Archive for October, 2023

by Anthony Horowitz
Directed by Robert Ashton
Albion Theatre
October 20, 2023

Nick Freed, Chuck Winning
Photo by John Lamb
Albion Theatre

The latest production from  Albion Theatre, Mindgame has an appropriate title. Anthony Horowitz’s intense psychodrama–directed by Robert Ashton–is twisty, intense, and visceral, presenting quite a challenge for actors and directors. Albion meets that challenge in a strong, highly provocative production that’s sure to keep audiences thinking.

The story begins in the office at a hospital for the criminally insane. Styler is there making notes on his tape recorder. He’s hoping to meet with the director of the asylum, Dr. Farquhar–pronounced like “Far-ar” here, as the doctor insists when he arrives. Farquhar is mysterious and suspicious, seemingly not remembering a letter Styler sent requesting the meeting, and eventually being evasive and challenging when Styler reveals his desire to meet with one of the hospital’s infamous patients, a known serial killer. Soon, one of the hospital’s employees, Nurse Paisley, is brought into the story, seeming to be a reluctant participant in whatever Farquhar has planned. There isn’t much else I can say about this story without spoiling, but it involves a series of revelations, machinations, and psychological manipulations that threaten to–and sometimes do–veer into violence.

It’s a clever script, with well-drawn characters who have secrets of their own, and reveal themselves to be more than what they may seem at first, while offering a thought-provoking examination of various concepts including the treatment of mentally ill criminals, the public’s fascination with true crime–and particularly serial killers–and more. This frequently twisting plot and characters present a challenge for actors and directors. Director Ashton has paced the action well, and the excellent cast brings out all the rancor, occasional wry humor, and elevating sense of sheer terror that the script provides. Nick Freed as Styler is an effective protagonist, revealing a range of emotions, and motives over the course of the story, working well with Chuck Winning, who is also superb as the cunning, manipulating, and increasingly hostile Farquhar. Nicole Angeli rounds out the cast in a convincing turn as the mysterious Paisley, offering a convincing portrayal as the characters, and the story, continue to shift and evolve.

The look and atmosphere of this production are also well-done, with an effective, detailed set by technical director Erik Kuhn, who also serves as fight choreographer. There’s also excellent work from costume designer Tracey Newcomb, lighting designer Eric Wennlund, and sound designer Jacob Baxley. The technical aspects work together to help set and maintain the overall tense, confrontational drama that ensues.

Mindgame is certainly a disturbing story, no question. There’s some difficult subject matter here, and it’s not for all audiences, so anyone squeamish about depictions and descriptions of violence, torture, and murder probably will not want to see this show. Still, what is presented here is an exquisitely crafted thriller that is ideally cast and energetically staged. It’s a memorable, provocative production from Albion Theatre.

Chuck Winning, Nicole Angeli, Nick Freed
Photo by John Lamb
Albion Theatre

Albion Theatre is presenting Mindgame at the Kranzberg Arts Center until November 5, 2023

This review was originally published at

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See You In a Minute
by Jacob Juntunen
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
Contraband Theatre
October 14, 2023

Joseph Garner, Ricki Franklin
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Contraband Theater

It was inevitable that plays about the COVID-19 pandemic would happen. There have already been online plays and stories concerning this world-changing event, and with live theatre back in full swing, it only stands to reason that plays about the pandemic would start to appear more often. The only problem is, the relatively new (to St. Louis) Contraband Theatre has now set the bar so high with its latest new play that I’m not sure how anyone else will be able to measure up. I welcome the efforts, but Jacob Juntunen’s See You In a Minute is at once a reflection, a character study, a mildly science fiction-y exploration, and a portrayal of various levels of grief that I’m not sure can be matched. It’s that good, and as produced at The Chapel arts venue by an excellent cast under the direction of the always-excellent Ellie Schwetye, this show has made such an impression on me that I’m sure I will be thinking about it for some time. 

