Category Archives: Misc.

On Stage: Rent

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since “Rent” first took the stage. But then, it’s hard to believe that the young people in last night’s audience weren’t even alive at the end of the millennium.

Two decades may have passed since Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical made its debut, but “Rent” doesn’t feel dated. The show is just as vibrant and emotionally charged — and the audience reaction is just as enthusiastic — as it has ever been.

RENT13

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, photo by Carol Rosegg, 2016

For those who weren’t alive or don’t remember the late 20th century, “Rent” is the tale of a group of starving artists struggling to survive in New York City during the latter half of the 1990s. All of the characters, in one way or another, are dealing with the impact of AIDS.

Central to the story are roommates Mark the filmmaker (Danny Harris Kornfeld) and Roger the musician (Kaleb Wells). They are broke but living rent-free in a loft in the East Village. When their former cohort and now landlord Benny (Christian Thompson) announces they need to pay up, the show takes off.

But “Rent” isn’t really a story about making monthly payments for your living arrangements. It’s about three bohemian couples: Collins (Aaron Harrington), the anarchist professor who hooks up with the flamboyant drag queen Angel (David Merino); Maureen (Katie LaMark), the diva performance artist and her latest love, the anal-retentive Joanne (Jasmine Easler); and Roger, who is fighting his feelings for the young dancer Mimi (Skyler Volpe). Mark’s major relationship is with his camera.

The musical was inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme,”  and thanks to my opera-loving wife I have now seen both shows so can tell you that in a comparison/contrast situation — “Rent” is more entertaining. It has better music (I think “Rent” has one of the greatest scores in musical history), a meatier story, and let’s face it, you really can’t rock out to Puccini.

The 20th anniversary staging of the show playing this weekend at the Fox features a superb cast and excellent musicians. They’ve tinkered a little with some of the staging and set design but nothing dramatic.

It may not be a classic in the stature of “La Boheme,” but give it another 100 years.

 “Rent” runs through May 21 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

Reggie And Me

The big news in entertainment this week (well, maybe not big news) was the recasting of the role of Reggie Mantle on the TV series Riverdale.

When I heard the news, my reaction was — “Reggie Mantle was on Riverdale?”

4954230-05I watched the first 4 episodes of the show and spotted Reggie, briefly, maybe twice. So I stopped watching.

For you see, before Hawkeye — before even Batman — there was Reggie.

As a kid I loved The Archies. My first lunchbox was an Archies lunchbox. I watched the cartoon every Saturday morning. I had one of their records. (Although to be honest, I hate “Sugar, Sugar ” — a song so bad The Monkees refused to record it.)

But it wasn’t because I loved Archie. Lord, no. He was far too goody-two-shoes. And what was the deal with those hashmarks on the sides of his face? And why did Betty and Veronica find him so attractive?

Reggie was so much cooler. And sarcastic. And frankly more handsome. Reggie was the bad boy, and given that Riverdale was 99 percent all-whitebread and all-good (true, Veronica had her moments), that made Reggie all the more unique and entertaining.

The best thing about the Reggie-Archie relationship was the fact that while they were rivals and often at odds, they were also friends. They would team up on things about as often as they would fight. They were even in the same band, for Pete’s sake.

But then I grew up and discovered superheroes and left The Archies behind. I keep up with what’s going on with the characters in the comics press and I pick up the Archie offering every year at Free Comic Book Day, but that’s the extent of my relationship with the gang these days.

Reggie2ZdarskyVarSo when I heard the CW was going to be airing a show called Riverdale I figured I would check it out for nostalgia’s sake. Alas, it was too millennial for my tastes. Jughead is some kind of lost soul, writer-type? Betty seems a little bit crazy? Archie is having sex with Miss Grundy? The only character who seemed normal was Veronica, and what are the odds of that?

Worst of all — no Reggie. It appeared he had been replaced in the Big 5 by Kevin Keller. I can’t say I’m surprised, this show is about as PC as it can get. Reggie did show up eventually and I think there was a scene where he punched Archie, but I blinked and missed it. When Cheryl Blossom is a more important character to the Archie mythos than Reggie Mantle, you know there’s something fundamentally wrong with what you’re doing.

It turned out that maybe the reason Reggie was getting such short shrift on the show was that the actor playing him was busy with other things and not always available. Maybe now that there’s a new actor in the role that will change. But then given how twisted all the characters have become on this show, that may not be a good thing.

My sister is still watching, so if she reports an uptick in Reggie activity next season maybe I’ll give it another chance.

 

 

 

 

On Stage: The Lion King

Disney’s “The Lion King” has returned to St. Louis for a 19-day run at the Fox Theatre. If you’re a lover of spectacle, puppetry, African music, animals and fart jokes, get your tickets now.

Based on the 1994 animated film of the same name, “The Lion King” was brought to Broadway in 1997.  It went on to win more than 70 global theatrical awards, including the Tony for Best Musical. It has been seen by more than 90 million people over the last 20 years and has brought in a whole lotta money — “The Lion King’s” worldwide gross is more than that of any one movie, Broadway show or other entertainment title in box office history.

