Seven Brides for Seven Brothers "How do you like it?" the man in front of me asked his neighbor at intermission. "I'm loving every minute," the woman replied. I report this conversation in the interest of fairness. And certainly the large Muny crowd enjoyed the robust choreography at the church social in Act One. I cannot report on Act Two, because I did not stay to see it. To me, when this cast was not in mid-air, the production was as flat as the proverbial pancake — or, as they would say in the 1850 Oregon Territory where the story is set, flapjack. Five years ago when the Muny staged this simplistic yet sprightly musical adaptation of the 1954 Stanley Donen movie, I hailed it as the most fully realized production of the summer. This week — despite having the same leading man (James Clow) and the same choreographer (Pepper Clyde) — the show feels unimaginative and lacking in warmth. You want specifics? Consider the memorable "Lonesome Polecat" number, which is usually peopled by virile dancers slashing at the air with axes. Here we get guys tossing what I suppose are meant to be sacks of grain, but which look more like soft pillows. The overriding feeling here is that director Mark Schneider does not believe in the material. And if he doesn't, why should we? But hey, that's not to say that you might not love every minute. Performed through August 7 in Forest Park. In addition to the free seats, tickets are $10 to $68. Call 314-361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.
— Dennis Brown
The Secret Garden The Secret Garden opens with a whirlwind fifteen-minute stretch that takes us from India to England and up to a gloomy estate in rural Yorkshire — it's a dreamlike passage of music and brisk scenery changes that mirrors the confusion young Mary Lennox (Alexis Kinney) must feel at traversing the world after the death of her parents. Kinney makes Mary truculent, stubborn and only reluctantly interested in her new home, which is dominated by the brooding Archibald Craven (Peter Lockyer) and his incessant pining for his dead wife. Marsha Norman's adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel requires these two mourners to suffer independently before eventually coming to terms with each other, and Kinney and Lockyer spar with growing fondness as the show progresses. Lockyer is very good, particularly in his scenes with Kinney and opposite his scheming, jealous brother, Neville (Anthony Holds). Lockyer's defeated carriage and downcast eyes shroud a magnificent heart, which becomes evident when he and Holds reminisce in song about Archibald's wife ("Lily's Eyes"). Julie Cardia provides much-needed levity as the unstintingly cheerful maid, Martha, lighting up Mary's life as well as the somberness of the proceedings — she also maintains a solid Yorkshire accent. As her brother, Dickon, Joseph Medeiros struggles with the accent, but all is forgiven when he sings — he's got some set of pipes, and his full-throated duet with Kinney ("Wick") is quite the treat. The end, although a touch rushed in its sudden development, is satisfying indeed as Mary and Archibald leave behind their world of ghosts. Presented by Stages St. Louis under the direction of Michael Hamilton through August 21 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre (111 South Geyer Avenue, Kirkwood; 314-821-2407 or www.stagesstlouis.org). Tickets are $15 to $55. — Paul Friswold