On Stage: Seussical

On a hot summer night in the town of St. Lou
Some talent converged to stage ‘Horton Hears a Who’
What happened was delightful and silly and looney
In a park in the forest at a place called The Muny

The show was a fanciful, comical, musical
Inspired by Geisel, they called it “Seussical”
Taken from the writings of one Dr. Seuss
It gave all the actors the chance to cut loose

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There was Horton and Mayzie and plenty of others
Like Cat in the Hat and The Wickersham Brothers

With whimsical costumes and dancing and song
This first-rate production just couldn’t go wrong
They threw in most everything but the kitchen sink
To prove just how great are the thinks you can think

So if you’ve got time and you’re not feeling puny
Then order some tickets and head for The Muny

Seussical runs through July 28. http://muny.org/

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

For those of you wondering where I’ve been these past 10 days — all 12 of you — they moved up this year’s National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks (aka LawyerCon) due to some conflict with the hotel and so I’ve spent the last week road tripping to Richmond, Virginia, and back.

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I was so busy before the trip that I didn’t make the usual arrangements to set up a RROY REPORT IDOL to cover for me in my absence. And since none of the crop of available talent volunteered for the prestigious gig, we’ve been silent for 10 days. My apologies to all 12 of you.

Not that you missed much. Granted, I missed “The Addams Family” at The Muny, which was probably good, but movie-wise — let’s face it — this has been a suck summer. Part of the problem was front-loading the superhero movies in April and May, leaving us with nothing but Transformers and apes to carry June and July. Marvel can’t do it all, you know.

I was actually looking forward to missing out this past week as my options were a Disney talking airplanes movie,  something called “Sex Tape” (that didn’t look appealing despite having Cameron Diaz and the words “sex tape”) and — God help us — a sequel to “The Purge.” Apparently any horror movie can warrant a sequel regardless of how lame.

Things look more promising this week with the Luc Besson/Scarlett Johansson sci-fi thriller “Lucy” and Dwayne Johnson as “Hercules.” Sadly, I will not be able to attend either screening due to timing and other conflicts. Maybe I’ll go see “Lucy” over the weekend and report back. I can’t imagine spending money on “Hercules.”

I will have a review of “Seussical” this week, so there is that. And maybe I’ll work up the strength to write up my LawyerCon report in a few days, but don’t count on it.

And hey, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is right around the corner! Maybe a taking space raccoon and his tree buddy can save this sad summer.

At The Movies: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The third movie version of “The Planet of the Apes” saga continues in strong, if somewhat familiar, fashion with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Ten years have passed since the first film. Human civilization has been decimated by a manmade virus known as the “simian flu.” Meanwhile in the woods outside San Francisco, super-intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) leads a thriving simian community.

1401975153940It has been a couple of years since any sign of human life, but people are returning to the city under the leadership of Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke). Key to getting San Fran up and vital again is a power plant deep in ape territory. Dreyfus, whose family was killed by the virus, wants to take the plant by force and kill any apes who get in the way. Malcolm wants peace, and takes a small party to meet with Caesar and try to work together.

Caesar is willing to help the humans but his trusted advisor Koba (Toby Kebbell) is not. Caesar, raised in a loving home by James Franco, feels kinship with humans. Koba, who spent most of his life in cages being experimented on, doesn’t share that love. To put it another nerd way: Caesar is Professor X, Koba is Magneto.

While Caesar and Malcolm work together, Koba discovers Dreyfus’ plans and works to tear everything apart.

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a suitable followup the 2011 hit “Rise.” Director Matt Reeves continues to make the emotional and personal plight of Caesar the heart of the story.

This one is far more action oriented than the previous film and by the end does become a bit too much, but that’s the bane of a lot of action movies. Even though the good/bad humans and good/bad apes dynamic is hardly fresh, the story was still compelling.

This latest “Apes” series gets a lot of well-deserved applause for its motion-capture work and the lifelike appearance of the ape characters. But I’m starting to feel a little nostalgic for the men in ape suits of the ’60s. It just looks, well, ridiculous seeing what appear to be real chimps riding horses and firing automatic weapons. It takes away from the horror and drama of the moment when the audience is laughing at apes flying across the screen after an explosion.

I also miss the twist endings that made the original series so memorable. There may have been one post-credits but I didn’t stick around to find out.

