Archive for August, 2017

In the Heights
Words and Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Christina Rios
Choreographed by Cecily A. King
R-S Theatrics
August 17, 2017

Cast of In the Heights
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
R-S Theatrics

In the Heights is a big show for a small theatre company like R-S Theatrics. With music and lyrics by the celebrated Lin-Manuel Miranda, this is a show with a great deal of technical and casting demands. It’s an exciting show as well, and I’ve been anticipating seeing it ever since R-S announced they would be producing it. That was over a year ago, and now R-S has proved that the show was worth waiting for, with a vibrant, well-cast production.

The show’s title comes from its setting–the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. The cast and characters reflect the neighborhood’s mostly Latino population. Usnavi De La Vega (Jesse Muñoz) owns a local bodega and introduces many of the local residents as they patronize his store. The rest of the cast includes Usnavi’s younger cousin Sonny (Kevin Corpuz), who also works at the bodega, and Usnavi’s friend Benny (Marshall Jennings), a young African-American man who works for a local taxi company run by Kevin (Jaime Reyes) and Camila Rosario (Maritza Motta-Gonzalez). The Rosarios’ daughter, Nina (Cassandra Lopez) has struggled with her grades at Stanford and returns to the area conflicted about how to tell her parents that she’s dropped out. Usnavi is attracted to hairdresser Vanessa (Natasha Toro), who has a difficult home life and wishes for a new life outside the neighborhood. There’s also Abuela Claudia (Carmen García), who Usnavi considers his grandmother, since she raised him after the death of his parents. There’s a large cast of additional characters as well, including Daniela (Anna Skidis Vargas), who runs the salon that Vanessa works at, and Carla (Gabriela Diaz), who also works there. There’s also Grafitti Pete (Karl Hawkins) and a local Piragüero (Kelvin Urday) who sells frozen treats in the neighborhood. The intertwining plot lines follow the characters through important moments and decisions, as well as showing their hopes, dreams, fears, and struggles as the neighborhood changes, and lives are changed in various significant ways.

This is R-S Theatrics’ first production in the new .Zack Theatre. It’s a space that has some interesting challenges in terms of staging, but director Christina Rios and the show’s large cast make the most of the space. Keller Ryan’s set is fairly simple, and it works well for the space, along with Nathan Schroeder’s vibrant lighting that helps set the scene and provide some excellent effects in various moments like the “Blackout” sequence and finale. There are some great costumes by Sarah Porter, as well, and the orchestra conducted by musical director Leah Luciano is also excellent. There is occasionally a problem with the music overpowering the actors’ voices, although that situation does improve significantly in the second act.

The cast is strong here, with excellent vocals and energetic dancing to Miranda’s eclectic, hip-hop, pop, and Latin-influenced score. Muñoz is particularly engaging as the earnest, charming and somewhat awkward Usnavi. He’s the main character and essentially the narrator of the show, but its emotional heart is largely with Carmen García’s excellently portrayed and powerfully voiced Abuela Claudia. There are also strong turns from Lopez as the conflicted Nina, who has good chemistry with the also excellent Jennings as Benny. Their duets are among the vocal highlights of the show. There’s also great work from Corpuz, who is simply terrific as Sonny, Toro as Vanessa, Skidis Vargas as Daniela, Diaz as Carla, Zayas and Motta-Gonzalez as Kevin and Camila, and Urday in especially strong voice as the Piragüero. There’s an excellent ensemble in support, as well, giving a lot of energy to the production numbers like “Blackout”, “96,000”, “Carnaval Del Barrio” and more, showcasing Miranda’s memorable score and Cecily A. King’s dynamic choreography.

In the Heights is an obviously affectionate musical, looking at the lives and loves of the residents of Washington Heights with poignancy and a strong dose of hope. It’s a Best Musical Tony winner, and I can see why. This is another strong, thought-provoking, immensely entertaining production from R-S Theatrics.

Jesse Muñoz, Kevin Corpuz, Marshall Jennings
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics is presenting In The Heights at the .Zack Theatre until September 3, 2017.


