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


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