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

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