By CB Adams

I shouldn’t admit this, but during the intermission at opening night of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “La Bohème,” I thought of Cher.

I should have been madly scribbling notes about all of the salient aspects of this Puccini classic, as all good reviewers should, but instead I was thinking of Cher’s performance as Loretta Castorini in the movie “Moonstruck.” Specifically, the scene when she’s discussing her experience having just attended “La Bohème.”

“I was surprised…” she says. “You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick.”

The “she” is Mimi, and if Loretta had seen lyric soprano Katarina Burton’s performance, she might have realized that Mimi really was gonna die. That’s because Burton maintains a tightly controlled, authentic simplicity that draws attention to Mimi’s inner life and emotional journey. That journey is imbued with a subtle-but-persistent death-hauntedness – starting with a small, foreshowing cough as she makes her entrance in the first act.

Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo and Katerina Burton as Mimì in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The specter of death makes Burton’s performance of Mimi’s deterioration compelling, tragic and all the (tragically) sweeter, especially her love and tribulations with Rodolfo. I hesitate to write that line because I’ve become more than bit disillusioned with the whole dying heroine trope. You know, “Terms of Endearment,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Hope Floats,” “Beaches,” etc., etc.

It’s to Burton’s credit that I suspended my dislike for this narrative device. Her voice conveys the necessary subtle nuances and delivers Puccini’s demanding melodies with a beautiful legato and emotional depth. She is convincing actress who genuinely portrays Mimi’s joy, love and eventual (inevitable) suffering.

That was enough to win me over to Team Mimi – as was her chemistry with Rodolfo. The dynamic of this duo in their duets and emotional scenes provides a satisfying balance in these interactions.

If Burton’s Mimi foreshadows her journey with a small cough, Moisés Salazar’s’ Rodolfo faces his journey’s climax with the catch of his throat when he realizes Mimi has died. Salazar’s performance provides many confident and fine moments, but it is at that catch of the throat that rang the truest, most human and genuine. It’s also the moment that makes clear his journey of loss is just beginning.

Salazar exhibits a powerful and expressive tenor voice that ably conveys lyrical tenderness, dramatic intensity and a palpable emotional connection and chemistry with Mimi, enhancing the romantic and tragic dimensions of their relationship. His acting abilities enlivened his Rodolfo’s youthful ardor and eventual despair​.

Brittney Renee achieves another bit of opera theater magic in the final act. In the first three, Renee delivers a Musetta who displays the requisite range of confident liveliness and flamboyance with a touch of naughtiness (Café Momus, anybody?). But it’s her act of kindness toward Mimi in fourth act that most humanizes the character. Renee’s compassion adds genuine depth to the role.

Thomas Glass as Marcello, Titus Muzi III as Schaunard, Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo, and André Courville as Collins in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

Great chemistry is a hallmark of this cast, especially among the Bohemians – Thomas Glass as Marcello, André Courville as the philosopher, Collins, and Titus Muzi III as Schaunard. Collectively and individually, their vocal abilities combined with seamless ensemble singing, maintains harmonic unity, but it is in their camaraderie and musical interplay provides the necessary chemistry to drive much of the opera’s emotional and narrative depth​.

Proof that there are no small roles in theater is found in the minor character Parpignol, the toymaker and vendor who makes his one and only appearance in Act II. Levi Adkins inhabits the character who contributes to the effervescence of the abundant, bustling Christmas Eve scene.

Most memorable is his Napoleonic hat, red and white jacquard pantaloons and backpack drum, thanks to the efforts of costume designer Amanda Seymour as well as wig and makeup designers Krystal Balleza and Will Vicari.

Another memorable costume is notable for a very different reason. It’s Mimi’s periwinkle blue coat and purse in Act II. As Mimi opens her heart to Marcello outdoors, they interact in the cold outdoors. The way Burton clings to that handbag while standing in a coat that is too light for such cold, reveals volumes about the uncomfortable state of her character.

It’s moments like this when the collective efforts of the cast, director Michael Shell, set design (Takeshi Kata) and lighting design (Marcus Doshi) align to elevate a small moment.

Moisés Salazar as Rodolfo and Thomas Glass as Marcello in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The members of members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra consistently provide terrific performances for OTSL performances – so much so that it’s easy to forget how important the music is. For “La Bohème,” the musicians, under the direction of José Luis Gómez, exquisitely convey the depth of characters’ sentiments and enhance the immersion in the poignant narrative.

As a member of the “chestnuts club,” opera’s “La Bohème” is like ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and can be counted on to put cheeks in seats. The regular appearance of a “La Bohème” of this quality should be celebrated because the opera stands up well to repeated viewings (and listenings) and is a good “gateway” to the artform. It’s like pressing replay, pulling on a favorite sweater or meeting a friend for lunch.

And, to invoke Cher once more, it makes me believe yet again  “…in life after love..”

“La Bohème” is part of Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2024 repertory season continuing through June 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For tickets or more information visit www.opera-stl.org.

Brittany Renee as Musetta and Thomas Glass as Marcello in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

Cover photo: Brittany Renee as Musetta in Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

By CB Adams

The poppy, exuberant experience of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s production of “The Barber of Seville” begins well before the opening notes of the overture. Fluttering above Andrew Boyce’s beachy-colored set are a pair of scene-stealing neon lips.

There are more lips to come, from a version of Salvatore Dali’s Mae West red sofa, to the overhead toothy red lips made famous during the opening of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” movie, and even to the inflated labia on the Lipps Inc. “Funkytown” album cover.

As Count Almaviva, pretending to be Lindoro, sings to Rosina in the first act, “…your name is on my lips, and you are in my thoughts, from early dawn till late at night.” Those lines perfectly sum up the premise for “The Barber of Seville” while merriment and mayhem ensue until the last moment in this comic opera.

Boyce’s set design and Marcus Doshi’s lighting give us a Seville, Spain by way of Ibiza and Miami. Their less-is-more approach places a premium on the details, such as the canary yellow wall with a simple balcony and hand-operated openings, the Moorish-patterned floor, and a ruby-red barber chair shaped like an upturned hand.

