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Jerome Robbins’ Broadway
by James M. Barrie, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Bock, Sammy Cahn,
Moose Charlap, Betty Comden, Larry Gelbart, Morton Gould, Adolph Green,
Oscar Hammerstein II, Sheldon Harnick, Arthur Laurents, Carolyn Leigh,
Stephen Longstreet, Hugh Martin, Jerome Robbins, Richard Rodgers,
Burt Shevelove, Stephen Sondheim, Joseph Stein, Jule Styne
Directed by Cynthia Onrubia
Additional Choreography by Harrison Beal, Dan Knechtges, Ralph Perkins
The Muny
June 11, 2018

Cast of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway
Photo: The Muny

The Muny’s 100th season is finally here, and it’s opening in grand style with a show that’s really several shows in one. The 1989 Tony Winner for Best Musical, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway pays tribute to a prolific director-choreographer from the Golden Age of Broadway in a production that, even though it has “Broadway” in the title, seems almost tailor-made for the Muny.

The Muny has traditionally been about big, large-cast musicals with spectacle and style, and that’s here in abundance with Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. It’s the first regional production of the show ever, apparently, and although it’s not exactly the same as the 1989 version, most of the songs are here, highlighting Robbins’ illustrious career and featuring some iconic numbers from classic shows, as well as some numbers from lesser-known shows. From On the Town, HIgh Button Shoes and Billion Dollar Baby to West Side Story, The King and I, Peter Pan, and Fiddler On the Roof, this show has a little bit of everything, dance-wise, from dramatic, ballet-influenced numbers, to jazz, to slapstick comedy, and more, staged with the usual big, bold, high-energy stage-filling style of the Muny.

There isn’t really a story here. It’s a revue, essentially, with Rob McClure as “The Setter” introducing the scenes. McClure, a Muny veteran and favorite performer, also plays several memorable roles in the production, including two roles from HIgh Button Shoes and the role of Tevye alongside Maggie Lakis as Golde in the excellent Fiddler sequence that features “Tradition”, “Tevye’s Dream”, “Sunrise, Sunset”, and the always thrilling wedding dance. There are many excellent moments here. In fact, there are so many highlights, it’s not easy to name them all. Among the standout routines is a thrilling rendition of “I’m Flying” from Peter Pan starring Sarah Marie Jenkins as a vibrant Peter Pan, along with Elizabeth Teeter as Wendy, Gabriel Cytron as Michael, and Cole Joyce as John. This sequence is particularly dazzling, with excellent flying effects by ZFX, Inc. and great use of the Muny’s electronic scenery wall. The ensemble is the star here, really, with energetic dancing from the more dramatic West Side Story moments to the high comedy of the “On a Sunday By the Sea” number from High Button Shoes. Another memorable sequence is the truly stunning dance number “Mr. Monotony” featuring powerful vocals from Muny veteran Jenny Powers and astounding dancing from Sean Rozanski, Alexa De Barr, and Garen Scribner, who also all turn in strong performances in the West Side Story sequence as Bernardo, Maria, and Tony respectively, alongside the equally excellent Davis Wayne as Riff and Tanairi Vazquez as Anita, along with an athletic, energetic ensemble of Jets and Sharks. There is so much here to see and enjoy, with Robbins’ routines recreated with an authentic look and feel, to the point where it seems for some moments as if the audience has traveled in time.

The production values here are also first-rate, with a stylish, colorful and versatile set by Paige Hathaway and remarkably authentic costume design by Robin L. McGee. There’s also excellent lighting design from John Lasiter, lending atmosphere and changing tones and moods to the various production numbers. There’s also great video design by Nathan W. Scheuer and wonderful music from the always excellent Muny Orchestra.

This is an old-school musical revue with lots of energy and a big cast to fill out the enormous Muny stage. Jerome Robbins’ Broadway is a collection of numbers that serves as an ideal first show for the Muny’s 100th season. It’s a retrospective, but also a celebration of musical theatre’s past as the Muny prepares to move into the future. It’s a dazzling start to a long-awaited season in Forest Park.

