Posts Tagged ‘ken page’

Love, Linda
Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Stevie Holland, with Gary William Friedman
Arrangements and Additional Music by Gary William Friedman
Directed by Ken Page
Max & Louie Productions
January 19. 2019

Debby Lennon
Photo by John Lamb
Max & Louie Productions

The latest show from Max & Louie Productions is essentially a showcase for its leading performer. Debby Lennon, who has memorably appeared in previous shows from the company, is cast as the wife of legendary songwriter Cole Porter in a slight but entertaining production that especially highlights Lennon’s always impressive vocal talents and stage presence.

This is really more of a narrated concert than a play, co-written by a jazz singer and the show’s original performer. This is a show that, basically, gives a talented singer a chance to shine, showcasing the classic hits of one of Broadway’s most legendary songwriters. Lennon portrays Linda Lee Thomas, who was married to Porter for 34 years. She tells the story of her life before she met Porter, including her marriage to her abusive first husband, but the bulk of the production focuses on her complicated relationship with her second husband, Porter. Their love and mutual dependence on one another–in different ways–is made clear, as is the truth that Linda married him in full knowledge that he was gay. In between songs, Lennon tells vivid stories of her life with Porter in Paris in the 1920s, and then in New York, and eventually, Hollywood, as she outlines Porter’s rise to fame, their celebrity connections, and Porter’s many relationships with men and her struggles with jealousy. It’s an interesting story, compellingly portrayed by Lennon, but it’s all essentially a framework for the songs, which are the show’s–and Lennon’s–strength. Many well-known and lesser-known Porter songs are featured, allowing Lennon to show off a different style of vocals than usual. Her past efforts for Max & Louie have tended to more operatic sounds, but here Lennon is able to display an impressive aptitude for old-school jazz and pop standards. She especially excels in the more upbeat songs, like “Miss Otis Regrets” and “I Love Paris”, as well as displaying an impressive range on numbers like “Wunderbar” and “So In Love”. It’s an impressive vocal performance, and acting-wise, Lennon does about as much with the material as I could imagine anyone could. She’s a strong presence on the stage.

Aside from Lennon, the other real “stars” of this show are the technical designers. This is a great looking show, from Dansi Dai’s simple but lavish set that stages the performance on a giant, well-appointed piano. The storytelling is also augmented greatly through the use of Michael Perkins’s excellent projections, that illustrate Linda’s story from the beginning–with photos of the real Linda–to the end. Costume designer Teresa Doggett has outfitted Lennon in some elegant, well-suited ensembles as well. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Patrick Huber and sound by Phillip Evans. Lennon is also backed by an excellent band led by music director Greg Schweitzer.

The story that Lennon, as Linda, tells here is a potentially fascinating one, and there could be a more thorough treatment than this one. Still, as it is, Love, Linda is an entertaining show, especially when it comes to the production values and, especially, the music. It gives its talented star an excellent outlet for displaying her impressive vocal skills, highlights the repertoire of a Broadway legend, and provides a look at the complex, sometimes difficult, sometimes poignant life of the woman who married that legend. It’s great music well-sung, and with style.


Debby Lennon
Photo by Dunsi Dai
Max & Louie Productions


Max & Louie Productions is presenting Love, Linda at the Marcelle Theatre until January 27, 2019

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The Muny Centennial Gala
An Evening With the Stars
May 19, 2018

Matthew Morrison, Heather Headley
Photo: The Muny

The Muny is 100! A summer tradition that generations of St. Louisans grew up with, the Muny has endured many changes over the years, but in 2018, it’s still here and it’s thriving. And now, the Muny has kicked off its centennial season with a gala extravaganza that celebrates its history as well as–both intentionally and unintentionally–demonstrating some time-honored Muny traditions, such as how to deal with rain delays.

