Review: 'Mama Mia' at The Muny

Erin Karll

  • OnStage St. Louis Critic

Mama Mia, here we go again!  The most recent production of the Muny season was the ABBA jukebox musical “Mama Mia”. A beautiful beach and disco ball lights filled Forest Park. The crowd was dancing and singing along to the classic songs.

Photo: Michael Thomas

Photo: Michael Thomas

Stand outs of the cast for me were Julia Murney (Donna Sheridan), Justin Guarini (Sam Carmichael), Ann Harada (Rosie), Mike Mcgowan (Bill Austin), Brittany Zeinstra (Sophie Sheridan), Jason Gotay (Sky), and Alexander Aguilar (Peper).  I know that is a lot of stand outs, but it was a great show. Murney and Gaurini had amazing chemistry and duets were filled with emotion, but only half as heartbreaking as their solos. Guarini’s voice has an edge and youth to it. When I first heard about his casting I thought that he seemed a bit young to be one of the fathers. Guarini did not disappoint and showed maturity that fit the character. Murney powerfully held the stage during her characters emotional roller-coaster. Harada and Mcgowan hit the comedy jackpot, and “Take a Chance on Me” received laughter and applause all throughout the scene. Zeinstra and Gotay helped keep the show focused and the story moving, making it more than just an ABBA cover concert. Aguilar only had a few scenes, but stole the stage each time. “Does Your Mother Know?” was funny and the dancing was impressive.

The set was beautifully done. Using the turntable to their advantage director Dan Knechtges and scenic designer Tim Mackabee created a gorgeous Greek resort; seriously I want to go there. Jessica Hartman’s choreography was wonderful. The large ensemble numbers filled the stage, but still drew your eye to certain couples or a group. The finale was amazing. Leon Dobkowski’s costumes were fantastic in the finale and a special nod for the quick change that took place after the bows.

The one issue I had with the production was the sound. I have mentioned it before, but this season the volume is quite loud. Also there were some feedback issues when a few songs were just starting. Controlling the sound for such a large outdoor space cannot be easy, but I have never seen so many shows in a row have this technical issue. The show went on and the glitches were just that, a quick few seconds of feedback.

This was a wonderful, fun, and enchanting show. The power of family and knowing yourself set to the sounds of disco works in this production. I look forward to the rest of the season from The Muny. If you attend, do not forget to vote for next seasons shows. Looks like a lot of great choices coming up. 

Review: 'The Music Man' at The Muny

Erin Karll

  • OnStage St. Louis Critic

St Louis MO - Summer in St. Louis means another amazing season at the Muny in Forest Park. The most recent production was the classic “The Music Man”.  Sitting in the seats and feeling the wind brought back some wonderful memories from my high school senior year production. The crowd was excited and happy for the show and the decent weather.

The staging, I have to confess, was not my favorite. It took a while for me to see where they (Michael Schweikardt -scenic design and Rob Ruggiero-director) were going with the set. The Muny stage is large and known for the turntable. Many sets are built back to back and the turntable takes care of the scene change. Most of the time this system works out perfectly, creating Muny magic. The timing just seemed off in some scenes, and at one time Harold Hill (Hunter Foster) led the children through the Paroo house and up the staircase to reach the other part of town. Normally the runway that circles the pit would have been use, but it was taken out for this production. Another time Mayor Shinn (Mark Linn-Baker) began to speak and turntable made a complete stop and was visible from my seat. These issues did take me out of the show a few times.  But even with the timing trouble, the set looked amazing and fit the story well. My favorite part was the forest behind the footbridge in act two. And the backdrop video screen (Rob Denton) looked beautiful in that Iowa sort of way.  

Photo: Jon Gitchoff

Photo: Jon Gitchoff

The cast was wonderful. Foster brought a fresh take on Hill’s con style, and his energy could be felt all the way in the free seats. Elena Shaddow (Marian Paroo) and Foster had great chemistry. The arc of their relationship was easy to feel. The Quartet (J.D. Daw, Adam Haplin, Ben Nordstrom, and Joseph Torello) gave me goosebumps. They worked the harmonies and gave a new air to the classic barbershop sound. I must add that Owen Hanford (Winthrop) and Gretta Leigh Clark (Amaryllis) were stand outs. They handled the dramatic and comedic scenes with ease earning laughs and sighs from the audience. Of course I cannot forget the Muny kids and teens. These young talents proved they were ready for the big stage doing the large group songs.

