The Fabulous Fox Theatre is excited to announce the new dates for Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY will be December 22-27, 2020.

This magical family show is a perfect addition to the Fox holiday lineup when the theatre is resplendent with the spirit of the season. Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY was originally scheduled to play at the Fabulous Fox March 17-29, 2020 but was postponed due to city of St. Louis COVID-19 mandate.

CATS is not available to return to the Fox within this 2019-2020 season, but we are working to secure it for a future season. St. Louis will have to wait a bit longer for “the memory to live again.” CATS was originally scheduled to play at the Fabulous Fox April 7-19, 2020 but was also postponed due to city of St. Louis COVID-19 mandate.Since both productions will be presented in a different season than originally scheduled, season ticket holders are currently being notified of their options.

Single ticket buyers will be emailed next week about automatic refunds beginning on Monday, April 13. Due to the number of cancellations, the refund process is expected to last 3-4 weeks. The Fox Box office is currently closed in compliance with the city of St. Louis COVID-19 mandate.

By Lynn Venhaus

As concerns for public health grows as the Coronavirus spreads in the U.S., many arts and entertainment events have been cancelled in the metropolitan St. Louis area. Some will be rescheduled. While others, in smaller venues, continue.

St. Louis City banned events with crowds bigger than 1,000 Thursday and St. Louis County announced Friday it is preventing crowds bigger than 250, effective immediately, until further notice.

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is the utmost importance in making these decisions. Governors of Missouri and Illinois have declared states of emergency, as had the U.S. President on Friday.

Nationally, Broadway went dark and its 31 theatres announced they would be closed through Easter, which is April 12.

Dramatists Play Service, which holds the rights to many shows, has announced refunds to companies who have to cancel and also information regarding possibly live-streaming shows. For further information, visit https://www.dramatists.com/text/covid19cancellationpolicy.asp

Here is a list of what’s the latest news from local companies and venues, with the most up-to-date information as possible. It is best to check with a group before heading out as news can change fast.

Most companies released statements about how they have stepped up cleaning efforts and encouraging those feeling sick to stay home. They have also offered refund information. Check their social media and websites for current information.

On Thursday, the Fox Theatre announced postponement of all performances and tours through March 31.

“The Bachelor Live on Stage, scheduled for Friday, March 13 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory scheduled for March 17-29 will both be postponed.   Plans to reschedule are currently underway. Ticket holders should hold on to their tickets – they will be honored on the new dates,” statement said.

Decisions about other future shows will be made as they follow the evolving situation with the COVID-19 Virus and the City of St. Louis’ determination of the length of this prohibition, a spokesman said.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, on the campus of Webster University, is opening “The Cake” in the Studio Theatre March 13, and Friday evening announced that they would suspend all performances beginning Monday, March 16. They are postponing the opening of “Dreaming Zenzile,” set to open March 20, with hopes of rescheduling this summer.

This is a reversal of their announcement Wednesday that all their performances would continue. Here is the new statement:

“Following the declaration of a state of emergency in St. Louis County surrounding the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis must place the safety of its patrons, staff and artists above all other considerations.

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization’s recommendations against large group gatherings, The Rep has decided to cancel all performances and events beginning Monday, March 16 through the end of the season. We plan to postpone our Mainstage world premiere of Dreaming Zenzile, with the goal of mounting it this summer.

“We do not take this decision lightly, knowing that the communal connections made at public arts events are some of the strongest tools against the fears and anxieties of this moment. As we ride out this turbulent time together, we remain resolutely committed to the power of storytelling to change lives and uplift our shared humanity. Thank you for your understanding and for being a part of our Rep family. We look forward to welcoming you home again this summer.

We will be reaching out to ticketholders shortly via email, phone and/or text with more details regarding ticket options. For additional updates, stay tuned to repstl.org and our Facebook and Twitter feeds,” the statement said.

The Playhouse at Westport continues “Flanagan’s Wake” performances as planned. However, the company that owns the venue released a statement explaining their efforts.

“Our efforts in cleaning the venue have been stepped up and we will be disinfecting each seat, handrail and surface within the theatre prior to opening doors for each performance. Our bartenders will be wearing gloves, which will be changed frequently through the evening.

“In addition, Cushman & Wakefield, the property management for Westport Plaza has increased their efforts to assist in providing a safe environment for those that visit the Plaza. All public surfaces, from elevator buttons to escalator rails, to door handles and bathrooms are all being heavily sanitized multiple times throughout each day.

We, along with, many of you, are closely following and monitoring all reports issued from the CDC as well as our local and state governmental agencies and will adjust any and all protocol accordingly. At this time, all shows are playing as scheduled,” explained Sue Silverstein, vice president / general manager, Playhouse @ Westport Plaza

The Moolah Shrine have announced plans to reschedule the annual circus March 19-22 at Family Arena. Here is their statement:

For more than 78 years, the Moolah® Shriners have provided family entertainment to St Charles and St Louis region. As always, our focus has been the safety and well-being of families. After consulting with government health professionals and the Family Arena, We have decided to take strong but necessary actions to protect the health and well-being of all who plan on attending our circus.

As Shriners, we are about compassion and love; we help heal the sick, care for those in need. Our plans, for now, are to reschedule our 78th Moolah Shrine Circus for later this year. Thank you for your support, and we look forward to seeing you all later this year.

For further information, please refer to Moolah.org on Monday, March 16,” they noted.

William Roth, founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio, said they would offer their black box theater, The Gaslight Theatre, to performers in need of space during this pandemic.

“Many performers and band members have lost their incomes. The 100- seat Gaslight Theatre, based on availability, is offering itself up to bands whose gigs have been canceled. This offer is, of course, based on availability and the daily health regulations posted by the CDC and the local governments. As long as it’s legal we are an available venue,” Roth said. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

THE SHOW MUST GO ON
“Clybourne Park” at Alpha Players at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
The audience is limited to 200.

Note: “We are constantly disinfecting common surfaces as much as we can. We ask that high risk individuals (as defined by the CDC) or those that are exhibiting symptoms to refrain from entering the premises.”

“It’s Only a Play” at Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Ill. this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Note: “As of 12 March 2020 we have no intention to cancel any performances for It’s Only a Play. If we do, every effort will be made to give a minimum notice of 24 hours.”

Also, cleaning efforts stepped up and ticket refunds available.

“Flanagan’s Wake” at The Playhouse at Westport continue performances as planned, extended through April 11, with a special St. Patrick’s Day performance Tuesday.

Note: “Please be aware of your own health. If you are sick, or even questioning you are sick, please stay home. We will be happy to exchange your tickets for another performance. The top priority at the Playhouse @ Westport is the safety and the well-being of our guests, casts and employees.”

“Love Sex and the IRS” at Theatre Guild of Webster Groves this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at their theatre, Newport and Summit.