L to R: Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo, Patrick Carfizzi as Don Basilio, Hongni Wu as Rosina, Andrew Morstein as Count Almaviva, Justin Austin as Figaro, and Chase Sanders as Berta/Notary in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

The minimalist set is the perfect backdrop to the more-is-more approach of Linly Saunders’s costumes and the wigs and makeup provided by Krystal Balleza and Will Vicari. At the risk of a spoiler alert, the entrance of a character wearing outrageously large, billowing pantaloons is one of the performance’s best moments.

Also noteworthy is the way stage director and choreographer Eric Sean Fogel makes great and clever use of Doshi’s lighting on the small cast to create shadowplay that exponentially increases the chaos during certain key scenes. 

All of the singers in this production deliver their characters with technical prowess, theatrical flair, spot-on comedic timing and expressive acting that match the opera’s humor and complexity.

Justin Austin provides a plucky, charismatic Figaro that is equal parts Austin Powers, Artful Dodger, and Placido Domingo. Nathan Stark’s overbearing Dr. Bartolo shares DNA with both Daddy Warbucks and Big Daddy.

During Count Almaviva’s arias, Andrew Morestein confidently sings Rossini’s virtuosic runs with a seamless blend of lyrical beauty and vocal acrobatics. Hongni Wu dazzles as an assertive Rosina, particularly in the demanding coloratura passages that require precision and agility.

Justin Austin as Figaro and Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

As the conniving Don Basilio, Patrick Carfizzi’s booming bass commands the stage, especially during his aria about the joys of spreading malicious gossip.

Yet another highlight of this performance is, of course, the music. Under the direction of Jonathan Brandani, the St. Louis Symphony captures Rossini’s vibrant, playful melodies filled with dynamic rhythms and memorable, spirited tunes. Adding another layer of enjoyment is the clear translation under the coaching of English diction specialist Erie Mills.  

Performances, in English with projected English text, continue through June 29th at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, consult the OTSL website: https://opera-stl.org/

Cover photo by Eric Woolsey

Justin Austin, Andrew Morstein and Hongnu Wu. Photo by Eric Woolsey
Nathan Stark as Dr. Bartolo and Andrew Morstein as Count Almaviva in Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Photo © Eric Woolsey

Award-winning St. Louis writer-photographer CB Adams has been named a Missouri Arts Council Featured Artist

Since the Missouri Arts Council founded the Missouri Featured Artists Program in December 2020, they have highlighted nearly 170 imaginative makers from throughout the state – painters, pencil artists, sculptors, dancers, singers, instrumental musicians, poets, novelists, filmmakers, ceramicists, jewelry artists, glass artists, and many more who create in myriad other ways.

(https://missouriartscouncil.org/featured-artists/).

The Council has recognized Adams before when he received the state’s (now defunct) top literary prize, the Missouri Writers’ Biennial, in 1995. That same year, the Riverfront Times named him “St. Louis’ Most Under-Appreciated Writer.”

“Bonfire of the Verities” photo by C.B. Adams

His photography has been shown in more than 35 galleries throughout the United States, including New York City, Boston, New Orleans and Sacramento and published in numerous magazines and journals. He is currently working to turn his project True North, a decade-long photographic examination of North St. Louis, into a solo show and monograph.

His short stories have appeared in more than 13 literary journals. His non-fiction has been published in local, regional and national publications. He is a former music/arts editor and feature writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

In addition to his lifestyle blog, Life On Snob Hill, Adams is a theater, music, dance and reviewer for Poplifestl and KDHX and a member of the St. Louis Theater Critics Circle.

Examples of all of his work are available at www.qwerkyphotography.com.

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“Cloak” photo by C.B. Adams

By CB Adams

The American music journalist, essayist and critic Robert Christgau astutely noted that “When bodies move in relation to a designed space, be it stage or ballroom or living room or gymnasium or agora or Congo Square, they comment on that space.”

I was reminded of Christgau’s words during the performance of Los Angeles dance company Bodytraffic, presented by Dance St. Louis at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on April 6.

The works of Bodytraffic, established in 2007 under the guidance of Artistic Director Tina Finkelman Berkett, comment through the universal language of movement on the space that is best defined as the head space, the psyche.

Bodytraffic’s mission is to make dance approachable, accessible and inclusive on both national and international scales. With an eclectic repertoire that celebrates a variety of choreographic voices, Bodytraffic provides a dynamic platform for established and emerging artists.

The company also embraces its role as a cultural ambassador, fostering connections and understanding between communities through dance diplomacy, where every moment is captivating thanks to the unwavering skill and charm of the cast. Dance St. Louis, our local dance ambassador, should be commended for inviting Bodytraffic to St. Louis.

From Bodytraffic’s significant involvement in programs like DanceMotion USA in Israel and Jordan during the Obama administration to subsequent ambassadorial engagements in countries like South Korea, Algeria and Indonesia, the company exemplifies a commitment to cross-cultural exchange and artistic excellence.

SNAP. Photo by Tomasz Rossa.

Bodytraffic also engages in comprehensive education and outreach initiatives, Bodytraffic is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of dancers, empowering hundreds of students each year and fostering a culture of challenge, passion and growth. This is worth noting because it exemplifies the need for successful cultural organizations to engage with a variety of communities.

Bodytraffic presents dance as movement and as a catalyst for exploration, celebration and meaningful transformation, while displaying the profound power of rhythm to inspire and uplift. The Bodytraffic dance ensemble consists of Katie Garcia, Pedro Garcia, Alana Jones, Tiare Keeno, Ty Morrison, Joan Rodriguez, Guzman Rosado and Jordyn Santiago.

Bodytraffic is known for harnessing the vibrant energy of its Los Angeles roots to deliver compelling performances, and that essence was in full view during their performance at the Touhill as the dancers showcased impeccable technique and a fervent dedication to their craft with passion and precision. The four-part program evoked the spirit of a beloved television series (I’m thinking of PBS’s “American Experience”).

The performance began with a last-minute substitution of the program’s “A Million Voices” with “Blue Until June,” choreographed by Trey McIntyre. No reason for the substitution was given, but “Blue Until June” captivated as a mesmerizing dance piece that intertwined the soulful melodies of blues legend Etta James with fluid and emotive movements. McIntyre’s choreography, inspired by James’s rich vocals, created a poignant narrative of love’s complexities and the search for connection.

