Posts Tagged ‘the fox theatre’

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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