May 19--Summer is a time for discovery, and self-discovery turns out to be an important theme for heroines on stages all over town this season -- women who manage to have fun while they surprise themselves.
Viola has to disguise herself as a boy to realize how strong, imaginative and full of love she is in Shakespeare's mixed-up comedy "Twelfth Night." Princess Fiona embraces her wonderfully monstrous true nature in "Shrek the Musical." Navy nurse Nellie Forbush learns that what's in the heart means more than skin color in "South Pacific." And when Elle Woods goes to Harvard Law, she blossoms in "Legally Blonde the Musical."
FOR THE KIDS
Live theater is something special for kids who think performance only happens on screens. Dorothy and her pals ease on down the road in "The Wiz." A reptile under a spell looks for love in "The Frog Prince." A neglected girl rides her pumpkin-coach to the prince's castle in Disney's "Cinderella." A wise spider helps a genial pig in "Charlotte's Web." And the world's best governess, "Mary Poppins," sails over London.
FOR THE TWEENS
Are those shows too young for the kids in your house? They might like the collegiate romance of "Charley's Aunt." Or try "Monty Python's Spamalot," the nutty antics of tap-dancing sisters in "Nunsense -- Muny Style!," or the heroic story of American independence, "1776."
FOR THE MATURE
More baggage than a beach tote? Some plays come packed with characters who can relate. A grown man finds he can finally laugh at his childhood torturer, an etiquette teacher, in "Mrs. Mannerly." A widower struggles for a second chance at love in Neil Simon's "Chapter Two," while a spirited bride-to-be wonders whether a first chance is worth it in George Bernard Shaw's "Getting Married."
Money can prove as fraught as love, of course. Status-conscious New Yorkers fall for a con man who strikes their well-shod Achilles' heels in "Six Degrees of Separation." A wealthy, impulsive man turns bitter in Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens." "The Lyons," a dark comedy, reminds us that impending death is no reason for relatives to be nice to each other.
No day at the beach? In "King Lear," a powerful ruler learns how little control he really has. Teenagers are doomed because their parents don't like each other in "Romeo and Juliet" (with a hillbilly twist). An ex-con who has accepted Christ and a suicidal intellectual share their feelings in "The Sunset Limited." A thief rises through faith and goodness to a saintly life in "Les Miserables." And a war photographer returns to her boyfriend with a wounded body and a head full of disturbing images in "Time Stands Still."
A HINT OF DANGER
OK, maybe things aren't always great. Does that mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself? Some shows jump right into disaster, and it can be refreshing. A writer addicted to just about everything brawls his way through the vulgar, weirdly comic "Bukowsical," and "The Cherry Sisters" are a vaudeville hit because their act is terrible -- and no, not on purpose.
New plays are always a gamble, but that's the fun. "Murphy's Law," by Kenneth L. Stilson, makes its debut this summer at a company that specializes in new plays, First Run. And who knows what will turn up at the seventh annual HotCity New Play Festival or at the St. Louis Actors' Studio LaBute New Theatre Festival? And speaking of surprises, plants eat people in "Little Shop of Horrors" -- and they all sing about it! There's something in that to admire.
Songs on a summer night -- sometimes, that's all it takes to end a day on the perfect note.
A smalltown girl and a city boy fall in love in "Rock of Ages," the jukebox musical filled with the '80s sounds of groups like Styx, Journey and REO Speedwagon. Cole Porter was at the top of his sophisticated form when he wrote "Anything Goes," a shipboard romance studded with numbers like "I Get a Kick Out of You" and the dazzling title song. "Always ... Patsy Cline" celebrates the legacy of one of country music's greatest artists.
And one of the greatest creative teams ever assembled -- director-choreographer Jerome Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents -- fashioned "Romeo and Juliet" into the show that gave us "Maria," "Tonight," and "America": the incomparable "West Side Story."
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