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St. Louis Stage Capsules 

Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold suss out the St. Louis theater scene

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Grand Hotel – The Musical Although this 1989 stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 1932 (which in turn was based on a novel by Vicki Baum) ran for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway, it isn't seen much any more. Watching this bare-bones production in a playing space that cannot meet the show's elaborate technical demands is akin to driving through the Ozarks in the wintertime when the leafless trees expose the true lay of the land. What we see here is that Grand Hotel is a truly schizophrenic concoction. As originally cobbled together by Tommy Tune, half the songs — those by Robert Wright and George Forrest (Kismet, Song of Norway) — evoke the past, while the added songs by Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) portend the future. If a production lacks the polish and glitz to conceal the stitchery, the evening feels more like an Olio revue than a seamless musical. Yet there are moments in this account of dreams being dashed behind the doors of Berlin's most opulent hotel that shine, none more so than when a dying Jewish accountant on a final spree (Ryan Cooper) and a stylish if penniless baron (Bradley J. Behrmann) sing the jubilant "We'll Take a Glass Together." Produced by Over Due Theatre Company through April 25 at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, Olivette. Tickets are $15 ($13 for students and seniors). Call 636-328-6546 or visit — Dennis Brown

Mauritius Theresa Rebeck's drama about the backroom sale of two of the most valuable stamps in the world reveals all that's grisly and greedy in human nature. Jackie (a terrific Sarajane Alverson) is the seller, a tough broad who has taken a lifelong beating and sees the stamps as a way out of her troubles. Dennis (Stephen Peirick) is the charming sonofabitch who has snaked his way into her life as the third man brokering the sale. Sterling (Matt Hanify) is the shady buyer, and the deal will take place in Philip's shop, because Philip (Charles Heuvelman) can authenticate the stamps. Director Sean Ruprecht-Belt charts a sure course through Rebeck's dialogue; though the second act, given over to the extended negotiation, flies by with terrifying grimness, it never feels hurried. Hanify's Sterling is a chilling monster, a philatelist whose lust for the stamps surpasses zealous on the way to maniacal. Heuvelman inhabits Philip's slump-shouldered bitterness with admirable skill; he's the only person involved in the sale who loves the stamps with purity, and it makes him miserable. A rewarding and nasty show that will stick with you. Presented by West End Players Guild through April 25 at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $18. Call 314-367-0025 or visit — Paul Friswold

Outlying Islands A remote, windswept island far from civilization is the locale for an evening of allegory. Set during the summer prior to the onset of World War II, the story revolves around two Cambridge naturalists who have been sent by the British government to conduct the first official survey of the isle's abundant bird life. Not unexpectedly, dangers from without and within threaten this idyllic existence, and it may be that the government is concerned with matters other than bird sightings. Scottish playwright David Greig strives for a lofty lyricism. Ultimately the play's impact will depend on your tolerance for metaphor. Performed by Upstream Theater through April 25 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students, $20 for seniors). Call 314-863-4999 or visit (DB)

Romeo and Juliet Director Robin Weatherall's slight reimagining of Romeo and Juliet is set in Palestine in 1947 during the violent buildup surrounding the birth of Israel. So Romeo (the ever-dependable Rusty Gunther) and the Montagues are Jewish and Juliet (Meg Rodd Gunther, brassy yet beguiling) and her Capulet kin are Muslim. It's a compelling setup, but nothing in the action or language ever conveys Romeo's Judaism; this becomes distracting at key moments, such as when Romeo goes to see the presumably Anglican Father Laurence (Kevin Beyer in a well-crafted characterization) for "confession." But Weatherall's decision to cast Brooke Edwards as a female Mercutio secretly in love with an oblivious Romeo is change we can believe in; Edwards imbues Mercutio's speeches with towering passion and bitter yearning. Too bad Mercutio dies in Act One. Also of note is B. Weller's absolutely terrifying turn as Capulet; his brutal argument with daughter and wife elicited spontaneous applause. Presented by the New Jewish Theatre through May 2 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue (in Forest Park). Tickets are $26 to $34 (discounts available for students, seniors and JCC or MHM members). Call 314-361-9017 or visit (PF)

A Doll's House A story that begins on Christmas Eve and involves forgery and blackmail, Henrik Ibsen's 131-year-old Norwegian melodrama has more plot twists than Desperate Housewives. Yet along the way Nora Helver, the pampered wife and prized possession of an insensitive bureaucrat, evolves from a sheltered object to an independent woman able to bear the most demanding sacrifices. This ambitious and thoughtful production of Ibsen's still-essential play is helmed by Julie Layton, whose valiant Nora charts a course that succeeds in connecting with viewers on an intensely personal level. Produced by St. Louis Actors' Studio through April 25 at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle Avenue. Tickets are $25 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-458-2978 or visit (DB)

Five Guys Named Moe As the show begins, our lovesick hero (Anthony Tarvin Jr.) sits beside a radio tuned to a station "for night owls who have got the blues." He's nursing a bottle of beer, and he also must be smoking a little something, because in a sudden hallucinogenic haze, his radio fills the stage. Out of this elephantine radio (cleverly designed by Chris Pickart) emerge five rejects from Nathan Detroit's permanent floating craps game. Each calls himself Moe; together they spend the rest of the high-voltage, finger-snapping, suspender-plucking evening singing songs by R&B pioneer Louis Jordan. In no time at all, the blues give way to hoedowns, calypso sing-alongs (when's the last time you were in a conga line?) and choo-choo boogies. Even if you've never heard of Jordan, these five Moes — Drummond Crenshaw, Herman Gordon, Horace E. Smith, Gary E. Vincent, Sean Walton — will make sure you have a high-stompin' romp. And when they slow down long enough to blend their voices on "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," the sound is downright sublime. Directed by Ron Himes and performed by the Black Rep through April 25 at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43. Call 314-534-3810 or visit (DB)

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