Archive for November, 2023

The fall-into-winter theatre season is in full swing in St. Louis. With the Holiday season starting up, and a host of new productions getting ready to open, there’s a feast of options on stage for theatre fans to enjoy. Here are short reviews of three recent productions–one recently closed, but two still running, that all feature strong casting and some clever staging, with two being literary adaptations, and one exploring the inner life of a struggling writer. 

Elektra: Elektra’s Version
Based on the play by Sophocles, translated by Anne Carson
Directed and Designed by Spencer Lawton
November 16, 2023

Maida Dippel (Center, on bed) and Cast
Photo: Critique Theatre Company

Director Spencer Lawton has brought together an enthusiastic cast for a new look at the classic Greek tragedy Electra as filtered through the lens of early 2010’s Tumblr culture and the Marina and the Diamonds Album Electra HeartWith some input from the cast and from local artist/director Lucy Cashion–who is known for these kinds of literary re-imaginings–Lawton’s production is a cleverly staged, well-cast show that provides much to think about, as well as making the most of its space at the fun new venue, Greenfinch Theater and Dive

The venue is great for this staging, providing a blank canvas of sorts on which the artists can present their vision. The cast, led by Maida Dippel as the brooding, vengeful Elektra, is in excellent form, with several of the actors playing more than one role. The ensemble is especially strong and cohesive, including Katie Orr, Victoria Thomas, Miranda Jagels-Félix, Celeste Gardner, Alicen Kramer-Moser, Laurel Button, and Emma Glose, with similarly costumed Ross Rubright and Anthony Kramer-Moser as “The Man Parade”. 

While there’s a lot going on here, and sometimes it could be hard to follow–especially at a point in which most of the cast members are speaking at once–this is a fascinating staging with a lot to think about, especially in terms of the often conflicting messages that society presents to teenage girls. It’s got drama, dark comedy, and lots of attitude, as well as a sense of social critique that seems fitting considering the name of this theatre company. The stylized look of the characters and costumes–influenced by the Electra Heart album–also contributes to the distinctive style of this show. 

It’s a compelling production, and I hope it has a life beyond the one weekend it played at Greenfinch. 

Q Brothers Christmas Carol
Based on the Novella by Charles Dickens
Written by Q Brothers Collective (GQ, JQ, JAX, POS)
Developed with Rick Boynton
Music Composition by JQ
Directed by Q Brother Collective (GQ, JQ, & JAX)
November 24, 2023

Garrett Young, Mo Shipley, Victor Musoni, Maya Vinice Prentiss
Photo by Phillip Hamer Photography
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

The Q Brothers Collective has had a relationship with St. Louis Shakespeare Festival for a few years now, starting with their hilarious production of Dress the Part in early 2020. The Festival has now brought the Chicago-based company’s lively, hip-hop-influenced Q Brothers Christmas Carol to town in a memorable, eye-catching staging at the National Blues Museum downtown. With an energetic, musical staging featuring DJ Stank (Mel Bady) spinning the tunes, this is an update of a classic that brings a lot of humor, heart, and style.

With a cast of just four actors, this show’s comedy benefits a lot from all the quick changes and the fact that most of the actors are playing multiple characters. With Garrett Young as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, the story plays out essentially as expected, but with many modern twists and jokes. Young is especially effective as Scrooge, making the character’s journey believable, and working well with co-stars Victor Musoni, Mo Shipley, and Maya Vinice Prentiss, who each play a variety of roles, from the various ghosts, to townspeople, to figures from Scrooge’s past, present, and future. It’s a fast-paced show with a memorable musical score and a modern festive spirit. 

It’s also a great-looking show, with excellent costumes by Erika McClellan, scenic design by William Attaway, lighting by Jesse Klug, and sound by Stephen Ptacek. The staging is quick and lively, and the update is decidedly 21st Century, with a tone that I would characterize as PG-13-ish in terms of language and subject matter. It works very well in the space at the Blues Museum, with a themed bar set up for before the show. It’s a good way to start off the holiday season in a theatrical way.

St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is presenting Q Brothers Christmas Carol at the National Blues Museum until December 23. 

