If you've ever been in a college production you know that almost every cast party must include a little parody of the play on which you've all been working so hard. In 1982 Gerard Allesandrini, an unemployed actor, brought that special joy to an Off-Broadway house and spoofed dozens of the musicals that have become Broadway icons. The revue he wrote is called Forbidden Broadway, and his new lyrics for hit show tunes were dazzlingly funny. Well, the show keeps on going. It's been performed 9,000 times. It's been showered with awards, and over these thirty-five years Allesandrini has updated it twenty-one times. 

Now the venerable Kay's Theatrical Korps has opened a strong production of it. This latest version is called Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits. Though the show was written for only four actors singing umpteen roles, this KTK production has a cast of, I think, twenty-three -- and there are some bright talents among them. Under the very able direction of Kyle Kranes-Rutz with musical direction by Pam Goerss, these folks present a most enjoyable evening. I laughed a lot. Musical theater aficionados will especially love it, as familiarity with the great shows being spoofed lets one catch every joke and feel like an insider. But it's really a show for everybody. 

Everything is fair game. What are the hopes of an "Annie" who must sing "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll be thirty tomorrow!"

 In Sondheim shows "the words are the stars" and his self-indulgently busy, complex and difficult lyrics drive singers (and audiences) crazy -- especially when they must be sung at "circus tempo". In "Oh, No, Carol" everyone begs Carol Channing not to embark on yet another production of Hello, Dolly! Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno have a fiery cat-fight about who was the better "Anita" in West Side Story. Jean Valjean in Les Miz complains that "This song is Too High!" "The Phantom" of the opera, whose breathy voice is too dependent on a head mike and electronic reverb, is loudly coached in belting by Ethel Merman ("You don't need amplifyin'!"). Rent, Wicked, Spamalot, Cabaret all come in for their delicious ridicule. Fiddler on the Roof sings about an actor's obsession with Ambition!, Rejection!, Projection!, Complexion!  

Memorable among the too-many-to-mention talents are:

  • Mary Helen Walton in Les Miz and Chorus Line. She's graceful and sexy and quite a pro.
  • A tall, handsome leading-man type with a beautiful voice, Joe Simpson is outstanding as Jean Valjean and as Mandy Patinkin, an actor who is "Somewhat Over-indulgent."
  • Kyle Kelesoma has vocal power and he is hilarious singing "I Enjoy Being a Cat." A rather portly gent in a cat suit, he astonishingly achieves a split. 
  • Sarah Polizzi and Maggie Nold are a fierce "Chita" and "Rita."
  • Nicole Robbins is terrific as Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand.
  • Caitlin Hill makes a convincing French chanteuse with a touch of that Piaf tremolo.
  • Mina Charepoo does a beautiful "Liza One-Note."

A time or two, briefly, a singer got a little out of synch with the recorded piano accompaniment and occasionally there was an empty blackout for a few seconds between scenes. This is, after all, a community theater production, but in that category it is a very good one.

The chorus numbers are unusually fine, with beautiful power and synchrony across the stageful of singers.

Costumes are most impressive. Marie Moore, Kyle Kranes and Joan Caro have done beautiful work here. Lights by Chris O'Donovan and Megan McEntee; the set by Kyle Kranes; and chorography by Maggie Nold, Mary Helen Walton and Kyle Kranes are all top quality. 

KTK's production of Forbidden Broadway's Greatest Hits continues at the Southampton Church through September 24.

 

Welcome to this week's KDHX In Performance feature, where you'll find a little something for everyone: a story that moves across town and boundaries, a one-woman show filled with insight, musical romance on a Pacific island, a visit to St. Louis by one of the Bard's most famous kings, and a family-oriented tale of change and growth. There's also a number of excellent productions continuing in performance, so, what's holding you back? Peruse the shows below and go see a play!

Tesseract Theatre presents Coupler a story set in motion on an urban train. The new play by Meredith Dayna Levy, directed by company member Katie Pallazolla, follows the twists and turns in the lives of the occupants on the last train on London's Northern line. Elements of magic, mystery, and a little pixie dust are thrown in as the six passengers learn to connect, listen, and work with each other. They may eventually grow up; it's inevitable after all, as are lessons on love and trust.

Company artistic director Taylor Gruenloh was immediately attracted to the contemporary and relatable story, and inspired by the location. "We're excited about this production of Meredith's play, because this will be the first production of Coupler that allows the audience to come and sit on the train between stops. Not quite immersive, not quite audience participation, just a little magic in the experience." Coupler runs through September 24, 2017 at the .Zack in the Grand Center Arts District.

