Monday, August 19, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 19, 2019

New this week: the monthly Singers Open Mic, now on a new day, and a play reading by the St. Louis Writers Group.

Antigone
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble and ERA Theatre present Antigone, adapted from the Sophocles tragedy by Lucy Cashion, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through August 31. " Antigone explores themes of fidelity, citizenship, civil disobedience, and the struggles and consequences the characters within the world of the play encounter as a result of their choices. Antigone's story of fighting civic law to obey divine law became famous in the Classical Greek tragedy Antigone, which premiered in Athens in 441 B.C. Since then, scholars, poets, and playwrights have written their own translations, adaptations, and critiques of the Antigone story, each from a different point of view. The continuation of this tradition resulted in a new version of Antigone, which was performed in October 2017 by SLU theatre majors in St. Louis and then with a performance by PPA participants at WERDCC in March 2018. The collaboration now continues with this ERA/SATE co-production in St. Louis." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

Glory Denied
Photo by Dan Donovan
Union Avenue Opera presents Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM through August 24. "America's longest-held prisoner of war dreams of coming home. But home is a place he will not recognize. Follow the gut-wrenching saga of Col. Jim Thompson as he transitions from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the tree-lined streets of suburban America. This true story explores the unimaginable bravery asked of soldiers and the nature of home itself. It is a story of a nation divided and a country that changed significantly in the decade of his imprisonment." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Guys and Dolls
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through August 24, with additional performances at 2 pm on Sunday, August 18, and at 8 pm on Wednesday, August 24. "Guys and Dolls takes us from the heart of Depression-era Times Square, to the cafés of Havana, and into the sewers of New York City to give us what some have called the perfect musical comedy. This timeless tale follows ruthless gamblers, sexy nightclub performers, and the hot-tempered law enforcers who keep them all in line." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

A Man of No Importance
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents the musical A Man of No Importance Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through August 25. "The show has music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally, based on the 1994 Albert Finney film, of the same title. It tells the story of an amateur theatre group in Dublin and their leader, who is determined to stage a version of Salome at his church, despite the objections of church authorities. " Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes in "The Case Without a Clue" running through October 27 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project presents its monthly Singers Open Mic Night on Tuesday, August 20, from 7 to 10 pm. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by pianist and music director Carol Schmidt. Your MC is Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX-FM. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge in the .ZACK Performing Arts Center in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Tatyana by Shahnaz Ahmed on Monday, August 19, at 6:30 pm. "A Russian woman, a married man, an affair, broken relationships, a violin. Three generations of sorrow." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love (No Biting) running through November 2. "Calling all Zombies! Tired of being judged for munching on the occasional brain? So you're not really "alive" anymore but you can still enjoy socializing with the living and enjoying a hilarious show together! Well, we've got the perfect show for you! Drama! Comedy! Looove! ...And, of course, Zombies! Don your best Living Dead Costume and choose to be a Zombie, or not (its up to you), but we do promise lots of fun for both the living and the undead! hey, Hey, HEY! No Biting!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Opera Review: The omega glory

Tom Cipullo's 2007 opera Glory Denied, which is getting its local premiere through August 24th at Union Avenue Opera, is a difficult piece to watch. That's not because of flaws in the work itself (although it does have a few) and certainly not because the performances of the cast and the orchestra are anything less than perfect.

L-R: David Walton, Peter Kendall Clark
Photo by Dan Donovan
No, Glory Denied is hard to watch because it does such a compelling job of presenting the true story of Col. Floyd James Thompson, the Green Beret whose nine-year ordeal as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese made him the longest held prisoner of war in US history. Subjected to torture (or, as we say in this country, "enhanced interrogation") by his captors, Thompson was eventually returned to the USA, only to find both the country and his life drastically changed.

We see how the seismic shifts in American culture between 1965 and 1973 have left him baffled and angry. Worse yet, his wife Alyce has, after years of vague, content-free letters from the Pentagon, decided to move on with her life and start a new family. "I want what I left," he cries at one point-an impossible desire. An attempt at reconciliation fails, and Thompson is finally left a broken man.

The cast of Glory Denied
Photo by Dan Donovan
Based on the book by Tom Philpott, Mr. Cipullo's libretto sticks closely to things the real-life characters actually said, along with actual documents like letters from the Pentagon, press releases, and even excerpts from the peace agreement that ended the Vietnam War. That gritty realism means that there are no obvious heroes or villains in Glory Denied and no easy answers to the questions the opera raises.

