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Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Choreographed by Patricia Wilcox
The Muny
June 13, 2023

Steven Good, Sara Sheperd, Noah Weisberg, Jarrod Spector, Jackie Burns
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny’s 105th season has begun in Forest Park, and it’s off to a great start. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is making a strong impression way beyond simple nostalgia. With a great cast, excellent production values, and thoughtful staging, it’s a tribute not just to a great singer-songwriter, but to several musical eras and the overall evolution of the pop music scene. 

As the title says, this show is about Carole King, the legendary singer-songwriter known for her collaborations with first husband Gerry Goffin, as well as her celebrated solo career. Even though King’s career went beyond the early 1970s, this show focuses mostly on her formative years, beginning and ending in 1971 and framed as a reflection/flashback showing how King got to this point, a concert at Carnegie Hall supporting her famous album Tapestry. From that legendary stage, we go back to Brooklyn in the late 1950s, where teenage Carole (Sara Sheperd) is a college student and aspiring songwriter, even though her mother, Genie (Sharon Hunter) wants her to be a teacher. Carole is persistent, and heads to Times Square and the office of record producer Don Kirschner (Noah Weisberg), who buys her first song. Soon, she finds herself struggling to write good lyrics, and meets Gerry Goffin (Steven Good), who becomes her writing partner and, eventually, her husband. The story then follows their success as songwriters and the development of the music industry and the trends in music, as well as Carole and Gerry’s friendship and professional rivalry with fellow songwriting couple Cynthia Weil (Jackie Burns) and Barry Mann (Jarrod Spector). The story also covers Carole’s personal struggles with her increasingly difficult marriage, as well as her development as an artist in her own right. 

I’ve seen this show before, when the national tour based on the Broadway production came to the Fox Theatre. That was an excellent production, and I was sort of expecting a similar staging at the Muny, but this isn’t a replica of that staging. As directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and featuring a dynamic set by Ryan Douglass, this show evokes the look, sound, and overall vibe of the era with an always moving but also reflective energy. The costumes by Tracy Christensen fit the characters well and illustrate the changing times with style. There’s also dazzling lighting by Rob Denton and excellent video design by Kylee Loera. The Muny Orchestra, led by music director Charlie Alterman, does an excellent job with the familiar score of pop hits by King and a variety of others including the Shirelles, the Righteous Brothers, The Drifters, and more. 

As for the cast, Sheperd makes an ideal Carole King, with her strong vocals and relatable stage presence. Sheperd manages to do justice to King’s hit songs as well as portraying the artist as she grows and matures. Sheperd works especially well with Good, who’s impressive as the increasingly troubled Goffin; as well as Burns and Spector, who display strong chemistry and great voices as Weil and Mann. There’s also excellent work from Weisberg as the ambitious, encouraging Kirschner, and Hunter as King’s supportive mother. The ensemble, playing a variety of roles from famous recording artists, to fans, to friends, is also memorable, contributing to the story with energy and strong vocals. 

It was a packed audience on press night, full of appreciative fans who clapped along to the music, danced in their seats, and contributed to the enthusiastic Muny atmosphere on a truly beautiful evening in Forest Park. This production of Beautiful certainly lives up to its title. It’s a thoughtfully staged, ideally cast show that serves as a magnificent beginning to a promising Muny season.

Sara Sheperd (Center) and Cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny is presenting Beautiful: The Carole King Musical in Forest Park until June 18, 2023

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Private Lives
by Noël Coward
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
October 7, 2022

Amanda Pedlow, Stanton Nash
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The latest entry in the Rep’s current season is a classic “comedy of manners” from celebrated British playwright Noël Coward. Private Lives is hilarious look at contrasting relationships, as well as marital expectations among the English upper class in the 1930s. As staged by the Rep, it’s a meticulously orchestrated, highly physical romp that brings a great deal of laughter from the audience, thanks to the superb direction and pitch-perfect cast.

As the old saying goes, some couples can’t seem to live with or without one another. One such couple is former spouses Elyot Chase (Stanton Nash), and Amanda Prynne (Amelia Pedlow), who haven’t seen each other for five years until they suddenly find themselves staying next door in the same French hotel on their honeymoons with their respective new spouses, Sibyl Chase (Kerry Warren) and Victor Prynne (Carman Lacivita). While each professes to be devoted to their new spouse at the beginning of the play, once they see one another again, Elyot and Amanda can’t help but be drawn together, despite their volatile, clashing personalities that eventually led to the breakup of their former marriage. Of course, there is the matter of their current spouses, who haven’t previously met but find themselves having to work together to confront Elyot and Amanda, with potentially explosive results. 

