Chances are that if you’re watching live theatre in the Midwest, more often than not it’s tough to be genuinely surprised. That doesn’t mean there is any lack of talent or amazing shows that come through town. And we have a great theatre community in St. Louis. Yet there is a huge difference between seeing a show that you know will be amazing – and feeling completely surprised by something risky and new. Most shows we see are already proven, and who can blame them? It’s expensive to put on a show, and especially to bring us something new from Broadway. Yet this isn’t the case with New Line Theatre, who time after time produces shows that are different and widely unknown. Artistic director Scott Miller has a true talent for recognizing the potential in shows we might otherwise have never seen, and filling them with some of the best actors in town. With that being said, I introduce you to their latest success: Hands on a Hardbody.
Based on a documentary film which follows true events from 1995, Hands on a Hardbody takes the audience to Longview, Texas for an annual competition of endurance. The prize? A brand new pickup truck. And it’s a musical. How wonderfully strange and fantastic the synopsis sounds. But you haven’t seen or heard anything until you’ve been to the show.
Songwriter Amanda Green is no stranger to bringing us this sort of unexpected gem. My first introduction to New Line Theater was in 2012 with their production of High Fidelity, based on one of my favorite films. But a musical? Green was responsible for those lyrics, and the show was an absolute blast. And how about the surprise Broadway hit “Bring It On The Musical,” based on a 2000 high school comedy about cheerleaders? Green teamed up with the mega-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) and Tom Kitt (High Fidelity, Next to Normal) on that one, which completely caught me off-guard with how fun it was. And now Green, along with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and a book by Doug Wright (Quills, The Little Mermaid), has done it again. This time with a musical about a contest to win a truck. On paper, it’s hard to imagine that the show could be so amazing. But I’ve learned to trust both New Line and Green by now, and both have yet to let me down.
Tony Award-winner Andy Blankenbuehler directs and choreographs this perennial favorite. Under his experienced hand, all the well-loved music and humor sparkles, enhanced by brilliant, yet subtle, updates for today’s audience. For an evening of high-octane song and dance in full Technicolor, catch the show at The Fabulous Fox now through May 11th!
This particular show features a dynamic married duo – with Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young of “American Idol” fame leading the cast. These two in particular impress with stellar vocal technique and solid acting skills to boot. DeGarmo performed in the show as a choir kid and said she has long looked up to the role of the Narrator.
Usually a ‘narrator’ role fades into the background as a story takes off; that’s not the case with JOSEPH. Here the Narrator’s songs begin, end, and anchor the entire show, woven seamlessly (for the most part) throughout the rest of the music. Sometimes she speaks directly to the audience, offering a running commentary on the show; at other moments when she seems to act as a character within the story, and steals center-stage with some knock-out songs. DeGarmo rises to meet the demands of the role with great panache.
The limited engagement is a part of the 2013-2014 U.S. Bank Broadway Series. Opening night (Nov. 1) is also “Kids Night at the Fox,” which means a free childs’ ticket is available with the purchase of each adult ticket (while supplies last; some restrictions apply).
The musical features the Academy Award®-winning score from the animated classic by Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics). The show also features new songs from Menken (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). The book is written by Linda Woolverton.
It’s difficult to know just what to expect when you are about to see a musical based on George A. Romero’s 1968 original horror classic – Night of the Living Dead. What you don’t want to see is a bunch of dancing zombies in musical numbers, or songs that take light of the desperate situation the characters are in. Luckily none of that is in the show, which sticks very close to the source material. New Line’s take is intense, creepy and full of slow-building tension.
Night of the Living Dead tells the story of seven strangers who happen upon an old farmhouse to take shelter from the zombie attack outside. Barbra (Marcy Wiegert) has been separated from her brother Johnny, and sent into a semi-catatonic state. Ben (Zachary Allen Farmer) happens upon Barbra, frightened and alone in the dark, and protects her as he takes charge of upstairs. Meanwhile Harry (Mike Dowdy) and Helen (Sarah Porter), along with their sick daughter Karen (Phoebe Desilets), are taking shelter in the basement along with a young couple – Tom (Joseph McAnulty) and Judy (Mary Beth Black). Although they often disagree on tactics and argue about who’s in charge, they all share the one goal – to survive until morning.
These are the words of a man known only as White (Zachary Allen Farmer), one half of the characters in “The Sunset Limited.” Written by Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author responsible for “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men,” his second published play is an hour and thirty minute long conversation between two men who view the world very differently. White, a professor and atheist who earlier that day attempted to catch the Sunset Limited by jumping in front of it, was saved by a man who appeared out of nowhere. Black (Robert A. Mitchell), his savior, is an ex-convict and Christian who attempts to change White’s opinion of the human condition. Tackling a show like this is no small task, and an ambitious choice for Theatre Lab’s first production.
Farmer, who wowed audiences most recently as the lead in New Line Theatre’s “Bukowsical,” is fantastic in his poignant and thought provoking performance as White. The character is one who has given up hope, whose faith in God and humanity has vanished. You can feel the pain he has experienced through Farmer’s portrayal, as he meticulously brings McCarthy’s words to life in a series of powerful monologues.
The “yin” to Farmers “yang” is Bob Mitchell, a veteran of the St. Louis theatre scene and former artistic director of the NonProphet Theater Company. His masterful performance as Black pulls you in, as he tries to convince White that life is still worth living.