Running around 110 minutes, including intermission, Glory Denied whips back and forth through time and uses an impressive variety of musical styles. There are only four characters: Young Thompson, Old Thompson, Young Alyce, and Old Alyce, although the singers playing them sometimes take on other characters as well.

L-R: Peter Kendall Clark, David Walton,
Karina Brazas, Gina Galati
Photo by Dan Donovan
The kaleidoscopic first act, filled with hard dissonance and complex four-part harmony, details Thompson's abuse at the hands of his captors juxtaposed against Young Alice's sweetly banal letters of home life and Old Alyce's increasingly bitter exchanges with the military. The second act, in contrast, sounds more conventional, with clearly delineated musical numbers offering equally clear cues for applause. Time is less fluid and scenes more conventionally structured. The opera's structure, in short, changes with the narrative.

All this sounds like a real challenge to perform. The wide vocal ranges of the roles and constantly shifting meters of the score would seem to require heroic levels of concentration from the performers-a feeling reinforced by comments by the cast at a post-show talkback on opening night. Fortunately, Union Avenue has a quartet of singers who are more than up to those demands.

David Walton, Karina Brazas
Photo by Dan Donovan
Peter Kendall Clark's Old Thompson is an astonishing achievement. His character goes through Hell, and Mr. Thompson portrays it all with impressive authenticity. "Welcome home," the second-act number in which he reels off an exhaustive list of all the changes in his world, had the staccato aggression of tracer bullets. Most impressive of all, though, was the final scene in which Thompson, forced into retirement by a stroke, wanders around the stage bewildered, drunk, and fuming with resentment over the lack of recognition for his ordeal. Mr. Clark made the character's pain uncomfortably real.

Kudos as well to St. Louis's own Gina Galati as Old Alyce. The lyrical Act II aria "After you hear me out," in which Alyce tries to make Old Thompson understand the difficult changes in her life, was beautifully sung and, like the rest of Ms. Galati's performance, convincingly acted. The character has to make some hard choices, and Ms. Galati insured that the cost of those choices was plain.

As Young Thompson, David Walton's contorted posture in Act I compellingly showed the character's physical torment. His powerfully sung litany of torture contrasted sharply with the sweetly foolish letters from home sung so clearly by Karina Bazas as Young Alice. Together, they were a poignant reminder of what their older selves had lost.

L-R: Peter Kendall Clark, David Walton,
Karina Brazas, Gina Galati
Photo by Dan Donovan
Glory Denied is scored for a small orchestra-nine players in this case. That means every one of the musicians must have the kind of virtuosity and close communication of chamber players. Under Scott Schoonover's expert direction, the small band gave a faultless account of this difficult and mercurial music on opening night. I was especially taken with work of cellist Marcia Irwin and pianist Nancy Mayo in the second-act mini-concerto that underscores a slide show of images from the lives of the Thompsons, along with documentary images from the war.

Director Dean Anthony deserves praise as well for his imaginative staging, in which the playing space becomes more cluttered with documents as the lives of the characters spiral out of control.

That said, Glory Denied ultimately fails as drama for me, even as it succeeds as documentary theatre. It powerfully illustrates the hard choices faced by returning POWs and returning veterans in general, but otherwise has no clear point of view and offers nothing much beyond recognition of that grim reality.

Peter Kendall Clark
Photo by Dan Donovan
Glory Denied is currently one of the most frequently performed American 20th-century operas, but I'm not sure how long its shelf life will be. It captures a moment in American history with great clarity, but some of the historical and cultural references of that moment are already fading. Old Thompson's obsession over not getting a POW bracelet, for example, had to be explained for one younger audience member during the talkback session. Without a broader perspective, the opera risks becoming yesterday's news.

Still, it's worth seeing, if only for the sheer brilliance of the performances and high quality of the craftsmanship of its construction. Glory Denied continues at Union Avenue Opera through Saturday, August 24th, at the Union Avenue Christian Church in the Central West End. It concludes what has been a exceptional 25th anniversary season; I hope there will be many more.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 16, 2019

Yet more musicals are on the list this week, but so is a revamped Greek tragedy and the annual Fringe Festival.

