STAGES St. Louis closes out their season with the crowd-pleasing favorite South Pacific. The musical, set during World War Two introduces audiences to a crew stationed on an island in the South Pacific region, away from the main battlefields of the War, but providing support, information, and care to soldiers. Engaging performances and a light as a feather tone enable the show to impart some serious lessons about accepting others and getting along.

Ensign Nellie Forbush, our leading lady, a nurse stationed on the island and played with aplomb and spunk by Leah Berry, has recently met and fallen in love with Emile de Becque, a native Frenchman who has lived on the island for years, played by Michael Halling. Their romance is told not only against the backdrop of the war, but also the lore of the islands, particularly the legendary Bali Ha'i, described as a paradise just a short boat ride away from the base. These are the islands where sailors and soldiers go to relax, to recover from injuries, or to find comfort and friendship from the locals. 

Without stating so overtly, the affair between the nurse and businessman stands in contrast to the usually temporary liaisons between local, brown skinned women and the predominantly white American forces. An often-overlooked aspect of the musical is how the show successfully interjects questions about racism and segregation in a way that fits, contextually, with the plot. In order to find love and happiness, both Ensign Forbush and Lieutenant Joseph Cable, played with an all-American appeal by Matthew Hydzik, must acknowledge and overcome the casual racism of their upbringing. 

Berry is effusive and always optimistic as Forbush, with a beguiling charm that almost excuses some of her behavior, and her voice capably handles the score and range of the character. Halling is a bit mysterious as the Frenchman, with a voice that smoothes over all misgivings the moment he begins to sing. Hydzik gives Cable range and emotional depth. His scenes with Sydney Jones, as Liat, Bloody Mary's daughter and the object of Cable's conflicted affection, move from heartwarming to heartbreaking. 

The supporting cast is as impressive as the leads. Joanne Javien is conniving and commanding as Bloody Mary, her rendition of "Bali Ha'i" is at once alluring and haunting. Spencer Jones and Elle Wesley are charming as de Becque's children, their opening "Dites-Moi" perfectly sets the tone and temperament of the show. Mark Diconzo delights as Luther Billis, whether he's clowning around with the guys or mooning over Nurse Forbush. Myles McHale, Chris Tipp, John Flack, Steve Isom, and Kari Ely are among the standouts in an all-round capable cast.

One of the other notable elements of the musical that is often forgotten is that not everyone gets a happily ever after. The sense of loss of life, as well as the cost of war in lives and dollars, is referenced frequently throughout the show. And prejudices that remain today are emphasized by the relationship between Cable and Liat. The company stages their liaison in a gentle, strictly PG love scene, but the follow up scenes, when Bloody Mary tries to negotiate a marriage, when Cable wrestles with very real feelings he's been taught to reject, and when Liat has her heart broken, are poignant moments that deserve to linger. Even the way Forbush struggles with her feelings for de Becque and his children feels current and worth reflection.

Filled with memorable songs and motivated conflict, the plot moves along well, though I wish some of the pacing were picked up. There are times when the show seems to slow down unnecessarily. I also expected more from the choreography and execution of the songs. The stage, light, sound, and costume design all suit the show, with costumes that nicely reflect the period and occasionally add to the humor. The familiar and well-known songs are nicely turned, but feel a bit lacking in excitement and emotional connection, and there are times when it feels the cast is "going through the routine."

All in all, however, this production of South Pacific, running through October 8, 2017, is a fine rendition of classic American musical entertainment. The cast and crew at STAGES bring the story and themes to life, guaranteeing a pleasant evening. There just seems to be a little something lacking.

 

Avoid the heat this weekend by spending some time in a local theater! Welcome to this week's KDHX In Performance feature, previewing The Feast, by St. Louis native Cory Finley. There are also numerous shows continuing their run this week, ensuring a performance of interest for nearly everyone.

St. Louis Actors' Studio kicks off its eleventh season with the taut, twisting, and psychologically probing The Feast, in performance through October 8, 2017. The 2014 play, which premiered at the Flea Theater under the title Sunk, traces the impact on Matt and Anna's relationship when the sewers under their apartment open up and begin speaking. Matt's art is getting darker, strangers seem to know his fate -- storm clouds are clearly gathering directly over the apartment. Mixing traditional and mythological themes with modern realities, the show is a study of character, situation, and fear that questions our perceptions of reality as it takes multiple turns along the path to its conclusion. 