“On Golden Pond” at Kirkwood Theatre Guild this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 S. Geyer Road.

“The Philadelphia Story” at Clayton Community Center cancelled their opening night, March 12, but continue performances March 13 and 14 and at 2 p.m. March 15 in the Washington University South Campus Theatre.

“Return to Forbidden Planet” at KTK Productions in the St. John the Baptist gymnasium, 4200 Delor, this weekend and next (Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.)


“Head Over Heels” at New Line Productions at The Marcelle Theatre this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., sold out, and continuing Thursday through Saturday until March 28.

Note: “We hope to run as scheduled through March 28, but we’ll continue to monitor the news and re-assess as the situation evolves. If anyone has purchased tickets but is not feeling well, please stay home, rest up, and contact MetroTix for a refund. The usual “no refund” rule will not apply.”

POSTPONED
“The Bachelor Live on Stage” tour at The Fox Theatre March 13. Plans to be rescheduled.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” tour at The Fox Theatre March 17 – 29. To be rescheduled.

10th Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition April 4 at The Fox Theatre. To be rescheduled.

CANCELLED
The Black Rep “Spell #7” at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre. They had extended the run through this weekend, but cancelled it in light of the COVID-19 developments.

The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts at McKendree University
All events and performances (internal, hosted or rented) scheduled through June 1.
This includes:
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis “Cymbeline” (March 16), Young People’s Concert (March 19), TAO DRUM (March 24), The ReMINDers (April 6), and speaker, Ishmael Beah (April 15).

Patrons are offered the possibility of applying their tickets to a future event at the Hett, donating the ticket value to the University or contacting them for a full refund, less any original mailing fees.

Please contact the box office, during operating hours, to discuss your ticket disposition. The box office is open Monday – Friday from noon to 4 p.m.

College Performances Cancelled

“Cabaret” at Lindenwood University – St. Charles. Representatives will contact ticket holders on refunds.

“A Doll’s House” at Missouri Baptist University. Will transition to streaming. More information to follow.

By Lynn Venhaus

Simple yet profound, “The Band’s Visit” is a disarming, charming experience.

It may take a little bit to win you over, but it certainly does – with an invigorating elegance and its big heart, a great example of effective less-is-more on stage.

Based on a 2007 film, “The Band’s Visit” is not your average flashy big-budget spectacle, and that’s one reason it’s so refreshing and relatable. The story is about ordinary people, their hopes and desires to belong. They just happen to be considered “enemies” because of where they live – Arabs and Jews – but are they really that different?

Through a bus station-cultural language miscommunication, a traveling Egyptian Police Band winds up stranded in a small town in the Negev desert — Bet Hatikva instead of Petah Tikvah. They are supposed to perform at an Arab cultural center, but another bus is not available until the next day, so, residents take them in overnight. They share shelter, meals, music and conversation over the course of one day.

The winner of 10 Tony Awards – and nominated for 11 – in 2018, this musical, now playing at The Fox Theatre in St. Louis until March 8, conveys what made the off-Broadway show and its move to Broadway such sensations. It is one of only four musicals in Broadway history to ever win “The Big Six” – musical, director, composer, book, actor and actress – at The Tonys.

The staging is innovative, and turntables are used effectively, especially during a roller-rink date scene. Humor is key too, as in the park having one bench.

Besides endearing performances from its first-rate cast, the music and lyrics by David Yazbek are unforgettable. The dynamic, poetic world-music score, with jazz influences, features an assortment of memorable songs – starting with the humorous “Waiting” and “Middle of Nowhere,” and wrapping up with the haunting “Answer Me.”

Make sure you stay after the curtain call for the band’s upbeat finale, their ‘concert’ performance.

The cast recording won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2019, and they won a Daytime Emmy Award for a performance of “Answer Me” on The Today Show.

The Fox Theatre is one of the 32-city stops on the first national tour, which began June 25, 2019. “The Band’s Visit” played off-Broadway for a little more than a year, beginning Dec. 8, 2016, and moved to Broadway Oct. 7, 2017. After 589 performances and 36 previews, it closed April 7, 2018.

Combined with book writer Itamar Moses’s witty script, “The Band’s Visit” emphasizes connection between people and different cultures – if we all listen to each other.

While the townsfolk desperately want to find meaning in their lives, we are moved by those universal themes of longing, loss and loneliness that everyone relates to – and how music is the thread that unites us all.

And what simple kind-hearted gestures and compassion can mean in times of need. This humanistic approach is how it captivates the audience. After all, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, Barbra Streisand once sang to Omar Sharif in “Funny Girl,” — and a song is named after the Egyptian-born 1960s movie star here.

The ensemble features 14 people, and the tight-knit company is adept at conveying bonding and breaking barriers. Janet Dacal is terrific as a lively Dina, a lonely café owner whose tough and feisty demeanor masks a heart of gold. She befriends the band’s conductor, Tewfiq Zakaria, played by Sasson Gabay, who replaced Tony winner Tony Shalhoub on Broadway and originated the role in the 2007 movie.

As he becomes more comfortable, he shares a personal tragedy with her. Their relationship throughout the show is a high point.

Also noteworthy are Joe Joseph as the likable trumpet player Haled, who loves American jazz musician Chet Baker; Danny Burgos as the timid café worker Papi, who Haled helps out on a date; and Pomme Koch as the other café worker Itzik, who brings clarinet player Simon home to dine with his family and they deal with his crying baby.

Known only as the “Telephone Guy,” Mike Cefalo is funny in a quirky role, and then shows off a beautiful voice when he starts off “Answer Me.”

The highly skilled band musicians must be mentioned too, because they add such a vitality to the show: Adrian Ries, conductor/keyboard; Adam McDonald, associate conductor/keyboard; Tony Bird, violin; George Crotty, cello; Evan Francis, clarinet, saxophone, flute; Roger Kashou, darbouka/riq; Ronnie Malley, oud/guitar; Shai Wetzer, drums/Arabic percussion; and Alex Farha, musician swing.

In small and subtle moments, this pleasant interlude speaks volumes. And that poignancy in a tidy 90-minutes is a life-affirming way to exit the theater and enter a wary world.

The Fox Theatre presents “The Band’s Visit” Feb. 25 through March 8 at the Fabulous Fox, 527 N. Grand. For tickets, visit www.metrotix.com or call 618-534-1111. For more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com

By Lynn Venhaus
A 10-time Tony winner’s national tour comes to the ‘Lou, world premieres of “The Roommate” and last chance to see a whole roster of shows. There is a feast of choices as we usher March in, and spring can’t be far behind. Here’s what’s on local stages.


“Annapurna”
St. Louis Actors’ Studio
The Gaslight Theatre
N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis
Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 3 p.m.
Feb. 14 – March 1
www.stlas.org
314-458-2978

Laurie McConnell and John Pierson star as Emma and Ulysses in Sharr White’s play about love and loss in the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies. Once married, they have a child, but haven’t seen each other for a long time.