Written by Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi with songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, the stage version is beefed up with African-influenced music by Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin, Hans Zimmer and Julie Taymor. Taymor, who served as director, costume designer and co-designer (along with Michael Curry) of the show’s masks and puppets, is credited with cracking the seemingly impossible task of bringing a cartoon animal movie to life on stage.

unspecified

Buyui Zama as Rafiki in “The Lion King” North American Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus 

We all know the story, right? Mufasa (Gerald Ramsey) is king of the African Pridelands and Scar (Mark Campbell) is his deadbeat brother. Scar would like to be king but Mufasa and new son Simba (Devin Graves and Jordan Williams as a child; Dashaun Young as an adult) stand in the way — unless he’s willing to commit regicide — which he is.

After his father’s death, Simba runs away and is befriended by the meerkat Timon (Nick Cordileone) and warthog Pumbaa (Ben Lipitz). He later encounters old friend/future flame Nala (Nia  Holloway), who informs him that his homeland has become a mess since Scar and his hyena buddies took over. Now, with encouragement from the somewhat crazy monkey Rafiki (usually Buyui Zama but played by Mukelisiwe Goba at Thursday’s opening night), Simba must confront his past and face his future.

“The Lion King” is filled with outrageous, colorful costumes as well as bold, colorful set designs and a talented cast of actors, singers, dancers and puppeteers. The songs, including modern Disney classics “Circle of Life,” “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” is greatly enhanced by the addition of African music and rhythms.

“The Lion King”runs through May 7 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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’

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).

161005_Shotspeare_Carousel3

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. http://www.playhouseatwestport.com/shotspear

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.

 

unspecified

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. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

Ah, The Arts! Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade

If someone had told me there was going to be an art exhibit about hats and paintings of women wearing hats, I would’ve said, “Now I see why Trump wants to end arts funding.”

But it sounded good to The Wife, and so it was that Saturday morning the Family RRoy made our way to Forest Park to catch the opening weekend of “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Mother Nature, cruel mistress that she is, decided it wasn’t enough punishment that I had to go to the art museum, she also turned Saturday into a beautiful Spring day…in February. And you know what that means — every stinking idiot in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area is going to converge on Forest Park for the day. It didn’t matter that we weren’t going to the zoo. No, all that mattered was there wasn’t going to be any parking anywhere and driving it in would be a nightmare.

So, I let The Wife drive. She was the one wanting to go after all.

Traffic wasn’t too bad until we got to Art Hill. We foolishly pulled into the nearest free lot thinking maybe there would be one spot open. Of course we got trapped as people waited for other people to leave and blocked the way around. Eventually we escaped and said, “screw it,” and went to the art museum’s parking lot. It’s only $5 for members, and $5 for parking beats the 5 years it takes off my life every time I have to sit in traffic in Forest Park.

Our usual strategy for art exhibitions is Laurie goes in first and Andrew and I bum around until she’s finished (roughly 1 hour, depending on the size of the exhibit) and then I go in while she waits with Andrew (roughly 15 minutes, depending on how crowded it is and how quickly I can get around people). We arrived at 12:20 and there was a French class Laurie wanted to attend at 1 p.m. I doubted her ability to get through the exhibit in 40 minutes, but she seemed to think she could, so she went to the exhibit hall and Andrew and I walked in circles around the outdoor statue garden for a half-hour. It was a nice day for it.

We got back to the exhibit hall close to 1 and L was just leaving the exhibit. “Did you see all you wanted to see?” I asked incredulously. “Yes,” she replied. “Did you enjoy it?” I queried. “Yes,” she replied.

Laurie went to the French class and Andrew and I had a leisurely visit in the restroom. Andrew likes to take his time in the restroom. I usually rush him out when we’re in public but since we had nowhere else to go I indulged him. Fifteen minutes later we went and found some big, comfy chairs and waited for French class to be over.

A half-hour later Laurie emerged from class. She suggested I go through the art show while she and Andrew went to the garage and got our picnic lunch and set it up out on the lawn. That seemed about right. In the time it would take them to do that I should easily walk through the Hats and Paintings of People Wearing Hats exhibit.

degas

“D, I & the PMT” features 60 paintings and a number of elaborate hats dating back to the Impressionist era of artist Edgar Degas. Apparently Degas was fascinated by high-fashion hats and the women who made them — my guess is he was more interested in the women who made them, but I could be wrong. I don’t know anything about Degas.

There were some pretty funky-looking hats, I will say. Hats with birds on them, hats with giant flowers and etc. The paintings were predominantly portraits of women in hats by Degas and other masters of the era like Manet, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. There was also a small section of men’s hats — basic black bowlers and top hats — and some paintings of men in hats.

I have to say this was not one of my favorite art shows. Nothing really stood out to me. But it was OK and I made it through in record time and got to the picnic spot before they had eaten all the food.
“Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” runs through May 7 at the Saint Louis Art Museum. http://www.slam.org/