Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

 Angels in America Stray Dog Theatre serves up Tony Kushner's dense Pulitzer Prize-winning play as a three-and-a-half-hour smorgasbord that entwines three stories of mid-'80s angst. Louis and Prior are a gay couple dealing with Prior's AIDS diagnosis. Joe and Harper are a Mormon couple struggling with Joe's closeted homosexuality and Harper's Valium addiction. Then there's the historical character Roy Cohn, an infamous lawyer who died from AIDS in 1986 even as he steadfastly denied his homosexuality. Add in some imaginary friends, a drag queen, a Mormon mom (and did we mention an Angel?). It's pretty complex and wordy, and director Gary Bell's indulgent pacing sometimes slows instead of sharpens the story. Excellent acting from William Ledbetter and Bradley Calise (as Louis and Prior, respectively) lifts the production above its philosophical concerns. Through June 27 at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard. Call 314-531-5923. (Deanna Jent)

Carmen Jennifer Dudley brings solid acting skills and impressive castanet technique to her portrayal of the tragic libertine in a low-key and naturalistic interpretation that relies more on the beauty of Georges Bizet's melodies than on the sheer vocal power normally associated with opera. Opera Theatre of St. Louis' staging of this sexy and satisfying version of this nineteenth-century masterpiece is brisk and sure-handed. The ensemble singing is wonderful. The orchestra is lush. There is much splendid cleavage. And it's all done in English. Two remaining performances: Wednesday, June 24, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 26, at 1 p.m. at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-961-0644. (Lew Prince)

Cavalleria Rusticana and Sister Angelica It's diva night at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, featuring Lisa Daltirus as Mascagni's jilted lover and Kelly Kaduce as Puccini's tormented nun. Both turn in bravura performances in this pair of one-act operas. There's lust, betrayal, tragedy and redemption galore as the two sopranos pull out all the stops and conductor Steven Lord leads OTSL's fine orchestra in a pair of topnotch productions. Bring plenty of Kleenex. Performed (of course) in English. Two remaining performances: Wednesday, June 23, at 1 p.m. and Sunday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-961-0644. (Lew Prince)

Meet Me in St. Louis Reviewed in this issue.

Nixon in China Reviewed in this issue.

Raisin Whenever she opens her mouth to sing, Sandra Reaves-Phillips is a towering presence. Her performance as a weary black matriarch determined to provide her fragmented family with a better life spearheads a uniformly strong cast in this 1974 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's seminal American drama A Raisin in the Sun. In order to make way for the songs, the text of that important play has been reduced to a Reader's Digest "best parts" version. But there are soaring musical moments that transport an audience to a realm beyond speech. At its best, this Raisin is musical theater taken to the ultimate. Performed by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company through June 26 at the Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-3810. (Dennis Brown)

Reefer Madness Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney's musical homage to the 1936 movie portrays the horrifying effects of marijuana: cannibalism, sluttiness, bad manners and more. Good music and sly lyrics are the highlights of the New Line Theatre's mostly hilarious telling of this cautionary tale; director Scott Miller uses the wide stage effectively but the pacing during dialogue doesn't match the crisp energy of the songs. Robin Berger's choreography is snappy, groan-inducing rhymes abound and the smoke smells authentic. Strong performances add to the over-the-top delight; but the highlight of each act is a guest appearance by Jesus (Jeff Pruett, in a perfectly awful wig and beard), backed by a chorus of singing -- and cross-dressing -- nuns. Through June 26 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1527 Washington. Call 314-534-1111. (Deanna Jent)

The Secret Marriage A talented cast romps through a delightful evening of humor and music in this rarely performed eighteenth-century romantic farce by Domenico Cimarosa, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' annual comic offering. Under the direction of Colin Graham, the cast (including Webster Groves native and OTSL favorite Phyllis Pancella) and a crack crew of Saint Louis Symphony musicians make the most of Cimarosa's infectious tunes and pretty harmonies. Graham's snappy editing sharpens the comedy and removes all excess. One remaining performance: Friday, June 25, at 8 p.m. at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-961-0644. (Lew Prince)

The Wizard of Oz This weekend offers a Judy Garland bonanza: In addition to the Gateway Men's Chorus' tribute to Judy at the Edison Theatre and Meet Me in St. Louis in Forest Park, DramaRama is staging a 90-minute version of the L. Frank Baum story that distills the plot while retaining the 1939 MGM movie's memorable songs. As you might expect from a children's theater offering, the production is light on spectacle; gone are the twister, the flying monkeys and even Toto. The show's intermittent pleasures include Madeline Bertani's fetching Dorothy, Donna Weinsting's delightfully vile Wicked Witch of the West and Jesse Lawder's able Scarecrow. There are often lots of kids onstage, which seemed to please the kids in the audience no end. Presented by DramaRama Theatre Company through June 27 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street. Call 314-605-7788. (Dennis Brown)

 
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