Posts Tagged ‘the fox theatre’

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
Book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Choreographed by Anthony Van Laast
The Fox Theatre
November 14, 2023

Parris Lewis and Band
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical North American Tour

St. Louis loves Tina Turner. Lots of people around the world love her, but St. Louis has a special connection. The legendary icon of rock n’ roll, pop, soul, and R & B spent several formative years here, and got her start playing in clubs on both sides of the river. Those early years, along with the rest of her celebrated career are highlighted in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, currently onstage of the Fox and featuring a strong cast, especially in the title role, along with many hits from the singer’s career. 

Actually, “singer” is a bit simplistic in describing Tina Turner’s talents. She was a multi-talented entertainer who could sing, dance, and make an audience take notice. As with other “jukebox” bio-musicals, this show uses the artist’s musical catalogue to tell the story of her life, but even more than other shows in this vein, this one seems to depend much more on its star as the central focus. The title of this show mentions Tina twice, and that emphasis is evident in the structure of the show, which uses songs by Tina and occasional other artists to tell her story through the years, from young Anna Mae Bullock’s childhood in Tennessee to her career as an international superstar, with all the trials, tribulations, and triumphs along the way. Considering the colossal talent it’s portraying, the musical essentially demands great casting in the title role, and this touring production has that. The role of Tina is shared by two performers who alternate performances–Ari Groover and Parris Lewis. On opening night at the Fox, Lewis took the stage with energy, stage presence, convincing emotional range, and most of all, the towering vocals that Tina Turner was known for on classic songs like “Proud Mary”, “River Deep, Mountain High”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and more. 

There is a strong supporting cast, as well, led by Roz White as Tina’s mother, Zelma, Wydetta Carter as Gran Georgeanna, and especially young Brianna Cameron as the young Anna Mae, who shows off great presence and powerful vocals as the girl who will eventually become known to the world as Tina Turner. There’s also a fine performance from Deon Releford-Lee, making the most of the difficult role of Ike Turner, who discovers the teenage Anna Mae, gives her her stage name and eventually marries her, also revealing himself to be controlling, philandering, and abusive. The drama in their relationship is difficult to watch at times, and the story gains more momentum once Tina is on her own. There’s a strong ensemble as well, with the production numbers being especially strong in re-creating live performances from Tina’s career, both with Ike and without.

The staging is dynamic and energetic, with a versatile set and eye-catching costumes by Mark Thompson, and excellent projections by Jeff Sugg that help maintain the sense of movement throughout the story. There’s also strong lighting by Bruno Poet and sound by Nevin Steinberg, as well as a great band led by music director Anne Shuttlesworth. 

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is a fitting tribute to its celebrated subject. If you’re a fan, there’s a lot to like here. The proclamation of Tina Turner Month in St. Louis by the mayor’s office after the curtain call on opening night was a great bonus, as well. This is a show that fits especially well at the Fox, in a city and metro area where this musical icon got her start. It’s an entertaining show, with a memorable leading performance.

Brianna Cameron and Cast
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical North American Tour

The North American Tour of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is running at the Fox Theatre until November 26, 2023

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Music and Lyrics by Eddie Perfect, Book by Scott Brown and Anthony King
Directed by Alex Timbers
Choreographed by Connor Gallagher
The Fox Theatre
October 11, 2023

Isabella Esler, Justin Collette
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Beetlejuice North American Tour

I’ve seen the movie Beetlejuice in its entirety once, and that was when was first released in 1988. I had seen very few clips of the musical adaptation, as well (mostly the Tony Awards performance). Still, even though my Beetlejuice knowledge was rusty, that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the energetic, technically impressive tour that’s currently running at the Fox. With a great cast, a catchy score, and some eye-catching visuals, this is a crowd-pleaser with a surprising amount of heart.

There are a few changes from the movie plot, apparently, and the focus here is more on Beetlejuice himself (Justin Collette), and the sad teenager Lydia Deetz (Isabella Esler) than movie leads Barbara (Megan McGinnis) and Adam Maitland (Ryan Breslin, subbing for principal Will Burton), and the tone is possibly even darker than Tim Burton’s original film. Still, the overall vibe is dark comedy, with some heartwarming moments thrown into the mix, and an ultimately hopeful message of family, belonging, and living life to the fullest. As the grieving Lydia tries to deal with the recent death of her mother, and her father Charles (Jesse Sharp) tries to forget his grief by ignoring it and moving on with aggressively perky life coach Delia (Kate Marilley), and trying to fix up the recently-deceased Maitlands’ house, the impossibly nice Barbara and Adam try to learn how to be ghosts, and Beetlejuice desperately wants to be able to be seen by living people in hopes that he won’t be oppressively lonely anymore. Of course, Beetlejuice being as creepy and mischievous as he is, much hijinks ensue, with some broad comedy, crass jokes, and lively musical numbers punctuating the story along the way. 

