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.
Based on the 1992 box office hit which grossed over $230 million worldwide, Sister Act brings the character made famous by Whoopi Goldberg to the stage of the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis from November 19 to December 1.Deloris Van Cartier (TA’REA CAMPBELL) is an undiscovered diva with the dream to hit it big, as she auditions to sing in the nightclub of gangster Curtis Jackson (MELVIN ABSTON). After being rejected on Christmas Eve, she decides that she doesn’t need Curtis or his club to become famous. On her way out she witnesses the murder of an accused informant at the club-owner’s hands, sending her running into police custody for protection. With the help of officer Souther (CHESTER GREGORY), an old high school friend known as “Sweaty Eddie,” she takes refuge at a convent run by Mother Superior (HOLLIS RESNIK). There she tries to blend in amongst the sisters, meanwhile transforming a church on the brink of closure into a fabulous musical destination.
Sister Act is packed full of fantastic songs, which is no surprise with the talent of and Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) responsible for the music. Rarely do you find a new musical full of not-yet-famous numbers that have you captivated, one after the next. Yet in this case, the show is overflowing with catchy numbers. The lyrics by Glenn Slater are wonderfully written, telling the story while keeping things lively and entertaining throughout.
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.
The Glamorous Fox Theater became a window to the past on Tuesday as it was opening night for “Evita”. A play scribed by Andrew Lloyd and Tim Rice which tells the sultry story of Eva Peron and her husband, Juan Peron. Eva is played by Caroline Bowman and Juan is played by Sean MacLaughlin. Both bring passion and life to historical figures that walked this Earth in a tremultuious time.Eva was born in a small village in Argentina. which is not discussed in the play at all but it does lend to her personality and why the “common man” took to her so easily. At the age of 15 (where the play picks up the story) she goes to Buenos Aires to try and become a singing/acting star. This portion of the act displays a wonderous set. A small night club with stars above and lively characters strewn through out the scene. A typical bunch you would see in small gathering hole. Each set had it own story to tell. Smoke machines in the background gave off a slight fog but with the lighting used gave each scene a mystique historic quality to it.
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.