Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Kindertransport
And that's what we have herea first act that's labeled "cabaret," in which, on this particular night, Kelvin Urday sang a towering song about jealousy and Omega Jones and Eileen Engel sang a great number from Spamalot ("The Song That Goes Like This"), which, admittedly, requires neither deep thought nor complex emotion. Sarajane Alverson and Lindsay Rae Gingrich performed the women's duet from Rent, especially nice when their voices combined near the end. The particular duets and solos in act one are chosen by the audience from fish bowls, before the performance.
But soon things get real (even as they seem more artificial).
After a 10-minute intermission, there's Steven Serpa's high-charged opera Thyrsis & Amaranthit's also high-pitched. But it's truly beautiful: a short classical idyll with Lindsay Rae Gingrich and Eileen Engel. The piece premiered in 2011 at the Studio at Billings Forge in Hartford, Connecticut, and is directed here by R-S co-founder Christina Rios. And (after the initial shock of the stratospheric vocal register wears off) all those silvery, high-altitude musical notes seem to lift us up above some great emotional vista, merely as one bridesmaid harbors a secret love for another. It's only about 20-25 minutes long, but jammed full of thought and feeling and meaning. Maybe all operas should be condensed down to this length.
In this magnificent little story, Ms. Gingrich is the lovelorn half of the singing duo and Ms. Engel is blissfully unaware. And both of them put so much grand, honest, sweeping feeling into the segment, it feels like we've seen into their hearts for miles and miles. It is the high point of the evening (the high point of the week, as far as I'm concerned), as they exult and agonize in a remote corner of a wedding reception.
The final piece will be quite familiar to fans of NPR's (and Chicago Public Radio's) "This American Life." 21 Chump Street is a very fine rock-opera one-act based on the radio feature about an honors student in Florida who falls in love with an undercover narcotics cop, who ruins his life by buying her a small bag of marijuana. With the delightful Kelvin Urday as Justin and Natasha Toro as the mysterious Naomi, and some great back-up singers too, this Kafkaesque story seems destined to become a musical theater staple. Music and lyrics just happen to be written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame.
So, yes, in this particular case I'm telling you that Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves second billing beneath Steven Serpa. There, I said it.
Love? Actually...Through September 18, 2016, at the Westport Playhouse (by Fuzzy's Tacos), on the northeast side of Westport Plaza. For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com.