St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown, Paul Friswold and Lew Prince suss out the local theater scene

High Fidelity Scott Miller's New Line Theatre staging of the failed Broadway musical by Tom Kitt, Amanda Green and David Lindsay-Abaire salvages most of the charm of Nick Hornby's novel with excellent performances and a careful refocusing of the action on protagonist Rob's emotional growth. Jeffrey M. Wright breathes a rumpled, resentful life into Rob, which later gives way to a generosity that is believable and satisfying. Sadly, Hornby's latent sexism still results in underwritten women: Kimi Short's Laura is a one-note moper. Snarky record clerk Barry (Zachary Allen Farmer), however, is a delightful prick of a character, rude and lovable and always funny. The music is sharp and clever, and the New Line Band performs it all quite rockingly. Through July 5 at Washington University's A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard (in the Mallinckrodt Student Center), University City. Tickets are $15 to $18 ($10 to $15 for children, students and seniors; $8 rush seats available for students five minutes before showtime). Visit www.newlinetheatre.com or call 314-773-6526. — Paul Friswold

High School Musical Why fight a whirlwind? For the past few years, this simplistic musical loosely structured around a Romeo and Juliet theme has been Disney's most improbable cash cow. So who could fault the Muny for putting theater on hold for ten nights and succumbing to good old American commerce? In the words of that sage philosopher Max Bialystock, "I want that money!" The appealing actors onstage are merely an excuse for selling HSM T-shirts and baseball caps, just as actors in television shows are really there to sell Viagra and Aflac. There's actually a lot of talent here. Especially impressive is the ease with which Gretchen Bieber holds the stage as the egoistic Sharpay. If she's lucky, she and the rest of her peers will go on to be in real musicals. How weak does a show have to be not to get a standing ovation at the Muny? You have till next Wednesday night to find out. Through July 2 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $9 to $64. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org. — Dennis Brown

Madame Butterfly Soprano Kelly Kaduce soars in her finely honed, fully formed portrayal of Cio-Cio-San, the tragic heroine of Puccini's most popular opera. Kaduce, and tenor David Pomeroy as her faithless husband, make the story of innocence and betrayal moving and believable. Spectacular work from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and a talented supporting cast make this elegantly conceived, richly detailed production a must-see. Through June 28 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $110. Visit www.opera-stl.org or call 314-961-0644. — Lew Prince

Morning's at Seven Watching the maneuverings of the various members of the often-eccentric Gibbs family is as much fun as a bumper car ride at the state fair. Everyone's needs and desires are in a constant state of collision with everyone else's. Yet the plot is so well designed, the story is always crystal clear and never dull. At the same time, the characters are so beguiling that viewers might overlook the script's seditious nature. This textured tale of love, domination and jealousy is constantly pricking at the fabric of sacred institutions like marriage and family. If you've not yet had the pleasure of meeting the four Gibbs sisters, this is your moment. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through June 28 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Visit www.straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.(DB)

The Romantic Age and Ladyhouse Blues Reviewed in this issue.

Sarafina Mbongeni Ngema's raucous, high-energy musical about South African students standing up against apartheid in mid-'70s Soweto gets a thorough workout courtesy of a young and enthusiastic cast. Director Ron Himes and choreographer Keith Tyrone have paced the show so that even when the story falters there's more than enough action to keep your attention. Add a crack band and a luminous performance by Sharisa Whatley as Sarafina and you have one of the most exhilarating evenings to be experienced anywhere in St. Louis. Presented by the Black Rep through June 29 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43 ($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. (PF)

The Tales of Hoffmann One of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' great strengths is its willingness to take risks. OTSL's quirky staging of this Jacques Offenbach favorite takes E.T.A. Hoffmann's macabre visions to their surrealist limits. Soprano Ailyn Pérez and bass Kirk Eichelberger take on four roles apiece, and both are spectacular. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder indeed. Through June 28 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $110. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

Troilus and Cressida Reviewed in this issue.

 
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