Note the date I’ve listed at the top of this article. That’s not the published date for this extravaganza. In fact, the lavish centennial celebration dinner did take place on the advertised date of Friday, May 18, and every effort was made to stage the show, as well. As the thousands of attendees took their seats and waited, the Muny’s technical crews did their best to ready the stage for the event during a brief respite from the rain that had been drenching St. Louis essentially all day. There was hope, but alas, the rain started up again, and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson ran onstage to make the announcement that the show would have to be postponed until the next night–Saturday, May 18. So, at the same time one day later, the crowds returned and the show went on, but not without a few more weather-related hitches. The show started on time, but the unpredictible St. Louis weather made for two rain delays lasting about 20 minutes each. Still, even with these stoppages, the show started strong and didn’t lose its momentum.  It was a treat from start to finish, bringing back some Muny favorites and legendary stars as well as highlighting frequent Muny ensemble members and the Muny Kids and Teens.

“An Evening With the Stars” was no exaggeration, with a stellar lineup hosted by Broadway star Heather Headley, who has appeared at the Muny as the Witch in Into the Woods, and Broadway and TV star Matthew Morrison, who is perhaps best known for Glee. These two served as presenters for the event and also got their moments to shine, with Morrison leading a fun production number featuring a condensed version of the musical Hairspray, and Headley bringing down the house with her powerful vocals on a medley from Funny Girl. There were also standout performances and stories from Patrick Cassidy, who sang “Till There Was You” from The Music Man alongside fellow Muny alum Jenny Powers, as well as recounting a story from the filming of the movie that starred his mother, Shirley Jones, who also sent along a video greeting. There was also a stirring rendition of “Memory” from Cats by beloved Muny favorite Ken Page, an energetic ensemble tap number of “We’re In The Money” led by Lara Teeter, and Graham Rowat leading the entire cast in singing “The Quest (The Impossible Dream)” from Man of La Mancha. Other memorable segments included two songs from the classic A Chorus Line–“What I Did For Love” sung by an impressive group of longtime Muny veterans and regulars, and then the grand finale, a spectacular dance to the showstopping “One”, featuring energetic dancing and well-timed fireworks from behind the stage and from the sides of the auditorium itself. It was a truly stunning conclusion to spectucular show.

Photo: The Muny

As wonderful as the whole show was, though, I think special note should be made of two legendary performers who commanded the stage with stories and songs, demonstrating the longevity of their extraordinary talents. I’m referring to the truly superb Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune, who proved that even after decades in the business, their remarkable talent, energy and stage presence are still very much in evidence. The 85-year-old Rivera and 79-year-old Tune–who both starred in Bye Bye Birdie at different times but never together–treated the audience to a delightful rendition of the show’s last scene and the song “Rosie”, showing excellent stage chemistry in the process, and expert, energetic tapping from Tune. Rivera also had a great moment telling stories from the making of the original production of Chicago and singing the signature “All That Jazz”, and although the choreography has been simplified, her attitude and style are still there in force. For me, a lifelong theatre fan who had never before been given the opportunity to see these great stars live, their performances were the clear highlight of the already stellar production.

Chita Rivera, Tommy Tune
Photo: The Muny

The techical values of this event were also impressive, with direction by Matt Kunkel, music direction by  Michael Horsley, and Choreography by Michael Baxter. The set by Paul Tate dePoo III was simple but elegant, and the costumes by Robin L. McGee and hair and makeup by Kelley Jordan sparkled and dazzled. There was also exellent lighting and video design by Rob Denton, Nathan W. Scheuer, Matthew Young, and Shelby Loera. It was a great looking, great sounding, star-studded production that’s fitting of a 100-year anniversary celebration for such storied St. Louis institution.

The big show was only part of the celebration, though. In addition, the Muny hosted a “Birthday Bash” open house event on Sunday, May 20 featuring many free events that allowed the St. Louis public an even closer look at what makes the Muny so distinctive. With historical displays, vehicles that were used in various shows such as the Jeep from South Pacific and a Ford Model T car from  Thoroughly Modern Millie, as well as showtune karaoke, a ferris wheel, and a fascinating backstage tour and opportunity to step on the famous, enormous Muny stage, it was an excellent way for the Muny to share even more of its rich history with its audience.  The Muny has gotten off to a great start celebrating 100 years in Forest Park. Next on the schedule: its much-anticipated 100th season of musical theatre, which begins soon, on June 11 with the Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.

