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New This Week:
|Jeffrey M. Wright|
My take: Jeff, as I have written in the past, has classic “leading man” charisma, an equally classic crooner’s voice and substantial musical theatre credentials. Granted, I have worked with Jeff on stage in the past and know him fairly well so I'm not exactly disinterested. But I know real talent when I see it, and he's got it.
Photo: Joe Angeles
My take: “The Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX, "is part poetic dream, part nightmare. And though it’s set in a small Tennessee town in 1916 its thrill and its horror are frighteningly resonant with rising populist urges we see in headlines every day. It’s a play you will never forget...This Wash U production is an example of the very best that Educational Theatre can offer—and it can offer very fine things indeed. The student cast are, without exception, excellent. The designers of set, lights, costumes and sound quite perfectly serve the needs of this play. And I’ve never heard more wonderfully managed live music." University-based theatre companies have the kinds of resources that can allow them to take on risky and unusual material that other companies can't, and Washington University has been at the forefront of that kind of theatre lately.
My take: Robert is a very open and engaging personality on stage with a smooth, seamless voice that is a good match for Mr. Allen's music. The fact that he created this show in collaboration with cabaret powerhouses Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen (both fiercely talented performers in their own right) is icing on the cake.
|L-R: Maria Kanyova and Neil Nelson|
My take: We saw the final dress rehearsal of this production on Wednesday, and while there were a few minor technical glitches of the sort one would expect in a final dress, the production looked very solid on the whole. The principal singers—tenor Jorge Pita Carreras as Manrico, soprano Maria Kanyova as Leonora, mezzo Claudia Chapa as Azucena, and baritone Neil Nelson as Count di Luna—all have impressive voices. Ms. Kanyova, Ms. Chapa, and (especially) Mr. Nelson are also fine actors, highly invested in their characters (not always a given in opera, even in these more theatrically aware days). The orchestra sounds great and the Viragh Center is one of the best venues for musical theatre in town.
|Beautiful—The Carole King Musical|
Photo: Joan Marcus
My take: Abby Mueller shines in the title role of this bright, fast-paced jukebox musical loosely based on the early years of Carole King's songwriting career, culminating with her emergence as a singer in her own right with her best selling Tapestry LP in 1971. The performers playing pop idols like The Drifters, The Shirelles, Little Eva, and The Righteous Brothers, though, really steal the show. There's just enough plot to keep things going without getting in the way of a nostalgic score that highlights hits by King and her first songwriting partner (and first husband) Gerry Goffin as well as equally well-known tunes by their fellow songwriters at Aldon Music, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Go and enjoy.
Photo: Peter Wochniak
My take: The playwright who gave us the brilliant Invisible Hand at the Rep Studio back in 2012 it again with a powerful portrayal of the problems immigrants face, especially when they're part of a demonized and poorly understood minority. How much can you assimilate before you lose your own identity? And is it ever enough for people who will always see you as the "other" no mater what you do or say? We learn from history that we do not learn from history, which makes this a very relevant play these days.