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Archive for the ‘USA Theatre’ Category

The Band’s Visit
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Itamar Moses
Directed by David Cromer
Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
The Fox Theatre
February 25, 2020

Sasson Gabay, Janet Dacal
Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade
The Band’s Visit North American Tour

The Band’s Visit is a Tony-Winning musical that’s more about characters and atmosphere than plot. That’s a good thing, in this case, since the characters are so well-drawn and the atmosphere is haunting and memorable. Currently on tour at the Fox, this production boasts an excellent cast and a stunning sense of musicality to underscore these characters’ simple but profound stories.

It’s not a long play, running at 90 minutes with no intermission, and the setup is simple. An Egyptian police band has arrived in Israel to perform a concert, having been invited to appear at the opening of a cultural center in the city of Petah Tikva. There’s a misunderstanding at the bus station, however, and the band ends up in the small, out-of-the-way town of Bet Hatikva. Once the mistake is realized, band leader Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) and his band are informed that the next bus arrives the following day, so they find themselves unexpectedly spending the night in the town, making the acquaintance of local restaurant owner Dina (Janet Dacal) and her employees Itzik (Pomme Koch) and Papi (played at the performance I saw by standby Danny Burgos). The various band members split up and spend the evening with the locals. Tewfiq and the suave Haled (Joe Joseph) stay with Dina, and Dina shows Tewfiq the town while Haled tags along with Papi and his friend on a double date, discovering that Papi is insecure and doesn’t know how to connect with his date. Clarinetist and composer Simon (James Rana) stays with Itzik’s family, forming a bond and finding himself helping in an unexpected way. Dina and Tewfiq share a bond and an attraction, but Tewfiq is haunted by past regrets. Meanwhile, the ever-persistent “Telephone Guy” (Mike Cefalo) waits by a payphone hour after hour for his long-absent girlfriend to call. This is more a series of episodes with a common theme than one cohesive story, and ultimately there is a message of persistence and hope in the midst of regret and despair, as well as finding common bonds among people from different cultures. There’s a memorable score by David Yazbek with standout songs like “Omar Sharif” and “Something Different” for Dina, and “Haled’s Song of Love” as well as the emotive “Answer Me” and more, played with heartrending beauty by the onstage band conducted by Adrian Ries.

The production values here are impressive, especially considering this is a tour, with detailed, fluidly-moving set by Scott Pask that represents all the various locations in the town and uses the stage’s turntable particularly well. There’s also evocative lighting by Tyler Micoleau that further sets and maintains the show’s lyrical tone and mood. Also excellent are the detailed costumes by Sarah Laux that help bring these characters to life along with the stunning performances.

As for those performances, the entire ensemble is strong here, with superb voices and strong presence. The heart of the show is the connection between Dacal’s bold Dina and Gabay’s soft-spoken Tewfiq, and both performers are stunning in their portrayals and in their chemistry. Other standouts include Joseph as the smooth-voiced ladies’ man Haled, Burgos as the anxious Papi, and the clear-voiced Koch as Itzik, who gets a poignant moment with “Itzik’s Lullabye”. Cefalo is also memorable as the determined Telephone Guy. The whole cast is strong, with a strong sense of cohesive energy and determination, singing the score well and bringing out the emotion of the memorable score.

Overall, The Band’s Visit is about little moments that turn out to be bigger than expected. It’s a “little” show in some ways, with a short run time and a relatively small cast, but it’s got a big heart and sense of musicality that shines through even beyond the curtain call. It’s an entertaining, thought-provoking production.

The North American tour of The Band’s Visit is running at the Fox Theatre until March 8, 2020

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Dear Evan Hansen
Book by Steven Levenson, Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Danny Mefford
The Fox Theatre
October 23, 2019

Cast of Dear Evan Hansen
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen National Tour

I was especially looking forward to the latest touring production at the Fox, having heard a great deal about it before, although I hadn’t managed to see it yet. Dear Evan Hansen has had a lot of hype, and won a lot of awards, and inspired quite a bit of debate along the way, and now it’s here in St. Louis in an engaging, thought-provoking, visually stunning production that’s timely and inventive, and sure to spark discussion about the various issues it raises. With striking technical qualities and an especially strong cast, it’s a show that, at least for me, has lived up to its hype.

