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Tina Farmer

Rodgers and Hammerstein's beloved "Oklahoma!," running through August 16, 2015, is bursting with memorable songs and energetic dances, and performed with affection, humor, and precision by the MUNY cast and ensemble. A show this deeply ingrained in our collective memory can be tough to produce, but the MUNY's production delivers the familiar with affection in a bright, quick-paced show that mostly hits all the right notes.

Stray Dog Theatre brings a fantasy fairy tale to life in a charming staging of "Spellbound, a musical fable," a world premiere musical fable by the company's artistic director Gary F. Bell and his friend and writing partner Robert L. White. The inventive script borrows liberally from nostalgic interpretations of traditional European fairy tales with numerous quips and references to more contemporary American pop culture, from the blues, rock, and doo wop to children's books, movies, and television.

St. Louis Shakespeare brings "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler" to life in a fantastic tale filled with "what ifs," "why nots," and a few wistful insights delivered in richly varied characters and imaginative situations.

The second half of St. Louis Actors' Studio's "LaBute New Theater Festival," hits another high note. The five plays presented examine the nature of human relationships, and the dances we go through in order to start and preserve those that are significantly important to each of us.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine give fairytales a clever musical score, along with an abundance of whimsy and a gentle moral, in the tuneful, imaginative "Into the Woods." Already high on the list of Sondheim's popular musicals, the production is engaging for audiences of all ages, with a few unexpectedly adult situations and a slightly subversive sense of humor. The result is a bittersweet tale, touched by both harsh and comforting realities, that delivers its lessons with a light touch and hopeful tone.

Similar to "St. Nicholas," The Midnight Company's production of Conor McPherson's "The Good Thief," running through July 25, 2015 at Herbie's Vintage '72, introduces us to a not altogether unlikable bloke with a very interesting story to tell. Whereas the narrator in "St. Nicholas" is fairly well educated and comfortable if not quite securely middle class, this fellow hails from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. He is a nearly hardened criminal, with a thuggish occupation, quick jealousy, and uneasy sense of trust towards the world. His is a tale of double-crosses and sticky situations, but there are hints of tenderness and the occasional flicker of compassion that endear the malfeasant crook to the audience.

Darkly comic and nearly equally as unsettling, "The Killing of Sister George," presumably relates the sad story of the death of a beloved radio character. Under this pretense the audience is offered an at times too intimate look at a disturbingly codependent relationship between the actress who portrays Sister George and her roommate. The play, set in the 1960s, was considered daring and explicit, and the movie version garnered an X rating at its release, possibly due to the presumed lesbian relationship as well as the disturbing control struggles, verbal abuse, and suggested violence between the lead characters.

If there's one thing the Midnight Company's artistic director and principle actor Joe Hanrahan knows, it's how to find and interpret interesting characters with good stories to tell. The remarkable part about this is that Hanrahan has been creating these characters for several years and still manages to find ways to make each character a unique individual, with quirks, mannerisms and opinions aplenty to share. In the company's production of Conor McPherson's "St. Nicholas," running through July 26, 2015, Hanrahan has discovered another persuasively imperfect story to embrace.

In 1959, at the age of 22 and just as his career was taking off and stardom seemed assured, influential songwriter and rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly died tragically in a plane crash. The MUNY's current production of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" is 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.

A showcase for the prolific songwriter and showman Irving Berlin, "Holiday Inn," in performance at the MUNY in Forest Park through July 12, 2015, is stuffed with memorable melodies and toe tapping dances, then finished off with a happily ever after. The charming, nostalgic musical recalls the post war optimism of the late 1940s and 1950s, and is a fond toast to the resiliency of the American spirit. Though opening night suffered from several technical glitches and a dropped line or two, the fast-paced show, directed with a sure hand by Gordon Greenburg, zips along quite nicely, gaining momentum throughout.

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