Last year marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most beloved musical films of all time – The Sound of Music. Starring Julie Andrews as Maria, and Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp, the remarkable 1965 film was an adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical from 1959 (Starring Mary Martin) – adapted to the stage by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who based the musical on the 1949 memoirs of Maria Augusta von Trapp. The story has survived through many decades and embodiment, and now finds itself at the Fox Theatre with the premiere of a brand new production.
Newcomer Kerstin Anderson plays Maria, the star of the show who shines ever so brightly. The now junior at Pace University took a break from school to pursue an amazing opportunity as the lead in the show, and thankfully for us she chose to do so. Anderson is wonderful in the role, so sweet and so kind as Maria should be. And so seemingly innocent to the ways of the world, and of relationships. Her portrayal of the bubbly nun-to-be is exactly what you would hope it to be. And her voice is absolutely beautiful, and she proves it right off the bat as she sings “The Sound of Music” in front of the wonderfully painted backdrop of the hills.
All of the sets are so fantastically crafted, from the abbey to the magnificent von Trapp estate. Although they work cleverly in more modern shows, you won’t see an LED screen backdrop or any special effects in this production. The brilliantly crafted sets and lighting in the show are masterful, as they take the audience back to 1938 Austria.
After several attempts to fit in at the abbey, The Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) sends Maria to be the new governess to the seven von Trapp children. Betts, whose credits include many regional productions as well as television, possesses a powerful voice which helps to guide Maria on her journey. Their interactions are not only touching at times, but also fun to watch as Maria helps Mother Abbess remember how much she loves music. It is at the von Trapp family home where she meets the patriarch – Captain Georg von Trapp (BEN DAVIS). Davis is perfect in the role, and is commanding as the Captain. His first interaction with Maria comes when he teaches her how to whistle for each of the children, which results in hilarity as Maria stands up to him. The two lead actors have great chemistry, and are fantastic as we watch their relationship blossom throughout the show. Their budding romance is one of the greatest parts of the film, and this production nails their story.
“One of the most romantic stories ever written.”
Or so they say. More romantic than Gone With the Wind? Or Romeo and Juliet? How about Pride and Prejudice? Somehow it is hard for me to believe that the story of a married woman who embarks on a four-day affair while her husband and kids are away on a family trip to the fair is one of the most romantic stories ever written. Call me old fashioned.
“Robert, when we were making love last night, you said something that I still remember. I kept whispering to you about your power — and, my God, you have that. You said, ‘I am the highway and a peregrine and all the sails that ever went to sea.’ You were right. That’s what you feel, you feel the road inside of you.”
That is a line from the 1992 best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, upon which the musical is based. If you ask me, it sounds like something out of a book you would find on a dime-store spinner rack. Yet somehow the material transcended far beyond what would be expected of similar writings, masquerading as a sort of Midwestern Anna Karenina. The novel has sold more than 50 million copies since then, becoming a 1995 film directed by (and starring) Clint Eastwood before eventually becoming a Broadway musical in 2014. The production ran for less than three months, for a mere 137 performances before embarking on a national tour in late 2015.
Have you ever wondered, in your daily life, “what if?” For most people, thousands of decisions are made at regular, without a thought going to what might happen if they were to choose differently, or how the smallest choice may have vastly different outcomes if made differently. “If” I do this, “Then” this might happen. That is exactly the premise for “If/Then,” an original and fascinating look at one woman’s life which splits into two very different paths – all based on what seems like a trivial choice. The outcome is a brilliant new musical that makes you think harder about your own decisions, and just how life may turn out upon travelling a different route.
The story follows Elizabeth (JACKIE BURNS), a recently divorced woman who moves back to New York after over a decade in Phoenix. One day while meeting up with her old boyfriend Lucas (ANTHONY RAPP) and neighbor Kate (TAMYRA GRAY) at the park, she is forced to make what would seem like a trivial decision. Should she go listen to music in Brooklyn with Kate, or protest a city development project with Lucas? Yet either decision will shape here entire future into drastically different circumstances, and it is here where the show is split into two stories: one following “Liz” who dons her glasses while riding the subway with Kate and her girlfriend Anne, and one where “Beth,” with her perfect vision (or contacts), joins Lucas for his protest. The glasses or lack thereof are how we keep the stories straight, and are a quite effective tool.
With music by Tom Kitt, the man responsible for one of my favorite musicals of recent years – Next to Normal (Read our reviews of the Fox and New Line performances) – the songs throughout the show are extremely catchy, and quite memorable. Being a newer show, I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear any of them previously, but was delighted to find so many instant hits. Listening back to the original cast recording after the show, I realized that this would be one I’d instantly want to add to my musical playlist.
I can’t believe it has already been a few years since the Riverdance Farewell Tour came through St. Louis in 2012. It was an incredible show (read the review here), as we sent off the legendary production that had been touring for the better part of two decades across the globe. Fortunately for audiences in the States, due to popular demand and sold out shows all across Europe and Asia, Riverdance is back after its four year hiatus – with the 20th Anniversary World Tour!
The show is back and better than ever, featuring new costumes, visuals – and an amazing new hard-show dance number (“Anna Livia”) from the female members of the cast. I was so pleased to hear that Riverdance was returning after their absence in the US. Although I was lucky enough to see the Farewell tour, I was hopeful that they would return. And they did not disappoint. Everything was as incredible as I remembered, and even better this time around. The music was magnificent, as it blasted powerfully through the auditorium of the beautiful Fox Theatre. The dance numbers seemed bigger and better than ever, with some of the most talented dancers I’ve ever witnessed. And the new projections created for the tour were a perfect compliment to the sights and sounds that have made Riverdance one of the most successful touring shows in the world.
The lead dancers were tremendously talented. With the last tour, I was blown away with both the male and female leads, and didn’t think that the dancing could get and faster – nor any more complex. But the 20th Anniversary Tour had a surprise in-store for me last night. The two main leads of the show, Maggie Darlington and Jason O’Neill, are champions of Irish dance and have traveled across the world sharing their talents. O’Neill has landed the lead role in three shows, and has performed in over 200 cites across the globe. His footwork is absolutely breathtaking – perhaps the fastest and most precise I’ve ever witnessed. And Darlington is as talented as she is lovely, every fast-paced movement appearing effortless and in sync with the rhythm produced by the 4 amazing instrumentalists. She started dancing at only three years old, winning four North American Championships, two All-Ireland, and the World Irish Dancing Championships. Her experience and skill is apparent as she lights up the stage. Both dancers are two of the best at what they do, along with the other two male and female leads (Ciara Sexton, Emma Warren, James Greenan and Bobby Hodges). The leads and Irish Troupe all work together marvelously, with the musicians and vocalists, to give the audience a mind-blowing performance.
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It has been probably twenty years since I watched the 1992 film Newsies, starring a 17-year-old Christian Bale as Jack Kelly – the leader of what would become known as the “Newsboys Strike of 1899.” Aside from starring the future Oscar-winning actor, and being directed by Kenny Ortega, there isn’t much I remember about the box office failure – which recouped less than $3 million dollars of its $15 million budget. However someone at Disney believed in the potential of the story, and the fantastic music of Alan Menken, and in 2011 it opened at the Paper Mill Playhouse to critical acclaim. In 2012 it would land on Broadway, winning Tony Awards® for Best Score and Best Choreography. And now the national tour is making its way around the country, and has landed at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis.