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Archive for June, 2016

42nd Street
Music by Harry Warren, Lyrics by Al Dubin
Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Directed and Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny
June 24, 2016

Cast of 42nd Street Photo: The Muny

Cast of 42nd Street
Photo: The Muny

 “You may be going out there a youngster, but you’ve gotta come back a star!”  Those are the words Broadway director Julian Marsh (Shuler Hensley) says to Peggy Sawyer (Jonalyn Saxer), exemplifying the dreams of many a hopeful young performer with aims of a dazzling career in show business. Those starry aspirations are at the heart of the latest production on stage at the Muny, the big and glitzy valentine to 1930’s Broadway, 42nd Street. This show isn’t about realism, but glamour and the fantasy of stardom, highlighted by a great cast and some truly spectacular dancing.

It’s New York City in the early 1930’s, and a host of young, talented hopefuls are excited to audition for famous director Julian Marsh’s newest show. Among those performers is Peggy Sawyer, who is fresh off the train from Allentown, PA and who has dreams of some day being a star.  At first, though, she’s not off to a great start. Despite showing off a good voice and great dancing skills, she arrives too late and misses the audition. But Peggy has caught the eye of the show’s leading man, Billy Lawlor (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and eventually one of its writers, Maggie Jones (Ann Harada) and she gets a part in the chorus. Of course, the show already has a leading lady, somewhat jaded star Dorothy Brock (Emily Skinner), who’s got a great voice but isn’t much of a dancer, and she’s not particularly fond of Peggy at first. There are a lot of twists and turns in this plot, and most of them are predictable, but that hardly matters in an upbeat, incredibly entertaining show like this that’s all about hopes, dreams, showbiz, and lots and lots of dancing. It’s a tribute to the big glamorous musicals of the 1920’s and 30’s, with a lot of energy, classic songs, and a good amount of humor and heart.

The production values are top-notch, with a colorful, versatile set by Michael Schweikart and wonderfully whimsical costumes by Andrea Lauer. The big production numbers like “We’re In the Money” and “Lullabye of Broadway” look great, featuring director Denis Jones’s spectacular choreography that showcases a lot of intricately executed tap dancing. The style, look, and sound of the 1930’s movie musicals is there, with great sound by John Shivers and David Patridge, and superb lighting by Rob Denton.

In addition to that wonderful dancing ensemble, the leads are ideally cast as well. Saxer dances joyfully and has a great voice as the perky, optimistic Peggy, and Johnson is charming and an equally strong dancer as Billy. Hensley as Marsh projects a believable air of kindness that informs his otherwise authoritative character. Skinner is also great as the talented but insecure Dorothy Brock, and there are some fun comedic performances by Harada as Maggie and Jason Kravitz as comedian/writer Bert Barry.

42nd Street is a show that idealizes show business and is characterized by an underlying sense of hope, even in difficult times. The sense of drive and purpose displayed by its characters is enthusiastic and infectious, and the dance numbers are not to be missed. This is a spectacular in the best sense of that term. It’s a an ideal show for a venue with a reputation for big stylish musicals. This show is the Muny at its best.

Cast of 42nd Street Photo: The Muny

Cast of 42nd Street
Photo: The Muny

42nd Street at the Muny runs until June 30, 2016.

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Company
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by George Furth
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Insight Theatre Company
June 17, 2016

Cast of Company Photo by John Lamb Insight Theatre Company

Cast of Company
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company has begun its 2016 season with the classic Stephen Sondheim “concept musical”, Company. A look at marriage and singleness in New York, the show has been staged in various venues around the world since its Broadway debut in 1970. Now, at Insight, the show has been given an ambitious production that, for the most part, is an intriguing and thought-provoking character study, although the script is starting to seem a bit dated.

In this production, Martin Fox plays Robert, or “Bobby” to most of his friends. As his 35th birthday approaches, the perpetually single Bobby is challenged by his married friends to examine his choices and consider the idea of marriage. The married friends range in ages and degrees of happiness and compatibility, and through a series of vignettes we get a glimpse into their lives, as well as Bobby’s life as he interacts with the couples and goes on dates with three different women.  Through the means of Sondheim’s insightful songs and George Furth’s witty script, we are shown the merits and challenges of romance and marriage in modern day New York City.