New This Week:

Antigone
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble and ERA Theatre present Antigone, adapted from the Sophocles tragedy by Lucy Cashion, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, August 14-31. " Antigone explores themes of fidelity, citizenship, civil disobedience, and the struggles and consequences the characters within the world of the play encounter as a result of their choices. Antigone's story of fighting civic law to obey divine law became famous in the Classical Greek tragedy Antigone, which premiered in Athens in 441 B.C. Since then, scholars, poets, and playwrights have written their own translations, adaptations, and critiques of the Antigone story, each from a different point of view. The continuation of this tradition resulted in a new version of Antigone, which was performed in October 2017 by SLU theatre majors in St. Louis and then with a performance by PPA participants at WERDCC in March 2018. The collaboration now continues with this ERA/SATE co-production in St. Louis." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: Lucy Cashion has a well-established reputation for doing surprising and often astonishingly creative things with well-known theatrical material. Some of you will remember Moscow! her remarkable one-hour distillation of Chekov's The Three Sisters that was a hit of the St. Lou Fringe in 2015 or her Oedipus Apparatus, which completely re-shaped the playing space at West End Players Guild back in 2017. As Michelle Kenyon writes at her blog, this re-thinking of the Greek tragedy is "both convention-challenging and thought-provoking, showcasing a superb cast of local performers." On a theatre scene dominated by musicals, this show truly stands out.


Guys and Dolls
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through August 24, with additional performances at 2 pm on Sunday, August 18, and at 8 pm on Wednesday, August 24. "Guys and Dolls takes us from the heart of Depression-era Times Square, to the cafés of Havana, and into the sewers of New York City to give us what some have called the perfect musical comedy. This timeless tale follows ruthless gamblers, sexy nightclub performers, and the hot-tempered law enforcers who keep them all in line." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: I love Guys and Dolls. The show is based on the short story "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" by Damon Runyon, a name much more famous in 1950 than today. A sports reporter and author of magazine fiction, Runyon romanticized the gamblers, hustlers, and hookers of the Big Apple into quaint characters with rough exteriors and hearts of genuine platinum. The book, by Abe Burrows, based on a treatment by screenwriter Jo Swerling, is faithful to its origins as it tells the story of two mismatched couples. And Frank Loesser's score displays a fine craftsmanship that is getting harder to find in commercial musicals these days. I'm sorry to say I missed the Muny's production earlier this year because of travel commitments, but you can bet that I won't miss Stray Dog's version, which has been getting a lot of love from the critics. At stltoday.com, Calvin Wilson calls it "immensely entertaining...the essence of old-school cool." At KDHX, Tina Farmer says it's "a thoroughly entertaining show that captures all the excitement and romance of the popular musical in a smaller, more intimate but no less compelling setting."


A Man of No Importance
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents the musical A Man of No Importance Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through August 25. "The show has music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally, based on the 1994 Albert Finney film, of the same title. It tells the story of an amateur theatre group in Dublin and their leader, who is determined to stage a version of Salome at his church, despite the objections of church authorities. " Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

My take: With a book by noted playwright Terrence McNally and a score by the team that brought you Ragtime and Once On This Island, A Man of No Importance is, as Michelle Kenyon writes at her blog, a "witty, charming and poignant show that deserves a wider audience...It's a well-constructed story with some important themes of community, self-expression, family relationships, and more, as well as an overarching tone of sheer love for the theatre. ..Go see this if you can." It's also the last show to be directed for R-S by company founder Christina Rios, who steps down from her position as head of the company at the end of the current season. It's apparently a strong finale, as Mark Bretz writes at Ladue News: "Rios and her inspired cast realize the cadence not only in their characters but in the era and locale as well. A Man of No Importance continues R-S’ tradition of presenting polished and pensive musicals such as Parade while doing so in uplifting fashion.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival runs through August 17 at multiple venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center, Grandel Theatre and the .ZACK Arts Center. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. As the Fringe web site says, the festival is designed to be uncensored, original, and rapid-fire. "Tech is minimal and time is a factor at our festivals. Shows are often kept brief (Fringes most frequently have shows right around 60 minutes in length) and technical requirements kept simple (minor sets, streamlined cues, nothing elaborate)." For a complete schedule, visit stlouisfringe.com.