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The Color of August
by Paloma Pedrero
Translated and Adapted by Will Bonfiglio
Editing and Dramaturgy by Miranda Jagels Félix
Directed by Lucy Cashion
SATE Ensemble Theatre
August 10, 2017

Ellie Schwetye, Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell

SATE Ensemble Theatre

I have made it no secret that SATE is one of my favorite theatre companies in St. Louis. One of the things I like most about them is that they aren’t pretentious, but they are always trying new approaches to theatre. Their latest production, The Color of August, is another example of this theatre company’s simple, matter-of-fact boldness. It’s a difficult play in several ways, but it’s always challenging, and provocative. It’s a short play, running at just about an hour but there’s a lot going on in that hour. The play also serves as an excellent showcase for its stars, Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.

The casting is actually one of the novel concepts in this production. There are two characters in this show, which takes place in Madrid sometime in the 1990’s. Maria is a successful artist and Laura is her childhood friend who works as a model. The twist at SATE is that both performers have learned both roles, and as they see them as “two sides of the same coin”, they have decided to let a coin-toss from an audience member decide which person play which role at each performance. On the night I saw the show, the coin-toss result was “heads”, which meant Tibbetts played Maria and Schwetye played Laura, as in the picture I have posted below. That’s how I will be reviewing the show, although I wish I had time to see the show again and see the show the other way.

In the story, it’s been eight years since the once-close Maria and Laura have seen one another. The circumstances of their falling-out, as well as the nature of their relationship, gets revealed as the play progresses. There isn’t much else I can say that doesn’t give away too much, and the gradual revelations are an important part of the experience of this play. The real “story”, though, is in the relationship of these two characters. We’re told right away that Maria has an attachment to Laura from the simple fact that all of Maria’s paintings feature Laura in some way or another. From Maria’s attitude, an audience member might be led to believe that the two are still close. Then Laura shows up and we find out things are a lot more complicated than we may think. Their history, their relationship to one another and to a third off-stage character named John, get spelled out in the way these two interact, as well as the passive-aggressive way they communicate, with words, body language, and even paint. The world is well-established by director Lucy Cashion in the brisk, confrontational staging, and by set and lighting designer Bess Moynihan, costume designer Elizabeth Henning, and painters Maggie Genovese and Anne Genovese. It’s a fascinating production, anchored by the powerful, enigmatic performances of Tibbetts and Schwetye.

Tibbetts plays Maria as alternately haughty, possessive, clingy, and jealous. Schwetye’s Laura is weary, mysterious, and sometimes aloof. The interplay between the two characters is occasionally affectionate and occasionally combative, with strong suggestions that their relationship used to be more than “just friends”, and that at least Maria would like it go back to where it was. Both actresses give energetic performances charged with a mixture of anger, affection, desire, and regret. Their on-stage chemistry is strong, and helps keep the momentum of this fascinating but occasionally confusing play.

Overall, I think The Color of August is an intriguing production. It’s a character study  most of all, exploring the dynamics of a particularly complicated relationship. With two excellent performers at its heart, this is a compelling drama that’s definitely worth seeing, at least once and possibly even twice.


Ellie Schwetye, Rachel Tibbetts
Photo by Joey Rumpell
SATE Ensemble Theatre

SATE is presenting The Color of August at The Chapel until August 19, 2017.

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Newsies, the Musical
Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Jack Feldman, Book by Harvey Fierstein
Directed and Choreographed by Chris Bailey
The Muny
August 7, 2017

Cast of Newsies
Photo: The Muny

Thinking of shows that seem like they are made for the Muny, I think Newsies would be a prime example. The big, energetic Disney musical is ideally suited for a large outdoor stage like the Muny’s, and there’s a lot of room for the youth ensembles as well. As the closing show for the Muny’s 99th season, Newsies proves to be an excellent fit for the venue, as well as a rousing, well-cast and immensely entertaining production.

The show, based on the Disney film, tells a fictionalized version of a true story–a strike by newsboys in New York City in 1899. Here, the focus is on a group of “newsies” who deliver papers for the New York World newspaper, led by Jack Kelly (Jay Armstrong Johnson), a teenage orphan with artistic talents and dreams of moving west. When World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Davis Gaines) decides to raise the prices that the newsies pay for the papers they sell, Jack finds himself the leader of an impromptu union, along with his friend Crutchie (Daniel Quadrino), his new friends Davey (Spencer Davis Milford) and Davey’s little brother Les (Gabriel Cytron), and the rest of the neighborhood’s newsies, with hopes of rallying support from those from other papers and throughout the city. The movement is covered by ambitious reporter Katherine Plumber (Tessa Grady), who harbors a secret and finds herself attracted to Jack. As the movement grows, Pulitzer, the show’s obvious villain, grows agitated, and the newsies enlist the help of local entertainer Medda Larkin (Ta’rea Campbell), for whom Jack occasionally works painting backdrops for her theatre. The newsies’ strike becomes front page news, but Pulitzer’s efforts to stop it threaten to run Jack out of town and make conditions even worse for the newsies.

