Fiddler on the Roof Director Deanna Jent has crafted a warm and cozy production of the perennial favorite, with the little village of Anatevka — represented by two building façades joined by a wooden floor — set in the round. These walls act as a sounding board when the ensemble sings, creating a glorious resonance. Jerry Russo and Lavonne Byers make a formidable and well-balanced pair as Tevye and Golde, the parents who must marry off three of their five daughters. Russo plays the wily milkman with big-hearted pliability; his ability to acquiesce to happiness, whether it be his daughters' or his own, is his saving grace. Byers makes Golde the toughest of cookies, a pragmatic and dry-witted matriarch whose eventual softening in her duet with Tevye ("Do You Love Me?") is as real and surprising an emotional awakening for her as it is for the audience. Musical director Joe Dreyer provides versatile piano accompaniment, with Laura Sexauer doing double duty as the fiddler and eldest daughter, Tzeitel; her playing is remarkably beautiful. Presented by Mustard Seed Theatre through November 22 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theater, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $25 to $35 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-719-8060 or visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com.
— Paul Friswold
Fugitive Songs Kudos to tiny Echo Theatre for having the brio to take on the challenge of mounting not just a musical but the premiere of a musical. Billed as a "song cycle," this work-in-progress offers 75 minutes of nonstop music sung by characters who share one thing in common: They all have "so many reasons to run." Happily unamplified, this blend of folk and contemporary music presents a compilation of stories "no one tells" — though perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that no one has told them recently. But just because some of this ground has been traveled before in musicals like Runaways, The Me Nobody Knows and Working is no reason young composers like Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen can't journey into this shadowy world themselves. So the appealing cast (Lori Barrett-Pagano, Justin Ivan Brown, Khnemu Menu-Ra, Ben Nordstrom and Katy Tibbets) introduces us to people who are "doing maximum time at minimum wage," self-conscious kids who are "the last one picked in every kickball game" and cyclists who pause to "take a good look at that Kansas highway sky." Still, when it comes time for the evening to draw some conclusions, we need more than "I don't want to be alone." Through November 15 at Theatre 134 in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza), Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students or two for $20; $20 for seniors). Call 314-225-4329 or visit www.echotheatrecompany.org.
— Dennis Brown
Sleuth Anthony Shaffer's mystery manhandles the concept of "fair play" in the framework of England's ongoing class war. Andrew Wyke (Munson Hicks) is a wealthy writer of plummy mysteries that celebrate a bygone England. He invites his wife's lover, self-employed travel agent Milo Tindle (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), to his manor to bring him in on a scheme that will make both men happy — and that's all the plot that can be safely revealed without spoiling Shaffer's twists. Hicks slathers brash and phony bonhomie on Wyke, but playing the role for laughs robs it of menace. Shaffer's script requires that Milo be both gullible and cunning; it's a combination that defies reason but Goodfriend mostly pulls it off. Sleuth is at times frustrating in the forceful manner in which it drags its audience through leaps of logic from point A to point D. Still, that second act is fraught with peril, thanks to director Michael Evan Haney's use of the infrequent pause to build tension. Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through November 8 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $18 to $68 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $10 and $15 respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (PF)
Secret Order Reviewed in this issue.
Unbeatable! This new musical is built around a heroine so unpleasant that it's hard to empathize with her struggles. Kristy Cates portrays Tracy Boyd, an aggressive businesswoman who discovers that cancer has infected her body. Not only must Tracy cope without the support of her predictably insensitive husband, but then, in some sort of metaphoric haze, her character is put on trial. As Tracy's mom, Stellie Siteman instills the proceedings with natural poise and understated humor, while John Flack holds his head high and brings some humor to one of the many roles he plays. A program note from the executive producer expresses his hope that viewers will "take away the message of early detection and health screenings...." A noble hope. But in a show that runs more than two hours, early detection is given less than a minute. Through November 22 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, 635 Westport Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $39.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www.theplayhouseatwestport.com. (DB)