Bloquea’o performed by BODYTRAFFIC: Katie Garcia, Pedro Garcia, Alana Jones, Tiare Keeno, Ty Morrison, Joan Rodriguez, Guzmán Rosado and Jordyn Santiago

The music set the tone of personal and political turmoil as the dancers immersed themselves in a journey of longing and love. The piece unfolded with a solo woman, symbolizing vulnerability and strength, while other dancers gradually emerged from beneath a dark canvas tarp, their movements echoing the soulful rhythms of James’s songs.

Throughout the performance, dancers transitioned seamlessly between duets, displaying a range of lyrical and modern movements that conveyed passion and melancholy.

The dance reached its climax with James’s haunting rendition of “At Last,” as the lead female dancer found her perfect companion in a beautifully executed duet filled with lifts and extensions. McIntyre’s original vision, conceived for the Washington Ballet in 2000, proved it could still captivate with its blend of soul-stirring music and expressive choreography.

Next was Micaela Taylor’s “SNAP, “ a dance performed in an atmospheric haze that unfurled like a dynamic tapestry woven with threads of movement and sound. With the legendary James Brown’s pulsating rhythms as its heartbeat, the piece captured the sprawling diversity and pulsating energy of Los Angeles while seeming to urge the audience to “snap out” of “social pressures to conform and to celebrate what it means to find a home within yourself,” according to the program.

Taylor’s choreography, a testament to her own quest for identity amidst the vast urban landscape, transcended mere steps to become a resonant narrative of loneliness and resilience.

Against the backdrop of Brown’s anthem “This Is A Man’s World,” a lone male dancer emerged, his every movement a defiant assertion of self in the face of societal expectations. As the ensemble swirled around him, their bodies fluidly conducted the music’s raw power while the dancers ignited the stage with a frenetic energy.

“SNAP” fused street-style bravado and contemporary sensibility. Amid the exuberance, there were poignant contrasts provided by moments of quiet introspection as male and female dancers grappled with the constraints of gender norms. As the performance reached its denouement, its message resonated with a metaphorical exhortation to embrace individuality and snap out of the shadows into the light of self-discovery.

Bodytraffic made innovative use of the intermission by projecting what seemed like a video travelogue about Cuba. But the video really served as an introduction to Joan Rodriguez’s “Bloquea’o,” a poignant homage to resilience, love and the enduring quest for home amidst the backdrop of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

The piece featured the music of Cuban-Chinese cellist and interdisciplinary artist SUUVI (formerly known as Sophia Bacelar), who has been acclaimed for her expressive musicianship and disruptive, exploratory spirit.

Drawing from his own experience as a Cuban refugee, Rodriguez wove a narrative that intertwined personal struggle with collective upheaval, encapsulating the relentless pursuit of human dignity amid political turmoil. The evocative score, a rich tapestry of Cuban rhythms and historical echoes, served as both a soundtrack and a character in its own right, guiding the dancers through a symphony of emotions. Rodriguez’s choreography seamlessly melded Folklorico traditions with contemporary expressions that were augmented by the projected video.

“Bloquea’o” unfolded like a living tableau of love, loss and defiance. Against the backdrop of Suuvi’s haunting cello and Ricky Matute’s percussive cadence, the dancers traversed a landscape marked by longing and resilience.

John F. Kennedy’s voice echoed through the theater and mingled with the rhythms of Havana streets as the dance evoked the blurry boundaries between past and present and  invited the audience to bear witness to the eternal struggle for freedom.

Talk about bodies moving in relation to a designed space!

Photo by Guzman Rosado

Alejandro Cerrudo’s “PacoPepePluto,” a piece of playful innuendo and physical dexterity originally crafted for Hubbard Street Dance, concluded the program. “PacoPepePluto,” highlighted the talents of three male soloists: Joan Rodriguez, Pedro Garcia and Joseph Davis. Their performances exuded a blend of athleticism and whimsy.

Set against the backdrop of classic tunes by Joe Scalisi and Dean Martin, the dancers, adorned in nothing but nude dance belts, traversed the stage with a blend of coy charm and masculine strength reminiscent of Olympian gods in a mischievous mood. Matthew Miller’s deft backlighting skillfully highlighted the dancers’ musculature while delicately veiling their modesty when facing forward and underscored the choreography that was marked by bold leaps and agile turns.

“PacoPepePluto” cleverly explored the interplay between nudity, vulnerability and power while delivering a lighthearted-yet-compelling exploration of the human form. Each dancer, clad in the minimalist attire of dance belts, evoked a sense of both liberation and restraint while teasing with playful gestures that artfully obscured and revealed in equal measure.

Amidst the buoyant energy of the performance, Cerrudo strategically employed moments of shadow and silhouette, creating a visual tapestry that tantalized without veering into gratuitousness. The result was a piece that balanced the ethereal beauty of movement with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the inherent absurdity of the human condition.

With its blend of wit, athleticism and visual poetry, “PacoPepePluto” served as a fitting conclusion to an evening of captivating dance. Bodytraffic’s entire performance provided a deft exploration of preconceived notions of the body, leaving me with a lingering sense of wonderment and a newfound appreciation for the art of movement.

Dance St. Louis presented Bodytraffic at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on April 6

Photo by Guzman Rosado.


By CB Adams
It must have been a challenge trying to fill the Stifel Theater on April 5 for a program with the St. Louis Symphony and guest conductor Ward Stare playing backup band to The Music of R.E.M. Die-hard symphony goers might have resisted a hybrid program of orchestral interpretations of R.E.M. songs and the “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra” by the band’s bassist, Mike Mills.

The program might have been overshadowed by the reputation of R.E.M., one of the most influential rock bands from the early 1980s to the early aughts, known for their melodic-yet-enigmatic sound, poetic lyrics and the distinctive vocals of frontman Michael Stipe.

On the other side of the spectrum die-hard R.E.M. fans who want nothing less than the band to reunite (good luck with that), might have resisted the program for softening and diluting R.E.M.’s potent oeuvre. Despite the challenges of such perceptions or expectations, St. Louisans delivered a respectable showing while the symphony Mills delivered a satisfying experience that beautifully integrated rock elements into classical structures.

The first half of the performance were two sets of “Orchestral Reconstructions” of R.E.M. songs by composers Carl Marsh and David Mallamud. It is these two composers who deserve the kudos for this portion of the program – come for the R.E.M., stay for Marsh, Mallamud and the SLSO.

