Tag Archives: Fox Theatre St. Louis

On Stage: Something Rotten!

Whether you love or hate William Shakespeare (there’s one of each in my family) and whether you love or hate musical theater, you’ll find something to applaud in “Something Rotten!” The Renaissance-era comedy is playing through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre.

Written by John O’Farrel and Karey Kirkpatrick  with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick,  “Something Rotten” opened on Broadway in 2015. This high-energy spoof of musicals and The Bard is the funniest show I’ve seen in a long time.

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Adam Pascal and the cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

The story takes place in 1595 London with the opening number “Welcome to the Renaissance” setting the stage. Everything’s new and exciting at this time in world history and at the center of attention is famed playwright William Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). The Bard is pretty much the Elvis of the era.

Not everyone loves Shakespeare – particularly struggling playwright Nick Bottom (Rob McClure). Nick had kicked Will out of his acting troupe years ago and advised him to take up writing. Now, the excitable Nick and his timid brother/writing partner Nigel (Josh Grisetti) aren’t having any luck coming up with a successful show. In fact, their patron has given them one day to come up with a winning idea or they’re going to be booted from the theater.

In desperation, Nick goes looking for a soothsayer. He finds Thomas Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), nephew of the famous seer. Nick pays for one good idea and Thomas has a doozy: musical comedy.

At first Nick scoffs at the idea that audiences would watch a show in which people spontaneously burst into song and dance in the course of telling a story. But Thomas and the chorus win him over in the show-stopping number “A Musical.”

Nick takes this idea to Nigel and their theater troupe. They decide to make a go of it but there’s another problem — what is this musical going to be about?  Eventually Nick returns to Thomas for help, asking him to look into the future and find Shakespeare’s greatest work so that he can steal it. Thomas’ vision gets scrambled in translation and Nick eventually ends up with egg on his face.

There’s a lot more going on, including an obligatory love story (the weakest link in the show), but the rest it’s best you discover on your own. “Something Rotten” features a number of hilarious, often exhilarating, musical numbers, such as “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” “Will Power,” “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top,” and “Hard to Be the Bard.” There’s even a lovely inspiration number, “To Thine Own Self.”

“Something Rotten” references dozens of musicals and Shakespeare plays in wicked, rapid-fire succession — good luck trying to catch them all.

The cast is terrific, especially McClure as the manic Nick Bottom, Hammond as the not-so-all-seeing Nostradamus and Pascal as the charming, conceited Bard. The show also boasts colorful costumes and a fine set design.

But what makes “Something Rotten!” something deliciously entertaining are its smart songs, clever story and talented cast.

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The cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour. Photo © Jeremy Daniel

“Something Rotten!” runs through Feb. 19 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

On Stage: Finding Neverland

While it’s not a traditional Christmas story, “Finding Neverland” is an enchanting story of family, love and imagination that makes a suitable holiday alternative for those tired of nutcrackers and Tiny Tim.

Based on the 2004 film, “Finding Neverland” was turned into a musical and debuted on stage in Leicester, England, in 2012. With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and book by James Graham, it tells the story of how writer J.M. Barrie found the inspiration for his greatest literary creation– Peter Pan.

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The cast of the National Tour of “Finding Neverland” — photo by Carol Rosegg

Set in London at the start of the 1900s, Barrie (Kevin Kern) is working on his latest play and decides to do some writing at a park. While there he encounters Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her four boys (the boys are played by different children throughout the show’s run; opening night featured Ben Krieger as Peter, Finn Faulconer  as George, Mitchell Wray as Jack and Jordan Cole as Michael).

Three of the boys are rambunctious fireballs but Peter, who shares with Barrie an interest in writing, is still withdrawn over the death of the boys’ father. As the writer spends more time with the family, Peter comes out of his shell.

Inspired by the boys’ energy and imagination, Barrie tosses his current work and writes a tale about pirates and fairies and a boy who won’t grow up — much to the dismay of theater owner Charles Frohman (Tom Hewitt) and his stable of actors.

