St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

Also Reviewed
Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy Even before the show begins, the swirling lights seek to create a fantasia not unlike the inside of a kaleidoscope. Anticipation builds for an evening of acrobatics. But as the show plays out over two hours, it never really kicks in. While this is not intended to slight the supreme abilities of the athletes onstage, there's just not much theatricality here, no sense of build or purpose. Colorful costumes and forgettable songs cannot disguise the fact that each routine is as emotionally uninvolving as the one that preceded it. There's nothing here for the viewer to invest in emotionally. If the evening has a moral, it's that slickness in and of itself is not necessarily an asset. Through March 29 at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $17 to $63. Call 314-534-1678 or visit www.fabulousfox.com. — Dennis Brown

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Reviewed in this issue.

A Shot in the Dark An inquest into "a nice juicy unsolved murder" provides the framework for this Parisian sex comedy (adapted into English in 1961 by Harry Kurnitz — and, yes, re-adapted into unrecognizability three years later as the second Inspector Clouseau Pink Panther vehicle) that delights in innuendo and double- entendre. Josefa, the minx at the center of the crime, is "a simple girl who talks too much." Talking isn't the only thing Josefa does to excess. But despite all the chatter, the consistently amusing evening breezes by, mostly thanks to Emily Strembicki's captivating and utterly convincing portrayal of a saucy serving girl men can't not fall in love with. Director Steve Callahan wisely keeps movement to a minimum and never forces the humor. As the examining magistrate, Rich Kelly makes a good foil for Strembecki's charming antics. It's almost embarrassing to acknowledge how satisfying a well-staged trifle like this can be. Performed by West End Players Guild through March 29 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. (DB)

Sonia Flew Memories of the past paralyze Sonia when, in December 2001, her son announces that he has quit college to enlist in the Marines so he can fight in Afghanistan. Act Two of this twice-told tale returns us to Castro's Cuba to relive the unspeakable events Sonia, now a Minneapolis mother, has kept locked within her for four decades. Perhaps because playwright Melinda Lopez is also an actress, she writes dialogue that rolls across the stage in waves of crashing fury. She does not, however, appreciate the thin line in drama between inevitability and predictability. Although the evening contains few surprises, there is one revelation: In the title role Kari Ely is both stunning and poignant. Produced by the New Jewish Theatre through March 29 at the Clayton High School Auditorium, 2 Mark Twain Circle, Clayton. Tickets are $28 to $30 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. (DB)

Souvenir A musical play about the pathetic career of Florence Foster Jenkins, the tone-deaf socialite who inadvertently regaled 1940s audiences with her wretched singing, sounds like an evening of limited appeal. But this is one of those shows that, like its subject, defies easy description. True, Souvenir is about a folly, yet playwright Stephen Temperley's veritable freak show is remarkable for its restraint as well as its sweet nature. Neva Rae Powers delivers a comic tour de force as the incorrigible coloratura soprano, a woman whose high notes sound as if she's imitating a pack of hounds. As her incredulous accompanist (the curiously named Cosme McMoon), Edwin Cahill is our genial interlocutor, who steers us through this bizarre testament to the staying power of an iron will. As an aside, it's worth noting that McMoon was hired only because Madame J had fired another pianist, Edwin McArthur, for laughing during one of her performances. McArthur landed on his feet: He went on to spend 23 years as musical director of the St. Louis Municipal Opera. One can hardly fault him for having laughed at the indomitable Jenkins. Anyone who sees Souvenir is sure to be laughing a lot. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 29 at the Emerson Studio in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $41 and $52. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (DB)

Sylvia A.R. Gurney's very personal tale about how the stray dog he found in Central Park factored into his midlife crisis and strained his marriage remains frisky, charming and even sexy. Paris McCarthy works her tail off as Sylvia. A mix of Lab and poodle, she is also part siren, part slut, all combined in a relentlessly robust performance that would have us believe McCarthy is training to compete in a triathlon. But what sets this staging apart from other Sylvias is director Lana Pepper's seeming awareness that despite the theatrics of the title character, Sylvia is really about the travails of Greg, the uptight WASP New Yorker who almost fatally succumbs to a "male menopausal moment." Alan Knoll is in his element as the husband, and completely natural. Susie Wall is also strong in the too-often thankless role of the jealous wife, and Larry Dell has fun in three supporting roles. Sylvia remains a delight for all canine-loving theatergoers, mostly owing to the balance of these four actors. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through March 28 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit www.straydogtheatre.org. (DB)

 
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