Emphasizing a desire for originality, Mills expressed his preference for orchestral pieces that incorporated R.E.M. melodies in innovative ways rather than relying on conventional symphonic embellishments. And that’s exactly what was most interesting and intriguing about these works.

Other than the occasional recognizable phrase, they weren’t really recognizable as R.E.M. songs. Even if you knew nothing of R.E.M., these reconstructions stand alone as enjoyable experiences. For instance, you wouldn’t miss Stipe’s plaintive howl in “Cuyahoga” even if you knew the song – that’s how differently distinctive Marsh’s interpretation is.

Mills and McDuffie in concert with Winston-Salem Orchestra. J Farley Photography.

Several years ago, Mills approached Marsh with a commission, inviting him to “deconstruct” several R.E.M. songs (a mix of hits and personal favorites) and create new orchestral compositions from their elements. Marsh is known for his eclectic blend of classical orchestration and contemporary electronic elements, crafting immersive soundscapes that traverse genres with depth and innovation.

Mills tasked Marsh deconstructing five R.E.M. songs: “Pilgrimage” from Murmur (1983), “Cuyahoga” from Life;s Rich Pageant (1986), “Near Wild Heaven” from Out of Time (1991), and “Try Not To Breathe” and “Everybody Hurts” from Automatic for the People (1992). Marsh’s approach to “Everybody Hurts,” R.E.M.’s iconic song, involved exploring variations of the dominant piano line’s triplet patterns.

To complement Marsh’s contributions, Mills enlisted David Mallamud, a renowned composer and arranger, to deconstruct another set of R.E.M. songs. Mallamud’s selections included “Fall on Me” from Life’s Rich Pageant (1986), “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” and “The One I Love” from Document (1987), “Find the River” and “Man on the Moon” from Automatic for the People
(1992), and “Supernatural Superserious” from Accelerate (2008).

Mallamud’s approach differed from Marsh’s, resulting in a single long suite composed of his six deconstructed pieces that began that flowed from the Intro and Bargaining through Denial, Anger, Depression and Acceptance. All interpretations were strong, but the last song, a jaunty “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” was the clear crowd-pleaser.

The second half of the performance featured Mill’s own “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and Orchestra,” which is a hybrid of a song suite and a true concerto. The piece is a collaboration between Mills and lifelong friend and violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie, who is known for his appearances with prestigious ensembles like the New York and London Philharmonic Orchestras.

Debuting in 2016, the concerto has been performed a dozen times and explores a unique fusion of rock and classical elements. Unlike previous attempts at blending these genres, the concerto stands out for its focus on melody, effectively marrying the raw energy of rock with the sophistication of a string ensemble.

Divided into six sections, the concerto resembles more of a diverse suite than a cohesive violin-centric composition. Notably, the orchestration and additional music contributions from David Mallamud underscore the collaborative nature of the piece. As you might expect, the rock influence predominated during this performance, with Mills assuming his role on bass alongside McDuffie, William Tonks on guitar and Gerry Hansen on drums.

Unlike previous attempts at blending these genres, the concerto stands out for its focus on melody, effectively marrying the raw energy of rock with the sophistication of a string ensemble. This was most evident in “Stardancer’s Waltz,” during which McDuffie fully explored a variety of riffs that could make the tune an enduring standard.

Mills in concert at another hall with this touring show.

He showcased remarkable confidence and strength in his rendition of melody lines and demonstrated mastery in precision, fluidity and speed. He also displayed skills that would challenge even the most adept electric guitarists, which contributed immensely to the success of this hybrid concerto.

Another crowd-pleaser was “A Little Nightswimming,” a poignant, piano-driven track from R.E.M.’s acclaimed 1992 album, Automatic For The People – and a personal favorite. “Nightswimming,” is one of the best songwriting achievements that Mills made with R.E.M. and the concerto’s version was a beautiful, graceful duet between Mills and McDuffie.

For those who took a chance on the SLSO’s R.E.M. performance (let’s call ourselves shiny, happy people), the experience demonstrated that the mutability of music is a big tent that can accommodate hybridizations among genres. After all, classical composers from Bartók and Dvořák to Copland and Williams have drawn folk songs and popular music, infusing classical compositions with the rich cultural
tapestry of their respective regions. And you can add Mills to that list.

By CB Adams  

When Dance St. Louis presented Ailey II on March 1-2 at The Touhill Performing Arts Center, it did more than provide a stage for the second company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It created an Event.

It is important to remember that Dance St. Louis is one of the country’s oldest, and one of only four, non-profit dance-only presenters – so presenting Ailey II is the type of dance concert you would expect from an organization with this type of mission. And the Ailey II performance alone would have been more than worth the price of a ticket.

Yet, the experience was augmented with the type of pre-show program that I wish were offered at all cultural events. Rather than dash from the parking lot to my seat, there is much to be said for easing into a more relaxed, inspiring, receptive state of mind. I enjoy walking looking at the art in The Sheldon’s galleries and listening to the short lecture before performances at Union Avenue Opera, for instance.

Dance St. Louis is known for its pre-show “Speaking of Dance.” For Ailey II, Dance St. Louis artistic director Michael Uthoff provided the Q and Francesca Harper, artistic director of Ailey II, responded with the A.

She provided entertaining, anecdote-laced stories about the company, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year as a vital link between student aspirations and professional realities. Under Harper’s leadership the company maintains its commitment to fostering emerging talent while demanding rigorous dedication.

Revelations. Photo by Nir Arieli

Adding to the festival feel of the Ailey II performance was a student art exhibit with interesting and impressive works by students from Grand Center Arts Academy and Central Visual & Performing Arts High School. As a visual artist myself, I enjoyed seeing what the new generation of creators can do. The level of confidence and skills of the young artists was enviable.

In the half hour or so before the Ailey II dancers took the stage, as if to prime the audience, The Phil Woodmore Singers, with 27 singers, filled the lobby with a sometimes thunderous performance of jazz, gospel and spirituals.

Now, that’s what I call an Event – engaging, thought-provoking, inspiring, all with a bunch of like-minded folks. I normally eschew commenting on audiences, but this one was noteworthy. Maybe it was the undiminished vitality of the Ailey “brand.”