I’ve seen this show before, twice, on tour, first in Chicago and then here in St. Louis. I enjoyed both of those productions, but I think this production works even better not only because of its excellent cast, but because of the unique staging opportunities the Muny affords. The Muny Kids and Teens, for instance, are ideally suited for a show like this, to fill out the cast in a way that doesn’t seem manufactured or forced in the least. The direction and choreography by Chris Bailey is in a similar vein to the touring show, but the big Muny stage lends a great advantage for this show full of energetic leaping, spinning, and tapping.  Michael Schweikardt’s set also works well, with movable set pieces in the steel-beam platform style of the tour, but allowing for more flexibility of movement for the production and its large cast. There’s also excellent lighting by John Lasiter, striking video design by Nathan W. Scheuer, and colorful period costumes by Leon Dobkowski to help complete the overall look and atmosphere of the production.

The cast here is simply superb.  Johnson, with his strong voice and amiable stage presence, makes an ideal Jack Kelly. His scenes with his fellow newsies and with Grady’s terrific, spunky Katherine are highlights of this production. There’s also great work from Milford as Davey, young Cytron as Les, Campbell as Medda, and all of the newsies as well. I’ve always thought Pulitzer has been written as something of a cartoon villain in this show, but Gaines does an excellent job with the role as it’s presented. There’s a first-rate ensemble as well, including the Muny’s Youth Ensemble, helping to populate the Muny stage and contribute the energetic, tuneful production numbers.

Newsies is a fun show, with a big, enthusiastic cast. And at the Muny, it’s bigger, bolder, and better than ever. It’s been a great season at the Muny, and this show closes it out with style.

Cast of Newsies
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Newsies in Forest Park until August 13, 2017.

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Out On Broadway: The Third Coming
Conceived and Directed by Scott Miller
Music Direction by Nate Jackson
New Line Theatre
August 5, 2017

Ken Haller, Keith Thompson, Sean Michael, Mike Dowdy-Windsor, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is closing out its latest season with a revue. It’s something they’ve done before, but this third edition of Out On Broadway is actually the first one I’ve seen. After two highly acclaimed and popular runs in 1996 and 2000, director Scott Miller has brought the show back with essentially the same concept–a cycle of musical theatre songs sung from the perspective of five gay men–but with some new songs and mostly new performers. It’s an entertaining evening offering some clever interpretations of a variety of songs and showcasing an excellent cast.

The performance is structured in five parts over two acts, with each part focusing on a different aspect of life–“Finding Your Place”, “Finding Love”, “I Do”, “I Thought I Did”, and “Now What?”  The show covers a lot of topics, from growing up, to love and marriage, to friendship, and more. Most of the songs are from Broadway shows but have been put into the context of the experiences of gay men, with songs that were originally sung by women about men or by man/woman couples given new context.  There are solos, duets, and group numbers all presented with energy, style, and heart. The show starts off with a brand-new song, “Hope”, by Jason Robert Brown, and then it continues from there, featuring some excellent spotlight moments for each of the guys, and some impressive solo songs as well.

The show is simply presented, with the performers outfitted in similar style and performing on a colorful glittery set designed by Rob Lippert, who also designed the lighting. The singers are ably accompanied by music director Nate Jackson on piano. Among the highlights are the “I Do” sequence, that features the cast’s real-life married couple, the Dowdy-Windsors, performing a fun version of “Getting Married Today” from Company. This section also features Haller’s poignant peformance of “Married” from Cabaret and the cast beautifully harmonizing with Michael leading with a glorious tenor vocal interpretation of “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom. Other highlights include Mike Dowdy-Windsor singing “Kindergarten Boyfriend” from Heathers, Haller and Thompson delightfully snarking their way through “Bosom Buddies” from Mame, Haller’s intense “Could I Leave You?” from Follies, and Dominic Dowdy-Windsor’s sweetly sung “Mrs. Remington” from The Story of My Life.  There’s a great collection of songs here, and seeing them presented in a new context, and with the overall theme of the lives and loves of gay men in America in 2017  is an illuminating experience.

