Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of June 21, 2018

It's your last chance for great productions at Opera Theatre, along with new shows at The Muny and Uppity Theatre Company.

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New This Week:

That Uppity Theatre Company and the University of Central Oklahoma present 26 Pebbles by Eric Ulloa on Tuesday through Friday at 7 pm and Saturday at 2 pm, June 19 - 23. Presented in partnership with the Missouri Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and "Painting for Peace in Ferguson", the play combines live music, singing, and interviews from Newtown residents as they recount the ripples in their community in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The performances taks place at Christ Church Maplewood UCC, 2200 Bellevue on 6/21; at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church, 2300 Lafayette on 6/22; and at Daniel Boone Branch of the St. Louis County Library, 300 Clarkson Rd., on 6/23. The production is suitable for ages 12 and above. All performances are free and open to the public. For more information: uppityco.com.

My take: I haven't seen this, but the issues is raises and the high profile of The Uppity Theatre Company are enought to move me to recommend it. Producing theatre about important contemporary issues is never easy, and Uppity does an exemplary job of it.

The Wiz
The Muny presents The Wiz running through Monday, June 25. Based on L. Frank Baum's nostalgic classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz is considered a feel-good favorite sparkling with heart-pounding soul, unforgettable gospel and infectious rock rhythms. Grammy Award-winner for Best Cast Show Album, and ranked as one of the highest watched live television musicals, this reimagined familiar favorite will have you ready to "Ease on Down the Road" to meet The Wiz for yourself!" Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: This 1975 Broadway hit is getting a contemporary update, courtesy of Emmy-nominated writer Amber Ruffin (Late Night With Seth Meyers) and choreographer Camille A. Brown (Once on This Island). If you're a fan of the original, though, don't worry. As Kevin C. Johnson writes at STLToday, the heart of the original "remains intact, from the positive message of what you’re looking for most in life being inside you the whole time, to the importance of home and family, old and new."


Held Over:

An American Soldier
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of An American Soldier, by Huang Ro and David Henry Hwang, running through June 22. "Danny Chen is the son of Chinese immigrants, and a proud American. He enlists in the US Army in 2011, eager to serve his country. In boot camp, Danny is welcomed by his band of brothers. But in Afghanistan, his own base becomes enemy territory as military hazing turns deadly. Based on a true story, this opera asks powerful questions about what it means to be an American." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: While I'm not particularly taken with Huang Ro's score, David Henry Hwang's libretto is so strong and the performances of the cast are so compelling that I'm recommending this important new opera without hesitation. As I write in my review for KDHX, it's a work that forcefully reminds of us the gap that far too often exists between our nation's ideals and its realities, and it deserves to be seen. Note that as this is being written, the last performance of the show is sold out, but you can still put yourself on a wait list.


Blithe Spirit
Photo by John Lamb
Act Inc presents Noël Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm through June 24. "Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost." Performances take place in the Emerson Black Box Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, visit actincstl.com.

My take: Coward's arch take on ghostly goings-on has been so popular for so long for very good reasons. Tina Farmer calls it an "entertaining diversion" in her review for KDHX, and I'd say that summarizes the play's appeal perfectly. Act Inc has also gotten the technical demands right, it seems, which is where productions of the play can sometimes fall down.


Hedda Gabler
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents Ibsen's tragedy Hedda Gabler Thursdays through Saturdays through June 23. "A masterpiece of modern theatre, Hedda Gabler exposes a powerful and reckless heroine who finds herself stranded in the seemingly ordinary but dangerously imbalanced Victorian Era. Employing methods that define the modern psychological drama, the plot stealthily reveals the bitter conflicts and thwarted longings that lie just below the "civilized" interactions of daily life and unflinchingly leads us to a shocking but inevitable conclusion." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Well, you don't need me to tell you that Hedda Gabler is one of the classics of 20th-century theatre. It is, however, easy to get it wrong and make it tedious. Needless to say, Stray Dog has done nothing of the kind, which means (to quote Tina Farmer at KDHX), "Ibsen’s dark drama is as juicy and pointedly acerbic as it is sharply perceptive and every moment is purposeful." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz concurs, noting that director Gary Bell "elicits compelling performances from his talented cast and keeps this version of Hedda Gabler intriguing and involving throughout its three acts and three hours, which never drags despite its length."


Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
in I Do! I Do!Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical I Do! I Do!, by the creators of The Fantasticks, through July 1. "I DO! I DO! tells the poignant story of 50 years in the married lives of Michael and Agnes. This two character musical version of the comedy/drama 'The Fourposter' takes place entirely in a bedroom and takes its audience on a whirlwind journey that begins in 1895 and ends half a century later. I DO! I DO! offers its audiences a frank look at the miracle of marriage as Michael and Agnes experience childbirth, parenthood, and the eventual settling down to face the future and their advancing years together. Originally written for the Broadway stars, Mary Martin and Robert Preston, STAGES employs the innovative theatrical hat-trick of two separate rotating casts: neither of which you will want to miss! An unabashed gift to the many couples who have walked through our doors, I DO! I DO! will be sure to steal your heart while celebrating the many triumphs and heartaches of marriage: past, present, and future!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: Originally staged on Broadway back in 1966 and revised for a revival 30 years later, this charming if slight show will strike some familiar chords for anyone who has been married for any length of time. Despite a coupe of emotional crises that are resolved with implausible ease, the emotional stakes in this script are not high, but the appealing score (including the "My Cup Runneth Over," a lovely number that was inescapable back in the late 1960s) and polished production still make this well worth your time. Because, really, not everything has to be fraught with dramatic weight. I saw the "purple" cast, consisting of Stages regular Steve Isom and Corinne Melançon (who is also the production's dance captain). Their work is impeccable, but I don't think you can go wrong with the "red" cast of David Schmittou and Kari Ely either.



