Thursday, 20 September 2018 17:15

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of September 21, 2018

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"Love Never Dies" at the Fox "Love Never Dies" at the Fox Photo by Joan Marcus

This week we have two very different new entries from Midnight Company and The Fox.

New This Week:


Midnight Theatre Company presents two one-act plays by Mickle Maher: An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus and The Hunchback Variations Thursdays at 7 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 8 pm, September 20 - 29. Performances take place at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in The Grove. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

My take: Joe Hanrahan and Dave Wassilak have performed both of these duet shows previously here in town to good notices but to the best of my knowledge this is the first time they've both been available in the same program. In An Apology, Dr. Faustus (Hanrahan)...well...apologizes for not standing up agaisnt Mephistopholes (Wassilak). The Hunchback Variations is even more improbable: a panel discussion between the Hunchback of Notre Dame (Wassilak) and Ludwig Van Beethoven (Hanrahan) about Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. Go figure. If you're up for something out of the theatrical norm, this just might be the show for you. And the Emerald Room at The Monocle is an cool space for intimate performances.


Love Never Dies
Photo by Joan Marcus

The Fox Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns, running through September 30. "The year is 1907. It is 10 years after his disappearance from the Paris Opera House and The Phantom has escaped to a new life in New York where he lives amongst the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. In this new, electrically charged world, he has finally found a place for his music to soar, but he has never stopped yearning for his one true love and musical protégée, Christine Daaé. Now one of the world's finest sopranos, Christine accepts an invitation to travel from Paris to New York to perform at a renowned opera house. Christine's marriage to Raoul is suffering at the hands of his drinking and gambling and they desperately need the financial rewards that America can give them. In a final bid to win back Christine's love, The Phantom lures her, Raoul, and their young son Gustave, from Manhattan to the glittering and glorious world of Coney Island - not knowing what is in store for them." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Unlike some of my fellow critics, I have never been inclined to jump on the anti-Lloyd Webber bandwagon. I've seen Phantom of the Opera a couple of times and have enjoyed it immensely. If my schedule had allowed it, I would have checked out Love Never Dies as well, even though I'm not entirely convinced the world was really crying for a sequel to the spectacularly successful original, with its irresistible score and clever parodies of operatic styles. Reviews of the show have been mixed at some of the earlier stops on this (presumably) pre-Broadway tour following its American debut in Detroit last October, as is the only review I have been able to find so far, by Calvin Wilson at STLToday.com. I'm putting it on the list anyway, just because I find fascinating the idea of a musical with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and a book by Ben Elton, the creator of Blackadder.


Held Over:


Robert Dubac in The Book of Moron

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents The Book of Moron, opening on Thursday, September 13, and running through September 23. "Robert Dubac's newest Off-Broadway hit The Book Of Moron has been described as one of the most hilarious, intelligent and scorching satirical attacks on idiocracy since Mark Twain. Having been brainwashed by a culture that worships the Kardashians over character, delusion over truth, and selfies over self-effacement, Dubac begins his journey with a simple question: Who am I? What do I believe? What's the point? Okay, that's three questions but suffice to say, he has no answers. Just voices. Inner voices who come to life with precision and wit. One by one they pull him into a hysterical alternative universe of critical thought in search of the bigger picture. It's a head trip on a banana peel." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

My take: I haven't seen the local reviews on this one yet, but I'm putting it on the list on the basis of the concept alone. As I noted in a blog post several years ago, we have become so overloaded with information that we are getting very bad at distinguishing between the important and the trivial. As the recent election demonstrated, many of us also seem unable (or unwilling) to distinguish between truth and fantasy. The Denver Post described this show as "high-concept comedy that is provocative and smart; a philosophy lecture with punch lines." Sounds like a good combination to me.