"For my birthday, September 15th, I thought I would do something terrifying and exciting and open in a one woman play." That's the first reply you get from local favorite Donna Weinsting when discussing Unsuspecting Susan a humorous, sometimes haunting look at motherhood from the newest company on the block, Inevitable Theatre Company. Weinsting, for one, is happy to welcome new talent and old friends to her city, stating that "Working with Robert Neblett, who brought the project to me and directs, has been a labor of love." 

Divorcee Susan Chester is a pleasant, upper-class woman whose world is forever altered by an act of unspeakable violence. "The play is a British one so I get to talk fancy and say fun words like "whinging" which I didn't think was a real word until I heard it on Game of Thrones," notes Weinsting before turning more introspective. "I felt a real connection when I picked up the script and read that when they brought it to the United States, it played at 59E59 St. Theatre in New York, which is where I performed the Neil LaBute New Play Festival last January." Opening this weekend and continuing through September 30, 2017, Unsuspecting Susan comically explores the depth of a mother's love, and Donna learned all those lines just so you'd come and see her.

STAGES St. Louis wraps up their season with the always crowd-pleasing South Pacific, continuing through October 8, 2017. The musical set in World War II is filled with memorable songs that helped solidify Rodgers and Hammerstein's work as the upper echelon of classic American theater. Surprisingly, the story also introduces ideas of racial tolerance and harmony while subtly asking if the personal and national price of war is really a cost we want to bear. Not everyone gets a happy ending, and those who do must confront their prejudice and transform. Still, the entertaining show is filled with a sense of fun and adventure; even the serious subjects are delivered with pleasant harmonies and a positive tone.

There are also a number of productions that can only be seen this weekend, adding to the sense of seasonal celebration. The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents its sixth annual 'Shakespeare in the Streets' production, Blow, Winds, an adaptation of King Lear set in St. Louis. Local step company The Gentlemen of Vision and a 60-person choir, with members from local churches and high schools, join local professional actors in an energetic and entertaining performance. 

The free show will be performed at on the steps of the Central Library in downtown St. Louis at 8pm September 15 to 17, 2017. Seating begins at 6pm, food and beverages are available for purchase, and audience members are encouraged to bring their own chairs.

The Metro Theater Company is opening two performances of Jeremy Schaefer's Games Dad Didn't Play to public audiences. The touching family-oriented show, intended for audiences aged 6 and older, introduces us to young Lucas and his mother. The two have moved to a new city, and a new school, in order to start a new life. The award-winning play imparts lessons on understanding your past and creating your own future. Performances are at the Grandel Theatre Saturday, September 16 at 7pm and Sunday, September 17, 2017 at 2pm.

Continuing this weekend: A heartwarming look at contemporary families and aging, the hilarious and insightful DOT continues through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep. The Shealy Holiday celebration gets real, and really funny, as siblings Shelly, Donnie, and Averie learn to cope with their mother's dementia. 

Inventive staging and choreography add to the transformative The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Rep. Intellectually brilliant, socially awkward, and living with autism, 15-year old Christopher is determined to discover the truth about Wellington the dog. He learns much more than he expected, and audiences may as well. 

The sweet natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

 

 

 

One of the most important gifts of live theater is its ability to transport audiences to a new world or a new way of viewing our current world. In rare moments, theater allows us to enter into the mind and experience of another person so thoroughly that we cannot help but embrace their story. Such is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The thoughtful adventure succeeds with an ensemble cast that commits fully to the concept and stagecraft that is at once complementary and imaginative.

A precocious boy with mathematical genius, 15-year-old Christopher is also autistic. He dislikes being touched, gets overwhelmed by too much stimulation, and has trouble communicating and connecting with others. His parents love him very much and do their best to help him succeed, which takes a toll on their relationship, though Christopher doesn't see that. Neither does the audience. This genuinely surprising revelation is part of the brilliance and sense of magic that permeates the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' beautifully staged production.

The story tells how Christopher stumbles upon a dog violently killed in the middle of the night and sleuths out the killer. That's not all Christopher discovers through his investigation, he also learns some hard truths about his mother and father, as well as some surprising abilities of his own. He even manages to befriend an elderly lady in need of company. Though the show unfolds in a rather straightforward manner, the protagonist and his perspective are anything but typical. Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge and the cast faithfully translate Simon Stephens' script, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, to take us into Christopher's worldview. 