This show is as striking for its format as it is for its story. While I’m sometimes skeptical of “teen” because they often seem to be using the same tropes over and over again, Dear Evan Hansen has something a little different to say along with some of the usual territory but with an inventive structure that makes it seem more fresh. The story focuses on various issues including mental health, teen suicide, parent-child relationships, communication in the social media age, and more. It centers on Evan Hansen (Stephen Michael Anthony), a socially awkward teenager who writes letters to himself as an assignment from his therapist. Evan lives with his constantly busy single mother, Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman), who works a full-time job as a nurse and also takes classes to become a paralegal, so she doesn’t have as much time as she would like to spend with Evan. Starting his senior year of high school, Evan isn’t particularly looking forward to school. He doesn’t have any friends to speak of, except for the snarky Jared (Alessandro Costantini), who seems to only talk to Evan because their families know each other. Evan also has a crush on schoolmate Zoe Murphy (Stephanie La Rochelle), who has a difficult life of her own, with a troubled older brother Connor (Noah Kieserman) and parents, Larry (John Hemphill) and Cynthia (Claire Rankin) who seem so preoccupied with Connor that they don’t pay as much attention to Zoe. When Connor and Evan briefly cross paths before an unexpected tragic event, Evan finds himself caught in a web of untruths that start as a misunderstanding and then spiral into more, until before Evan knows it, he’s all over social media and getting more attention than he ever could have dreamed. With the assistance of Jared–who knows the truth–and another classmate, Alana (Ciara Alyse Harris)–who doesn’t know–Evan becomes leader of a movement, as he also grows closer to Zoe and her family, and his relationship with his own mother grows increasingly strained. As events go spiraling out of Evan’s control, and as his new-found popularity begins to affect his personality, Evan is faced with a difficult choice. What will he do, and how will these events effect everyone around him?

This is a dynamically staged show, with a look and feel unlike other musicals I’ve seen. David Korins’s scenic design features movable set pieces representing Evan’s bedroom, the Murphys’ house, and more, and everything is surrounded by screens with projections designed by Peter Negrini, representing social media posts, e-mails, and more, in a constant flow of information that coincides with the plot as it unfolds. There’s also striking lighting  by Japhy Weideman that enhances the overall look and feel of the production, and detailed character-specific costumes by Emily Rebholz. The band, led by music director Garret Healey, delivers the driving, emotional, contemporary sounding score with flair.

The cast for this show is deceptively small. There are eight characters, but the staging and big sound make it seem like there are more. There is some support from various voices representing the social media posts, but onstage there are only the eight cast members, led by a truly remarkable performance from Anthony as the fast-talking, nervous, initially lonely, conflicted Evan. Anthony has a great tenor voice for songs like “Waving Through a Window”, “For Forever”, “You Will Be Found”, and “Words Fail”. Evan is very much the center of this show, and Anthony’s performance drives the story well. Also excellent is La Rochelle in a relatable and well-sung performance as Zoe, as well as Hemphill and Harris as her struggling parents, and Sherman who is especially strong as the loving but overworked Heidi. There’s excellent support from Kieserman whose Connor becomes something of a voice of conscience for Evan; from Costantini as the sarcastic Jared; and Harris as the ambitious, somewhat bossy Alana. It’s a superb ensemble, surrounding Anthony’s tour-de-force performance with strong characterizations, vocals, and energy.

Dear Evan Hansen is a show that strikes me as a good basis for an ethics discussion, as it raises so many issues of what can happen when one small untruth spirals into something much, much bigger. It’s easy to think about something when you’re not in the middle of it, but what happens when things get out of control? Also, what is the role of peer pressure and viral social media culture in all this? This is a show that leaves a lot to think about, and to talk about. It’s also a showcase for a dynamic, remarkable lead performance and a stellar supporting cast. This Evan Hansen is definitely worth hearing from.

Steven Christopher Anthony, John Hemphill, Claire Rankin, Stephanie La Rochelle
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen National Tour

 

The National Tour of Dear Evan Hansen is playing at the Fox Theatre until November 3, 2019

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Hello, Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart, Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
The Fox Theatre
October 1, 2019

Cast of Hello, Dolly!
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Hello, Dolly! National Tour

I’ve seen Hello Dolly! a few times now, at various levels from dinner theatre to regional theatre, as well as the movie. Now, the Fox is presenting the tour based on the recent Broadway revival. My first reaction upon seeing this new production is “it’s Hello, Dolly!” What I mean is that it’s basically what you would expect. There are no reinventions or re-imaginings here. In fact, this one seems to be trying to preserve the spirit of the original Broadway production, and original director, choreographer Gower Champion is even listed in the credits. What is somewhat different about this production is that the emphasis seems to be on the lead performer more than ever, which makes sense since it was originally designed as a vehicle for Bette Midler. Here, with the role being taken by Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello, that starry sheen is as evident as ever, and the title character is certainly the star of the show.