“Finding Neverland” is a heartwarming story if not a great musical. The music is the show’s biggest weakness. Although the orchestra is fine and the actors perform with enthusiasm, the songs just aren’t that memorable. “Play,” a number in which Frohman and the actors decide to embrace their inner child in order to perform “Peter Pan,” is the show’s musical highlight.

A decent story and cast make up for the musical failings, helped along greatly by clever set design and the use of video along with other visual trickery to help the show come alive. The show finishes in a visual and emotional whirlwind as the cast bring the show to the Davies’ home for a special performance.

Finding Neverland plays through Dec. 18 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Fun Home

While I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a “fun” show, “Fun Home” is certainly a powerful and moving one.

“Fun Home,” based on the graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel, was turned into a musical by Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music). It opened on Broadway in 2015 and went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

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The National Tour Company of ‘Fun Home.’ Photo by Joan Marcus

Kate Shindle stars as Alison, a cartoonist looking back on her life with particular emphasis on her relationship with her father Bruce (Robert Petkoff). Shindle serves as narrator as the story moves back and forth in time, from her days as a child (Alessandra Baldacchino) and as a college student (Abby Corrigan).

Young Alison lives with her siblings (Pierson Salvador and Lennon Nate Hammond) and mother Helen (Susan Moniz) in a house meticulously overseen by her father. Bruce is a handyman, a school teacher, and he runs the family business — a funeral home which the kids refer to as the “fun home.” The show’s most lighthearted moment comes when the children sing a song they’d written to promote the business in a home-made commercial.

It appears like a typical family in maybe an atypical home, but Bruce is hiding something — an interest in other men (all played by Robert Hager).

When Alison goes off to college she finds her own sexuality awakened thanks to an encounter with classmate Joan (Karen Eilbacher). Alison comes out to her parents in a letter but they are slow to respond. Eventually she and Joan go home to visit. Some things come out in the open while others are sadly left unsaid.

“Fun Home” is an intimate, touching musical that moves at a brisk pace and without an intermission (Thank you, Jesus). The set design is sparse for the most part with a small orchestra in a corner of the stage.

The music is fine but the songs aren’t that memorable. Highlights include the kids’ “Come to the Fun Home,” college Alison’s “Changing My Major” and the moving “Telephone Wire.”

The small cast delivers exceptional work in an emotionally draining show. “Fun Home” is a coming-of-age story, a coming-out story, and a coming-to-grips-with-the-past story. It’s a compelling show with engaging characters.

“Fun Home” runs through November 27. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

On Stage: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder

The Fox Theatre launches its latest season of Broadway goodness with the delightful murder-musical-comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman, the tale was turned into a musical by Robert L. Freedman. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the following year.

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The  cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (center) in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The gentleman in question is Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), a poor nobody living in a flat in London and grieving over his mother’s recent death. He’s visited by a mysterious old woman named Marietta Shingle (Mary VanArsdel), who brings unexpected news of his lineage.

It turns out mother was a member of the prestigious D’Ysquith family. She had been cast out and cut off from the family years ago when she chose to run off with a lowly musician. In fact, Monty is ninth in line  to inherit the earldom of Highhurst. Miss Shingle suggests Monty contact the D’Ysquiths and try to mend fences.

When his letter is rebuffed, Monty meets with the clergyman of the family in the hopes he will be more helpful. He isn’t, and when the Reverend falls to his death from atop the church bell tower (a death Monty could have prevented), Mr. Navarro embarks on a scheme to murder the remaining seven D’Ysquiths who stand between him and the earldom.

Supporting him, but not assisting him with his plan, is Monty’s longtime lover Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams). Despite their feelings for each other, Sibella marries a man of higher status because she can’t wait around on Monty to become rich. They still get together regularly anyway. This relationship becomes more complicated once Monty meets and becomes attracted to his cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller). Fortunately, Phoebe is not in the line of succession.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” if a fun, if somewhat macabre, frolic with a very British sensibility. The show relies heavily on wordplay and slapstick. The music works in service to the story and as such is the weakest link in the show. While songs such as “I Don’t Understand the Poor” and “Better With A Man” are clever and amusing, they’re not the type of tunes you’ll be humming on your way out the door. The songs serve their purpose but aren’t very memorable.