Orfeo and Euridice
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice through June 21. "What would you do if you lost your soulmate? For Orfeo, the answer is simple: get her back - even if it means traveling to the underworld. He braves every challenge, armed with nothing more than his music and his devotion. Little does he realize that his greatest obstacle will ultimately be his own passion. As a myth, it's a celebration of love and of music's transcendent power. As an opera, it's a ravishing masterpiece." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: Director Ron Daniels' modern, minimalist production takes a bit of getting used to, but when all is said and done it works pretty darned well as a contemporary theatre piece while still honoring the intentions of the opera's creators. That's not an easy task. Check out my review at KDHX for more details.



Regina
Photo by Ken Howard

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mark Blitzstein's Regina running through June 24. "Theft. Blackmail. Murder. Is there nothing that Regina Giddens won't do to satisfy her ambition? Based on Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes, and set against a Southern backdrop of spirituals, jazz, and ragtime, this deliciously twisted opera pits siblings and spouses against each other in a battle for the family business. Prepare to be scandalized - and entertained - as the renowned Susan Graham returns to Opera Theatre to portray one of the American stage's most fascinating characters." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, Regina is an American classic, and the Opera Theater production is a triumph in every respect. Don't miss it. Its condemnation of the ethical vacuum at the heart of crony capitalism and the ugly brutality of those who practice it could hardly be more relevant today. You should not miss it.


La Traviata
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's La Traviata through June 23. "Violetta has one important rule: never fall in love. As a Parisian courtesan, her life is full of parties, admirers, and - most importantly - freedom. Then she meets Alfredo. His naive sincerity sweeps her off her feet. Just when Violetta thinks she has escaped her past, she is asked to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Will pride, love, or honor prevail? Embrace the romance of this Verdi masterpiece, featuring the directing debut of star soprano Patricia Racette" Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: There was a time (before November 2016) when I would have suggested that the mix toxic chauvinism and smug self-righteousness of the males characters in Verdi's opera was starting to look dated. Now I'm not so sure. In any case, this new production is getting rave notices for the quality of the singing and acting on display. Having finally seen it myself, I have to agree that, while it may not be my favorite Traviata (that position is still held by Union Avenue's wonderful 2014 production), it's an awfully good one. Besides, it stars the immensely talented Sydney Mancasola, who was so impressive in OTSL's La Rondine in 2015.

Yeast Nation
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the rock musical Yeast Nation Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through June 23. "The world's first bio-historical musical comedy, from the mad geniuses who brought you Urinetown! It is the year 3,000,458,000 BC. The Earth's surface is a molten mass of volcanic islands and undulating waves. The atmosphere is a choking fog lit by a dim red sun. And the mighty waters of the world are inhabited only by rocks, sand, salt, more rocks, a little silt, and the great society of salt-eating yeasts - yes, yeasts! - the world's very first life form! These single-cell salt-eaters are the only living creatures on earth, and they're struggling against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called Love, and the oppression of a tyrannical yeast king. But when the king's son ventures out of the known yeastiverse, the yeasts' epic story - and ours - is changed forever." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

My take: One of the takeaways from the success of Urientown is that you can make a musical out of pretty much anything. So it should be no surprise that Mark Hollmann and Gret Kotis decided to follow up on the success of that first show with a musical about that most song-inducing of subjects, salt-eating yeasts. The show, as Tina Farmer writes at KDHX, features "vibrant color and effective performances that are delightfully engaging and thoroughly satisfying. You might learn a little science if you listen closely, but you're sure to leave the theater with a smile, a melody in your head and a new appreciation for our distant neighbors those salt-eating yeasts." Sounds...um...tasty.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 18, 2018

New shows this week include The Wiz at the Muny, a provocative new play inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, and the Cabaret Projecdt open mic at the .ZACK.

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That Uppity Theatre Company and the University of Central Oklahoma present 26 Pebbles by Eric Ulloa on Tuesday through Friday at 7 pm and Saturday at 2 pm, June 19 - 23. Presented in partnership with the Missouri Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and “Painting for Peace in Ferguson”, the play combines live music, singing, and interviews from Newtown residents as they recount the ripples in their community in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The performance takes place at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, 6501 Wydown on 6/19; at St. Paul United Church of Christ 3510 Giles Avenue on 6/20; at Christ Church Maplewood UCC, 2200 Bellevue on 6/21; at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church, 2300 Lafayette on 6/22; and at Daniel Boone Branch of the St. Louis County Library, 300 Clarkson Rd., on 6/23. The production is suitable for ages 12 and above. All performances are free and open to the public. For more information: uppityco.com.

An American Soldier
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of An American Soldier, by Huang Ro and David Henry Hwang, running through June 22. "Danny Chen is the son of Chinese immigrants, and a proud American. He enlists in the US Army in 2011, eager to serve his country. In boot camp, Danny is welcomed by his band of brothers. But in Afghanistan, his own base becomes enemy territory as military hazing turns deadly. Based on a true story, this opera asks powerful questions about what it means to be an American." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

Blithe Spirit
Photo by John Lamb
Act Inc presents Noël Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm through June 24. "Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost." Performances take place in the Emerson Black Box Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, visit actincstl.com.