Our review:
https://www.poplifestl.com/oh-those-ties-that-bind-an-extraordinary-annapurna-at-st-louis-actors-studio/

The Band’s Visit touring show

“The Band’s Visit”
Fox Theatre
527 N. Grand
Feb. 25 – March 8
www.fabulousfox.com

Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 2018, this joyously offbeat story is set in a remote town where a band of musicians arrive, lost. They bring the town to life in unexpected ways. This is an adaptation of a 2007 Israeli film, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek. It is performed without intermission.

Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/unforgettable-music-big-heart-distinguish-tony-winner-the-bands-visit-at-the-fox/

“The Ever After”
Curtain’s Up
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 6:30 p.m.
Dunham Hall, SIUEdwardsville
www.curtainsuptheater.com

A cheesy talk show host invites familiar fairy tale characters who have been estranged for 20 years to reconcile on the show.

Brett Amber


 “Flanagan’s Wake”
Emery Entertainment
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza
635 Westport Plaza
Jan. 24 – March 21
www.playhouseatwestport.com

This interactive hit show from Chicago is set in an Irish pub, and Flanagan’s family and friends give him a comedic memorial with plenty o’ pints, crazy sing-a-longs and witty tales.
Cast includes Brian Ballybunion, Fiona Finn (Jennifer Theby-Quinn), Mickey Finn Father Damon Fitzgerald (Patrick Blindauer), Kathleen Mooney, Mayor Martin O’Doul

Our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/flanagans-wake-a-raucous-raunchy-ribald-romp/

“Ghost”
Metro Theatre Company
Feb. 2 – March 1
Fridays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
3610 Grandel Square
www.metroplays.org

World premiere of a new play adapted by Idris Goodwin from Jason Reynolds’ award-winning bestseller for young readers. Castle Cranshaw, aka “Ghost,” has only known running, but he runs for all the wrong reasons until he meets Coach. Directed by Jacqueline Thompson and stars

“Men on Boats”
The Performing Arts Department at Washington University
Feb. 21 – March 1
Edison Theatre on campus
pad.artsci.wustl.edu

John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers is a 19th century journey.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep”
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Feb. 14 – March 8
Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus
www.repstl.org

One dark and stormy night…two actors play eight characters, with a few dozen costume changes, a lot of wigs and a blending of classic horror, B-movie mysteries and farce.  
Charles Ludlam’s supernatural comedy includes a newly revived mummy, a mysterious portrait, a family curse and a howling werewolf.

Our Review: https://www.poplifestl.com/campy-farce-irma-vep-cant-hold-audience/

“The Office! A Musical Parody”
Emery Entertainment
March 4 – 8
Wednesday-Friday at 8 p.m.
Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Grandel Theatre
Tickets: Metrotix 314-534-1111 or one hour before showtime at Grandel box office.
www.theofficemusicalparody.com/tour

Dunder Mifflin is opening an office near you. This is the third North American tour of the unauthorized off-Broadway show, written by Bob and Tobly McSmith. It is still playing at the Jerry Orbach Theatre at 210 West 50th Street in NYC.

Mashable calls it “the world’s most elaborate inside job, created with a whole lot of love, just for fans.” It’s a typical morning at Scranton’s third largest paper company until, for no logical reason, a documentary crew begins filming the lives of the employees.

“Picnic”
Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts
Feb. 20 – March 1
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Stage III Auditorium
www.webster.edu
314-968-7128

William Inge’s play is set in a small town one Labor Day Weekend in the joint backyards of two widows. One lives with her two daughters and a boarder; the other is a woman and her mother. A studly young man, Hall, comes to town, and the resulting electrical charge causes some friction.

Photo by John Lamb


“The Roommate”
The West End Players Guild
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Additional Thursday show Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Union Avenue Christian Church
733 N. Union at Enright
www.westendplayers.org
314-367-0025

St. Louis premiere of Jen Silverman’s contemporary comedy has been described as “The Odd Couple” meets “Breaking Bad.” Sharon, a divorced empty nester takes on a roommate in her Iowa City house – and Robyn has come from the Bronx. She has a mysterious, shady past who moves around a lot. She is everything Sharon is not — a vegan and gay, for starters. They begin to influence each other in surprising ways.

“Saint Joan of Arc”
The University Theatre at Saint Louis University
Collaborative piece with Prison Performing Arts
Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Feb. 21 – March 1
Kranzberg Arts Center
501 N. Grand
Tickets: www.metrotix.com

Inspired by love of God and country, Joan became a 15th century French military leader. This is a contemporary retelling directed by Lucy Cashion.

“Spell #7”
The Black Rep
Wednesday at
Feb. 19 – March 8
A.E. Hotchner Studio at Washington University.
www.theblackrep.org


Ntozake Shange’s Spell #7 is a choreopoem set in a bar in St. Louis frequented by Black artists and musicians, actors, and performers. In a series of dreamlike vignettes and poetic monologues, they commiserate about the difficulties they face as black artist.


“Transluminate”
A short-play festival
The Q Collective
Thursday and Friday, Feb. 27 and 28, at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 29, at 4 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 4 p.m.
The Chapel
6238 Alexander Drive
www.theqcollective.theater

“The Vagina Monologues”
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
Friday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.
Academic and Research Building Auditorium
4531 Children’s Place, St. Louis, MO 63110
Tickets: $5 at the door (cash only) or available for purchase on Eventbrite ahead of time

Note: All proceeds from ticket and dessert sales will go directly to Lydia’s House in St. Louis

Eve Ensler’s play is based on interviews with more than 200 women. With humor and grave, the piece celebrates sexuality and strength. Through this play and the liberation of this one-word, countless people throughout the world have taken control of their bodies and their lives.

The play gave birth to V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against all women and girls. Activists are working to end harassment, rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sex slavery. (https://www.vday.org/homepage.html)

It is sponsored by the Department of Liberal Arts and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For more information, email [email protected]

Lydia’s House works in faith to end domestic violence by being a place of healing and a voice of hope for abused women and their children.” (https://www.lydiashouse.org/)

By CB Adams
Contributing Writer

What happens when you take Puccini’s La Boheme (The Breakfast Club of its day) out for a sexed-up, drugged-up, angst-amped joy ride through lower Manhattan in the upper decade of the former millennium?

Well, if it’s 24 years ago, it snags a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Musical while running for an impressive 12 years and grossing more than $280 million.

But what if it’s 24 years later? Do a quick internet search about the 20th-anniversary touring production of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, which opened at the Fabulous Fox on Friday, Feb. 21, and you’ll find a significant amount of critics-sphere dithering about the dreaded R-word – relevance.