This play isn’t just about one pandemic, though. It’s about the next pandemic as well–in 2041. Kathryn (Ricki Franklin) is the educational director for an off-Broadway theatre company in New York, but she’s come home to St. Louis to help her parents during the new health crisis. Her dad, Joseph (Joseph Garner), is a playful, encouraging guy who offers his daughter sandwiches and plays childhood games with her involving stuffed animals used as puppets. Her mother, Deb (Kelly Howe), is a more practically-minded engineer who wants to focus on the immediate situation and not dwell in the past. There’s obviously something about the last pandemic, and the family’s experience at that time, that Kathryn isn’t able to get straight answers about, but there are other, more pressing situations in her life, as well. Her director in New York, Kris (Joshua Mayfield) is concerned that Kathryn hasn’t finished her presentation/sales pitch for high schools about the company’s upcoming production of the classic play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Kathryn, for her part, is struggling to find the century-old play’s relevance in modern times, and she keeps finding convenient ways to procrastinate while Kris, under increasing pressure from the theatre company’s board, grows ever more anxious. 

There are a lot of issues being dealt with here, but nothing seems rushed or cluttered. Issues of artistic integrity vs. financial struggles in theatre, generational differences, pandemics, grief, and family responsibilities, among other issues, are dealt with with focus and clarity, as well as a degree of poetic elegance. There’s also an impressive balance between humor and drama, as well as some “twist” moments that are given just the right level of timing and weight to make their utmost impact. It’s a sensitive, insightful, theatrically literate, exquisitely emotional play that works especially well under Schwetye’s well-measured direction and with the superb efforts of the first-rate creative team, including set designer Caleb D. Long, Costume Designer Carly Uding, and especially lighting designer Morgan Brennan and sound designer Schwetye.

The staging is simple and efficient, with just the right level of emotional resonance, and the script is well-crafted, with a few surprises as well as some elements that are somewhat predictable to a point, but don’t play out exactly as they might. There are also some sci-fi elements since it’s set in the future–including scientific advances that make sense for the times–that are treated more as a simple matter-of-fact rather than major points of the story. 

As for the acting, it’s excellent. Franklin is engaging and relatable as Kathryn, making her various struggles and dilemmas believable and immediate, and her relationships–with both parents and with Kris–are especially credible. Garner is full of warmth and energy as the creative, encouraging Joseph–bringing a great deal of enthusiasm to the puppet shows in particular–and Howe is just as excellent as the more reserved but just as caring Deb. As Kris, Mayfield is thoroughly believable as a conflicted theatre director whose loyalties are challenged by circumstance. It’s a strong, cohesive ensemble that lends much emotional weight to the story.

See You In a Minute is at once timely, challenging, and ultimately hopeful. It’s a profoundly affecting theatrical experience, and an excellent introduction to the work of playwright Jacob Juntunen and Contraband Theatre. There’s so much else I could write, but I won’t because its best to experience it yourself. So far, it’s my favorite new play in St. Louis this decade. 


Joshua Mayfield, Kelly Howe, Joseph Garner, Ricki Franklin
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Contraband Theatre

Contraband Theatre is presenting See You in a Minute at The Chapel until October 28, 2023

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Bitter Fruit
by Héctor Levy-Daniel
Directed by Philip Boehm
Upstream Theater
October 13, 2023

Jane Paradise, Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Photo by
Upstream Theater

The latest production from Upstream Theater is a small-cast, one act, emotional drama of intrigue and mystery. Bitter Fruit, by Argentinian playwright Héctor Levy-Daniel, is a well-staged, provocative production that will keep audiences thinking. It’s also a showcase for some excellent local performers.

The story isn’t entirely linear, and it’s not always clear what the relationships are, but a lot of that seems to be intentional. There’s an unfolding mystery here, beginning as the wealthy María (Jennifer Theby-Quinn) comes home to the mansion she shares with her mother Teresa (Michele Burdette Elmore) to find a new housemaid, Luisa (Jane Paradise), who María instantly dislikes and distrusts. Luisa is somewhat evasive about her background and why she came to work there, but María is especially unsettled because the new maid seems to be constantly watching her. María is also involved in a dispute with local factory workers who are protesting their working conditions, and some have died under mysterious circumstances. She meets with a representative of the workers, Pedro (Isaiah Di Lorenzo), who is shown through flashbacks to be no stranger to María, although their relationship is much altered from what it had been. While local authorities investigate the suspicious deaths, María has her own secrets to keep, all while she grows ever more suspicious of Luisa. 