Even though there’s a lot happening here, the story moves along well, and is fairly easy to follow, with the performances adding energy and enthusiasm to the already wacky plot and characters. Collette and Esler are the obvious stars here, with Collette great with comic timing and physical comedy, and Esler impressing with memorable stage presence and powerful vocals. McGunnis and Bresler are also strong as the almost-too-nice Barbara and Adam, who have many fun moments together and with Lydia and Beetlejuice, especially. There are also memorable turns from Sharp as the initially clueless but ultimately well-meaning Charles, and Marilley as the impossibly wacky but also well-meaning Delia. There’s an excellent ensemble to back up the leads, as well, who especially excel in the production numbers and energetic choreography by Connor Gallagher.

Technically, the show dazzles, especially for a touring show, with an impressively elaborate set by David Korins and marvelous projections by Peter Negrini. William Ivey Long’s costumes are clever and delightfully whimsical, as well, with some impressive hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. The excellent lighting by Kenneth Posner, puppet design by Michael Curry, Makeup by Joe Dulude II, and sound by Peter Hylenski also contribute a lot to the overall comically creepy atmosphere. 

Beetlejuice is a whole lot of fun, and it seems especially appropriate this time of year in the run-up to Halloween. There is some crass humor and language, so it may not be best for young children, but it seems most appealing for teens and up. Even if you haven’t seen the film, or don’t remember it well, this show should make a strong impression. It’s a big, crass, creepily hilarious show that looks and sounds great. It’s a fun show to start off the new season of touring shows at the Fox.

Justin Collette (center) and Cast of Beetlejuice
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Beetlejuice North American Tour

The North American tour of Beetlejuice is running at the Fox Theatre until October 22, 2023

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Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations
Book by Dominique Morisseau
Music and Lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalogue
Based on the Book The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski
Directed by Des McAnuff
Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo
The Fox Theatre
September 20, 2022

Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Harrell Holmes Jr., James T. Lane
Photo by Emilio Madrid
Ain’t Too Proud North American Tour

The touring production of Ain’t Too Proud, the hit Broadway musical about the legendary R&B group The Temptations, is currently onstage at the Fox Theatre. This is one of those shows that draws a big crowd simply on the subject’s reputation, with a broad catalogue of hit songs from the group and other classic Motown artists. With an excellent cast and a fast-moving, stylish technical production, it’s an engaging, energetic crowd-pleaser. 

The “jukebox bio-musical” has been a popular genre in recent years, with a host of  shows featuring the stories and songs of legendary musical artists and groups making the rounds on Broadway and on tour. With Ain’t Too Proud, the focus mostly on the “classic” version of The Temptations as they rose to fame at Motown Records in the 1960s–Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James), Paul Williams (James T. Lane), Melvin Franklin (Harrell Holmes Jr.), Eddie Kendricks (Jalen Harris), and David Ruffin (Elijah Ahmad Lewis). The story, narrated by Otis Williams, focuses on how the group started, following as they achieved the height of their popularity, endured personal tensions and other issues, and eventually lost and gained members as the group–and the world–moved into the 1970s, 80s, and beyond, dealing with issues of changing musical styles as well as more weightier issues like dealing with racism in the industry and in the rest of the country, as well as war and violence in the world. The show also features other popular Motown artists–most prominently The Supremes (Amber Mariah Talley as Diana Ross, Shayla Brielle G. as Florence Ballard, and Traci Elaine Lee as Mary Wilson), portrayed as the Temptations’ main rivals for chart supremacy in the 1960s. Personal struggles, including the group members’ romantic relationships and family issues, are dealt with to a degree–especially for Otis Williams, whose first wife, Josephine (Najah Hetsberger), and son Lamont (Gregory C. Banks Jr.) are featured, highlighting the ongoing struggle to balance family and career ambitions. Other group members deal with the various temptations (pun noted) of fame, including drug and alcohol addiction, as the years go by and the group changes in various ways, with newer members Dennis Edwards (Dwayne P. Mitchell), Richard Street (Devin Holloway), and Damon Harris (Lawrence Dandrige) all getting notable stage time. 