Oh, and I saw no reason to watch this in 3D. I didn’t notice any enhancement whatsoever.

 

 

 

On Stage: The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess

Of all the shows on the schedule for The Muny’s 2014 season, “Porgy and Bess” was the one I was looking forward to the most. It did not disappoint.

This American theater classic by George and Ira Gershwin rarely makes the rounds in the venues I frequent. In fact, it hasn’t played The Muny is more than 25 years. So it was great to finally get to see something old that feels like something new, as opposed to, say, another version of “Les Miserables.”

Porgy-and-Bess-2014-736pxThe production gracing The Muny stage this week is the Broadway National Tour of “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.” This is a departure from the theater’s usual modus operandi — which is to create its own productions, usually with additional dancers and elaborate costumes. As a result, the show doesn’t look or feel like a typical Muny show. Which is fine, as “Porgy and Bess” is a smaller scale, more intimate show that would not benefit for a troupe of kids dancing.

The story takes place in the 1930s in a place called Catfish Row and Kittiwah Island in Charleston, South Carolina. Porgy (Nathaniel Stampley) has a lame leg and a booming singing voice. He’s a popular resident of the small village.

Not so popular are Crown (Alvin Crawford), a boisterous troublemaker, and his woman Bess (Alicia Hall Moran). When Crown kills a man after a gambling dispute, he goes on the lam leaving Bess behind.

Bess finds refuge, and eventually love, with Porgy. Despite a checkered past which includes drug use, Porgy takes Bess in and the rest of the community eventually accept her. And then Crown returns.

What “Porgy and Bess” lacks in elaborate costuming and set design (although the set and costumes are perfectly fine for the story being told) it more than makes up for with raw emotion, a lovely musical score and some of the most powerful voices to grace The Muny stage.

The score, featuring timeless Gershwin songs like “Summertime,” I Got Plenty of Nothing” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” are delivered with captivating clarity by Moran, Stampley, Crawford and the rest of the cast — including Kingsley Leggs, Sumayya Ali, David Hughey and Denisha Ballew.

The story, which I was only slightly familiar with, took some unexpected turns and by the end I didn’t know where it was going. That’s refreshing compared to the cookie-cutter plotting that hampers so much of today’s entertainment.

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” was so entertaining I didn’t mind the rain delay or sitting through it in wet clothes. OK, OK — I hate rain delays and sitting in wet clothes. But it was still worth it.

“The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” plays through July 13 at The Muny in Forest Park. http://muny.org/

 

 

 

Hasta la vista, Melly

There’s something about St. Louis that attracts Melissas. I don’t recall any Melissas growing up in God’s Country. I never met any in Columbia during my college years and I never encountered any during my year in Springfield.

But I moved here and there are Melissas everywhere. There were three at my old job, two at my current one. I have to say, I have been impressed by the Melissas I have met. Some were conservative, some were liberal, some were shy, some were outgoing, some were serious, some were jokesters. All were nice. None were mean.

1764_10100215096397110_928542570_nWhich brings us to my latest Melissa, this one from the Weber clan. Melissa W. joined the staff a few weeks before I did, but she seemed like a pro to me. She certainly knew what she was doing moreso that I did.

Mel had a cynical streak to her that drew us together. We didn’t always agree with  things going on around us but we usually agreed with each other.

People who study such things will tell you turnover rates are high for people who work with the developmentally disabled. It’s a high-stress job. Living with people with developmental disabilities is also high stress, but what can you do?

As a result, turnover is high. But then, turnover was high at the Journal. In fact, I’m pretty sure staff changed at the newspaper at a more frequent basis. Make of that what you will.

Oh, people always had excuses for leaving: got a better job; got a better-paying job; went back to school to get a better-paying job; had a baby and didn’t come back from maternity leave.

Melissa joined the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps. I didn’t even know that was an option anymore. I figured the Peace Corps was done away with during the Reagan administration.

Apparently it’s an arduous process getting accepted into the Peace Corps. It took quite a while. I’ll never forget the day Mel got the word she had been accepted. It was lunchtime when the call came. The call was followed by an ear-splitting scream and Melissa jumping up and down and running through the building.

Melissa really likes the Peace Corps.

She’s on her way to Costa Rica today. On her last day at work I gave her four bags of Tootsie Rolls (I figure they’ll be hard to come by there) and we agreed to get together before she left the country. We didn’t. Life.