My take: From its humble beginnings as a loosely organized experiment back in 2012, the St. Lou Fringe has evolved into a major performing arts festival, featuring both national touring acts and local performers. It have, in short, come a long way, baby. The Fringe has garnered national media attention and has also formed partnership with many local arts and education organizations. No wonder festival founder Em Piro got a special award from the St. Louis Theater Circle back in 2014 for the Fringe's contribution to the local performing arts scene. There's no better time to fringe.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tanglewood 2019, Part 3: A big finish

I spent the last weekend in July at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the scenic Berkshires as part of a group of two dozen music critics attending the annual meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA). It was a Wagner weekend, with three of the four concerts on our schedule dedicated to a complete concert performance of Die Walküre: Act I on Saturday night and Acts II and III in separate concerts on Sunday. Not surprisingly, the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) sessions we attended were focused entirely on Wagner and his world.

The Linde Center at Tanglewood, home to most
of our TLI events
Photo by Robert Benson
Sunday, July 28th, was my final day at Tanglewood and a big one for lovers of the operas of Wagner.

Following an MCANA business meeting was a panel discussion with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood on the challenges facing American orchestras today and the creative ways those orchestras are meeting them. Moderated by WBUR's Keith Powers, the blue-ribbon panel consisted of BSO CEO Mark Volpe, Tanglewood Learning Institute Sue Elliott, Tanglewood artistic director Anthony Fogg, and Symphony Magazine managing editor Jennifer Melick. It was informative and frank, dealing in a forthright manner with a number of questions, including the difficult exit of former BSO music director James Levine.

The end of Die Walküre, Act II
Photo by Hilary Scott
Next, it was a quick dash across campus to the intimate Tanglewood Theatre for an entertaining look at "Wagner and Humor." The session wasn't so much about the humor in Wagner's work (although there is plenty of it in Die Meistersinger) as it was about the ways the composer and his music have been lampooned and parodied ever since he rose to prominence in the late 19th century.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of material to cover in only an hour.

Stephanie Blythe and James Rutherford
Photo by Hilary Scott
The 19th-century editorial cartoons mocking the composer's pretensions ran the gamut from clever to crass, and there was at least one very welcome musical discovery: an 1880 piece for piano four hands by Gabriel Fauré and André Messager, titled Les Souvenirs de Bayreuth, that turns some of Wagner's most dramatic themes into what Jeremy Grimshaw (at allmusic.com) describes as "danceable ditties and overripe rhapsodies that sometimes border on the maudlin." Although Fauré and Messager were great admirers of Wagner, they apparently couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a bit of fun at his expense.

Some of my own favorite Wagner parodies were sampled, including Peter Schickele's Last Tango in Bayreuth for four bassoons and Anna Russell's legendary survey of the Ring cycle. And there was a complete showing of the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd classic What's Opera, Doc? with its visual and musical send-ups of The Flying Dutchman, Tannhauser, and (of course) the Ring. Perhaps the most ridiculous bit of video, though, was a "Ride of the Valkyries" performed by a madcap musical duo known as The Melodica Men. It must be seen to be believed. Fortunately, it's on their YouTube channel.

Christine Goerke and Simon O'Neill
Photo by Hilary Scott
Up next was Act II of Die Walküre, as soprano Christine Goerke (Brünnhilde), mezzo Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), and bass-baritone James Rutherford (Wotan) joined soprano Amber Wagner (Sieglinde), tenor Simon O'Neill (Siegmund), and bass Franz-Josef Selig (Hunding). There's plenty of family drama in the second act, as Fricka expresses her outrage that Wotan is condoning not only adultery but incest as well. She browbeats him into upholding the sanctity of marriage by letting Hunding kill Siegmund, even though Wotan had hoped Siegmund would be the hero who would save Valhalla from the descendants of Alberich. When Brünnhilde (who, like all the Valkyries, is a daughter of Wotan and the earth goddess Erda) violates Wotan's orders and tries to save Siegmund, Wotan kills Hunding after having allowed him to kill Siegmund and storms off to punish his errant daughter.