This being “part 3”, I found myself watching the show this time wishing I could have seen parts 1 and 2, especially considering how much culture has changed in the last 20 years.  Overall, Out On Broadway: The Third Coming is a great opportunity to hear from these talented men and see life through their eyes, and hear it through their voices. And what impressive voices they are, as well.

Keith Thompson, Ken Haller, Sean Michael, Mike Dowdy-Windsor, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor
Photo by Jill Ritter-Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre presents Out On Broadway: The Third Coming at the Marcelle Theatre until August 19, 2017.

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Is He Dead?
by Mark Twain, Adapted by David Ives
Directed by Edward Coffield
St. Louis Shakespeare
August 4, 2017

Zac McMillan, Ben Ritchie
Photo: St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare has had a lot of success with David Ives’s adaptations in the past, including outstanding productions of The Liar and The Heir Apparent.  Their latest production, Ives’s treatment of  Mark Twain’s Is He Dead? is another comic triumph to add to that list. A fast-paced show with much wit, innuendo, and a hilariously convoluted plot, this show boasts an ideal cast and lots and lots of laughs.

The story features a young artist, Jean-Francois Millet (Zac McMillan), who spends a lot of time painting and trying unsuccessfully to sell his paintings. Despite having a group of supportive friends and admirers, Millet has debts to pay, as does his friend Leroux (Timothy Callaghan), whose daughter, Marie (Molly McCaskill) is in love with Millet. The lender is an evil, Snidely Whiplash-type villain, Andre (Ben Ritchie), who tries to force Marie to marry him in exchange for forgiving her father’s debts. When a potential art buyer (Joe Cella) tells Millet that his paintings would be a lot more valuable if the artist were dead, Millet’s friends–Chicago (Jack Zanger), Dutchy (John Fisher), and O’Shaughnessy (Jacob Cange) help him fake a life-threatening illness so that his reputation as an artist, and the price of his paintings, will rise. Millet then disguises himself as his own widowed sister, Daisy, which only makes the complicated plot even more complicated, as Andre and several others turn their amorous attentions to the “widow”, while Millet tries to figure out how to get out of this mess he’s created so he can be free to paint and be with Marie, and Marie’s sister Cecile (Natalie Walker), who is in love with Chicago, gets jealous of her beau’s attentions to Daisy and begins investigating the matter. There’s a lot going on here, with lots of physical comedy, mistaken identity, and lots of sneaking around as well as wit and wordplay, and the situation just keeps getting more ridiculous as the play carries on to its hilarious conclusion.

Director Edward Coffield’s pacing is quick and sharp, and the cast is more than up to the challenge of this fast-moving plot. As Millet, McMillan is suitably baffled and bewildered, and as Daisy his bewilderment grows, as does his desperation. He displays a great deal of energy and excellent comic timing, and excellent chemistry with all of his cast mates. There’s strong ensemble chemistry across the board, in fact, with all the players hamming it up and enjoying every minute of it. Cange, Fisher, and Zanger make a great team as Millet’s students and friends, and Ritchie is a delightfully oily villain as Andre. There are also some great comic turns from Nicole Angeli and Jennifer Quinn as Millet’s enthusiastic friends Madame Caron and Madame Bathilde. Callaghan as Leroux, and Walker as the suspicious Cecile also give strong performances. This is a show where timing and ensemble cohesiveness is crucial, and this production scores well on both of those counts.

The set, by Matt Stuckel, is colorful and equipped with a variety of windows and doors that figure prominently in the show’s physical comedy moments. There are also clever, whimsical costumes by JC Krajicek, including some striking wigs. The lighting by John Taylor, sound by Ted Drury, and props by Meg Brinkley also contribute to the overall madcap air of the play.

This strikes me as a particularly difficult type of show, in that so much is going on and it has to be precisely timed and perfectly choreographed, but when it’s done well, it looks effortless. St. Louis Shakespeare has commendably risen to the technical challenge of this show, and the result is a pure comic treat. It’s a “laugh-out-loud” kind of show, and an excellent way to start off this company’s new season.

