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St. Louis Stage Capsules 

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

Amadeus Thirty years after its sensational Broadway debut, Peter Shaffer's rococo account of jealousy, temptation and betrayal in the eighteenth-century Vienna court of Emperor Joseph II remains an evening of pomp, interspersed with snatches of glorious Mozart music. But with the passing of the decades, this story of a mediocre musician who personally holds God responsible for his mediocrity now feels hollow at the core. Because the story does not stand up to close scrutiny, rather like a child's top Amadeus must be kept spinning or it will topple over. This production has too many words and not enough spin. Produced by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through October 4 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $18 to $68 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $10 and $15, respectively, 10 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit— Dennis Brown

Into the Woods Four years ago James Lapine, who wrote this perennially popular deconstruction of fairy tales with Stephen Sondheim, told Riverfront Times he had never seen a production of the musical that he didn't like. Since then there probably have been more local stagings of this tale about fearsome giants who wreak havoc throughout a far-off kingdom (whose inhabitants do not live happily ever after) than any other play, including A Midsummer Night's Dream. Now it's Stray Dog Theatre's turn to take on Sondheim and Lapine's skewed yet sprightly adaptation of Grimm's fairy tales. It's a version that will be enjoyed most by those viewers who are seeing the musical for the first time. Through October 10 at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-865-1995 or visit (DB)

Portrait of My People The first of Avalon Theatre Company's series of programs designed for young audiences, Erin Kelley's Portrait of My People clearly is designed to spark conversation. Kelley plays herself, telling her own story: A blond, blue-eyed woman, one-quarter Cherokee and Shawnee and a direct descendant of Tecumseh, who faces skepticism and doubt about her family history from the white world and enjoys complete acceptance by Native Americans. An engaging storyteller, Kelley slips into other roles when necessary, such as the grandfather who refuses to be humiliated by the government's arcane formula that determines whether if he's an Indian. Discussing her uncles' military service, Kelley describes the sight of an all-Native American honor guard as "beautiful, maddening and touching." Why men willingly serve and die for a government that spent most of two centuries trying to destroy their race is a question that goes unanswered. Perhaps an inquisitive young person will bring it up during the Q&A afterward — or perhaps it simply defies logic. Through October 4 at the ArtSpace in Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza), Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood. Tickets are $10 (under age eighteen $8). Call 314-351-6482 or visit — Paul Friswold

The Secretaries Several secretaries at an Oregon lumber mill are members of a secret cult. Once a month they engage in a purging of their inhibitions (and enhancing of their wardrobes) by killing a lumberjack. As written (and originally performed) by an all-female New York performance group called the Five Lesbian Brothers, The Secretaries is a playful, brazenly tasteless spin on Arsenic and Old Lace with a large dose of Grand Guignol. As directed by Eric Little (lucky guy), the sometimes goofy, sometimes irritating piece careens through 95 intermissionless minutes (including the fastest curtain call in memory) and sports an extremely appealing cast (Colleen Backer, Lavonne Byers, Julie Layton, Sara Renschen and Amanda Williford), who slice and dice their way through this buzz saw of an evening in various states of scanty apparel. Performed by Echo Theatre Company through October 11 in Theatre 134 at the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza), Watson and Sappington roads, Crestwood. Tickets are $15 (students two for $20). Call 314-225-4329 or visit (DB)

Tomfoolery This revue of satirist Tom Lehrer's greatest songs (adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray) receives a mostly enjoyable staging by director Cindy Duggan and the West End Players Guild. Lehrer's clever rhymes and staccato keyboard work rely on pinpoint timing to effectively sink their barbs. But music director/pianist Charlie Mueller too often plays at a medium tempo — Chuck Lavazzi's game attempt at "The Elements" is barely three-quarters the speed of the original, and it falls flat despite the singer's enthusiastic delivery. Much better is Andrew Hampton's well-timed and elegantly nuanced "She's My Girl"; and Matt Anderson's gleeful romp through "The Hunting Song" is delightfully zany. Lehrer fanatics — and there were many in attendance — will find much to love, but the occasional misfires will grate, especially if you have the master's greatest hits down by heart. Through October 11 at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Boulevard. Tickets are $20. Call 314-367-0025 or visit (PF)

Wonder of the World The Orange Girls are going out with a bang. For their swan song, they have mounted a knockout staging of David Lindsay-Abaire's loopy yet wildly original riff on Thelma and Louise. Cass (Brooke Edwards) is a terminal optimist who nevertheless has had it with her marriage. She's looking for new things to do, and boy does she have a long list. Lois (Kirsten Wylder) is a depressive who plans to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. These two polar opposites end up together in Niagara Falls, where anything can happen. In other hands Cass could come across as insufferably perky; Brooke Edwards makes her engaging. Kirsten Wylder is equally effective as the dark side of Cass' personality. The broad comedy is deftly directed (but never over-directed) by Deanna Jent, who has gotten outstanding performances from all, especially Christopher Hickey as the low-key captain of the Maid of the Mist and Mary Schnitzler in a variety of unlikely roles. Everything comes together here to deliver an effervescent evening of theater. Through October 11 at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students and seniors). Call 314-520-9557 or visit (DB)

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