Capsule Reviews

Dennis Brown, Deanna Jent and Lew Prince suss out local theater

The Barber of Seville Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opened its 31st season with a brilliantly subversive update of Gioacchino Rossini's most popular comic opera. Director Ken Cazan moves the tale of Figaro the scheming barber to the 1920s and turns it into a bawdy farce. Hugh Russell, Alek Shrader and Kate Lindsey as Figaro, Almaviva and Rosina lead a fine cast that pushes this opera to the postmodern edge. This self-mocking production walks a fine line between being an opera and commenting on the genre's stylized form, and has the grace to amuse us at the expense of the play without debasing Rossini's luscious melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Through June 24 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29 to $105 ($10 for kids fifteen and under; $25 vouchers available for rush seats). Call 314-961-0644 or visit — Lew Prince

Cabaret Reviewed in this issue.

Dreamgirls Willena Vaughn gives a powerhouse performance as Effie White, an overweight R&B singer who's not sleek enough to hold her job with an up-and-coming pop trio. This saga of backbiting and betrayal in the 1960s and '70s music industry has always leaned so heavily on razzle-dazzle to camouflage its thin story line. Because this production lacks blinding production values, the slightness of the material pokes through. There are some breezy performances by the likes of J. Samuel Davis and Jahi Kearse, but it's Vaughn who makes the evening memorable. Her Act One closer, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," provides the kinds of chills from which permanent musical memories are forged. Performed through July 2 by the Black Rep at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $40 ($10 rush seats available for students, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-3810 or visit — Dennis Brown

Hansel and Gretel Opera Theatre of Saint Louis presents a charming version of the classic fairy tale, closer in spirit to Disney than to the Brothers Grimm. The hallmark of this crisp opera is its simple, beautiful music. That said, magical effects — including a dreamy, ethereal sandman sprinkling stardust over sleeping children, fantastical animals and angels and a witch's broom that flies on its own — will amaze the young ones. Think of it as the perfect introduction to real theater for the Harry Potter generation. Through June 24 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29 to $105 ($10 for kids fifteen and under; $25 vouchers available for rush seats). Call 314-961-0644 or visit (LP)

Jane Eyre The American premiere of the opera adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel is a fascinating production, drenched in the gothic spirit of the book, driven by an edgy, swirling score and sung to perfection by some of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' finest young voices. This tight (80 minutes) one-act opera expands Michael Berkeley's simple-sounding but harmonically and rhythmically intense score from its original "chamber" size to include extra strings and emphasize the graceful melodies. Australian novelist David Malouf's libretto chops Brontë's vast cast to five principal characters and focuses on the love story between Jane and the brooding Edward Rochester. There's not a jigger of waste in this brisk production. Through June 16 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $29 to $105 ($10 for kids fifteen and under; $25 vouchers available for rush seats). Call 314-961-0644 or visit (LP)

Jesus Christ Superstar This 37-year-old rock opera seems timely in this post-Da Vinci Code, post-Gospel of Judas society. New Line Theatre's minimalist approach focuses audience attention appropriately on the music, which is well-sung by the ensemble and backed up by a great band led by conductor Chris Petersen. John Sparger, Khnemu Menu-Ra and Kimi Short skillfully sing the sizzling score (the first two trading roles each weekend), but ultimately only Short is effective at sharing her character's journey with the audience. The production is also hampered by questionable choices made by director Scott Miller: Why precede a production set in the present day with vintage '60s music? Where's the betrayal kiss referred to several times? Why so many scenes where the actors turn their backs on the audience? And would Jesus really drink Bud Light? Through June 24 at the ArtLoft Theatre, 1529 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $15 to $18 ($10 to $15 for children, students and seniors; $8 rush seats available for students five minutes before showtime). Call 314-773-6526 or visit www (DJ)

Julius Caesar With Julius Caesar, the Shakespeare Festival does not follow the crowd of artistic "interpreters" who update elements of the Bard's work. Opting to play the play straight is all well and good, but instead of building like a rumor, this production plods like a carefully planned memo. Scene changes halt forward motion, and director Joe Discher seems to have told the actors that every single word is of equal importance. Perhaps appropriately, the timeliest topic touched on by this evening in the park is its caution regarding mob mentality. The Festival's free performances in Forest Park have attained the familiarity that accompanies all fine annual traditions. The challenge now is to find the passion and inspiration that'll keep the crowds coming back. Through June 18 on the east side of Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. For information call 314-531-9800 or visit (DJ)

Menopause The Musical This sassy musical revue parodies songs of the '60s and '70s, focusing on issues of aging and hormone imbalance (to give you an idea: A disco medley includes "Night Sweating" and "Stayin' Awake"). Sandra Benton is a powerhouse singer whose Tina Turner brings down the house. Brooke Davis scores with "Puff the Magic Dragon" and Lee Anne Mathews delivers a sultry "Tropical Hot Flash," while Rosemary Watts has fun with the raciest number, a tribute to self-love. The only problem with music director Joe Dreyer's slick 90 minutes is that it's too loud. Open-ended run at the Playhouse at West Port Plaza, 635 West Port Plaza (second level), Page Avenue and I-270, Maryland Heights. Tickets are $44.50. Call 314-469-7529 or visit www (DJ)

Phantom of the Opera From Leroux's 1920 novel to a 1940s movie (starring Nelson Eddy as the Phantom!) to a 1980s Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (turned into a movie in 2004), the story of the masked Phantom and his love for Christine lingers on. Multiple tours of the tuneful Webber version have graced the Fox Theatre stage, but this Phantom seems to have hit a middle-age slump. Slow pacing and lackluster energy make the production drag, while low lighting levels render many scenes difficult to see. Marie Danvers sings Christine's part well but doesn't have much chemistry with the dark Phantom (John Cudie) or good guy Raoul (Adam Monley). The legendary fall of the chandelier is so slow and boring it nearly evokes laughter. Through July 1 at the Fox Theatre, the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $20 to $70. Call 314-534-1111 or visit (DJ)

Street Scene Reviewed in this issue.