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting Is He Dead? at the Ivory Theatre until August 13, 2017.

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Ragtime, the Musical
Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Novel by E.L. Doctorow
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Mike Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
August 3, 2017

Cast of Ragtime
Photo by John Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre

“Ambitious” is a good word to describe Stray Dog Theatre’s production of Ragtime, just thinking about it. SDT isn’t a huge company, and their venue, the Tower Grove Abbey, isn’t that big either, but Ragtime is a big musical, in terms of casting, technical demands, and overall scope. This is one of those situations that might make someone wonder if a production like this would even work. Fortunately, however, this production does work, extremely well.

Based on E. L. Doctorow’s sprawling, heavily plotted novel, the musical Ragtime is grand in scope, examining life in New York City and its suburbs in the early 20th Century, and the major societal changes that were going on during that time. There’s a lot of story here, and the writers deserve credit for fitting all the plots into a coherent and fascinating musical. Real historical figures such as Emma Goldman (Laura Kyro), Harry Houdini (Joseph Gutowski), J.P. Morgan (Gerry Love), Henry Ford (Jason Meyers), Evelyn Nesbit (Angela Bubash), and Booker T. Washington (Terry Lee Watkins, Jr.) appear in the show interacting with the fictional characters and helping to set the scene and paint a picture of the times. The three main plots involve characters from different backgrounds living in a world of class and racial tensions, systemic racism and discrimination, as well as the rise of immigration, changes in technology and societal expectations, and more.  There’s an upper-class family in the rich, and very white, suburb of New Rochelle, featuring a somewhat obtuse but world exploring Father (Phil Leveling), a cynical Grandfather (Chuck Lavazzi), a pampered Mother (Kay Love) who is learning that the world isn’t as simple as she had thought, and the Little Boy, Edgar (Joe Webb).  Against the expectations of society, Mother takes in a young black woman, Sarah (Evan Addams) and her newborn son. The child’s father is ragtime piano player Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Omega Jones), who wants to marry Sarah and has big dreams for their future as a family. There’s also Tateh (Jeffrey M. Wright), a Jewish immigrant artist from Latvia who arrives in New York with his daughter (Avery Smith) looking to make a new life in America. This is only the beginning, though. Complications occur for everyone involved, as Mother starts to see her values conflicting with those of her husband, Mother’s Younger Brother (Jon Bee) looks for a purpose in life, Coalhouse is bullied and harassed by the local fire chief (also Lavazzi) and his cronies who don’t like the idea of a black man with a fancy new car spending so much time in New Rochelle, and Tateh’s efforts to provide for his daughter take him from the streets of New York to Boston and beyond. Hopes and dreams are confronted with harsh reality, cruelty, and injustice, and life changes significantly for everyone involved.

This isn’t an easy story to describe without taking too much time and spoiling too much, but all the plots are woven together expertly, and the tension builds throughout the first act and explodes in the second. This is an intensely challenging, moving, and thought-provoking work, and SDT has staged it as well as I could imagine. The singing is first-rate, from the leads to the large and impressive ensemble. From the very first moment of the show, the ensemble and the music set the mood, along with the excellent band led by music director Jennifer Buchheit. The music is a mixture of traditional Broadway and turn of the 20th Century styles including, as is to be expected from the title of the play, a major ragtime influence.  The time and place are evoked well through means of David Blake’s expansive, multi-level set with platforms, staircases, and the look of steel-beam construction from the era. There are also meticulously detailed period costumes by Eileen Engel, and dramatic lighting by Tyler Duenow that helps transport the audience to this specific era and place in history. The only small issue I have with this production is that Coalhouse and Sarah’s baby (played by a doll) never actually ages despite the fact that several years go by in the course of the story.

