St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene.

Grease For the past two summers, the annual poll of Muny audiences has pegged Grease as the musical people most want to see in Forest Park. They must have meant it, because not only was Monday's opening-night performance packed, but anticipation filled the air. And kids everywhere! You'd have thought that Grease (not Peter Pan) is this summer's children's show. The large crowd was rewarded with a fast-paced, energetic staging that offers enough spirited high points to justify the audience's insistence on having a nostalgic time. Best of all: The entire evening (complete with intermission) is over in a brisk two hours and fifteen minutes. Also, this is a rare Grease in which the standout performance is delivered by the ingénue (a bland role, if ever there was one) rather than one of the more colorful John Travolta wannabes. As Sandy Dumbrowski, Shannon O'Bryan actually looks like Sandra Dee, but she sings like Brenda Lee. O'Bryan has appeared in several previous Muny shows, but she's never had the opportunity to really cut loose. She makes the most of it. Performed through July 3 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $9 to $62. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org. — Dennis Brown

Guys and Dolls Frank Loesser's paean to Broadway has lost its sense of direction. This Black Rep staging might as well be set in New Orleans as in Times Square. The classic musical about the search for the perfect crap game is at its brightest in individual performances — among them, Roz White Gonsalves' long-suffering Miss Adelaide, Sophia Stephens' plaintive Sister Sarah and singing gamblers Drummond Crenshaw and Kelvin Roston Jr. But it's J. Samuel Davis' infectiously entertaining Sky Masterson that saves the night. Every time Davis enters, he's like a Saint Bernard to the rescue. Performed through June 30 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $27.50 to $40 ($5 discount for students and seniors; $10 rush seats available for students 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org.

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The Lion King Reviewed in this issue.

A Little Night Music Even before the first note of Stephen Sondheim's lush waltz-time music is heard, as hues of turquoise and aqua light bathe the stage in cool anticipation, there's a sense that something magical is about to happen. It does. Sondheim's least-produced great musical receives a jaw-dropping, pitch-perfect production from Stages St. Louis. Directed with uncharacteristic restraint by Michael Hamilton, this witty, civilized and stylish fable about sexual follies on a smiling summer night is so elegant and sumptuous, the musical feels as if it's playing out in the center of a precious Fabergé egg. The entire cast excels, but none more so than Kari Ely. As Desiree Armfeldt, the Swedish actress who rediscovers romance when she least expects it, Ely finds the wit, irony and rue that define the evening. If you haven't seen Night Music in a while, prepare to be reminded of how thoroughly satisfying a mature musical can be. If you've never seen it, you couldn't hope for a more exquisite introduction. Through July 1 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $46 ($43 for seniors; rush seats for students and seniors $15 at the door). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.

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Snoopy!!! There's so much good will apaw in this cut-down version (60 minutes, almost to the second) of the 1977 sequel to You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown that it's hardly charitable to point out the sketch-comedy thinness of the material. Excessive exclamation points aside, for 30 years now this please-love-me musical has entertained willing audiences, and that's the case here too. The hour succeeds through its sheer professionalism and polish. If you've seen Brian Ogilvie as the uptight, viola-playing Henrik in A Little Night Music (also reviewed here), his rambunctious Snoopy becomes even more impressive. These two performances provide one actor a terrific opportunity to display his range. As Peppermint Patty, Chelsea Jo Pattison is a Charles Schulz drawing come to life. But the true heroine here is Ellen Isom. Not only did she choreograph the hour in the most easygoing and breezy manner, but she's also an ingenuous scene-stealer as Woodstock, the silent canary. Without so much as chirping a single word, Isom's very presence brightens our day. Produced by Stages St. Louis through July 1 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $16 ($14 for children). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www .stagesstlouis.org.

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