The setup has some similarities to Jersey Boys (about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), in that it focuses on a prominent music group of men and their personal and musical struggles over the years, but the story is framed more from the point of view of one member of the group, since the show is based on Otis Williams’s memoir. So, everything is essentially from Otis’s perspective, and the music takes precedence over the personal drama most of the time. The book, by playwright Dominique Morisseau, is well-structured, managing to involve all the main players in prominent ways, for the most part, although as time goes by and the personnel of the group changes, it does seem to gloss over some detail sometimes, although the major focus is, as always, on the music, keeping the audience’s attention and enthusiasm throughout. In fact, there are a few well-timed moments in which the performers encourage the audience to sing and clap along, which works well in showcasing the classic Motown music and the overall tone of the show as a celebration of the Temptations’ legacy. The staging is smooth and energetic, with a great ensemble, vibrant choreography by Serigio Trujillo, and a dynamic set by Robert Brill that emphasizes movement and the swift passage of time, augmented by the excellent projection design by Peter Nigrini. There’s also dazzling lighting by Howell Binkley, along with stylish, marvelously detailed costumes by Paul Tazewell that reflect the changing eras especially well. 

As for the cast, it’s stellar, with the main five Temptations all giving strong, well-sung performances, with James as Otis Williams serving as an ideal narrator, and Lewis showing off excellent stage presence and some particularly impressive dance moves as David Ruffin. Lane also has some especially poignant moments as Paul Williams, and Harris as Eddie Kendricks and Holmes as Melvin Franklin also give winning, memorable performances. There are also strong turns from Mitchell as Ruffin’s replacement in the group, Dennis Edwards, Hetsberger as Josephine, and Reed Campbell as the group’s agent Shelly Berger. Everyone, from featured players to ensemble, is full of presence, energy, and excellent vocal ability, showcasing the story and especially the catalogue of classic hit songs with vibrancy and style. 

Overall, Ain’t Too Proud is an entertaining tribute to a legendary musical group, as well as Motown music in general. If you love this music, you are likely to love this show. With a terrific cast, impressive production values, and of course that legendary music, this is sure to entertain, and have you humming the tunes on the way home. 

Cast of Ain’t Too Proud
Photo by Emilio Madrid
Ain’t Too Proud North American Tour

The North American Tour of Ain’t Too Proud is playing at the Fox Theatre until October 2, 2022

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Mean Girls
Book by Tina Fey, Music by Jeff Richmond, Lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
The Fox Theatre
February 15, 2022

Cast of Mean Girls
Photo by Jenny Anderson
Mean Girls North American Tour

Mean Girls, the movie, is one of those films that I feel like I’ve seen even though I haven’t. It’s become so ingrained in the culture, especially for people who were high school age when it came out, that it’s been the subject of much quoting and meme-ing over the years since it was first released in 2004. I’ve heard so much about it since then, even though I’m a little older than its main demographic. Now, the tour based on the 2018 Broadway musical, adapted by original film writer Tina Fey along with Jeff Richmond and Nell Benjamin, is onstage at the Fox, which is my first time actually seeing this story directly. For the most part, it’s an entertaining production that certainly makes the audience happy, and features some excellent performances in its lead roles. There’s also a whole lot of energy, if not necessarily a lot of story elements that haven’t been done before.

It’s a high school story, and as such the musical contains a lot of the typical “high school movie” tropes, with cliques, quests for popularity, teenage romances, and more. The action here centers on Cady Herron (Danielle Wade), a newcomer to North Shore High School after having been raised in Kenya and homeschooled. The story is narrated as “A Cautionary Tale” according the show’s opening number, by artsy kids Janis (Mary Kate Morris) and Damian (Eric Huffman), who take it upon themselves to befriend Cady and help her find her place at the school among its many social groups. Soon, however, she is introduced to the “Plastics”, a group of influential but manipulative girls led by the self-centered Regina George (Nadina Hassan), who along with the insecure Gretchen (Olivia Renteria) and ditzy Karen (Jonalyn Saxer), tries to dominate the social scene at the school. Cady is soon immersed in the world of the Plastics, sitting with them at lunch and being adopted into their group while still trying to maintain friendships with “outcasts” Janis and Damian, as well as trying to court the attention of calculus classmate and Regina’s ex, Aaron Samuels (Adante Carter), to whom she is attracted. Inevitably, Cady learns that all this trying to reinvent herself doesn’t exactly pay off, and lessons are learned by all about the nature of friendship. authenticity, and acceptance.

