By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene October 29-November 1

Oct 29, 2009 at 8:00 am

​This week the Rep opens its Studio Series with Secret Order, a fictional drama that lifts the veil on behind-the-scenes maneuverings at a prestigious Manhattan cancer clinic. In the tradition of the best studio offerings, Bob Clyman's play deals with a series of thought-provoking ethical issues. Our protagonist is a brilliant young cell researcher -- and how often do you see that in the theater these days? For those in search of substantive drama, the three-play Rep Studio Series tends to be one of the surest bets in town.

Echo Theatre Company stages Fugitive Songs - Jay Morthland
Jay Morthland
Echo Theatre Company stages Fugitive Songs
Here's another bet: The premiere of a musical is being offered by Echo Theatre Company, which does not have an extensive track record in staging musicals, premiere or no. But sometimes passion trumps experience, and everyone at Echo seems to be passionate about Fugitive Songs, a song cycle that, according to the press release, spotlights people on the run and offers "a new sound for a restless America." That new sound is being provided by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen, two up-and-coming theater composers who've begun to create a buzz for themselves in Manhattan. This week at least, they are temporary fugitives from the labyrinth that can make a production in New York so elusive; a previous incarnation of Fugitive Songs debuted last year off Broadway, but has since been completely retooled. Everything about Fugitive Songs sounds unusual and of-the-moment -- a moment for which St. Louis viewers are the beneficiaries.

If you're not a gambler, perhaps Fiddler on the Roof at Mustard Seed will be more to your liking. This account of Tevye and his daughters has been a part of the landscape ever since it debuted on Broadway in 1964. It is of course a mainstay at the Muny. So what can tiny Mustard Seed offer that hasn't been seen before? For one thing, intimacy. It might be a refreshing change to actually see the faces of the inhabitants of Anatevka.

And finally: Thirty years ago I spent a delightful and still-memorable afternoon with Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist of such popular hits as Brigadoon, My Fair Lady and Camelot. "I love the human voice," Lerner told me, "and I have very precise ideas about what sounds I want on certain notes. What I find so objectionable today is that most people who write lyrics, even when they have marvelous ideas, don't understand that they are written for the human voice, which has certain requirements. Whether my lyrics are good or bad is not for me to judge, but at least I know they're singable."

click to enlarge Steve Ross performs the songs of Alan Jay Lerner next Wednesday through Saturday
Steve Ross performs the songs of Alan Jay Lerner next Wednesday through Saturday
Lerner's lyrics will take center stage in the most impeccable way next Wednesday through Saturday when premier cabaret stylist Steve Ross returns to town to perform I Remember Him Well: The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner for Cabaret St. Louis at the Kranzberg Arts Center.

Do you think you already know Lerner's lyrics? Think again. The clarity and precision of Ross' phrasing allows us to be introduced to them anew. Ross and Lerner are ideally matched, as evinced even by the show's title: Back in 1979 when I asked Lerner to name his quintessential lyric, he considered at length before finally settling upon "I Remember It Well," the Maurice Chevalier-Hermione Gingold duet in Gigi.