This is a show that’s more about the characters and their interactions than the plot. The plot is fairly simple, in fact, but the relationships are anything but simple, as Elyot and Amanda deal with the intense magnetism that drew them together as well as the intense conflicts that drove them apart, and their new spouses have to contend not only with aspects of their partners that they hadn’t seen before, but with their new acquaintances as well, along with their own burgeoning personality conflict. This is a show that highlights Coward’s famous wit, as well as as the intense chemistry and conflict among lovers. It’s also oh-so-British and oh-so-1930s, with sharp humor, a bright, energetic tone, and a few memorable musical moments featuring memorable period tunes. The atmosphere is impeccably maintained, with a richly detailed set by Lex Liang, marvelous costumes by Kathleen Geldard, excellent lighting by Colin Bills, and superb sound design by Lindsay Jones. 

As for the cast, they are stellar, with sizzing chemistry between Nash and Pedlow as the intense, witty, and emotional Elyot and Amanda. These two bring much energy to their roles, and their chemistry is like that of a classic old film pairing. There’s also excellent work from their co-stars, with Warren hilarious as the needy Sibyl and Lacivita comically bewildered as the more strait-laced Victor. When all four are together, the comic energy is especially strong. There’s also a fine performance by Yvonne Woods in a small role as Parisian maid Louise. 

Overall, this is a show that sparkles with comic intensity and expert direction and pacing. It’s also one of those shows that makes me feel for the stage crew, since the beautifully appointed set isn’t so neatly organized by the time our leads get through with it, and each other. I hadn’t seen Private Lives before, but I’m glad this excellent production has been my introduction. It’s a classic comedy of wit, character, and passion, superbly staged at the Rep. 

Kerry Warren, Amelia Pedlow, Stanton Nash, Carman Lacivita
Photo by Jon Gitchoff
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Private Lives at COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theatre until October 23, 2022

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by Diane Samuels
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
August 19, 2016

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Kelley Weber, Hannah Ryan
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is embarking on its 10th Season staging quality thought-provoking theatre in St. Louis. Its latest production, Kindertransport, is a fictionalized tale inspired by real historical events. It’s an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and the development of individual identity as a result of life-changing circumstances. At Mustard Seed, it’s a fascinating drama featuring some truly outstanding performances.

The play gets its title from a real historical program, in which thousands of children, most of them Jewish, were transported out of Nazi Germany and given shelter with families in England. As mentioned in the playwright’s introduction printed in the program for this production, this particular story is fiction, although it was written as the result of extensive research and interviews. The story here is a representation of elements of various stories playwright Diane Samuels was told. The story she has written portrays two parallel stories–one that starts in Germany in the 1930s and one that takes place in late-1970s Manchester, England. The England story features three generations of a family–Lil (Kirsten De Broux), her daughter Evelyn (Michelle Hand), and Evelyn’s daughter Faith (Katy Keating), who is having trouble deciding whether she wants to move out of the house and live on her own. Concurrently, we also meet nine-year-old German Jewish girl Eva (Hannah Ryan) and her mother Helga (Kelley Weber), as Eva prepares for her trip to England via the Kindertransport. Helga loves her daughter dearly, but insists that she learn to take care of herself and hopes that she will be safe in England and that they will one day be reunited. Eva’s story then continues as she travels to England and meets her host family, and as she deals with her fears, her homesickness, and the distrust and suspicion of some of the locals. As these two stories unfold simultaneously, the link between the “present” and the “past” stories eventually becomes clear, and although it’s fairly easy to predict as the story progresses, I won’t spoil it here. It’s a fascinating, believable story that is best seen for itself, and it’s remarkably staged here.

The six-person cast is uniformly excellent, led by the truly extraordinary performance of high school senior Ryan as Eva. As the character who grows and changes the most throughout the production, and as the central figure in the story, casting in this role is key, and Ryan is remarkable, portraying the transition from the inquisitive but scared young girl to a conflicted teenager with much energy, heart, and incredible stage presence. She is the heart of this production, but everyone else is impressive, as well, from De Broux’s kind, supportive Lil to Weber’s devoted, determined Helga, to Hand’s secretive but resilient Evelyn, to Keating’s curious, strong-willed Faith, to Brian J. Rolf’s portrayal of various roles from a stern Nazi officer to a helpful postman to a suspicious train station guard. All the performers work well together, with excellent ensemble chemistry and believable relationships, especially between the various mothers and daughters. Profound emotion is clearly apparent here, from hope and fear to, especially, love, all portrayed convincingly by this extremely strong cast.