Finley, a John Burroughs School graduate, is an established playwright and the writer and director of Thoroughbred, an official 2017 Sundance Film Festival NEXT program selection. In The Feast, he smartly mixes the comic and disturbing, sometimes in surprisingly creepy ways, while creating interesting, complex situations grounded in our everyday relationships and interactions. The three-person show under the direction of John Pierson features Spencer Sickmann, Jennifer Theby Quinn, and Ryan Foizey. 

The company is offering two opportunities for audiences to see the show and meet the playwright. Finley will be in attendance for the opening night performance, Friday, September 22, and will join the director and cast for a post-show reception at the West End Grill and Pub. On Sunday, September 24, the play's director John Pierson will lead a talk back with the author and cast following the 3pm performance. Audiences are invited to attend either of these events at no additional charge.

Continuing this weekend: Tesseract Theatre presents Coupler a story set in motion on an urban train. The charming play, running through September 24, 2017, follows the twists and turns in the lives of the riders of the last train on London's Northern Line. Elements of magic, mystery, and a little pixie dust are thrown in as the six passengers learn to connect, listen, and work with each other. 

Unsuspecting Susan, continuing through September 30, 2017, is a humorous, sometimes haunting look at motherhood from the newest company on the block, Inevitable Theatre Company. The chatty show, starring St. Louis' favorite Donna Weinsting takes a surprising turn when the divorcees world is shattered by news about her son.

STAGES St. Louis wraps up their season with the always crowd-pleasing South Pacific, continuing through October 8, 2017. The musical set in World War II is filled with engaging performances and memorable songs that helped solidify Rodgers and Hammerstein's work as the upper echelon of classic American theater.

A heartwarming look at contemporary families and aging, the hilarious and insightful DOT continues through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep. The Shealy Holiday celebration gets real, and really funny, as siblings Shelly, Donnie, and Averie learn to cope with their mother's dementia. 

Inventive staging and choreography add to the transformative The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in performance through October 1, 2017 at the Rep. Intellectually brilliant, socially awkward, and living with autism, 15-year old Christopher is determined to discover the truth about Wellington the dog. He learns much more than he expected, and audiences may as well. 

The sweet natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1, 2017. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

 

Welcome to this week's KDHX In Performance feature, where you'll find a little something for everyone: a story that moves across town and boundaries, a one-woman show filled with insight, musical romance on a Pacific island, a visit to St. Louis by one of the Bard's most famous kings, and a family-oriented tale of change and growth. There's also a number of excellent productions continuing in performance, so, what's holding you back? Peruse the shows below and go see a play!

Tesseract Theatre presents Coupler a story set in motion on an urban train. The new play by Meredith Dayna Levy, directed by company member Katie Pallazolla, follows the twists and turns in the lives of the occupants on the last train on London's Northern line. Elements of magic, mystery, and a little pixie dust are thrown in as the six passengers learn to connect, listen, and work with each other. They may eventually grow up; it's inevitable after all, as are lessons on love and trust.

Company artistic director Taylor Gruenloh was immediately attracted to the contemporary and relatable story, and inspired by the location. "We're excited about this production of Meredith's play, because this will be the first production of Coupler that allows the audience to come and sit on the train between stops. Not quite immersive, not quite audience participation, just a little magic in the experience." Coupler runs through September 24, 2017 at the .Zack in the Grand Center Arts District.

"For my birthday, September 15th, I thought I would do something terrifying and exciting and open in a one woman play." That's the first reply you get from local favorite Donna Weinsting when discussing Unsuspecting Susan a humorous, sometimes haunting look at motherhood from the newest company on the block, Inevitable Theatre Company. Weinsting, for one, is happy to welcome new talent and old friends to her city, stating that "Working with Robert Neblett, who brought the project to me and directs, has been a labor of love." 

Divorcee Susan Chester is a pleasant, upper-class woman whose world is forever altered by an act of unspeakable violence. "The play is a British one so I get to talk fancy and say fun words like "whinging" which I didn't think was a real word until I heard it on Game of Thrones," notes Weinsting before turning more introspective. "I felt a real connection when I picked up the script and read that when they brought it to the United States, it played at 59E59 St. Theatre in New York, which is where I performed the Neil LaBute New Play Festival last January." Opening this weekend and continuing through September 30, 2017, Unsuspecting Susan comically explores the depth of a mother's love, and Donna learned all those lines just so you'd come and see her.

