St. Louis Stage Capsules

Dennis Brown, Paul Friswold and Lew Prince suss out the local theater scene

Newly Reviewed
The Death of Klinghoffer Reviewed in this issue.

Legally Blonde She came, she shopped, she conquered. Elle Woods, the perky Hollywood blonde turned Harvard law student, fronted a popular movie in 2001 that was adapted into a long-running Broadway musical. Now add Forest Park to Woods' list of triumphs. This sassy opening production of the 93rd Muny season begins as too many of the newer musicals do, with young performers screeching rather than singing and with energy standing in for entertainment. But twenty minutes into the show, a Harvard law professor (smoothly played by Ken Land) slows down the mindless momentum with the cunning song "Blood in the Water." From that moment forth, the evening becomes ever more assured, the ensemble becomes ever more poised, and the sly production begins to soar. At the end of Act One, Lauren Ashley Zakrin, who portrays Elle, sings, "I am so much better than before." Zakrin might be singing about herself. Two years ago when she portrayed Elle at the Fox, her performance comprised little more than a wink and a smile. But how she has grown in the role. Now Zakrin is a knockout who dominates the strenuous evening without seeming to break a sweat. The giant Muny stage becomes her playpen — and play she does. Under the breakneck direction of Marc Bruni, Legally Blonde sets this summer's Muny entertainment bar very high. Through June 26 in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $10 to $68. Call 314-361-1900 or visit — Dennis Brown

The Visit Reviewed in this issue.

Circus Flora An acrobat on the back of a moving horse juggles fire. A young contortionist twists her body into surreal poses worthy of Picasso. Up at the top of the tent, trapeze artists somersault through the air. Down on the ground, children wear red clown noses (just three dollars at the gift shop) and pretend they're part of the circus, too. Circus Flora is back, making its 25th annual appearance in St. Louis. This year's edition, titled Vagabond Adventures, tries to spin a tale about a travelling Mississippi River steamboat in pre-Civil War days. But as usual the story is negligible. What works best here, as always, are the visuals that incite laughter, applause and even the occasional drama. All the performers, young and old, are a pleasure to behold. But best of all is the magnificent Giovanni Zoppe. Better known (and loved) as Nino the Clown, this unassuming star is a joyous performer. When he sprays the audience with crocodile tears, his timing is impeccable. When he free-falls from the top of the tent down to the center of the ring, his audacity is breathtaking. But because Nino almost never leaves the circus ring, also be sure to observe him when he's not the center of attention. Then, as he intently watches the other acts, his vigilant face gives us a clue into the high-stakes risks that are in play here. Nino personifies why, once again, the big red-and-white tent on the Powell Hall parking lot is the happiest place in town. Through June 26 at North Grand Boulevard and Samuel Shepard Drive (east of Powell Hall). Tickets are $8 to $44. Call 314-289-4040 or visit (DB)

The Daughter of the Regiment Opera Theatre of St. Louis' new production of composer Gaetano Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment is beautifully sung, artfully staged, frothy and entertaining — the opera equivalent of what Hollywood likes to call a "date movie." This bel canto classic, which features a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard, provides an ideal vehicle for soprano Ashley Emerson and a talented cast. Director Seán Curran's deft choreography, Kirkwood High grad John McDaniel's sure hand with the baton and a delightfully goofy cameo by Sylvia McNair make the evening complete. Through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit — Lew Prince

Don Giovanni May was a tough month for sexual miscreants. The world's most feared terrorist was reduced to Osama bin Wankin', the former governor of California was exposed as the Sperminator, and the head of the International Monetary Fund turned political metaphor on its head: Rather than figuratively rape the African continent, as the Fund has been accused of doing for decades, he went and got himself indicted for physically raping an African. Appropriate, then, that Opera Theatre of St. Louis opened its 2011 season with Mozart's study of Don Giovanni's descent into Hell. Perfectly executed by conductor and Mozart expert Jane Glover, the Saint Louis Symphony and a superbly talented cast, the gorgeous score alone is worth the price of admission. Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto juxtaposes Giovanni's ruthless manipulation of those around him against wildly comic interludes, and the injection of modern elements (Giovanni kills the Commendatore with a pistol) adds a jagged edge to OTSL's production. Through June 25 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit (LP)