Actually, “modern day” is one of the problems with this show as it is currently staged. Although Insight’s production is clearly set in the present with its meticulously detailed modern loft set by Peter and Margery Spack, and costumes in a varied range of current styles designed by Laura Hanson, the script and situations seem more closely tied to the early 1970s than to today. With 1970’s slang still intact, and with a picture of marriage as something of a social compulsion more so than it is generally viewed in much of today’s culture, the 2016 setting of this show ends up being somewhat jarring. Conventions such as Bobby’s listening to his answering machine messages have been portrayed as voicemails on his smart phone, although they still seem more appropriate to the earlier setting. Although the show still has timeless truths and concepts with universal appeal, I still wonder if this show would be best if staged as a period piece rather than trying to update the setting.

Still, the show is still a strong piece, with excellent songs like the iconic “Being Alive”, which is given a dynamic performance by Fox, and the acerbic “The Ladies Who Lunch”, which is sung here by Laurie McConnell as the snarky Joanne, in a strong interpretation emphasizing its sadness more than its ferocity.  There are also some excellent production numbers that superbly feature the whole cast, such as the excellent Act 2 opening song-and-dance “Side by Side by Side”. Other songs suffer from the difficult acoustics in the venue, such as the title song that opens the show, and Samantha Irene’s (as Marta) more lackluster rendition of the show’s normally dynamic ode to New York, “Another Hundred People”.

The cast here ranges from ideal to OK, but for the most part does an excellent job. The standouts are Fox in a charming performance as the conflicted Bobby, McConnell as Joanne, and Stephanie Long as the anxious Amy, who delivers a superb rendition of “Getting Today” supported by the ensemble. Matt Pentecost as her intended, Paul, gives a convincing and amiable performance as well. There are also memorable performances from Bailey Reeves as one of Bobby’s girlfriends, somewhat ditzy flight attendent April, and Jonathan Hey and Cherlynn Alvarez as David and Jenny, who spend an awkwardly funny evening smoking pot and sharing uncomfortable truths with Bobby. Generally, it’s a strong cast, although due to the aforementioned sound problems it’s sometimes difficult to understand what people are singing, especially in the more wordy group songs.

Company is a well-respected classic show that was a game-changer in the musical theatre world in its day. Despite some dated language and concepts, it’s still a strong show, with a top-notch score by one of the all-time great composers and lyricists in musical theatre. Although Insight’s staging isn’t perfect, it hits a lot more than it misses. It’s a worthwhile opener for their new season.

Martin Fox (center) and Cast Photo by John Lamb Insight Theatre Company

Martin Fox (center) and Cast
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Company is being presented by Insight Theatre Company at Nerinx Hall’s Heagney Theatre until July 3, 2016.

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The Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
With Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Background Music by Herbert Stothart
Directed by John Tartaglia
Choreographed by Ralph Perkins
The Muny
June 13, 2016

Nicholas Rodriguez, Kevin Cahoon, Danielle Bowen, Rich Pisarkiewicz, Stephen Wallem Photo: The Muny

Nicholas Rodriguez, Kevin Cahoon, Danielle Bowen, Rich Pisarkiewicz, Stephen Wallem
Photo: The Muny

It’s June in St. Louis, and that means it’s time for the Muny again. It’s the 98th season for the illustrious venue, and first on the schedule this year is one of its most popular shows, The Wizard of Oz. Based largely on the classic 1939 film version of L. Frank Baum’s story, the Muny’s latest production is a crowd-pleasing production with all the expected elements. Directed by Muny veteran John Tartaglia and featuring a well-selected cast and the Muny’s Youth Ensemble, it’s a big production that fills the large stage well.

I probably don’t need to explain the plot. It’s The Wizard of Oz, one of the best-known stories in American culture, and well-known around the world. Most people associate the story with the Judy Garland film, and the Muny’s production, with the exception of a few added musical and dance sequences, is essentially the film on stage. The familiar characters are all here, including Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Danielle Bowen) and her little dog Toto (Dusty, who is a scene-stealer), who lives on a farm with her Aunt Em (Lynn Humphrey) and Uncle Henry (Rich Pisarkiewicz). Then, there’s the tornado which takes Dorothy and Toto to the land of Oz, where they are sent by Glinda the Good Witch (Leah Berry) to meet the Wizard of Oz (PJ Benjamin) in hopes of returning home to Kansas. Of course she meets the Scarecrow (Kevin Cahoon), Tin Man (Nicholas Rodriguez), and Cowardly Lion (Stephen Wallem), who join her on her quest while they all seek to avoid the Wicked Witch of the West (Peggy Roeder), who covets the precious Ruby Slippers that Dorothy wears. Everything is here, from the famous songs to the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City, and the familiar theme that “there’s no place like home”.