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project presents Cabaret Open Mic Night on Wednesday, June 20, from 7 to 10 pm. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by pianist and music director Carol Schmidt and hosted by 88.1 KDHX's Chuck Lavazzi. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge on the second floor of the .ZACK performing arts space at 3226 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

The Bankside Repertory Theatre Company presents The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] June 21 - 30. "A comedy crash-course on the Bard's canon, an iambic pentametric delight! For adult audiences." Performances take place at The Jacoby Arts Center, 627 E. Broadway in Alton, IL. For more information: www.banksiderep.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents Disney's Beauty and the Beast Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, through June 24. " With the classic songs, "Be Our Guest," "Something There," and "Beauty and the Beast," this will be a fairy-tale musical experience the whole family can share and enjoy. Based on the Academy Award-winning animated feature, the stage version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" has enthralled Broadway audiences for over 22 years." Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siue.edu.

Hard Road Theatre Productions presents Disney's Mary Poppins Jr. Friday and Saturday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, June 21 - 24. Performances will be held at the Highland School Auditorium, 1800 Lindenthal, in Highland IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

Fourth Wall Down presents The Drowning Girls opening on Friday, June 22, and running through July 14. 'The play gasps to life with Bessie, Alice, and Margaret (English women of the early 1900s) trying to remember their lives. Though fragmented, the tragic truth is slowly unraveled: each unassuming, lonely and on the cusp of 'spinsterhood', they're surprised to find Love, along with an avenue toward societal worth… Marriage to “a man of independent means”.' Performances take place at Wild Carrot, 3901 Shaw in the Shaw Neighborhood. For more information: www.fourthwalldown.org.

End of the Rainbow
Max and Louie Productions presents Angela Ingersoll in the one-woman show End of the Rainbow June 21 - July 1. "It's 1968 and Judy Garland is about to make her comeback… again. In a London hotel room, with both her new young fiancé and her adoring accompanist, Garland struggles to get “beyond the rainbow” with her signature cocktail of talent, tenacity and razor sharp wit. Featuring some of Garland's most memorable songs, this savagely funny play-with-music offers unique insight into the inner conflict that inspired and consumed one of the most beloved figures of our time." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: maxandlouie.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Game of Thrones Seasons 2 - 4
St. Louis Shakespeare's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents The Game of Thrones seasons 2 - 4: Four Weddings and a S#!t-ton of Funerals Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 10:30 pm, through June 23. "Join us in June for a wacky evening of sex (sorta), violence (ouch!), nudity (kinda), cussing ($#!%), dragons, shadow demons, White Walkers, kings, queens, weddings, and deaths. Lots and lots of deaths!" Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission in University City. For more information: brownpapertickets.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The St. Louis Summer Players presents the musical Guys and Dolls Thursday through Saturday, June 21 - 23, at 7:30. 'Set in the Manhattan of Damon Runyon's short stories, Guys and Dolls tells of con-man Nathan Detroit's efforts to find new life for his illegal, but notorious, dice game. When their trusty venue is found out by the police, Nathan has to find a new home for his game quickly - but he doesn't have the dough to secure the one location he finds. Enter Sky Masterson, a high-rolling gambler willing to take on any honest bet with a high enough reward attached. Nathan bets Sky that he can't take the “doll” of Nathan's choosing to Havana, Cuba, with him on a date. When Sky agrees to the bet, Nathan chooses uptight Evangelist Sergeant Sarah Brown, head of Broadway's Save-a-Soul Mission. Sky thinks he's been duped, but he's in for even more of a surprise when his efforts to woo Sarah are so successful that he falls in love with her himself! Guys and Dolls takes us from bustle of Times Square to the dance clubs of Havana to the sewers of New York City as it demonstrates the great lengths to which a guy will go when he truly falls in love with a “doll.”' Performance take place on the campus of Missouri Baptist University. For more information: mobap.edu.

Stray Dog Theatre presents Ibsen's tragedy Hedda Gabler Thursdays through Saturdays through June 23. " A masterpiece of modern theatre, Hedda Gabler exposes a powerful and reckless heroine who finds herself stranded in the seemingly ordinary but dangerously imbalanced Victorian Era. Employing methods that define the modern psychological drama, the plot stealthily reveals the bitter conflicts and thwarted longings that lie just below the "civilized" interactions of daily life and unflinchingly leads us to a shocking but inevitable conclusion." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom in I Do! I Do!
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical I Do! I Do!, by the creators of The Fantasticks, through July 1. "I DO! I DO! tells the poignant story of 50 years in the married lives of Michael and Agnes. This two character musical version of the comedy/drama 'The Fourposter' takes place entirely in a bedroom and takes its audience on a whirlwind journey that begins in 1895 and ends half a century later. I DO! I DO! offers its audiences a frank look at the miracle of marriage as Michael and Agnes experience childbirth, parenthood, and the eventual settling down to face the future and their advancing years together. Originally written for the Broadway stars, Mary Martin and Robert Preston, STAGES employs the innovative theatrical hat-trick of two separate rotating casts: neither of which you will want to miss! An unabashed gift to the many couples who have walked through our doors, I DO! I DO! will be sure to steal your heart while celebrating the many triumphs and heartaches of marriage: past, present, and future!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

The Goshen Theatre Project presents The Lion King Jr. June 21 - 24. The performances take place at the Nazarene Community Center in Roxana, IL. For more information: www.goshentheatreproject.org.