James Rutherford, Andris Nelsons, Christine Goerke
Photo by Hilary Scott
This is strong stuff, and it got truly gripping performances from all concerned. Ms. Wagner, Mr. O'Neill, and Mr. Selig continued the fine work they displayed on the previous night's performance of Act I. Ms. Blythe was a regal presence as Fricka, displaying an impressively wide vocal range with powerful low notes. The same was true of Mr. Rutherford's conflicted, heaven-storming Wotan. As Brünnhilde, Ms. Goerke displayed a touching vulnerability and soaring, clear voice. The Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra played splendidly under the baton of Andris Nelsons.

Next was the dinner break, during which members of MCANA were treated to sandwiches and a showing of the 2010 documentary Wagner and Me, in which actor and writer Stephen Fry combines a backstage look at Bayreuth with an examination of the difficulty of separating Wagner's music from the composer's own antisemitism and the appropriation of his music by the Nazis. I saw the film when it first came out, but Fry's wit and wisdom are always worth another visit.

The Tanglewood Shed
Photo by Fred Collins
The evening concluded with the final act of Die Walküre, including an electrifying performance of the famous "Ride of the Valkyries" featuring eight stunning singers as Brünnhilde's warrior sisters. They were: sopranos Jessica Faselt (Helmwige), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Ortlinde), and Kelly Cae Hogan (Gerhilde) along with mezzos Eve Gigliotti (Siegrune), Dana Beth Miller (Grimgerde), Ronnita Miller (Schwertleite), Mary Phillips (Rossweisse), and Renée Tatum (Waltraute). Fronting the massive orchestra in full battle cry, they were overwhelming in the best possible way. Mr. Rutherford and Ms. Goerke gave us a beautifully touching "Wotan's farewell" scene to bring the concert series to a rewarding close.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 12, 2019

The St. Lou Fringe plays this week with a wide assortment of shows at various venues in Grand Center while ERA presents a re-imagined Greek tragedy and Union Avenue gives us a local premiere of a contemporary opera.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble and ERA Theatre present Antigone, adapted from the Sophocles tragedy by Lucy Cashion, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, August 14-31. " Antigone explores themes of fidelity, citizenship, civil disobedience, and the struggles and consequences the characters within the world of the play encounter as a result of their choices. Antigone's story of fighting civic law to obey divine law became famous in the Classical Greek tragedy Antigone, which premiered in Athens in 441 B.C. Since then, scholars, poets, and playwrights have written their own translations, adaptations, and critiques of the Antigone story, each from a different point of view. The continuation of this tradition resulted in a new version of Antigone, which was performed in October 2017 by SLU theatre majors in St. Louis and then with a performance by PPA participants at WERDCC in March 2018. The collaboration now continues with this ERA/SATE co-production in St. Louis." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

Glory Denied
Photo by Dan Donovan
Union Avenue Opera presents Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 16-24. "America's longest-held prisoner of war dreams of coming home. But home is a place he will not recognize. Follow the gut-wrenching saga of Col. Jim Thompson as he transitions from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the tree-lined streets of suburban America. This true story explores the unimaginable bravery asked of soldiers and the nature of home itself. It is a story of a nation divided and a country that changed significantly in the decade of his imprisonment." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Grease
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Grease through August 18. " Welcome to Rydell High where Danny Zuko and his gang of Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies rule the school! Bursting with explosive energy and 1950's nostalgia, GREASE blends an irresistible mix of adolescent angst and All-American teen spirit to create a high-octane, pop-culture phenomenon you won't want to miss!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Guys and Dolls
Stray Dog Theatre presents the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through August 24, with additional performances at 2 pm on Sunday, August 18, and at 8 pm on Wednesday, August 24. "Guys & Dolls takes us from the heart of Depression-era Times Square, to the cafés of Havana, and into the sewers of New York City to give us what some have called the perfect musical comedy. This timeless tale follows ruthless gamblers, sexy nightclub performers, and the hot-tempered law enforcers who keep them all in line." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Recipes for Ice, their monthly improv show, on Friday, August 16, at 8 and 10:30 pm at The Steamboat Room, 314 S. Clay in Kirkwood, MO. "Join Adam and his crew for an interactive night of fun and laughter. Beer, wine and food available from Kirkwood Station Brewery." For more information: ktg-onstage.org.

