Jafar at the Fox

Aladdin at the Fox, where better to see this Disney-fied stage incantation of that vaguely middle eastern cartoon turned musical than at the Fabulous Fox, what with its faux Siamese Byzantine architectural motif. Turn around and even the walls have the image of the villain Jafar staring back at you. Look out! Never has the combination of venue and performance been better matched. Faux décor meets fake Arabian Nights. Still, something magical occurred on stage. This is easily the best production in our going on three-year tenure at the Fox, rivaled only by that American history lesson, Hamilton.

Aladdin has everything. It has production values out the wazoo. It has so many dance numbers that the cast must have trained first at Broadway boot camp. I got worn out just watching them dance and dance and dance. Then there are the witty asides, but most of all there is the genie. Every musical needs such a genie.

The gallery above is of show posters for Aladdin. They appeared in display cases, in front of the theater. Reflections off of the glass had to be lived with.

The two big production numbers, at least for me, were a “Friend Like Me,” in which Aladdin is introduced to the genie. In the movie Robin Williams did his schtick. Here we have an equally inventive send up to American pop culture that features references to Oprah, Let’s Make a Deal and Chorus Line. just to name a few. Who could resist gold lamé dancers sprouting fezzes instead of top hats? This song closed out the first act and in my opinion was the high point of the show. The other song I loved was “A Whole New World”, especially with its magic carpet ride. I couldn’t see any mechanism, even with binoculars. 

On the way out, we trailed a mother, with her small daughter. I asked the girl, which did she liked better, the movie or the musical. She was undecided. So, maybe I’m being too effusive in my praise of this show? I’m way sure that I’ve seen more musicals than she has. Yet, I’m sure she has seen the movie more often than I have. I’d go see the musical again. I’m not so sure about the movie.

A Doll’s House, Part 2

Doll’s House, Part 2 Cast

A Doll’s House, Part 2, written by Lucas Hnath, is a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s famous play by the same name. We went to see it, Thursday. A group discussion followed the performance. At the conclusion of which, the cast, Tina Johnson (Anne-Marie), Caralyn Kozlowski (Nora), Andrea Abello (Emmy) and Michael James Reed (Torvald) agreed to a photo.

This play begins fifteen years after Nora famously shut-the-front-door, while walking out on her husband and children. Having never heard from her since, the household is surprised to find that first she is not dead, but instead wildly successful (She has become a women’s writer.), as she walks back into their lives through that same door. She has again run afoul of Norway’s repressive 19th-century laws and needs a divorce to make things right.

The play’s bleak set telegraphs the message that the past fifteen years have not been kind to the Helmer household, with chairs stacked in the corner and only the shadows of paintings that once hung on the walls. The actors were attired in period finery, particularly Nora, who’s costume we learned later was both heavy and hot. The play’s dialog is written in contemporary language, replete with the use of four letter words.

In addition to Ibsen’s original characters, Anne-Marie the housekeeper, Nora the wife and husband Torvald, Hnath introduces daughter Emmy. In the original play, three year-old Emmy’s was only a mute walk-on part. In this sequel she is a grown women, as willful as Nora, but unwilling to flout conventions as her mother did. Reproach is the order of the day that greets Nora upon her return. Anne-Marie is resentful that having once raised Nora, she is then left to raise her children. Torvald was deeply wounded by her act and still feels aggrieved and  Emmy would prefer to have nothing to do with the mother who abandoned her.

Ibsen’s play was a forerunner of what we now call #MeToo. In-between these points, women’s rights has enjoyed successes from the suffragettes to the feminists, but as Michael James Reed’s pictured “I Believe Her” button attests, there is still much work yet to be done. It is good to see a pioneer like Nora brought forward into the 21st-century, to continue on the struggle. 



Love Never Dies

The Fabulous Fox

The Fabulous Fox theater, located here in Saint Louis, is an ornate, if somewhat ponderous masterpiece. It is one of five palaces that movie pioneer William Fox built in the late 1920s. It is an architectural twin to the one built in Detroit. Its interior is decorated in a heavy, baroque, faux Siamese-Byzantine style that is fashioned after mosques of ancient India. Its appearance is awe-inspiring and is the perfect venue for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Love Never Dies”.

This show is the sequel to Webber’s most successful musical, “The Phantom of the Opera”. It is set ten years after “Phantom” and relocated from beneath the streets of Paris to Coney Island. Most of the original play’s surviving characters are present: the Phantom, Christine, Raoul, Madame and Meg Giry. A new addition is Gustave, Christine’s son. Christine, Raoul and Gustave arrive in America, supposedly so that Christine can sing for Roger Hammerstein, but are soon lured out to Coney Island, where a chorus of supporting actors supply a bawdy carnival atmosphere that lends a sinister vibe to the proceedings.