This is an entertaining production, with a good cast, from Bowen’s Garland-esque Dorothy to Roeder’s more comically villainous interpretation of the Wicked Witch and Benjamin’s charming humbug of a Wizard. Dorothy’s trio of friends are also well-played, with Wallem’s particularly energetic rendition of the Lion being the real standout. Berry is also fine as Glinda, and Humphrey and Pisarkiewicz are a suitably kind and caring Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. There’s also an excellent ensemble, especially in the dance sequences representing the cyclone, and the Poppies sequence, and in the Munchkinland and Emerald City scenes. A song that was cut from the film, “The Jitterbug”, is the real musical highlight, performed with energy and style by Bowen, Cahoon, Rodriguez, Wallem, and company, dynamically choreographed by Ralph Perkins.

This is a colorful production, utilizing the film-inspired convention of presenting the Kansas sequences in sepia tones and then going to a full spectrum of colors once Dorothy arrives in Oz. Robert Mark Morgan’s versatile set and Leon Dobkowski’s detailed costumes are all suitably colorful. There’s also strikingly effective lighting by John Lasiter, and good use of video designed by Nathan W. Scheur. The microphones, particularly for the Scarecrow, were inconsistent and sometimes produced a hollow, distant sound, but otherwise the technical aspects of this production work well. Magic and wonder are what theatregoers expect with this show, and for the most part, this production gives them that.

The Wizard of Oz at the  Muny is just what audiences would expect, and it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. While it is essentially a staged production of the film for the most part, the performers are well-cast, the songs are well-sung, the the familiar story is well-told. While I personally tend to prefer productions that aren’t quite as close reproductions of the film, this is certainly entertaining and it’s a fun season opener. I’m looking forward to seeing what else the Muny has in store this summer.

Cast of The Wizard of Oz Photo: The Muny

Cast of The Wizard of Oz
Photo: The Muny

 The Muny’s production of The Wizard of Oz runs until June 22, 2016.

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Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
by Alan Ball
Directed by Gary F. Bell
Stray Dog Theatre
June 9, 2016

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari, Lindsay Gingrich, Eileen Engel, Shannon Nara. Kevin O’Brien
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

It’s wedding season in St. Louis theatre. As director Gary F. Bell mentioned in his pre-show introduction to Stray Dog Theatre’s latest production of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, several local theatre companies are currently staging plays that feature weddings in some way.  There are many aspects of weddings that can be featured in theatre, and for SDT, the featured production is focused on the bridesmaids. A character study that features a collection of contrasting personalities, this show depends largely on the strength of its cast, and SDT’s production certainly delivers in that area.

There are six on stage characters in this play, although several off stage characters are also important to the proceedings. Tracy and Scott, the bride and groom, are never seen but are often talked about, as is another wedding guest, Tommy, who has somehow affected the lives of most of the bridesmaids. The focus here, though, is on the “five women” of the play’s title–a disparate collection of characters who are all connected with the bride or groom in various ways, and whose personalities widely differ. There’s the bride’s younger sister, the tough-talking Meredith (Lindsay Gringrich); the devout young cousin Frances (Eileen Engel); the sexually adventurous but romantically reticent friend of the bride Trisha (Sarajane Alverson); the unhappily married Georgeanne (Shannon Nara); and the groom’s plain-spoken sister Mindy (Frankie Ferrari). There’s also the good-natured Tripp (Kevin O’Brien), a wedding guest and cousin of the groom who pursues the wary Trisha. Although there is one male character, though, the story mostly revolves around the women, and their differing stories and personalities.

There are many surprises in this script, so there’s not much I can say in detail about the plot. The tone is mostly comedic, although there are some moments of drama, and the focus is on the contrasting personalities and backgrounds of the bridesmaids, and especially their romantic experiences and their attitudes toward love and marriage. The perspectives vary widely, from the virginal Frances, who’s quick to tell everyone she’s a Christian, to the more worldly and jaded Trisha, to the confident lesbian Mindy, and to Meredith and Geogeanne, both of whom are harboring their own secrets.  The characters are well-defined and not especially stereotypical, which is a credit to the playwright, although there are also some stories that aren’t given a proper conclusion, and an ending that seems a little too tidy. Still, it’s an interesting study of these contrasting characters, extremely well-played by the excellent cast, with Alverson’s brash Trisha, Ferrari’s frank Mindy, and Gingrich’s rebellious but guarded Meredith as standouts, although every cast member has excellent moments, and the acting chemistry between all six performers is extremely strong.