The cast here is simply remarkable, with not a weak link among them. Everyone is ideally cast, and the character relationships are well-established and believable, with excellent chemistry in the ensemble and among the leads. Jones and Addams especially display a strong connection as Coalhouse and Sarah, with powerful voices as well. Their hopeful duet “Wheels of a Dream” in Act 1 is a particular highlight. Jones is also especially adept at portraying Coalhouse’s journey throughout the story, as the character goes through a great deal of profound changes. Also strong are Kay Love, in a thoughtful, reflective and beautifully sung turn as Mother; Wright, determined and engaging as Tateh; and Bee as a particularly earnest and determined Younger Brother. There are also some memorable performances from Lavazzi in two distinct roles–the jaded Grandpa and the bigoted, bullying fire chief–as well as Bubash as the perky singer and actress Evelyn Nesbit, who is the center of a national scandal; Kyro as the insistent activist Emma Goldman; and young Webb and Smith as the Little Boy and the Little Girl. Everyone is excellent, though. If I named all the strong performances, I would be listing the whole cast, because everyone is just that good. This is a show that demands a lot from its cast in terms of vocals, acting, and overall energy, and this cast delivers all that and more, from the very first note to the stirring Act 1 finale “Till We Reach That Day” to the Epilogue that ends the show.

I’m fairly sure this is the biggest show Stray Dog has ever done, and it’s simply stunning. The pacing is just right as well, not too rushed and not too slow. The moments of emotional resonance are given just the right amount of time, and all the players work together with precision and strength. It’s a profoundly moving portrait of a pivotal time in American history, but it also has a lot to say for today’s times as well. This is a truly brilliant production.

Kay Love, Evan Addams
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Ragtime at the Tower Grove Abbey until August 19, 2017.

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A Chorus Line
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Direction and Choreography by Denis Jones
The Muny
July 29, 2017

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo: The Muny

A Chorus Line is a legendary show. It’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner that ran on Broadway for 15 years, which was a record for a long time. It’s somewhat odd to think that such a “small” show had achieved such big success, but it shouldn’t be that strange considering its human drama, memorable score, and timeless appeal, especially for anyone who has at any time been involved in theatre and especially dance. The Muny is almost too big a venue to put on this show, really, although this latest production, the show has been “opened up” in a few ways that, for the most part, are successful and add to the classic appeal of this show.

The premise is fairly simple. A group of dancers are trying out for roles in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway show, and the director, Zach (Ivan Hernandez) interviews them to find out more about their backgrounds, what dance means to them, and why they want this job. Most of the dancers are veteran performers for whom this is a “make or break” type of situation career-wise, although there are a few younger dancers in the group who are looking for their big breaks. Even though the roles are cast near the end of the show, the real drama here is not as much about who gets the job and who doesn’t. What’s most interesting is who these people are, and how they got to where they are now. There’s a small semi-romantic subplot involving one of the dancers, Cassie (Bianca Marroquin), but the real drama, and the real romance, is about the stage life itself. The show’s most famous number, “What I Did For Love”, for instance, isn’t about a romantic relationship, but rather about the dancers’ relationship with their art. This show is, with all its drama and occasional critiques of the business, still essentially a love letter to the life of a performer. It has a St. Louis connection as well, as a few of the dancers involved in the original talk sessions that led to the development of the show were from here, and the few references to St. Louis in the show are met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The show here at the Muny has been modified slightly to fit the enormous Muny stage and to include the Muny’s youth ensembles, with varying degrees of effectiveness. For the most part, the additional ensemble members in some scenes do succeed in helping the show fill out its space, although sometimes the inclusion of the kids’ ensemble seems unnecessary. For instance, it’s interesting to see the dancers tell the stories of their childhood experiences aided by the addition of a child performer as a younger version of the older actor, but this works better in some situations (“I Can Do That”) than in others (“At the Ballet”). There are other ways the show is opened up, as well, such as through the use of video projections designed by Nathan W. Scheuer, which are especially effective in Cassie’s (Bianca Marroquin) featured number, “The Music and the Mirror”.   The set, by Paige Hathaway, is fairly simple, and that works for this show, and Andrea Lauer’s costumes are appropriate for the characters and the mid-1970s setting of the piece. There’s also extremely effective lighting by Rob Denton that helps maintain the overall atmosphere of this production.

The cast here is excellent, and each gets a moment to shine, although some more than others. The entire company is strong, excelling in singing and acting as well as dancing. The standouts for me are Ian Paget as Paul, whose “showcase moment” is a heartbreaking monologue near the halfway point of the show (there is no intermission), as well as Holly Ann Butler as the tough-talking Sheila. There’s also Madison Johnson as the somewhat flight Kristine, who has a problem with singing, highlighted in the song “Sing”, a clever duet with her husband and fellow auditioner Al (Rick Faugno). Other standouts include Marroquin as the determined Cassie, Sean Harrison Jones as the athletic dancer Mike, Evan Kinnane as the socially awkward Bobby, and especially Hannah Florence as the dedicated dancer Diana, who shines leading the cast in “Nothing” and “What I Did For Love”. The whole ensemble is strong, though, displaying energy and style in the production numbers and solos alike, and performing director Denis Jones’s dynamic choreography well, especially in the show’s iconic closing number “One”.

