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Archive for January, 2022

The Prom
Book by Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
The Fox Theatre
January 28th, 2022

Kaden Kearney
Photo by Deen Van Meer
The Prom North American Tour

The Prom is a Tony-nominated musical with several St. Louis connections among its producers. It also was made into a Netflix film with an all-star cast. Here, in the show’s touring company based on the Broadway production, there are no “household names” in the cast, but there’s plenty of star power and a lot of energy on stage at the Fabulous Fox, as the story of a small town high school, a teenage girl,  a prom controversy and some (eventually) well-meaning Broadway meddlers comes to St. Louis in a memorable and crowd-pleasing production.

The story starts where this show earned its accolades: on Broadway, as  a pair of egotistical veteran Broadway performers, Dee Dee Allen (Ashley Bruce) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) are at a swanky after party for their just opened musical about Eleanor Roosevelt, where they played the leads. When the reviews don’t go so well and their publicist, Sheldon Saperstein (Thad Turner Wilson) tells them their narcissistic image needs improving, they get the idea of doing some kind of good deed to get publicity. Their colleague, perpetual chorus member Angie (Emily Borromeo) looks on her phone and sees a trending story about high school student Emma (Kaden Kearney), a lesbian who has been told that she can’t take another girl to the prom with her, so the school has canceled the prom altogether. The three, along with Sheldon and  “between gigs” actor Trent (Jordan Alexander), decide that they will make Emma their cause, and so they head to Indiana. At the high school, Emma struggles with the idea of being the “face” of a growing controversy and being ridiculed by her classmates and blamed for the lack of a prom. Meanwhile, her intended prom date, Alyssa (Kalyn West), is afraid to go public because nobody knows about her sexual orientation or her relationship with Emma, including her perfectionist mother, PTA president Mrs. Greene (Ashanti J’Aria), who is strongly opposed to the idea of holding an inclusive prom. The school’s principal, Mr. Hawkins (Christopher McCrewell), is on Emma’s side, and is trying to go through legal channels to help, but finds his plans and his life disrupted by the arrival of the actors, including Dee Dee, of whom he is a longtime fan, but who may not live up to his idealistic image of her.

That description is just the beginning, as we learn more about the characters as the story plays out in sometimes predictable but sometimes surprising ways. It’s mostly a broad comedy with a lot of knowing humor about theatre and Broadway actors in particular, as well as portraying inter-generational friendships and lessons in tolerance, communication and, as one upbeat song explains, the biblical ideal of “Love Thy Neighbor”. There’s exuberant dancing choreographed by director Casey Nicholaw, as well as some more humorous and poignant moments. It’s a fun show, with a lot of big, Broadway energy and good deal of small town charm.

The cast is especially strong, and particularly impressive in that there are more than a few understudies performing. Bruce, Wilson, Alexander, and McCrewell were all covering for the principal performers, and all gave excellent performances and wouldn’t be easily picked out as understudies, except that Bruce slightly underplays the over-the-top Dee Dee. The standouts, though, are the terrific Kearney, who shows off a lot of heart, stage presence and a great voice as Emma, and Wetzel, as the larger-than-life Barry, who has some great bonding moments with Emma. There’s also a strong and enthusiastic ensemble to fill out the cast.

Technically, the show is big, bold, and colorful, with dazzling sets Scott Pask that fill out the Fox stage well, as well as excellent detailed costumes by Ann Roth and Matthew Pachtman. Natasha Katz’s lighting also adds sparkle and style to the proceedings, and Brian Ronan’s sound design is crisp and clear. There’s also a strong orchestra conducted by Chris Gurr. 

There are a lot of memorable characters in The Prom, and an overall emphasis on the importance of communication, humility, kindness, and bravery as well as tolerance and acceptance. With a fun, memorable score and a big, enthusiastic cast, it entertains and leaves a memorable impression. It’s a show I had heard a lot about, and I’m glad I finally was able to see.

Cast of The Prom
Photo by Deen Van Meer
The Prom North American Tour

The North American Tour of The Prom is playing at the Fox Theatre until February 6, 2022

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Iphigenia in Splott
by Gary Owen
Directed by Patrick Siler
Upstream Theater
January 21, 2022

Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater has returned to live performance with a riveting, compelling showcase for a consistently excellent local performer. Iphigenia in Splott is Welsh playwright Gary Owen’s complex exploration of one woman’s life in a traditionally working class area of Cardiff, inspired by the Greek tale of a young woman’s sacrifice by her soldier father in order to bring about a victory in battle. Here, the battles and wars are more metaphorical, but the drama is very real, as is the singularly impressive and emotionally raw performance by its star, Jennifer Theby-Quinn.

Theby-Quinn plays Effie, a hard-partying young woman who initially lives a day-to-day life of numbness and hangovers, which she actively seeks in order to pass the time between club outings and parties. She lives in a small flat and doesn’t have much of a support network beyond an equally hard-partying flatmate and a sort-of-boyfriend who she doesn’t seem to like very much. There’s also her grandmother, who gives her money that Effie grudgingly accepts, but for the most part, hers is a life of emptiness punctuated by raucous excess. Narrating the story as events unfold, Effie is a larger-than-life personality, but is increasingly challenged by her circumstances, and meetings with various people who cause her to think more deeply about her changing situations, as she meets a new guy at a bar who turns out to be more than he first appears. This meeting leads to a series of events that not only change Effie’s life, but also challenge the audience’s perspective–as Effie herself blatantly does at various moments–and parallels the source material in a less-direct and more metaphorical sense, as our “Iphigenia” experiences sacrifice in a series of different ways and the various people and institutions in her life–mostly those of a “higher” social class–use her as a vessel for their own comfort and/or improvement, or else ignore her needs altogether. 

I’m not going into much detail concerning what happens, because the drama of the story, and the power of the performance, depend much upon Effie’s personal experience and discoveries along the way. She is confronted with many difficult truths, but also boldly confronts society–in the form of the audience–along the way. It’s a full-on emotional journey, with every emotion laid bare. In the center of all of this action, and driving it is the absolutely stunning embodiment of the character by Theby-Quinn. She is supported ably by Patrick Siler’s excellent direction, as well as technical contributions from set and costume designer Laila Alvarado, lighting designer Joseph W. Clapper, sound designer Kareem Deanes, technical director Silas Coggeshall, and dialect coach Teresa Doggett. All these elements, from the minimalist set to the realistic costumes and evocative lighting and sound, help with establishing sense of place, all in support of Theby-Quinn’s remarkable work of becoming this character in such a relatable, immensely powerful and credible way. It’s a performance of sensitivity, humor, drama, tragedy, action, and reaction, introducing us to a character who is at once bold, confrontational, sympathetic, and profoundly human. It’s a first-rate performance by a consistently first-rate performer.

Iphigenia in Splott is a powerful return for Upstream. Due to the current COVID situation, the schedule is still somewhat variable, so you’ll need to check with Upstream online to make sure when or how you can see the show. Still, if you’re able to see it, I highly recommend it. It’s a tour-de-force performance of a truly fascinating work of theatre. 

Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo by ProPhotoSTL.com
Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater is scheduled to present Iphigenia In Splott at the Marcelle Theatre until February 6, 2022

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