The Mineola Twins Paula Vogel invites us to observe twin sisters Myrna and Myra (both played by Patty Ulrich) as their contrasting lives play out across a span of nearly four decades. The busty Myrna, sexually repressed in the Eisenhower 1950s, is subjected to shock therapy during the Nixon years and becomes the host of a right-wing radio talk show in the George Bush '80s. Her despised sister, Myra, frolics through the '50s as a teenage slut. She goes radical during the '60s but by the '80s has found her true self as a lesbian who works for Planned Parenthood. The twins are not intended to be fleshed-out characters; rather, they personify the far extremes of an ever-polarizing America. Vogel has said that before she began to write this play she had nothing in mind. She simply wanted the challenge of facing "a blank sheet of paper." Vogel may have filled her pages with words, but the play itself remains blank. Performed by Muddy Waters Theatre under the direction of Cameron Ulrich through June 26 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 314-799-8399 or visit (DB)

The Montford Point Marine The spirit of Memorial Day continues through June in the world premiere of Samm-Art Williams' emotional story about Robert Charles Wilson, who in July of 1943 was among the first African Americans to enlist in the U.S. Marines. The still-segregated Marines trained their black enlistees in Montford Point, North Carolina. The action, an amalgam of drama and comedy, plays out in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of Robert's enlistment, as well as in flashbacks to the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. In a Capra-esque account of dreams deferred, we see Robert's pride in breaking barriers as well as the toll that accompanied that pride. The cast includes Linda Kennedy as Robert's wife, Chauncy Thomas as his son and Whit Reichert in three supporting roles. The script makes enormous demands on the actor who plays Robert, and J. Samuel Davis rises to the challenge with a portrayal of range, depth and variety. Performed by the Black Rep through June 26 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $47. Call 314-534-3810 or visit (DB)

Pelléas and Mélisande Normally, in adapting a play for opera, a librettist replaces the dialogue with rhyming — or, at the very least rhythmic — language that can be set to music. Claude Debussy, however, took the script from Maurice Maeterlinck's French Symbolist play Pelléas and Mélisande and wrote music to sing it over. As a result, Pelléas contains none of the conventional duets, trios or other ensemble pieces that enliven most operas. There aren't even any arias. Instead, as in a play, everyone speaks in turn. The result is a very modern — and very unconventional — opera. The score is gorgeous, an almost linear series of tone poems, underpinned with enough rhythmic drive and harmonic repetition to create and sustain drama. The leads — buttery soprano Corinne Winters (Mélisande), richly expressive baritones Liam Bonner (Pelléas) and Gregory Dahl (Golaud), and spectacular twelve-year-old (you read that right) soprano Michael Meo — are unflagging in their creativity and musical good sense. The set design for this Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production is especially elegant, with eerily liquid scene changes wonderfully accented by shimmering lighting. Shadows ebb and flow to conceal and reveal cast members. Debussy, an inveterate opium smoker, would have loved it. Through June 24 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $120 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit (LP)

The Royal Family George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's comic skewering of the Barrymore family and their profession still gets over even if you're unfamiliar with the reputations of the individuals, but its old-school length — three hours with intermissions — drags it down. The Cavendish family's three generations of famous actors have to overcome relationship trouble, professional trouble and legal trouble, all while vying for the spotlight in their shared home. As current star Julie, Liz Hopefl provides a strong and consistent heart for the play, struggling to keep her daughter, Gwen (Katie McGee), from quitting the stage to pursue true love even as she herself wants to resume an affair from her own youth. McGee is a fine and funny ingénue, but Joshua Thomas' swashbuckling-blowhard take on Anthony Cavendish steals every scene he's in, even from the background. An outrageous he-man prima donna who can't tolerate anyone upstaging him, Anthony is riotous even as he's terrible; his petulant hatred of a new baby for drawing attention away from himself is engagingly rotten. Directed by Steve Callahan and presented by Act Inc. through June 28 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Center Theatre, 6800 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Tickets are $20. Call 314-725-9108 or visit — Paul Friswold