Story: The third annual St. Lou Fringe Festival brought 35 different acts to mid-town St. Louis from throughout the metropolitan area and around the country. The festival began with a kick-off party on Wednesday, June 18 and a modest schedule of events on Thursday, June 19 before a full schedule of shows each day from Friday, June 20 through Sunday, June 22.
Ranging from theater and improv comedy to performance art and dance to music and magic and puppetry, the 10 national acts and 25 local companies brought a diversity of skills to inquisitive audiences at six venues located throughout Grand Center.
Here are capsule reviews of three of the presentations:
• Riffs – in a Set of 10: Poet par excellence Christopher Limber donned a funky fedora and a beatnik persona as he hosted a vastly entertaining cabaret act that billed itself as “A Tribute to the Swing and Style of Classic American Jazz!”
That’s exactly what it was, in spades. Limber’s frenetic words of rhythmic wisdom set the table for some delightfully infectious interpretations of wonderful tunes by the likes of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Billy Austin and other American musical luminaries of the early and mid-20th century.
Limber shared the stage with the inestimable Michele Isam, who can belt out pulsating notes on the saxophone or provide delicious back-up vocals and dazzle on percussion as well.
Rose Fischer’s lovely voice serenaded the audience on slow ballads or an exercise in scat singing. Joe Dreyer played merrily at the keyboards and also joined in for some vocalizing on the lively Basin Street Blues, while David Torretta’s bass underscored the tightness of the combo.
It was all over in 45 all-too-brief minutes, but Riffs left one hoping that Limber might stretch the act into cabaret length and showcase these versatile musicians elsewhere to the great benefit of appreciative audiences.
• Landslide: Bonnie Taylor’s First Time Puppet Theater collaborated with The Helix Effect to tell the poignant, affecting story of Amelia, a 40-year-old, vibrant woman and mother who, stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, “descends into the dark woods of her mind, entering her version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.”
With poetic dexterity of their own bodies, three members of The Helix Effect troupe transformed themselves into breathing extensions of the remarkable puppet designed and constructed by Kim Wilson and Dogs in the Moonlight Designs.
The limp yet limber body of Amelia is guided by the fascinatingly meticulous movements orchestrated by The Helix Effect as she attempts to stand or to dance, only to be humiliated by an inability to control her own body. It’s a body that consists of wood and string, yet has so much personality that it takes on a life of its own.
Landslide takes place in 30 brief minutes, ending with singer/guitarist Lydia Ruffin performing the title tune made famous by Fleetwood Mac. Some provocative audio, visual and performance elements enhance a somber tale that is quickly but richly told.
• Trial by Jury: Act Two Theatre, a community group that performs at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre, tried its hand at comedy and musical theater by offering a ‘remix’ of Trial by Jury, a one-act comic opera written by composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist W.S. Gilbert in 1875.
Terming its version “a modern adaptation,” Act Two calls its presentation an “episode (of) America’s pre-eminent, operatic courtroom daytime television show,” featuring “this week’s case: Angelina vs. Eddie -- A Breach of Promise of Marriage.”
Loosely directed by Sean Green, the skit included an ensemble of young ladies who served as a jive-talking, gyrating jury; a judge who called to mind a certain ‘king’ from Memphis; a bailiff with a deep bass voice suitable for singing out orders; a defendant caught with his hand in all manner of amorous cookie jars; an attorney suffering from attention-span deficit; and a plaintiff looking for all the world like Nell spurned by Snidely Whiplash.
Music director David Phillips pounded away at the keyboards to stage left, accompanied by violinist Meagan Schmidt, while scenic designer Maxwell Knocke assembled the amusing, if fragile, court-room set.
Our intrepid cast included Robert Michael Hanson as the judge, Harry Pickup as the bailiff, Omega D. Jones as Eddie the defendant, Brittany Kohl Hester as Angelina the plaintiff, Kevin Hester as the counselor, Shannon Slavik as the jury forewoman and jurors Sydney Daniels, Esther Davis, Jessica Reid and Malia Chiyo Wirtel.
The enthusiastic cast cruised through 14 mirthful tunes, sometimes better than others, even lapsing into their versions of Also Sprach Zarathustra and Les Miserables. It may not have been the best effort, but everyone deserves credit for trying something challenging and different that actually has potential for an evening of smile-inducing entertainment.
Perhaps the quality of other shows presented at the third annual St. Lou Fringe Festival varied as widely as the three aforementioned works. What’s most important, though, is the energy and enthusiasm brought to the fore by artists and audiences alike for the five-day funfest, courtesy of Festival founder Em Piro and her tireless colleagues.
The St. Lou Fringe Festival appears to be growing each year. Piro justifiably received a St. Louis Theater Circle Award for “unique contribution to theater” for last year’s presentation. Judging from the 2014 version, no one seems to be resting on laurels.
Festival: St. Lou Fringe Festival
Company: Some 35 different acts
Venues: Kranzberg Black Box, Kranzberg Studio, DUET, The Bob at FUBAR & Patron Lounge, ANNONYarts at Satori, The Stage at KDHX
Dates: Run concluded