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Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Ken Page
Choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare
Union Avenue Opera
July 28, 2017

Cast of Carousel
Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is often considered one of the best musicals of the 20th Century. It’s also a show that I love, even though I had never seen it live before. Now, a somewhat unlikely company has produced it here in STL. I had never seen a show at Union Avenue Opera before either, but now they have ventured into the area of musicals and I’m glad they have, because this production is excellent, especially in the area in which one would expect an opera company to excel–the singing.

Carousel tells the story of the unexpected romance between carousel barker Billy Bigelow (Wes Mason) and textile mill worker Julie Jordan (Maria Lindsey) in a small Maine fishing town. Julie’s friend, Carrie Pipperidge (Christine Amon) takes up with upwardly mobile fisherman Enoch Snow (Anthony Webb), but Julie and the aimless Billy struggle in their new marriage, and when Julie announces she’s expecting a child, Billy is driven to desperation in order to provide, teaming up with disreputable sailor Jigger Craigin (Andrew Wannigman) for a nefarious, risky scheme. When Billy’s plans don’t go as expected, he gets a chance to redeem himself somewhat, in trying to help his confused teenage daughter Louise (Caylee McGlasson, danced by Emma Gassett).  This is a dramatic story with some romantic elements and glimmers of hope, but also with a dark edge and some controversial subject matter along with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s striking, melodic score.

The production here is well-cast, especially in terms of vocals. Mason and Lindsey make a convincing pair as Billy and Julie, with powerful voices and excellent chemistry especially in their celebrated duet “If I Loved You”. Mason does a good job with the difficult role of Billy, whose choices are problematic to say the least, and Lindsey makes a somewhat aloof Julie, which works for the character, especially in the later scenes after the time jump in Act 2. There are also some glorious vocals from Merry Keller as Julie’s cousin Nettie Fowler, who sings the anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the boistrous “June Is Busting Out All Over” with convincing power. Acting-wise, the standouts are Amon as the loyal and occasionally giddy Carrie, and Webb as her enterprising but sometimes emotionally clueless beau Mr Snow. These two have excellent voices, and marvelous chemistry as well. There are also strong turns from Wannigman as the menacing Jigger, Debby Lennon as Billy’s jealous, possessive employer Mrs. Mullin, and Robert McNichols, Jr. in  three pivotal roles. There’s also some excellent dancing expertly choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare, particularly in the ballet sequence danced beautifully by Gasset as “Dance Louise” and the excellent ensemble. There is also, as to be expected, beautiful ensemble singing and a superb orchestra conducted by Scott Schoonover.  It’s a score that tends to the operatic in many instances, and this opera company does it justice.

Technically, the production is a little different than most other modern musical stagings, especially in the area of sound. The individual performers are not mic’d, so sometimes the speaking lines can be difficult to hear, although most of the cast members project their voices well enough. There are also supertitles–designed by Philip Touchette– projected on the wall to help the audience to follow the dialogue and story. The set by Patrick Huber is appropriately detailed and evocative, as are Teresa Doggett’s costumes, although the style seems to suggest a combination of different 20th Century eras rather than the usual Turn of the Century setting. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Huber that helps to create and maintain a stylized, almost otherworldly tone to the proceedings.

Carousel is an ideal first venture into musical theatre for Union Avenue Opera, and I’m glad I was able to see it handled so well and in such a fine, musically stunning production. There’s also something of an air of  the “old-fashioned” here in terms of staging, and I mean that in a good way. It’s an especially strong production and well worth seeing, and hearing.

Christine Amon, Anthony Webb Photo: Union Avenue Opera

Union Avenue Opera is presenting Carousel until August 5, 2017.



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Sublime Intimacy
by Ken Page
Directed by Ken Page
Max & Louie Productions
December 11, 2015

J. Samuel Davis, Bethany Barr, Alfredo Solivan Photo by Patrick Huber Max & Louie Productions

J. Samuel Davis, Bethany Barr, Alfredo Solivan
Photo by Patrick Huber
Max & Louie Productions

Ken Page is something of a living legend in St. Louis theatre. A veteran Broadway actor and singer, Page has become a fixture at the Muny and in the local theatre community, especially since moving back here to his hometown a few years ago. Page has now taken much of his own memory and life experience, as well as the stories of friends, and portrayed them in a new play, Sublime Intimacy, which is currently being presented in an impressive, ambitious staging by Max & Louie Productions.

