As You Like It Director Risa Brainin captains a boatload of talented designers and actors, steering them in the centerpiece of 2004's Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, a gently realistic comedy that's heavier on romance than laughs. Julie Evan Smith and Rashaad Ernesto Green have great chemistry as heroine Rosalind and her "love-student" Orlando, while Caroline Bootie as Celia matches Smith's infectious energy. Jerry Vogel has fun playing brothers (one evil, one not). The magical scene-shift from the bleakly oppressive court to the forest of Arden is breathtaking. Come with a picnic, play in the mud, watch the jugglers and comic actors -- and it's all free. Don't miss the "lickety-split" mini-version of the play, performed beforehand, at 7 and 7:30. Through June 20 on the east side of Art Hill in Forest Park (no show June 8 or 17). Call 314-361-0101. (Deanna Jent)
Capacity Reviewed in this issue.
Carmen Jennifer Dudley brings solid acting skills and impressive castanet technique to her portrayal of the tragic libertine in a low-key and naturalistic interpretation that relies more on the beauty of Georges Bizet's melodies than on the sheer vocal power normally associated with opera. Opera Theatre of St. Louis' staging of this sexy and satisfying version of this nineteenth-century masterpiece is brisk and sure-handed. The ensemble singing is wonderful. The orchestra is lush. There is much splendid cleavage. And it's all done in English. Through June 26 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-961-0644 for performance schedule. (Lew Prince)
Cavalleria Rusticana and Sister Angelica It's diva night at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, featuring Lisa Daltirus as Mascagni's jilted lover and Kelly Kaduce as Puccini's tormented nun. Both turn in bravura performances in this pair of one-act operas. There's lust, betrayal, tragedy and redemption galore as the two sopranos pull out all the stops and conductor Steven Lord leads OTSL's fine orchestra in a pair of topnotch productions. Bring plenty of Kleenex. Performed (of course) in English. Through June 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Call 314-961-0644 for performance schedule. (Lew Prince)
Gypsy Stages St. Louis has opened its season with the kind of show that gives this company the most trouble: a book-heavy musical that requires real direction. Despite memorable songs by Jule Styne, comic lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and an abundance of colorful sets and costumes, this is possibly the longest two hours and 50 minutes you'll spend in a theater all summer. In the title role, Christy Morton successfully conveys the poignancy of the shy waif who develops into striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. As the indefatigable Mama Rose, Zoe Vonder Haar works like a Trojan, but her brassy portrayal owes less to predecessors like Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury than it does to Babe Buchanan. Diehard conservatives might enjoy this surface production; everyone else should bring a sack lunch. Through June 27 at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Call 314-821-2407. (Dennis Brown)
Raisin Whenever she opens her mouth to sing, Sandra Reaves-Phillips is a towering presence. Her performance as a weary black matriarch determined to provide her fragmented family with a better life spearheads a uniformly strong cast in this 1974 Tony Award-winning musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's seminal American drama A Raisin in the Sun. In order to make way for the songs, the text of that important play has been reduced to a Reader's Digest "best parts" version. But there are soaring musical moments that transport an audience to a realm beyond speech. At its best, this Raisin is musical theater taken to the ultimate. Performed by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company through June 26 at the Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 314-534-3810. (Dennis Brown)
Reefer Madness Reviewed in this issue.
Zastrozzi: The Master of Discipline We've had masters and commanders, and Seinfeld fans know what it means to be master of your domain. But this lugubrious takeoff on a Burt Lancaster swashbuckler doesn't master anything. George F. Walker may be one of Canada's most acclaimed playwrights, but the former taxi driver is out of his milieu here. Revenge dramas are better left to Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens is more adept at serving up a fatal catfight between women. But Walker doesn't deserve all the blame. This murky Muddy Waters Theatre Company production of his existential spoof did not provide a single laugh -- not even a smile -- the entire evening. The one bright note: In her takeoff on Maureen O'Hara, St. Louis newcomer Meghan Maguire is a welcome breath of fresh air. Through June 13 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street. Call 314-540-7831. (Dennis Brown)