Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

 Cabaret The nightclub format at the Carousel House is an apt setting for Kander and Ebb's perennially popular musical about expatriates in 1930s Berlin. What a pleasure to see and hear a production in which every lyric is crystal clear without any amplification. Dennis Shelton's staging has a nice blowsy feel, and the rowdy six-piece Kit Kat Orchestra, sparked by a mean saxophone, adds to the ambiance. Doug Erwin does good work as the aging Jewish fruit vendor whose hopes for romance are dashed by the rise of the Third Reich. As Fräulein Sally Bowles, Rebecca Schene is a kewpie-doll version of Liza, and she evokes Sally's sheen of pretense in an assured, confident performance. The evening is not enhanced by adding Minnelli's movie songs, but Curtain Call probably can't be blamed for that. Performed by Curtain Call Repertory Theatre through October 2 at the Carousel House in Faust Park, 15185 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield. Tickets are $13 ($15 at the door). Call 636-346-7707. (Dennis Brown)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, set on a Mississippi Delta plantation, counts the ways of love, both pure and sullied. Williams writes with incisive humor about jealousy and greed, hate and hardness, self-destruction and survival. This streamlined adaptation emerges as a kind of chamber piece in which the actors excel -- especially Molly Schaffer's Maggie the Cat, who keeps the play moving as she cajoles, purrs, clutches and claws. For some inexplicable reason, the 1950s time frame has been updated. Although the additions of cell phones and bottled water are an unnecessary distraction, they don't do lasting damage to a production that is otherwise solid, satisfying and substantive. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 7 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $13 to $61 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925. (DB)

Crossin' Over Cancel Sunday school and choir rehearsal and bring them all to this celebration of music and faith. Ron Himes and musical director Charles Creath create a musical collage that journeys from African drumbeats to spirituals to gospel to blues. The first act chronicles the slave era with powerful images and soulful laments; the second act moves through northern migration and the civil-rights movement. The eight ensemble members deliver great solo performances, but their choral work raises the rafters. Creative staging, lights and costumes add visual appeal, but you could close your eyes and still have a wonderful time. Through September 25 at the Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard (on the campus of Washington University); September 30 through October 2 at the Orthwein Theatre (on the campus of Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School), 101 N. Warson Road, Ladue. Tickets are $25 ($10 for students) in advance, $30 ($15 for students) at the door. Call 314-534-3810. (Deanna Jent)

Hello, Dolly! Reviewed in this issue.

I'm Not Rappaport Herb Gardner's riff on Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys is about as conventional as a play striving for eccentricity can be. Two forgotten old men -- one Jewish (Jerry Russo), one black (Norman McGowen) -- sit on a New York City park bench and tell lies to each other. So far, so good. It's when they try to "matter" by helping out a troubled young girl that the thinness of Gardner's material is exposed. But thanks to Linda Kennedy's staging, which takes full advantage of a tiny stage and instills a lovely sense of life on the production, the evening is amiable enough. McGowen's performance is especially authentic, so much so that the show only bogs down when he decides to take a long nap on the bench. Performed by the New Jewish Theater through October 2 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $20 to $22 ($2 off for JCC members). Call 314-442-3283. (DB)

The Servant of Two Masters Reviewed in this issue.

Valhalla As mad King Ludwig, who spent much of his nineteenth-century life building extravagant castles and going to the opera, Terry Meddows deftly turns a role that might have drowned under the weight of one-line gags into a sweetly empathetic character. If Valhalla were only about Ludwig, it might pass as a strange, quirky, extended vaudeville sketch -- especially when Meddows is cavorting with the always amusing Gary Wayne Barker and the delightful Rory Lipede. But in celebrating the joys of being gay, author Paul Rudnick tells two stories, so we also learn about hellion James Avery (Andy Neiman, intensely effective) in Texas. By evening's manic end the juxtaposition of these two plots seems more contrived than complementary. Performed by HotCity Theatre through October 1 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $18 to $23. Call 314-482-9125. (DB)

 
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