At The Movies: Life

If you’re desperate for a remake of “Alien” but with a few changes and an all-new cast, then turn your attention to the new sci-fi horror flick, “Life.”

The International Space Station has just received a probe from Mars that contains a sample that may be proof of extraterrestrial life. It’s a large space station with a small crew — David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Sho Kendo (Hiroyuki Sanada), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) and Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya).

MV5BMzAwMmQxNTctYjVmYi00MDdlLWEzMWUtOTE5NTRiNDhhNjI2L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_I had trouble staying awake for the first 10 minutes or more (thank God my CPAP machine has arrived), but once their discovery decides it’s had enough of being probed and prodded, the movie came to life.

What started out as a small red blob quickly evolves into a squid-like monster. The alien quickly escapes quarantine and soon has the run of the ship.

The creature kills one crew member and maims another on its way to free access of the station, so the remainder of the crew are not looking to make friends.

Now the crew faces a difficult task — find and kill the alien before it kills them and finds a way to Earth. If you’re familiar with sci-fi horror movies, you know this has about a 50/50 chance of ending well.

“Life” is well made and well acted; the special effects are fine and the alien is suitably creepy. But we’ve seen it all before. This movie is roughly 90 percent “Alien” and 10 percent other science-fiction horror movies.  Once it gets moving it’s pretty gripping and I did like the ending. A lot of these kinds of movies fall apart at the end but this one does a good job.

I don’t usually talk about the score, but the music by Jon Ekstrand is loud and beat-you-over-the head overbearing. If you didn’t know this was a horror movie going in, you would quickly grasp it by the pounding, dread-inducing soundtrack.

On Stage: Motown: The Musical

“Motown: The Musical” has returned to St. Louis for a 5-day run guaranteed to get audiences dancing in the streets — or at least in the aisles of the Fox Theatre.

Based on Berry Gordy’s 1994 autobiography “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown,” the musical rips through more than 60 tunes made famous by the Detroit-based record label while telling the story of its founder and several of its stars. The show premiered on Broadway in 2013.


Gabriella Whiting (Florence Ballard), Allison Semmes (Diana Ross) and Tavia Rivee (Mary Wilson) in a scene from the First National Tour production of “Motown The Musical.”        Joan Marcus photo 

Chester Gregory stars as Berry Gordy, who at a young age was inspired to be the best he could be after watching a Joe Louis boxing match. After a few false starts, Gordy discovered that what he was best at was making records and nurturing talent. Among his earliest finds and closest friends are Smokey Robinson (David Kaverman) and Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse).

Gordy launches his black artists onto the airwaves and the concert halls in the early 1960s, a time of racial segregation and unrest. The civil rights movement is a constant presence in the show, both in the characters’ lives and how it is reflected in their music.

Motown unleashes a wide variety of talent in its first 25 years — from Stevie Wonder to the Jackson Five to Rick James — but the artist who becomes the focal point of the story is Diana Ross (Allison Semmes). Her relationship with Gordy gives the show its romantic angle, as well as show his managerial skills in boosting her from fronting a girl group to solo success and a movie career.

Of course, success breeds many challenges. Gordy’s “family” of talent finds the grass is greener at other studios — especially when they’re offering so much more green. As his stars leave, the record company starts to falter. Even though all the old gang are coming home for Motown’s anniversary, Gordy isn’t sure if he wants to be there.

If you love the music of Motown, then you will love “Motown: The Musical.” A number of talented singers and dancers, along with an immensely talented band, belt out hit after hit, sometimes in truncated form but always with high energy and heart. The leads, especially Gregory, really deliver the goods.

In addition to its classic soundtrack, the show boasts colorful, elaborate costumes and a dazzling, multimedia sets. “Motown: The Musical” is a joy for the eyes and ears.

“Motown: The Musical” runs through March 26 at the Fox Theatre.

Gone: Chuck Berry

Maybellene, why can’t you be true?
Oh Maybellene , why can’t you be true?
You done started back doin’ the things you used to do

No particular place to go,
So we parked way out on the Kokomo
The night was young and the moon was bold
So we both decided to take a stroll
Can you imagine the way I felt?
I couldn’t unfasten her safety belt!

Ridin’ along in my calaboose
Still tryin’ to get her belt unloose
All the way home I held a grudge,
But the safety belt, it wouldn’t budge

“C’est la vie,” say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell

Way back in history three thousand years
In fact every since the world began
There’s been a whole lot of good women sheddin’ tears
For a brown eyed handsome man

Runnin’ to and fro, hard workin’ at the mill
Never failed in the mail, yet come a rotten bill
Too much monkey business, too much monkey business
Too much monkey business for me to be involved in

All the cats wanna dance with sweet little sixteen

Just let me hear some of that
Rock And Roll Music
Any old way you choose it
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it
Any old time you use it
It’s gotta be Rock And Roll Music
If you want to dance with me
If you want to dance with me

When I was a little bitty boy
my grandmother bought me a cute little toy
Silver bells hangin’ on a string
she told me it was my ding a ling

My ding a ling, my ding a ling
I want to play with my ding a ling
My ding a ling, my ding a ling
I want to play with my ding a ling

