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Posts Tagged ‘marc bruni’

Singin’ In the Rain
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Directed by Marc Bruni
Choreographed by Rommy Sandhu
The Muny
June 27, 2018

Corbin Bleu Photo: The Muny

Singin’ In the Rain is a well-known, iconic musical made for the silver screen, and about the silver screen and the world of Hollywood at the advent of the “talkie” era in the 1920s. It’s been adapted for the stage and performed in many venues around the world, including five times at the Muny. Now, as part of their 100th season, the Muny has brought this show back to the stage in a spectacular, marvelously staged production that features a strong cast and, of course, wonderful dancing.

Corbin Bleu, known to many fans from his roles in films on the Disney Channel, and especially High School Musical, has since established a successful career on Broadway, most recently taking on the role orginated by Fred Astaire in the stage adaptation of the movie Holiday Inn. Here at the Muny, Bleu follows in the dance steps of another legendary Hollywood hoofer, Gene Kelly, in the leading role of movie star Don Lockwood. He’s joined by Muny veterans Jeffrey Schecter as Lockwood’s longtime friend, pianist and dancer Cosmo Brown, and Berklea Going–who has essentially grown up performing at the Muny–as the aspiring actress and singer Kathy Selden. The story follows these three as they navigate the transition from silent movies to sound films, and particularly movie musicals. The trouble for Don, along with movie producer R.F. Simpson (Jeff McCarthy) and director Roscoe Dexter (George Merrick), is that Don’s longtime co-star, Lina Lamont (Megan Sikora), is not only selfish and limited in acting talent, she also can’t sing and has a shrill speaking voice that doesn’t translate well to the screen. Meanwhile, Kathy and Don meet and fall in love, but the possessive Lina–who has been romantically linked to Don in the press, but not in reality– tries everything she can to keep them apart. Though slight and not particularly deep, the story is a lot of fun, with an old-Hollywood charm and several stylized dance numbers with a lot of energy and flair.

Technically, this show is nothing short of spectacular, with excellent production values remarkably re-creating the look and atmosphere of 1920s Hollywood. Paul Tate dePoo III’s colorful, versatile set and Tristan Raines’s stylish, dazzling costumes are augmented by Greg Emetaz’s striking video design and Nathan W. Scheuer’s impressive atmospheric lighting. The Hollywood glitz and glamor are here in style, accompanied by the excellent Muny orchestra with music direction by Ben Whiteley.

There’s a great cast here, as well. Bleu, as Lockwood, is charming, with excellent dance skills and smooth, classic-style vocals. He’s an ideal choice as the much-loved movie star. Schecter, who was so memorable last year in The Little Mermaid and, especially A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is a delight here as Cosmo Brown, singing and dancing with energy and style, and displaying excellent comic timing. Going, as Kathy, also shows off a strong voice and dances skills, as well as good chemistry with Bleu’s Lockwood. Also standing out is Sikora in a brilliant comic performance as the diva-ish Lina. There are also memorable turns from McCarthy and Merrick, as well as local performer Debby Lennon as Hollywood entertainment reporter Dora Bailey. The ensemble is particularly strong as well, playing a variety of roles as needed and contributing to the truly stunning dance numbers, based on the film numbers originally choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and choregraphed for the Muny by Rommy Sandhu.

This isn’t a particularly deep show, and the ending is somewhat abrupt as staged, but overall it’s a spectacular evening of song, dance, and comedy. It’s a tribute to classic Hollywood with the style, energy, and performers of today. Fortunately, after a rain delay on Opening Night of last week’s show, The Wiz, this show opened on a clear night, despite its title–although it does really “rain” during the show’s splashy signature song. Singin’ In the Rain on stage at the Muny is a whole lot of fun.

Corbin Bleu, Berklea Going, Jeffrey Schecter Photo: The Muny

The Muny is presenting Singin’ In the Rain in Forest Park until July 3, 2018.