Mean Girls, as staged on tour, is a fun show with some memorable numbers and an energetic cast, but there’s not much here that hasn’t been done in a variety of high school stories going back decades. Also, for anyone who hadn’t seen the film, the story is somewhat hard to follow especially in the first act because so much of the story is told in the songs, which the uneven sound mixing made difficult to understand. Still, the cast gives their all, with some impressive performances especially from Wade as the likable but conflicted Cady, Carter as the sweet-natured but also conflicted Aaron, and Huffman and Morrissey who are quirky and ideal narrators as Damian and Janis. There’s also a sweetly goofy performance from Lawrence E. Street as school principal Mr. Duvall, and a versatile multi-role turn from April Josephine as Cady’s mom, Regina’s mom, and influential math teacher Ms. Norbury. The Plastics are also memorable, with excellent comic timing from Renteria (the understudy) and Saxer, and a strong sense of presence from Hassan as Regina. The singing is strong throughout, and the dancing, choreographed by director Casey Nicholaw, is enthusiastic and full of energy. There’s a strong ensemble filling out the cast, as well, and all seem to be having fun with this somewhat busy but entertaining story.

Technically, aside from the aforementioned sound issues, the show dazzles. There’s a bright, colorful, and versatile set by Scott Pask, as well as fun and clever video design by Finn Ross and Adam Young and lighting by Kenneth Posner. The colorful costumes by Gregg Barnes, hair design by Josh Marquette, and makeup by Milagros Medina-Cerdeira also contribute to the overall bold and whimsical tone of the production. 

If you’re expecting Mean Girls to be fun and full of energy, you won’t be disappointed. I can’t say anything about the adaptation from the film because I haven’t seen the movie, although this show did make me want to see it. This show isn’t world-changing or deeply profound, but it’s got a great cast, vivid characters, and a fun sense of humor. It’s an entertaining way to spend an evening at the Fox.

Adante Carter, Danielle Wade
Photo by Joan Marcus
Mean Girls North American Tour

The North American tour of Mean Girls is running at the Fox Theatre until February 27, 2022

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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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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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The Lion King
Music and Lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice
Additional Music and Lyrics by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Julie Taymor, Hans Zimmer
Book by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi
Directed by Julie Taymor
Choreographed by Garth Fagan
The Fox Theatre
April 20, 2017

Mukelisiwe Goba
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The Lion King North American Tour

The Lion King has become a massive hit on stage since first opening on Broadway in 1998. An adaptation of the popular Disney film, the stage version caused something of a sensation with its innovating staging and use of puppetry. Believe it or not, I had never actually seen the stage show before. I had only seen the film, and that was a long time ago. Now on stage at the Fox, the latest national tour of this grand, stunningly staged musical is an impressive spectacle for all ages, whether you are familiar with the story or not.

The story, at least partially inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is one of parent-child bonds, difficult family ties, personal responsibility and more, with a cast of characters who are wild animals living in the African savanna. It centers around Simba, played as a child in the performance I saw by Jordan Williams and as an adult by Dashaun Young. Simba is the son and heir of the current king of the lions and various other animals, the wise and brave Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey). Mufasa’s scheming brother Scar (Mark Campbell) wants to be king instead, and orchestrates events so that  he can take over the kingdom.  The story then leads to young Simba’s growing up under the tutelage of fellow “outcast” animals, meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz), and eventually being reunited with childhood friend Nala the lioness (Nia Holloway as an adult, Meilani Cisneros as a child), and encouraged to return to Pride Rock and reclaim his rightful place as king. Presiding over all the action is Rafiki (Mukelisiwe Goba), a wise, mystical mandrill who also encourages Simba on his quest to challenge Scar and his hyena cronies for leadership.

The staging is famously innovative with its use of puppetry and stylized costumes in the portrayal of its animal characters, and also for its stunning production numbers such as the spectacular “Circle of Life” opening number, which drew enthusiastic applause from the audience. The production values here are excellent, especially for a production that’s been touring for so long. Richard Hudson’s set design, Julie Taymor’s costumes, Donald Holder’s lighting design, and Taymor and Michael Curry’s mask and puppet design are all dazzlingly memorable. The choreography by Garth Fagan is energetic and well-executed by the strong ensemble here.