“Love Never Dies” has been almost universally panned since its inception in the West End. A fact that multiple rewrites has not reversed, not in New York and not on the road. The sets and costumes are both sumptuous, matching the décor at the Fox and while Webber may argue that love never dies, his music certainly has. There are no catchy numbers such at the title tune in “Phantom” or its “The Music of the Night”. The audience isn’t even offered a reprise on any of these hits. It is a sequel after all. What is left is an ornate, ponderous score that plods on to the end and lands in an interminable death scene. May it rest in peace.

Brothers of the Deer

Brothers of the Deer, Michael Coleman, 1986

According to the artist Michael Coleman, “Brothers of the deer refers to the ravens in the painting. The ravens were in many cases spotted on the horizon, preceding the migration of the great herds of caribou, and called brothers of the deer by northern tribes,” in referring to this painted scene on Vancouver Island.

I called my dad, because I was worried about my Aunt Betsy, his sister. She lives in Wilmington, NC and had decided to shelter in place during Flo. I first asked him how things were going, to which he answered, “Not so good.” My heart sank, but as it turned out, it was nothing. His Internet was out and he was missing it. It had been out for a few days and AT&T’s past promises of fixing the problem had already come and gone. It has been diagnosed as part of a sporadic outage that is affecting the area and has nothing to do with the equipment at his end. It sounded like a first world problem. As it turned out, he had called Betsy after the storm and she was fine. There was no damage to her home, but she had lost power. Consequently, she didn’t want to talk very long, for fear of losing the charge on her cellphone.

Anne and I went to The Rep last night, kicking off our theater season. I had to switch our regular tickets for this show and a number of others, in order to accommodate our future travel schedule. I did pretty well, except for a show in January (Sorry Joanie) and last night’s show, which I had to re-reschedule.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” was the show.  This historical musical about Eva Peron of Argentina was one of Webber’s early shows. As it turns out, next week we have tickets for “Love Never Dies”, Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” and one of his latest shows. It will be interesting to compare and contrast these two works. I noticed many similarities between this show’s music and its predecessor “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It will be interesting to look for similar comparisons between “Phantom” and “Love Never Dies”. 

Meet Me In St. Louis

We attended the Muny last night. Meet Me in St. Louis was playing. We’ve seen this show many times before. It is almost a perennial hit around here. We went to the show primarily because it was the last show of the season and this being the Muny’s centennial season and all. Tonight is the season finale, but we went last night, just incase a rain check would be needed. The motto for this season is a line borrowed from this musical, “Right here in Saint Louis.”

For those of you not familiar with this show, it is set in the year leading up to the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair, the four Smith daughters learn lessons of life and love, even as they prepare for a reluctant move to NYC. Part of the reason that Meet Me is always a favorite is its strong repertoire of musical numbers. There is the title song of course, but there is also the Trolley Song. Saint Louis is about to get its first real trolley in decades, Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. The story climaxes to the heart string twanging tune of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. By this point in the musical the actors are performing in turn-of-the-century winter garb, outdoors in Saint Louis’s sweltering heat, but the show must go on. Actually, it was pretty nice last night.

Meet Me is full of reprises. In addition to the explicit reprises of Meet Me, Have Yourself, The Boy Next Door and Boys and Girls Like You and Me, there was a de facto reprise added to this production. The first act has, Under the Bamboo Tree. This is followed in the second act with Under the Anheuser Bush.

Today, during our bicycle ride, we swung by the History Museum, which has an exhibit celebrating the Muny’s hundred years. Most of this exhibit is dedicated to the Wizard of Oz, which by looking at the catalog of performances in the back of the program is one of the most popular and frequently performed musicals. I think that nowadays they do this show as the annual children’s show, so that all the flying monkeys can scare the bejesus out of the little tikes.

We’ve been going to the Muny now, for a third of its run. When we first moved to Saint Louis, we snickered at the blue haired old ladies who probably had been coming to the Muny since its inception. Honest, the light from the theater’s spots made their hair glow blue. We had season tickets for years. For part of that run, we dragged the boys to the shows. Dave’s first show was South Pacific. After the show Anne asked him what was his favorite part. “When the airplanes flew over”, he answered. That would have been during the Star Spangled Banner, which precedes every performance. When Anne started teaching, we started to spend less time in Saint Louis, at least during the summer. Now that I’m retired, we’re hardly here at all, but it was good to celebrate the Muny. 


Hamilton Logo + $10 Bill

We saw Hamilton last night at the Fox. It was great! Everything that we had hoped for was realized. We loved the songs. We loved the rap. It was worth the wait, two years in our case. I was heartened to see all of the black and brown faces on stage portraying our all white founding fathers. It visualized a future for this country that fulfills every promise that has been made. We have crossed over and joined that select group who have seen Hamilton. I feel so elite now.