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Archive for the ‘Snoop’s Soapbox’ Category

Kindertransport
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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Hello readers,

I’m introducing a new feature–Snoop’s Soapbox. I’m not sure how regular this series will be, but whenever there is a theatre-related issue that I feel strong enough about that I just have to write a blog post, this is the heading I will use.  So, here goes:

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for a while (years, actually), and I finally felt compelled to write about it, partially because I just saw the excellent Muny production of South Pacific and it made me wonder even more why the Muny has continually passed up the opportunity to produce one of the all-time classics of musical theatre and a show that many critics consider to be Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best, Carousel.  Here are two interesting facts to consider from the back of the Muny program (where they list all the shows they’ve produced and in what years):

1. The last time the Muny put on a production of Carousel was in 1988.  That’s 25 years ago!

2. In those 25 years, the Muny has produced the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows Oklahoma! three times, South Pacific and The Sound of Music four times each, and The King and I five times.

What is the deal, Muny? Rodgers and Hammerstein shows are obviously very popular, but what escapes me is why the Muny would avoid producing one of the team’s best-loved shows in favor of putting on the same four over and over. I’m sure there have been some great productions of those four shows in those 25 years (I’ve seen some of them), but with such a catalog of shows to choose from, why not pick the one show that hasn’t been performed over and over again?  Why not give the audience something “new” for a change?

Also, as I’ve mentioned, Carousel is a celebrated classic of musical theatre. Time magazine rated it the best musical of the 20th century, and Entertainment Weekly included it on its list of the 10 best musicals of all time.  It has been produced many times on Broadway and around the world, and has a brilliant score that contains some beloved classic songs, such as “If I Loved You”, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.  It’s a show that portrays a full spectrum of human emotion, from love, hope and faith to fear, jealousy and anger, from joy and humor to sadness and regret.  It portrays the optimism and occasional foolishness of youth as well as the wisdom and occasional cynicism of age.  It’s a challenge for any director and has some great parts for a variety of actors.  It does feature some intense moments and deals with some controversial issues, but it is ultimately a celebration of life, hope, mercy, redemption and the power of love. It shows the full range of humanity, both good and bad. It’s a truly beautiful musical and I’m sad that the Muny has neglected this show for so long.

Come on, Muny. It’s been 25 years!  Why not give Carousel another spin?

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