The story is the same familiar tale–of matchmaker and all-around professional meddler Dolly Gallagher Levi (Carmello), who after years of making matches for other people, has decided that she’s tired of being a widow and wants to set up a match for herself. The object of her scheme is curmudgeonly Yonkers-based “half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder (John Bolton), who thinks he’s being paired with widowed hat shop owner Irene Molloy (Analisa Leaming), but he doesn’t know Dolly has other plans. This show also has an especially strong “B” plot that, for me, often upstages the “A” plot–that focusing on Horace’s sheltered and overworked chief clerk Cornelius Hackl (Daniel Beeman), who along with young assistant Barnaby Tucker (Sean Burns) takes advantage of the boss’s absence to take an adventurous day trip to New York City, eventually crossing paths with Irene and her young assistant, Minnie Fay (Chelsea Cree Groen). There are some other subplots as well, that all eventually get tied together, with memorable characters and some increasingly hilarious situations, all while Dolly tries to reconcile her future plans with her past, while manipulating situations to her advantage.

Of course, this show, being named after its main character, needs to have a stand-out star in the role, and more than any other stage production I’ve seen, this one has that. I’ve seen some excellent performers as Dolly, but this whole production is essentially Carmello being backed by everyone else. That’s not to disparage the rest of the cast–everyone is excellent, with Bolton a fine, cantankerous Horace, and particular standout performances from Burns as an eager, amiably and athletically dancing Barnaby, Groen as the outspoken Minnie Fay, and a fun, expressive turn by Laura Sky Herman as Horace’s nervous niece, Ermengarde. Beeman and Leaming also show fine chemistry as Cornelius and Irene. There’s also a great, energetic ensemble filling out splashy, dazzling production numbers like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and Before the Parade Passes By”. Still, the main focus is on Carmello, as it should be because she’s terrific. She’s got everything anyone would want in a Dolly, and more, with a great voice, the big personality to fill out the stage even when she’s the only one on it, especially impressive comic timing and physical comedy skills, and an emotional range that brings poignancy to her more serious moments. It’s a tour-de-force performance.

Another standout feature of this show is its dazzling physical production. It’s a great-looking, fresh-from-Broadway stylish presentation, with a stunning, highly detailed set and fantastically colorful costumes, both by Santo Loquasto. There’s also excellent lighting by Natasha Katz and sound by Scott Lehrer. The production is also accompanied by a delightful orchestra led by Ben Whitely, making the classic score sound great.

The only major drawback to reviewing this production is that Carolee Carmello has joined the show so recently that there aren’t any production photos of her yet. Still, she’s the reason to see this show. It’s a fun, energetic production, with a good cast, but Carmello is the star, filling this great, classic role with style.

Cast of Hello, Dolly!
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Hello, Dolly! National Tour

The North American tour of Hello Dolly! is being presented at the Fox Theatre until October 13, 2019

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Come From Away
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein
Directed by Christopher Ashley
The Fox Theatre
May 14, 2019

Cast of Come From Away
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Come From Away North American Tour

It’s one of those days that people remember with specific detail. “Where were you when?” Most people have an answer. I have an answer, and invariably when the subject comes up, people around me start telling their stories of 9/11. The people of Gander, Newfoundland in Canada have a particular story that has become internationally famous–that of a small unprepared town that suddenly had to play host to thousands of grounded air travelers for several days following that fateful Tuesday in 2001. Come From Away is the award-winning musical that tells their story. Currently on tour across North America, the production has now landed at the Fox, and it’s well worth seeing.

This isn’t a huge, flashy show. In fact, it strikes me as the type of show that will do particularly well in regional theatres once the rights become available. The Broadway production represented by the current tour is striking, but remarkably simple, in a good way. There isn’t an elaborate set–it’s more of an evocation. A tree-surrounded, versatile backdrop designed by Beowulf Borritt, stunningly lit by Howell Binkley, and with the excellent band conducted by Cynthia Kortman Westphal on stage as part of the action. The music is a mixture of styles, mostly with a folk-ish vibe and featuring a variety of instruments from guitar and drums to accordion and various flutes and whistles. It’s a distinctive score with songs that tell the stories of the various residents and “Come From Away” visitors.