The setting of a bedroom in a suburban Tennessee house in the early 1990’s is well-realized, with director and scenic designer Gary F. Bell’s set providing the ideal backdrop for the play’s action. Eileen Engel’s costumes are a highlight as well, with the colorfully tacky bridesmides dresses that seem appropriate to the era, as well as being an indication of the character of the unseen bride who would have chosen these outfits. All the technical elements are well-done, including Tyler Duenow’s lighting and Justin Been’s sound.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress isn’t a perfect play, but it’s an entertaining one. With well-defined, ideally cast characters and a richly detailed setting, the play is at turns funny, dramatic, and at times disturbing, although there is certainly a hopeful tone toward the end. It’s a memorable representation of what turns out to be an eventful wedding for the characters involved.

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari Photo by John Lamb Stray Dog Theatre

Shannon Nara, Eileen Engel, Sarajane Alverson, Frankie Ferrari
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress is being presented by Stray Dog Theatre at Tower Grove Abbey until June 25, 2016.

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It Shoulda Been You
Book and Lyrics by Brian Hargrove, Music and Lyrics by Barbara Anselmi
Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
STAGES St. Louis
April 8, 2016

Claire Manship Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Claire Manship
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES has invited its audience to a wedding. In the first regional production of the recent Broadway musical It Shoulda Been You, theatregoers will witness a happy event that’s filled with music, humor, drama, and plenty of surprises. At STAGES, it’s an entertaining, energetic production highlighted by an extremely strong cast, and particularly in the leading role.

Set at an upscale New York hotel, It Shoulda Been You introduces us first of all to Jenny Steinberg (Claire Manship), who is preparing to serve as co-Maid of Honor in the wedding of her sister Rebecca (Stacie Bono) to Brian Howard (Jeff Sears). Jenny is the “dependable daughter”, always supportive and helpful but being constantly compared to the younger, slimmer, more popular Rebecca, especially by their mother Judy (Zoe Vonder Haar), who frequently expresses her concern that Jenny will never marry. Jenny is also caught in the middle of the drama that ensues when Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend Marty (Zal Owen) arrives presumably to stop the wedding. There are also parental objections concerning the Jewish Rebecca’s marrying Brian, who is Catholic, and tensions between Judy and husband Murray (Michael Marotta) and Brian’s somewhat stuffy parents George (David Schmittou) and Georgette (Kari Ely). Add the Best Man Greg (Eric Keiser), the other co-Maid of Honor Annie (Jessie Hooker), the crazy relatives including the man-hunting Aunt Sheila (Morgan Amiel Faulkner) and confused Uncle Morty (John Flack) to the mix, and much humor and drama will ensue. The proceedings are presided over by an extremely organized, near-psychic wedding planner, Albert (Edward Junger) and his assistants Walt (Steve Isom) and Mimsy (Michele Burdette Elmore), as the wedding day’s events just get more and more convoluted.

There’s not much I can say in detail about the plot without spoiling too much, since much of the drama depends on the element of surprise.  A general theme, however, is one of identity and self-acceptance, as Jenny wrestles with family expectations and body image issues, and other characters deal with their own secrets and concerns about acceptance from those around them. Several of the plots do become fairly predictable as the story goes on, but the entertainment value is still there even if you can guess where the story is going. The music is pleasant, with a few memorable songs, especially the hilarious “Albert’s Turn”, the show-stopping “Jenny’s Blues” (which is a tour-de-force for Manship), and the sweet “Whatever”.

The cast is ideally chosen, led by Manship in a winning performance as the kind but underappreciated Jenny. She and Vonder Haar’s loving but critical Judy are the stand-outs in this strong ensemble, along with Juvier in a masterful comic performance as the hyper-competent Albert. There are also strong performances from Owen as the charming Marty, Ely and Schmittou as the Howards, Marotta as the loving father Murray, and Bono as the conflicted Rebecca, Keiser as the talkative Greg, and Faulkner as the gleefully gosssipy Aunt Sheila. Everyone makes the most of their roles, as well, in this cast with no weak links and excellent ensemble staging.

