Sunday, December 04, 2016

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of December 5, 2016

Christmas at the Cathedral
Share on Google+:

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis presents Christmas at the Cathedral on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., December 9-11, at the cathedral at 4431 Lindell. "The Archdiocesan Adult Choirs and Orcheatra present a program of old and soon-to-be-new favorites to ring in the season, including John Rutter's Gloria." For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org.

The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents Blown Away on Monday and Tuesday, December 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. "Let the CMSSL winds blow you away with a program of entertaining music from the classical period and a detour into the world of opera." The program includes music by Beethoven, Hummel, Mozart, Haydn, and Donizetti. The concerts take place in the Sheldon Ballroom at 3648 Washington. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

The St. Louis Ambassadors of Harmony present Sounds of the Season on Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. December 9-11. The a cappella chorus presents a show that combines comedy and the lighter side of popular holiday songs with classic carols and sacred music that tell the story of the season. The performance takes place at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. For more information: touhill.org.

Kevin McBeth and the IN UNISON Chorus
The St. Louis Symphony presents A Gospel Christmas with the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON Chorus conducted by Kevin McBeth, on Thursday, December 8, at 7:30 p.m. "Guest vocalist Richard Smallwood joins the STL Symphony and IN UNISON Chorus led by Kevin McBeth for a night of soul-stirring Gospel music to celebrate the most joyous of seasons." The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony presents A Mannheim Steamroller Christmas on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9-11 at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. “The STL Symphony performs the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas at Powell Hall for the first time ever this holiday season. The modern symphonic arrangements of Christmas songs made famous by Chip Davis include yuletide favorites like “Carol of the Bells,” “Silent Night,” “Deck the Halls” and many more.” The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Terry Barber
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Motherhouse presents countertenor Terry Barber in Christmas Presence on Sunday, December 11, at 2 p.m. "Internationally-acclaimed countertenor Terry Barber, known for his extraordinarily broad vocal range, will perform selections from his “Christmas Presence” recording, as well as classical, classics and holiday favorites, along with some of St. Louis' most gifted musicians. Terry's unusually rich and versatile voice has made him sought after by producers and composers, and has taken him to some of the world's most impressive stages, including Carnegie Hall and London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. He was also a member of the Grammy-winning ensemble Chanticleer." The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Motherhouse is at 6400 Minnesota. For more information: csjsl.org.

The Washington University Department of Music presents student recital on Monday, December 5, at 8 p.m. The concert features Ian Marshall, guitar; Shushen Hou and Yueqi Du, piano; Henry Cummings, baritone with Nicole Aldrich, piano; and Ethan Schueler, organ. The concert includes music by Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven, and Marcel Dupré. The performance takes place in Graham Chapel on the Washington University campus. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Messiah Sing-Along on Sunday, December 11, at 3 p.m. Nicole Aldrich will direct organist Nicholas Bideler and soloists Tamara Miller-Campbell, soprano; Hank Hantak, countertenor; Keith Wehmeier, tenor; and Mark Freiman, bass. The performance takes place in Graham Chapel on the Washington University campus. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of December 5, 2016

Share on Google+:

The University of Missouri at St. Louis presents 1984, adapted from the George Orwell novel by by Michael Gene Sullivan, Friday and Saturday a 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9 - 11. "1984 brings us the story of Winston Smith, a cog in the giant machine state of Oceania. Physically and mentally under the omnipresent eye of Big Brother, Winston has been caught struggling for scraps of love and freedom in a world awash with distrust and violence. With the brutal "help" of four Party Members, Winston is forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen inquisitor, and the audience -- which acts as a silent witness to his torture. A ferocious and provocative adaptation of one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century." The performances take place at the Kranzberg Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. For more information, kranzbergartscenter.org/calendar/current-events/item/umsl-theatre-1984.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents the St. Louis premiere of Artistic Director Taylor Gruenloh's Adverse Effects, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundas at 4 p.m., December 9 - 11. "After the unexpected death of their daughter, Phil (Carl Overly Jr.) and Jessica (Musa Gurnis) must find a balance in their marriage while struggling with being middle class in the Midwest while battling against the interests of pharmaceutical reps, medical researchers, and a local journalist looking for the truth. Richard (Phil Leveling), a university scientist, is being paid by a pharmaceutical company to put his name on studies he didn't conduct. Allysa (Julianne King), the representative of the pharmaceutical company, wants a more lavish life. Maurice (Maurice Walters II), the local reporter for a small town online newspaper, wants to connect some dots." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

All is Calm
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 11. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents David Mamet's American Buffalo through December 18. "This volatile drama starred Robert Duvall in the original Broadway production and has seen revivals with Al Pacino most recently on Broadway . In a Chicago junk shop three small time crooks plot to rob a man of his coin collection, the showpiece of which is a valuable “Buffalo nickel”. These high-minded grifters fancy themselves businessmen pursuing legitimate free enterprise. But the reality of the three- Donny, the oafish junk shop owner; Bobby, a young junkie Donny has taken under his wing and “Teach”, a violently paranoid braggart- is that they are merely pawns caught up in their own game of last-chance, dead-end, empty pipe dreams." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Will Bonfiglio in Buyer and Cellar
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the one-man comedy Buyer and Cellar through December 17. “Underemployed Los Angeles actor, Alex More, is hired to work in a faux shopping mall created by superstar, Barbra Streisand in the basement of her Malibu home. One day, the Lady Herself comes below to play. It soon feels like real bonding downstairs, but will their relationship ever make it upstairs? Buyer & Cellar is a comedic tour-de-force, fictionally drawn from fact, which explores the price of fame, the cost of things, and the oddest of odd jobs." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

The Gateway Men's Chorus presents A Celebration of the Season on Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, at 8 p.m. GMC unwraps their 30th anniversary season with a night of beautiful music, campy carols, and holiday favorites, including John Rutter's "Gloria" with a full brass and percussion ensemble and pipe organ. The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: gmcstl.org.

