Blues in the Night Held together by the loosest of plots — three women in a Chicago hotel lament their solitary status by singing the blues — Sheldon Epps' revue lives and dies by the performances of its singers. In this production it thrives. Director Ron Himes has three vocalists — Anita Jackson, Leah Stewart and Willena Vaughn — with three distinct voices, each capable of great power. As the Girl, Stewart sings with an exuberant smile and an infectious optimism that represents youth. Anita Jackson has a diva's flair and the belting power of a classic broad; her renditions of "Take Me for a Buggy Ride" and "Kitchen Man" polish every dirty joke hidden in the poetry of the language, and her "Wasted Life Blues" is emotionally devastating. Willena Vaughn is simply a force of nature. Vaughn's upper register has a 1930s era-appropriate nasal quality, and her low notes have a burr that catches in your heart. She swings through "Stompin' at the Savoy" with exhilarating beauty, and her "Rough and Ready Man" is gutbucket-gold, a snarling, hungry declaration of unrepentant lust. Presented by the Black Rep through June 28 at the Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square. Tickets are $17 to $43 ($5 discount for students and seniors; $10 rush seats available for students 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-534-1834 or visit www.theblackrep.org.
— Paul Friswold
La Bohème Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opens its 34th season with Giacomo Puccini's magnificent tearjerker and all-time-great "date opera." The English translation of Bohème is alive with puns and wordplay Puccini would have loved. Director Tim Ocel and his spirited young cast use this wonderful libretto to paint a lively and vivid picture of a bunch of hipsters and dropouts living the Bohemian life in Paris' Latin Quarter at the cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The six principal singers have fabulous stage chemistry. They act as well as they sing — and boy, can they sing. Through June 27 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Tickets are $25 to $117 ($15 for students, K-12 teachers and active military, subject to availability). Call 314-961-0644 or visit www.opera-stl.org.
— Lew Prince
The Last 5 Years Reviewed in this issue.
The Merry Wives of Windsor This summer's annual offering from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is an amiable romp. For four centuries critics have had little good to say about this featherweight comedy in which the mischievous Sir John Falstaff (John Livingstone Rolle) attempts to woo two married women. But director Jesse Berger has brought an admirably specific approach to the material. How refreshing to see a production of Shakespeare where we know where we are and who is who. These characters actually have motivations for their often-foolish behavior. Foremost among the performers is Daniel Talbott, whose portrayal of a jealous husband would be worth the price of admission (if there were an admission). Talbott never puts the text ahead of the character, yet he makes sure the audience can follow every word he says even as we understand every emotion he's feeling. This is how Shakespeare should be acted. Performed nightly (except Tuesdays) through June 13 on Art Hill in Forest Park. Admission is free. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.sfstl.com.
— Dennis Brown
Salome Reviewed in this issue.