Stages St. Louis presents the musical Madagascar: A Musical Adventure, based on the animated film, June 19 through July 1. "STAGES invites you to take a journey out of the Central Park Zoo and onto an enchanted desert isle with your favorite crack-a-lackin' friends from the DreamWorks blockbuster film, MADAGASCAR! Join Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the hip-hip Hippo, and, of course, mad King Julien for a musical adventure of a lifetime. Filled with gut-busting laughs galore, rockin' dance moves, and an upbeat up-to-the-minute score that includes “Move It, Move It,” exploring a brave new world was never so much ridiculous fun!” Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Orfeo and Euridice
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice through June 21. "What would you do if you lost your soulmate? For Orfeo, the answer is simple: get her back - even if it means traveling to the underworld. He braves every challenge, armed with nothing more than his music and his devotion. Little does he realize that his greatest obstacle will ultimately be his own passion. As a myth, it's a celebration of love and of music's transcendent power. As an opera, it's a ravishing masterpiece." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

Regina
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mark Blitzstein's Regina running through June 24. "Theft. Blackmail. Murder. Is there nothing that Regina Giddens won't do to satisfy her ambition? Based on Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes, and set against a Southern backdrop of spirituals, jazz, and ragtime, this deliciously twisted opera pits siblings and spouses against each other in a battle for the family business. Prepare to be scandalized - and entertained - as the renowned Susan Graham returns to Opera Theatre to portray one of the American stage's most fascinating characters." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents the tragedy Romeo and Juliet nightly except for Tuesdays through June 24. Beginning at 6:30, the Green Show presents pre-play entertainment a variety of local performers. The play begins at 8 p.m. Performances take place in Shakespeare Glen next to the Art Museum in Forest Park. For more information, visit sfstl.com.

La Traviata
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's La Traviata through June 23. "Violetta has one important rule: never fall in love. As a Parisian courtesan, her life is full of parties, admirers, and - most importantly - freedom. Then she meets Alfredo. His naive sincerity sweeps her off her feet. Just when Violetta thinks she has escaped her past, she is asked to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Will pride, love, or honor prevail? Embrace the romance of this Verdi masterpiece, featuring the directing debut of star soprano Patricia Racette" Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the screenplay The Vampire's Widow by Johnny Xeno on Monday, June 18, at 6:30 pm. "Livia's abusive husband, Eddie, is always cheating on her but things get worse when he unknowingly hooks up with a vampire. Already violent, Eddie soon grows more unstable until a confrontation with the police leaves him shot and buried. Livia's relief is short-lived however when she discovers that even his death can't free her." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

The Muny presents The Wiz opening on Tuesday, June 19, at 8:15 p.m. and running through Monday, June 25. Based on L. Frank Baum's nostalgic classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wiz is considered a feel-good favorite sparkling with heart-pounding soul, unforgettable gospel and infectious rock rhythms. Grammy Award-winner for Best Cast Show Album, and ranked as one of the highest watched live television musicals, this reimagined familiar favorite will have you ready to “Ease on Down the Road” to meet The Wiz for yourself!” Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Yeast Nation
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the rock musical Yeast Nation Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through June 23. "The world's first bio-historical musical comedy, from the mad geniuses who brought you Urinetown! It is the year 3,000,458,000 BC. The Earth's surface is a molten mass of volcanic islands and undulating waves. The atmosphere is a choking fog lit by a dim red sun. And the mighty waters of the world are inhabited only by rocks, sand, salt, more rocks, a little silt, and the great society of salt-eating yeasts - yes, yeasts! - the world's very first life form! These single-cell salt-eaters are the only living creatures on earth, and they're struggling against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called Love, and the oppression of a tyrannical yeast king. But when the king's son ventures out of the known yeastiverse, the yeasts' epic story - and ours - is changed forever." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: Radical, dude

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

L-R: Jennifer Johnson Cano and Andriana Chuchman
Photo by Ken Howard
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When Christoph Willibald Gluck's "Orfeo and Euridice" ("Orfeo ed Euridice" in the original Italian) was first performed back in 1762, it was considered somewhat radical. Opera Theatre's lively and whimsical production is radical as well, although in a very different way.

Gluck's original was innovative in the way it simplified an art form that had become noted for its convoluted plots and reliance on extended ballet sequences and elaborate staging. Gluck and his librettist, Ranieri de' Calzabigi, produced a streamlined work that concentrated entirely on the story of Orpheus and his journey to the underworld to bring his wife Euridice back to the land of the living. There are no extraneous subplots and all the music and dance sequences are designed to serve the story. It was the first of what came to be known as Gluck's "reform" operas, and its influence would be felt for years to come.

The Opera Theatre production honors that idea with a minimalist, modern dress approach. The action plays out on a bare stage, with the various settings suggested by video projections on the upstage wall. Hades, for example, is lit entirely in red with an abstract pattern reminiscent of a computer screen saver while the Elysian Fields have the same pattern in a soothing blue.

Maria Valdes
Photo by Ken Howard
Costuming is simple as well. In the first scene, which takes place on a dimly lit stage decorated only by a large photo of Euridice upstage center, Orfeo and his companions are all in black leather. The demons in Hades wear white masks and long red raincoats, while the blessed spirits in Elysium are all in white and completely covered in translucent veils. Amore, the god of love, sports "distressed" jeans, a backpack, and deliberately cheesy wings with lights. And for the final celebration of Euridice's return to life at the Temple of Love, everyone is decked out in colorful casual wear with lots of glitter.

So, no, you won't find any togas or other classical trappings here, but once you accept the idiosyncratic vision of director Ron Daniels, set designer Riccardo Hernández, and costume designer Emily Rebholz, it all makes a kind of sense. Amore is Cupid, after all, so why shouldn't he look like a teenager? And since the happy finale was written with the opera's premiere at a court celebration in mind (the name day celebrations of Emperor Francis I), why not make it look like a party, complete with balloons?

Jennifer Johnson Cano and Ensemble
Photo by Ken Howard
What really makes this "Orfeo" work, though, are the performances by the stellar cast, headed by mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano as Orfeo (originally written for a male castrato, the part is usually sung by a mezzo today). The emotional range of the role is considerable, encompassing grief, defiance, and joy, and Ms. Cano portrays all of the character's many moods convincingly. She has a wide-ranging voice with an impressive lower register and sufficient flexibility to easily navigate the showy Act I aria in which Orfeo declares his determination to journey to Hades to bring back Euridice. The number is a throwback to the earlier florid Italian style, so it only seems appropriate that Ms. Cano's virtuoso performance provoked shouts of "brava" from the audience.

Soprano Andriana Chuchman, who was so compelling in OTSL's "Shalimar the Clown" in 2016, once again impresses as Euridice. She has a rich soprano that flows like liquid gold through Euridice's confused lamentations over Orfeo's refusal to look at her on the journey back from Hades.

Soprano Maria Valdes makes her OTSL debut as Amore. She radiates cocky juvenile confidence in the role, but is also warmly sympathetic as she comforts Orfeo. Her voice has a lightness that is an excellent match for the character.

The Big Muddy Dance Company
Photo by Ken Howard
The ballet sequences are choreographed by Katarzyna Skarpetowaska, using an eclectic mix of classical ballet and jazz steps. It's a combination which, given this production's juxtaposition of the old and new, works very well. The choreography is performed by St. Louis' own Big Muddy Dance Company. Whether they're portraying threatening demons, graceful Elysian spirits, or giddy revelers, they fill the stage with life and color.

There are multiple versions of the music for Gluck's opera available, and conductor Pierre Vallet has created his own for this production. It's based largely on the one Hector Berlioz created for the Théâtre Lyrique in 1859, but with some changes suggested by Mr. Daniels. Mr. Vallet conducts the orchestra of (mostly) St. Louis Symphony musicians in a vital and energetic reading of the score, with some notable solo work by SLSO Associate Principal Oboe Phil Ross and SLSO flautists Andrea Kaplan and Jennifer Nichtman. I'm not sure I understand the logic behind putting Mr. Ross on stage for his Act I duet with Ms. Cano, though.

Mr. Daniels' vision of "Orfeo and Euridice" is, as I say, an unusual one. I don't find it entirely convincing but, unlike some recent attempts at OTSL to put a contemporary spin on a classic, it didn't seem to be actively working against the music and text. And he does create some very compelling images. At one point in the Elysian Fields scene, for example, he places the veiled chorus in the audience, in two rows on either side of the thrust stage. It's a weird, otherworldly sight.

Opera Theatre's eccentric and entertaining "Orfeo and Euridice" runs in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 21st at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of June 15, 2018

An already crowded hit list becomes even bigger, with shows by Act Inc, Stray Dog, the Muny, and Opera Theatre.

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New This Week:

Blithe Spirit
Photo by John Lamb
Act Inc presents Noël Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm through June 24. "Blithe Spirit is a comic play by Noël Coward. The play concerns the socialite and novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium and clairvoyant, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira, after the séance. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost." Performances take place in the Emerson Black Box Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, visit actincstl.com.

My take: Coward's arch take on ghostly goings-on has been so popular for so long for very good reasons. Tina Farmer calls it an "entertaining diversion" in her review for KDHX, and I'd say that summarizes the play's appeal perfectly. Act Inc has also gotten the technical demands right, it seems, which is where productions of the play can sometimes fall down.


Hedda Gabler
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents Ibsen's tragedy Hedda Gabler Thursdays through Saturdays through June 23. There will also a 2 pm on Sunday, June 17. "A masterpiece of modern theatre, Hedda Gabler exposes a powerful and reckless heroine who finds herself stranded in the seemingly ordinary but dangerously imbalanced Victorian Era. Employing methods that define the modern psychological drama, the plot stealthily reveals the bitter conflicts and thwarted longings that lie just below the "civilized" interactions of daily life and unflinchingly leads us to a shocking but inevitable conclusion." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Well, you don't need me to tell you that Hedda Gabler is one of the classics of 20th-century theatre. It is, however, easy to get it wrong and make it tedious. Needless to say, Stray Dog has done nothing of the kind, which means (to quote Tina Farmer at KDHX), "Ibsen’s dark drama is as juicy and pointedly acerbic as it is sharply perceptive and every moment is purposeful." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz concurs, noting that director Gary Bell "elicits compelling performances from his talented cast and keeps this version of Hedda Gabler intriguing and involving throughout its three acts and three hours, which never drags despite its length."


Jerome Robbins' Broadway
The Muny presents Jerome Robbins' Broadway, running through Sunday, June 17. "In its first staging ever in the world since its original Broadway production and tour, Jerome Robbins' Broadway is an epic musical anthology that honors the career highlights of Tony Award-winning director and choreographer, Jerome Robbins. Filled with mesmerizing production numbers from some of Robbins' biggest hits, including West Side Story, On the Town, Peter Pan, The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof, this is one monumental Muny premiere befitting a celebratory start to our centennial season!" Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: If you're up for the heat and humidity, this rarely-seen compilation of legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins' greatest hits is pure gold. You can read more in my review for KDHX, but the bottom line is that this is a must-see for any lover of musical theatre. It's also the first performance of this revue since its 1989 Broadway run, so this could literally be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.