Overall this was a wonderful production. The costumes (Amy Clark) popped on the stage and worked well with the choreography (Chris Bailey). The cast fit together perfectly and the harmonies were amazing. I would recommend a trip to River City, via Forest Park in St. Louis. Check out Muny.org for ticket information and show details. 

Review: “Atomic” drops powerful truths at New Line Theatre

Erin Karll

  • OnStage Missouri Critic

The success of ‘Hamtilon’ shows us that history is full of amazing stories waiting to be told. ‘Atomic’ is one of them. New Line Theatre’s latest production is powerful. Doing what theatre does best, this show opens a dialog that has importance in todays socitey. I consider myself a history buff, but the writers Danny Ginges (book and lyrics) and Philip Foxman (music and lyrics) taught the story behind the atomic bomb in thought provoking way. When the finale ended and the band hit the last note the audience is left with the questions these scientists ask themselves. Just because we can, does that mean we should? Can we forgive ourselves for our actions, or lack of actions?

The story of the Manhattan Project’s Leo Szilard (Zachary Allen Farmer) is followed during the origins of the project and the aftermath when the bomb was used on Japan. Act one focus on the challenges the scientist faced not knowing who to trust and where to find support. Act two deals with the fallout, both physically and emotional after the bombs are dropped.

The cast was full of stand outs, but also worked together to form hefty harmonies. J Robert Oppenheimer (Jeffery M Wright) got quite a few laughs by just walking in and out of a door. Wright and Farmer showed layers of the characters, showing the audience that these are not just bolded names in text books.

The costumes (Sarah Porter) were impeccable. Fitted suits with hats and army uniforms for the men. The ladies had some quick changes from World War II era skirts to Rosie the Riveter outfits for a wonderful chorus number that brought visions of Edward Snowden nightmares to my mind. The lighting (Rob Lippert) was brilliant. Not wanting to spoil the show I will just say the use of colors during the bombing and while talking about the victims of the fall out added to the storytelling. Also there was a scene where Leo is torn between the two worlds. One controlled by his heart with his love Trude Weiss (Ann Hier) and the other controlled by his brain filled with the scientist of the Manhattan Project. The light choice and staging was so simple, but powerful and I enjoyed it.

‘Atomic’ runs at The Marcelle Theatre in St. Louis until June 25th. For tickets and show information call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit newlinetheatre.com. Also, check out #newlinelive for live tweets from opening night.

Review: 'American Idiot' at New Line Theatre

Erin Karll

Calling out to idiot America! The musical based off of the Green Day album “American Idiot” is rocking the Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Center here in St Louis.  Newline Theatre is known for producing edgy and hard hitting shows. This show is no exception. From the start to finish the show is a train ride that doesn’t slow or show mercy.

Full disclosure, this is one of my favorite shows. The story is very powerful, the music is amazing, and you can’t get more theatrical then punk rock. In a world where many things are being questioned this show is a generations warning to be tuned in and aware of our ability to affect change.

Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Photo Credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

For me, walking into a black box theatre is a magical experience because it is different for every production. This set felt like a cramped apartment with a bed, sofa and chair covering the front of the stage.  A staircase and bridge is set in the center, with a design that fit the punk club feel, along with the rows of chairs and guitars that lined the walls. Those walls covered in newspapers, band posters, and graffiti. The band is set in the left corner. The costumes had just the right amount of accessories to show the undertone of red, white, and blue.  

Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy hit a homerun with this production. In the director note printed in the program they discuss this story being a Hero Myth.  I could see that very clearly with the journey from Jingletown to the City and back again being a symbol for so much more. The serious topics of the show were treated with respect and as with any good piece brought front and center for all to see.  Drug addiction, family, patriotism, and self-worth were broken down with a punk rock soundtrack. I literally felt the walls shaking with the power of the band and cast during the opening number. The musicians did a wonderful job under the conduction of Sue Goldford.

Evan Fornachon (Johnny) showed an amazing range with the highs and lows of the character. Brendan Ochs (Will) and Frederick Rice (Tunny) brought layers to the friendship between the trios that I really enjoyed. Chris Kernan (St. Jimmy) vocals were truly dramatic and felt like a pied piper leading the youth. Not to be outdone the women of the cast were phenomenal. Sarah Porter (Whatsername/Costume designer), Sicily Mathenia(extraordinary girl), and Larissa White(Heather) all shone bright adding to the story of how far these characters have fallen.  The show stoppers were when the whole cast would unite onstage. Harmonies were tear-jerking during ‘21 Guns’ and ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’.  The ensemble acted like strong glue that brought three stories back together. Stand outs were Kevin Corpuz (favorite son) and Gabe Taylor with Camiesha Cotton, who rocked ‘too much too soon’.