The staging is dynamic, with an energetic pace and a small-ish cast in which the actors are all performing more than one role. The story follows the events in Gander on September 11, 2001 and the days following, with some catching up at the end to tell the audience about what happened to some of the key players in the ten years after the events of the story. The residents of Gander, various airline passengers from around the world, and airline employees are featured and a whole lot happens in a few days. The locals scramble to help the passengers, the passengers find out about what’s happening after hours on their planes, and various relationships are formed and strained. It’s a tuneful show with a lot of heart, focusing on kindness and compassion.

There’s drama and humor, and some genuine poignancy, all played out by a fantastic ensemble cast. Everyone is excellent, but standouts include Kevin Carolan as the town’s mayor; Becky Gulsvig as pilot Beverley, who leads the standout number “Me and the Sky”; Megan McGinnis who plays animal shelter worker Bonnie, who makes it her mission to find and care for the animals on the planes; Danielle K. Thomas as Hannah, who’s searching for news about her NYC firefighter son; and Chamblee Ferguson and Christine Toy Johnson as Nick and Diane, an Englishman and Texan woman who get to know one another over the course of the show.

I hadn’t seen or heard much of this show before seeing this production, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to see it now. This is a top-notch touring production of a poignant, unique, fascinating musical with a great score and an excellent cast. Come From Away isn’t a long show, but there’s a lot going on in its 100 minute running time. It’s a story of a town and its people who tell their stories and share their lives with strangers and help find some hope in the midst of tragedy.  It’s a remarkable show.

Becky Gulsvig (center) and Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Come From Away North American Tour

The North American Tour of Come From Away is playing at the Fox Theatre until May 26, 2019

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Waitress
Book by Jessie Nelson, Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Based on the Motion Picture Written by Adrienne Shelly
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreographed by Lorin Latarro
The Fox Theatre
March 26, 2019

Christine Dwyer
Photo by Philicia Endelman
Waitress North American Tour

Waitress is the hit Broadway musical based on a cult-hit movie, and featuring lots and lots of pies. It’s one of those shows that might have you craving baked goods by the time the curtain goes down. It did for me, anyway. Still, there’s a lot more than pastries to commend this show, and this touring production currently on stage at the Fox. What’s front and center, beside the pies, is the excellent score and a top-notch leading performance, along with a strong supporting cast, even though the story itself has its problems.

With a catchy score by singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles, Waitress benefits from the name recognition of both Bareilles and the movie on which the show is based. I hadn’t seen the movie or the show before, so this touring production is my introduction, beyond knowing the basic plot and hearing one of the songs (the poignant “She Used to Be Mine”). The story follows Jenna (Christine Dwyer), who–as the title suggests–is a waitress at a small-town eatery called Joe’s Pie Diner. She’s more than a waitress, though, as she personally bakes the pies the establishment sells, as well as inventing the recipes. She works alongside fellow waitresses Becky (Maiesha McQueen) and Dawn (Ephie Aardema), supervised by the gruff cook Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin). She also waits on the diner’s eccentric owner, Joe (Richard Kline) every day, and goes home every night to her volatile, abusive husband Earl (Matt DeAngelis). The story begins when Jenna finds out she’s pregnant. She’s not thrilled with the news, but she resolves to make the most of it, making an OB/GYN appointment and meeting her new doctor, Dr. Pomatter (Steven Good), with whom she develops an initially awkward flirtation. And… that’s about as far as I can explain the plot without spoiling too much. What I will say, though, is that this show has its issues, not the least of which being problematic aspects of several of the relationships. The show is at its strongest when focusing on Jenna as an individual, and in her friendships with her fellow waitresses and with Joe, and Bareilles’s score is excellent, with several catchy songs that serve the story and the characters well. I just have some trouble liking some of the characters I think the show wants me to like (especially Dr. Pomatter), and some of the characters aren’t as well-drawn as they could be.