Now you can’t catch me
No, baby, you can’t catch me
‘Cause if you get too close, you know I’m gone like a cool breeze

Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study’ em hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you aloneRing ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom’s ready to sell
You’re lucky if you can find a seat
You’re fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don’t know
How mean she looks

imagesSoon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

Down the halls and into the street
Up to the corner and ’round the bend
Right to the juke joint you go in

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

With the one you love you’re makin’ romance
All day long you been
Wantin’ to dance
Feelin’ the music from head to toe
‘Round and ’round and ’round you go

Drop the coin right into the slot
You gotta hear something that’s really hot

Hail, hail rock’n’roll
Deliver me from the days of old
Long live rock’n’roll
The beat of the drum is loud and bold
Rock rock rock’n’roll
The feelin’ is there body and soul

Sometimes I will, then again I think I won’t
Sometimes I will, then again I think I won’t
Sometimes I do, then again I think I don’t

Well, I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.
Yes. I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.
Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A.

Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find a party that tried to get in touch with me
She could not leave a number, but I know who placed the call
‘Cause my uncle took a message, and he wrote it on the wall

Help me, information, get in touch with my Marie
She’s the only one who’d call me here from Memphis, Tennessee
Her home is on the south side, high upon a ridge
Just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge

Last time I saw Marie, she was wavin’ me goodbye
With “hurry-home” drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
But we were pulled apart, because her mom did not agree
And tore apart our happy home in Memphis, Tennessee

Help me, information, more than that I cannot add
Only that I miss her and all the fun we had
Marie is only six years old, information, please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee

Roll Over Beethoven and tell Tchaikovsky the news

His mother told him, “Someday you will be a man,
And you will be the leader of a big old band.
Many people coming from miles around
To hear you play your music when the sun go down.
Maybe someday your name will be in lights
Saying ‘Johnny B. Goode tonight’

At The Movies: Beauty and the Beast

Disney’s new “Beauty and the Beast” is a lavish, lovely, expertly crafted movie with a first-rate cast, glorious music, imaginative set designs, enchanted special effects and lovely costumes.

All that talent, for something so utterly pointless.

Does the world really need a remake of “Beauty and the Beast?” Disney’s 1991 animated feature was near-perfect and the pinnacle of the company’s long string of great movie musicals. It even scored an Oscar nomination for Best Picture — not Best Animated Picture — we’re talking the real deal.

But memories are short, and after all it’s been 26 years, and it’s not like you can find the original at the library or on DVD. And there’s probably a lot of money to be made, and besides, Ian McKellen needs a job.

new-beauty-and-the-beast-poster-features-full-castYou know the story, right? Belle (Emma Watson) is a bookworm living in a small, provincial village with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline). Handsome, arrogant buffoon Gaston (Luke Evans) wants to marry Belle but she’s not interested. Gaston hangs out with his gay sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad). LeFou being gay is apparently shocking to some people — people who didn’t see the original, I guess.

Somewhere outside of town there is a hidden castle, owned by a former prince who was cursed into beasthood by an enchantress. The Beast (Dan Stevens) could break the spell if he could find true love — but time is running out. The same spell that turned the prince into an upright horned buffalo also turned all his servants into household appliances and whatnot — Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack), Maestro Cadenza the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), Madame de Garderobe the dresser (Audra McDonald) and Plumette the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha).


Belle winds up the Beast’s prisoner and eventually falls victim to love — or Stockholm Syndrome — but that’s not very romantic. Will this odd couple become a true couple in time to break the curse?  You know the story, right?

Like I said, “Beauty and the Beast” has first-rate production values and an A-list cast and all the movie magic Disney can pour into it. Three new songs have been added to the production but they don’t add anything special — you’re still going to walk out singing “Be Our Guest.”  They also tacked on some back story, although I don’t see how adding the Black Death to the tale improves it.

Anyway, if you loved the original “Beauty and the Beast” and always wished you could see it with live human beings and CGI characters, then you will probably enjoy this. It may be pointless but it’s still pretty good.


On Stage: Shotspeare

“Would you like some vodka poured into your mouth?”

Now, I’ve seen a lot of unusual things in my years of attending the theater. (Like, in England they serve sausages during intermission.) But I’ve never had a cast member offer to pour alcohol down my throat.

But then that’s really what you should expect when you go to see a show called “Shotspeare,” running this weekend at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza.

Starring, directed, and written (with help from William Shakespeare) by Matthew Morgan, “Shotspeare” finally makes The Bard tolerable for those who hate or just don’t understand iambic pentameter. The secret, you see, is alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Morgan is joined onstage by Brandon Breault, Timur Kocak, Heidi Brucker Morgan, Brian David Sloan and some courageous soul pulled out of the audience. Together they perform Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” at breakneck speed — stopping only for a beer or a shot of Shakespeare vodka (Yes, it’s a real thing).


An actor spins the Wheel of Soliloquy during “Shotspeare,” a drunken comedy playing through Saturday at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Photo by Makie Schulz

One-part classical theater and two-parts drinking game, “Shotspeare” has its own unique twists. Whenever an actor is about to deliver one of The Bard’s trademark long speeches, everything stops while the actor spins “The Wheel of Soliloquy.”  The actor then continues with his performance, while being pelted with socks, beaten with foam clubs, or forced to recite his lines while eating crackers — depending on where the wheel stops.

