Saturday, June 24, 2017

MONSTERS • Stray Dog Theatre

In an unfinished basement somewhere in St. Louis, Andi discovers her brother-in-law in her basement with a man, bound and gagged, and tied to a chair. This is the jumping off point for St. Louis playwright Stephen Peirick’s latest one-act comedy thriller, Monsters. It’s getting its world premiere after being introduced at a staged reading last year at Stray Dog’s New Works Laboratory. Though there are plans for further tweaks, the play is pretty good in its current form, showcasing Peirick’s trademark wit, unpredictable plots, and ear for comedic dialogue.

Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier) and Jeremy (Kevin O’Brien) are brothers, struggling to keep their late father’s debt-ridden diner afloat. Neither one is the sharpest knife in the drawer, so when a couple of diner regulars (members of the St. Louis mafia) offer to pay them $200,000 for a murder-for-hire scheme, they can’t bring themselves to say “no”, despite the fact that they have practically no idea whom they’re supposed to whack.

Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien), Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier)
and Andi (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: John Lamb
A monkey wrench is thrown into their already half-baked plans when Davis's wife, Andi (Sarajane Alverson), a cosmetologist with something she’s keeping under wraps herself, unexpectedly stays home from work, and discovers Carl (Michael A. Wells) restrained downstairs, with Jeremy, clumsily trying to explain the situation. Andi’s sister, Piper (Eileen Engel), who’s out on parole, adds another wrinkle when she pops in to do her laundry. When Davis finally comes home, his desperate position gets worse after Andi shoots holes all up and down his strategy. That is, until she learns about the money that’s at stake.

Piper (Eileen Engel), Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier)
and Andi (Sarajane Alverson).
Photo credit: John Lamb
O’Brien does a great job as Jeremy -- a guileless kid in a grown man’s body, along with Goldmeier as Davis, who’s just this side of being the more responsible of the two brothers. Andi’s growing exasperation with her husband and brother-in-law’s ineptitude drive her to finally take things into her own hands, perfectly illustrated with Alverson’s acerbic delivery and body language. Engel’s detached sarcasm as Piper adds nicely to the mix, with Engel not letting a comic beat go by untouched. Then there’s Wells as poor Carl. He gets a great deal across, considering he doesn’t do much, except for trying desperately to inch his way across the floor when nobody’s looking towards any kind of weapon. When he does get to speak, he piles on another twist.

Gary F. Bell directs this new work with a skilled hand, keeping the audience on their toes in a play where everyone seems to be barreling head-first towards an impossibly bleak situation, with plenty of laughs to be had at this motley crew’s expense. While Monsters sits pretty solidly already, it could be a little tighter with a bit of trimming to eliminate some of the repetition in the script. Still, getting to see one of Peirick's plays is always a treat -- keep an eye out for his future work.


Jeremy (Kevin O'Brien)
and Davis (Jeremy Goldmeier).
Photo credit: John Lamb
MONSTERS

Written by Stephen Peirick
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through June 24 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performance 2pm Saturday, June 24

Cast
Andi: Sarajane Alverson 
Piper: Eileen Engel
Davis: Jeremy Goldmeier
Jeremy: Kevin O’Brien 
Carl: Michael A. Wells 

Creative
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Assistant Stage Manager: Robert M. Kapeller
Costume Designer: Gary F. Bell
Scenic Designer: Justin Been

Thursday, June 15, 2017

JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR • The Muny

When Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s concept album was released in 1970, it was a big deal. Considered blasphemous by some, Superstar depicts the last week of Jesus of Nazareth’s life through a contemporary lens. The Muny’s 99th season opener proves that this pounding rock opera still resonates, incorporating themes of political activism with an absorbing score full of recurring musical motifs.

Lloyd Webber’s got a reputation for punishing his singers, and Superstar is no exception. Luckily, the leads are strong-voiced, starting with Tony nominated Constantine Maroulis of “American Idol” fame as Judas Iscariot. The opening number, "Heaven on Their Minds”, beautifully sets the narrative that centers more around Judas than Jesus -- he’s fearful of the growing fame Jesus is garnering, and the possible wrath this might bring down upon the Jews, and Maroulis makes a blazing first impression.
Judas Iscariot (Constantine Maroulis).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
He plays all of the angsty bits well, and delivers powerful vocals, but more often than not, he incorporates a ton of back phrasing when he sings. Now that’s fine, until its over use starts to affect the "story" of the songs themselves by changing up the rhythm too much. Overall though, it’s a solid performance.

Bryce Ryness is vocally and physically agile as Jesus of Nazareth. Ryness gives a quiet strength to his portrayal -- fierce in his convictions, exhausted by the demands that are placed on him, and weighed down by the knowledge of his fate. His “Gethsemane” is potent, defiant and sad.

Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
The show gives a real voice to Mary Magdalene, played tenderly by Ciara Renée. Mary’s world is rocked by Jesus, and while she’s undeniably attracted to him (on a few levels), she just wants to give him comfort, and becomes increasingly worried about his path. Renée lends beautiful vocals to "Everything's Alright” and "I Don't Know How to Love Him”.

Ben Davis is excellent as the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. His solid baritone informs his power, though he’s a man who doesn’t want any unnecessary trouble if he can avoid it. Nicholas Ward’s rumbling bass also gives weight to his character, Caiaphas -- the high priest of Jerusalem, who wants to shut all of this Jesus business down. Along with his fellow priest, a more level-headed Annas (a wonderful Mykal Kilgore) they deliver an ominous "This Jesus Must Die”. Christopher Sieber is King Herod, a role typically played flamboyantly for laughs, despite the dire circumstances surrounding his big number, "King Herod's Song”. In it, Herod taunts Jesus, daring him to produce a miracle. In this production, the song is musically couched within Tom Jones’ “It's Not Unusual”, which is kind of awesome, and Sieber plays it to the hilt.

Mary Magdalene (Ciara Renée).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Paul Tate dePoo III’s knock-out scenic design features wire fencing, steel catwalks and stone archways, lit by Nathan W. Scheuer’s moody lights. Nice work also by costume designer Tristan Raines, who outfits the hippie disciples in gem-tones, the Romans with red armbands with the officers in military attire, and Jesus in white. Jon Rua’s choreography was especially keen, including a variety of styles, but leaning heavily towards hip-hop, executed sharply by a proficient ensemble. The orchestra, under the direction of Colin Welford, performed the beloved score superbly.

Pontius Pilate (Ben Davis) and Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
If you’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar onstage, now’s the time. If you have seen it, this production is worth a revisit. It’s playing until Sunday.

Incidentals
• The first influx of Muny kids happens during “Hosanna”.

• Keep an eye out for the Andy Warhol-styled illustrations of Christ. Very impressive in person.


JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
through June 18 | tickets: FREE - $95
Performances Monday to Sunday at 8:15pm

Caiaphas (Nicholas Ward).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Cast
Jesus of Nazareth: Bryce Ryness
Judas Iscariot: Constantine Maroulis
King Herod: Christopher Sieber
Mary Magdalene: Ciara Renée
Pontius Pilate: Ben Davis
Caiaphas: Nicholas Ward
Annas: Mykal Kilgore

Ensemble
AnnEliza Canning-Skinner
Susie Carroll
Andrew Chappelle
Zach Erhardt
Dionne D. Figgins
Atiauna Grant
King Herod (Christopher Sieber).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Phillip Johnson-Richardson
Sean Harrison Jones
Jose-Luis Lopez Jr.
Douglas Lyons
Gabriella Mancuso
Brianna Mercado
Fergie Philippe
Shelby Ringdahl
Akilah Sailers
Maria Cristina Slye
Daryl Tofa
Voltaire Wade-Green

Creative
Choreographer: Jon Rua
Musical Director/Conductor: Colin Welford
Scenic Designer: Paul Tate dePoo III
Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Costume Designer: Tristan Raines
Lighting Designer: Nathan W. Scheuer
Sound Designer: John Shivers and David Patridge
Video Designer: Greg Emetaz
Wig Designer: Leah J. Loukas
Production Stage Manager: Cody Renard Richard
Assistant Stage Manager: Willie Porter and Eric Elz
Artistic Director and Executive Producer: Mike Isaacson

Jesus of Nazareth (Bryce Ryness).
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
The Muny Orchestra
Violin: Tova Braitberg (Concertmaster), Nancy Chow, Beth Hoffman, Julie Leonhardt and Nathan Banks
Viola/Violin: Susanna Woodard (Principal) and Wendy Lea
Cello: Antonio Innaimo (Principal) and Nathan Hsu
Bass: Adam Anello (Principal) and Terry Kippenberger
Woodwinds: Mike Buerk (Principal), Elsie Parker, Robert Hughes, Nancy Summers and Nicholas Pyles
French Horn: Nancy Schick (Principal) and Steven Hanrahan
Cast of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Photo credit: Phil Hamer
Harp: Cherilyn Trusty
Trombone: Tom Vincent (Principal) and Tyler Vahldick
Trumpet: Andy Tichenor (Principal) and Vicky Smolik
Tuba: David Unland
Percussion: Jerry Bolen (Principal)
Drums: John Brophy
Guitar: Steve Schenkel

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