Tag Archives: Fox Theatre St. Louis

On Stage: School Of Rock

I’m usually hard to please when it comes to movie comedies but one recent film that did hit the right chord with me was “School of Rock,” the 2003 musical comedy that had just the right mix of Jack Black, humor, kids and rock.

It surely came as no surprise when it was announced that the movie was being retooled for Broadway in 2014. What may have surprised some was the news that musical icon Andrew Lloyd Webber would be involved in the project. It’s a long way from “Phantom of the Opera” to the “School of Rock.”

Working from the screenplay by Mike White, Webber (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Julian Fellowes (book) crafted a theatrical experience with all the fun and exuberance of the movie.

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 The cast of the School of Rock tour. © Matthew Murphy

 

Rob Colletti stars as Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock god (with emphasis on wannabe) whose enthusiasm is greater than his talent. Fed up with his antics, his partners kick him out of his band right before the big Battle of the Bands competition.

Dewey retreats to his bedroom, in an apartment that he shares (without paying rent) with his best friend Ned Schneebly (Matt Bittner) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo). Patty wants Dewey’s freeloading days to end.

While moping about the house, Dewey answers a phone call from Horace Green, a prestigous prep school. The school is looking to hire Ned for a substitute teaching gig. Dewey decides to impersonate Ned to earn some much-needed cash.

At first Dewey plans to bluff his way through the day with lots of recess but when he discovers several of his students are talented musicians he comes up with a new class project. Now he just has to raise his students’ confidence levels, whip them into shape as a band, and keep their parents and the school principal (Lexie Dorsett Sharp) unaware of what’s going on.

“School of Rock: The Musical” follows the film pretty closely, cutting out bits here and there to make room for more music. The score features three songs from the movie – including the title track – and a dozen songs written for the stage, highlighted by the anthemic “Stick It to the Man.”

Colletti does a fine job capturing the manic energy of Jack Black, while the young cast members (too many to name) prove to be just as talented — or maybe moreso — as the adults in the show. The kids are alright at jumping up and down, singing in harmony, and especially at rocking out.

School of Rock runs through January 28 at the Fox Theatre. https://www.fabulousfox.com/

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On Stage: Cinderella

If you’re wondering how to spend a few hours in this cold, hazy space between Christmas and New Year’s, here’s a suggestion: Find a young girl, dress her up in a cute ball gown, and take her to see “Cinderella” at the Fox.

She will have a good time — and you probably will too.

And she won’t be alone. There were plenty of young ladies dressed in their finest regalia at the opening night of the show. I even saw a few young men in the crowd. I guess “Cinderella” is a fairy tale for all ages and all sexes.

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Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.”                              Photo © Carol Rosegg

Originally written for television by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the musical first aired in 1957 with Julie Andrews in the title role. The Broadway version currently on stage was adapted in 2013 with a new book by Douglas Carten Beane.

One of those “tales as old as time,” “Cinderella” stars Tatyana Lubov as Ella, a young woman working like a slave for her demanding stepmother (Sarah Smith). Stepmom only married Ella’s father for his money — her main concerns are her “real” daughters Gabrielle (Nicole Zelka) and Charlotte (Joanna Johnson).

Elsewhere in the kingdom, Prince Topher (Louis Griffin) is busy slaying dragons and giant insect creatures and not really paying attention to the welfare of the little people. His handler Lord Pinkleton (Vincent B. Davis) decides it’s time for the prince to settle down so he schedules a ball because they didn’t have match.com back in those days.

Stepmother is determined that one of her daughters will win the prince’s hand — just not her stepdaughter. But Ella doesn’t need stepmom’s help because she’s got something better — a fairy godmother (Leslie Jackson). Ella is whisked away to the palace by magic carriage but has to flee at the stroke of midnight when the magic wears off.

At this point you’re expecting Ella to lose one of her glass slippers, but we’ve got to stretch this short story out to a 2.5-hour show, so she keeps her footwear — forcing the prince to have a second party so we can repeat the process and get to the happy ending we all know is coming.

There are other changes to pad, or enhance if you prefer, the story. Charlotte falls in love with the town radical (Corbin Williams) and there’s talk of mixing democracy with the monarchy.

“Cinderella” is a charming show. It features memorable songs like “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible” and my personal favorite — “The Stepsister’s Lament.” The stage design and costumes are bright and colorful. The transformations are magical. The cast and musicians do fine work.

“Cinderella” runs through Dec. 31. https://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

On Stage: The King and I

After entertaining audiences with the modern musicals “On Your Feet!” and “The Bodyguard,” the Fox Theatre is dancing back to Broadway’s golden age with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “The King and I.”

The show is based on the life of Anna Leonowens, who served as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Her story was made into a book — “Anna and the King of Siam” — by Margaret Landon in 1944. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II turned the tale into a musical that made its Broadway premiere in 1951.

The current touring production, directed by Bartlett Sher, won four Tony awards in 2015, including Best Revival of a Musical.

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I. Photo by Matthew Murphy_preview

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in “The King and I.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly stars as Anna — the “I” in the title — a widowed mother of one who has come to Bangkok to teach the many children, and wives, of the King (Jose Llana). The king wants to be considered a modern-day ruler but continues to cling to old ways. It’s a puzzlement.

Both Anna and the king are strong-willed and the challenging nature of their relationship is the heart of the story. There’s a subplot involving a young princess (Q Lim) who doesn’t want to be the king’s property.  Also playing a key role is Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang, the first among the king’s wives.

The leads all have powerful voices as they deliver such standards as “I Whistle a Happy Tune,”  “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” Kelly performs the role of classic musical heroine with grace and style while Llana is a supercharged powder keg of explosive energy.

The set design is minimal for the most part while the costumes are bright and elaborate. The music is sharp and memorable and the performances are all strong. “The King and I” isn’t a holiday classic, but it’s a fine diversion for the holiday season.

“The King and I” runs through Dec. 10. www.fabulousfox.com

 

 

 

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.

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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/

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.

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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/

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.

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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. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

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.

 

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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/