R-S Theatrics presents the musical A Man of No Importance Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through August 25. "The show has music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally, based on the 1994 Albert Finney film, of the same title. It tells the story of an amateur theatre group in Dublin and their leader, who is determined to stage a version of Salome at his church, despite the objections of church authorities. " Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes in "The Case Without a Clue" running through October 27 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The St. Lou Fringe Festival opens on Tuesday, August 13, at 7 pm with an Opening Night Party, featuring a performance of Intervals by Mill Hill Productions at the .ZACK in Grand Center. The Fringe Festival continues at various venues in Grand Center through Saturday, August 17. For more information: stlouisfringe.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love (No Biting) running through November 2. "Calling all Zombies! Tired of being judged for munching on the occasional brain? So you're not really "alive" anymore but you can still enjoy socializing with the living and enjoying a hilarious show together! Well, we've got the perfect show for you! Drama! Comedy! Looove! ...And, of course, Zombies! Don your best Living Dead Costume and choose to be a Zombie, or not (its up to you), but we do promise lots of fun for both the living and the undead! hey, Hey, HEY! No Biting!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of August 12, 2019

It's all about the annual Gesher Music Festival this week, with concerts Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Sara Sitzer
The Gesher Music Festival presents Safe Haven on Thursday, August 15 at 7:30 pm. "Throughout history, the United States has served as a safe haven for artists and composers fleeing war and persecution. Join us for a special program highlighting the music and stories behind these refugee composers as Artistic Director Sara Sitzer narrates their fascinating history alongside performances by the world-class Gesher Artists." The concert includes music Schoenberg, Britten, Bartok and Korngold and takes place at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

The Gesher Music Festival presents Shelter From the Storm on Saturday, August 17 at 7:30 pm. "From music depicting the story of Noah's Ark to the 18th century artistic movement referred to as Sturm und Drang, or Storm and Stress, this program explores how composers depict shelter from all types of storms." The concert consists of music by Lang, Previn, Milhaud, and Haydn and takes place at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

The Gesher Music Festival presents Safe Spaces on Sunday, August 18 at 2 pm. "Whether a synagogue, a church, or a chamber music salon, there is something inherently special about each space. In this program, we'll explore the music inspired by and written for the places that humans have found to be the most sacred throughout history." The concert consists of music Ravel, Norman, and Schubert and takes place at the JCC Wool Studio Theatre at 2 Millsonte Campus Drive. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tanglewood 2019, Part 2: A mighty wind

I spent the last weekend in July at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the scenic Berkshires as part of a group of two dozen music critics attending the annual meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA). It was a Wagner weekend, with three of the four concerts on our schedule dedicated to a complete concert performance of Die Walküre: Act I on Saturday night and Acts II and III in separate concerts on Sunday. Not surprisingly, the Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI) sessions we attended were focused entirely on Wagner and his world.

Andris Nelsons
Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra
Saturday, July 27th, began with Boston Symphony Orchestra music director Andris Nelsons conducting an open rehearsal of Act III of Die Walküre with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra. Opportunities to "look under the hood" like this are always fascinating, and this one was no exception, as Mr. Nelsons polished up moments that, in the actual concert, would take a back seat to the singers.

It was a reminder of how much the orchestra advances and comments on the story in Wagner's "Ring" operas through the composer's ingenious use of leitmotifs , those short musical phrases associated with specific characters and concepts. The way in which Wagner maintained a massive database of these themes in his head and manipulated them through the entire 17 hours of the "Ring" cycle never fails to astonish me. Wagner may have been an awful human being, but there's no gainsaying the brilliance of his art.

A word about the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra is in order. The TMC is a summer academy for young (primarily college-age) musicians founded by the legendary BSO Music Director Serge Koussevitzky as the Berkshire Music Center in 1940. The organization continued to thrive under subsequent BSO Music Directors like Charles Munch, Erich Leinsdorf, and James Levine, with input from luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Leon Fleisher. Today, as the BSO web site proudly proclaims, "20 percent of the members of American symphony orchestras, and 30 percent of all first-chair players, studied at the TMC."

So, not surprisingly, the kids played like real pros at the rehearsal. I was especially taken with the brass section.

Wagner tuba
Speaking of which: a lunch with members of the orchestra was followed by a session on "Sonic Bridges: Wagner and Brass Instruments," once again led by the redoubtable Sue Elliott. As an old low brass guy (trombone, euphonium, Sousaphone), I very much enjoyed learning about the creative ways in which Wagner used familiar brass instruments like the horn, as well as his use of unusual instruments like the contrabass tuba (used primary for scenes with the giants in Das Rheingold), the Stierhorn (a valveless horn dating back to the Middle Ages), and the bass trumpet.