The lead performances are also strong, led by Goba (the understudy) as the wise, sometimes mischievous Rafiki, who in the stage production is essentially the star of the show, as far as I’m concerned. Goba brings a great deal of energy and personality to the role, spurring on Young’s earnest adult Simba. Young and the equally strong Holloway have good chemistry as Simba and Nala, and young Williams and Cisneros give fine performances as their younger counterparts as well. There are some fun comic performances from Codileone and Lipitz as Timon and Pumbaa, and also by Tony Freeman as Mufasa’s bird advisor Zazu. Ramsey carries a strong sense of authority and general goodness as Mufasa as well. Campbell is also memorable as the scheming Scar, with a leering tone and strong voice, and he’s ably supported by Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Keith Bennett, and Robbie Swift as the opportunistic hyenas Shenzi, Banzai, and Ed.  The dance ensemble is especially strong, as well, bringing a sense of fluidity and grace to the stage in the various dance numbers.

This is a good adaptation of the film, but with a few changes that actually make it work better on stage. It’s still The Lion King, though, and its memorable story and characters are on clear display here at the Fox. It’s an excellent show for audiences of all ages, and the audience I saw it with was definitely appreciative. It’s a story with humor, drama, and a strong message of redemption, responsibility, and hope. It’s well worth checking out.

Nia Holloway (Right) and Ensemble
Photo by Joan Marcus
The Lion King North America Tour

The North American Tour of Disney’s The Lion King runs at the Fox Theatre until May 7, 2017.

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A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder
Book and Lyrics by Robert L. Freedman, Music and Lyrics by Steven Lutvak
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
The Fox Theatre
September 13, 2016

John Rapson, Kevin Massey Photo by Joan Marcus A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

John Rapson, Kevin Massey
Photo by Joan Marcus
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is an apt title for 2014’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical, based on a early 20th Century novel by Roy Horniman that also served as the inspiration for the 1949 English film Kind Hearts and Coronets. The musical is now on tour and stopping in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre, where the ornate decor and style suit the piece well. A gleeful tale of one man’s rise to a position of nobility through less than noble means, this show is certainly full of laughs and very cleverly written and produced, even though its message is ultimately somewhat disturbing.

We first meet Montague “Monty”  Navarro (Kevin Massey) in his prison cell as he writes a diary of how he came to be so incarcerated. It seems that Monty grew up in humble circumstances, but shortly after the death of his mother, her childhood nanny, Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) appears and informs him that his mother was a member of the famous D’Ysquith family, who disinherited her when she married Monty’s late father, a musician from Spain. Monty also finds out that he’s ninth in line for the Earldom of Highhurst, and goes about first trying to be accepted as a member of the family. When the family still refuses to acknowledge his mother, Monty goes about ingratiating himself to the various family heirs and, one by one, helping them to an early demise. Meanwhile, Monty’s girlfriend Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), doesn’t initially believe his family story and marries another man for the money, but that doesn’t stop her from still being involved with Monty on the side. Monty, meanwhile, also meets and enters into a flirtation with his cousin Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller), who isn’t in the way in the line of succession so he views her an ideal marriage possibility, which prompts jealousy from Sibella. The story follows Monty as he navigates his way through the succession and his increasingly complicated romantic entanglements. Also, in a clever casting conceit, most of the D’Ysquiths are played by the same actor (John Rapson). It’s a fast-paced, quick witted show that chronicles Monty’s amoral machinations in a tuneful, humorous manner.

The casting here is uniformly excellent, with special kudos to Rapson for playing so many D’Ysquiths (both male and female) with such energy and flair. Massey is equally good as the charming, scheming Monty, working well opposite Rapson as his various relatives and potential victims, and opposite both of his love interests. Williams is superb as the materialistic, jealous Sibella and Eller is especially excellent as the eager, devoted Phoebe. The best moment in the show is the song “I’ve Decided to Marry You”, in which Phoebe shows up at Monty’s apartment not knowing Sibella is there, and Monty is desperately torn between them. It’s a hilarious, impeccably staged moment. There are also strong performances from VanArsdel as the unpredictable Miss Shingle and Kristen Mengelkoch as the present Earl’s wife, the haughty, combative Lady Eugenia. The main cast members are supported well by a cohesive, energetic ensemble, making the lively songs and various stylized production numbers from the opening “A Warning to the Audience” to the summarizing “Finale” crackle with energy, wit, and morbid humor.