Maybe it was the impressive list of supporting civic, cultural and faith organizations that were thanked before the performance. Or maybe it was the anticipation for full experience of the Event. Whatever the reason, if there were any empty seats, I didn’t see them at the March 2 performance.

The evening began with “Luminous” (2023), choregraphed by Harper and danced by the company. As she explained during the pre-show interview, “Luminous” explores the company’s rich five-decade journey and is inspired by the cherished memories of Ailey II’s esteemed alumni and their commitment to innovation and social advocacy.

The work fosters a communal spirit among the dancers reminiscent of Alvin Ailey’s ethos. Through intimate conversations with past luminaries like Matthew Rushing and Sylvia Waters, Harper crafted a narrative that resonates with the current generation, enriching their understanding of the company’s legacy.

Championing Ailey II’s archival efforts, Harper underscores the importance of documenting Black narratives in dance history. “Luminous” beautifully honors its past and propels the company forward with continued excellence and opportunities for emerging talent.

Maya Finman-Parker in Judith Jamison’s “Divining.” Photo by Nir Arieli.

Next was choreographer Judith Jamison’s “Divining” (excerpt), spellbindingly danced by Maggy van den Heuvel. Her interpretation beautifully captured the essence of sky, flight, bow and ripple – all set against a backdrop of diverse rhythms from North African, Central African and Latin influences, “Divining” pulsated with a vibrant energy that was captivating and evocative.

Van den Heuvel’s commanding presence on stage and her flawless execution of Jamison’s choreography showcased her exceptional talent and brought a fresh perspective to this piece with its mysterious undertones suggesting a quest or search.

Also from 2023 was “John 4:20” with choreography by Baye & Asa, a company creating movement art projects directed by Amadi “Baye” Washington & Sam “Asa” Pratt. “John 4:20” is an interpretation of that passage from the Bible.

In this performance, the dance piece traditional boundaries to explore themes of shared history and divergent identities. Six dancers masterfully blended elements of hip hop, African, and contemporary modern styles, crafting a choreographic narrative that pulsed with intensity and intimacy.

Through a series of duets and group interactions, the dancers navigated the spectrum of human emotion, from the bustling streets to the intimate playground, deftly confronting the realities of violence while emphasizing the transformative potential of empathy.

“John 4:20” was perhaps my favorite piece of the evening, if only because it was new to me and so deftly performed with such athleticism and precision, engaging me with a visceral journey through love, hate, resilience and vulnerability.

Revelations. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Concluding the performance was Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” (1960), the most iconic piece of the evening. Ailey II’s rendition of “Revelations” continues to solidify its historical significance, marking 60 years of continuous – and well deserved –  performance. As one of the most renowned American concert dances of all time, the dancers of Ailey II provided a performance that resonated deeply, its images and choreography leaving an indelible impression.

“Revelations” is more than just a dance; it’s a tapestry of voices, echoing the emotions and motivations of African American religious music. Langston Hughes aptly described it as an exploration of these rich traditions. Rooted in the rituals of Black South culture, the work serves as a cultural-political touchstone, offering a sense of shared history and collective identity.

As with other performances of “Revelations” I have attended over the years, dating all the way back to my college days, this one also felt like a spiritual experience, sweeping me up in the music and movement that affirmed the distinctiveness of its cultural expressions.

From the soulful rendition of “Fix Me, Jesus” by Maya Finman-Palmer and Corinth Moulterie to the electrifying energy of “Sinner Man” performed by Xhosa Scott, Moulterie and Alfred L. Jordan II, the dancers breathed renewed life into Ailey’s masterpiece.

“Revelations” ends with the song “Rocka My Soul In the Bosom of Abraham,” which always brings a pleasant childhood memory to light for me. The full company was on stage for this piece, and they left me (and the rest of the audience) with a feeling akin to going to church, where the spirit of the dance uplifts and inspires all who witness it. Ailey II’s performance did this classic – and all the rest of the pieces – proud.

Comprising a dozen dancers on two-year terms, Ailey II’s schedule of classes, rehearsals, and extensive tours offers a challenging immersion into the world of professional dance. Stemming from Alvin Ailey’s vision of a training ground for young artists, Ailey II continues its educational mission while serving as a breeding ground for future main company members.

Despite enduring hardships and tragedies over the years, Ailey II remains a cornerstone of the dance community, evidenced by its ongoing 50th-anniversary tour.

As the company celebrates this milestone, its enduring legacy underscores the transformative power of dance and the resilience of artistic dedication, and Dance St. Louis deserves thanks for bring it to town, along with all the pre-show festivities. Dance St. Louis presented Ailey II on March 1-2 at The Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Francesca Harper’s Luminous. Photo by Nir Arieli.

By CB Adams

During one of the two intermissions in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s third annual, three-pronged New Works Collective, I pondered aesthetics. Can there be a defining aesthetic – or more accurately, aesthetics with an s – for the St. Louis region?

Is there a commonality of our terroir to be found from a cross section of artists who have hailed from here? Do we have the St. Louis equivalent of the Philly Sound or Motown, the Ashcan School or Hudson River School (or the Venice Biennale), Spoleto or Tanglewood, or even Burning Man or Bonnaroo?

There’s no such thing as a St. Louis Method of acting, that talents of John Goodman, Doris Roberts, Stirling K. Brown, Marsha Mason, Vincent Price and Phyllis Smith notwithstanding.

“The Glass Menagerie” may name check some St. Louis locations, but it does not define life here any more than “White Palace” (the novel or the movie) does. The Gateway Arch is the steel equivalent of a Route 66 roadside attraction, but architecturally the city should still embrace its old moniker as the Red Brick City.

If there is a St. Louis Sound, it would have to somehow include musicians Scott Joplin, Chuck Berry, Pokey LaFarge and Nelly (yes, there are many more) and performers including Josephine Baker, Willie Mae Ford Smith, Donny Hathaway and Tina Turner (I went with personal faves here; the list goes on). The list could also include the St. Louis Symphony, especially the Slatkin years.

If there is a St. Louis “Move,” it would include, but not be limited to, a ballet like the recently premiered “St. Louis Blues,” choreographed by Gen Horiuchi, executive and artistic director at St. Louis Ballet, or practically everything from the Big Muddy Dance Company.

Fun to ponder these cultural accomplishments, but St. Louis arts and artists are far too diverse to be reduced that way. To borrow a song title from Bob Dylan, St. Louis contains multitudes.