Is this Puccini reboot (of sorts) still relevant now that the LGBTQ and AIDS epidemic cultural landscape has shifted in the past two decades — to say nothing of New York City real estate?

On the other hand, is a focus on relevance really that…well, relevant? After all, is Oklahoma and its “surrey with the fringe on top” relevant? Is South Pacific and its hair washing man removal relevant? Will Hamilton still be hip-hoppin’ relevant in 20 years?

Kelsee Schweigard as Maureen

The crucible for relevance of any piece of theater (define relevance any way you please) is, ultimately, time. It’s about longevity. It’s about audiences willing – eager even – to engage with a new production of a show and embrace it anew. Within this context, the relevance of Rent, now 20 years on, is proved by its ability to enthusiastically fill seats, which this touring production certainly did on opening night at the Fox Theatre. The audience demographic was “youthier” than some other recent Fox shows, which makes sense because Rent is talkin’ ‘bout that younger generation that bridges the analogue and digital worlds.

The audience was greeted immediately by Paul Clay’s muscular, industrial set design, adapted for this production by Matthew Maraffi, which provided an effective visual environment that evoked the vibe and spirit of (to cross genres) the Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You.” The lighting was noteworthy, too, appropriately shifting from candle-lit love-mood to spotlighted rock concert stage. Tucked stage right was the lean pit orchestra, led by conductor/keyboardist Mark Binns, which was seamlessly – visually and aurally – integrated into the production. In fact, it was easy to forget they were on stage most of the time.   

Rent is a demanding show choreographically speaking. It requires a range of athleticism during numbers such Mimi’s Tina Turner-channeling “Out Tonight” to the company’s languid, funereal “Goodbye, Love.” This production is generally up to that challenge, though Aiyana Smash as Mimi appeared unsure and overly studied during some of her pole-dancing moves while climbing and hanging from the railings during “Out Tonight.” Such hesitancy was quickly forgotten after her tabletop romping later in that number.   

Costume Design by Angela Wendt was true to the original and to the 90s era it represented. Costumes were mostly rags that thankfully didn’t veer too deeply into Uriah Heep territory and enlivened with some Jane Fonda workout and Where’s Wally? flourishes. One misstep was the portrayal of the riot police who wore oversized, cartoonish visors, cupped their batons like rural sheriffs and marched like children on parade. That may have been the intent, but it detracted from the emotional reach of their scenes.

The 20th reunion Rent benefits from a strong, deep-bench cast:

Cody Jenkins as Mark Cohen

Cody Jenkins as Mark Cohen provided the connective tissue throughout as both emcee and cast member. He delivered an admirable range that modulated from affable to earnest and, at-times, angry and callow.

Coleman Cummings delivered a strong but uneven performance as Roger Davis. On numbers that required his “big voice,” his voice was strong, meaty and powerful, but in quieter moments he was ineffectively torpid and lispy, even though Roger is not in good health.

Audience favorite Angel Schunard was Pussy-Galored/Pussy-Glamoured with a cat-like, Jack Skellington-esque aplomb by Joshua Tavares. His drag queen persona rightly drew applause and you-go-girl affirmations, but his quieter, sick and dying scenes were equally as memorable for their quiet power – especially his simulated puking. Schunard had the perfect blend of range and moves for the entirety of this demanding part.

Kelsee Sweigard delivered one of the show’s most impressive performances as Maureen Johnson during the “Over the Moon” performance art number. She played the preposterous “milk in the cyber world” scene with a believable, earnest awkwardness that wasn’t easy to achieve – in the same way playing believably drunk is never easy.  

Shafiq Hicks as big-man Tom Collins belted out his deep, resonant, “Old Man River”-tinged voice in all his solos, especially his reprise of “I’ll Cover You.” His best stage moments begged the production make a hard stop – in only good ways – to pay special attention to his performance.

Ditto for Smash as Mimi. Smash’s show-stopping power was evident in equal measures in her dance and singing. Her Mimi shared an impressive spectrum of radiance, assertiveness, horniness, vulnerability and, ultimately, transfigured. 

Rent at 24 resonates a little differently than it did in its Broadway and touring heyday. Perhaps at its 30th and 40th anniversaries will find a different relevance, though audiences may need footnotes to explain references to the Sex Pistols, Spike Lee, Ecstasy, etc.

But, as Dale Carnegie (of all people) once wrote, “Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience.”

Yeah, Rent does that.

The 20th anniversary tour of “Rent”

The Fabulous Fox Theatre presented “Rent” February 21-23.

By CB Adams
Contributing Writer

In the beginning was New Jersey, which begat Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which in various incarnations begat pop record sales of more than 175 million, which begat the jukebox musical Jersey Boys, which begat four Tony Awards that included Best Musical and a trunk-load of other accolades, which begat a film directed and produced by none other than “Dirty” Harry Callahan (okay, Clint Eastwood), which begat a return engagement of the ensemble musical at The Fabulous Fox Theatre on January 30-Febrary 2.

According to the press kit for Jersey Boys, this musical is not recommended for children under 12 due in part because it is peppered with “authentic Jersey language,” But, bada bing bada boom, other than the youngsters, Jersey Boys could just as well be known as the Authentic Jersey Musical, not to mention an authentically satisfying experience. And the show has been to St. Louis so many times that may have earned the nickname “St. Louis Boys.”

Nothing succeeds like success, and such is the case with Jersey Boys, which wouldn’t keep pounding the boards at venues like the Fox and The Muny if it weren’t so darned enjoyable. Jersey Boys is a show that entices men to come for the swagger and women to stay for the swoon – a winning combination not shared by many of musicals. Directed by two-time Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff and written by Academy Award-winner Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, it reliably fills seats.

The behind-the-scenes, bio-pic show, with music by Bob Gaudio and lyrics by Bob Crewe, hits the high and low notes of the evolution and more-or-less dissolution of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the years before, during and after the so-called British Invasion. This was an impressively long run of success for core bandmates – Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi  — that earned them a well-deserved place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The musical version of their story is a straight shot through the band’s history, with each member given a portion of the story to tell. Unlike some jukebox musicals that rely on a contrived plot to underpin the hit songs, Jersey Boys leverages the compelling story of the band’s history. The story has become as ubiquitous as the sing of hits the band produced. Jersey Boys is an ensemble effort with Jon Hacker as Valli, Eric Chambliss as Gaudio, Corey Geenan as DeVito and Michael Milton at Massi. These actors individually and collectively delivered at solid performance in acting and singing. Although there were no stand-out performances, Chambliss and Hacker delivered with the most heart and pathos – thanks in no small part to the show’s script.

But let’s face it: You come for the music and you stay for the music. Jersey Boys delivers with plenty of music – 33 songs, including five number-ones. And even though it doesn’t include 19 of the band’s other hits, including four other top-10 hits, the show drops the needle on a well-paced, nostalgically steady steam of the music that is the heart and soul of this show.

