St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the St. Louis theater scene

Laughter on the 23rd Floor New Jewish Theatre has opened its comfortable new home at the Wool Studio Theatre with a delightful winner. Neil Simon's valentine to his formative years as a comedy writer on NBC's 1950s variety series Your Show of Shows is an always amusing and at times riotously funny evening of theater. Simon has been criticized for writing characters who succumb too easily to one-line jokes. But these raucous writers live for one-liners. So the play's form — which is itself an extended comedy sketch — is ideal for the story being told. Despite the restrictions imposed by a small stage, director Edward Coffield keeps his nine actors (including Gary Wayne Barker, Bob Harvey and Bobby Miller) moving at a brisk clip. As erratic TV star Max Prince (a stand-in for Sid Caesar), Alan Knoll commands the stage. By giving a star performance in a role that on paper is not the lead, Knoll makes us see why these lunatic writers would be so devoted to a walking time bomb. If only Simon had figured out how to end the play, surely Laughter would be better known. But until its dim final minutes, the show delivers a potent combo of humor and nostalgia. Through June 20 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $32 to $34 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. (DB)

A Little Night Music Opera Theatre of Saint Louis mounts a lavish hybrid version of the exquisite 1973 Stephen Sondheim-Hugh Wheeler musical about the whims and wiles of love and lust. In his directing debut, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi has sought to channel characters first created by Ingmar Bergman in his 1955 romantic comedy Smiles of a Summer Night through Shakespare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The three principal actors — Amy Irving as celebrated actress Desiree Armfeldt, Ron Raines as the object of her renewed affections and Sian Phillips as her autocratic mother — deliver stellar performances. And the 49-piece symphony orchestra transforms Sondheim's melodies into an evening of sheer bliss. Performed through June 19 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (DB)

The Me Nobody Knows Fourteen talented teenagers compose the cast of this 1970 musical based on the writings of underprivileged children in New York City. As directed by Ron Himes and choreographed by Heather Beal Himes, there's a lot of playful vitality here, juxtaposed against raw tenacity. Some of these monologues date the show to the Vietnam-era 1960s. But the themes addressed — loneliness, poverty, loss of innocence — are all too universal. The show deals with a wide swath of teen problems, but the production itself is easy to take. Performed by the Black Rep through June 27 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org. (DB)

Eugene Onegin It's an uncomplicated story: young country girl teaches the meaning of love to selfish urban sophisticate; tragically, he understands too late. Tchaikovsky's score is equally unadorned, featuring achingly beautiful melodies woven together in a sinewy tapestry. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis director Kevin Newbury, conductor David Agler and a spectacularly talented cast all bring their A game. The singing of the text is conversational. There isn't a forced or unnatural syllable. The acting, too, is spot on; Newbury's singers give performances that reflect the intimate scale of the staging. No one goes over the top, and even the most dramatic moments have the feel of everyday life. All in all, a straightforward and intimate piece of musical theater that creates a uniquely satisfying evening of art as entertainment. Through June 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org.
— Lew Prince

Hamlet Hamlet's grand themes of honor, justice and the ultimately hollow pursuit of revenge entice directors to attempt perilous flights of fancy in staging. Credit goes to Bruce Longworth for resisting temptation, opting instead for a very Elizabethan production in costume and setting, and for allowing the language to provide the fireworks. Jim Butz plays Hamlet with grace and panache, both of which go out the window when the melancholy Dane gets down to the gritty business of killing those who've wronged him. John Rensenhouse's Claudius is a well-balanced foil, as duplicitous and scheming as his nephew but for venal, rather than honorable, reasons. The real world will occasionally intrude on the play owing to the outdoor setting, but not nearly as much as you might fear. Bring the family and something to eat and make a night of it. Presented by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis nightly through June 20 (no performances on Tuesdays) on Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.shakespearefestivalstlouis.org. (PF)

The Marriage of Figaro The natural and open voices of baritone Christopher Feigum as Figaro and soprano Maria Kanyova as Susanna set the tone in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' new production of Mozart's brilliant comic opera. Despite a last-minute replacement of the orchestra's conductor, the entire cast of fine young singers provides a spirit and passion that breathes life into Mozart's luscious melodies. The traditional high points of the opera — Amanda Majeski's emotional aria as Rosina, mourning her failing marriage, and the famed duet featuring Susanna and Rosina that was featured in the film The Shawshank Redemption, do not disappoint. Performed in English through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117. Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org. (LP)

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