I’d like to say that I was surprised by just how amazing New Line Theatre‘s opening show of their 25th season was. But I can’t. Because honestly, at this point, what else did I expect? Is it a surprise when show after show, year after year, Scott Miller finds another musical that failed on or off Broadway, and breaths the breath of life back into it – reviving it from it’s eternal slumber and makes it into the wonderful piece of art it was always destined to be? The answer is no; It should come as no surprise. Heathers, based on the 1988 film starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is another inconspicuous movie destined to become a musical.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll notice that the story stays fairly true to its source material. However the musical does offer more insight into just how Veronica (Anna Skidis) infiltrated the infamous “Heathers,” the popular group of well-to-do princesses after which the title is named. There’s Heather Chandler (Sicily Mathenia), the alpha of the group, Heather McNamara (Larissa White) and Heather Duke (Cameisha Cotton).Veronica abandons everything she knows about being an outcast, becoming one of the “cool kids” at the expense of losing friends like Martha Dunstock (Grace Seidel) – referred to by the Heathers as “Martha Dumptruck.” It was just another day at Westerburg High School until JD (Evan Fornachon) showed up, eventually beating the crap out of a couple of jocks who give him trouble: Kurt Kelly (Clayton Humburg) and Ram Sweeney (Omega Jones). An unexpected romance blossoms between Veronica and JD after a falling out with the Heathers at a party, as the two of them impart their own brand of justice to combat the evils of high school villainy.
Watching a huge production of a play or musical can be great. But there is something magical that happens when you enter an intimate venue like The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End. Inside there are only ninety-nine seats, meaning the worst seat in the house is only a few rows away from the stage. You don’t have to worry about seeing or hearing the actors, and there is nothing to detract from the art which is being created before your eyes. Which is a good thing, because you wouldn’t want to miss a second of this beautifully dark and chilling story.
The Pillowman was written by Martin McDonagh, and debuted in 2003 at the Cottesloe Theatre in London, England. It earned the honor of receiving the 2004 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play, two Tonys, and both New York Drama Critics’ Circle and Drama Desk Awards. The play revolves around a short story writer named Katurian (Jason C. Klefisch), living in a totalitarian state, who is detained for questioning about recent child murders which bear a striking similarity to his stories. He eventually finds out that his brother Michal (Nick Kelly) is also being held, as their lives are placed in the hands of detectives Tupolski (Eric Dean White) and Ariel (Darian Michael Garey). The question is, are the two brothers being held unfairly, or is their something to the hard-nosed detectives’ antics?
There are only four characters in the entire play, but don’t let that scare you away. That is twice as many as appeared in Theatre Lab’s first ambitious project, The Sunset Limited. And what incredible actors were chosen for the roles. Jason Klefisch is fantastic as Katurian, who you aren’t quite sure what to think of at first. His stories are dark and twisted, yet the audience isn’t so quick to pin any guilt on him. The actor gives it his all as he turns in a gut-wrenching performance, running the gamut of emotions. Alongside him is Nick Kelley as his brother Michal for much of the show. Kelley is faced with not only performing some heavy material, but also portraying a character who has special needs. He does an excellent job with the balancing act, making his character’s actions never less than believable. He is also tasked with bringing levity to the show, while never coming across derogatorily or insensitively.
Originally written for the 1957 television broadcast starring Julie Andrews, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella finally made it’s Broadway debut in 2013. With a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, the classic tale gets some new updates – but still captures the magic of the story we know and love. The show is now playing at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis through February 1.
Returning from her leading role on Broadway is Paige Faure as Ella, with the look and cadence that would have you thinking she really is Cinderella in real life. Although some details have changed, the story is still close to the one we know and love. Ella lives with her wicked stepmother (Beth Glover) and stepsisters: Charlotte (Aymee Garcia) and Gabrielle (Kaitlyn Davidson) – although the latter is much nicer to Ella than we’ve grown accustomed to. Right at the start, Ella has a meet-cute with Prince Topher (Andy Jones) as he rides through town. It is there we are also introduced to her friends Jean-Michel (David Andino), a zany revolutionary, and Marie (Kecia Lewis) – a crazy old woman who we later learn has more up her sleeve than meets the eye. Topher’s adviser Lord Chancellor Sebastian (Blake Hammond) convinces the prince that it is time to marry – and what better way to find a bride than to throw a magnificent ball? It’s all fairy godmothers and magical transformations from then on, as the classic tale comes to life.
The show consists of many of the musical numbers from the original 1957 production, as well as some additional songs from the Rodgers + Hammerstein catalog – cut from shows like South Pacific, Me and Juliet. The number “There’s Music in You” was added from the 1997 television version that starred Brandy, which actually came from the 1957 film Main Street to Broadway – where Rodgers and Hammerstein can be seen performing it. CINDERELLA is full of great music and performances, sure to have audiences mesmerized when combined with the direction of Mark Brokaw (The Lyons, After Miss Julie, The Constant Wife, Reckless, Cry-Baby) and choreography of Josh Rhodes (Company, The Film, Three Generations at the Kennedy Center, Sondheim: the Birthday Concert).
Bonnie and Clyde (or Clyde and Bonnie, if you asked him) were a couple of American outlaws who captured the attention of the public in the early 1930s. While these two kids weren’t much more than a couple of petty robbers, commonly knocking over gas stations and small “mom and pop” stores, the media glamorized their exploits into legend. And now legend has become musical. Following its short run on Broadway, New Line has once again seen the potential in an unappreciated show – and has given it a new and glorious life!
Both newcomers to the company, Larissa White and Matt Pentecost play Bonnie and Clyde. The two leads share a phenomenal chemistry, as well as an energy that lights up the stage. Each of the actors hold their own in vocals and acting, but when they come together it is magic. The story starts off before the two of them met, with Bonnie’s dreams of being in the “Picture Show,” and Clyde trying to stay out of jail while singing about how “This World Will Remember Me.” The show then chronicles their relationship from their humble beginnings to making the headlines. Joining them are Clyde’s brother Buck (Brendan Ochs) and his wife Blanche (Sarah Porter), who both do a great job of providing the comedic relief in the show. Hot on their trails are Ted Hinton (Reynaldo Arceno) and Sheriff Schmid (Christopher Clark) who relentlessly track down the outlaws throughout the show.
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.