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New This Week:
|Dancing at Lughnasa|
My take: Brian Friel's 1990 memory play of life in rural Ireland has always been highly regarded, and it looks like Mustard Seed has mounted a very successful production. At Ladue News, Mark Bretz describes it as "a heart-rending rendition of Brian Friel’s haunting Irish drama, featuring superb performances by an ensemble cast given affecting direction by Gary Barker." Ann Lemmons Pollack agrees. "Mustard Seed Theatre has put together an ensemble for Brian Friel’s 1990 play that enlivens an already sparkling script," she writes at her St. Louis Eats and Drinks blog. There's basic benevolence at the heart of Dancing at Lughnasa that makes it a welcome antidote to the toxic spite that dominates the daily news cycle these days.
|The Drowsy Chaperone|
Photo: Eric Woolsey
My take: There are actually two productions of this delightful "musical within a play" this weekend but I'm giving the nod to the one on this side of the river (the other is at SIU-Edwardsville) with musical direction by the estimable Larry Pry. Possibly the most elaborate insider gag ever placed on the stage, The Drowsy Chaperone is a very smart and very funny parody of musical theatre and, to a certain extent, the very concept of theatre itself. Don't think you have to be a musical theatre geek to enjoy it, though; the in-jokes are general enough to appeal to just about anyone who has ever seen a Fred Astaire film or a Rogers and Hammerstein show. I expect that includes most of you.
|The Lion King|
Photo: Daniel Murphy
My take: How could I not include this? Making its fourth or fifth trip (but who's counting?) to our city since its first appearance here in 2003, this ingenious stage adaptation of the popular Disney film remains a stunning piece of theatre. For those of you who have yet to see this remarkable show, know that the spectacular opening number sets the tone for the entire evening. As a giant red-orange sun rises over the African plain, the first sounds you hear are not those of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Anglo-American pop, which makes up the majority of the score, but rather the distinctly African melodies of Lebo M. Led the baboon Shaman Rafiki and answered by actors high in the side balconies, the call and response changes into “The Circle of Life” as the animals gather at Pride Rock, which slowly rises from the center of the stage. Tall, elegant giraffes, a lumbering elephant, leaping gazelles, a graceful cheetah, colorful birds—they stream in from every aisle and across the stage, surrounding the audience in light, sound, and color. And that's just the beginning of this extraordinary bucket of brilliance from the seemingly bottomless well of Julie Taymor’s genius. Go, take the kids, and enjoy.
Photo: John Lamb
My take: [Full disclosure: I'm on the board of West End but have not worked on this show.] This wildly inventive and wholly original potpourri combines the general outline of the Oedipus legend (including bits and pieces of the Sophocles tragedy) with classical Newtonian mechanics, plane geometry, Freudian psychology (naturally!) and contemporary pop culture. A site-specific piece composed with West End’s location in mind, Oedipus Apparatus includes live Philip Glass-ish music by Joe Taylor (who also, of course, plays Apollo), ritualistic dance that reminded me of Pina Bausch, a mobile industrial set by Kristin Cassidy and Jacob Francis, live video, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Although there might have been one of those in the loopy junk-shop set from which the oracles of Delphi broadcast their vacuous chat show in a style reminiscent of "The View" or "Fox and Friends," with Athena the oleaginous hostess. At just under two hours with no intermission, it could use some editing, but as this is a world premiere that's not very surprising. It gets superb performances, in any case, from a very fine ensemble cast. You might love it or hate it, but you won't soon forget it.
|A 2014 Shake 38 show|
Photo: J. David Levy
My take: For sheer variety, it's hard to beat Shake 38, the Shakespeare Festival's annual city-wide celebration of The Bard on the week of his birthday. There are performances of the plays themselves at local venues, including Anthony and Cleopatra at Crossroads College Prep, Henry VII at St. Paul United Church of Christ, and Love's Labours Lost at St. Louis Univeristy. But there are also less conventional productions, such as Two Gentlemen of Lebowski at Ryder's Tavern and Equally Represented Arts' twelfth period at the Centene Center. And this week there's a parallel food festival, 38 Eats, with 38 dishes inspired by themes in the plays and created by local chefs For a complete list (because, trust me, there's a lot more): www.sfstl.com/in-the-streets/shake-38.
My take: The Black Rep has always done well by the deep, literate works of August Wilson, and this production appears to be no exception. "As always with Wilson," writes Bob Wilcox at KDHX, "Seven Guitars satisfies with its rich language and its deep humanity." In her review at stltoday.com, Judy Newmark praises the acting ensemble and singles out Black Rep founder Ron Himes as "giving the performance of his career."
Photo: John Lamb
My take: I suppose I shouldn't be including this. It's not that the reviews haven't been great; exactly the opposite in fact. Tina Farmer at KDHX seems to be speaking for the majority. "Gleefully discordant and filled with strong performances," she writes, "anchored by outstanding leads from Jon Hey and Lavonne Byers, the tragically comic musical is fantastic and fun." No, the reason I probably shouldn't include this is that all performances are now sold out. Still, people do cancel and I expect they'll be happy to put you on a waiting list. A good production of this rattling great yarn is worth waiting for, in my book.