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Posts Tagged ‘john o’hurley’

Hello, Dolly!
Book by Michael Stewart
Music and Lyrics by Jerry Herman
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Choreographed by Ralph Perkins
The Muny
August 11, 2014

Beth Leavel (center) and Ensemble Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Beth Leavel (center) and Ensemble
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

Hello Dolly! and the Muny are a match made in Theatre Heaven. As is fitting for a show about a matchmaker, the two parties in this particular relationship are most ideally suited. Hello Dolly! when staged well, is a big, colorful, flashy show with lots of energy and heart, and the Muny has built its reputation around just this type of show.  After an especially impressive season that started with a wonderful production of a newer show, Billy Elliot, the Muny is closing out their 2014 schedule with this big, brassy charmer of a Broadway classic, scaled just right to fit the colossal stage and delight the eyes, ears and hearts  of the vast Muny audience.

I’ve seen quite a few productions of this show over the years, including the last (also excellent) Muny production in 2007 that featured a more subdued portrayal of the title character. This time, though, Dolly Gallagher Levi, as played by Beth Leavel, is back to her larger-than-life ways, and is the real center of this production.  Leavel’s Dolly is such a presence that even when she’s off stage, her influence is obvious. With a big personality, a strong voice and lots of quirky style, Leavel commands the stage.  She is well-matched with John O’Hurley as the curmudgeonly half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, on whom the widowed Dolly sets her sights. Telling the story of Dolly’s various matchmaking efforts and their effects on Horace and those around him, this production has all the elements this show requires and then some, with big, flashy production numbers, strong choreography by Ralph Perkins, colorful period-specific costumes by Amy Clark, and a simple but striking set designed by Michael Schweikart that features some wonderfully detailed backdrops.  It’s a valentine to late 19th Century New York, with infectious energy and memorable production numbers from the iconic title song to the big, stage-filling “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, and more.

In addition to the ideal casting of Leavel and O’Hurley, the supporting players also turn in excellent work. Muny veteran Rob McClure, so memorable as Gomez in The Addams Family and Bert in Mary Poppins, is in fine form here as Horace’s sheltered chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, who is eager to get at least one small break from his humdrum Yonkers existence and experience adventure in the big city. McClure is able to be charming, bumbling, a nimble dancer, and a hopeless romantic all at once, with great renditions of the rousing “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and the heartwarming “It Only Takes a Moment”.  He’s paired well with Mamie Parris as the widowed hatmaker Irene Molloy, who displays strong chemistry with McClure and an impressive voice on her showcase song, “Ribbons Down My Back”.  Jay Armstrong Johnson as the naive assistant clerk Barnaby Tucker, and Eloise Kropp as Irene’s shop assistant Minnie Fay deliver memorable comic performances, as well, as do Daniel Berryman as artist and would-be dancer Ambrose Kemper and Berklea Going as the object of his affection, Horace’s weepy neice, Ermengarde.  This production can also boast of a very impressive ensemble, especially the men who get to show off their athletic dancing skills in the wildly energetic “Waiters’ Gallop” number.

Although there were a few issues with the sound on opening night, as well as one noticeable (but well-covered) line flub, this production is otherwise staged with remarkable precision and timing.  The famous staircase scene is timed just right, and Leavel is adept at interacting with both the ensemble and the audience, generating waves of enthusiastic applause.  The Act One ending “Before the Parade Passes By” also puts the giant Muny stage to excellent use, featuring a memorable appearance by the O”Fallon Township High School marching band.  And speaking of bands, the Muny’s own wonderful orchestra–conducted by Musical Director James Moore–is in top form here as well, keeping up the energy and pacing of this classic Jerry Herman score.

This rendition  of Hello Dolly! is the latest piece of evidence that the Muny–under the leadership of Executive Producer Mike Isaacson–is back on form as befits its illustrious reputation.  This has been another entertaining season, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s on offer next summer.  Echoing this show’s title song, I’ll say another enthusiastic hello to the new, improved Muny–it’s nice to have it back where it belongs, at the top of its game. Long may this revitalized tradition continue!