Orfeo and Euridice
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice through June 21. "What would you do if you lost your soulmate? For Orfeo, the answer is simple: get her back - even if it means traveling to the underworld. He braves every challenge, armed with nothing more than his music and his devotion. Little does he realize that his greatest obstacle will ultimately be his own passion. As a myth, it's a celebration of love and of music's transcendent power. As an opera, it's a ravishing masterpiece." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: Director Ron Daniels' modern, minimalist production takes a bit of getting used to, but when all is said and done it works pretty darned well as a contemporary theatre piece while still honoring the intentions of the opera's creators. That's not an easy task. Check out my review at KDHX for more details.


Held Over:

An American Soldier
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of An American Soldier, by Huang Ro and David Henry Hwang, running through June 22. "Danny Chen is the son of Chinese immigrants, and a proud American. He enlists in the US Army in 2011, eager to serve his country. In boot camp, Danny is welcomed by his band of brothers. But in Afghanistan, his own base becomes enemy territory as military hazing turns deadly. Based on a true story, this opera asks powerful questions about what it means to be an American." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: While I'm not particularly taken with Huang Ro's score, David Henry Hwang's libretto is so strong and the performances of the cast are so compelling that I'm recommending this important new opera without hesitation. As I write in my review for KDHX, it's a work that forcefully reminds of us the gap that far too often exists between our nation's ideals and its realities, and it deserves to be seen.


Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
in I Do! I Do!Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical I Do! I Do!, by the creators of The Fantasticks, through July 1. "I DO! I DO! tells the poignant story of 50 years in the married lives of Michael and Agnes. This two character musical version of the comedy/drama 'The Fourposter' takes place entirely in a bedroom and takes its audience on a whirlwind journey that begins in 1895 and ends half a century later. I DO! I DO! offers its audiences a frank look at the miracle of marriage as Michael and Agnes experience childbirth, parenthood, and the eventual settling down to face the future and their advancing years together. Originally written for the Broadway stars, Mary Martin and Robert Preston, STAGES employs the innovative theatrical hat-trick of two separate rotating casts: neither of which you will want to miss! An unabashed gift to the many couples who have walked through our doors, I DO! I DO! will be sure to steal your heart while celebrating the many triumphs and heartaches of marriage: past, present, and future!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: Originally staged on Broadway back in 1966 and revised for a revival 30 years later, this charming if slight show will strike some familiar chords for anyone who has been married for any length of time. Despite a coupe of emotional crises that are resolved with implausible ease, the emotional stakes in this script are not high, but the appealing score (including the "My Cup Runneth Over," a lovely number that was inescapable back in the late 1960s) and polished production still make this well worth your time. Because, really, not everything has to be fraught with dramatic weight. I saw the "purple" cast, consisting of Stages regular Steve Isom and Corinne Melançon (who is also the production's dance captain). Their work is impeccable, but I don't think you can go wrong with the "red" cast of David Schmittou and Kari Ely either.



Regina
Photo by Ken Howard

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mark Blitzstein's Regina running through June 24. "Theft. Blackmail. Murder. Is there nothing that Regina Giddens won't do to satisfy her ambition? Based on Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes, and set against a Southern backdrop of spirituals, jazz, and ragtime, this deliciously twisted opera pits siblings and spouses against each other in a battle for the family business. Prepare to be scandalized - and entertained - as the renowned Susan Graham returns to Opera Theatre to portray one of the American stage's most fascinating characters." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, Regina is an American classic, and the Opera Theater production is a triumph in every respect. Don't miss it. Its condemnation of the ethical vacuum at the heart of crony capitalism and the ugly brutality of those who practice it could hardly be more relevant today. You should not miss it.


La Traviata
Photo by Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's La Traviata through June 23. "Violetta has one important rule: never fall in love. As a Parisian courtesan, her life is full of parties, admirers, and - most importantly - freedom. Then she meets Alfredo. His naive sincerity sweeps her off her feet. Just when Violetta thinks she has escaped her past, she is asked to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Will pride, love, or honor prevail? Embrace the romance of this Verdi masterpiece, featuring the directing debut of star soprano Patricia Racette" Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: There was a time (before November 2016) when I would have suggested that the mix toxic chauvinism and smug self-righteousness of the males characters in Verdi's opera was starting to look dated. Now I'm not so sure. In any case, this new production is getting rave notices for the quality of the singing and acting on display. Having finally seen it myself, I have to agree that, while it may not be my favorite Traviata (that position is still held by Union Avenue's wonderful 2014 production), it's an awfully good one. Besides, it stars the immensely talented Sydney Mancasola, who was so impressive in OTSL's La Rondine in 2015.