Like the Symphony, which has commissioned new works such as last year’s “Visions of Cahokia,” a new orchestral piece by James Lee III, Opera Theatre of St. Louis premiered three new 20-minute operas at this year’s New Works Collective performances, March 14-16 at Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. In its third year, the New Works Collective is committed to extending the range of what opera can – and should – be as a still-relevant artform addressing modern stories and issues faced by diverse characters.

New Works Collective achieves this in numerous ways. For instance, the operas were chosen by a local panel of representative artists and community leaders who brought a Studs Terkel-like approach to their selection. The panel voted to support three operas to be nurtured and matured during a year-long incubation process.

One of the most exciting aspects of the panel’s selection is a sense of wonderment that seems to ask, “You can make an opera about that?” “Mechanisms,” with music by J.E. Hernandez and libretto by Marianna Mott Newirth, is a chamber opera study of neurodiversity, “Unbroken,” music by Ronald Maurice and libretto by J. Mae Barizo, examines the issues of single parenthood, death, resilience and legacy, and “On My Mind,” music by Jasmine Barnes and libretto by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, follows a cautious friendship that begins at a work conference and builds into a fulfilling sisterhood.

 On an application, each of these short operas and their creators show potential, but it’s the performance that ultimately decides their level of success. That’s where OTSL’s singers and production teams elevate them from concept to the reality of experiencing them.

There’s a scene in the television series “This Is Us,” when Mandy Moore’s Rebecca meets with record executives as she tries to launch her singing career. The execs tell her she’s good, but only “Philadelphia good.” There’s always a risk that homegrown achievements and talents might only be “good” at the local level. As with the previous two years, this year’s New Works Collective proves that St. Louis Good sets a standard as high as Made In Detroit … or even Made In America. It’s a badge of honor that can and should be applied to many of the region’s cultural achievements.

A 20-minute opera presents its own challenges that differ from a full-length production. The relationship is similar between short stories and novels. The best short stories are closer to poems than to novels. So, too, these shorter operas. All three felt complete and self-contained within the constraints of the medium. Each benefited from a tightly focused theme and narrative. None felt like a truncated version of a longer work, though “Unbroken” to some degree and “On My Mind” to a higher degree left me wanting to stay with the characters for a longer journey. They left me wondering what Barizo and Mouton could do with an expansion of their stories.

“Mechanisms” provided a more intense (and intensely interior) experience – and one that left me not wanting more because it felt so complete. One of my favorite descriptions of a successful short story ending comes from David Means, who wrote, “A good ending doesn’t answer a question. It opens up the deeper mystery of the story itself. There isn’t room in a short story to do anything but leave the reader alone with the story.”

That’s how “Mechanisms” satisfyingly ended for me – alone with the story and the 11-year old character, Roe, beautifully sung and acted by Helen Zhibing Huang. Hers was the virtuosic standout among all the other standout performances, including Maria Consamus as Roe’s mother, Lori, and Aaren Rivard as Dean, her father. Individually and together, Consamus and Rivard were engaging and believable as parents struggling to navigate their daughter’s journey and the world around them.

With diverse stories and characters, the New Works Collective operas benefited from the talents of diverse casts. As Grace in “On My Mind,” Meroë Kahalia Adeeb inhabited the role as the church-going, dying matriarch of her St. Louis family. The moment when she dies in a wheelchair, followed by the ending with a ghostly sort of resurrection – provided an emotional and deeply affecting one-two punch. John Godhard Mburu as Grace’s oldest son, Ezra, delivered a nuanced portrayal of a child maturing into a new role within the family and himself.

The heart of “On My Mind” were the two strangers destined to become sisters – Lyric, sung by Krysty Swann, and Melodee, sung by Adeeb. The success of these two performances reminded me of two things that other “funny women” have said. Jane Lynch has been quoted, “Making people laugh is a really fabulous thing because it means you’re getting deep inside somebody, into their psyche, and their ability to look at themselves.”

That’s a perfect description of what Swann and Adeeb achieved with the comedic libretto of “On My Mind.” They dug deep into their characters and projected them with pathos. Add to that something that Amy Sedaris has observed, “We’re all used to seeing pretty people. I want to see real people.” Opera is a highly distilled artform, but the best allows the audience to suspend their proverbially disbelief, and that is precisely what Swann and Adeeb accomplished.

Adding additional cohesion among the three operas were the talents of lighting Designer John Alexander, video designer David Murakami, stage director Kimille Howard and scenic designer Kim Powers. Using one basic set, lights and projections transitions seamlessly from a suburban home at Thanksgiving dinner to a hospital, a living room and a hotel ballroom in mid-convention (among others). One of the best uses of projection was in “Unbroken,” as the geometric back panels reveal a detailed interior of a church, then transition to a gauzy, impressionistic version of the same scene, followed by bright and sharp light streaming through a stained glass window. This same technique was used in the other operas, but worked most memorably in “Unbroken.”

At the risk of reducing the music to a footnote, the performance of the small orchestra, led by Darwin Aquino was perfectly balanced and supported the singers admirably. The music received a top-notch performance, but the performances could have benefited from something missing – projected supertitles. I’ve become accustomed to supertitles in the same way I enjoy the on-screen subtitles on my streaming services. It was difficult to understand many parts of the evening’s operas.

OTSL’s New Works Collective is no mere check-the-box community outreach effort. It is integral to the OTSL’s dedication to keeping opera vibrant, viable and accessible to all. As director Howard said in her Director’s Note, “Representation matters; it is the strongest invitation and catalyst for change…through initiatives like the New Works Collective, where incredible up-and-coming composers and librettists are empowered to experiment, collaborate and share their voices with the St. Louis Community.”

The 2024 New Works Collective was a complete success. It’s not too soon to start looking forward to the 2025 performance. It’s sure to be St. Louis Great.

David Taylor Little’s New Book Shines in Winter Opera’s 17th Season Finale

By C.B. Adams

What passed for a naughty narrative in 1910 would hardly raise an eyebrow (or much interest) in 2024, so it’s a good thing that David Taylor Little wrote a new book for Victor Herbert’s once-popular “Naughty Marietta.” Winter Opera staged this now-charming operetta on March 1 and 3, ending its 17th season with a delightful blend of wit, whimsy and musical allure.