It’s a fascinating play, and the performances are especially strong, with Theby-Quinn convincing in the difficult role of the haughty María, who is a compelling character even if she isn’t especially likable. Paradise also makes a strong impressive as the evasive but determined Luisa, and Di Lorenzo has some excellent scenes with Theby-Quinn that both add to the mysteries of the story and add depth to their situations. There’s also a strong performance from Elmore as the seemingly well-meaning Teresa, who has her own secrets and may know more than she lets on. There are a lot of unanswered questions here, but the drama is intense, the plot unfolds with precisely paced timing, and the cohesive ensemble plays the palpable tension well.

The set by Patrick Huber and lighting by Steve Carmichael, along with Michele Siler’s costumes, add to the overall mood and atmosphere of the production. There’s also an excellent, evocative musical score, performed live on guitar by Lliam Christy, who plays with skill and energy, adding to the emotional vibe of the story.

Overall, this is an intriguing St. Louis premiere production, looking at a time in relatively recent Argentinian history that might not be familiar to American audiences. There’s a useful note in the program from the University of Pennylvania’s Dr. Jennifer Joan Thompson, explaining some of the context. Bitter Fruit is another thought-provoking work of theatre from Upstream. 

Jennifer Theby-Quinn, Michele Burdette Elmore
Photo by
Upstream Theater

Upstream Theater is presenting Bitter Fruit at the Marcelle Theatre until October 29, 2023

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The Immigrant
by Mark Harelik
Conceived by Mark Harelik and Randal Myler
Directed by Rebekah Scallet
New Jewish Theatre
October 12, 2023

Mindy Shaw, Dustin Lane Petrillo
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The latest production from New Jewish Theatre is one they’ve done before, twice. I hadn’t seen either of their previous productions of The Immigrant, but seeing the third version makes a strong enough impression that it’s easy to see why this would be revived more than once. It’s a highly personal show, with memorable characters and an especially strong cast.

Written by playwright and actor Mark Harelik and based on the true story of his Russian Jewish immigrant grandfather, Haskell Harelik (Dustin Lane Petrillo), the story is compelling and, for the most part, well-constructed. It follows Haskell from shortly after arriving in the small town of Hamilton, TX, where he barely makes a living pushing a cart around in the summer heat and selling bananas for a penny each. His work leads him to the doorstep of local couple Milton (David Wassilak) and Ima Perry (Mindy Shaw), who are suspicious of the young man at first, but soon befriend him, letting him rent a room in their house, as Haskell continues to work hard, getting business assistance and advice from banker Milton, and writing letters home to his wife, Leah (Bryn McLaughlin), who eventually joins him in Texas, where she experiences the culture shock more acutely than her husband. Over the years, as Haskell’s business grows, the two couples form a close friendship despite their cultural and religious differences, although there are certainly some obstacles that come up in the relationship between Haskell and Milton, especially later in the play as World War II happens. It’s a compelling portrait of determination, friendship, family, and persistence through hardship, although it does seem to peter out somewhat at the end, leaving a few loose ends and stopping the dramatic action by changing the structure of the play with a late-arriving narrator. 

The cast is small, but stellar, making the most of the drama and making the relationships especially believable. As Haskell, Petrillo is engaging and determined, doing an excellent job of portraying his growth from struggling new arrival to established businessman and family man. The developing friendship between Haskell and the Perrys is also made especially poignant through the impressive performances of Shaw and Wassilak. McLaughlin is also strong as Leah, who has excellent chemistry with Petrillo and has some particularly memorable scenes with Shaw, as well.

The production values are strong, as well, with an effective set by Rob Lippert, and well-crafted costumes by Michele Friedman Siler. There’s also striking lighting by Michael Sullivan, excellent sound design and projections by Kareem Deanes, and good use of evocative music as the story unfolds. 