The strength of the show really rested on the vocal shoulders of Hacker as Franki. Hacker’s performance was, like all other aspects of the production, solid. Hacker is no Valli hologram and his evocation of the style, personality and vocal style of Valli did justice to the spirit and talents of the man himself. Hacker’s voice and acting were up to the material, especially with the support of the rest of the cast.

Hacker as Frankie delivered one of the musical’s most poignant lines about the group: “Like that bunny on TV, it just keeps going and going and going. Chasing the music. Trying to find our way home.”

Jersey Boys certainly has a found a regular place to call home on St. Louis stages.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre presented “Jersey Boys” January 30-February 2.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Treat Mom to a play or musical this weekend? Or next weekend! Any time is the
right time to Go See a Play! Here’s what is happening now.  And make time for the Tennessee Williams
Festival! Only once a year, and the time is now!

“Biloxi Blues” Clayton Community Theatre May 2-12 Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. but no performance May 10 Washington University South Campus Theatre 314-721-9228www.placeseveryone.org

What It’s About: The second in “The Eugene Trilogy,” Neil
Simon’s semi-autobiographical comedy centers on the contest of wills between a
drill sergeant and an intellectual recruit at an Army base in Biloxi, Miss., in
1943. Along the way, he loses his innocence in many ways.

“Death Tax” Mustard Seed Theatre May 9 – 19 Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre What It’s About:  by Lucas Hnath “As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

“Dear Mr. Williams” The Tennessee Williams Festival Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 and 8:30 p.m., May 10 and 11 Curtain Call Lounge www.twstl.org What It’s About: The blue devils of sex, alcohol, and mendacity take center stage in this tender and funny coming-of-age story of a young gay artist. With the great American playwright as his compass, writer and performer Batt takes us on a thrilling and very personal journey out of the shadows into a bright light of self-discovery. The tumultuous-and sometimes treacherous-journey from adolescence to adulthood is one we all must take, but Batt’s one-man tour de force proves that it’s oh so much more fascinating and fun with Tennessee Williams as your guide. “Freaky Friday” Curtain’s Up Theater Company May 10-12 Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Dunham Theatre, SIUEwww.curtainsuptheater.com

What It’s About: Based on the Disney movie, “Freaky Friday” is a musical about a mother and daughter changing places to comical effect.  

“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” The Tennessee Williams Festival May 11- 19 Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m.  www.twfstl.org

What It’s About: Four eccentric and unforgettable women fry
chicken, plan a picnic to Creve Coeur Lake, and cope with loneliness and lost
dreams in an efficiency apartment on Enright Avenue in the Central West End
circa the mid-1930s. Williams gives us more laughs than usual, but no less
poetry or poignancy. Williams believed that growing up in St. Louis was
essential to the shape of his work. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of
his few plays set here, and was the inspiration behind TV’s “The Golden
Girls.

Director: Kari Ely
Starring: Kelly Weber, Ellie Schwetye,  

Madea’s Farewell Play Tour May 10 – 12 Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 and 7:30 p.m. The Fabulous Fox Theatre www.fabulousfox.com What It’s About: Tyler Perry’s 21st stage play Starring: Tyler Perry, Tamela Mann, David Mann and Cassi Davis Patton

“Mamma Mia!” Alton Little Theater May 10-19 Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. 2450 N. Henry in Alton 6180462-6562www.altonlittletheater.org What It’s About: Love, mishaps, and music by ABBA will have audiences dancing in the aisles again as they feel transported to the Greek Island of Kalokairi on the eve of a wedding.

“Mamma Mia!” Looking Glass Playhouse May 2 – 12 Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon, Ill.www.lookingglassplayhouse.com 618-537-4962

What It’s About: Through ABBA’s hits, a romantic comedy
tell the hilarious story of a young woman’s search for her birth father. This
sunny and funny tale unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her
wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three
men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago. A
mother. A daughter. Three possible dads.

“Nice Work If You Can Get It” Kirkwood Theatre Guild May 3-5, 9-12 Evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Robert G. Reim Theatre Website: https://www.ktg-onstage.org/ 314-821-9956

What It’s About: A screwball comedy set in the Prohibition
era with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Elegant socialists and boorish
bootleggers clash, when playboy Jimmy Winter meets a female bootlegger, Billie
Bendix, on the weekend of his third or fourth wedding.

“The Night of the Iguana” Tennessee Williams Festival May 9 – 19 The Grandel Theatre What It’s About: based on Williams’ 1948 short story, which was then developed into three acts for Broadway production in 1961. A Tony nominee for Best Play, it was adapted into a 1964 movie, directed by John Huston, that starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The play focuses on a former minister, barred from his church for defaming God, who works as a tour guide. He is accused of statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl in his tour group. Director: Tim Ocel Starring: James Andrew Butz, Lavonne Byers, Hannah Sturgis, Harry Weber, Spencer Sickmann, Greg Johnson, Victor Mendes, Luis Aguilar.“Over the Tavern” The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves May 3 – 11 Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.www.theatreguildwg.org 314-962-0876 What It’s About: In that most idealized period of 20th-century America, the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, the Pazinski family has a lot going on in their cramped Buffalo apartment. The youngest of the bunch, 12-year-old Rudy, is a smart, wise-cracking kid who’s starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. When Rudy goes up against the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and announces that instead of being confirmed he’d rather shop around for a more “fun” religion, all hell breaks loose.” Parental discretion is advised.

Director: Warren Frank Starring: Henry Alverson, Jimmy Hall, Andrea Jacobson, Tracy Murphy, Pepi Parshall, Declan Ryan, Patrick Ryan “Salt, Root and Roe” Upstream Theatre April 26 – May 12 Shows at 8 p.m. except Sundays at 7 p.m. but May 12 at 2 p.m. Kranzberg Arts Centerwww.upstreamtheater.org What It’s About: Tim Price’s play is about the nature of change, the comfort of home and the eternal bond of love, set against the mythical backdrop of the Pembrokeshire coast in western Wales. Identical twins Iola and Anest, who are devoted to age other and aging fast. Anest’s daughter, Menna, rushes to her long-abandoned childhood home where her own ideas of love and compromise are tested to the limit. Director: Kenn McLaughlin Cast: Donna Weinsting, Sally Edmundson, Eric Dean White, Amy Loui

Of Note: A U.S. premiere in co-production with Stages
Repertory Theatre of Houston.

By Lynn VenhausManaging EditorSpring has sprung, with many to-dos on your list. So, what play are you going to see this weekend/week?