In a lighthearted operetta like “Naughty Marietta,” the best parts are the songs. With Little’s retooling of the story and under the direction of John Stephens, the songs, including “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life,” “Neath a Southern Moon,” “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (Along the Highway) “and “Falling in Love with Someone” really had the chance to shine.

All the songs benefited from the lively performance by the orchestra, conducted by Mark Ferrell. Choreographer Rachel Bodl added to the experience with lively dance numbers that enhanced the production’s charm.

Brittany Hebel. Photo by Peter Wochniak.

Any fans of “Young Frankenstein” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” probably recognized “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life,” which was repurposed in those films.

For “Naughty Marietta,” Winter Opera assembled a remarkable cast, including soprano Brittany Hebel who sparkled in the title role of Marietta, a spirited Italian Contessa who finds herself embroiled in a love triangle and a rebellion.

Hebel’s voice was rich and expressive, perfectly capturing the emotional depth of her character. Her performance of the “Italian Street Song” was a highlight and showcased her vocal agility and dramatic flair.

Opposite Hebel was tenor Zachary Devin as Captain Warrington, the gallant hero who captures Marietta’s heart. Devin’s warm tenor and affable charm made him a perfect match for Hebel, and their duets were a joy to experience.

Michael Colman brought a menacing presence to the role of Etienne, the villainous son of the Governor. Colman’s rich bass-baritone was well-suited to the role. His “You Marry a Marionette” was a highlight of his performance and of the entire show.

Mezzo-soprano Melanie Ashkar delivered another standout performance as Adah, a woman wronged by Etienne. Her rendition of “Under the Southern Moon” was hauntingly beautiful and showcased her rich, sultry voice. The supporting cast was equally strong, including Schapman as the bumbling Simon, Gary Moss as the comic puppeteer, Rudolfo, and Grace Yukiko Fisher as the lovelorn Lizette.

Grace Yukiko Fisher and Marc Schapman. Photo by Peter Wochniak

Under scene design by Scott Loebl, “Naughty Mariette” was perfectly scaled for the stage at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. In their heyday, operettas were known for their elaborate costumes and sets, and Winter Opera’s creative team further that tradition.

Loebl’s set design was beautiful and practical, including the standout Act II scene at Rudolfo’s puppet shop. Jen Blum-Tatara’s costumes were appropriately colorful and evocative of 18th-century New Orleans.

Winter Opera’s production of “Naughty Marietta” was a delightful romp that showcased the best of the operetta form in general and the best of this reborn operetta. With a talented cast, beautiful production design and unforgettable music, Winter Opera has set a high bar for itself in the coming years.

Winter Opera’s “Naughty Marietta” was performed at Kirkwood Performing Arts Center March 1 and 3.

Ensemble performs “Naughty Marietta.” Photo by Peter Wochniak, ProPhotoSTL.

By CB Adams
In ballet, tradition often reigns supreme. And like opera, ballet is sometimes (make that, often) misunderstood – as stuffy, fussy, and old-fashioned as your Aunt Minnie’s doilies.

St. Louis Ballet, under Gen Horiuchi, executive and artistic director, provides proof that the new and innovative can comfortably be performed with the traditional on the same program, providing the best of both of these dance worlds – especially when the pieces are thematically and resonantly linked.

St. Louis Ballet has created a distinct niche with its contemporary productions, such as LoveX3 (Feb.16-18 at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center), that deliver a satisfying, captivating blend of the dance pieces. LOVEX3 was part of the company’s annual “Love” series. And by curtain call at the Feb. 17 (with Cast 2) performance, I was left with an enthusiastic, “What’s not to love?”

The well-curated and paced program included three parts that began with a classic then transitioned to a piece premiered by the company last year and concluded with the premiere of “St. Louis Blues.” This progression of choreographic style and approach, from Balanchine to Brian Enos and Horiuchi, was perfect – and perfectly enjoyable.

“St. Louis Blues” is an exuberant celebration of love through the transcendent language of ballet with direct ties and references to this city. “St. Louis Blues” was choreographed by Horiuchi, who collaborated with composer Atsushi Toya Tokuya to turn W.C. Handy’s six-minute song into a much longer narrative of passion and longing.

What distinguishes “St. Louis Blues” is its ability to seamlessly intertwine two distinct art forms, creating a visual and auditory experience
that is both captivating and immersive. Set against the backdrop of St. Louis’s rich musical heritage, the ballet unfolds as a dynamic
narrative that pays homage to the city’s cultural legacy while showcasing the technical prowess and emotive depth of the dancers.

Horiuchi’s choreography is a masterful blend of fluidity and precision, mirroring the improvisational nature of jazz while maintaining the grace and poise characteristic of classical ballet. Through intricate sequences and expressive movements, the dancers convey the raw energy and emotional resonance of the blues, transporting audiences to the vibrant world of jazz clubs and smoky dance floors.

Tokuya’s musical finesse was captivating, and his composition added an extra layer of depth and richness to the performance. His mesmerizing rendition of the “St. Louis Blues” showcased his versatility and mastery across genres, further enhancing the emotional resonance of Horiuchi’s choreography.

Tokuya’s composition and arrangement were brought to life by the soulful strains of an on-stage New York-based jazz ensemble and the vocal stylings of jazz luminary Denise Thimes, who is no stranger to our city. I have reviewed other performances of Thimes, and she’s a treasure.

Of the three pieces in LOVEX3, “St. Louis Blues” had the largest cast with four couples engaging singly and as an ensemble. Charles Cronenwett and Zoe Middleton were one couple prominently featured. Cronenwett is a native of St. Louis and currently a company artist for the St. Louis Ballet. He has been trained by renowned dancers and directors like Horiuchi, Devon Carney and Christopher Ruud, and that training showed with his unique and charismatic approach.

Middleton has graced the St. Louis stage in a variety of roles. Under the direction of Horiuchi, she has showcased her skills in performances such as “The Nutcracker” (as Coffee), “Classique, and “Cinderella” (as Winter Fairy). Middleton also performed in Brian Enos’s productions, including the 2023 premiere of “In Reel Time.” Her performance in “St. Louis Blues” shone with artistry and a captivating combination of grace and skill.

