West Virginia. Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (book) and Laurence O'Keefe (songs) turned this tabloid tale into a musical about a family that takes Bat Boy in, and the effect this addition has on the family and their rural town of Hope Falls. As you might imagine, the show’s camp-factor is high, but Stray Dog Theatre’s production also unearths the show’s inherent themes of “otherness,” bonding, prejudice and fear, and grounds it with some strong, ardent performances.

Corey Fraine is the show’s intrepid and agile titular character, equipped with pointy ears and fangs. After being discovered by the Taylor kids, an alarmed Bat Boy takes a bite out of Ruthie (Lindsey Jones), gets a beatdown from Ruthie’s brother Rick (Michael A. Wells), and is taken to the Parker’s home to be put down. Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly) is the local veterinarian, but by the time he gets home, Mrs. Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) has taken a liking to the little fella, and their teenage daughter, Shelley (Angela Bubash), takes to Bat Boy with all the passion of a child smitten with a puppy.

Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly), Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine)
and Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Mr. Parker goes along with the plan to keep him, perhaps trying to mend the widening rift in his marriage, but that goodwill doesn’t last long. In one of the show’s best numbers, “Show You a Thing or Two,” Bat Boy, now called “Edgar,” is civilized My Fair Lady style, by the steadfast efforts of Meredith, while Shelley and Edgar become close. This all pushes Thomas further from his family, while the townsfolk, already on edge from the rapid loss of their cattle, want nothing to do with this outsider, and are out for blood.

The cast of 10 covers over 20 roles, often mixing gender roles right before your eyes. The ensemble numbers are given a wonderful lift with choreography by Mike Hodges, strong voices, and the band, under the musical direction of Chris Petersen. The growing frustrations of Thomas Parker are brought to life by Kelly, stuck in a loveless marriage, with great work in the number “Dance With Me, Darling,” and Schmid’s conventional housewife Meredith Parker contributes strong acting and a lovely voice, particularly in the number “Three Bedroom House,” performed along with Bubash, whose depiction of a moody teen is spot-on, complete with stomping, pouting and eye-rolling.
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine), Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) and Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Shout-outs also to Michael A. Wells as the strong-voiced Rick and an animated Reverend Billy Hightower in “A Joyful Noise,” Tim Kaniecki as Pan in “Children, Children” and Colin Dowd as a hilariously sanctified Lorraine.

The night I saw it there were a couple of moments where the timbre seemed off, but it wasn’t a vibe coming from the cast -- it was coming from the space itself. This past July, the Stray Dog family, and the St. Louis theatre family, lost SDT’s longtime production manager Jay V. Hall to suicide. Though that indescribable loss hung in the air, director Justin Been and the cast and crew performed this show with its typical exuberant devotion, now softly pronounced with somber hues, making the show more visceral. The show must go on after all, and to Stray Dog’s credit, it has -- in grand fashion.

Front: Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) Middle,
l to r: Roy (Michael A. Wells), Bud (Tim Kaniecki),
Maggie (Sara Rae Womack),  Clem (Lindsey Jones)
Back, l to r: Institute Man (Colin Dowd),
Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly)
and Sheriff Reynolds (Josh Douglas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Go see it. It’s playing at Tower Grove Abbey until the 20th.


Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music/lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, August 10, 17 and 2pm Saturday, August 20

Shelley Parker: Angela Bubash
Sheriff Reynolds/Delilah: Josh Douglas
Lorraine/Mrs. Taylor/Father/Institute Man: Colin Dowd
Bat Boy/Edgar: Corey Fraine
Ruthie Taylor/Ned/Clem/Mother: Lindsey Jones
Bud/Daisy/Pan/Doctor: Tim Kaniecki
Thomas Parker: Patrick Kelly
Meredith Parker: Dawn Schmid
Rick Taylor/Rev. Billy Hightower/Roy/Young Thomas: Michael A. Wells
Maggie/Ron Taylor/Young Meredith: Sara Rae Womack

Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Assistant Director: Robert M. Kapeller
Choreographer: Mike Hodges
Costume Designer: Cara Hoppes McCulley
Dance Captain: Sara Rae Womack
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Musical Director: Chris Petersen
Property Design: Justin Been, Gary F. Bell
Scenic Carpentry Assistance: Richard Brown, Doug Burge, Kathleen Dwyer, Cory Fraine, Melanie Kozak, Robert J. Lippert, Paul Troika, Kate Wilkerson
Scenic Designer: Robbert J. Lippert
Sound Designer: Justin Been
Stage Manager: Robert M. Kapeller

The Band
Bass: Michaela Kuba
Musical Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: M. Joshua Ryan
Drums: Joe Winters

Thursday, July 14, 2016

GREY GARDENS • Max & Louie Productions

In 1975, a documentary by Albert and David Maysles related the story of two cloistered, interdependent, eccentric residents living in a wealthy East Hampton neighborhood. After years of prosperity, the ocean of money slowed to a trickle for Edith "Big Edie" Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale (the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), yet they persevered within the walls of a dilapidated, 28-room mansion named Grey Gardens. Though this once glorious, now filth-ridden estate had become overrun with cats, raccoons, fleas (the filmmakers had to wear flea collars), and had practically no running water, Big and Little Edie remained there, in secluded squalor, for over 50 years. The film won acclaim for its “direct cinema” styled rendering of these two fascinating women, and in 2006, this material was adapted into a musical by Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics). Max & Louie Productions seems to have gotten all of the right people in all of the right places to make this St. Louis premiere soar.

Having fallen in love with the documentary years ago, I think it’s safe to suggest that your enjoyment of the show will be enhanced by having a familiarity with the original film. So, you know, click here for that. 

Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and Little Edie (Madeline Purches).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
After a short prologue, the first act gives us a fictional glimpse into the well-heeled life of the Beales in Grey Gardens’ heyday. It’s 1941 and the Long Island manor is buzzing with activity, getting ready for an extravagant celebration of the engagement of Little Edie (Madeline Purches) to Joseph Kennedy Jr. (Will Bonfiglio), and Big Edie (Debby Lennon) is heading the preparations -- ordering the set-up of chafing dishes, the chilling of vichyssoise and the preening of privets. It soon becomes clear that Lennon and Purches couldn’t have been better cast. This potent duo have impressive vocal chops, and, under Annamaria Pileggi's outstanding direction, depict all of the tricky intricacies of their relationship and mannerisms early on that carry over to the second act credibly and beautifully -- Lennon’s transformation is amazing, and Purches gives you just a hint of instability under a poised exterior.

Little Edie (Madeline Purches),
Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows)
in the background.
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Terry Meddows is also on hand as George Gould Strong, Big Edie's kept, gay piano accompanist, who plays referee between the women when Little Edie begs her mom to hew down the number of songs she plans to sing at the gathering, feeding her hunger for the limelight and long-held aspirations of a career in show business. Tom Murray is strong as Big Edie’s imperious father, "Major" Bouvier, and Bonfiglio does some great work as the cautious but enthusiastic groom-to-be. Omega Jones is solid as the starched butler, Brooks Sr., and there are delightful appearances from Carter Eiseman and Phoebe Desilets as the young pair, Lee Bouvier and Jacqueline Bouvier, respectively, interrupting the preparations by begging their aunt Edith to entertain them with a song. A fateful telegram upends the festivities, and that sets up the second act.

Speaking of the second act, there’s a neat trick here -- Little Edie is now played by Lennon -- the first act’s Big Edie, and Big Edie is portrayed by an unyielding Donna Weinsting. Now thirty-two years later, the second act closely mirrors the documentary. Big Edie is now practically bed-ridden, but Weinsting plays her with that same feisty core, now weighed down by the frailties that come with age, while Lennon portrays Little Edie with her eccentricities now full-blown. Despite their poverty, the unabashed quirkiness and poignantly forlorn world of the Beales begs you to laugh with them, as opposed to at them.

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Jerry (Will Bonfiglio).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Omega Jones who plays the butler in the first act carries over nicely as the easier-going groundskeeper, Brooks Jr. in the second. Bonfiglio also makes a skillful transition from Joe Kennedy Jr. to the Beale’s good-natured layabout handyman, Jerry. Jennifer JC Krajicek’s costumes are spot on, as is Dunsi Dai’s scenic design and Michael Sullivan’s evocative lighting design. Dialect coach Ariel Saul keeps everyone in that distinct Northeastern tone, and the orchestra, under the direction of Neal Richardson, sounds bigger than it is. It's obvious that director Annamaria Pileggi gets this play, extending those silent beats to get the most out of the mounting tensions that hint at the moments to come, along with memorable performances from her talented cast. The numbers "The Five-Fifteen,” "Peas in a Pod,” a foreboding “Will You?,” the wonderfully barefaced "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" (the documentary lovers will adore the reference 'S-T-A-U-N-C-H'), and a haunting "Another Winter in a Summer Town" are standouts.

Jerry (Will Bonfiglio), “Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
Get tickets, and go see it now. As Little Edie would say, it’s absolutely terrific, honestly.


Book by Doug Wright, based on the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio, 2 Millstone Campus Drive Creve Coeur
through July 30 | tickets: $30 - $35
Performances Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, Saturday July 30, 2pm & 8pm

Brooks Sr. (Omega Jones), Edith Bouvier Beale (Debby Lennon),
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier (Phoebe Desalts),
Lee Bouvier (Carter Eiseman)
and George Gould Strong (Terry Meddows).
Photo credit: Dan Donovan
“Little” Edie Beale/Edith Bouvier Beale: Debby Lennon*
"Big" Edith Bouvier Beale: Donna Weinsting 
Young "Little" Edie Beale: Madeline Purches
Joseph Patrick Kennedy Jr./Jerry: Will Bonfiglio 
J.V. "Major" Bouvier/Norman Vincent Peale: Tom Murray*
George Gould Strong: Terry Meddows* 
Brooks Sr./Brooks Jr.: Omega Jones
Lee Bouvier: Carter Eiseman
Jacqueline “Jackie” Bouvier: Phoebe Desilets

“Big” Edith Bouvier Beale (Donna Weinsting)
and Little Edie (Debby Lennon).

Assistant Director: Anna Richards
Choreographer: Robin Berger
Stage Manager: Claire Stark
Assistant Stage Manager: Kristen Strom
Set Designer: Dunsi Dai
Lighting Designer: Michael Sullivan
Sound Designer: Casey Hunter
Costume Designer: Jennifer JC Krajicek
Wardrobe Head/Wig Master: Emma Bruntrager
Props Designer: Claudia Horn
Dialect Coach: Ariel Saul
Technical Director: Brian Connor
Assistant Technical Director: Martin Moran
Production Manager: Bess Moynihan
Master Electrician: Nathan Schroeder
Lighting Technician: Scott Russell McDonald
Run Crew: Traci Clapper
Run Crew: Wilson Webel
Run Crew: Jimmy Bernatowicz
Lighting Board Operator: Jason Boes
The real life Big and Little Edie Beale.
Managing Director: De Kaplan
Producer/Artistic Director: Stellie Siteman
Program Design: Jen Schmitz

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

Musical Director/Pianist: Neal Richardson
Cello Player: Ethan Edwards
Violinist: Kyle Twomey


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