Crowns
Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Black Rep presents the musical Crowns through September 23. "Hats become a springboard for an exploration of black history and identity as seen through the eyes of a young black woman who has come down South to stay with her aunt after her brother is killed in Brooklyn. Hats are everywhere, in exquisite variety, and the characters use the hats to tell tales about everything from the etiquette of hats to their historical and contemporary social functions." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: This show, as Mark Bretz notes in his review for Ladue News, is one of those rare works that both informs and entertains. "Crowns," he writes, "succeeds both in providing engaging musical and comic entertainment as well as an informative explanation of the historical meaning and value given to the hats worn by African-American women in church, one of the few places they were afforded freedom to express themselves for too much of American history". At STLToday, com, Calvin Wilson calls the production "an entertaining and often hilarious blend of coming-of-age story and concert" and notes that "director Linda Kennedy maintains a brisk pace while eliciting first-rate performances from her ensemble cast." It looks like the Black Rep's new season is off to a strong start.


Evita
Photo by Eric Woolsey

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita through September 30. "The incandescent Eva Perón's rise from poverty to power electrified the world - and made her an iconic political celebrity. Winner of seven Tony Awards, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's tour-de-force musical revels in the glamour, charisma and controversy that defined the First Lady of Argentina. With its unforgettable anthem "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, Evita dazzles with pure passion." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: Evita has certainly gone through some changes since it first appeared as a two-LP "concept album" back in 1976 (note to younger readers: the LP is a primitive sound reproduction device invented by the ancient Mayans), with a 1978 Broadway production and a 2006 London stage revision that also made its way to the Great White Way. The Rep production is based on that revival, which makes what I see as a number of positive changes in the show. That includes new orchestrations, a focus on dance and movement that makes the show move like lightning without ever pushing the pacing, and dropping the notion that the character of Che is the revolutionary Che Guevara, which never really worked for me anyway. I liked that version when I saw it at the Fox in 2013 and local critics appear to like the Rep's production quite a lot a well. "The whirlwind that was the life of Eva Peron," writes Steve Allen, "travels at break neck speed with dazzling performances, costumes and set design all sweeping across the Rep stage in the capable hands of director Rob Ruggiero." Ann Lemmons Pollack calls it "a blockbuster of a show that takes full advantage of the extra time the summer gave to crank things up." We saw the show last weekend. Rob Ruggiero's direction is fleet-footed and precise and his cast is very strong, headed by Michelle Aravena as Eva Perón, Pepe Nufrio as Che, and Sean MacLaughlin as a forceful and charismatic Juan Perón. The 16 members of the ensemble take on a variety of roles and include some truly impressive dancers.


Oklahoma!
Photo by Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoSTL

Stages St. Louis presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! through October 7. "Oh, what a beautiful musical! Rodgers and Hammerstein's timeless first collaboration was, in many ways, their most innovative. And while OKLAHOMA! completely changed the face of American musical theatre over seventy years ago, it remains as fresh and vital today as it was then with its loving celebration of the American spirit. A stunning blend of drama, music, and dance, the exhilarating Rodgers and Hammerstein score contains such classics as "People Will Say We're In Love," "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top," "Kansas City," "I Cain't Say No," and the pulsating title tune, "Oklahoma!" A gold standard that set the bar for all great musicals that came after it, OKLAHOMA! is unforgettable entertainment for the entire family!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: History (or at least Wikipedia) tells us that when Lorenz Hart was approached by his then-partner Richard Rodgers to work on a musical stage version of the 1931 Theatre Guild flop Green Grow the Lilacs, he declined, shrugging off the story of farmers and cowboys in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma as corny and uninteresting. He had a point there—the corn really is "as high as an elephant's eye" at times—but even so Oklahoma! was a box office smash in 1943 (a record-breaking 2,212 performances), garnered rave reviews, and has remained a favorite of audiences and critics ever since. The Stages production, which I saw last night, is broad and even borderline cartoonish in spots, but executed so flawlessly and with such precision that it's impossible not to find it vastly entertaining. Performances are top drawer and the score is, of course, irresistible.

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