Page, who also directed this play, explains in his directors’ note in the program that he was inspired by the stories of friends over the years who have relayed their stories of searching for, and occasionally achieving, a level of connection and intimacy that goes beyond the sexual into a more spiritual and emotional level. That’s the “sublime intimacy” of the play’s title, and Page’s stories revolve largely around dance. Using one dancer (Alfredo Solivan) to portray several different characters representing the “muse” or “ultimate love” or “unattainable ideal” of various figures in the play, Page relates the stories as narrated by his obvious fictionalized representation, Tim Pace (J. Samuel Davis).  He takes us into the world of actors and artists in early 1970s St. Louis, 1970s and ’80s New York, Los Angeles in the 1940’s and 1990’s, along with a brief trip to Paris in 1980 and a return to St. Louis in the early 2000’s. He follows a group of gay men including the initially troubled young artist Gene Donovan (Michael Cassidy Flynn) and his intellectual friends Don Taylor (John Flack) and Bill Ross (Reginald Pierre), as well as other friends also played by Flack and Pierre at various moments in time. There’s also Katharine Reilly (Bethany Hart), a theatre teacher and actress who seems to find herself frequently falling in love with gay men, including her childhood friend Michael, represented by Solivan who also portrays Gene’s artistic “muse’–a Washington University dancer named Steve, as well as important figures in stories told by Don and later Tim.

Perhaps this play’s greatest strength is its extremely vivid sense of time and place. Page deftly transports his audience back to the St. Louis academic community in 1972, as well as to its other times and cities with vivid description and characterization. Especially powerful are the experiences of Gene, a young gay man learning to accept his sexuality, as well as Don, an older gay man remembering what it was like to be a Hollywood movie extra in the 1940’s with a strong attraction to a dancer from a movie filming at the same studio. Katharine’s stories, that interweave with those of Gene and Tim, are also memorable, as is Tim’s brief interaction with a dancer he meets in Paris. The dance sequences are beautifully danced by Solivan, who makes a believable representation of the various objects of affection, desire, and inspiration for the characters. Sometimes the play tends to get a little talky, but for the most part it’s a fascinating trip through time, place, and imagination, anchored by some excellent performances–especially by Davis, Barr, and Flack, who has perhaps the most memorable and sensitively portrayed moments in the play recounting his Hollywood story.

Technically, the production is imaginative and cleverly staged, with a striking, versatile set by Dunsi Dai. There are also marvelously evocative period costumes by Teresa Doggett, and a truly excellent use of music, consisting of some popular music of the 1970’s and atmospheric original music by Henry Palkes. Patrick Huber’s lighting is also impressive, contributing a somewhat ethereal atmosphere to the production and helping to maintain the overall lyrical tone.

It’s obvious from seeing Sublime Intimacy that Ken Page’s memory is vivid, as are his imagination and his artistic sensibility. This isn’t a flawless work–there are some moments that seemed slow at times–but for the most part it’s highly emotional, excellently acted, and fascinating to watch. It’s a strong original effort by Page and company, and it’s well worth seeing and experiencing.

Alfredo Solivan, John Flack Photo by Dunsi Dai Max & Louie Productions

Alfredo Solivan, John Flack
Photo by Dunsi Dai
Max & Louie Productions

Max & Louie Productions, in association with Ken Page, presents Sublime Intimacy at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre until December 20, 2015.

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Nunsense, Muny Style

Book, Music and Lyrics by Dan Goggin

Directed by Matt Lenz

Choreographed by Teri Gibson

The Muny, St. Louis

July 1, 2013


The Little Sisters of Hoboken have taken the stage in St. Louis.  A low-budget off-Broadway show that turned into a franchise, Nunsense has finally arrived at the Muny in a full-scale production that, despite its sheer size, celebrates its humble origins and brings loads of laughs and a great deal of heart. It also features one of the strongest and most enthusiastic casts I have ever seen at the Muny.