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Beautiful, the Carole King Musical
Book by Douglas McGrath
Words and Music by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Directed by Marc Bruni
The Fox Theatre
February 23, 2016

Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser, Becky Gulsvig Photo by Joan Marcus Beautiful National Tour

Curt Bouril, Liam Tobin, Abby Mueller, Ben Fankhauser, Becky Gulsvig
Photo by Joan Marcus
Beautiful North American Tour

Carole King is a living legend. First as a songwriter and then as a  singer-songwriter, she made a name for herself in the music industry with many memorable hits. Even today, many people who don’t recognize her name will know her songs. Beautiful, The Carole King Musical tells the story of how she came to fame, as well as giving us a picture of the developing music scene in the 60s and 70s. The show was a big hit and is still running on Broadway, and now the North American Tour has brought this vibrant show to St. Louis, with an excellent cast and a whole lot of energy.

Although I’m generally skeptical of “jukebox” musicals, I had heard great things about this one, as well as comparisons to one of the best of this type of show, Jersey Boys.  Beautiful has a lot in common with Jersey Boys, actually, in terms of its having a strong book telling the story of several important figures in the history of music. The tone is even more upbeat and optimistic, however, although it does cover some difficult times in King’s life as well. King (Abbey Mueller) is obviously the central figure, but this isn’t only her story. Her life entwines closely with that of her college sweetheart, songwriting partner, and eventual husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), as well as those of songwriting colleagues, friends, and friendly rivals Cynthia Weil (Becky Gulsvig) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser).  The story follows King from when she was still a teenager living with her mother, Genie Klein (Suzanne Grodner), to her early days as a songwriter for publisher Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril), to her heyday as part of a songwriting duo with Goffin, to marital struggles and changes in the country’s musical tastes, and finally to her rise in fame as a singer, culminating in the release of her most famous album, Tapestry.

The story is told in generally linear format, after a small prologue scene set during King’s Carnegie Hall concert that also ends the show. The story is punctuated with Goffin/King songs and Mann/Weil songs as well as a few other popular songs of the era. Groups like the Drifters, the Shirelles, and the Righteous Brothers are represented here as well, telling the story of King’s career and rocky partnership with the charming but unpredictable Goffin. There’s also a story of the developing relationship of Mann and Weil as a contrast to King and Goffin’s tumultuous marriage. The song performances are a highlight, with famous hits such as “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “One Fine Day” given dramatic settings that serve to advance the plot as well as celebrate that period in music history. It’s fascinating to watch as the songs are developed, and especially as King introduces some of her more well-known solo hits later in the show, such as “It’s Too Late”, “Beautiful”, and an especially endearing staging of “You’ve Got a Friend”.

The casting of King is essential, and Abby Mueller is an ideal choice for the role. With a voice remiscent of King’s without sounding like an impression, and an engaging personality, warmth and energy, Mueller plays King’s growth from a naive young aspiring songwriter to a more seasoned artist and performer extremely well. She carries the emotional weight of her personal story with admirable truth, as well. She’s well-matched with Tobin as the charismatic, increasingly troubled Goffin. Gulsvig as Weil is a standout, with a strong voice and spunky personality, and Fankhouser is in excellent voice as Mann. There are also winning performances from Bouril as the supportive music publisher Kirshner, and Grodner as King’s stubbornly devoted mother. There’s a strong ensemble as well, playing a variety of roles from famous musical acts to session players and more.

The time and place, as well as the transition between the various periods of King’s life, is evoked well by means of Derek McLane’s versatile set, with set pieces that slide on and off stage as needed to represent King’s various homes, the music publishing office, Carnegie Hall and beyond. There are also colorful, detailed costumes by Alejo Vietti, ranging from every day 50’s, 60’s and 70’s fashions to the more glamorous, glitzy costumes of the various performers. The lighting by Peter Kaczorowski effectively sets the mood and scene, as well.

The formative years of popular music are well-represented in this energetic, well-constructed and impressively staged musical. It’s about Carole King, and much of the show’s appeal centers on Mueller’s outstanding portrayal, but there’s a lot more here as well. It’s a story not only of music makers, but of the music itself, and the music is gloriously performed and presented. It’s a brilliant celebration of the life and work of a well-known, much-lauded singer and songwriter.

Abby Mueller Photo by Joan Marcus Beautiful North American Tour

Abby Mueller
Photo by Joan Marcus
Beautiful North American Tour

 The North American Tour of Beautiful, the Carole King Musical runs at the Fox Theatre until March 6, 2016.