Leannán Sidhe
by Deanna Strasse
Directed by Sean Belt
First Run Theatre
November 26, 2023

Matt Hanify, Tanya Badgley
Photo by David Hawley
First Run Theatre

First Run Theatre’s mission of presenting world premiere productions of shows by Midwestern playwright’s continues, staging Milwaukee-based playwright Deanna Strasser’s play Leannán Sidhe, an intriguing look at the life of an ambitious playwright who, Strasser admits in the program notes, is based on herself. Directed by Sean Belt and featuring a small, effective cast, this is a well-staged production to which I think a lot of artists–and especially writers–may relate, even if they don’t go as far as the main character does in retreating into a fantasy that threatens to take over her life. 

Mya Sraid (Tanya Badgley) is a playwright whose life isn’t exactly going the way she would like it to, considering producers keep wanting her to write farces, and her friends all seem to want to bring her to productions of the same old plays because they know people in the cast and/or crew. Her house is a mess, as her friend Jessica (Amie Bossi) notices when she arrives for an outing to a production of The Music Man that Mya has been dreading, and the audience is made to wonder who that guy in the background is who is doing dishes seemingly without being noticed. After Jessica leaves, we find out that the “background guy” is actually Vincent Thane (Matt Hanify), an actor Mya saw in a recent production and has become obsessed with. Well, this guy isn’t actually Vincent, but an imaginary version of him that Mya has invented to be her fantasy lover and artistic muse. He’s there to be able to dance in the rain (produced at whim by Mya’s imagination) to Etta James’s “At Last” and spout encouraging words to her, admiring the always-full moon out the window and serve as inspiration for Mya’s latest play, which is a drama for once, and not a farce. Soon, though, we find that even the imaginary Vincent is starting to protest, and not behave exactly as Mya would wish, as Mya’s apartment gets messier, and her real-life friends grow concerned.

The staging here is effective, with a simple set by Brad Slavik, as well as props and set decoration by Gwynneth Rasuch and Denise Mandle that lend a sense of realism to the proceedings. There’s also excellent lighting by Michelle Zielinski and sound by Leonard Marshell, bringing the world of Mya’s apartment, and the world inside her mind, to life and aiding the strong performances of the cast, led by Badgley in a relatable performance as Mya, whose descent into fantasy and flirtation with the darker sides of her imagination is believable and compelling. There’s also good support from Hanify as the not-so-perfect dream lover Vincent, and Bossi as the convincingly concerned Jessica. 

This is a show that explores issues that I think a lot of writers and creative people face, as well as looking with a bit of critical eye on “celebrity worship” culture as well as dealing with the subjects of depression and social detachment. It’s an intriguing and promising new work. It’s running for one more weekend, so there’s still a chance to check it out.

First Run Theatre is presenting Leannán Sidhe at the Kranzberg Arts Center until December 3, 2023


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Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast
The Fox Theatre
November 14, 2023

Parris Lewis and Band
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical North American Tour

St. Louis loves Tina Turner. Lots of people around the world love her, but St. Louis has a special connection. The legendary icon of rock n’ roll, pop, soul, and R & B spent several formative years here, and got her start playing in clubs on both sides of the river. Those early years, along with the rest of her celebrated career are highlighted in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, currently onstage of the Fox and featuring a strong cast, especially in the title role, along with many hits from the singer’s career. 

Actually, “singer” is a bit simplistic in describing Tina Turner’s talents. She was a multi-talented entertainer who could sing, dance, and make an audience take notice. As with other “jukebox” bio-musicals, this show uses the artist’s musical catalogue to tell the story of her life, but even more than other shows in this vein, this one seems to depend much more on its star as the central focus. The title of this show mentions Tina twice, and that emphasis is evident in the structure of the show, which uses songs by Tina and occasional other artists to tell her story through the years, from young Anna Mae Bullock’s childhood in Tennessee to her career as an international superstar, with all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs along the way. Considering the colossal talent it’s portraying, the musical essentially demands great casting in the title role, and this touring production has that. The role of Tina is shared by two performers who alternate performances–Ari Groover and Parris Lewis. On opening night at the Fox, Lewis took the stage with energy, stage presence, convincing emotional range, and most of all, the towering vocals that Tina Turner was known for on classic songs like “Proud Mary”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and more. 

There is a strong supporting cast, as well, led by Roz White as Tina’s mother, Zelma, Wydetta Carter as Gran Georgeanna, and especially young Brianna Cameron as the young Anna Mae, who shows off great presence and powerful vocals as the girl who will eventually become known to the world as Tina Turner. There’s also a fine performance from Deon Releford-Lee, making the most of the difficult role of Ike Turner, who discovers the teenage Anna Mae, gives her her stage name and eventually marries her, also revealing himself to be controlling, philandering, and abusive. The drama in their relationship is difficult to watch at times, and the story gains more momentum once Tina is on her own. There’s a strong ensemble as well, with the production numbers being especially strong in re-creating live performances from Tina’s career, both with Ike and without.