From college theater productions to intimate dramas to touring musicals, you have a variety of offerings. Celebrate art in any season! Go See a Play!“Are U R?” Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville April 24-28 Metcalf Theatrewww.siue.edu 618- 650-2774 What It’s About: Based on the 1920 Czech play, “R.U.R.” by Karel Cepak, this original SIUE adaptation is an irreverent and provocative mash-up of humor and horror, philosophy and presents From Metropolis to The Matrix, from Brave New World to Westworld, humans are obsessed with the possibility of intelligent machines and the all the questions that they inspire – What is the mind? What is consciousness? And what will it look like when smart technology turns against its creators? and science/fiction, pop culture and faith that explores the nature of artificial intelligence and human consciousness.

“From Jimmy, to America: An Ode to James Baldwin” University of Missouri at St. Louis April 27 and 28 Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Touhill Performing Arts Center www.touhill.org

What It’s About: Through the words of James Baldwin, this
production explores race, identity, and America. In collaboration with Nu-World
Contemporary Danse Theatre, actors and dancers explore our racial identity
through the works, words, and musicality of James Baldwin.

“Godspell” University Theatre at Saint Louis University April 25-28 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square MetroTix: 314-534-1111 Tickets available at the door

What It’s About: This is the 2012 retelling of the Stephen Schwartz musical, which is based on the gospel of St. Matthew, that features new arrangements and contemporary references as it takes us on a rousing journey through the parables of Jesus. Director: Stephanie Tennill

‘The Laramie Project’ at St. Charles Community College“The Laramie Project” St. Charles Community College April 24-28 SCC Center Stage Theatre in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, Mo.www.stchas.edu 636-922-8050

What It’s About: This gripping play concerns Americans’
reaction to the hate-crime murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard. In
October of 1998, Shepard was kidnapped, severely beaten, and left to die in
Laramie, Wyoming. Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater went to Laramie and
conducted more than 200 interviews about the event, from which they wrote this
play.

Director: Samantha Stavely

Cast: David Amrhein, Rachel Bohn, Jim Dishian, Jordan
Dennis, Johnny Dishian, Andrew Edmonston, Dane Harris, Jasminn Jones, Jacob
Krznar, Kat Leffler, Amanda May, Travis McIntyre, Angela McNeil, Mia Millican,
Joshua David Neighbors, Mia Politte, Gabby Rivera, Braden Stille, Graham
Woodward and Peggy Woodward.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” April 26-28 R-S Theatrics and Three Blind Pigs Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. William Kerr Foundation 21 O’Fallon Street, North St. Louis www.r-stheatrics.com

What It’s About: One of Shakespeare’s most beloved
comedies, you’ll see lovers’ spats, clueless actors, and a fairy queen.

Of Note: Shake38 may be gone, but Blind Pigs’ partnership
with R-S Theatrics lives on

“Miss Saigon” Fox Theatre April 23-May 5 www.fabulousfox.com

What It’s About: National tour of acclaimed revival, from the creators of “Les Miserables.”  Based on the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly,” this is the story of a young Vietnamese woman named Kim who is orphaned by war and forced to work in a bar run by a notorious character known as the Engineer. There she meets and falls in love with an American G.I. named Chris, but they are torn apart by the fall of Saigon. For 3 years, Kim goes on an epic journey of survival to find her way back to Chris, who has no idea he’s fathered a son. Featuring stunning spectacle and a sensational cast of 42 performing the soaring score, including Broadway hits like “The Heat is On in Saigon,” “The Movie in My Mind,” “Last Night of the World” and “American Dream.”

“Never Let Go: A One-Woman TitanicERA TheatreApril 18-20 at The Monocle, Emerald Room, 8 p.m.April 26-27 at The Improv Shop, 3960 Chouteau, 10 p.m.www.eratheatre.org

What It’s About: Twenty-four years ago, Rose ‘Dawson’ miraculously survived the sinking of the Titanic. But her lover, Jack Dawson, did not, and she is not over it. Despite her grief, she’s pursuing her dream of becoming an Academy Award nominated actress. In this production, Rose pitches the idea of turning her story into a work of theatre, or even a motion picture, to an audience of potential producers and investors. She shifts seamlessly from past and present, often without warning, and artistically, and maybe somewhat insanely, blurs the distinction between reality and imagination. Join us for the maiden voyage of your life and never let go!

Starring: Rachel Tibbetts

Playwrights: Will Bonfiglio and Lucy Cashion

Stage Manager and Dramaturg: Miranda Jagels-Felix

Designers: Morgan Fisher and Bess Moynihan

Eric Dean White and Amy Loui i “Salt, Root and Roe”“Salt, Root and Roe” Upstream Theatre April 26 – May 12 Shows at 8 p.m. except Sundays at 7 p.m. but May 12 at 2 p.m. Kranzberg Arts Centerwww.upstreamtheater.org What It’s About: Tim Price’s play is about the nature of change, the comfort of home and the eternal bond of love, set against the mythical backdrop of the Pembrokeshire coast in western Wales. Identical twins Iola and Anest, who are devoted to age other and aging fast. Anest’s daughter, Menna, rushes to her long-abandoned childhood home where her own ideas of love and compromise are tested to the limit. Director: Kenn McLaughlin Cast: Donna Weinsting, Sally Edmundson, Eric Dean White, Amy Loui

Of Note: A U.S. premiere in co-production with Stages Repertory Theatre of Houston. New at Upstream is “Bohemian Thursday” – all tickets $10 May 2 only.

“Spamalot” Clinton County Showcase April 26-28 & May 3-5 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Avon Theater, 525 N. Second St., Breese, Ill.www.ccshowcase.com What It’s About: Adaptation of classic comedy film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the Tony-Award winning musical retells the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

“Translations” The Black Mirror Theatre April 25 – May 4 Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. .Zack, 3224 Locust www.blackmirrortheatre.com What It’s About: Brien Friel’s “Translations” is an intimate look into a world at odds with itself. It could have been set in one of any number of eras and lands – anywhere in which an alien force imposes its culture on a conquered people through the suppression of all that which gave and gives that culture cohesion, especially its language. One needs to look no farther than America, where indigenous peoples still struggle to maintain and transmit their values, beliefs, their souls thru their native tongues.

Paul James and Rich Loughbridge. Photo by Lori Biehl“Tuesdays with Morrie” April 24-May 5 Act Two Theatre St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre www.act2theatre.com What It’s About:  The autobiographical story of Mitch Albom, an accomplished journalist driven solely by his career, and Morrie Schwartz, his former college professor. Sixteen years after graduation, Mitch happens to catch Morrie’s appearance on a television news program and learns that his old professor is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mitch is reunited with Morrie, and what starts as a simple visit turns into a weekly pilgrimage and a last class in the meaning of life.