Many times the people you befriend at work disappear once they leave work. At least that’s been my experience. Mel will be gone at least 2 years and I can’t imagine her spending any free time back home (if she gets any) looking up this old co-worker. Odds are low that I’ll be visiting Costa Rica.

¡Buena suerte, Melissa! Take good care of that copy of “Sandman.”

Everybody Wants To Be Closer To Free(dom Fest)

Sorry, I got no movie review this week. I have no interest in Melissa McCarthy’s latest attempt at humor and less interest in that ET remake and who wants to watch a horror movie on the Fourth of July?

But hey, it’s Independence Day! What are you doing hiding out in a dark movie theater anyway? Today is a day for festivals and free entertainment and fireworks and too many people trying to cram themselves into too small a space and parking? Oh hell, forget about parking…

The big festival around these parts in Fair Saint Louis, which this year is taking place at Forest Park. It’s got it all — parades, music, food, fireworks. This year’s lineup includes Bonnie Raitt, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (oh, I wonder if they’ll sing ‘Jackie Blue’) and several other acts I know nothing about but you might — The Fray, En Vogue, Musiq Soulchild, Matt Nathanson, Gavin DeGraw — something for everyone, I guess.

I highly recommend everyone in the St. Louis area head to Forest Park this weekend for Fair Saint Louis. If you only go to Forest Park once this summer, make it Fair Saint Louis. In fact, I’m begging you to go to Fair Saint Louis this weekend and then never return to Forest Park the rest of the summer.

As you may have guessed, I am not going to Fair Saint Louis. Never have, probably never will.

But seriously, if you’re looking to be entertained this weekend, I recommend you make your way to O’Fallon, Mo., late afternoon for a performance by the BoDeans at the Heritage and Freedom Fest. These Milwaukee-based “roots rockers” are one of those great bands that never got the success they deserved. I mean, why are these guys playing the 3:30 p.m. gig while Survivor and Switchfoot (seriously? Switchfoot?) are headlining?

Did Switchfoot or Survivor record such awesome tunes as “Feed the Fire,” “Closer to Free,” “Fadeaway,” “Good Things,” “You Don’t Get Much,” “Good Work” and “Go Slow Down?” How do you put “Eye of the Tiger” up against that set list? Bad call, whoever runs the O’Fallon Heritage and Freedom Fest.

On the other hand, the HFF might not be as crowded at 3:30 and you can always leave once the band finishes and get home in time to watch the fireworks from Fair Saint Louis on TV. And then sit on the couch and laugh at all the poor suckers trying to get out of Forest Park at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Stage: 27

So I’m sitting on the couch reading an article about how you shouldn’t use the word “so” when The Wife comes to me and she says

“I have sad, sad news.”

“Harrison Ford broke his leg making the new ‘Star Wars’ movie?”

“No, tonight is the last opera of the season.”

“How will I face the rest of the summer?”

“Just get dressed.”

And so it was that we made our last trek of the year to the Loretto-Hilton Center for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ performance of “27.” This is a new opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek based on the life of Gertrude Stein, an American author and self-proclaimed “genius” living in Paris. If there’s one thing I learned from this show, it’s that Gertrude Stein was a bit full of herself.

This was the opera I was most excited about when I read about it in the program. Not because I’m a Gertrude Stein fan or because I’m a proponent of new opera. No, I was excited about “27″ because it had a 90-minute run time and no intermission! Entertain me and get me home early. That’s all I ask.

twentyseven-325pxThe show opens during the roaring ’20s in the salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus where Stein (Stephanie Blythe) holds court with her secretary/wife Alice B. Toklas (Elizabeth Futral). At her salon she cultivates the talents of other geniuses such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The men (and wives) who travel through 27 Rue de Fleurus are played by Theo Lebow, Tobias Greenhalgh and Daniel Brevik.

The show may run half as long as other operas but it’s not short on story. The five-act structure covers Stein’s early days with the artists, the first world war, her time with writers, the second world war, and her death and resurrection (OK, that last part may have been artistic license).

The story is tight and compelling, the music is sharp and lively, the set design is simple and clever. The five performers do terrific work. Blythe is clearly the star but her costars shine just as bright.

“27″ concludes its run tonight. http://www.opera-stl.org/