West Side Story Dancers
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in Forest Park until June 17, 2018.

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Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Directed and Choreographed by Randy Skinner
The Fox Theatre
November 17, 2015

Cast of Irving Berlin's White Christmas Photo by Kevin White White Christmas National Tour

Cast of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Photo by Kevin White
White Christmas National Tour

Are you dreaming of a fun, colorful holiday musical that’s high on style and full of familiar, classic songs? Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, currently playing at the Fox as part of this year’s national tour, fits that bill. Based on a well-known holiday film with a new book and additional songs, it’s not the most substantial of shows, but with a strong cast and especially memorable dancing, it’s sure to entertain.

The plot here is slight and somewhat contrived, bearing a strong resemblance to that of an earlier film that also features Berlin songs and has been given a modern stage treatment, Holiday Inn, which was most recently staged at the Muny this past summer. This show also involves a song-and-dance team of two men and a New England inn with holiday performances. Here, the guys are Army buddies Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), who performed for the troops in World War II and later became stage and TV stars. The story takes place in 1954, as the guys follow a pair of singing sisters, Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy (Kelly Sheehan) to Vermont and an inn that happens to be owned by the guys’ former commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck), who was apparently a great general but not the best innkeeper, as the bills have piled up and his manager, feisty former performer Martha (Pamela Myers) has had to hide them from him. Add a troupe of singers and dancers and their crew, the General’s precocious granddaughter (Elizabeth Crawford), and a somewhat thin plot involving a misunderstood telephone call and a denied attraction between Betty and Bob, along with lots and lots of singing, dancing and a boatload of Irving Berlin classics, and that’s basically the show.

The purpose of this show is to be a fun holiday entertainment, and it certainly is that. With colorful sets by Anna Louizos and adapted by Kenneth Foy, as well as bright, colorful 1950s costumes by Carrie Robbins, this show sets the scene well. Of course the classic title song is there, along with other hits like “Blue Skies”, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, and “I’ve Got Your Love to Keep Me Warm”. There’s also director Randy Skinner’s energetic choreography and grand dance numbers like the showstopping “I Love a Piano”, danced by the excellent ensemble. There are some fun special effects as well, to add to the atmosphere especially at the end of the show.

The lead performers are strong, as well, led by the charming crooner Montgomery and magnetic dancer Benton. They’re well-matched by Conte, in the more serious role and Sheehan as the more bubbly, comic sister. There are also standout supporting performances from Schuck as the stubborn but goodhearted general, and Myers as the spunky, big-voiced Martha, with her “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” number being a real highlight of the production. This number is given a fun reprise by young Crawford as Susan, as well. The whole cast performs well, with energy, big voices and strong dancing.

This isn’t a deep or intricately plotted show, but that’s not really the point of a show like this. It’s about the music, the dancing and the bright, vibrant set pieces. If it’s a fun holiday show you’re looking to take your family to see, then Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is an excellent option.

Cast of Irving Berlin's White Christmas Photo by Kevin White

Cast of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Photo by Kevin White

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is running at the Fox Theatre until November 22, 2015.

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Holiday Inn
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny
July 6, 2015

Noah Racey, Patti Murin, Colin Donnell Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Noah Racey, Patti Murin, Colin Donnell
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

The Muny has a storied history in St. Louis over its almost 100 year life span, and I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to see a Muny show in the 1940s and 1950s. That was the heyday of the big, classic spectacle-type musicals, as well as Hollywood musicals such as Holiday Inn and White Christmas. Well, now it looks like I’ve had my chance, with the Muny’s latest production of the newly adapted stage version of Holiday Inn. Revised and expanded from the original film version, this production takes most of its original score, adds more songs from famed composer Irving Berlin, and blends them together into a classy, bold and tuneful tribute to Hollywood musicals and the song-and-dance shows of yesteryear, with a sense of energy and spirit that makes the show seem fresh and approachable without seeming dated.

