Capsule Reviews

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

 1776 Reviewed in this issue.

Aida Exciting performances by Broadway veterans Simone, Will Chase, Lisa Brescia, Jeb Brown and Ken Page power this Elton John/Tim Rice musical from start to stop. As Princess Amneris (a foremother of Glinda from Wicked), Brescia leads the audience through this "story of love that flourished in a time of hate." Her transformation from bubble-headed fashion maven to conscientious leader of her people is compelling. Simone and Chase are heartbreaking as the doomed lovers Aida and Radames, while Brown and Page play their fathers with strength and passion. Adeptly directed by Matt Lenz, the robust ensemble moves easily from Nubian slave camp to Egyptian palace, aided by excellent set, lighting and costume design and Andrew Graham's precise musical direction. Through July 2 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets cost $8 to $60. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.
— Deanna Jent

Cabaret In the misguided hands of Stages St. Louis, Kander and Ebb's dark 1966 musical about life in the underbelly of Berlin at the dawn of Hitlerism plays out as seriously as the "Springtime for Hitler" number in The Producers. This wildly overproduced exercise in slam-bam escapism is loud and brassy, but it ignores the cynicism that is the musical's reason for being. As the Kit Kat Klub's creepy Master of Ceremonies, the talented David Elder puts on a flashy show, but where is the menace? Clearly director Michael Hamilton is out of his depth here. But so long as Stages insists on using the same director for every production — a policy that is antithetical to creative collaboration — the company will continue to produce hit-and-miss vanity theater. This outing is a definite miss. Through July 2 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $45 ($42 for seniors; rush seats for students and seniors $15 at the door). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www .stagesstlouis.org.
— Dennis Brown

Hey, life is a Cabaret!
Hey, life is a Cabaret!
Dream a little dream of Dreamgirls.
Dream a little dream of Dreamgirls.
The Phantom haunts the Fox Theatre.
The Phantom haunts the Fox Theatre.

Dreamgirls Willena 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.
(DB)

Medea Reviewed in this issue.

Menopause The Musical This sassy musical revue parodies songs of the '60s and '70s, focusing on issues of aging and hormone imbalance (to give you an idea: A disco medley includes "Night Sweating" and "Stayin' Awake"). Sandra Benton is a powerhouse singer whose Tina Turner brings down the house. Brooke Davis scores with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and Lee Anne Mathews delivers a sultry "Tropical Hot Flash," while Rosemary Watts has fun with the raciest number, a tribute to self-love. The only problem with music director Joe Dreyer's slick 90 minutes is that it's too loud. 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 $44.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www .playhouseatwestport.com.
(DJ)

Phantom of the Opera From Leroux's 1920 novel to a 1940s movie (starring Nelson Eddy as the Phantom!) to a 1980s Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (turned into a movie in 2004), the story of the masked Phantom and his love for Christine lingers on. Multiple tours of the tuneful Webber version have graced the Fox Theatre stage, but this Phantom seems to have hit a middle-age slump. Slow pacing and lackluster energy make the production drag, while low lighting levels render many scenes difficult to see. Marie Danvers sings Christine's part well but doesn't have much chemistry with the dark Phantom (John Cudie) or good guy Raoul (Adam Monley). The legendary fall of the chandelier is so slow and boring it nearly evokes laughter. Through July 1 at the Fox Theatre, the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $20 to $70. Call 314-534-1111 or visit www.fabulousfox.com.
(DJ)

 
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