Director: Nancy Crouse
Cast: Paul James as Morrie Schwartz, Rich Loughridge as Mitch Albom

William Humphrey, William Roth in “True West.” Photo by Patrick Huber.“True West” April 4 – 28 St. Louis Actors’ Studio Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle 314-458-2978 www.stlas.org

What It’s About: This American classic by Sam Shepard explores
alternatives that might spring from the demented terrain of the California
landscape. Sons of a desert-dwelling alcoholic and a suburban wanderer clash
over a film script. Austin, the achiever, is working on a script he has sold to
producer Sal Kimmer when Lee, a demented petty thief, drops in. He pitches his
own idea for a movie to Kimmer, who then wants Austin to junk his bleak, modern
love story and write Lee’s trashy Western tale.
Director: William Whitaker
Cast: Isaiah Di Lorenzo, William Humphrey, William Roth, Susan Kopp

New production on national tour now at the Fox Theatre

By Joe GfallerContributing Writer“Miss Saigon” holds a powerful mirror up both to its own complicated history and to the dangers of the American Dream in a newly resonant production, the current national tour now playing at the Fox Theatre through May 5. It’s been 30 years since this musical by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schönberg (best known for “Les Misérables”) first opened in the West End in London.

Based on Puccini’s iconic opera “Madame Butterfly,” it played for nearly ten years on Broadway, creating the very definition of the “mega-musical.” That reputation of success looms large for anyone seeing it today, as does the musical’s deeply problematic reputation around race, identity, and victimization.

The current tour, based on the show’s recent West End and Broadway revivals, faces many of the story’s complex and devastating issues head on. Even with its powerful, nuanced performances and dazzling effects, it cannot fully escape the problems inherent in the story itself. However, in the many moments when it does, it is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

In this new version, one message is clear: the myth of the
American dream is toxic. It damns each of the characters it touches.

For the Engineer, played with equal parts giddy enthusiasm and depraved desperation by Red Concepción, it is a canker that only grows more obsessive and pathetic as the musical unfolds. By the time he reaches his show-stopping reflection on his American dream, his obsession with America has transformed into sinister self-hatred.

Emily Bautista and Anthony Festa as Kim and ChrisKim, given a heartfelt performance from Emily Bautista, is first surrounded by the promise of America in the aptly-named Dreamland club. There, each of her fellow dancers hope that the G.I.s who bed them will ultimately free them from what looks to be an unending cycle of human trafficking and violence.

However, from the moment Gigi is slapped by a G.I. for even speaking of marriage, it is clear that these dreams are nothing more than an unattainable fairy tale, told to give the women a reason to continue selling their bodies to the highest bidder.

Chris, an American G.I., thinks he embodies the American dream, and watching that “white savior” belief system crumble throughout Anthony Festa’s performance is devastating.

Unlike Madame Butterfly’s B.F. Pinkerton (upon whom Chris’s character is based), this is a man who starts off as neither callous nor selfish. In sharp contrast to the other men at Dreamland, he isn’t a leering, oversexed predator. He only takes Kim — still virginal and visibly uncomfortable on her first night there after escaping the destruction of her village — because his friend John has paid for her already.

He reflects later in the show, “I wanted to save and protect her. Christ, I’m an American, how could I fail to do good?” In Festa’s performance, the man we see years later in America is haunted by his PTSD, by the memories of what he saw, and by all the good he failed to do. It is a transformation that is chilling and deeply humane.

Discovering the lethal consequences of his own fear, internalized bias, and white fragility, Festa echoes a cry of anguish to close this production that cuts like a knife through the audience – severing us, for a moment, from the myth of the American dream as well.

Part of the reason that Bautista and Festa’s final reunion has such an impact is the electric sincerity of their initial love. In “Sun and Moon,” the two fall from full-throated harmony directly into a passionate embrace with a palpable chemistry.

As Saigon falls to the Communists and Kim and Chris desperately search for one another in a sequence of stunning cinematic scope, that chemistry seems to draw them inexorably together – making us believe against all reason that, yes, they will find one another.

It is in Kim’s journey which follows without Chris, however, that Bautista truly shines. Whereas the shadow of Vietnam seems to have slowly emasculated Chris after Saigon falls, for Kim, living with the consequences of those days together only makes her stronger. Her transformation from a vulnerable girl in a whirlwind romance to a steadfast mother is sensitive, nuanced, and riveting.

In the moment when Bautista pulls the trigger to prevent a man from killing her son for not being pure-blooded Vietnamese, we see a drive and iron will that is as tangible as the longing we feel in hearing her sing Miss Saigon’s signature anthem “I Still Believe.” By the time she has become a refugee in Thailand, there is not a choice she makes that does not feel deeply grounded in that drive, that love, and that longing.

The rest of the cast shines throughout. As John, J. Daughtry transforms wartime cynicism into peacetime sincerity. He pleads for the children left behind in “Bui Doi” with a simple clarion tone that stands apart from the otherwise intense and ballad-heavy score.

As Thuy, the man Kim had been promised to in her village, Jimwoo Jung is a powerful force – both in the flesh and as a ghost – with the strident moral rectitude of the post-war “re-educated” that reminds one of Les Misérables’s Javert. One imagines he would give an extraordinary turn in that role as well.

If Kim is Miss Saigon’s Fantine, Gigi is the show’s Eponine. (Les Misérables comparisons are rife and unfortunately unavoidable). Christine Bunuan gives Gigi a veneer of earthy stoicism, which buries most glimmers of hope, which is beautifully articulated in “The Movie in My Mind.” Given her performance, it’s hard not to wish Gigi’s story continued after the first few scenes.

In one of this production’s most engaging surprises, thanks to Stacie Bono’s controlled performance, Ellen, the woman Chris married in America, truly comes into her own.

Thanks to Bono’s confrontation with Bautista’s Kim in a Bangkok hotel room — and the addition of her new song “Maybe” in this revival, we see a complex portrait of a woman who can be at times harsh or vulnerable, but who is open to discovering her own capacity to love and forgive.

Whether in sharply choreographed sequences or more intentionally chaotic crowd scenes, the entire ensemble creates a dynamic world against which this deeply personal story plays out.

Bob Avian (musical staging) and Geoffrey Garratt (additional choreography) should both be applauded for one of the production’s most stunning numbers, “The Morning of the Dragon,” in which the three-year anniversary of Vietnamese unification under Ho Chi Minh is celebrated. The back flips, tumbles, and other high flying acrobatics of Daniel Gold, Noah Gouldsmith, McKinley Knuckle, and Kevin Murakami are simply stellar.

The design elements knit together coherently as well. Bruno Poet’s lighting design jumps from garish neon to narrow slivers peeking through broken wooden slats in a shanty town, all to create an atmosphere that transports us. Andreane Neofitou’s costumes do not shy from the grime of Kim’s poverty but also explode in lush opulence for The Engineer’s fantasy production number. The set, designed presumably by production designers Totie Driver and Matt Kinley, uses several of the same simple units that are almost unrecognizable scene-by-scene as the action moves across time and space.

And yes, there is a helicopter. From sound (by Mick Potter), to projections (by Luke Halls), to lighting, to moving set elements, this production handles Miss Saigon’s defining moment in a way that is surprising and riveting, leaving Wednesday night’s audience in a state of on-going rolling applause. 