A school principal admonishes us to silence our mobile devices and open any hard candies in a stern but firm voice. A flurry of noise and activity surrounds us as the ensemble takes the stage with the enthusiasm of kindergarteners playing dress up. An English children's song plays loudly in the background but, as the song plays on, the melody is heard in reverse, not quite making sense but still recognizable. Christopher enters into this room and is instantly overwhelmed, until the voice of his teacher Siobhan cuts clearly and calmly through the cacophony. Our heart rate calms at the sound of her voice and we can once again focus; Christopher has a similar reaction. 

Nick LaMedica is thoroughly captivating as Christopher. His movements, tone, and expression perfectly translating the internal challenge, the dichotomy of emotional effort and intellectual ease that is Christopher's reality. Jimmy Kieffer and Amy Blackman are heartbreakingly genuine as Christopher's parents, and Kieffer gives a stunningly sympathetic portrayal of a father in a crisis of his own without ever stealing focus. Kathleen Wise is kind and nurturing as Siobhan, the way only the most patient and inspired of teachers can be. The remaining ensemble members seamlessly weave between multiple characters, enhancing the sense of otherworldly through carefully choreographed exchanges.

Dodge does much to transform the show into an adventure as experience felt through Christopher's perspective. The expansive set, designed by Narelle Sissons, is split into two levels, one seeming to represent "reality" and the other mirroring the cognitive brilliance of Christopher's mind. The two occasionally connect, but they never quite merge. The sound design by David Bullard, lighting design by Matthew Richards, and even the costumes by Leon Wiebers emphasize Christopher's state of mind. Purposeful choreography and movement by Milgrom Dodge has clear intention and is visually compelling, and the show has a life force that is energetic, sometimes startling, and curious, much like Christopher himself. 

The award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, in performance at the Rep through October 1, 2017, is a spectacular theater experience. From the opening moment to the gently affective conclusion, we experience the story through Christopher's eyes. Rich with detail and smartly crafted dialogue, his story is heartwarming and life affirming. The cast is so in tune, their actions and dialogue so connected and motivated, jumping in to the experience with them feels as natural as taking your seat. 

 

The Black Rep opens their 41st season with a pointed comedy that takes a close look at an important contemporary issue -- one that no one seems willing to talk about but that affects so many: Alzheimer's. Dementia. Parents that need parenting by their children. The sense of loss, confusion, and anger an aging parent experiences as they feel themselves slipping. 

The holidays have arrived in West Philly and, at the Shealy home, that means it's time to put up the tree, start the meal preparations, and get the house ready for the return of the adult children and grandson Jason. Those tasks have become more difficult since mom Dotty's diagnosis of Alzheimer's. Eldest daughter Shelly is doing her best to take care of her mom, son Jason, and younger sister Averie, who is currently living in her basement, and she's about to break. Middle child Donnie lives with his husband in New York and rarely visits. This holiday season, Shelly needs to impress upon her brother and sister how much help mom really needs. Dotty has also been trying to explain to her kids what she's going through. With the help of her caregiver Fidel, she's arranged a special "present" for her kids that's received with unexpected results.

Thomasina Clarke is engrossing as Dotty, and she expertly travels the fine line between present and lost with humor and intelligence. Though she realizes her mental clarity is failing, Dotty is resistant to help and determined to remain independent as long as possible. Clarke moves seamlessly between the character's sudden mental lapses and mood swings, creating a woman as sympathetic as she is funny. 

Jacqueline Thompson, Chauncy Thomas, and Heather Beal are near perfection as her children, with each standing out for different reasons. Thompson is compassion overwhelmed, but with an edge of insecurity. Doing her best to maintain often leaves the impression she's trying to make all the decisions. Thomas dotes on his mother but stays far enough away to avoid the day-to-day realities. He's dealing with problems of his own and the comfort of distance allows him to deny the severity of his mother's decline. Finally, Beal is not nearly as self-absorbed or uninformed as her fame-seeking, media-savvy, gum-popping attitude may lead you to believe. She effortlessly infuses Averie with street and book smarts as well as comedy.

Courtney Brown is hilarious and warm-hearted as Jackie, a neighborhood friend with troubles of her own and a lingering flame for Donnie. Paul Edwards is at times prickly but ultimately tenderhearted and completely in-love with Donnie and his family. Finally, Ryan Lawson-Maeske shines in an understated way as Fidel, a man with a seemingly instinctive understanding of Dotty and unending patience.

Ron Himes directs the show with compassion and finesse as well as a keen sense of comedy, mining every line for every layer of meaning. The cast responds marvelously, keeping pace with the constantly shifting tone and building tension. Dunsi Dai offers a realistic set that's lived in but well appointed, quickly communicating the family's comfortably middle class status. The other technical elements -- costumes by Gregory J. Horton, lighting by Joseph W. Clapper, properties by Kate Slovinski, and sound by Kareem Deanes -- effectively create the appropriate environment for the relatable, occasionally nostalgic, and always tenderhearted and hilarious show.

