Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

The Fantasticks

The Fantasticks Celebrate sensation. It makes no difference how many times youve seen this perennial favorite, there are new sensations to experience in this mounting by Florissant Valley Theatre of the Deaf. Double-casting the Girl, the Boy, their two fathers and the old Actor -- one actor performs the role vocally while the other signs the part -- makes the familiar fresh. In some sequences, like the Rape Ballet, theres twice as much fun as usual. As the Old Actor who signs, the mime-like Mark Edghill is especially amusing. Charlie Robin (moonlighting from his day job as managing director of the Edison Theatre) signs and robustly sings the role of the Narrator. Anyone who was thrilled by the Deaf West production of Big River at the Fox last spring should find similar, if simpler, resonances here. Performed through October 1 by Florissant Valley Theatre of the Deaf in conjunction with St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley at the Terry Fischer Theatre, 3400 Pershall Road, Ferguson. Tickets are free. Call 314-513-4488. (Dennis Brown)

Helens Necklace A new theater company debuts with the U.S. premiere of a new play. This 80-minute, intermissionless drama by French-Canadian author Carole Frechette concerns Helen (Jane Paradise), a well-intentioned innocent who is visiting an unnamed city in the Middle East. When she loses a small pearl necklace, her search for the lost bauble becomes an emotional journey in which she encounters those who have endured losses far greater than hers. The live music performed onstage by Farshid Soltanshahi provides a haunting counterpoint to the plays sorrow, which is best personified in a moving portrayal by Ayse Eren as a lost soul compelled to live through days of darkness in a sun-bleached land. As directed by Philip Boehm, the monologue-like script packs an emotional punch -- though by evenings end its message, We cannot go on living like this, becomes a tad didactic. Performed by Upstream Theater through October 2 at New City School, 5209 Waterman Boulevard. Tickets are $18 ($12 for students and seniors). Call 314-863-4999 or 314-863-0570. (DB)

Hello Dolly If the play were titled Hello Cornelius, all would be well in this Stages St. Louis production. David Schmittou is delightful as Cornelius Hackl, the bumbling but sweet clerk out for an adventure in New York. He connects musically and romantically with Kate Dawson as Irene Molloy, whose beautiful voice soars on "Ribbons Down My Back." Their sidekicks, played by Patrick Garrigan and Melissa Bohon, are energetic and engaging. The dancing waiters are dazzling, Lou Bird's costumes are gorgeous (if overdone), and Zoe Vonder Haar delivers a likable, if not spectacular, Dolly. Director Michael Hamilton makes some careless staging and accent choices that mar an otherwise pleasant production. Through October 9 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $20 to $42 ($10 rush seats for students and seniors). Call 314-821-2407. (Deanna Jent)

Into the Woods Last spring three local universities mounted intriguingly different versions of this Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine deconstruction of fairy tales. Now audiences who are willing to go over the river to get to the Woods will be rewarded with a clean, consistently enjoyable community-theater staging that successfully meshes music and voice. The onstage eight-piece orchestra, especially the charming piccolo work by Becky Shaw, is integral to the evenings success. So too is the bright cast. As the two princes, the twin-like Shawn Neace and Kevin Wiece are pompously foolish buffoons. Don Loucks Narrator brings an Our Town stage-manager approach to the evening, which is appealing throughout. Performed by the Alton Little Theater through October 2 at the Alton Little Theater, 2450 North Henry Street, Alton, Illinois. Tickets are $17 ($8 for students). Call 618-462-6562. (DB)

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Cute local kids in pastel rainbow shirts, buff-bodied dancers, and a smorgasbord of Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber songs -- how could you go wrong? You could try undermining the production with generally weak acting and unnecessary touches like giving Jacob a cell phone, but who comes for the story anyway? Topnotch dancing (thanks to choreographer Arlene Phillips), nice vocal work by Amy Adams as the Narrator and Patrick Cassidys six-pack abs make for a pretty package deal. Standouts include Matthew LaBanca as Simeon, Louise Madison as the steamy dancer in Those Canaan Days and Melissa Hurley Cassidy as the sexpot Mrs. Potiphar. Through October 2 at the Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $20 to $58. Phone 314-534-1111. (DJ)

Take Me Out Yep, there's a shower scene -- six naked guys with soap and water -- but Richard Greenberg's award-winning play is more than an excuse to ogle attractive men. Take Me Out is ultimately about the failure of language and the elusive nature of identity, but this philosophical discourse is delivered by such interesting characters that it rarely seems like a lesson. Philip Anthony-Rodriguez anchors the show as Darren Lemming, the all-star baseball player whose announcement that he's gay sends his team into a tailspin. Nat DeWolf, as Darren's financial advisor, plays a stereotype that somehow becomes genuine. The second act goes into overtime as Greenberg ties all his loose ends together, but the slick Off-Ramp production, the first in the Rep's new series of cutting-edge plays, is ultimately a winner. Through October 9 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $20 to $45. Call 314-968-4925.(DJ)

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