Eloise Kropp, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Mamie Parris, Rob McClure Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Eloise Kropp, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Mamie Parris, Rob McClure
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

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Monty Python’s Spamalot
Book and Lyrics by Eric Idle, New Music by John du Prez and Eric Idle
Directed and Choreographed by Denis Jones
The Muny, St. Louis

June 17, 2013

spamalot1

It’s June, and in St. Louis that means it’s Muny time again. A time-honored tradition in St. Louis, the Muny has become a highlight of the summer for me and my family, as well as many others around the area. Despite the early evening thunderstorms that delayed the opening night performance of Spamalot, the show went on, and proved to be a harbinger of what looks like it will be another excellent Muny season.

The musical, which according to the program has been “lovingly ripped-off” from the classic 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, follows the story of King Arthur and his Knights on the quest for the legendary cup. Many of the well-known elements from the film are here—such as the Knights Who Say “Ni” (cleverly interpreted here by the Muny Youth Ensemble), the Black Knight, the Killer Rabbit, and more, but the adaptation doesn’t stop there. The script, written by Python alum Eric Idle, also incorporates elements from other Monty Python films and many satirical jabs at pop culture in general and the medium of musical theatre in particular. The music is a combination of songs from Python films as well as new songs in various styles—from folk to traditional musical theatre to pop ballads to lounge to disco. It’s not a “deep” show by any means. It’s an unabashed farce which makes no claims to be anything else, and it’s an absolute laugh riot from start to finish.

John O’Hurley, who has played the role on Broadway, is ideally cast as King Arthur. He brings just the right balance of authority, charm and incredulity as well as displaying a strong singing voice, excellent stage presence and comic ability, and great chemistry with his fellow performers, most notably the equally winning David Hibbard as Arthur’s long-suffering servant, Patsy (their duet on “I’m All Alone” is a treat), and Michele Ragusa as the Lady of the Lake. Ragusa, who has given very strong performances in the past at the Muny in Titanic and Singin’ In the Rain, is in great form here as well, displaying a strong, versatile voice on songs like the hilarious “The Song That Goes Like This” and it’s lounge-y reprise, as well as “Find Your Grail” and the comic tour-de-force “Diva’s Lament”. Other standout performances include Kevin Cahoon in various roles, displaying a gorgeous singing voice especially as the young, misunderstood Prince Herbert, who plays a role in helping Sir Lancelot (Chris Hoch) discover his own destiny. All four main Knights of the Round Table (Hoch, John Scherer as Sir Robin, Ben Davis as Sir Dennis Galahad, and Tally Sessions as Sir Bedivere) also work together well to form a cohesive, hilarious ensemble. All four of these actors turn up in other roles throughout the show as well, showing off their versatility and adding to the side-splitting hilarity of the production.

I thoroughly enjoyed the full-scale comic production numbers such as “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” (with the modified lyrics first used on the UK tour), an uproarious ode to celebrity stunt-casting in musicals, and the power-pop anthem “Find Your Grail”, which manages to be both uplifting and over-the-top ridiculous at the same time, and with a fun snow-capped mountain set piece to go with it. The finale, which is a reprise of “Find Your Grail” highlighting the various knights’ fates, is also a delight. There are too many great moments for me to be able to mention them all, but this production does a great job of capturing the spirit of the original film while adding enough musical theatre elements to make it its own unique entity.

Visually, the production made good use of the vast Muny stage, with a colorful set by Steve Gillam, including several clever movable set pieces like the aforementioned mountain, giant slot machines for the Vegas-style “Camelot” sequence, several castles and more. The new (as of last year) electonic scenery wall served as a great backdrop for the action and Monty Python’s trademark animations. Even though there was a small glitch with the wall the night I saw the show (sections of it were not functioning), it didn’t get in the way of the overall performance. Apparently, the cast and crew had no time for a final tech rehearsal due to the inclement weather, but that minor issue with the wall was the only noticeable issue. The rest of the production ran very smoothly with all the technical elements including the sets, lighting and sound.

This is (with the possible exception of last year’s Pirates!) the funniest show I have ever seen at the Muny. No punches are pulled and every possible joke is milked for all its worth, and there are some fun little nods to St. Louis and the Muny thrown into the show for good measure. The surprise appearance by Eric Idle after the curtain call, leading the audience in a sing-along, was an added bonus. This production was a true joy to experience, and it makes for an ideal introduction to another promising season at the Muny.

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