But as the Missouri Repertory Theatre's season opener, The Philadelphia Story doesn't have much of anything to recommend; it's static and forced. And it doesn't shake off the stink -- or, as the Lord matriarch would insist, the "smell" -- of mothballs.
Tracy (Jennifer Erin Roberts) comes from old Philadelphia money and is somewhat of a family embarrassment. As she prepares to get married, no one lets her forget that it's wedding number two. Mrs. Lord (Merle Moores), as well as Tracy's sister, Dinah (Kimberly Horner), and brother, Sandy (Brian Paulette), nonetheless rally to her side, especially because Sandy has invited a reporter (Jim Iorio) and a photographer (Liz McCarthy) to cover the story for the Time-like rag Destiny. The Lords let the journalists stay, hoping they'll be able to abort the yet-to-be published story of their father's affair with an actress.
Joining the hubbub on the eve of the wedding are Uncle Willy (Edward James Hyland), Tracy's betrothed (Brent Harris) and Tracy's ex-husband, Dexter (J. Paul Boehmer); meanwhile, a manservant (Michael Linsley Rapport) is at everyone's beck and call. Tracy is resolute about her wedding, but even her most faithful supporters -- including the ex-husband -- can't disguise their belief that this marriage will be a disaster.
At one clunky point in the script, Mr. Lord (Gary Holcombe) tells his daughter that no marriage will be successful as long as she's cold and dispassionate. He tells her she's something less than human in her approach to the world -- but Roberts hasn't played Tracy this way in the slightest. And since there's been no residual heat between the former spouses, the twist in the wedding vows during the play's allegedly madcap finale fails to hold up under scrutiny.
Russell Parkman's revolving set gets applause, and Lindsay W. Davis's costumes are impressive, but director Michael Bloom can't provide anything other than a few game performers trying desperately to make us forget the film. "For many years the movie overshadowed the play," the program notes say, "but in recent years the play's virtues have been increasingly recognized." Recognized, perhaps, but just as quickly forgotten. Wrecking ball: Stripped: Eve of Destruction may have been the theater benefit to end all theater benefits because it was, above all else, wildly theatrical. After power-sawing a hole in the Old Chelsea Theater's dressing room wall, sending a chunk of Sheetrock heavily to the floor, toolmaster Ron Megee and a dozen-plus Late Night Theatre company members took the stage stripped to their skivvies or bras and panties. The exception: costumer Georgianna Londre, who wore black from veil to garters as the ghost of Annie Chambers, the former madam who ran a brothel on the same corner at the turn of the last century.
Bearing buckets of fire and tiki torches, cast members from five years of Late Night shows opened with Queen's "The Show Must Go On"; the house was packed, with people sitting cross-legged on the floor like good first-graders. In short order were samples of everything from Philip blue owl Hooser as Alfred Hitchcock doing Prince's "When Doves Cry" to DeDe DeVille, looking like a deconstructed tea party hostess circa 1976, singing "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue." Bringing back more memories were Gary Campbell as Patty Duke as Neely O'Hara doing "It's Impossible" from Valley of the Dolls; the Megee and Missy Koonce duet of "Where Am I Going" from Sweet Underground Charity (the perfect song for a homeless theater company); and, back from Los Angeles, Brian Adkins switching from the sexy bare-torso-in-overalls look of Huckleberry Finn-as-a-hustler to the cheesy lounge lizard he played in Dolls.
There's no doubt that crowds will follow Megee and Koonce wherever they go; thus, the show concluded with a march to the parking lot for fireworks and two Carpenters songs. Megee invited everyone to come see Late Night in February, possibly in the West Bottoms, though Late Night personnel say they're still searching for a site.
One sour note: Someone ripped off Late Night's stereo and CDs from past shows. If anyone witnessed the crime, turn in your friend because he or she will steasl from you, too, the moment your back is turned.