 Visually, the production is also stunning, with a detailed two-level set by Kyra Bishop that represents primarily the English house but also serves as an ideal backdrop for the various locations as the story plays out. The costumes by Jane Sullivan are impressively detailed, as well, reflecting the times and characters and their changes well. There’s also excellent use of lighting by Michael Sullivan and clear sound design by Zoe Sullivan. Kudos also to vocal coach Nancy Bell and German language coach Marlene Rene Coveyou for helping the cast members achieve convincing Northern English and German accents.

Kindertransport is a compelling personalization of history. Taking a profound and traumatic personal experience and highlighting the importance of mother-daughter bonds, this story is remarkably portrayed and presented on the Mustard Seed Stage. Showcasing the top-notch cast and particularly the talented Hannah Ryan in a memorable performance, this is a show that is sure to provoke much thought and conversation. It’s an important and fascinating piece of theatre.

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Katy Keating, Michelle Hand, Kirsten De Broux
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Kindertransport is being presented by Mustard Seed Theatre at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre until September 4, 2016.

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Anything Goes
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Original Book by P.G. Wodehouse & Guy Bolton, and Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse
New Book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Choreographed by Stephen Bourneuf
STAGES St. Louis
July 22, 2015

Cast of Anything Goes Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Louis

Cast of Anything Goes
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Louis

In a way, Anything Goes could well be called one of the orginal “jukebox musicals”. It’s been performed in various versions for decades, with many lyric, song, and book changes, and the plot, while entertaining, is fairly slight. The show exists, essentially, to be a showcase for the songs of celebrated 20th Century composer and lyricist Cole Porter. It’s a lively show with lots of silly comedy and spectacular dancing, and it’s currently being performed in top-notch fashion at STAGES St. Louis.

The story is somewhat silly, but entertaining nonetheless. It follows nightclub singer Reno Sweeney (Julie Cardia) and friends on an ocean liner traveling between New York and London in the 1930s. Reno’s got something of a crush on her old friend, the handsome stockbroker Billy Crocker (Brent Michael DiRoma), but Billy’s newly smitten with young debutante Hope Harcourt (Heidi Giberson), who is sailing on the cruise with her mother (Kari Ely) with the aim of marrying rich English nobleman Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Dan Fenaughty). Meanwhile, gangster Moonface Martin (Bob Amaral), “Public Enemy #13”, is on the run from the law, and boards the ship in preacher’s disguise, bringing his friend Erma (Laura E. Taylor) along.  What ensues is a comedy of love triangles and quadrangles, as well as mistaken identity, gambling, singing and a whole lot of dancing.

The plot isn’t really one that bears a lot of scrutiny. It’s really just a platform for the songs and some some hilariously goofy comedy. Despite the various script updates over the years, the show does still come across as slightly dated, and there are some unfortunate stereotypes that are played for laughs. Still, for the most part it’s a fun show, and the real focus is on those lovely Cole Porter songs and Stephen Bourneuf’s spectacular choreography and excellent ensemble dancing.

This is a very ensemble-dependent show, considering all the stylish dance-numbers and intricately performed choreography. The ensemble sparkles on on numbers like the tap-dance heavy “Anything Goes” and the truly showstopping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” led by the big-voiced Cardia as Reno.  Cardia also displays a strong sense of comedy, working well opposite both the charming DiRoma as Billy, the hilariously shady Amaral as Mooonface, and the delightfully goofy and thoroughly winning Fenaughty as Lord Evelyn.  All of these performers show great comedy skills and excellent voices, especially DiRoma, who also shares delightful chemistry with Giberson, who is also in excellent voice as Hope.  There are also fun comic performances from the always excellent Reichert as Billy’s nearsighted boss Elisha Whitney, and Kari Ely as Hope’s mother, socialite Evangeline Harcourt.  Flack as the Captain, Brennan Caldwell as the Ship’s Purser, and Taylor as Erma also give memorable performances. It’s a very strong cast, from the leads to the ensemble, working together to bring life to the classic Porter score and a great deal of laughs to the audience.

The set, designed by James Wolk, is striking, colorful and versatile, creating a vibrant 1930’s atmosphere. There are also some marvelously detailed and stylish costumes by Brad Musgrove. Sean M. Savoie’s lighting is effective and atmospheric, as well.

Ultimately, the point of Anything Goes is to entertain, and the production at STAGES does that well.  It’s a big, bold, stylish and energetic production that splendidly showcases the marvelous score and choreography. It’s also hilariously funny, with a decidedly silly sense of humor.  Despite a few drawbacks in the script, this is about as ideal a production of this show as I can imagine.

Brent Michael DiRoma, Heidi Giberson , and Ensemble Photo by Peter Wochniak STAGES St. Lousi

Brent Michael DiRoma, Heidi Giberson , and Ensemble
Photo by Peter Wochniak
STAGES St. Lousi

STAGES St. Louis’s production of Anything Goes is running at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood until August 16th, 2015.

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