Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown and Deanna Jent suss out local theater

Chicago Rockwood Community Education's Spotlight Productions employs a large ensemble, a huge stage filled with moving stair units and prison cell walls and a fabulous orchestra to bring this musical city to life. Courtney LaBelle as Velma Kelly sizzles through "I Can't Do It Alone" and is joined in sweet harmony by Lauren Wienberg as Roxie Hart on "My Own Best Friend." Those two numbers are the highlights of the show, which otherwise seems slow in spite of some fun touches (like bringing out the male chorus in oversize diapers during "Me and My Baby"). The humor is broad, but although director Brad Schwartz tries to keep the show moving, he should have trimmed some of the dialogue and scene shifts to maintain the requisite pace. Through August 7 at Marquette High School, 2351 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield. Tickets are $16 ($2 discount for advance purchase). Call 636-207-2541. (Deanna Jent)

Footloose Reviewed in this week's issue.

The Madwoman of Chaillot What a treat to see the myopic Countess Aurelia again presiding over her small corner of Paris, engaged in a death struggle with the seemingly unstoppable forces of greed and power. In recent years this parable about those who would dominate the world vs. those who would keep it free has fallen from favor. To renew her acquaintance is to be reminded that The Madwoman is one of the delights of world drama. Jean Giraudoux's 1944 allegory has been lovingly staged with atmospheric lighting, antic costumes and a large, appealing cast. In the title role, Donna Weinsting -- who is turned out like a lavender Christmas tree -- plays against the role's obvious eccentricities, thus bringing credibility to an incredible role. Her graceful high-wire act helps to transform the evening into a veritable night at the circus. Performed by Stray Dog Theatre through August 7 at the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center at Washington University, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard. Call 314-531-5923. (Dennis Brown)

The Sound of Music See feature in this week's issue.

St. Nicholas This offbeat ghost story about a Dublin theater critic who falls under the spell of a coven of blood-sucking vampires is guaranteed to send chills down your spine on a hot summer night. Spearheaded by Joe Hanrahan's riveting portrayal of a vitriolic scribe who is afraid of the dark, St. Nicholas was the RFT's choice as "Best One-Person Play" in 2004. Now it's back, again directed by Sarah Whitney, and again offering playgoers the opportunity to savor the best kind of Irish blarney, in the form of a spooky yarn in which the rich, descriptive, salty language commands the listener's attention. Performed by After Midnight through August 14 at HH Studio, 2500 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood. Tickets are $15. Call 314-487-5305. (DB)

West Side Story No one needs to worry about Muny audiences rudely slipping out of the amphitheater ahead of the curtain call this week. In the final scene of this still-poignant music drama about gang warfare in New York City, rapt patrons were glued to their seats. And why not? After a summer of escapism and froth, viewers veritably embraced the season's only adult Muny offering. As conducted by Kelsey Halbert, the orchestra finds the rich eloquence in Leonard Bernstein's lush and electrifying score. Stephen Sondheim's lyrics are crystal clear, especially when sung by the likes of Natascia Diaz as the fiery Anita. Some musicals need the confines of interior walls to trigger their theatricality, but West Side Story works well outdoors; the characters often seem to be reaching for the sky. Director-choreographer Kevin Backstrom is replicating the original Jerome Robbins choreography. Although it's nearly a half-century old, Robbins' work continues to dazzle. Performed through August 7 in Forest Park. Tickets are $8 to $58 (free seats available). Call 314-534-1111. (DB)

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