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My Fair Lady
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Marc Bruni
The Muny
June 15, 2015

Anthony Andrews, Peggy Billo, Alexandra Silber, Paxton Whitehead Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Anthony Andrews, Peggy Billo, Alexandra Silber, Paxton Whitehead
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

My Fair Lady is an iconic musical. It’s often considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, and as such has been revived many times since its Broadway debut in 1956. The problem that comes with a show as well-known as this one, though, is that it’s been performed so many times that it’s easy for productions to appear dated or just to lose that sense of “newness” and energy that’s important in any production. Fortunately, the Muny’s 2015 season debut production does not suffer from that problem. In fact, the Muny has brought to the stage a My Fair Lady that has all the verve and vibrancy of a new production while still honoring the classic spirit of this timeless musical.

The story is familiar–a less cynical, musical take on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion in which curmudgeonly linguistics expert Professor Henry Higgins (Anthony Andrews) encounters Covent Garden flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Alexandra Silber) and bets his new friend, fellow linguist Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead) that he can turn Eliza into a well-spoken lady and pass her off as such at an upcoming grand ball.  Along the way, Eliza learns how to assert her own independence as she deals with Higgins, Pickering, her opportunistic father Alfred P. Doolittle (Michael McCormick) and some of the upper class people she meets, such as Higgins’s mother (Zoe Vonder Haar) and an eager and somewhat silly new suitor, Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Matthew Scott).  All the familiar songs are here, as well, from “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” to “A Little Bit of Luck”, “On the Street Where You Live”, “Get Me to the Church On Time”, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, and more.

The battle of wits between Higgins and Eliza is, as usual, the main attraction in this production, and it is impeccably played out by the marvelous Andrews and Silber. Andrews plays a Higgins who’s stubbornness is apparent, although there is just enough vulnerability and charm to make his story believable, and by the time he gets to the perfectly played  “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” it’s clear that, although he’s still the same guy, he’s been changed just a little bit for the better. Silber plays a tough, gutsy Eliza whose transformation from flower girl to lady is thoroughly convincing. Unlike some other Elizas I’ve seen, the transformation is played more as an empowerment, and it’s very clear that, although her speech and manners are altered, she’s still recognizably the same person by the end of the play–just wiser and more mature. She also has a strong, clear soprano and strong presence especially on “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Show Me” and “Without You”.  These two are a formidable duo, with convincing combative chemistry, and their notable confrontation scenes in Act 2 (in Higgins’s parlor and later, at his mother’s house) are ideally played.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong, as well. Whitehead is an ideal Pickering, with an amiable personality and excellent comic timing. McCormick, in a role that’s easy to overplay as Doolittle, strikes just the right balance between reality and caricature, bringing spark and life to “A Little Bit of Luck”, “Get Me to the Church on Time” and his scenes with Eliza.  Scott is a find as Freddy–probably the best Freddy I’ve ever seen, in being able to effectively portray a slightly foolish lovestruck young man with just the right amount of charm that doesn’t go over the top to cloying or annoying. His “On the Street Where You Live” is a soaring highlight of the show. There are also strong performances from Peggy Billo as Higgins’s no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, and local favorite Zoe Vonder Haar as Higgins’s strong-willed but fair-minded mother. There’s also a very strong ensemble, supporting the main cast well and displaying much energy and skill in production numbers like the magnificent “Ascot Gavotte” and the delightfully choreographed (by Chris Bailey) “Get Me to the Church On Time.” Vocally, everyone’s in good form, achieving a sound that’s recognizably 50’s influenced but also suitably fresh and vibrant.

Visually, the huge Muny stage is used to excellent effect. As with the performances, noting is over or underdone. The design elements–from Timothy R. Mackabee’s simple but stylish set to Amy Clark’s wonderfully colorful and detailed costumes–strike just the right balance of grandiosity and realism. There’s also excellent lighting work from designer John Lasiter. The only real issue on opening night was sound, with some mics not working properly and a few lines being missed, although I expect that will be dealt with as the show continues its run.

My Fair Lady is an excellent celebration of tradition as well as a prime example of the excellence brought to the company by Executive Director Mike Isaacson.  With energy, style and ideal casting, this show presents the best of what the Muny has to offer. It’s a grand introduction to the 2015 season, and I look forward to seeing what else the Muny has in store this summer.

Michael McCormick (center) and the cast of My Fair Lady Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Michael McCormick (center) and the cast of My Fair Lady
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

My Fair Lady runs at the Muny in Forest Park until June 21, 2015.

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