By the Boards: Dennis Brown on the STL Theater Scene July 16-19

Categories: By the Boards
Wouldn't it be nice if our local theater folk could figure out a way to stagger their openings so that all the companies could get their fair share of attention. But it never happens that way. Too often it's feast or famine. This week we have five new openings, five shows competing for the same space. So let's parcel some out.

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Whitney Curtis | stagesstlouis.org
You are getting very sleepy: David Schmittou as Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone
Two delightful musicals receive their local debuts this week, both for extended four-week runs. The Drowsy Chaperone, which opens at Stages St. Louis, offers a loving spoof of a vintage (albeit fictional) 1928 operetta. Highlights from this imaginary show (aptly titled The Drowsy Chaperone) play out in the fantasy of a shy musical theater buff who serves as our host. When done right, the show is as much fun for the viewers as for the actors onstage.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, which is being staged by New Line, takes us into a junior-high gymnasium for an old-fashioned spelling bee that ultimately becomes a celebration of learning.

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Kate Baldwin returns to the Muny for The Music Man
Meredith Willson's The Music Man, which begins a one-week run at the Muny on Monday, returns Kate Baldwin to Forest Park as Marian the Librarian -- which should be reason enough to see the show. Four months ago when Baldwin took New York by storm in the City Center Encores! staging of Finian's Rainbow, New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote that "although she has a modest list of Broadway credits," Baldwin "feels like a discovery." If that reviewer spent more time in St. Louis, Isherwood could have seen Baldwin give delightfully assured performances at the Muny in The Sound of Music, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Hello, Dolly! and The Pajama Game (not to mention a virtuoso turn in The Last Five Years at the Rep). A discovery? Hardly. We've just been trying to figure out why it's taken New York so long to catch up with us.

Collected Stories, a sober two-character drama by the ever-provocative Donald Margulies, unites Nancy Lewis and Meghan Maguire courtesy of the Orange Girls. It is guaranteed to include no singing of any kind. On the other hand, while hardly a musical, The Merchant of Venice, which opens St. Louis Shakespeare's 25th season, is permeated by a kind of melody. As we're sure to hear, the quality of mercy is still not strain'd.

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