Everything else is first rate.The action occurs in a variety of locations and to deal with this challenge the production features a stage on the stage which lets the story quickly and seamlessly move from place to place. The set design and costumes are impressive. The actors and musicians deliver fine performances.

While you might believe from the synopsis that the talented Kevin Massey is the star of the show, the real standout is John Rapson — who plays not one, not two, but all eight of the doomed D’Ysquiths. Each member of the royal family has his-or-her own eccentricities, and Rapson is a joy to watch as he brings them all to life. Then death.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” runs through Sept. 25. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Jersey Boys

“Jersey Boys,” the musical biography of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is back in town for another run at the Fox Theatre. This is the fourth time the Tony Award-winning show has played at the Fox which means this is my fourth time writing about it. (Granted, one of those times I had HULK write the review, but he’s retired from theater criticism so I’m on my own.)

You may wonder, “What more can you say about ‘Jersey Boys’ that you haven’t said before?” I’m not sure. That’s why I’m stalling. I thought about just rerunning a previous review but the only one I could find online was by the big green guy. Suffice it to say, if I didn’t love the show I wouldn’t come back every time it does. Trust me, I haven’t been to every engagement of “Mamma Mia!”that comes to town.

OK. So. For the “Jersey Boys”-impaired, a recap: This is the story of three guys from New Jersey — Tommy DeVito (Matthew Daily), Nick Massi (Keith Hines) and Bob Gaudio (Drew Seeley) who achieve Rock and Roll Fame and Glory when they team up with The Man with the Amazing Falsetto Voice — Frankie Valli (Aaron De Jesus).

 

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Aaron De Jesus, Drew Seeley, Matthew Daily and Keith Hines in a scene from “Jersey Boys.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The show plays out like any good “Behind the Music” bio with each of the band members getting their turn at narrating the tale. It’s a familiar story with a Jersey twist: Poor kids make it big and along the way encounter heartache, betrayal, brotherhood, music industry shenanigans, death, drugs, sex, profanity — but most of all — rock and roll.  “Jersey Boys” is a high-energy showcase of classic rock featuring such hits as “Rag Doll,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Working My Way Back To You.”

De Jesus hits all the right notes in the challenging lead role and his companions do fine work as well. As usual, my favorite is the sad-sack Nick, who doesn’t come into his own until the second act.

The only downside to last night’s performance was the woman sitting in the aisle across from me, who proceeded to violate every rule of theater etiquette. If you can’t sing like Frankie Valli, you really shouldn’t try. Especially in public.

She probably won’t be back, so if you’re a fan of the days of early rock and four-part harmonies, or you just want to have a good time, then walk like a man (or woman), fast as you can, to the Fox before “Jersey Boys” is gone.

“Jersey Boys” runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

On Stage: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in acknowledging the existence of Christmas until after Thanksgiving.

But then I don’t make up the schedule for the Fox Theatre, so let’s talk about “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” The show runs through Sunday and it is sure to get you in the holiday spirit — even if it is a couple of weeks too soon.

Based on the classic 1954 film which I haven’t seen (I tend to avoid Christmas movies unless they have Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid in them), “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” was adapted for the stage in 2004 with the e libretto is by David Ives and Paul Blake. Music and lyrics, of course, by the great Irving Berlin.

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           The Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 2014 National Tour Company.                   Photo by Kevin White

The tale begins with song-and-dance duo Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) performing for the troops on Christmas Eve, 1944. They are interrupted by their gruff but lovable commander — General Waverly (Conrad John Schuck) — who announces he’s being shipped stateside before wishing all his boys well.

It’s now 10 years later and Bob and Phil are playing “The Ed Sullivan Show” and looking for new talent to join their act. They are pointed in the direction of a sister act — Betty and Judy Haynes (Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan) — who prove to be promising both as entertainers and love interests.

