Best Of St. Louis Theater Roundup 2016
There’s been an explosion of great new theater in St. Louis these last couple of years, giving us fascinating visions of the world around us. We saw over 60 shows in town in 2016, and here’s what set the standard for 2017.
BEST SHOW: Why beat around the bush? It was “Follies” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, hands down. Sure, it was a mostly older, mostly male backstage team, with thrilling leads (mainly) from New York, but a rare and astonishing feat to kick off the Rep’s 50th Season. “Follies” did not talk down to us, in Rob Ruggiero’s glamorous/devastating production, and showed why a piece from 1971 can still have so many intensely devoted fans.
BEST SHOW, “CRUEL TWIST OF FATE” DIVISION: In any other year the clear winner would be the 100%-local “Grey Gardens,” which ran at the JCC in July. The musical, which, like “Follies,” revolves around madness and broken dreams and love and loyalty, was put on the local stage by Max & Louie Productions. Initially, artistic director Stellie Siteman seemed doubtful, despite the urging of New Line impresario Scott Miller. “Could I?” she reportedly wondered aloud in 2015. And, with the help of managing director De Kaplan and an excellent show director (Annamaria Pileggi), she did. Look for their “Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill” at the Kranzberg Arts Center, Feb. 17, 2017.
BEST THEATRE: It’s a three-way tie because I hate awards (and rejection, too) between R-S Theatrics, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble and ERA Theatre. And possibly even Rebels and Misfits (okay, that’s four companies). And maybe a fifth, Creative Inhabitor. (Those last two are brand-new companies that made impressive debuts late in the year.) One thing’s for sure, those first three are definitely working together in some secret girls’ mafia, helping to drag St. Louis kicking and screaming into a new dawn of theatrical awareness.
They each make frequent use of the performance space at Wydown and Skinker Blvds., The Chapel On Alexander. Memorize their faces, they are ruthless artistic visionaries.
BUT WAIT… We saw “Follies” twice, and “Grey Gardens” twice, so honorable mention must be made of Will Bonfiglio’s ecstatic one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar” at Stray Dog, which also drew us back a second time. Mr. Bonfiglio (an artistic co-conspirator with Ms. Cashion) was immaculate and hilarious as a fanboy, devoured by a slightly mad Barbra Streisand, a la “Sunset Boulevard,” under the direction of Gary F. Bell in December. Earlier in the year Mr. Bonfiglio served as dramaturg for “Trash Macbeth”; and joined forces with Mr. Vogel in “Old Wicked Songs”; was great in the background in “Yentl,” directed by Edward Coffield; and added polish to “Grey Gardens” in that show’s “other” dual-role.