STAGES St. Louis wraps up their season with the always crowd-pleasing South Pacific, continuing through October 8, 2017. The musical set in World War II is filled with memorable songs that helped solidify Rodgers and Hammerstein's work as the upper echelon of classic American theater. Surprisingly, the story also introduces ideas of racial tolerance and harmony while subtly asking if the personal and national price of war is really a cost we want to bear. Not everyone gets a happy ending, and those who do must confront their prejudice and transform. Still, the entertaining show is filled with a sense of fun and adventure; even the serious subjects are delivered with pleasant harmonies and a positive tone.

There are also a number of productions that can only be seen this weekend, adding to the sense of seasonal celebration. The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents its sixth annual 'Shakespeare in the Streets' production, Blow, Winds, an adaptation of King Lear set in St. Louis. Local step company The Gentlemen of Vision and a 60-person choir, with members from local churches and high schools, join local professional actors in an energetic and entertaining performance. 

The free show will be performed at on the steps of the Central Library in downtown St. Louis at 8pm September 15 to 17, 2017. Seating begins at 6pm, food and beverages are available for purchase, and audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs.

The Metro Theater Company is opening two performances of Jeremy Schaefer's Games Dad Didn't Play to public audiences. The touching family-oriented show, intended for audiences aged 6 and older, introduces us to young Lucas and his mother. The two have moved to a new city, and a new school, in order to start a new life. The award-winning play imparts lessons on understanding your past and creating your own future. Performances are at the Grandel Theatre Saturday, September 16 at 7pm and Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 2pm.

Continuing this weekend: A heartwarming look at contemporary families and aging, the hilarious and insightful DOT continues through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep. The Shealy Holiday celebration gets real, and really funny, as siblings Shelly, Donnie, and Averie learn to cope with their mother's dementia. 

Inventive staging and choreography add to the transformative The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Rep. Intellectually brilliant, socially awkward, and living with autism, 15-year old Christopher is determined to discover the truth about Wellington the dog. He learns much more than he expected, and audiences may as well. 

The sweet natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

 

 

 

If you've ever been in a college production you know that almost every cast party must include a little parody of the play on which you've all been working so hard. In 1982 Gerard Allesandrini, an unemployed actor, brought that special joy to an Off-Broadway house and spoofed dozens of the musicals that have become Broadway icons. The revue he wrote is called Forbidden Broadway, and his new lyrics for hit show tunes were dazzlingly funny. Well, the show keeps on going. It's been performed 9,000 times. It's been showered with awards, and over these thirty-five years Allesandrini has updated it twenty-one times. 

Now the venerable Kay's Theatrical Korps has opened a strong production of it. This latest version is called Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits. Though the show was written for only four actors singing umpteen roles, this KTK production has a cast of, I think, twenty-three -- and there are some bright talents among them. Under the very able direction of Kyle Kranes-Rutz with musical direction by Pam Goerss, these folks present a most enjoyable evening. I laughed a lot. Musical theater aficionados will especially love it, as familiarity with the great shows being spoofed lets one catch every joke and feel like an insider. But it's really a show for everybody. 

Everything is fair game. What are the hopes of an "Annie" who must sing "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll be thirty tomorrow!"

 In Sondheim shows "the words are the stars" and his self-indulgently busy, complex and difficult lyrics drive singers (and audiences) crazy -- especially when they must be sung at "circus tempo". In "Oh, No, Carol" everyone begs Carol Channing not to embark on yet another production of Hello, Dolly! Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno have a fiery cat-fight about who was the better "Anita" in West Side Story. Jean Valjean in Les Miz complains that "This song is Too High!" "The Phantom" of the opera, whose breathy voice is too dependent on a head mike and electronic reverb, is loudly coached in belting by Ethel Merman ("You don't need amplifyin'!"). Rent, Wicked, Spamalot, Cabaret all come in for their delicious ridicule. Fiddler on the Roof sings about an actor's obsession with Ambition!, Rejection!, Projection!, Complexion!  

Memorable among the too-many-to-mention talents are:

  • Mary Helen Walton in Les Miz and Chorus Line. She's graceful and sexy and quite a pro.
  • A tall, handsome leading-man type with a beautiful voice, Joe Simpson is outstanding as Jean Valjean and as Mandy Patinkin, an actor who is "Somewhat Over-indulgent."
  • Kyle Kelesoma has vocal power and he is hilarious singing "I Enjoy Being a Cat." A rather portly gent in a cat suit, he astonishingly achieves a split. 
  • Sarah Polizzi and Maggie Nold are a fierce "Chita" and "Rita."
  • Nicole Robbins is terrific as Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
  • Caitlin Hill makes a convincing French chanteuse with a touch of that Piaf tremolo.
  • Mina Charepoo does a beautiful "Liza One-Note."