Overall, The Immigrant is a show that strikes many emotional chords, with a story that’s historical, but surprisingly timely as well. What’s especially impressive here, though, is the cast, along with the well-paced staging that holds interest from the first moment.  I’m glad NJT brought it back, so that I could have the opportunity to see it. 

Bryn McLaughlin, Dustin Lane Petrillo
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
New Jewish Theatre

The New Jewish Theatre is presenting The Immigrant at the J’s Wool Studio Theatre until October 29

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Music and Lyrics by Eddie Perfect, Book by Scott Brown and Anthony King
Directed by Alex Timbers
Choreographed by Connor Gallagher
The Fox Theatre
October 11, 2023

Isabella Esler, Justin Collette
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Beetlejuice North American Tour

I’ve seen the movie Beetlejuice in its entirety once, and that was when was first released in 1988. I had seen very few clips of the musical adaptation, as well (mostly the Tony Awards performance). Still, even though my Beetlejuice knowledge was rusty, that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the energetic, technically impressive tour that’s currently running at the Fox. With a great cast, a catchy score, and some eye-catching visuals, this is a crowd-pleaser with a surprising amount of heart.

There are a few changes from the movie plot, apparently, and the focus here is more on Beetlejuice himself (Justin Collette), and the sad teenager Lydia Deetz (Isabella Esler) than movie leads Barbara (Megan McGinnis) and Adam Maitland (Ryan Breslin, subbing for principal Will Burton), and the tone is possibly even darker than Tim Burton’s original film. Still, the overall vibe is dark comedy, with some heartwarming moments thrown into the mix, and an ultimately hopeful message of family, belonging, and living life to the fullest. As the grieving Lydia tries to deal with the recent death of her mother, and her father Charles (Jesse Sharp) tries to forget his grief by ignoring it and moving on with aggressively perky life coach Delia (Kate Marilley), and trying to fix up the recently-deceased Maitlands’ house, the impossibly nice Barbara and Adam try to learn how to be ghosts, and Beetlejuice desperately wants to be able to be seen by living people in hopes that he won’t be oppressively lonely anymore. Of course, Beetlejuice being as creepy and mischievous as he is, much hijinks ensue, with some broad comedy, crass jokes, and lively musical numbers punctuating the story along the way. 

Even though there’s a lot happening here, the story moves along well, and is fairly easy to follow, with the performances adding energy and enthusiasm to the already wacky plot and characters. Collette and Esler are the obvious stars here, with Collette great with comic timing and physical comedy, and Esler impressing with memorable stage presence and powerful vocals. McGunnis and Bresler are also strong as the almost-too-nice Barbara and Adam, who have many fun moments together and with Lydia and Beetlejuice, especially. There are also memorable turns from Sharp as the initially clueless but ultimately well-meaning Charles, and Marilley as the impossibly wacky but also well-meaning Delia. There’s an excellent ensemble to back up the leads, as well, who especially excel in the production numbers and energetic choreography by Connor Gallagher.

Technically, the show dazzles, especially for a touring show, with an impressively elaborate set by David Korins and marvelous projections by Peter Negrini. William Ivey Long’s costumes are clever and delightfully whimsical, as well, with some impressive hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. The excellent lighting by Kenneth Posner, puppet design by Michael Curry, Makeup by Joe Dulude II, and sound by Peter Hylenski also contribute a lot to the overall comically creepy atmosphere. 

Beetlejuice is a whole lot of fun, and it seems especially appropriate this time of year in the run-up to Halloween. There is some crass humor and language, so it may not be best for young children, but it seems most appealing for teens and up. Even if you haven’t seen the film, or don’t remember it well, this show should make a strong impression. It’s a big, crass, creepily hilarious show that looks and sounds great. It’s a fun show to start off the new season of touring shows at the Fox.

