Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown, Deanna Jent and Lew Prince suss out local theater

The Barber of SevilleOpera Theatre of Saint Louis opened its 31st season with a brilliantly subversive update of Gioacchino Rossini's most popular comic opera. Director Ken Cazan moves the tale of Figaro the scheming barber to the 1920s and turns it into a bawdy farce. Hugh Russell, Alek Shrader and Kate Lindsey as Figaro, Almaviva and Rosina lead a fine cast that pushes this opera to the postmodern edge. This self-mocking production walks a fine line between being an opera and commenting on the genre's stylized form, and has the grace to amuse us at the expense of the play without debasing Rossini's luscious melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Through June 24 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29 to $105 ($10 for kids fifteen and under; $25 vouchers available for rush seats). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.experienceopera.org. — Lew Prince

DreamgirlsWillena Vaughn gives a powerhouse performance as Effie White, an overweight R&B singer who's not sleek enough to hold her job with an up-and-coming pop trio. This saga of backbiting and betrayal in the 1960s and '70s music industry has always leaned so heavily on razzle-dazzle to camouflage its thin story line. Because this production lacks blinding production values, the slightness of the material pokes through. There are some breezy performances by the likes of J. Samuel Davis and Jahi Kearse, but it's Vaughn who makes the evening memorable. Her Act One closer, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," provides the kinds of chills from which permanent musical memories are forged. Performed through July 2 by the Black Rep at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $40 ($10 rush seats available for students, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. — Dennis Brown

The Full Monty Terrence McNally and David Yazbeck must have heard the ka-ching of future ticket sales when they decided to create this musical: a popular movie, real men doing a striptease — what could go wrong? Sadly, the book, music and lyrics are lackluster, and the overly long retelling of the story bogs down. To the company's credit, Curtain Call Repertory Theatre finds some great moments: "Big Ass Rock" is a hilarious ballad about trying to help a friend commit suicide, "Big Black Man" is sassy and fun, and the bare-it-all final number can't help but be a crowd-pleaser. Through June 11 at the Carousel House in Faust Park, 15185 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield. Tickets are $13 ($15 at the door). Call 636-346-7707 or visit www.curtaincallrep.com. — Deanna Jent

Hansel and GretelOpera Theatre of St. Louis presents a charming version of the classic fairy tale, closer in spirit to Disney than to the Brothers Grimm. The hallmark of this crisp opera is its simple, beautiful music. That said, magical effects — including a dreamy, ethereal sandman sprinkling stardust over sleeping children, fantastical animals and angels and a witch's broom that flies on its own — will amaze the young ones. Think of it as the perfect introduction to real theater for the Harry Potter generation. Through June 24 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29 to $105 ($10 for kids fifteen and under; $25 vouchers available for rush seats). Call (LP)

Jane Eyre Reviewed in this issue.

Jesus Christ Superstar This 37-year-old rock opera seems timely in this post-Da Vinci Code, post-Gospel of Judas society. New Line Theatre's minimalist approach focuses audience attention appropriately on the music, which is well-sung by the ensemble and backed up by a great band led by conductor Chris Petersen. John Sparger, Khnemu Menu-Ra and Kimi Short skillfully sing the sizzling score (the first two trading roles each weekend), but ultimately only Short is effective at sharing her character's journey with the audience. The production is also hampered by questionable choices made by director Scott Miller: Why precede a production set in the present day with vintage '60s music? Where's the betrayal kiss referred to several times? Why so many scenes where the actors turn their backs on the audience? And would Jesus really drink Bud Light? Through June 24 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $15 to $18 ($10 to $15 for children, students and seniors; $8 rush seats available for students five minutes before showtime). Call 314-773-6526 or visit www.geocities.com/newlinetheatre. (DJ)

Julius Caesar With Julius Caesar, the Shakespeare Festival does not follow the crowd of artistic "interpreters" who update elements of the Bard's work. Opting to play the play straight is all well and good, but instead of building like a rumor, this production plods like a carefully planned memo. Scene changes halt forward motion, and director Joe Discher seems to have told the actors that every single word is of equal importance. Perhaps appropriately, the timeliest topic touched on by this evening in the park is its caution regarding mob mentality. The Festival's free performances in Forest Park have attained the familiarity that accompanies all fine annual traditions. The challenge now is to find the passion and inspiration that'll keep the crowds coming back. Through June 18 on the east side of Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. For information call 314-531-9800 or visit www.sfstl.com. (DJ)

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