The girls have a gig at an inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, and the boys tag along. It turns out the Inn is owned by the general, who is unaware that it is losing money because the woman running the place (Pamela Myers) doesn’t want to upset him.

Bob and Phil decide to put on a show and invite all their old army buddies to come out and raise the money to keep the general’s inn afloat. Of course, the show won’t go on without a few misunderstandings and setbacks along the way.

I’ll be honest. going into this I wasn’t really interested in seeing “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” Old-fashioned, feel-good holiday cheer is just not my thing — especially in mid-November. But I must admit, this is a really good show.

The multiple set changes were well crafted, the costumes were bright and colorful, the musicians were fine and the songs were — well — classics.  In addition to familiar holiday songs “Happy Holiday” and the title tune, the show features Berlin classics “Blue Skies,” “Snow,” “How Deep Is The Ocean” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm,” among others.

But it was the on-stage talent that really made the show sing (and dance). The four leads are all fine singers while Benton and Sheehan are tremendous dancers. As if the songs weren’t strong enough on their own, the show features several amazing dance numbers.

Don’t be a Grinch. Check out “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” while you have the chance. Given the state of the world these days, a little early holiday cheer can only be a good thing.

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

 

 

 

On Stage: Matilda

The Fox Theatre opens its 2015-16 season with the delightful, family friendly “Matilda The Musical!”

Based on the 1988 children’s book by Roald Dahl,  the musical version of “Matilda” opened on the British stage in 2010.  It was written by Dennis Kelly with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and went on to earn much acclaim and several awards.

The show opens with a stage full of young children singing about how special they are. They know this because their parents told them. Somehow, Roald Dahl in 1988 got access to my current Facebook newsfeed.

Into this world is born Matilda (played in this touring company by Gabby Gutierrez, Mia Sinclair Jenness and Mabel Tyler; Tyler played the role the night I attended).  Matilda’s parents do not see anything special about her. Mother (Cassie Silva) would rather be ballroom dancing while Father (Quinn Mattfeld) is busy working on get-rich-quick schemes.

They agree that Matilda would be better off if she’d watch more television and spend less time reading books.

Bryce Ryness (Miss Trunchbull) and Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood) and The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus

Bryce Ryness (Miss Trunchbull) and Mabel Tyler (Matilda Wormwood) and The Company of Matilda The Musical National Tour. Photo by Joan Marcus

Despite her genetic and upbringing, Matilda is a precocious, charming young girl. But if life at home is no good, school unfortunately is no better. You see, Matilda is enrolled at Crunchem Hall Elementary which is run by the wicked, wicked Miss Trunchbull (Bryce Ryness).  I’m sorry, I should’ve said the wonderfully wicked, wicked Miss Trunchbull.

Matilda does have two adults in her corner: Her teacher, Miss Honey (Jennifer Blood); and the town librarian, Mrs. Phelps (Ora Jones). Mrs. Phelps engages Matilda’s imagination by listening to her stories while Miss Honey is determined to help Matilda grow in spite of all the obstacles in her way.

“Matilda the Musical!” is a cute show with a heat-warming story and a number of catchy tunes. My personal favorite was Act Two opener “Telly,” but there were plenty of other songs equally amusing or touching.

The show also boasts a talented cast of young singers and dancers in addition to some gifted actors in the adult roles. I can’t speak to the other Matildas but Mabel Tyler did a fine job. But then, stealing the show was Bryce Ryness as the evil school headmistress. Every scene with Ryness was golden. Quinn Mattfeld also had some notably funny moments as Matilda’s father.

This is based on a children’s novel, so be prepared for what kids find entertaining. Like what had to be musical theater’s longest and loudest burp. I can live with that, considering the alternative.

Finally, I appreciated this show because of its message: that children are nothing but trouble and books are evil and we should all watch more television.

My wife thinks I misunderstood the message but what does she know? She’s a bookworm.

“Matilda The Musical” runs through Nov. 1 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. http://www.fabulousfox.com/