Justin Collette (center) and Cast of Beetlejuice
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Beetlejuice North American Tour

The North American tour of Beetlejuice is running at the Fox Theatre until October 22, 2023

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Dr. Ride’s American Beach House
by Liza Birkenmeier
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
October 8, 2023

Lizi Watt, RN Healey, Lindsay Brill, Bridgette Bassa
Photo: STLAS

The latest production from St. Louis Actors’ studio has a few St. Louis connections. Playwright Liza Birkenmeier is from here (although she is now based in New York), and the play is set in South City in 1983. Dr. Ride’s American Beach House is an intriguing character study and exploration of various issues relating to women’s roles in society as well as relationships, ambitions, and more. It has a small, excellent cast, and impressive production values that make the show look and feel very “St. Louis”, as well.

The story takes place on the roof of a historic home in South City that’s something of a tourist attraction. Harriet (Lindsay Brill) lives there, and is hosting her regular “book club” meeting with longtime close friend Matilda (Bridgette Bossa), who has invited a recent acquaintance, Meg (RN Healey) to the gathering, to Harriet’s initial annoyance. Harriet is also preoccupied with an upcoming event–the first space flight of Dr. Sally Ride, who would become the first American woman in space the next morning. The structure of the play is more character-focused, because there isn’t really much of a plot. It’s just four women–including Harriet’s landlady Norma (Lizi Watt), who makes a few memorable appearances–hanging out on the roof, drinking beer, listening to the radio,  and expressing their thoughts on the world around them. They share their thoughts about their lives and their goals, and Harriet and Matilda are questioned about the nature and intensity of their relationship, as Harriet begins to share stories about recent experiences that make Matilda somewhat uncomfortable, and the brash Meg encourages Harriet to do what she wants and discover who she wants to be. It’s a very credible interaction and seems authentically “St. Louisy”, with additional information about Sally Ride, NASA, and the space program included for good measure, and a bit of a twist that shifts the perspective near the end, adding a degree of illumination to the established characters and relationships.

The dialogue is credible and flows in a believable way, and the characters are memorable and well-drawn. There is a fair degree of subtext here, and the performers handle it well, along with the overall “dramedy” tone of the show. All four performers are strong, working well together in a cohesive sense of ensemble chemistry. Brill and Bassa are strong in the central roles, and Healey adds much in the way of attitude and perspective. Watt is also excellent in her mostly comic turn as Norma, who strikes me as a character who can easily be overplayed, but thankfully isn’t here. The mix of characters and the well-pitched performances add much to the overall effectiveness of this story.

Technically, the show is especially impressive, as Patrick Huber’s detailed set seriously looks like he took an old brick South City home, cut the top floor off, and put it onstage at the Gaslight Theater. It’s amazingly authentic looking, with some nice period set decoration and props by Emma Glose to add to the 1983 vibe. There are also well-suited costumes by Abby Pastorello, excellent lighting by Kristi Gunther and sound by Glose. 

Dr. Ride’s American Beach House is a vividly realized “slice-of-life” look at a particular moment in history as experienced by “ordinary” St. Louisans. The language and themes are decidedly adult, so this isn’t for all ages, but it’s an intriguing story that feels like a snapshot in time. It’s a good start to the season for St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Lindsay Brill, Bridgette Bassa
Photo: STLAS

St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting Dr. Ride’s American Beach House at the Gaslight Theater until October 22, 2023

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The Lion in Winter
by James Goldman
Directed by Tom Kopp
The Midnight Company
October 7, 2023

Lavonne Byers, Shannon Campbell, Michael Pierce, Joe Hanrahan, John Wolbers, Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Joel Moses
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Lion in Winter is a show that’s often associated with its two leading roles–and they are great ones. Still, as The Midnight Company is showing in its current production at the .ZACK Theatre, as directed by Tom Kopp, this is an ensemble piece with great roles for all of its players. With its mixture of drama, suspense, intrigue, and humor, this show provides an ideal showcase for a strong collection of first-rate local performers, who are all at the top of their game. 