Three audience members are given red cards, which they can use once to stop the progress of the play and force the cast to take a shot.

Who says Shakespeare is only for intellectuals?

“Shotspeare” is silly and clever and funny and ribald and raunchy (Romeo and Juliet’s sex scene is, well, just be glad it takes place behind a curtain). The show is truly an English Lit teacher’s nightmare.

Do you have to be drunk to enjoy “Shotspeare?” No, but it’s probably even better if you are. I was pretty much sober through it all and I had a good time. And no, I didn’t take the man up on his pre show drink offer.

SHOTSPEARE runs through Saturday at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza.

At The Movies: Kong: Skull Island

I don’t know when Hollywood decided to start releasing summer movies all year long, but I’m not complaining.

“Kong: Skull Island” is your classic big, bombastic, explosive, popcorn, thrill-ride summer movie. So what if it’s only March.

John Goodman stars as Bill Randa, head of the mysterious organization named Monarch. Randa believes in monsters and has been chasing them all his life. Think Fox Mulder — but with connections and resources.

The year is 1973 and the war in Vietnam is coming to a close. When satellites capture an image of an heretofore unknown island in the Pacific, Randa wants to lead an expedition there.

Using his government contacts, he manages to secure a military escort led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard’s team of soldiers and Randa’s team of scientists are joined by James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), an expert hunter/tracker, and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

A ship takes them as far as it can, then everyone boards helicopters for the journey’s final leg. They don’t get far before a giant ape begins swatting them out of the sky.

kong-skull-island-is-set-to-be-one-of-the-biggest-films-of-2017-credit-warner-bros The teams become separated but all agree that they need to head for the rendezvous point where new choppers are scheduled to meet them in three days. Conrad and Weaver’s group wind up encountering Chicago native Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a pilot who crashed on the island during World War II.

Packard wants to kill Kong to avenge the deaths of his fellow soldiers. But Marlow argues that would not be a good idea — for Kong is the only one who can keep everyone safe from the island’s true monsters.

“Kong: Skull Island” will never earn the label of “classic” given to the ape’s 1933 original film, and it’s not as polished, pretentious or long as Peter Jackson’s 2005 version. It’s just a fun romp filled with stock characters, outrageous monsters, big explosions and impressive special effects.

The creature designs are imaginative — from giant spiders and crocodile-like monsters to a muskox with bizarre horns and finally, the great ape himself. Traditionally, King Kong is known for climbing the Empire State Building. This Kong is actually the size of the Empire State Building. But of course, in addition to his massive roar he has a massive heart.

The cast play their roles acceptably but the standout is Reilly. He’s half-mad, of course, having survived for so long in such a hellish place, but he’s also the voice of reason — if anyone will listen.

And if you’re wondering how the filmmakers hope to turn what seems to be a one-off story into a franchise, stick around for the post-credits scene.




On Stage: Cabaret

That classic Broadway musical about decadence, writer’s block and Nazis has returned for a two-week run at the Fox Theatre.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “Cabaret” is sinfully delicious, thought-provoking, and as relevant now as it was when it first took the stage in 1966.

Written by Christopher Isherwood with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the musical is based on a play by John Van Druten which in turn was adapted from the 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Isherwood. The show won 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, while the 1972 film version won 8 Academy Awards.



Jon Peterson as the Emcee and the 2017 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET. Photo by Joan Marcus

Set in Berlin just months before Hitler’s rise to power, “Cabaret” is the story of a wannabe novelist from the United States (Clifford Bradshaw, played by Benjamin Eakeley) and his ill-fated love affair with a wannabe entertainer from England (Sally Bowles, played by Leigh Ann Larkin).

Cliff has arrived in Germany to work on his novel, and is quickly befriended by Ernst Ludwig (Patrick Vaill), who finds him a place to stay at a boardinghouse run by Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray). A subplot explores the budding romance between Schneider and Jewish shop owner Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson).

The story bounces back and forth between Fraulein Schneider’s boardinghouse and the Kit Kat Club, a decadent den of song and dance overseen by the wild and flamboyant Master of Ceremonies (Jon Peterson). While Sally gets to sing the show’s signature tune, it’s the Emcee whose manic energy and personality make the show come alive. Peterson does a fine job in this demanding role.

If you’ve never seen “Cabaret” well, for one, what have you been doing? And good news, now’s your chance. It’s a powerful, moving and highly entertaining show featuring several of the great songs of musical theater — “Willkommen,” “Mein Herr,” “Money,” “So What,” “If You Could See Her” and the title tune — just to name a half-dozen.

It should be noted the show does deal with serious topics and, to be honest, is going to be a little too salacious for some people.

The action takes place on a bi-level stage, with the main story taking place on the floor while the musicians of the Kit Kat Club perform and cavort above. The Kit Kat Girls and Boys are talented musicians as well as dancers.

“Cabaret” runs through March 19 at the Fox Theatre.