St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene

Ongoing
Last of the Red Hot Mamas The notably uneventful rags-to-riches journey of brassy entertainer Sophie Tucker is told through songs piled upon songs that recall the early-twentieth-century eras of ragtime, vaudeville and jazz. Three actresses portray Tucker at various stages in her life: Christy Simmons is our anchor and narrator; Phoebe Raileanu handles the early years; Johanna Elkana-Hale tackles Tucker as she's hitting her stride. The show has a relentless desire to be loved, and the thin plot is sometimes maudlin. But an onslaught of proven songs like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart," "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "There'll Be Some Changes Made," "Shine on Harvest Moon," "Hard Hearted Hannah" and "Darktown Strutters Ball" — all slickly staged by director-choreographer Tony Parise — provide tuneful nostalgia for an era when melodies could still be hummed and lyrics rolled off the tongue as smoothly as glass marbles. Produced by New Jewish Theatre through December 26 at the Wool Studio Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $36 to $40 ($2 discount for seniors and JCC members). Call 314-442-3283 or visit www .newjewishtheatre.org. — Dennis Brown

Over the Tavern You can always rely on a humorless nun to elicit a few laughs. When Darrie Lawrence's ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa is onstage, Tom Dudzick's rose-colored reverie about life in a dysfunctional 1950s bartending Buffalo family is wryly engaging. Lawrence is a consummate actress who personifies a theater credo the playwright never learned: Less is more. Dudzick never met a joke he didn't like, and they're all crammed into these two acts. In between gags, Celeste Ciulla delivers a standout portrayal as the bewildered, exhausted yet valiant mother. Just as this mother holds her crumbling family together, so does this actress hold the production together. Ciulla's understated contribution to the evening's palatability is heroic. The provocative set design by Paul Shortt provides a view of rooftop TV antennas competing for space with crosses on a nearby church steeple — which is a more nuanced concept than anything posited by Dudzick's verbose script. Performed by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through December 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $15 to $70. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (DB)

 
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