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New This Week:
|Andy Christopher as Buddy Holly|
My take: This is a classic "jukebox musical" in that it's mostly a celebration of the music of Buddy Holly grafted on to a lightweight biography of the singer, who died tragically young (age 22) in the light plane crash that also claimed the lives of pop stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (an event memorialized as "the day the music died" in Don McLean's "American Pie"). Great art it ain't, but it looks the the Muny is giving it a big, flashy, and very polished production. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer describes this as "a rousing, high energy tribute to the prolific musician that highlights not only his status as an early rock icon, but also his contributions to the civil rights movement as demonstrated through both his actions and a genuine appreciation for the music that developed from the African American blues tradition." "Led by the frenzied and inspired performance by Andy Christopher in the title role," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "it’s so easy to enjoy the sounds of 1950s pioneer rock on The Muny stage."
|Photo: John Lamb|
My take: You wouldn't know it from the ominous opening chords, but Don Giovanni is technically an opera buffa - an 18th-century mix of the comic and the dramatic with the emphasis on the former. And while the libretto by Mozart's frequent collaborator Lorenzo DaPonte has more than its share of humor, it also has love, lust, intrigue, betrayal, murder, a hint of the supernatural, and a morally uplifting finale in which we are reminded that "sinful lives will end in hell." No wonder this particular version of the Don Juan legend has remained in the repertory since 1787. What Don Giovanni mostly has, of course, is some of Mozart's finest music for the theatre - hardly surprising, since it dates from the same year as the "Prague" Symphony (K. 504), the K. 515 and K. 516 string quintets, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It also boasts an almost perfect balance between action and introspection. "From the moment that Scott Schoonover raised his baton to invoke that incredible athletic overture," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX, "it was re-confirmed to me that Don Giovanni is indeed the zenith of 18th Century opera...As is its wonderful common practice Union Avenue Opera has found superlative voices for this production." "Union Avenue Opera has opened its 21st season with a strong and wonderful performance that features many excellent voices," agrees Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "some familiar and others making their UAO debut, in a production guided masterfully by conductor Scott Schoonover and director Jon Truitt."
|The Killing of Sister George|
My take: Marcus's 1964 play was considered pretty scandalous in its day, mostly because of the implied (but never explicitly stated) lesbian relationship between the two main characters (a relationship made more manifest in the 1968 film version). It looks less shocking these days, but it still plays out as pretty dark farce. The Max and Louie production has apparently not downplayed any of that. "Director Brooke Edwards," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "neither shies away from nor overemphasizes the cruelty inherent in the women's relationship or June's apparent dislike of nearly everyone who crosses her path..The show is a dark farce, almost a play of very bad manners, and the humor helps to keep the tone light and the action moving forward, and I very much enjoyed the performances while appreciating, if not quite embracing, each character's choices."
|“Cold in Hand” by Steve Apostolina|
My take: Reviews of part one of the festival indicate that it's something of a mixed bag, with the best notices going to LaBute's own contribution "Kandahar," about a returning war veteran whose inability to adjust to life stateside has violent consequences. But that's what you should expect from a festival of new plays by new playwrights. "Take off the rose-colored glasses and look at different aspects of human nature, as seen through the eyes of prolific playwright Neil LaBute and emerging provocative writers" writes Lynn Venhaus at the Belleville News-Democrat. "LaBute, who peers into the blackness of men’s souls and writes clearly about good and evil, presents his distinctive style, as well as the contest winners, over the next few weekends at the LaBute New Play Festival." "The first set of plays provides a lot of variety," writes the St. Louis Theatre Snob, "played out on Patrick Huber’s minimal and incredibly versatile set, and is a promising start to this year’s festival. "
My take: Joe Hanrahan has become something of a one-man theatre company over the past several years, taking one-character plays to unusual venues including the St. Lou Fringe (where his House was a highlight this year). Herbie's Vintage 72 certainly qualifies as non-traditional theatre space: an upscale French brasserie-style restaurant that has been a fixture in the Central West End for decades now.
St. Nicholas is the story of an alcoholic theatre critic who becomes enamored of a not-overly-talented actress, only to find himself sucked into a cult of vampires. "The plot and action represent, in many ways, a rather straightforward tale of redemption in the making" writes Tina Farmer at KDHX. "It is Hanrahan's skillful interpretation that compels us to lean in and listen to his tale. Through inflection, movement and direct invitation, he lures us in then wanders, pontificates and weaves this strangely satisfying and textured story." The Good Thief is the story of a Dublin burglary that goes wrong and erupts into a gun battle with multiple casualties. "The episode he recounts is so violent that at times," writes Judy Newmark at stltoday.com, "you might find yourself covering your eyes or your mouth — only to realize that, of course, there’s nothing to see but a small man who has to use his fingers to make a “gun.” That’s the power of good storytelling."
My take: The Fantasticks is one of the great musicals of the past century, with a memorable score and a funny and literate book. Based on Rostand's The Romancers, the show has a very Gallic outlook on life and love that makes it unusual in American musical theatre and always worth seeing. "If you are among the few who have never seen a production of The Fantasticks," writes Bob Wilcox at KDHX, "the current one at Insight Theatre Company offers you a splendid introduction to this ever-charming musical."