Yeast Nation
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of the rock musical Yeast Nation Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through June 23. "The world's first bio-historical musical comedy, from the mad geniuses who brought you Urinetown! It is the year 3,000,458,000 BC. The Earth's surface is a molten mass of volcanic islands and undulating waves. The atmosphere is a choking fog lit by a dim red sun. And the mighty waters of the world are inhabited only by rocks, sand, salt, more rocks, a little silt, and the great society of salt-eating yeasts - yes, yeasts! - the world's very first life form! These single-cell salt-eaters are the only living creatures on earth, and they're struggling against a food shortage, a strange new emotion called Love, and the oppression of a tyrannical yeast king. But when the king's son ventures out of the known yeastiverse, the yeasts' epic story - and ours - is changed forever." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

My take: One of the takeaways from the success of Urientown is that you can make a musical out of pretty much anything. So it should be no surprise that Mark Hollmann and Gret Kotis decided to follow up on the success of that first show with a musical about that most song-inducing of subjects, salt-eating yeasts. The show, as Tina Farmer writes at KDHX, features "vibrant color and effective performances that are delightfully engaging and thoroughly satisfying. You might learn a little science if you listen closely, but you're sure to leave the theater with a smile, a melody in your head and a new appreciation for our distant neighbors those salt-eating yeasts." Sounds...um...tasty.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: The age of gold

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

The ensemble in the West Side Story suite
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The Muny is celebrating its centennial this season, and they're kicking it off this week with a big, bright theatrical present in the form of the musical revue "Jerome Robbins' Broadway."

A compilation of musical numbers from shows either directed or choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins, "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" was originally presented on Broadway in 1989, where it was directed and choreographed by Mr. Robbins himself. It ran for 633 performances and 44 previews.

No theatre has produced it since then, primarily because of the massive legal and financial hurdles involved. The individual numbers have to be approved for performance by the estates of nearly two dozen composers and authors, and the production involves the work of dozens of singers and dancers (62 in the Broadway original, 59 at the Muny).

L-R: Drew Redington, Leeds Hill, Garen Schreiber
in "New York, New York" from On the Town
It's a massive undertaking, which is why the current Muny production will probably be a once in a lifetime opportunity for lovers of musical theatre. Although it clocks in at just under three hours, the Muny revival lacks two of the numbers from the Broadway version, but it's otherwise as close as you can get to that famed original. If you love a good musical, in short, "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" is a must-see event.

Because the show is essentially a "greatest hits" compilation, there isn't a single number that isn't at least good, and most are great, although I found some more memorable than others.

Scenes from shows that are rarely seen were the most interesting for me, beginning with the "Charleston" sequence from "Billion Dollar Baby," a 1945 show set in the "Roaring 20s" with a score by noted composer Morton Gould. The setup is deceptively simple: groups of classic 1920s types--flappers, college kids in raccoon coats, gangsters, slumming socialites in evening dress--dash into and out of a speakeasy. They all do character-specific versions of the titular dance step, often combined with a stiff-legged, rocking motion that makes them seem to glide across the stage as if pulled by an invisible string.

L-R: Berklea Going, Marina Lazzaretto, Melissa Hunter McCann,
Peter Garza, Chris Lingner in "Charleston"
from Billion Dollar Baby
On that foundation, Gould and Robbins build an elaborate and wildly inventive sequence crackling with energy. Unlike most of the other numbers, there's no singing here at all, unless you count the occasional bit of spoken period slang ("It's the bees knees!" "Whoopee!") used to punctuate small moments. It's pure dance heaven.

"I Still Get Jealous" (from "High Button Shoes," 1947) is far more modest, featuring only two performers: Maggie Lakis and Rob McClure. Their elegant, Vaudeville-inspired soft shoe is a delight, and allows the rest of the company to recuperate a bit after the strenuous "Charleston." Ms. Lakis and Mr. McClure (who also acts as the show's narrator) are also impressive as Golde and Tevye in the "Fiddler on the Roof" selections in Act II.

The "Bathing Beauty Ballet" (to the tune of "On a Sunday By the Sea"), the other selection from "High Button Shoes," goes on just a bit too long for my taste. But the Mack Sennett-inspired chase scene, with dancers throwing themselves in and out of doors like a Feydeau farce on steroids, is so astonishingly complex and performed with such superhuman precision that I was ultimately captivated.

L-R: Drew Redington, Sarah Bowden, Leeds Hil, Jenny Powers,
Garen Scribner in "Ya Got Me" from On the Town
"The Small House of Uncle Thomas" from "The King and I," is another high point in the evening. In it, Tuptim (Sarah Bowden), one of the King of Siam's slaves, narrates a performance of her own adaptation of the book "Uncle Tom's Cabin," that Anna has loaned her. The play within a play is done in the manner of Siamese ballet, with arms and legs often cocked at unnatural right angles. The Muny cast carries off the highly stylized movement beautifully, led by Erica Wong in the demanding role of Eliza.

And let's hear it for Jenny Powers' smoky, sultry delivery of the Irving Berlin novelty number "Mr. Monotony," about a trombone player whose limited repertory drives his wife into the arms of a clarinetist. It was originally written for (and then dropped from) the 1948 film "Easter Parade" as well as the stage musicals "Miss Liberty" and "Call Me Madam." The fourth time is the charm, apparently. The dance number that followed featured dramatically athletic performances from Alexa De Barr, Garen Scribner, and Sean Rozanski.

For most audience members, I expect, the big hits were the selections from "On the Town" and West Side Story." The latter is probably the most familiar, if only because of the immense popularity the 1961 film version, which Mr. Robbins co-directed. Both are filled with the mix of classical, jazz, and modern dance moves that were typical of his work, and the versatile cast of singers and dancers the Muny has assembled here do them full justice.