The staging and choreography by Stephen Boureuf are lively and energetic, and James Wolk’s set is sumptuously well-appointed. The hotel setting is well-realized, with occasional set pieces brought in when needed as the story takes its cast to the hotel’s hair salon, ladies room, and more. Gareth Dunbar’s costumes are richly detailed and colorful, suitably suggesting the festive upscale wedding style. There’s also excellent lighting by Sean M. Savoie to set and maintain the mood of the show.

Overall, though, It Shoulda Been You is an outstanding showcase for Manship. She makes the most of her starring role, bringing lots of energy and a great voice, and it’s Jenny’s story that is the most convincing even when there are some unbelievable elements. Overall, this is a sweet, funny and heartwarming show about love and acceptance, with a somewhat predicable script but with a great cast. It’s a memorable opening production for STAGES’ new season.

Cast of It Shoulda Been You Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Cast of It Shoulda Been You
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

STAGES St. Louis’s production of It Shoulda Been You is running at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until July 3, 2016.

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Atomic
Book and Lyrics by Danny Ginges, Music and Lyrics by Philip Foxman
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy
New Line Theatre
April 4, 2016

Ann Hier, Zachary Allen Farmer Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Ann Hier, Zachary Allen Farmer
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

The development of the first atomic bomb was certainly a world-changing moment in history, bringing with it much moral questioning and tragedy amid the quest for scientific innovation. In New Line Theatre’s latest production, Atomic, the story of the bomb’s development isn’t simply a history lesson. It’s a character study of some of the key people involved as well as a morality play examining the capabilities, demands, and limits of scientific research. It’s also an extremely well-staged, well-cast, compelling piece of theatre.

Although several of the major players in the development of the atomic bomb in the United States are featured in this play, the focus is primarily on Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard (Zachary Allen Farmer), whose thirst for knowledge is tempered by his concern about the potential catastrophic danger of such a weapon. The musical follows Szilard through his journey from his home country to England and finally to the United States, accompanied by his companion and eventual wife, physician Trude Weiss (Ann Hier). As World War II progresses and rumors of the German government’s work on the development of a nuclear weapon are spread, Szilard becomes involved with the now well-known Manhattan Project, working with fellow scientists to develop a bomb before the Germans are able to succeed with theirs. Szilard works alongside other notable scientists from around the world, including Italian Enrico Fermi (Reynaldo Arceno), fellow Hungarian Edward Teller (Sean Michael), and Americans Arthur Compton (Ryan Scott Foizey), Leona Woods (Larissa White), and J. Robert Oppenheimer (Jeffrey M. Wright). As the work on the project progresses, questions arise about the need for this weapon, especially after Germany surrenders. The concerned Szilard finds himself turning activist, determined to prevent the bomb’s being dropped on a Japanese city amid pressures from the US government and some of his fellow scientists to support the effort.

Although this play certainly employs a degree of dramatic license in portraying its characters’ stories, the overall focus of this story is on the ethics more than the simple historical facts. The show raises some compelling questions, such as whether or not the mere ability to make something so dangerous justifies its use, and what the motivation should be in the quest for scientific innovation.  Atomic energy certainly changed the world, but was it for better or worse, or somehow both?  These are all profound questions, personified in Atomic by Szilard and his colleagues and portrayed through the use of a rock-influenced score with occasional elements of 1940’s-era themes, such as the Andrews Sisters-esque “Holes In the Doughnuts” sung by Hier, White, and Victoria Valentine as a trio of factory workers. There are also memorable power-ballads such as “The Force That Lights the Stars” and the memorable and oft-reprised “Greater Battle”.

The key role of Szilard is played by the versatile New Line veteran Farmer with convincing sincerity and strong, powerful voice. His scenes with the equally excellent Hier as the loving and long-suffering Trude are a notable highlight. There are also strong performances from Foizey as the devout Compton, who struggles with reconciling his faith with his scientific endeavors; as well as White as the determined Woods, Arceno as Fermi, and Wright in a dual role as Oppenheimer and bomber pilot Paul Tibbets. As usual with New Line, the singing is top-notch, as is the musicianship of the excellent band led by musical director Jeffrey Richard Carter.

