Romeo and Juliet A lavishly staged and powerfully acted production of Shakespeare's classic, ablaze with the crackling life of its '60s-era inner-city setting. Director Chris Anthony pays meticulous attention to the power of the language, lacing the theme of love's spiritually redemptive power with terrible moments of hate, lust and human frailty. Romeo (Nic Few) and Juliet (Sharisa Whatley) are immature and impetuous teenagers swept away by a maelstrom of passion. Chauncy Thomas crafts a Mercutio who's buck wild and full of life, while his foe, Tybalt (Tim Norman), imagines less and suffers just the same. Beautiful to look at, hip and whip-smart in execution and beautifully acted from its boisterous opening scene to the quiet, devastating finale that still offers an evocative, hopeful note. Presented by the Black Rep through February 14 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit www.theblackrep.org.
— Paul Friswold
[title of show] The plot of Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen's [title of show] is the back story of [title of show]'s genesis. Two struggling actors named Hunter and Jeff (Ben Nordstrom and Benjamin Howes) write a musical about making a musical on a three-week deadline in order to enter the finished piece in a theatrical festival. The actors point out structural flaws in the script, make jokes about missing lines and sing songs about wanting to sing great songs. The show could easily veer into "look how cute and clever we are" chicanery, but the persistent and nasty honesty of the script elevates [title of show] above fluff. The songs are tuneful and funny, rife with dirty language and disparaging comments about Broadway's penchant for factory-made musicals populated by proven stars rather than great performers. Nordstrom and Howes are excellent as the relentless dreamers: charming and fallible and very human. Stephanie D'Abruzzo gives a knockout performance as the outwardly tough Susan, who thinks she's given up on show biz and her childhood dreams; her counterbalance is Amy (Heidi Justman), who's making a living but not living the dream. Presented by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis under the direction of Victoria Bussert through February 7 in the Emerson Studio in the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $42.50 to $54. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org. (PF)