American Idiot runs through March 26th. Visit newlinetheatre.com for ticket and show information.  Also check out #newlinelive for a look at the show from the fans view on opening night. 

Review: 'Beautiful' at the Fabulous Fox in St. Louis

Erin Karll

The first national touring cast of Beautiful: the Carol King Musical has stopped at the Fabulous Fox theatre in St. Louis Missouri. The show follows the life of songwriter Carole King using her (and some friends) songs and lyrics to tell the stories behind the music of a generation.

I was lucky enough to see this show on Broadway.  Jesse Mueller was wonderful and after hearing her sister Abby was taking on the touring role as “Carole”, I was just as excited as I was walking into the Stephen Sondhiem Theatre in New York.  I was not disappointed! Her charm hit all the way to the back of the house. Abby got laughs and gasps and applause for her delivery on many difficult scenes. Her connection with Liam Tobin, who played Gerry Goffin, was great. Liam attacked his role in a way that showed the crowd “Gerry’s” struggle and allowed a journey from anger to empathy. Another powerful part of Carole’s life was her mother and Suzanne Grodner was funny and touching as “Genie”.  One scene had many pauses because of audience applause after her motherly advice.
 
Sparking on stage, was the chemistry between Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil) and Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann). He had me cracking up with all his one liners, and she owned the stage from the moment she walked on. The harmonies in the groups of the Drifters and the Shirelles had me feeling like I was listening to classic vinyl. The ensemble was great did a wonderful job of filling that big stage with energy.

The staging is different from the Broadway production, but in a fitting way. I enjoyed the use of lights to set different scenes. This production used all forms of lighting to fade away and show two scenes at the same time. I also liked the background being full of musical instruments. It added to the point of music as storytelling. The audience could be heard sighing at the start of a scene with the realization of where these songs came from and the stories behind them. This show is a true jukebox musical, with a heart and soul.

If I had one complaint, which has nothing to show with the show itself,  it would be with the panic seating of late arriving audience members. Ushers waited 3 songs and then brought a crowd down the main aisle. Maybe it was my seat, near the back of the Orchestra section but it was very distracting. I could go on about theatre etiquette, but a review doesn’t seem like the place.  Just show up on time please!

The run continues this week and closes on Sunday March 6th. Check out fabulousfox.com or beautifulonbroadway.com for ticket and show information.

Review: 'The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee' at Act Two Theatre

Erin Karll

I have never been to the Act Two Theatre, but like many regional shows I have attended the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The building was easy to find as it is attached to the city hall. They had friendly staff everywhere to lead the new comers like myself in the right direction.  I am happy to say that they are hosting a Deaf Night at the Theatre on February 20th with interpreters for the show and volunteer signers around the theatre for any needs! It should be a fun filled night for everyone with access for all! Check out acttwotheatre.com for details on this event and other shows for this season. 

Now on to the bee! I found this production is funny and fresh, and enjoyed the audience participation. The last minute spellers were all wonderful sports and had a blast onstage. Much of the choreography (Rachel Lampert) was designed so the actors could interact with the audience, sometimes very personally (looking at you two “Chip” and “Marigold”).  This is one of those shows where you need to keep your eyes peeled all over the house. The action is fast paced and fills the room, flowing off the stage and into the seats, adding to the excitement.  The set was filled the stage and was fully used. I caught myself watching for all the moving parts as the actors played other characters in flashbacks.

The harmonies from this cast were stunning in the opening number and in “The I Love You Song”.  Ryan Wood and Theresa Hermann added to “Olive’s” beautiful voice.  Nathan Robert Hinds (William Barfee) kept my attention with just a facial move and a simple “I know.” Kurtis Heinrich (Leaf Coneybear) hit the jokes without going overboard and had the best exit I have seen in a while. Lindsay Gingrich (Olive Ostrovsky) was sweet, with an air of confidence that matured her character in a believable way. Michael Barrows-Fitzgerald (Vice Principal Panch) and Grace Langford (Marcy Park) had amazing delivery on some favorite lines of the show.

Alex Dyer (Logainne Shwartzandgrubenierre) had the perfect mix of humor and sadness to show her characters layers.

There were some technical issues with microphone feedback and a light cue. They were small and handled quickly by this wonderful group.  Live theatre people!  It is almost like magic seeing this well-rehearsed crew trouble shoot on the fly. Working with the unknown is where theatre people thrive and the Act Two theatre did an amazing job with this charming and hilarious show.  Bravo to the whole cast and crew.