Rob McClure and ensemble in
"On a Sunday By the Sea" from High Button Shoes
Sailors Chip, Ozzie, and Gaby (Drew Redington, Leeds Hill, and Garen Scribner) seem to defy gravity as they zip across the stage in "On the Town." Ensemble members posture aggressively and leap through the fight sequences in "West Side Story." Hildy and Claire (Jenny Powers and Sarah Bowden) join the sailors for a raucous comedy number in "Ya Got Me." And the entire ensemble delivers a moving version of "Somewhere" to conclude the first act.

"I'm Flying," from the ever-popular "Peter Pan," was a big hit with the audience as well, with Sarah Marie Jenkins and the three Darling kids (Elizabeth Teeter, Gabriel Cytron, and Cole Joyce) zooming around the stage on flying rigs. The stagehands may be responsible for keeping performers airborne, but it takes a skilled dancer like Ms. Jenkins to make it look graceful.

This is, in short, musical theatre gold.

The program lists Harrison Beal, Dan Knechtges, and Ralph Perkins as "additional choreographers." I'm not sure where Robbins's work ends and theirs begins, but the overall result certainly feels like a Robbins show, which is probably what really matters.

L-R: Sarah Marie Jenkins, Elizbeth Teeter, Gabriel Cytron,
Cole Joyce in "I'm Flying" from Peter Pan
Robin L. McGee's seemingly endless array of eye-catching costumes, Paige Hathaway's bright sets, and Nathan W. Scheuer's video projections all add to the strong visual appeal of the show. Michael Horsley conducts the orchestra in an expert rendition of the long and sometimes complex score (even in pared-down orchestrations, Leonard Bernstein's music can be tricky). And director Cynthia Onrubia pulls everything together into a satisfying whole.

Yes, the unseasonably hot June weather this year can make a trip to the Muny less comfortable than it was in previous decades, but it's worth it for the unique experience that is "Jerome Robbins' Broadway." Performances continue nightly at 8:15 through Sunday on the outdoor stage in Forest Park.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Review: The marriage of true minds

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
Photo by Peter Wochniak
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Looking for a lightweight, feel-good summer musical that sends you away with a smile on your face and probably a memorable tune or two in your head? If so, let me direct your attention to Stages St. Louis's excellent production of I Do! I Do!, which runs through July 1st, 2018.

When it premiered on Broadway in 1966, this two-character musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the creators of the runaway hit The Fantasticks, was already something of an exercise in nostalgia. Like the play on which it's based--Jan de Hartog's The Fourposter from 1951--I Do! I Do! tells the story of the marriage of Michael and Agnes, from their hesitant honeymoon night in 1895, through the birth of their children, Michael's success as an author, and their wistful preparation, in old age, to move to a smaller house and turn the home over to a new couple just starting out in life. In the play that departure takes place in 1925. The musical extends it to 1945, but in both cases the action remains firmly rooted in a sepia-tinted past

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Like any married couple, Michael and Agnes have their ups and downs, but the latter are few and far between and are reconciled with unconvincing ease. It hardly matters; Mr. Jones' book is clearly about celebrating marriage, not analyzing it. And Michael and Agnes sing in the final number ("This House"), "Marriage is a very good thing / Though it's far from easy / Still, it's filled this house with life and love." If you want realism and ambiguity, look to Sondheim.

Possibly the greatest asset of I Do! I Do! is the score. The show's biggest hit, "My Cup Runneth Over," was a huge success in the 1960s for Ed Ames, and was also recorded by everyone from The Lennon Sisters to Aretha Franklin. Its gentle celebration of love is still calculated to bring a lump to the throat, while "The Honeymoon is Over" remains a caustically funny picture of a love boat that's close to sinking. The Act II opener, "Where Are the Snows?," is a whimsical picture of a couple looking back on their younger days, while the title song paints an amusing picture of the naïveté of young love ("You can throw away your every care and doubt / For that's what married life is all about"). More importantly, the songs advance the story and illuminate character, which is ultimately the test of a good musical theatre score.

The Stages production is actually two shows in one, with two separate casts the alternate performance nights. The night we saw it, Michael and Agnes were played by Steve Isom and Corinne Melançon (who is also the show's dance captain). They alternate with David Schmittou and Kari Ely, both of whom will be familiar to Stages audiences.

Mr. Isom has a long history with Stages. In the past I have only seen him in supporting roles, so it was good to finally have a chance to appreciate his work in a leading part. He perfectly captures both Michael's pompous cluelessness as well as his tenderness, and proves to be a deft physical comic. Vocally, he reminded me more than once of the late, great Robert Preston--very appropriate, given that Preston was the original Michael on Broadway.

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Ms. Melançon is sheer delight as Agnes. Her "Flaming Agnes," in which Agnes envisions life as a very gay divorcée, is a comic tour de force, while her performance of Agnes's Act II identity crisis, "What Is a Woman?," is appropriately moving. Vocally strong and physically graceful, she glides through director Michael Hamilton's fairly straightforward choreography with ease.

The main set piece for productions of I Do! I Do! has always been the four-poster bed that gave the original play its title, and scenic designer James Wolk has come up with an impressive-looking one for Stages. It's also mobile enough to be spun around and quickly rolled upstage behind a sliding wall when it's not needed for a scene. That allows for more set pieces than might otherwise be the case on the Reim Center's relatively shallow stage, including separate dressers for Agnes and Michael.

I Do! I Do! isn't one of the 20th century's great contributions to musical theatre, but it's an agreeable diversion. And the Stages production is sheer perfection. Maybe, in this summer of "universal brouhaha" (to quote Tom Lehrer), that's enough. Performances continue through July 1st in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.