LOVEX3 began with George Balanchine’s classic “Square Dance,” a piece that has been part of the St. Louis Ballet’s repertoire for years and is a good showcase for the company’s commitment to artistic excellence and refined expression.

Balanchine’s choreography set the stage for LOVEX3’s exploration of tradition and innovation. In this performance, the Cast 2 dancers navigated Balanchine’s intricate spatial choreography that demands precise movements within geometric formations and delivered a delicate fusion of ballet technique with the spirited rhythms of square dancing.

“Square Dance” featured the performances of the two leads, Olivia Cornelius and Michael Burke. Cornelius’s portrayal of the iconic role was delicate and clear. Her en pointe balances were sustained and appeared remarkably light and effortless. Burke’s performance was marked by a confident technique, characterized by a razor-sharp line and remarkable ballon. His execution was meticulous, with every movement impeccably placed.

Sandwiched in the LOVEX3’s pieces was Brian Enos’s “In Reel Time,” which St. Louis Ballet premiered last year. It’s a contemporary gem that pulses with rhythmic energy provided by the ensemble and music by Philip Daniel, Nova, Outland and Spearfisher and arresting visual beauty.

Enos’s choreography pushes the boundaries of traditional ballet, offering a dynamic and innovative perspective on the art form. Berry’s lighting design made dramatic and effective use of projection and visual effects to create a stage where the physical and digital realms converge.

From intimate solos to dynamic ensemble sequences, each movement is executed with precision and grace, captivating viewers with its depth and complexity, though throughout the evening there were some inconsistent lines and synchronized movements among the dancers.

Ultimately, though, St. Louis Ballet’ s rendition of “In Reel Time” was satisfying and engaging with its blend of artistic innovation and storytelling. It definitely left me with an indelible impression.

The St. Louis Ballet presented LOVEX3 February 16-18 at Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

By CB Adams

You cannot really review the current touring production of “Mamma Mia!” that made a stop at The Fox February 13-18 without acknowledging the power, musicality and earworm-iness of the source material – that is, the Swedish supergroup ABBA.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, ABBA’s diverse musical influences created a unique fusion of genres that continues to resonate with audiences. From their meticulous studio craftsmanship to their harmonic complexity and juxtaposition of melodies with poignant lyrics, ABBA set a standard that continues to resonate in contemporary pop.

Their ability to blend joy with melancholy and infuse authentic emotion into their music remains a testament to their enduring influence and cultural significance, transcending boundaries of time, genre and geography.

Consider the popularity of the current virtual concert “ABBA Voyage” in London, featuring virtual avatars called “ABBAtars,” resembling the group’s appearance in 1979 (just a few years before they disbanded), accompanied by re-recorded vocals from the original bandmembers, recorded. In these virtual resurrections, ABBA joins other influential performers, including Tupac, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Maria Callas (opera diva) and Whitney Houston (pop diva).

L to R) Jalynn Steele (Tanya), Carly Sakolove (Rosie), and Christine Sherrill (Donna Sheridan)
Photo by Joan Marcus

So, mash up some of the best of ABBA’s song with a mostly forgotten 1968 comedy starring Gina Lollobrigida, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” and you get a “supa-pa, troupa-pa” of a jukebox musical that has been a  chugging along since 1999. This latest touring production (celebrating the 25th anniversary!) opened in St. Louis at the Fox with another capacity audience.

The Gateway City has always had a thing for “Mamma Mia,” (along with “Wicked”), that is just one of those delightfully unexplainable things. Maybe it’s the strong women (most of them older) and unabashed girliness. Maybe it’s use of men as more or less silly set dressing. Maybe it’s because, as it gallops along, the musical never takes itself too seriously. Maybe it’s the spandex?

As opening night proved yet again – it’s a flat-out good time and designed to be an effective ABBA delivery system. From the moment Alisa Melendez belted out the opening notes of “I Have a Dream,” it was evident that this production lives up to its predecessors. Melendez’s portrayal was a testament to her talent and charisma, effortlessly carrying the audience through Sophie’s journey of self-discovery and the quest to uncover her father’s identity.

Christine Sherrill’s portrayal of Donna, Sophie’s fiercely independent mother, struck a perfect balance of strength and vulnerability, captivating the audience with her powerful vocals and authentic emotional depth. Joined by her loyal friends Rosie and Tanya, portrayed with impeccable comedic timing by Carly Sakolove and Jalynn Steele respectively, Donna’s journey is enriched by the genuine camaraderie and chemistry among the trio.

(L to R) Jim Newman (Bill Austin), Victor Wallace (Sam Carmichael), and Rob Marnell (Harry Bright)
Photo by Joan Marcus
 

The supporting cast, including the trio of potential fathers – Harry Bright (Rob Marnell), Bill Austin (Jim Newman) and Sam Carmichael (Victor Wallace) – each brought their own unique flair to the stage, infusing the production with humor and sincerity.

The Ensemble’s electrifying dance numbers and infectious enthusiasm were also standouts. Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is clever, fun and energetic. Even though the dance numbers continue to delight, they could use a bit of a refresh. However, in the spirit of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” this may be asking for the unnecessary.  From the lively choreography of “Lay All Your Love On Me” to the nostalgia-inducing medleys, the ensemble’s energy was palpable, igniting the stage with every high kick and synchronized move.

The lighting and staging hew closely to the show’s overall aesthetic – simple, clever at times, and effective – and do not get in the way of the delivery of the tunes. The show suffered somewhat from acoustics. The sound was sometimes too loud, unbalanced and interfered with the clarity of the vocals.

(L to R)  L’Oréal Roaché (Lisa), Alisa Melendez (Sophie Sheridan), and Haley Wright (Ali)
Photo by Joan Marcus

As the performance drew to a close, it became evident that “Mamma Mia!” succeeds as a celebration of love, friendship and the enduring power of music to unite and uplift. If the show ended with the curtain, it would prove worthy of its ticket prices. Then the cast kept the party going with an anticipated, electrifying encore that ends up being one of the highlights of the show.

Donning vibrant costumes and exuding boundless energy, the cast launched into a bouncy, enthusiastic medley. It was fun to see the Ensemble dancers cut loose and strut their stuff – with the audience on their feet, clapping and singing along.

“Mamma Mia!” runs at The Fabulous Fox from Feb. 13-18. For ticket information, visit www.fabuloufox.com

The company. Photo by Joan Marcus.