Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Blithe Spirit It's almost worth sitting through the tiresome three acts of this occasionally funny production just to see the pure theatrical magic of the set self-destructing at the end. Almost, but not quite. The wit seems weak in this Noel Coward classic, in which the ghost of a man's first wife is accidentally conjured up and wreaks havoc on his current marriage. Director James Saba moves the actors awkwardly around Diane Bibee's grandly constructed drawing room but doesn't manage to get any more than one level of emotion from most of them. Only Kim Horner as the daffy maid Edith finds the right blend of realism and humor; others get mired in Coward's verbose dialogue. Presented by the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University through April 10 at Stage III in Webster Hall, 470 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. Tickets $3.50-$8. Call 314-968-7128. (Deanna Jent)

Crowns Take a bunch of stories about "black women in church hats," add music and dance (and eye-popping hats), and you've got the recipe for a visually sumptuous but dramatically thin production. Like many of the larger, overly feathered hats, the play is in dire need of trimming. It devolves into a kind of Chicken Soup for the Hat-Lover's Soul, one story following another with no clear end in sight. The musical numbers are the strongest element; the fine choreography by Mercedes Ellington ranges from tribal dances to hip-hop and is performed with verve by the talented cast. But with a few exceptions, most of the stories seem rushed, almost as if director Pamela Hunt told the actors, "This show runs an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission -- go faster!" Only Denise M. Thimes and Chaundra Cameron manage to find the core of their characters and connect with the audience. Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through April 15 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets $12-$58 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925. (DJ)

Defending the Caveman A sitcom-mentality stage play “experience” without the pesky problems of character relationships or plot. As a play, it’s pretty good stand-up comedy -- especially for married couples who embody stereotypic gender roles. The solo character is a married guy trying to defend men from disdain. “It’s not that guys are assholes,” he explains. “They just come from a different culture.” Creator Rob Becker romanticizes cavefolk as a model society: They respected and honored gender differences. Nobody called the cavewoman a bitch, nobody called the caveman an asshole (perhaps because language hadn’t yet been invented?). Unfortunately the material doesn’t really build. Cody Lyman (from Chicago’s Second City) plays the Caveman. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $35-$39.50. Call 314-469-7529. (DJ)

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de LuneReviewed in this issue.

Honk If you need reassuring that it's okay to be different, you might be able to tolerate this slow-moving musical version of The Ugly Duckling. There's lots of cute kids playing everything from frogs to ducklings, but the plodding vanilla pop music tries too hard to be Disney and the humor never quite works. Jesse Lawder is endearing as the Ugly Duckling, and Michele Burdette Elmore handles with good-natured fortitude the overly sentimental moments as his angst-ridden mother. Doug Shelton scores some funny moments as a wisecracking frog, and Erika Diefenbacher is beautiful as the swan love-interest Penny. If director Nicole Trueman had found a few stronger adult male singers and a way to make the transitions less tedious, it would be easier to toot a horn about this production. Presented by DramaRama Theatre Company through April 10 in the Freeman Theatre on the campus of Mary Institute and Country Day School, 101 North Warson Road, Ladue. Tickets $7 ($5 for children). Call 314-605-7788. (DJ)

Into the Woods The emphasis is on clarity in this entertaining student production. The Washington University cast scours the book of the ironic Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine fairy-tale musical not simply for laughs, but for plot points -- and nails many of them. The sound design keeps the orchestra in perfect balance with the voices, enabling performers like Kameron Averitt to sing tricky songs like "On the Steps of the Palace" with an insistence that the viewer savor every lyric. The production's a visual knockout as well: rich costumes, a moody yet witty set, lighting that seems to have filtered down through thick branches and movement that keeps the evening constantly flowing. Performed by the Washington University Performing Arts department through April 10 at the Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard, University City. Tickets are $12 ($8 students and seniors). Call 314-935-6543. (Dennis Brown)

Lobby Hero Once the script gets the exposition of the way and the story kicks in, Kenneth Lonergan's depiction of loneliness and fidelity crackles with sharp dialogue. Set during the wee hours in the lobby of an upscale Manhattan high-rise apartment, the quirky comedy-drama chronicles the conundrums of four disenfranchised loners who are being squeezed in vises of their own making. As a rookie cop out of her depth, Tarah Flanagan's riveting portrayal reveals complexities her simple-minded character doesn't even know she has. Performed by the Studio Theatre of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through April 10 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29-$44 ($8 rush tickets available for students, $10 for seniors, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925. (DB)

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