That queasy limbo of unrequited love and the frustrations of semi-requited love are the focus of two musical one-acts, a piquant combo platter of theater that opened R-S Theatrics sixth season.
A salty-and-sweet mix of styles is presented by an earnest ensemble. who kicked off the evening with solo, duet and group numbers selected in a cabaret round “Out of A Bowl.” Every performance features a guest emcee, and the cheery Andrew Kuhlman set a genial mood.
At this performance, Eileen Engel sang a spirited “Never Fall in Love (With an Elf)” from “Elf,” written by Centralia native Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar while Kevin Corpuz struck the right emotions as an angsty 20-something examining his life in “The Bad Years” by Brian Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan. Lindsay Gingrich and Sarajane Alverson performed a feisty duet from “Rent” — “Take Me As I Am.”
The group number was from “Hamilton,” and the company exhibited such joy in performing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s opening number (“Alexander Hamilton”). Music Director Leah Luciano kept the tempo upbeat and Taylor Pietz’s vibrant choreography gave the piece additional verve.
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We switched gears in the next act to a more somber mood in a happy setting: a wedding reception.
Director Christina Rios selected Steven Serpa’s one-act opera, “Thyrsis and Amaranth,” and asked the composer if she could change the setting from the 17th century to a contemporary wedding reception, and change the gender from boy and girl shepherds to two female bridesmaids. One (Lindsay Gingrich) has feelings for another (Eileen Engel), who has eyes on someone else.
The one-sided crush deflates her, and she realizes it’s not the time to express herself. Meanwhile, the bride, groom and wedding guests appear merry in brief spurts, continuing the festive mood while Gingrich’s heartache grows. Sarajane Alverson, who can telegraph a mood in one furtive glance, plays a server who figures out what’s happening.
Rios, who has sung at hundreds of weddings, deftly captured the conflicting emotions, cleverly staged it, and told the story well. The composer was in the audience, and participated in an illuminating talk-back, with the cast, afterwards.
The third act had an electric jolt of energy, for it was another Lin-Manuel Miranda piece — and it was so obvious the company has such affection for this work, “21 Chump Street.”
Set in a Palm Beach high school, the one-act was based on an NPR “This American Life” story about the entrapment of a good student by an undercover narcotics agent because he fell in love with her and scored weed to impress her.
Kelvin Urday was the besotted lad, while Natalie Toro was the object of his affection and police officer who busts him. Sarajane Alverson played a classroom teacher and a trio of lively students included Omega Jones, Kevin Corpuz and Phil Leveling. Pietz’s choreography really shined in this 14-minute piece, and the classmates gave it extra oomph.
Miranda’s flair for lyrics and rhyming is evident throughout this 2014 piece.
Next season, R-S Theatrics has announced Miranda’s first Tony winner “In the Heights” as their musical offering.
Their offerings are always St. Louis premieres. With such passion for Miranda’s work, Rios and Company are undaunted by any challenge.
This company was able to engage enthusiastically with two one-acts and a cabaret-patter portion that hitting the Heights seems totally in their wheelhouse. Meanwhile, for a sincere effort that helps wrap our heads around love, see “Love? Actually...” and smile.
Another snappy piece was a brief monologue performed sublimely by Colleen Backer, whose cordial speaking voice attempted to mask a broken heart.
Written by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, the piece focused on a Mount Rushmore tour guide who has a meltdown after being jilted by her boss. The comedy becomes more outrageous as her schpiel progresses. Backer’s delivery of a panoply of emotions in a short time was crisp and admirable.
What: Two Musical One-Acts: “21 Chump Street” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Thyrsis & Amaranth” by Steven Serpa
When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Sept. 15-18. Thursday is pay by donation only for the brush-up performance at 8 p.m.
Where: Westport Playhouse, 635 Westport Plaza, St. Louis
Information: 314-252-8812 or www.r-stheatrics.com