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My take: When this production first hit town back in February of 2013, I dubbed it "an impressive piece of dance theatre that succeeds both as Spectacle and as Art." The first (and least sexually explicit) of Orff’s Trionfi trilogy of choral theatre works, Carmina Burana derives its title from an 1847 collection of secular poetry by anonymous authors from the 12th and 13th centuries that turned up in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery in Beuren, Germany. As befits their "vulgar" status, the poems celebrate not the theoretical joys of heaven but rather the practical ones of earth: spring, sex, food, sex, drink, gambling, and sex. They also recognize something that we moderns have lost track of, to our detriment: the heavy influence of blind chance on our lives. The setting of "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" ("Fortune, Empress of the World"), which opens and closes the work, reminds us that the wheel of fortune is always turning and that none of us should get too cocky, as the universe has a tendency to dope-slap the excessively smug. While Carmina Burana has been a popular concert item at the St. Louis Symphony in recent years, chances to see a fully staged version are rare, and if 2013 is any indication this is one of the best.
|I and You|
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
My take: As I write in my review, this play is a kind of dramaturgical magic trick. For most of its 85-minute length it looks like a conventional (but sharply written) buddy story about a pair of teens who find unexpected connections and friendship while working on a school project based on Walt Whitman's visionary poetry collection "Leaves of Grass." And then Ms. Gunderson pulls the rabbit out of the hat and shows us (to quote the Firesign Theatre) that "everything you know is wrong." The fact that she does this in a way that is entirely plausible and consistent with everything that has gone before is a testament to her strength as a dramatist. It's an intelligent script given a flawless presentation.
My take: I first saw Mr. Thomas shortly after he arrived in St. Louis last year at The Cabaret Project open mic night (which I host) . He impressed me (and everyone else who has seen him) with his smooth, charming song delivery, with its echoes of the great Nat "King" Cole and other classic crooners.
Photo: Joan Marcus
My take: Let me state, for the record, that I am not now nor have I ever been a fan of the 1970s pop quartet ABBA. When they were cranking out hits like “Dancing Queen”, I was sneering at them and listening to Elvis Costello and The Ramones. I say this not to make you think I'm a Cool Guy (TM) but rather to reassure you that when I describe Mamma Mia! as a completely captivating evening of musical theatre, it's not because of any latent nostalgia for platform shoes and white spandex. No, it's because producer Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and playwright Catherine Johnson (all from Britain, where this show began and where the population have in inexplicable love affair for the Swedish group) have put together a fast-paced, funny, and occasionally even touching show that can send even a die-hard ABBA hater like yours truly out of the theatre with a smile on his face and a handful of those bouncy, hook-laden melodies rattling around in his brain. We first saw this in London a few years after its 1998 opening and found it to be great fun. The American version changes everyone from English to American, which seems unnecessary, but it's still a hoot.
The COCA Theatre Company presents Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7. "This contemporary pop/rock musical introduces the audience to an array of characters ranging from a young man who has determined that basketball is his ticket out of poverty to a woman standing on a ledge 57 stories above Fifth Avenue. What emerges is a world on the brink of change filled with extraordinary people moving it forward." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.
My take: Songs for a New World is an interesting hybrid of song cycle, musical revue, and book musical. There's narrative thread, but it's inferred from the lyrics rather than stated in dialog (of which there is none), which may explain why this remarkably rich show isn't done more often. I haven't seen COCA's production, so I'm recommending this strictly on the strength of the material.
My take: When I first saw Storm Large last spring at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival, I said she was a one-woman entertainment conglomerate: rock star, author, actor, songwriter, and creator of the much-praised one-woman show "Crazy Enough" (based on her memoir of the same name). She's a hypnotic, compelling, and energetic performer, and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice. So, yeah, you should definitely see her.
Act Two Theatre presents the satirical musical Urinetown, November 6-15. "Winner of three TONY Awards, three Outer Critic's Circle Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, and two Obie Awards, Urinetown is a hilarious musical satire of the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, municipal politics and musical theatre itself! Hilariously funny and touchingly honest, Urinetown provides a fresh perspective of one of America's greatest art forms. In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year drought, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity's most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he's had enough, and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom!" Performances take place in the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO 63376. For more information: act2theater.com.
My take: Here's another recommendation based entirely on the show itself, since I haven't seen Act Two's production. Urinetown takes on a serious subject—water and the way we take it for granted—in an entertaining way. As climate change dries up glaciers and creates water shortages in glacier-fed rivers and lakes, this show's message is, if anything, even more relevant now than when I first saw it many years ago.
Photo: Eric Woolsey
My take: Sometimes a play's film adaptation will completely eclipse the original—just ask Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, whose 1940 drama Everybody Comes to Rick's would achieve fame as Casablanca. In the case of the 1938 thriller Angel Street, the 1944 film adaptation Gaslight (as the play was originally name in Britain) has become so familiar that the Rep adding it to the title. In any case, the original seems to have retained its suspense, despite the fact that pretty much everybody on the planet now knows the plot twists. "This is expertly crafted entertainment that will surely get you in the mood for the Halloween season," writes Chris Gibson at Broadwayworld.com, "and I highly recommend it!" At KDHX, Sarah Richardson says it's "an enjoyable, diverting show with a delightful cast and fantastic design." I agree about the cast, although it seems clear to me that the director has asked both leads to overact, especially in the final scene, with detracted from my enjoyment of what is, overall, a good production.