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My take: No doubt about it, this is a big, splashy, entertaining musical with a message that is (somewhat sadly) still very relevant. In his review for Broadwayworld.com, Chris Gibson calls this "an exuberant and colorful staging..a really good show for the entire family,with plenty of laughs, catchy songs, and a timely message as well." "Today" writes Judy Newmark at stltoday.com, "the optimistic, Tony-winning show about tearing down barriers resonates more than ever. It feels like a gift."
My take: I've been a big fan of this group since I previewed their first show. WUI takes its inspiration from performers whose work is not particularly well represented on the cabaret scene: the girl groups and soul sisters of the 1960s. Pop and R&B classics like “Met Him on a Sunday,” “He’s So Fine,” “Come See About Me,” and “He’s a Rebel” make up most of the set list, but there are also a few nods to contemporary stars like Adele (“Rumor Has It”), Rhiana (“Take a Bow”), and even Dolly Parton (“Jolene”). The group has a way of making all of those tunes their own—with tight vocal harmonies and even a bit of swingin' '60s choreography—and, in classic cabaret style, telling a story in the process.
|The Barber of Seville|
Photo: Ken Howard
My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, everyone connected with this production can congratulate themselves on a job well done. Taking as his point of departure the animated and colorful films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Mr. Shell has produced a loopy, slightly surreal, and highly engaging take this comic opera classic. The updated bits are always funny and sometimes inspired. And there aren't so many of them that they pull focus from the singers and the text and score of the opera. This is a production that respects the intelligence of its audience and doesn't assume that we need to be constantly distracted in order to be entertained.
Photo: Ken Howard
My take: An out of town trip prevented my from seeing this revival of Tobias PIcker's 1996 opera, although I did get a chance to chat with the director beforehand. Reviews of this production have been very positive, though, and its sharp critique of what I would describe as soulless self-congratulation of corporate Christianity is as relevant as ever. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan describes it as "a strikingly beautiful opera—visually and musically." "Both musically and theatrically," says Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "Emmeline is a bravura performance that resonates with its beauty."
|One Summer on 2nd Street|
My take: One of the more welcome harbingers of summer in St. Louis is the appearance of Circus Flora's air-conditioned tent on the parking lot just south of Powell Hall. Once the big top is in place, you know that an evening of thrills, comedy and all-around family friendly entertainment awaits you within its pleasantly cool confines. "Circus Flora shows always tell a story," Tina Farmer reminds us in her KDHX review. "[T]his year it's 'One Summer on Second Street.' A tale of summer in the city with a nostalgic feel, the story encourages us to meet our neighbors and treat our animal friends with love and respect. Naturally, the lesson is delivered with an abundance of fantastic feats of skill, strength, and athleticism." Grab some popcorn and cotton candy, listen to the band organ before the show, and be a kid again. Or stay one, as the case may be.
|Richard the Lionheart|
Photo: Ken Howard
My take: Critical word on this one has been generally good. "The chief point of Baroque opera," writes Sarah Bryan Miller at stltoday.com, "is the production and enjoyment of lavish vocal displays; if you can have an effective and engaging staging to go with them, all the better. In its new production of Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart” (“Riccardo Primo”), Opera Theatre of St. Louis has largely succeeded in both". At 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan calls it "truly astonishing" and "the most perfect production of an opera that I've ever seen". As I write in my own review at OnSTL.com, I wouldn't go that far, but the singing is certainly spectacular.
Photo: Ken Howard
My take: La Rondine was always a bit of a problem child for Puccini. He left it in three different versions. I've seen two of them, and while in both cases the libretto was so cryptic that characters' decisions often seemed weirdly unmotivated, there was no getting around the fact that the composer lavished some truly wonderful music on that text. The music and, even more importantly, the singing actors are the reasons to see this beautifully sung, impeccably acted, intelligently directed, and all-around entertaining production. As I say in my review for KDHX, this production is a reminder of why we love opera in the first place.
|Smokey Joe's Café|
Photo: Peter Wochniak
My take: What's not to love about this jaunty musical revue of the songs of Leiber and Stoller? If you know of this duo only as the composers of rock classics like "Get a Job" or "Jailhouse Rock," though, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the variety of their songwriting skills. The Stages version has gotten lots of praise, too. At 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer calls it "a rousing, toe-tapping, finger-snapping production," while over at stltoday.com Judy Newmark praises "nonstop numbers that put the familiar songs onto their twinkling feet." Baby, that is rock and roll!
|Scot Moore, creator of|
Men Will Be Boys at the Fringe
My take: I've been a big booster of the Fringe since its scrappy beginnings as a four-day, low-budget events at a handful of venues in the summer of 2012. Now budgets are bigger, there are more event spaces (including The Stage @ KDHX, with state-of-the-art lights and sound), and the festival runs for ten days, but the same spirit of pushing the entertainment envelope is still there. I'm seeing a dozen of there is overage from my fellow KDHX critics Steve Callahan and Tina Farmer. Check us out and, by all means, check out the Fringe. There's a little something for everyone.