Arts & Culture » Theater

Stage Directions: May and June will be big months in local theater. Time to take stock.



The onslaught is coming; the deluge is nigh. But before the spring theater season escalates to a fever pitch later this month, during the current calm before the storm, let's take a deep breath and acknowledge some performances of note — past, present and future.

Let's begin with Becca Andrews' incandescent portrayal of Elle Woods in the recent staging of Legally Blonde by the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts. Omigod, you guys, she was like, fantabulous. Talk about a star turn. Truth to tell, during the opening ensemble number prior to Elle's entrance, the song lyrics were mostly unintelligible, which is often a harbinger for a long night. But Andrews' arrival was the stage equivalent of electroshock treatment. From that moment on, every element in the sassy show got a jump-start. As Andrews glided through the evening, her professionalism became the "blonde" standard to which everyone else had to aspire. The company then came through in spades. Though it may seem as if Andrews was born to play Elle, last September she was equally effective as the destructive teen in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour. As she graduates and moves on to what we hope will be a versatile professional career, we wish her the success she deserves.

Legally Blonde director Lara Teeter, who heads the conservatory's musical theater program, is spending the month of May at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., where he is portraying Cap'n Andy in the immortal American musical Show Boat. This major new revival has been jointly produced by three celebrated opera companies: Chicago's Lyric Opera, the San Francisco Opera Association and the Houston Grand Opera — which assures its epic scope. What a boon for theater students to have professors like Teeter who are still out there in the trenches and can teach from a posture of current experience.

So it was with Kevin Gray, a Broadway star who taught at the Hartt School, the performing-arts conservatory at the University of Hartford. The lean and sinewy Gray's numerous Broadway performances included the title role in The Phantom of the Opera and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. But his signature role was the King of Siam in The King and I, which he played on Broadway and throughout England. Last summer he portrayed the King to nigh-perfection in the Muny's closing production. His death scene at evening's end was especially poignant.

Three months ago Gray died of a sudden heart attack at age 55. Although his performances will live on in memory, his words are also worth remembering. In an interview with the Riverfront Times ["The King and Kevin Gray," August 2, 2012], he spoke about his passion for teaching. "When students leave my classroom," he said, "I want them to have a sense of their own true voices. If you don't believe in your own work, you can't really make a mark on the world. Everyone else that's out there, we have them already. We don't need another one. I want my students to find a point of view. Otherwise we'll have a world where no one ever turns the page." Gray successfully turned the King and I's page from Yul Brynner to something fresh and original. We are lucky — as was he — that his final foray in Siam occurred at the helm of such a gorgeous production at a venue he loved, and one to which he was eager to return.

The Muny is announcing casting for the upcoming summer season. And here is happy news indeed. John Scherer, who was so delightfully deft in December in the title role of the Rep's hilarious staging of The Foreigner, will be back in St. Louis for the season opener, playing one of King Arthur's merry band of knights in Spamalot. When it comes to making merry, Scherer is a must-see clown.

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