Wagner even went to far as to have a special instrument built that now bears his name: the Wagner tuba. Inspired by a visit to the workshop of noted Parisian instrument-maker Adolphe Saxe, the Wagner tuba was constructed to the composer's specifications by the Moritz firm in Berlin. It looks rather like my old friend the euphonium but has a range similar to that of a French horn, with which it shares the same conical mouthpiece.

To this day, the Wagner tuba is rarely heard outside of the "Ring" operas, although Bruckner calls for it in his later symphonies, as does Richard Strauss in his Alpine Symphony. As a result, Ms. Elliott pointed out, orchestras usually keep some Wagner tubas on hand since the French horn players who usually play the instrument are unlikely to have one of their own.

L-R: Franz-Josef Selig, Amber Wager,
Andris Nelsons, Simon O'Neill
Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony
The big event of the day, though, was the concert version of Act I of Die Walküre that night. The first act is the story of how Siegmund stumbles into the home of Sieglinde, his twin sister from whom he has been separated since birth and whom he does not recognize. Sieglinde's husband, Hunding, has been hunting Siegmund and challenges him to a fight to the death in the morning. Siegmund and Sieglinde fall in love. Sieglinde drugs Hunding and flees with Siegmund, but not before the latter plucks a magical sword from the trunk of a tree in Hunding's house.

Yes, that sounds absurd, but with Wagner's music and libretto it becomes a gripping story of overwhelming passion and heroic determination, especially when performed by a cast as strong as this one. As Sieglinde and Siegmund, soprano Amber Wagner and tenor Simon O'Neill displayed credible passion and sang with stunning power. Bass Franz-Josef Selig radiated gravitas as Hunding and sang with authority. Andris Nelsons led the students of the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in a rousing account of the score. I could not have been happier.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 9, 2019

It certainly is summer; both of the new shows this week are musicals.

New This Week:

Assisted Living: The Musical
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Assisted Living: The Musical running through August 11. "From early retirement right up to the pulling of the plug, 21st Century seniors are partying like it's 1969. Imagine: no work, no pregnancy and a full array of Medicare-subsidized pharmaceuticals. Get your tickets today, before your short-term memory goes!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

My take: Having hit my "three score and ten," I'm a bit dubious of shows like this one, but I'm putting it on the list anyway because audiences of my fellow geezers seem to have embraced the show everywhere it has been produced, and because the entire cast consists of two very talented performers—Rick Compton and Betsy Bennett, the show's creators—switching back and forth among multiple roles. That sort of theatrical high wire act is usually great fun to watch if it's done well, as appears to be the case here. "If Compton and Bennett aren't having a great time," writes Ann Pollack, "they're surely fine actors. This is a romp from start to finish. It may even take the edge off the fear of growing old."


Matilda
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents the Muny premiere of the musical Matilda continuing nightly through August 11th. "With a story inspired by the eccentric genius of internationally-acclaimed author Roald Dahl, and a world inspired by St. Louis native and world-wide artistic legend Mary Engelbreit, Matilda shows how imagination is exactly what we all need to navigate life's many challenges. When sent to a dismal school, Matilda uses her clear eyes and keen smarts to help her discover her own surprising powers! Created by the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company, this four-time Tony Award-winning magical musical, still running in London's West End, is sure to marvel and entertain Muny audiences." Performances take place on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, muny.org.

My take: My fellow critics have been pretty much unanimous is their praise of this fanciful musical. "Not since Annie," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX, "has there been a show so delightfully dominated by kids. Matilda has, by my count, thirty-two classmates. And these MUNY Kids are pros! They fill the stage with wildly energetic yet precise song and dance." At stltoday.com, Calvin Wilson says this "tuneful and stylish musical" is a "must-see show" that "brings the Muny's 101st season to a triumphant close." "Muny artistic director and executive producer Mike Isaacson's idea to welcome Matilda to the amphitheater's spacious stage in the guise of renowned local artist Mary Engelbreit's colorful and whimsical works is an inspired master stroke," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News. Looks like a winner.