The health of our aging population is a serious concern in contemporary America and, generally speaking, it isn't a very funny subject. Thankfully, playwright and actor Colman Domingo and the Black Rep succeed, fabulously, in finding that humor in DOT. The production plays up its humor while still relaying the debilitating progression of dementia and the very real needs of supporting aging family members. Focused direction from Himes, and a cast as committed to comedy as they are to emotion and context, ensure this engrossing play resonates on multiple levels. 

Though laugh out loud funny, DOT is unrelentingly honest at its core and, in many ways, quite frightening. None of us want our parents to suffer from dementia; none of us want to be the caregiver, to parent our parent. But the situation is reality for so many of us. With tempo and mood changes that might give you whiplash, DOT, running through September 24, 2017 at The Black Rep, acknowledges the uncomfortable truths of the consistently funny script. The show may hit home for many audience members, but it does so in a way that reminds us of the love and family at the center of the story. 

 

Welcome to fall and this week's KDHX In Performance feature, where we preview new shows from two of St. Louis most prestigious and successful companies, The Black Rep and The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (aka the Rep). After last year's milestone seasons, both companies return with contemporary shows that touch on topics and issues many in the audience may face.

The Black Rep opens its 41st season with Colman Domingo's DOT, in performance through September 24, 2017. The show looks at Alzheimer's and dementia, and the impact and strain that can be put on a family when an older parent's health is failing before their eyes. Despite its serious subject matter, the comedy is engaging, with a story that's heartfelt, warm, and funny.

The holidays are always a wild time at the Shealey house in West Philly, but this year the stakes are much higher in the smartly scripted play with laugh out loud humor and warp-speed shifts. Matriarch Dotty Shealey and her three grown children have gathered to celebrate, but Dotty's memory is failing and the siblings are struggling with how to best provide the care she needs. The three must work together to make their way through aging, midlife crisis, and the need to balance caring for their selves and their mother. The situation is realistic and current; and Ron Himes has been following the play since its Humana Festival debut. 

The actor who originated the role of Dotty has worked with The Black Rep several times, Himes notes. She called Himes to tell him about the show, stressing that he needed to read the script.  Already a fan of actor and playwright Domingo, Himes was immediately interested. He's also "genuinely impressed by the great work the cast is doing," and the way the show is coming together. "We have four actors (out of a cast of seven) making their Black Rep debut in this show," he adds with pride. Himes also feels the show is an exciting choice to open the 41st season. "This is a contemporary play about a family coming together. It is sharp, perceptive, and filled with bone-dry humor," Himes emphasizes. "You will be laughing, but the subject is a stressful reality for many." You can be among the first to see the warm and funny DOT at The Black Rep in the Edison Theater at Washington University, beginning September 6, 2017.

The Rep opens its 51st season the same night with the 2015 Tony award-winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Simon Stephens, running through October 1, 2017.  The imaginative show introduces Christopher, a 15-year old wiz kid who struggles with the interactions of day-to-day life. The production, directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, uses choreography and an intentional emphasis on movement to create an innovative experience for theatre goers that "puts them in Christopher's shoes." 

The show is personal and, as Milgrom Dodge explains, "There's two distinct mysteries to solve: the mystery of 'Who killed Wellington?' and the truth about a family of three who navigate the challenging cards life has dealt them. The protagonist, Christopher, is exceptionally smart and, though he lacks the ability and understanding of emotions and empathy," she notes, "he is determined to solve both mysteries." 

From a staging standpoint, The Rep's production will look -- and feel -- decidedly different from the Broadway and London shows. An intentional choice of the artistic team, it is designed to "give [the play] a location, and create these relationships between Christopher and others," she enthuses. The audience is presented with "Christopher's worldview," and Milgrom Dodge is genuinely anticipating the reaction to the focus on movement and a more immersive theater experience. 

The Rep is the first regional theater to tackle The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and you can be among the first in St. Louis to see the buzz-worthy show.

Continuing this weekend: With the change of season comes a change in companies. Multiple productions took their final bows last weekend to full houses and appreciative audiences. However, the sweet-natured, musically pleasing Church Basement Ladies continues its run at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza through October 1, 2017. The life-affirming show is a genuine slice of mid-American apple pie. Several other companies have shows opening in the coming weeks, so check this space again next week for new listings and continuing shows. And, as always, remember to check out the KDHX Calendar for information on art and music in and around St. Louis.

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