This play is also one that’s often more associated with the screen than the stage, considering the high-profile, award-winning 1968 film and 2003 television adaptation. It’s a fascinating play, however, and one that has strong roles for its ensemble. It’s essentially a fictionalization of history–an imagination of real historical characters in situations that make for an intriguing study of character, as well as an exploration of the scheming machinations that can come with royalty and royal ambition. The story centers on English King Henry II and his estranged, imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine–who has been temporarily let out of prison for Christmas–along with their sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John. The well-crafted script by James Goldman explores the various ways Henry and Eleanor use to manipulate one another to get what they want, as well as the schemes, ambitions, and disappointments of the sons. There’s also the new, young King of France, Philip, who also figures into the various schemes to attain and maintain power, land, and influence; as well as Philip’s sister Alais, who was brought up by Eleanor and now, as a young woman, is Henry’s mistress as well as a promised fiancée for whichever son becomes King, as Henry favors the young, immature John and Eleanor favors the soldierly Richard, with the shrewd Geoffrey often treated as an afterthought. Through the course of the story, schemes are made, secrets are revealed, and much emotional manipulation ensues, as the characters jockey for position and struggle to secure their ambitions, future security, and in the case of Henry and Eleanor, their legacies.

While the story is fascinating and the dialogue is incisive, the biggest attraction of this show is the sheer strength of its characters. For The Midnight Company, the casting is ideal, with excellent ensemble chemistry, exquisite performances, and no weak links. Byers and Hanrahan are superb in the leads, with Byers especially shining as the determined, often disappointed Eleanor. The scenes these two share crackle with energy and a mix of conflicting emotions, serving as the centerpiece of the plot. The sons are also ideally cast, with Joel Moses as the warlike Richard showing an inner vulnerability, John Wolbers as the scheming Geoffrey displaying a scheming intelligence, and Ryan Lawson-Maeske excellent as the petulant, entitled John. Shannon Campbell as Alais develops the character with believable strength as the story unfolds, and Michael Pierce plays Philip with credible regal bearing and assertiveness. 

Technically, the production impresses with a suitably Medieval look and atmosphere, aided by Brad Slavik’s well-appointed unit set and Liz Henning’s impeccably detailed costumes. There’s also good use of period-styled Christmas music in the scene transitions and original music by Susan Kopp, and appropriate atmospheric lighting by Tony Anselmo. The production utilizes the sometimes difficult space at the .ZACK Theatre especially well.

The Lion in Winter has proved to be an excellent choice for The Midnight Company. With its well-chosen cast and effective staging, this is a show that plays all the intrigue with just the right pitch, not overdoing it but not underplaying it either. It’s a marvelous showcase for a great cast. 

Joe Hanrahan, Lavonne Byers
Photo by Joey Rumpell
The Midnight Company

The Midnight Company is presenting The Lion in Winter at the .ZACK Theatre until October 21, 2023

The review was orginally published at

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Twisted Melodies
Created and Performed by Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Directed by Reggie D. White
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 6, 2023

Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The latest production from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is one St. Louis audiences may have seen before, but not in the same way. Kelvin Roston, Jr.’s Twisted Melodies–a one-man show about famed singer and musician Donny Hathaway–played at the Black Rep in 2016, and Roston has appeared in multiple productions of the show in various places since then. Now, at the Rep under the direction of Reggie D. White, the show gets a new look with some truly astounding production values, and still serving as an ideal showcase for the supremely talented Roston in the lead. 

It seems like Roston could not have chosen a better subject for his one-man show, as Roston’s musical talents and acting prowess shine in their portrayal of the legendary but troubled Hathaway. The construction of the show itself also provides a unique look into the life, music, and mind of Hathaway, who was a celebrated performer and artist, but who also struggled with paranoid schizophrenia. The story allows the audience into Hathaway’s creative mind as he works on a new project from his hotel room in New York in 1979. The audience is treated by Hathaway as apparently another hallucination, but a good one–supportive, instead of the menacing visual and auditory ones he experiences throughout the show, represented through the truly astounding technical effects of lighting designer Xavier Pierce, sound designer G Clausen, and projections designer Mike Tutaj. The richly appointed set by Tim Mackabee is transformed from a neutral space to a hostile one with chilling immediacy, as Hathaway tells his personal story and struggles to finish his latest composition. There’s also excellent work from costume designer Dede Ayite, outfitting Roston in a stylish, period-appropriate outfit that aids in his portrayal.