A time or two, briefly, a singer got a little out of synch with the recorded piano accompaniment and occasionally there was an empty blackout for a few seconds between scenes. This is, after all, a community theater production, but in that category it is a very good one.

The chorus numbers are unusually fine, with beautiful power and synchrony across the stageful of singers.

Costumes are most impressive. Marie Moore, Kyle Kranes and Joan Caro have done beautiful work here. Lights by Chris O'Donovan and Megan McEntee; the set by Kyle Kranes; and chorography by Maggie Nold, Mary Helen Walton and Kyle Kranes are all top quality. 

KTK's production of Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits continues at the Southampton Church through September 24.

 

The Black Rep opens their 41st season with a pointed comedy that takes a close look at an important contemporary issue -- one that no one seems willing to talk about but that affects so many: Alzheimer's. Dementia. Parents that need parenting by their children. The sense of loss, confusion, and anger an aging parent experiences as they feel themselves slipping. 

The holidays have arrived in West Philly and, at the Shealy home, that means it's time to put up the tree, start the meal preparations, and get the house ready for the return of the adult children and grandson Jason. Those tasks have become more difficult since mom Dotty's diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Eldest daughter Shelly is doing her best to take care of her mom, son Jason, and younger sister Averie, who is currently living in her basement, and she's about to break. Middle child Donnie lives with his husband in New York and rarely visits. This holiday season, Shelly needs to impress upon her brother and sister how much help mom really needs. Dotty has also been trying to explain to her kids what she's going through. With the help of her caregiver Fidel, she's arranged a special "present" for her kids that's received with unexpected results.

Thomasina Clarke is engrossing as Dotty, and she expertly travels the fine line between present and lost with humor and intelligence. Though she realizes her mental clarity is failing, Dotty is resistant to help and determined to remain independent as long as possible. Clarke moves seamlessly between the character's sudden mental lapses and mood swings, creating a woman as sympathetic as she is funny. 

Jacqueline Thompson, Chauncy Thomas, and Heather Beal are near perfection as her children, with each standing out for different reasons. Thompson is compassion overwhelmed, but with an edge of insecurity. Doing her best to maintain often leaves the impression she's trying to make all the decisions. Thomas dotes on his mother but stays far enough away to avoid the day-to-day realities. He's dealing with problems of his own and the comfort of distance allows him to deny the severity of his mother's decline. Finally, Beal is not nearly as self-absorbed or uninformed as her fame-seeking, media-savvy, gum-popping attitude may lead you to believe. She effortlessly infuses Averie with street and book smarts as well as comedy.

Courtney Brown is hilarious and warm-hearted as Jackie, a neighborhood friend with troubles of her own and a lingering flame for Donnie. Paul Edwards is at times prickly but ultimately tenderhearted and completely in-love with Donnie and his family. Finally, Ryan Lawson-Maeske shines in an understated way as Fidel, a man with a seemingly instinctive understanding of Dotty and unending patience.

Ron Himes directs the show with compassion and finesse as well as a keen sense of comedy, mining every line for every layer of meaning. The cast responds marvelously, keeping pace with the constantly shifting tone and building tension. Dunsi Dai offers a realistic set that's lived in but well appointed, quickly communicating the family's comfortably middle class status. The other technical elements -- costumes by Gregory J. Horton, lighting by Joseph W. Clapper, properties by Kate Slovinski, and sound by Kareem Deanes -- effectively create the appropriate environment for the relatable, occasionally nostalgic, and always tenderhearted and hilarious show.

The health of our aging population is a serious concern in contemporary America and, generally speaking, it isn't a very funny subject. Thankfully, playwright and actor Colman Domingo and the Black Rep succeed, fabulously, in finding that humor in DOT. The production plays up its humor while still relaying the debilitating progression of dementia and the very real needs of supporting aging family members. Focused direction from Himes, and a cast as committed to comedy as they are to emotion and context, ensure this engrossing play resonates on multiple levels. 

Though laugh out loud funny, DOT is unrelentingly honest at its core and, in many ways, quite frightening. None of us want our parents to suffer from dementia; none of us want to be the caregiver, to parent our parent. But the situation is reality for so many of us. With tempo and mood changes that might give you whiplash, DOT, running through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep, acknowledges the uncomfortable truths of the consistently funny script. The show may hit home for many audience members, but it does so in a way that reminds us of the love and family at the center of the story. 

Stay Involved on Social Media