St. Louis Stage Capsules

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

Newly Reviewed

Bye Bye Birdie The Muny closes out its current season with the 1960 musical lark that lampoons America's fixation on all things Elvis. The plot concerns Presley stand-in Conrad Birdie being drafted into the army. (In fact, Elvis completed his military service one month before Bye Bye Birdie debuted on Broadway.) These many decades later, the military draft is a thing of the past, and many of the show's once-topical references have been diminished by time. But the evening's cheerful ambiance continues to provide innocuous fun. Songs like "Put on a Happy Face" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do" remain tuneful. Although both numbers are staged here with brio and energy, the production as a whole is erratic. Among the principals, Andrea Burns as Rosie, the put-upon secretary in Conrad's management agency, seems to be a singer (and a good one) trapped in a role conceived for a dancer, but she's game and puts on a brave face. As Conrad Birdie's harried manager, Lara Teeter delivers a portrayal of bewildering inconsistency. When Teeter plays it straight in Act Two songs such as "Baby, Talk to Me" and "Rosie," he exudes an appealing simplicity. But when he's scurrying around the stage like the Mad Hatter, trying to be funny and failing, his antics are an unhappy mistake. It's then left to Lewis J. Stadlen as a perplexed father whose home is invaded by Conrad-mania to neatly slip the show into his bathrobe pocket through a bevy of comic conjurings that Stadlen exercises with the ease of a veteran magician caressing a baby bunny. Through August 14 at the Muny in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $10 to $68. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org. — Dennis Brown

Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical For a musical based on a porn flick, Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical is neither very musical nor very porny. Of the half-dozen or so songs in the show, only two — "I Wanna Do Debbie" and "God Must Love a Fool" — are noteworthy, and all sexual acts are simulated (while fully clothed, at that). At times it's a half-baked morality play, then it becomes an underwritten musical about the price of dreams, and for long stretches, it's a funny parody of the conventions of '70s porn. Good girl/naif Debbie Benton (Macia Noorman) tries to maintain her virginity while working to bankroll a trip to Dallas for a cheerleader tryout. Her rival is boyfriend-stealing bad girl Lisa (Rachel Hanks), who will do anything (with anyone) in order to stymie Debbie's dream. Director Robert A. Mitchell and cast are most at home with the comedic element, milking maximum laughs out of stiff acting and nonsensical scenes. The girls are always moments away from an orgy, their boyfriends (Chris Ayala, Reginald Pierre and Tom Lehman) are hard-ons in football pads and everybody is exceptionally dimwitted. Lehman and Pierre are excellent in multiple iterations of the horny boss-cum-sexual predator, with Pierre bringing down the house as a submissive librarian and a meek shop owner. Presented by NonProphet Theater Company through August 20 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are $15 to $20. Call 636-236-4831 or visit www.nptco.org.

 — Paul Friswold

Restoration Edward Bond's rallying cry for the working class to rise up against the ruling elite is handled like a loaded gun by director Milt Zoth: with careful consideration and immense respect for its lethality. Bob Hedges (Luke Lindberg) is footman for the despicably vacuous Lord Are (Michael Brightman), an 18th-century dandy who has been railroaded by impending poverty into marrying a merchant's daughter, Rose Hardache (Nicole Angeli). Brightman's Lord Are is ghastly in his ridiculous wig and over-powdered face, a bloodless parody of a man who drops bons mots with unfettered spite for all those lesser than he — which is to say, everyone. Angeli plays his wife as a grasping, entitled shrew, one who somehow engenders laughs even as Are mistakenly kills her one morning. Are quickly pins the murder on Bob, who willingly accepts the blame because he believes it's the best thing he can do for the sake of society. Lindberg is fantastic as the decent and gullible Bob, his plight a metaphor for the downtrodden who are ground up to keep rich men rich. But his performance is always human and naggingly troubling: Why does he play such an active part in his own condemnation, even as his wife, Rose (Delisa Richardson), fights for his life? Scenes are broken up by poetic monologues on the hardships facing society's lowest classes; Richardson delivers the most terrifying and affecting of these late in the show, an extended paean to the enduring power of the masses. This rarely produced gem is well worth the price of admission. Presented by St. Louis Shakespeare through August 14 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors). Call 314-361-5664 or visit www.stlshakespeare.org. (PF)

She Loves Me Reviewed in this issue.

Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story As I watched this chamber musical about the 1924 murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks at the calculating hands of teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, I kept thinking of that moment in The Producers when Max Bialystock is searching for the worst musical ever written. If Max had read Thrill Me, perhaps there would have been no Springtime for Hitler. Since its first staging in 2003, Thrill Me has enjoyed lots of productions, most of them small and intimate like this one, which was transplanted from Western Illinois University, where it was first directed by Brooke Edwards with this same two-man cast: James Bleecker as the conniving Nathan Leopold, Blake Berry Davy as the narcissistic Richard Loeb. I'm not quite sure how music enhances their gloomy chronicle, though certainly the score by Stephen Dolginoff (played at the piano with intensity by Henry Palkes) succeeds in evoking a neo-Gothic pall. For decades, we have been led to believe that the killers' motive was the rather abstract desire to commit a perfect crime. In Thrill Me, the murder is the result of more direct desires. Presumably there's room for everything in the theater. Perhaps the evening's biggest unsolved mystery is why Max & Louie Productions, whose catchphrase is "Bringing laughter to the stage with every production," should want to muddle its identity by presenting this humorless exercise in singing and groping. Through August 14 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $30 ($25 for students and seniors). Call 314-795-8778 or visit www.maxandlouie.com. (DB)

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