Who's Counting

One night in St. Louis theater.

Last Saturday night Munygoers saw The Pajama Game by the light of a full moon. At Act Inc.'s Enchanted April a misfiring fog machine made the morning haze over an Italian villa seem even more enchanted than the lighting designer had intended. Early on in the Orange Girls' An American Daughter, in a scene reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's formal gala in Roman Holiday, an actress lost her shoe under a sofa, and it could not be retrieved until intermission.

These are some of the snapshots that help to provide a view of the St. Louis theater scene, as seen through the prism of a single night — last Saturday night, July 28 — an evening that offered theatergoers a choice of nine shows. Those options extended from a professional touring extravaganza (The Lion King at the Fox) to an escapist mystery (Agatha Christie's The Hollow at the Clayton Community Theatre). For those seeking substance, St. Louis Shakespeare staged Othello. Did you prefer something more au courant? Say You Love Satan at HotCity is only two years old. If cost was a factor, tickets ranged from a top of $75 (Lion King) to a low of $9 (Pajama Game) in the upper terrace at the Muny.

More figures: One hundred sixty-six local actors and musicians were actively engaged in putting on these plays. That total excludes the touring Lion King ensemble, nor does it include all the hard-working stage managers and technicians who ran lighting and sound boards. It excludes the dressers and seamstresses at the larger theaters, and the box-office managers and ushers. It excludes those who manned the concession counters. It takes a lot of devoted people to make nine shows happen, especially when those nine shows are attended — as they were Saturday night — by a collective audience that numbered approximately 10,688.

Let's scan that unique yet not untypical Saturday night and try to get a sense of the variety that is theater in St. Louis.

7:35 p.m. The evening officially kicks off at West Port Plaza as the hooded six-member ensemble of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change takes to the stage to begin an evening of rambunctious music and sketch comedy for hopeful heterosexuals.

8:05 p.m. In a theatrical approximation of the Oklahoma land rush, we're off and running. In Kirkwood, Stages St. Louis' The Full Monty sneaks a one-minute jump by beginning Jack Lane's taped pre-show announcement at 8:04. But Enchanted April, The Hollow, The Lion King and Othello all begin at 8:05. An American Daughter and Say You Love Satan both have pre-show announcements (one live, one taped). By the time the lights come up on those two plays at 8:07, The Lion King's animal parade is already drawing to a close, and in one of the evening's most magical moments, the great elephant is lumbering from the aisle up onto the Fox Theatre stage.

8:15 p.m. In Forest Park the evening's final show, The Pajama Game, is about to begin. As the Muny audience stands to sing the national anthem, in Say You Love Satan Andrew (Ben Nordstrom) and Jack (Tyler Vickers) are doing drugs in the men's room at a gay bar. Even as Andrew is feeling the pleasures of his unexpected erection, Othello (Alfonso Freeman) admonishes the Venetians to "Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them."

Meanwhile, in An American Daughter, Monica Parks, who portrays a close friend of Dr. Lyssa Hughes (Mary Schnitzler), who has just been nominated by the president as surgeon general, kicks off her shoes to stretch out on the sofa. But at scene's end, only one shoe can be found. (The other has wedged itself under the couch.)

8:30 p.m. Late in Act One of I Love You..., Alan Knoll is midway through a hilarious spoof of Scared Straight! in which he plays a convict who intimidates two strangers into wedlock: "You're all waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right, ain't you? Well, I have got news for you. They ain't comin!!!" At An American Daughter the technicians in the light booth are scanning the stage for Parks' missing shoe.

8:35 p.m. Babe Williams (Kate Baldwin) protests "I'm Not At All in Love" in The Pajama Game. The caddish Dr. John Cristow (Andy Akester) steals an illicit kiss from a married woman in The Hollow. Intermission (the evening's first) begins at I Love You...

...and at An American Daughter, the missing shoe is spotted.

But how to retrieve it?

8:50 p.m. Sid Sorokin (Will Chase) begins to sing The Pajama Game's classic ballad "Hey There," intermission begins at both Enchanted April and Say You Love Satan, and Act Two begins at I Love You... Backstage at An American Daughter, the props person, Maria Straub, removes her own black shoes and hands them to Monica Parks so that she does not have to enter the next scene barefoot.

8:59 p.m. "He who steals my purse steals trash," Iago implores Othello. "But he that filches from me my good name...." By the time Myron Freedman finishes that speech at the Grandel, out at COCA in An American Daughter the news breaks that Dr. Lyssa Hughes once ducked out of jury duty. Thus begins the wholesale destruction of Hughes' good name.

9:05 p.m. Act Two begins for Enchanted April and Say You Love Satan, the wildebeest stampede thrills viewers of The Lion King and the ne'er-do-well Dr. John is shot dead in The Hollow. (And good riddance.)

9:10 p.m. The fog machine backstage at Enchanted April accidentally goes off, covering the set of an Italian palazzo with unexpected mist. When the lights come up on the next scene, the castle seems to be covered in soft morning haze. During intermission at The Hollow, 76 of the 95 audience members participate in a contest to take a stab at who killed Dr. John. Thirteen viewers will guess correctly that the murderer was the good doctor's wife, and one of those thirteen will win complimentary tickets for next season.

9:38 p.m. As Say You Love Satan begins its curtain call, The Lion King embarks on Act Two.

9:52 p.m. While three gallant dancers duplicate Bob Fosse's famed "Steam Heat" choreography in The Pajama Game, the I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change cast takes its bows.

10:18 p.m. Cast members conclude their bows and the lights come down on Enchanted April, while Othello, who's about to smother his beloved Desdemona, persuades himself to "Put out the light, and then put out the light."

10:30 p.m. Pajama factory workers sing about the hoped-for benefits of their threatened strike ("7-1/2 Cents"). At the ArtLoft another kind of strike is under way. The final performance of Say You Love Satan ended less than an hour ago, and the sets and lights are coming down.

10:35 p.m. During the next two minutes, Othello, An American Daughter and The Lion King will all end. At all three curtain calls, everyone will be wearing the proper shoes.

10:41 p.m. Curtain call for The Pajama Game, followed one minute later by The Hollow.

10:45 p.m. The Full Monty is the only game in town. The much-anticipated striptease begins ("Gentlemen, we only live once") and continues until lights blind the audience's eyes to the misadventures onstage.

10:54 p.m. The Full Monty curtain call is over, and the night is done.

One show has closed. Four more (An American Daughter, The Hollow, Othello, The Pajama Game) will have their final performances the next day. The Lion King will move on to Cleveland. Three shows (Enchanted April, The Full Monty and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) will do it all over again this weekend.

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