A Chorus Line is, to use a somewhat overused term, iconic. it’s one of those shows that everyone who loves musicals should see at least once, and even though the show has been modified slightly to fit the huge stage and play to the enormous audience at the Muny, its essence is preserved. It’s a celebration of music, dance, and humanity, well represented in this fine production.

Cast of A Chorus Line
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting A Chorus Line in Forest Park until August 4, 2017.

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Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Ken Page
Choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare
Union Avenue Opera
July 28, 2017

Cast of Carousel
Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is often considered one of the best musicals of the 20th Century. It’s also a show that I love, even though I had never seen it live before. Now, a somewhat unlikely company has produced it here in STL. I had never seen a show at Union Avenue Opera before either, but now they have ventured into the area of musicals and I’m glad they have, because this production is excellent, especially in the area in which one would expect an opera company to excel–the singing.

Carousel tells the story of the unexpected romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Wes Mason) and textile mill worker Julie Jordan (Maria Lindsey) in a small Maine fishing town. Julie’s friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Christine Amon) takes up with upwardly mobile fisherman Enoch Snow (Anthony Webb), but Julie and the aimless Billy struggle in their new marriage, and when Julie announces she’s expecting a child, Billy is driven to desperation in order to provide, teaming up with disreputable sailor Jigger Craigin (Andrew Wannigman) for a nefarious, risky scheme. When Billy’s plans don’t go as expected, he gets a chance to redeem himself somewhat, in trying to help his confused teenage daughter Louise (Caylee McGlasson, danced by Emma Gassett).  This is a dramatic story with some romantic elements and glimmers of hope, but also with a dark edge and some controversial subject matter along with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s striking, melodic score.

The production here is well-cast, especially in terms of vocals. Mason and Lindsey make a convincing pair as Billy and Julie, with powerful voices and excellent chemistry especially in their celebrated duet “If I Loved You”. Mason does a good job with the difficult role of Billy, whose choices are problematic to say the least, and Lindsey makes a somewhat aloof Julie, which works for the character, especially in the later scenes after the time jump in Act 2. There are also some glorious vocals from Merry Keller as Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler, who sings the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the boistrous “June Is Busting Out All Over” with convincing power. Acting-wise, the standouts are Amon as the loyal and occasionally giddy Carrie, and Webb as her enterprising but sometimes emotionally clueless beau Mr Snow. These two have excellent voices, and marvelous chemistry as well. There are also strong turns from Wannigman as the menacing Jigger, Debby Lennon as Billy’s jealous, possessive employer Mrs. Mullin, and Robert McNichols, Jr. in  three pivotal roles. There’s also some excellent dancing expertly choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare, particularly in the ballet sequence danced beautifully by Gasset as “Dance Louise” and the excellent ensemble. There is also, as to be expected, beautiful ensemble singing and a superb orchestra conducted by Scott Schoonover.  It’s a score that tends to the operatic in many instances, and this opera company does it justice.

Technically, the production is a little different than most other modern musical stagings, especially in the area of sound. The individual performers are not mic’d, so sometimes the speaking lines can be difficult to hear, although most of the cast members project their voices well enough. There are also supertitles–designed by Philip Touchette– projected on the wall to help the audience to follow the dialogue and story. The set by Patrick Huber is appropriately detailed and evocative, as are Teresa Doggett’s costumes, although the style seems to suggest a combination of different 20th Century eras rather than the usual Turn of the Century setting. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Huber that helps to create and maintain a stylized, almost otherworldly tone to the proceedings.

Carousel is an ideal first venture into musical theatre for Union Avenue Opera, and I’m glad I was able to see it handled so well and in such a fine, musically stunning production. There’s also something of an air of  the “old-fashioned” here in terms of staging, and I mean that in a good way. It’s an especially strong production and well worth seeing, and hearing.

Christine Amon, Anthony Webb Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera is presenting Carousel until August 5, 2017.



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