The staging is dynamic and energetic, with a versatile set and eye-catching costumes by Mark Thompson, and excellent projections by Jeff Sugg that help maintain the sense of movement throughout the story. There’s also strong lighting by Bruno Poet and sound by Nevin Steinberg, as well as a great band led by music director Anne Shuttlesworth. 

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a fitting tribute to its celebrated subject. If you’re a fan, there’s a lot to like here. The proclamation of Tina Turner Month in St. Louis by the mayor’s office after the curtain call on opening night was a great bonus, as well. This is a show that fits especially well at the Fox, in a city and metro area where this musical icon got her start. It’s an entertaining show, with a memorable leading performance.

Brianna Cameron and Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical North American Tour

The North American Tour of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is running at the Fox Theatre until November 26, 2023

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The Mad Ones
by Kait Kerrigan and Bree Lowdermilk
Based on an Idea by Zach Altman and Bree Lowdermilk
Directed and Choreographed by Kevin Corpuz
Tesseract Theatre Company
November 3, 2023

Melissa Felps, Grace Langford
Photo by Florence Flick
Tesseract Theatre Company

Tesseract Theatre Company’s foray into musical theatre continues to be a resounding success. Having produced a few impressive musicals so far, the company’s new focus is continuing with an excellent production of a smaller show with a big heart. The Mad Ones–written by Kait Kerrigan and Bree Lowdermilk–isn’t one I had heard of before, but after seeing the first-rate production at the Marcelle, directed and choreographed by Kevin Corpuz, I’m sure I’ll remember it for some time to come.

The plot isn’t particularly unique, featuring the reasonably familiar formula of the young, rule-following protagonist trying to figure out the direction of her life, influenced by the more carefree attitude of her more outgoing, rebellious best friend. There’s also a caring but sometimes overprotective parent and a sweet but unadventurous boyfriend, who the best friend thinks is boring. There’s even a twist that’s fairly easy to figure out early on in the show. Still, while in some ways seems like a story that’s been told before, what makes it work is the sheer believability and likability of the characters, and the relatability of the situations. Recent high school graduate Samantha, her friend Kelly, her mom Beverly, and boyfriend Adam have a story to tell that’s thought-provoking and well-constructed. There’s also a  good balance of humor and drama, as well as a memorable score of songs that fit the story well and express the characters’ motivations and emotions with clarity.

The show is staged in an eye-catching way with an abstract set by Todd Schaefer that consists of series of platforms and performance areas, and a minimalist approximation of a car that features prominently in the story. There’s also vibrant lighting by Brittanie Gunn that adds to the atmosphere and tone of the story. The sound by Jacob Baxley is well-balanced, and there’s a great band led by music director and keyboardist Joe Schoen, doing justice to the score and supporting the performers well without overpowering the singers. The staging and choreography by director Corpuz are also well-paced and engaging.

What’s most engaging of all here is the wonderful cast. Led by the eminently likable Melissa Felps as Samantha, the story is given just the right degree of emotional resonance, and the singing is excellent from all. Felps has a strong, emotive voice, and the rest of the cast is just as good, with Grace Langford as the impulsive, party-loving Kelly working especially well with Felps in their many scenes together. There are also pitch-perfect performances–both acting-wise and vocally–from Sarah Gene Dowling as the statistics-minded Beverly and Cody Cole as the kindhearted Adam. It’s a strong ensemble all around, with cohesive chemistry and exquisite vocal harmonies. 

Overall, The Mad Ones may not be the most well-known of shows and its premise might not seem entirely original, but it’s well worth checking out for its emotional resonance, well-drawn characters, and relatable message. At Tesseract, it’s also a showcase for a marvelous cast and some truly magnificent singing. It’s more evidence for Tesseract that the decision to focus more on musicals was the right one.

Grace Langford, Cody Cole, Melissa Felps, Sarah Gene Dowling
Photo by Florence Flick
Tesseract Theatre Company

The Tesseract Theatre Company is presenting The Mad Ones at the Marcelle Theatre until November 12, 2023

This review was originally published at

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