Although I’ve seen a lot of classic Hollywood musical films, I had actually never managed to see the original Holiday Inn film. That doesn’t matter at all, though, in terms of being able to enjoy this festive, affectionate treat of a show.  Apparently the story has been modified from the film’s plot, but the general idea remains. It tells the story of two long-time friends and performing partners–singer/songwriter Jim Hardy (Colin Donnell) and dancer Ted Hanover (Noah Racey), who have just performed their last show at a New York club with their partner Lila Dixon (Holly Ann Butler), who is also Jim’s girlfriend. While Jim wants to retire to a historic farm he just purchased in Connecticut, Ted and Lila want to take an offer to perform at another club in Chicago, and so they decide to split up, with Lila promising to join Jim after she’s finished the gig. Eventually, things get complicated as Jim moves to the farm and meets Linda Mason (Patti Murin), a schoolteacher and former singer/dancer whose family used to own the farm. As the months go by, Jim and Linda grow closer and the bills pile up, prompting the farm’s handywoman Louise (Nancy Opel) to suggest he use the farm as a hotel and show venue. With Linda and some old friends from New York joining in, “Holiday Inn” is born. Meanwhile, Ted arrives fresh from a run of successful performances in Chicago and Las Vegas and looking for a new dance partner.  What will happen when he meets Linda? What will Jim do when his friend returns to tempt Linda with the prospect of showbiz success? And what about Lila?

It’s a fairly predictable plot, but none of that really matters because it’s all just so entertaining, with the right balance of comedy, drama, spectacle and romance, and all those wonderful production numbers expertly performed by the leads and the Muny’s fantastic ensemble. There are many classic Berlin songs here, from iconic ballads like “White Christmas” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” to elaborately staged extravaganzas like “Easter Parade” and the inventive and energetic “Shaking the Blues Away”. Classic dance songs like “Cheek to Cheek” are here as well, and all of them are presented with the requisite style and charm. Dance-wise, there’s lots of tapping, as well as slower styles and lots of strong ensemble support.

The cast couldn’t be better, from the leads to the supporting roles and the cohesive ensemble. The show has even managed to find a Fred Astaire look-alike and dance-alike in the charming, debonair Racey, who isn’t imitating Astaire but manages to evoke the famed hoofer’s spirit while adding his own flair to the role. Real-life married couple Donnell and Murin display electric chemistry as Jim and Linda, and both are fantastic singers able to sing these timeless classics in the right style and with a great deal of warmth. Opel is a hoot as the jill-of-all-trades Louise, providing excellent comic support and  superbly leading one of the show’s best numbers, “Shaking the Blues Away”. Butler gives a fun performance as the showbiz-obsessed Lila, and young Phoenix Lawson is memorable as one of Linda’s students, the budding entrepreneur  Charlie. It’s an extremely strong cast with no weak links, and the Muny ensemble is put to use in ideal fashion.

Visually, the show is a fitting tribute to both Hollywood movie musicals and the old-style stage spectacles the Muny has been famous for. With a versatile cloud backdrop and a revolving set that serves as the inn as well as the barn/stage, Timothy R. Mackabee’s set is suitably impressive. And the costumes, by Alejo Vietti, are simply stunning, with colorful styles suited to the 1040s period setting as well as the various holiday themed numbers–from elaborate Easter bonnets to glamorous New Year’s attire to patriotic styles for the 4th of July, and more.

This show is, simply put, a whole lot of fun. It’s charming, colorful, old-fashioned in the best sense of the word and thoroughly entertaining. It’s a fitting show for showing off the best of the Muny’s current regime while celebrating the styles and musical theatre traditions of the past. Holiday Inn at the Muny is well worth checking into.

Holiday Inn ensemble Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Holiday Inn ensemble
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

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