For this production,supervised by creator Dan Goggin, the  show, which originally had a cast of five, has been expanded to fit the Muny stage with elements added just for the Muny, as well as a large ensemble of nuns and Catholic school kids for the dance numbers, and a few characters from the Nunsense sequels, such as Father Virgil (Lara Teeter) and Sister Mary Wilhelm (Ken Page).  Also, the  inept convent cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has been brought into the show as an onstage character, played by St. Louis native and supporting player from NBC TV’s The Office, Phyllis Smith.  The five leading nuns are still front and center, though–Reverend Mother Mary Regina (Dee Hoty), Mistress of Novices Sister Mary Hubert (Terri White), convent driver Sister Robert Anne (Beth Leavel), novice nun and aspiring ballerina Sister Mary Leo (Sarah Meahl) and the mysterious and forgetful Sister Mary Amnesia (Tari Kelly).  The premise is the same as the original–the nuns have taken to the stage in a benefit to raise money to bury the four remaining victims of Sister Julia’s deadly vichyssoise soup, which killed 52 of the sisters in a mass bout of food poisoning. The show, which is essentially a revue with a plot, allows the various characters to tell their own stories and show off their individual talents while celebrating their lives as nuns.  It also provides an ideal showcase for the Muny’s first-rate cast.

As Reverend Mother Mary Regina, Hoty has just the right blend of authority and wackiness, with impeccable comic timing and a strong voice, and she leads a cast without a weak link. White, as  Sister Hubert, has a booming voice and great presence, and works especially well alongside Hoty in the song “Just a Coupl’a Sisters”, as well as leading the company in the powerhouse Gospel-influenced “Holier Than Thou”.  Meahl is also excellent as Sister Leo, displaying strong dance and comic abilities.  If I had to pick stand-outs from this cast, though, it would have to be Leavel as the fame-seeking Sister Robert Anne and Kelly as the endearingly befuddled Sister Amnesia.   These two in turn have two of the show’s most memorable numbers in Leavel’s “I Just Want to Be a Star” and Kelly’s “So You Want to Be a Nun”, which is simply astounding in showcasing Kelly’s ability to sing in two completely different vocal styles (operatic soprano and brassy Broadway belting) in the same song as she essentially sings a duet with herself operating the nun puppet Sister Mary Annette.  There are also great turns in the smaller roles by Muny regulars Teeter and Page, as well as a funny performance by Smith as the defensive Sister Julia.

The show emphasizes the limited budget of the nuns in recycling the sets from last week’s production of Shrek as well as making off-stage characters of the spotlight operator (Sister Mary Myopia) and the orchestra leader (Father Michael), adding to the charm of the production.  This edition also adds many nods to St. Louis, from jokes about the Muny and the free seats to including a school uniform fashion show featuring students from the area’s Catholic girls’ high schools (with some funny narration provided by Teeter and Page).  There are also some thoroughly entertaining dance numbers featuring the expanded ensemble, including the rousing Act 1 closing tap-dance extravaganza, “Tackle That Temptation With a Time Step”.  I would imagine that the show might even be more appealing and relatable to Catholics, especially those who attended Catholic school and were taught by nuns, but its humor is broad and inclusive enough for anyone to enjoy, and it actively avoids stereotyping nuns as overly authoritarian and serious.

I had previously mentioned that season opener Spamalot was possibly the funniest show I had ever seen at the Muny, but Nunsense is a definite contender for that honor now.  I don’t think I’ve laughed more at a single scene in a show than I did at the  Reverend Mother’s monologue at the end of Act One, and there were many other side-splitting moments as well.  I think one of the charms of this show and what makes it appealing to Catholics and non-Catholics alike  is that it encourages the audience to laugh with the nuns rather than laughing at them.  Everyone on stage seems to be having such a great time as well, and their enthusiasm is infectious.  With this production, the Muny has proven that it can take a little show and make it bigger without losing any of its charm or humor.  I would say that Nunsense, Muny Style is an unqualified success.

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