The real strength of this production is its central performance, and a few of the supporting performances. Dwyer is simply remarkable as Jenna, with a strong voice and excellent stage presence. She makes Jenna a relatable protagonist, and her pie-baking scenes involving flashbacks to her personal history are a particular highlight, as is her powerhouse performance of the show’s most well-known song, the aforementioned “She Used to Be Mine”. There’s also excellent support from McQueen as the snarky Becky and especially Aardema as the quirky, initially lonely Dawn, along with a standout performance from the energetic Jeremy Morse as Ogie, Dawn’s socially awkward suitor. Kline as the crotchety but secretly supportive Joe is also memorable, as is Dawn Bless as Nurse Norma, the nurse at Dr Pomatter’s practice. DeAngelis is a suitable villain as the obnoxious Earl, and there are also fine performances from Dunkin as Cal and Good as Dr. Pomatter, although I didn’t care about their characters as much as the show seems to want me to. There’s also a strong ensemble, supporting the leads well in the various production numbers.

Technically, this show impresses, with a versatile, eye-catching set by Scott Pask that smoothly transitions from the diner set to other locations as needed, and a stunning backdrop enhanced by Ken Billington’s excellent atmospheric lighting. The costumes by Suttirat Ann Larlarb are also striking, suiting the characters and the tone of the show especially well. Another memorable feature is that the band is onstage throughout the show, and they’re in excellent form, as conducted by music director and keyboardist Robert Cookman.

Waitress is, ultimately, an entertaining show, especially in terms of the score and the truly superb performance of Christine Dwyer as Jenna. Story-wise, it has its problematic elements, although for the most part–especially when it focuses on Jenna herself–it’s compelling. And of course, there’s pie– there were some “pies in a jar” on sale at intermission as a clever tie-in. It’s certainly crowd-pleaser, as well, and a thought-provoking conversation-starter. It’s worth checking out.

Steven Good, Christine Dwyer
Photo by Philicia Endelman
Waitress North American Tour

The North American tour of Waitress is playing at the Fox Theatre until April 7, 2019

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Fiddler On the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Original Direction by Bartlett Sher
Original Choreography by Hofesh Shechter
Choreography Recreated by Christopher Evans
The Fox Theatre
January 29, 2019

Yehezkel Lazarov
Photo by Joan Marcus
Fiddler on the Roof North American Tour

This is Fiddler on the Roof, but not exactly as you may have seen it before. The national tour of Bartlett Sher’s most recent Broadway revival takes this time-honored classic and injects it with a fresh energy. It’s still the same show, essentially, but some staging changes and some especially strong performances highlight the strength of the material in a new and refreshing way, anchored by an especially strong leading performance and ensemble cast.

As beloved as Fiddler on the Roof is, one of the challenges to staging it is that, for most professional productions, the staging has strictly adhered to the original Jerome Robbins staging and choreography. As excellent as that is, if you see enough productions of the show, it can all seem too similar after a while. The most recent revival, while still using the Robbins staging and choreography as the basis, brought in a new choreographer, Hofesh Schechter, to change up some of the dances, and acclaimed director Bartlett Sher has added a simple but effective framing device to add an element of timeless transcendence to the story. These elements, along with an energetic, well-chosen cast, have brought a sense of vibrancy to this show that is especially refreshing. The story is the same, following Jewish milkman Tevye (Yehezkel Lazarov) and his family in 1905 Tsarist Russia, but now, everything seems more immediate somehow. The relationships between Tevye and his wife, Golde (Maite Uzal) and his daughters, and between his three oldest daughers Tzeitel (Mel Weyn), Hodel (Ruthy Froch), and Chava (Natalie Powers) and their suitors Motel (Jesse Weil), Perchik (Ryne Nardecchia), and Fyedka (Joshua Logan Alexander) seem even more authentic and credible. From classic solo moments like “If I Were a Rich Man” to big production numbers like “To Life”, “Tevye’s Dream”, and especially the entire wedding sequence, the energy is readily apparent, with new relationship dynamics subtly suggested, and with a great deal of energy and heart. Even the poignant ending is given a new sense of timelessness and hope without denying the inherent sadness of the situation.

There’s a great cast here, as well, led by the dynamic, charismatic performance of Lazarov as Tevye. With a strong voice and excellent stage presence, Lazarov brings all the energy, charm, likability and complexity of Tevye to the stage, leading the cast with a powerful performance. He’s well supported by a strong ensemble, as well, with standout performances from Uzal as Golde, Carol Beaugard as the determined matchmaker Yente, Jonathan Von Mering as the lonely butcher Lazar Wolf, and especially all three daughter-suitor combinations, with Weyn and Weil having particularly excellent chemistry. There’s a strong singing and dancing ensemble supporting the leads, as well, bringing the village of Anatevka to life in one memorable scene after another, from the opening “Tradition” to the closing “Anatevka”.