As for Roston himself, his performance is a tour-de-force, as I was expecting since I’d seen it before, and it has all the power and sheer vocal prowess I had remembered, along with excellent musical ability on the keyboard. He does a great job of sounding like Hathaway, telling the story through music and song as well as through his vivid acting. His vocal range is impressive, and his portrayal is one of astonishing depth and veracity. 

Even if you saw it before, Twisted Melodies from the Rep is a show that needs to be seen. Whether you are familiar with the music of Donny Hathaway or not, this is an essential performance to witness, with technical effects that are simply stunning. It’s an education for those who may be unfamiliar with Hathaway and his place in the history of American popular music, as well as vivid look at the devastating effects of mental illness. Most of all, though, it’s a profoundly excellent showcase for a superb performer and performance. 

Kelvin Roston, Jr. and Set
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Twisted Melodies at COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theatre until October 22

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Saturday Night Fever
Based on the Paramount/RSO Film, and the story by Nik Cohn
Adapted for the Stage by Robert Stigwood, in Collaboration with Bill Oaks
North American Version Written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti
Featuring the Songs of the Bee Gees
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Michael Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
October 5, 2023

Drew Mizell, Sara Rae Womack
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Saturday Night Fever, the film and the soundtrack, have become cultural icons over the years, synonymous with the 1970’s for many people, whether or not they were around at the time or even saw the film. The image of John Travolta in his crisp white suit, and the celebrated songs of the Bee Gees are ingrained in the minds of many, to the point where a lot of people don’t even remember the actual story. It’s about the music, the dancing, the vibe of the late 70’s disco craze. The story was turned into a stage musical in the 1990’s, first for the London stage and later on Broadway, and now Stray Dog Theatre is bringing that show to St. Louis, with a fairly large cast, engaging leads, a light-up dance floor, and a vibe that approximates, but doesn’t quite capture, that authentic “Disco Fever” feel.

I’ve personally had a longtime love-hate relationship with Saturday Night Fever. I was in elementary school when the movie came out, and I saw the re-edited PG version, but for me, the movie was about the music, and the dancing, and putting the record on at home and dancing with my siblings and friends from the neighborhood. The story didn’t make a strong impression on me then, but when I saw the original version years later in college, the story kind of left me underwhelmed, and I found I disliked most of the characters, so I decided I didn’t need to see it again, but I still loved the music. When Stray Dog announced this production, I was curious, wondering if the story would be adapted to make it more interesting, and there have been some changes, including removing my least favorite aspect of the film plot and softening some of the characters to make them more likable, but on stage, the story comes across as choppy and disjointed, and an unwelcome distraction from the real reason to see this show–the music, the dancing, and the 1970’s nostalgic vibe that comes from the scenes set in the disco. The home scenes with lead character Tony Manero (Drew Mizell) and his immature, selfish friends and bickering family don’t hold attention nearly as well. 

The show is mostly carried by the leads–Mizell as the disco-obsessed, otherwise directionless Tony, and Sara Rae Womack as Stephanie, an upwardly mobile young woman who aspires to a better life in Manhattan and is a talented dancer. Mizell has the charm, presence, and moves to make Tony compelling, and he and Womack make a strong impression especially in their scenes together. The rest of the cast is hit-or-miss, but I don’t think the structure of the script does them any favors. Standouts include Lindsey Grojean as the lovesick (for Tony) Annette, who has a memorable solo on “If I Can’t Have You”, along with Justin Bouckaert as Tony’s conflicted friend Bobby, Chris Moore as club MC Monty, and especially Jade Anaiis Hillery as singer Candy, who belts out the disco hits with gusto and a powerful voice. As for the rest of the ensemble, they do their best, but it’s hard to find much energy in a script that hops around so much that it isn’t able to find much focus or weight, losing the dramatic moments only coming alive during the club scenes, although the actual dancing could use a little more “flow” and energy as well.

As for the production values, this show tries, but seems oddly muted a lot of the time. There’s an excellent band led by music director Leah Schultz, but it’s hard to hear them much of the time, and the multilevel set by Josh Smith is serviceable, but not spectacular. Colleen Michelson’s costumes sometimes evoke the disco era, but are also oddly muted at times. As for lighting by Tylor Duenow, it works especially well in the disco scenes, but could use a bit more dazzle as well. The scene changes are also kind of choppy.