This is an extremely good looking production, filling out the Fox stage well and fitting ideally into that venue. The ingenious set by Alexander Dodge recreates an old fashioned music hall stage that conveniently adapts and adjusts to the various changes of setting. The costumes by Linda Cho are richly and gloriously detailed as well, suggesting both the period and the show’s whimsical tone perfectly. There’s also adept use of lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg, stylish and whimsical wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe, and spectacular use of projections by Aaron Rhyne. The whole look and feel of this piece is of a stylized, over-the-top early 20th Century music hall production.

This is an impressive show, with a great score and strong performances, although the story does have a calculated coldness about it that makes it more than a little unsettling at times. That tone is probably intentional, although it does come across at times as being a little too self-consciously pretentious. Still, the cast members are clearly enjoying themselves, and their energy is infectious and effective. It’s a clever show, and a visual and auditory treat. It’s definitely worth checking out while it’s in town.

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller Photo by Joan Marcus A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

Kristen Beth Williams, Kevin Massey, Adrienne Eller
Photo by Joan Marcus
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder National Tour

The national tour of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is playing at the Fox Theatre until September 25, 2016. 

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Mamma Mia!
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and some songs with Stig Anderson
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
The Fox Theatre
November 6, 2015

Laura Michelle Hughes, Erin Fish, Sarah Smith Photo by Joan Marcus Mamma Mia! National Tour

Laura Michelle Hughes, Erin Fish, Sarah Smith
Photo by Joan Marcus
Mamma Mia! National Tour

Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical done right. I am often highly skeptical of the whole concept of jukebox shows, especially when they’re basically just story-less productions made as an excuse to sing a bunch of popular songs. Still, there are shows in this genre that transcend that expectation, and this one does a good job of that. It’s not a highly substantive show, really, but it’s got an interesting story and it’s fun. The current non-equity tour, playing at the Fox, is a small but well put together production that captures the spirit and fun of the show well.

The story here isn’t particularly deep or profound, but it’s compelling, and the songs from Swedish pop group ABBA are well-incorporated into the plot. It’s a mother and daughter story, really. The daughter, 20 year old Sophie (Kyra Belle Johnson) is about to get married. She’s grown up on a Greek Island resort run by her mother, Donna (Erin Fish), who used to be in a glitzy singing group back in the day, and has raised Sophie on her own. After Sophie discovers via her mother’s diary that there are three men who could possibly be her father, she invites all three to the wedding without telling Donna. The men are all nice guys but couldn’t be more different–there’s English banker Harry (Andrew Tebo), writer and adventurer Bill (Ryan M. Hunt), and architect Sam (Chad W. Fornwalt). Needless to say, drama ensues when Donna sees them all again, but this is largely an upbeat show, as is fitting with the ABBA music that punctuates the story. Donna’s former bandmates Rose (Sarah Smith) and Tanya (Laura Michelle Hughes) are also on hand to contribute to the comedic aspects of the show.

This is something of a low-budget tour, but smaller is not necessarily a bad thing. The show is vibrant enough that the scaled-down production values work well, with a moveable set and lots of colorful projections. The production is designed by Mark Johnson, with atmospheric lighting by Howard Harrison. The staging is lively and effective, highlighting the more high-energy ABBA songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance On Me”, and lending poignancy to the ballads like “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All.”  There were a few issues with the sound in terms of being able to hear the singers over the music, but for the most part, the technical aspects of the show run smoothly.

The excellent cast is in good form here. Fish and Johnson, as Donna and Sophie, are in excellent voice and portray a convincing mother-daughter relationship. They’re engaging and funny when they need to be as well, working well with the three would-be dads, amiably played by Tebo, Hunt, and Fornwalt. Hughes and Smith also lend excellent comic support as the somewhat stuffy Tanya and more adventurous Rosie. Stephen Eckelmann, as Sophie’s fiance, Sky, also gives a fine performance and has good chemistry with Johnson. There’s also an energetic, enthusiastic ensemble to back up the leads, lending vibrancy to the show’s bigger production numbers.

I had never seen Mamma Mia! on stage before, having only seen the film. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from this tour, but I was rather pleasantly surprised. This is a well-cast, well staged production that captures the show’s sense of fun and musicality very well. If you like ABBA music especially, this is a worthwhile show to see.

Kyra Belle Johnson, Ryan M. Hunt, Andrew Tebo Photo by Joan Marcus Mamma Mia! National Tour

Kyra Belle Johnson, Ryan M. Hunt, Andrew Tebo
Photo by Joan Marcus
Mamma Mia! National Tour

The Mamma Mia! tour runs at the Fox Theatre until Sunday, November 7th, 2015

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