The creators of the musical are also to be applauded for the work they’ve done to update the material from the original version millions have seen since 1989. I am not expert in that version, but it is clear efforts have been made to address some of the script’s most problematic elements.

Purists may be troubled by the alterations, but at least no longer is a night with a Vietnamese woman compared to the price of a Big Mac – a lyric that was unarguably degrading.

Just as the recent “South Pacific” revival was revised to examine Nellie Forbush’s received racism in a more honest way and the current “Kiss Me, Kate” revival replaces some of its period misogyny and sexism with a more complex look at power in human relationships, so too does “Miss Saigon” need these revisions for the 21st century. One could argue that it could benefit from even more.

So, yes, this production deserves a great deal of justified praise. However, the material still suffers from the very orientalism that created its predecessor opera, “Madame Butterfly.”

However noble Miss Saigon’s Kim is (and however much agency she attempts to stake for herself), she still spends most of the show suffering the consequences of decisions made by men: be it the Engineer, Chris, or Thuy. As much as one can blame the canker of self-hatred infecting the Engineer when he sings “Why was I born of a race that thinks only of rice,” destructive stereotypes still fill the show.

This production earnestly attempts to address those stereotypes when it can, but to eliminate them completely would require starting from scratch with a new musical. One could only imagine that this same material could have been written with a higher level of nuance had the writing and producing team consisted entirely, or even partly, of Asian artists back in 1989.

The cast itself features an ensemble that balances artists who are of Asian descent with those who are Latinx, African-American, and white. To produce the show without two entirely separate ensembles (one Asian, to play ensemble characters from Vietnam and Thailand, and one largely non-Asian for the American ensemble), white actors and dancers appear in the Vietnamese army after the fall of Saigon. No “complexion enhancing make up” (the polite term now for “yellowface”) is applied to these white performers for those scenes. However, make up or not, white performers in Asian roles is still considered yellowface to many. Absent exploding the cost of producing the musical by hiring an even larger cast, there may be few practical ways to address this issue.

Nonetheless, I can appreciate the discomfort that many may feel when looking at representation in casting in the production. (These and other questions recently became a flashpoint for controversy when this tour of Miss Saigon played in Madison, Wisc.)

That said, the “Miss Saigon” that exists is the “Miss Saigon” we have.

As this production begins, we see Saigon’s streets through the haze of a scrim. That hazy vision becomes a metaphor for the very nature of the musical’s storytelling. The people who wrote “Miss Saigon” could only see it through their own, perhaps biased, lens. They did their best to create a powerful evening of theater despite the limitations of their own experience. This production has clearly worked hard to mitigate those limitations.

We can embrace director Laurence Connor’s storytelling for allowing
the staging and nuanced characterizations to help us sympathize with all of the characters, even when they
are far from likeable people. We can applaud music director Will Curry’s strong
work with the orchestra and his cast to let the music soar and transport us.
And we can look to the talents of this remarkable ensemble and appreciate the
power, beauty, and heartbreak of the journey they take us on.

At the top of the second act, the production shows documentary footage of the half-Vietnamese, half-American children left behind after the war. When it is at its best, the production gives us moments like these that do not rely on the musical’s lyrics to point to the musical’s underlying story. For despite the fantasy and romance at the surface of “Miss Saigon,” it remains grounded in the harsh reality of our very recent history.

As refugees continue to cross borders to find a better life for their children, as sex trafficking continues among the most vulnerable of us, and as toxic masculinity threatens the welfare of women worldwide, that history continues today – sometimes in our own backyards. Despite its flaws, for that reason (and for the talents of the artists involved), I say that this “Miss Saigon” is a production that should be seen – and discussed for a long time to come.

The Fox Theatre in St. Louis is presenting “Miss Saigon” now through May 5. For tickets or more information, visit www.fabulousfox.com or call MetroTix at 314-534-1111.

On Saturday, April 13, fifteen metro area high school acts brought the crowd to their feet when they performed on stage at The Fabulous Fox Theatre in the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition Finals. 

Students competed for more than $40,000 in college scholarships, cash awards and special prizes. A full list of prizes and winners along with official event information can be found on the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation’s (FPACF) website. 

The distinguished panel of judges, performing arts professionals with careers spanning film, TV and Broadway, had the difficult job of judging the acts on interpretation, stage presence, technical ability, and originality.

1st place was awarded to 17-year-old singer and guitarist Joanna Serenko from Kirkwood High School who performed “Valerie.”  Joanna received an $8,000 college scholarship, which is underwritten by Ameren Corporation Charitable Trust.  2nd place and a $6,000 college scholarship went to Samanvita Kasthuri, a 16-year-old from Parkway South High School, for her original Bharatnatyam dance performance “Equal.”  K.O. Duo, 18-year-old seniors Oliver Layher (St. John Vianney) and Kryan Walton (Metro Academic & Classical High School) took the $4,000 scholarship for 3rd place for their hand-to-hand partner acrobatic performance. 

The $1,000 cash Audience Choice Award went to modern/contemporary dancers and seniors Arielle Adams, DessaRae Lampkins, Brooke Reese, and De’Jai Walker from Hazelwood Central High School.

Numerous additional special awards and prizes went to finalists and semi-finalists.  A list of all prize winners can be found at the FPACF website.  The group of 24 finalists will also have the opportunity to perform at a variety of events around the metro area.  2019 public appearances scheduled to date include the The Muny, National Dance Week, Taste of Maplewood, Gateway Grizzlies, Shakespeare Festival, and the Rising Stars Showcase.

Now in its 9th year, the professionally produced show was written and directed by Tony Parise (Broadway actor, dancer, director, choreographer and St. Louis native), with musical direction by Stephen Neale (composer, conductor, pianist), and choreographed by Yvonne Meyer Hare (Professional Dance Center).  The 2018 first place winner, Nicaya Wiley, returned to perform a contemporary dance to “Feeling Good” with a male ensemble from COCA.  

The Finals were recorded by The Nine Network for a special St. Louis Teen Talent Competition program to be aired on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 7 p.m. (with rebroadcasts on May 24 at 2 a.m. and May 26 at 11 a.m.).  This special presentation is supported by Mary Strauss and Webster University, which will provide the opportunity for a broader audience to experience the joy and magic that these aspiring artists bring to the Fox stage.

The 10th Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition at The Fabulous Fox will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2020. 

Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation fosters, promotes, and encourages young people in the St. Louis region to discover and participate in the joy and wonder of live performances.

In addition to the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition, the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation also produces a variety of other performing arts programs that focus on youth including Kids’ Night at the Fabulous Fox, Broadway Master Classes, Educational Encores, and is a producing partner of the 2nd Annual St. LouisHigh School Musical Theatre Awards.