Tag Archives: Fox Theatre St. Louis

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/

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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/

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/