St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the local theater scene.

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Greetings! In keeping with the nostalgia of the holiday season, St. Louis Actors' Studio summons up fond memories of the long-gone dinner-theater era, when the likes of Van Johnson and Ray Walston would come to town in thin comedies. There's no Van or Ray, but this Christmas fantasy by Tom Dudzick is very thin indeed. It's a sitcom stew that dices up the most obvious elements of All in the Family and Bridget Loves Bernie, then adds a touch of feel-good magic. As one of the main characters likes to say a lot, "Wow!" Through December 23 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit — Dennis Brown

Kiss Me, Kate This farcical account of flaring egos during an out-of-town tryout of The Taming of the Shrew is being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at the Rep. The show has been splendidly choreographed, costumed, designed, lit and orchestrated to within an inch of its 59-year-old life. Act One is great fun, and Act Two opens with sizzling ensemble work in the Cole Porter standard "Too Darn Hot" — which might be too darn good, because the story never regains its footing after that. Instead the remainder of Act Two comes off as an antiquated oleo show. But the know-how that has gone into this production is dazzling. Through December 28 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $16 to $63 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit (DB)

The Nutcracker The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was still thirteen years into the future when Tchaikovsky began to write this ballet about dancing snowflakes and mean mice. Nevertheless, the newly commissioned stage designs by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith neatly transpose the story from the steppes of Russia to the Central West End. Now the fantasy plays out in an elegant home on Maryland Avenue just weeks after the fair had officially closed. In her dreams, Clara is whisked away to Art Hill, and the Palace of Sweets plays out in one of the abandoned fair pavilions. The ballet itself remains essentially the same, but the new environment enlivens the familiar. We can only imagine that Meet Me in St. Louis' mischievous Tootie is a guest at the opening party, having substituted the cakewalk for more classical steps. Performed by Saint Louis Ballet through December 23 at Washington University's Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Boulevard (in the Mallinckrodt Student Center), University City. Tickets are $36 ($26 for students and seniors). Call 314-935-6543 or visit (DB)

The Santaland Diaries A man, a costume and a wretched tale of woe and shame — that's the basic plot of Joe Mantello's one-man show, The Santaland Diaries, adapted from David Sedaris' essay of the same name. As Crumpet the Elf, Will Ledbetter is our window into the backstage world of Macy's famed Santaland; he regales us with nightmarish visions of horrible parents, repugnant children and the single-minded consumerism of an American Christmas. But he's also the audience's hired gun for the evening: The "grinding enthusiasm" of the holiday is his primary target, and Ledbetter attacks with the vitriol unique to the liveried wage slave. His viciously funny observations are delivered in a dishy Southern accent, but it's Ledbetter's physical acting that sells the performance. He channels a sublime Billie Holiday and silences the crowd with a withering screw-you glare when we laugh at the first sight of his hideous elf uniform. An all-around great performance, directed by Edward Coffield. Through December 22 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit — Paul Friswold

Sister's Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi's Gold Let us be merry: The prodigal nun has returned. Sister, that sweet authoritarian with whom St. Louis fell in love in Late Nite Catechism, is back with a holiday party. In the title role, Nonie Newton-Breen is a wonderfully effective comedienne who treads the delicate balance between affection and insult so deftly that she succeeds in making religion seem inclusive rather than exclusive. If the sheer act of indulging in happiness is enough to satisfy, then let the word go out that happy days are here again. Through December 30 at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue at I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $41. Call 314-469-7529 or visit (DB)

Wicked Reviewed in this issue. (DB)

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