The show is also superbly presented in a technical sense, with a cleverly set-up stage in which the audience sits on either side of Rob Lippert’s well-appointed set.  The period details and atmosphere are apparent in the furnishings as well as in Sarah Porter’s stylish costumes. There’s also Lippert’s spectacular lighting and Benjamin Rosenman’s excellent sound, which are put to remarkably effective use in recreating the chilling effects of the bomb’s detonation.

New Line’s production of Atomic is the show’s St. Louis debut, and only the fourth overall production of this intense, intriguing show. In the hands of directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy, along with the first-rate cast and crew, the show is a fascinating examination of the history of nuclear development as well as a stirring examination of the moral dilemmas inherent in the project. It’s a story that’s sure to provoke much thought and conversation.

Cast of Atomic Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

Victoria Valentine, Reynaldo Arceno, Ryan Scott Foizey, Sean Michael, Jeffrey M. Wright, Larissa White Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre’s production of Atomic is scheduled to run at the Marcelle Theatre until June 25, 2016.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Rick Dildine
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

June 3, 2016

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is back with free Shakespeare in Forest Park, with a production that makes the most of the outdoor location and atmosphere. A Midsummer Night’s Dream as directed by the festival’s Executive Director Rick Dildine, emphasizes music and physicality. The production has a whimsical, earthy tone that’s augmented by a liberal use of music and a top-notch, extremely energetic cast.

As one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s plot is a familiar one to many viewers. It’s somewhat convoluted, and all the intersecting subplots provide the basis for much of the humor. The wedding of Duke Theseus (Paul Cereghino) and Amazon Queen Hippolyta (Jacqueline Thompson) provides the initial setting, and the plot moves forward from there, ranging in setting from the Athenian court to the surrounding forest, eventually involving an amateur acting troupe made up of local craftsmen and the fairies who inhabit the forest, led by King Oberon (Timothy Carter) and Queen Titania (Nancy Anderson), whose relationship is both flirtatious and contentious. Their sparring leads to much mayhem involving the mischievous Puck (Austin G. Jacobs and Ryan A. Jacobs), who carries out Oberon’s wishes as well as indulging in his own humorous whims. These actions lead to mix-ups in the romantic entanglements of four young Athenians as well as weaver Bottom (Stephen Pilkington), who becomes involved with Titania herself in a delightfully ridiculous plot twist.

This production’s emphasis on physical comedy is especially successful in the plot involving the young lovers Hermia (Cassia Thompson) and Lysander (Justin Blanchard), who want to marry despite the wishes of Hermia’s father Egeus (Whit Reichert), who orders her to marry Demetrius (Pete Winfrey), whose affection for Hermia is not returned. It’s Hermia’s childhood friend Helena (Rachel Christopher) who loves Demetrius although he doesn’t care for her, until Puck and a magical plant become involved, mixing up the affections of the men and causing further confusion for the women. All four performers give energetic, hilarious performances, with Christopher’s determined and perpetually rejected Helena being the standout. Kudos also to fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt for some truly marvelous physical moments.

The double-casting of Puck is an interesting choice, combined with director Rick Dildine’s inventive staging to make the character seem to appear and disappear in various places on stage with seemingly miraculous speed. Both actors give charming, impish performances. Other standouts in the cast include Carter’s bombastic Oberon, Anderson’s quirky and assertive Titania, and Pilkington’s delightfully hammy Bottom. It’s a strong, extremely cohesive cast overall, without a weak link, making the most of the comedic elements of the story. The “Pyramus and Thisby” play-within-a-play is riotously funny, as well–with all of the players (Michael Propster as Peter Quince, Jay Stalder as Francis Flute, Jerry Vogel as Robin Starveling, Reginald Pierre as Tom Snout, and Alan Knoll as Snug) contributing to the hilarity. This performance is a real highlight of this production. There’s also an excellent use of music, played on stage by the actors, including original songs by Peter Mark Kendall and some additional folk-style songs that have been added to the production.

The overall whimsical air of the production is augmented by Scott C. Neale’s colorful multi-level set, featuring a series of doors from which the players emerge at various times, particularly serving as a vehicle for Puck’s appearances. The costumes, by Dottie Marshal Englis, represent various styles mostly with an early 20th Century air,  and John Wylie’s lighting adds to the overall fantastical atmosphere of the production.

This staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is full of style, energy, and a great deal of fun. It’s the second production of this show for the festival, but their first was before I moved to St. Louis. From what I can see here, the second time is definitely a charm.

Cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by David Levy Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is being presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen until June 26, 2016.

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