Tag Archives: Fox Theatre St. Louis

On Stage: Hamilton

I was into “Hamilton” when “Hamilton” wasn’t cool.

Well, that’s not exactly true. My niece was really into it early on though. She was obsessed with some rap musical about Alexander Hamilton and my reaction was, “That can’t possibly be entertaining,” and “Which president was he anyway?”

Turned out I was wrong (not the first time) and Anna Jane was ahead of the curve. Soon “Hamilton” was all over the place. It was the biggest thing to hit Broadway since, well, the last big thing to hit Broadway. And now it’s arrived in St. Louis for a three-week run at the Fox Theatre.

Hamilton Company - HAMILTON National Tour (c)Joan Marcus_preview

                     The Hamilton National Tour is on stage through April 22 at the Fox Theatre.                              Photo (c) Joan Marcus

For those of you not familiar with the biggest thing on Broadway, it is the brainchild of playwright/actor/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda was inspired to write the musical after reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton by author Ron Chernow. The show opened in 2015 and went on to win 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It is insanely popular, as evidenced last night by the huge crowd trying to get through the front doors at the Fox. My apologies to anyone I may have trampled on the way in.

Alexander Hamilton, you may recall from high school American History class, was one of the nation’s founding fathers. He served as George Washington’s right-hand man and was the first Secretary of the Treasury. He never became president but he did get his picture on the 10 dollar bill.

What makes “Hamilton” unique is it reveals this historical drama through a modern lens, mixing up hip-hop, pop and traditional show tunes with an ethnically diverse cast. It’s high-energy music and rapid-fire lyrics keep the audience enthusiastic and challenged to keep up.

It also covers a great deal of story — from the American Revolution to the early days of nation building. Boring political disputes are turned into engaging rap battles. The show also deals with Hamilton’s complex and sometimes tragic home life. And there’s dueling. And King George stops in for a hilarious couple of songs.

The incredibly talented cast includes Austin Scott as Hamilton; Nicholas Christopher as his rival Aaron Burr; Julia K. Harriman as wife Eliza; Sabrina Sloan as Angelica, the other Schuyler sister; Carvens Lissaint as George Washington; Chris De’Sean Lee as Thomas Jefferson and LaFayette; and Peter Matthew Smith as King George.

They are all terrific, as is the show. Good luck getting tickets if you don’t have them. You will want to be in the room where it happens.

“Hamilton” runs through April 22 at the Fox Theatre. www.fabulousfox.com

   

 

 

 

Advertisements

On Stage: The Color Purple

The empowerment of women is a hot topic in today’s world, and “The Color Purple” brings the subject to life in meaningful, heartfelt fashion.

Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, “The Color Purple” was made into a film in 1985. A musical version arrived on Broadway in 2005 with book by Marsha Norman and  and music and lyrics by Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell and Allee Willis.

THE COLOR PURPLE Photo 3_preview

Carla R. Stewart, Adrianna Hicks and the North American Tour cast of “The Color Purple.”    Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017

Set in rural Georgia in the early 1900s, “The Color Purple” tells the story of Celie (Adrianna Hicks), who while just a teenager has already had 1 child with 1 on the way — both courtesy of her father (J.D. Webster). Celie never sees the children as they are immediately taken away to parts unknown as soon as they are born.

Celie’s only friend is her sister Nettie (N’Jameh Camara), but they are soon separated when Celie is given away to Mister (Gavin Gregory) for his bride. Mister would rather have Nettie, but Pa sweetens the deal with Celie by throwing in a cow.

Mister treats Celie more like a slave than a wife, complete with beatings to keep her in line. Mister’s son Harpo (J. Daughtry) hooks up with the independently-minded Sofia (Carrie Compere), who will not be treated in a similar fashion.

The final major player in this drama is Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart), a jazz singer and former lover of Mister. When she comes back to town for a visit, her stay with Mister and Celie has major repercussions in all their lives.

“The Color Purple” is a powerful tale told without compromise. The first act is almost relentlessly bleak but things do turn around for Celie in the second half. The set design is sparse but effective. The actors offer compelling performances and have tremendous voices, even if the songs aren’t that memorable — with a few exceptions such as Sofia’s defiant “Hell No!” and Shug’s sexy “Push da Button.”

“The Color Purple” runs through April 1 at the Fox Theatre. www.fabulousfox.com

On Stage: The Sound of Music

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” when The Wife comes to me and she says,

The Sound of Music opens tonight. Let’s go!”

“Uh, Wizard World Comic-Con opens tonight.”

“You’re not seriously going to compare a nerd-celebrity meet-and-greet to one of the greatest musicals in the history of musical theater, are you?”

“Uh, No?”

“Do you really want to miss a Rodgers and Hammerstein classic for a 30-minute Q-and-A session with Sebastian Stan?”

“Uh, No?”

“Then get dressed, because the hills will be alive with the sound of you screaming in pain if I miss The Sound of Music over a comic book convention.”

And so it was that The Wife and I made our way to the Fabulous Fox Theatre last night for the opening performance of a weekend run of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

SOM-TheHills_1024x540-aa9c605b27

Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria in “The Sound of Music.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

What can I say about The Sound of Music that hasn’t already been said?

This classic collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II made its Broadway debut in 1959, but is best known for its 1965 film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. It features the timeless tunes “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” Edelweiss” and the title song.

It’s based on the memoir “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers” by Maria von Trapp and tells the story of a young woman who is kicked out of a nunnery for being too spirited (not in the religious sense) so she’s sent off to serve as a governess to seven children. Their father, a strict disciplinarian and military man, finds Maria too chaotic at first but is soon drawn in by her siren songs about the joys of singing. Oh, and the Second World War is looming in the background.

But then, you already knew that. Mostly because you’ve probably seen the show or are not culturally illiterate, and possibly because you remember reading my review of the musical from the last time it was in town.

The current production stars Jill-Christine Wiley as Maria and she’s terrific. Wiley sings the classic tunes with gusto all while maintaining that essential Julie Andrews-like charm. The young actors playing the von Trapp children are equally adorable and talented. The adults are equally talented but not quite as adorable. Lauren Kidwell, as the Mother Abbess, belts out a tremendous version of “Climb Every Mountain.”

The show boasts impressive set designs, costumes and orchestration. Comic-con probably had better costumes, but I doubt Sebastian Stan can sing as well as the von Trapp family singers.

The Sound of Music is playing through Sunday. www.fabulousfox.com

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.

School of Rock Tour (9)_preview
 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/

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.

CinderellaTour3067r_preview

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.

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/