Technically, this production is stellar, as well. The set by Michael Yeargan is detailed and versatile, featuring well-realized settings like Tevye’s house against a more changeable background backed by an imposing brick wall. The costumes by Catherine Zuber are detailed and authentic, maintaining a classic Fiddler look with a few small changes here and there. There’s also truly stunning lighting by Donald Holder that sets and maintains the mood of the show especially well, along with excellent sound design by Scott Lehrer and Alexander Neumann.

One of the real strengths of director Bartlett Sher in his revivals is that he’s able to maintain the essence and spirit of a show while also bringing a new sense of immediacy and connection for modern audiences. He’s done that again, remarkably well, in this new Fiddler on the Roof. It’s still the same show, but there’s something extra there that’s especially rewarding. It’s on stage at the Fox now. Go see it if you can.

Cast of Fiddler on the Roof]
Photo by Joan Marcus
Fiddler on the Roof North American Tour

The North American Tour of Fiddler on the Roof is playing at the Fox Theatre until February 10, 2019

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Stiff
Written and Performed by Sherry Jo Ward
Directed by Marianne Galloway
Inevitable Theatre Company and The Risk Theater Initiative Project
March 23, 2018

Sherry Jo Ward
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Stiff, like its subject matter, is something of an enigma. A one-woman show featuring Texas-based performer Sherry Jo Ward, the show has been a hit at various festivals and venues in that state, and Inevitable Theatre Company has now brought Ward, her show, and her director, Marianne Galloway, to St. Louis to present this unique production about one woman’s struggle with a rare health condition. It’s a production that has turned out to be extremely compelling.

It almost seems inaccurate to call this a play. It is a play, but it’s more than that. It’s an autobiographical one-person show, but I’ve seen those before, as well. With Stiff, things are a little more immersive than I’ve seen. First of all, there’s Ward herself, who is sitting in her comfortable chair as the audience arrives, chatting amiably with various members of the audience. Then there’s the play, and afterwards, Ward is still there, accompanied by Galloway, talking to the audience and, this time, answering questions about the performance we just saw.  The play itself is also one of those performances that’s so much taken from life, that in a lot of places it seems more like a conversation than a play, as Ward tells the audience her story and interacts occasionally with the audience and Galloway, who sits in the front row. There’s also a slide show on the big screen behind her, illustrating her story. At times, Ward interacts with the slideshow as well, such as an imagined interview with television journalist Diane Sawyer that’s at times hilarious, at other times poignant.

The subject of the show, co-produced by Paraquad here in St. Louis, is Ward’s experiences with a rare neuromuscular disorder called “Stiff Person Syndrome”, or SPS. I had never heard of this condition before, and according to Ward, there are roughly 300 people in the United States who have it. Through the course of the play, Ward walks the audience through her experience, being diagnosed, dealing with various doctors, and having to adjust to not being able to drive, as well as how her diagnosis affected her acting career and her relationships. It’s a highly personal show, told in conversational style that is often hilariously funny, as well as being gut-wrenchingly dramatic at times, to the point where the line between drama a reality is blurred and the viewer can’t always be sure what’s real and what’s scripted. Ward is a wonder, displaying a remarkable candor, energy, and humor about her condition as well as being at times brutally honest about its effects. This experience is rather like sitting in the living room of an acquaintance while she tells you about her life. It’s that immediate, and authentic. Ward’s talents in acting and writing are on clear display, but so is her almost larger-than-life personality before and after the play itself.

In addition to Ward and Galloway, there’s also support from the excellent technical crew–lighting designer Joseph W. Clapper, stage manager Rhema Easley, and master elictrician/light board operator Paige Spizzo. Inevitable Theatre Company Artistic Director Robert Neblett is also on hand during the intro and talk-back sections, helping to facilitate the discussion between Ward and the audience.

The best word I can think of to describe this production is “unique”. It’s part play, part dialogue, part comedy routine, and more. Ultimately, though, it’s all about Sherry Jo Ward, who gives a performance that’s more than just a performance. It’s an educational production, as well, informing the audience about a condition many theatregoers may not have heard of (I hadn’t). It’s a show that’s difficult to describe, but not the least bit difficult to recommend. See this. You won’t regret it.

Sherry Jo Ward
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Inevitable Theatre Company is presenting the Risk Theater Initiative production of Stiff at the Kranzberg Arts Center until April 1, 2018.

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