Overall, Saturday Night Fever has its moments–especially in the dance club scenes–but doesn’t hold up in comparison to many of the other excellent musicals SDT has produced. I think this is largely the fault of the material, since I don’t think even the flashiest, most dazzling production values could do much for the clunky script, but I have to admit I’m disappointed. If you love the film, and the story, you might enjoy it more, and the leads are excellent, so there is entertainment to be had here, especially if you like the music. Still, I’m not sure this was the best movie to turn into a stage show.

Cast of Saturday Night Fever
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Saturday Night Fever at Tower Grove Abbey until October 28, 2023

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Christina Rios
St. Louis Shakespeare
September 29, 2023

Cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo by Marissa Meadows
St. Louis Shakespeare

The latest production from St. Louis Shakespeare is one of the Bard’s most popular and oft-performed comedies. With a large, lively cast directed by Christina Rios, A Midsummer Night’s Dream features a few intriguing twists, brisk pacing, and enthusiastic performances. It also features a rustic, whimsical tone that emphasizes the forest locale and updated setting.

One of the great things about this play–and Shakespeare in general–is how adaptable it is to different times, contexts, and settings. This production has a more modern, updated setting, while still being about Athenian nobles and artisans, along with woodland fairies. With a vibrant multi-level set design by Morgan Brennan, wonderfully coordinated costumes by Olivia Radle, energetic choreography by Mary Mather, and superb atmospheric lighting by Erin Riley, this well-paced production maintains the organic, back-to-nature vibe with sprinkles of magical wonder, and a marvelously energetic cast and whimsical comic tone. Modern elements like smartphones are worked into the story seamlessly, and the emphasis on physical comedy and ensemble chemistry adds to the charm of this production.

The story is the familiar one, with several different plots woven together, including the wedding of Theseus and Hyppolyta; the convoluted love square involving Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena; and the mischievous antics of the sprightly Puck, who gets involved in a dispute between the fairy King Oberon and Queen Titania. Then, there’s the troupe of artisans who are rehearsing a play for the wedding, including the boastful weaver Bottom, who becomes involved in the hijinks between the fairy royals in a hilarious manner. 

The players here are all excellent, and director Rios brings out the best in the talented cast, with energetic staging that adds to the comedy and overall whimsical tone. While having the roles of Titania and Oberon each played by two different performers can be confusing at times, all of the actors are excellent, with Jodi Stockton and Bryce A. Miller as Titania, and Chuck Brinkley and Stephanie Merritt as Oberon, all having their memorable moments. Tiélere Cheatem as the nimble, mischievous Puck is also a standout, along with Ebony Easter and Remi Mark as fellow sprites Peaseblossom and Moth. Also memorable are Mark Kelley as the determined Peter Quince, the director of the play-within-a-play, Riley Stevio as the self-doubting Snug, who plays the lion in that play, and Fox Smith as the highly self-focused, opinionated “Nic Bottom”. There’s also a particular emphasis on the “mixed-up lovers” plot, with strong performances from Rhiannon Creighton as Helena, Jordan Ray Duncan as Demetrius, Molly Stout as Hermia, and Noah Laster with an especially hilarious interpretation of Lysander. There’s a fairly large cast here, with all playing their parts well, and the cohesive ensemble helps to make the fast-paced comedy work for maximum entertainment value.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a classic, and frequent theatregoers may have seen several productions over the seasons. What’s excellent about this show is that it makes the most of its setting and story while also managing to make it surprisingly fresh and immediate. With a well-executed creative vision and an enthusiastic cast and creative team, St. Louis Shakespeare has made this production a thoroughly engaging dream of a theatrical experience. 

Jordan Ray Duncan, Rhiannon Creighton, Molly Stout, Noah Laster
Photo by Marissa Meadows
St. Louis Shakespeare

St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Robert G. Reim Theater until October 7, 2023

This review was orginally published at

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