A Christmas Carol
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Through December 24, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Carol, adapted by David H. Bell from the novel by Charles Dickens. "On Christmas Eve, the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is given a chance at redemption as he's visited by four ghosts - his old partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future - who teach him it's never too late to change." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the bawdy interactive comedy Dixie's Tupperware Party through December 18. "After a final meeting with her parole officer, this ex-con mother of three from a trailer park in Alabama straighten out her life by selling the iconic plastic bowls. She quickly became the hottest seller in the country by throwing the kind of parties you won't soon forget. With her booze-filled sippy cup, Dixie shares many alternative uses for what she calls "the most fantastic plastic crap on the planet" which made THE TODAY SHOW cheer, "This is not your grandmother's Tupperware Party." The show is bawdy and interactive and you can actually buy some Tupperware along the way. ADULT CONTENT." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

Driving Miss Daisy
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents Driving Miss Daisy through December 18. "In 1948 Atlanta, Daisy Werthan, a rich, sharp-tongued, Jewish, 72-year-old widow has just demolished another car. Her son Boolie informs her that he will from this point on be hiring a chauffeur for her. Thus begins the 25-year relationship between Daisy and Hoke Colburn, her driver. She regards him with disdain and he is not impressed with her patronizing tone and latent prejudice. But despite their differences, they grow closer and more dependent on each other over time. The once contentious relationship blossoms into a profound, life-altering friendship that transcends all the societal boundaries placed between them. An iconic tale of pride, changing times and the transformative power of friendship." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Finding Neverland
Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Finding Neverland opening on Tuesday, December 6, and running through December 18. "Directed by visionary Tony®-winner Diane Paulus and based on the critically-acclaimed Academy Award®-nominated film starring Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland tells the incredible story behind one of the world's most beloved characters: Peter Pan. Playwright J.M. Barrie struggles to find inspiration until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys' enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible and the wonder of childhood lasts forever. The magic of Barrie's classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this heartwarming theatrical event." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents the musical The Glorious Ones Wednesdas through Saturdas at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9-11. “In sixteenth-century Italy, a new form of comedic theatre is forming at the hands of Flaminio Scala: Commedia Dell'arte. Flaminio gathers a group of lowlifes together to create an acting troupe that specializes in improvisational comedy with masked characters. From the creators of Seussical and Ragtime comes a beautiful tribute to an important moment in theatre history and to the highs and lows of being an actor, then and now. Prepare yourselves for jokes that are as bawdy as they are old and as silly as they are sweet.” Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium in Webster Hall on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu/conservatory/season or call 314-968-7128.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's Imaginary Theatre Company presents the children's musical A Gnome for Christmas opening on Saturday, December 17, with performances at 11 am and 3 pm, and running through December 23. There is also a special online livestream performance on Saturday, December 10, at 11 a.m. "When Lulu's quirky father fails to sell yet another of his odd inventions, the pair must pack their bags and move to more meager accommodations. All they can afford is a rundown old farmhouse where the fence needs mending and the landlord's cranky, even at Christmastime! Lulu's about ready to give up, but when mysterious and magical things start happening, it seems that this farm might be home to more than meets the eye. This warm-hearted holiday musical reminds us of the importance of helping others and the happiness found in friends." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall High School, 530 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. For more information: repstl.org.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents A Good Woman an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Soul of Szechuan by Chuck Harper and the cast and featuring original poetry by Kenny Coleman, through December 11. "A Good Woman explores what it takes to be good in a world that is not so good. Says Chuck Harper, the Director, 'It is a play that I have always wanted to work on, more because I wanted to figure it out than because I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it. In our adaptation we've rewritten the play based on several translations. It is simple in its presentation, but the situations and questions are quite complex. This is a fascinating play.' Mr. Harper also noted that this version is not for children due to the adult language used throughout the show." Performances take place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siue.edu.

The St. Peters Cultural Arts Center presents singer Tim Schall in A Holiday Celebration on Friday, December 9, at 7 p.m. Carol Schmidt is the music director for this evening of seasonal favorites. The St. Peters Cultural Arts Center is at One St. Peters Centere Blvd in St. Peters, MO. For more information: brownpapertickets.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents It's a Wonderful Death through January 8, 2017. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special
St. Louis Shakespeare's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special Friday and Saturdas at 8 and 10:30 p.m. December 9 and 10. "Hop aboard the Millennium Falcon and help Luke, Leia, Han, Artoo, and Threepio get Chewbacca home in time to celebrate Life Day with his Wookie family! Originally airing just once in 1978, Magic Smoking Monkey brings this galactic and cosmically bizarre spectacular back to life, and takes you behind the curtain to witness its creation. Featuring a kitschy cavalcade of 70s superstars like Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, and other surprises - your holiday season will never be the same! Costume contest nightly - come as your favorite member of the Rebel Alliance or Wookie or Droid or Representative of the Galactic Empire or 1970's TV personality and win! (braggin' rights and a cheap prize!)" Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission in University City. For more information: stlshakespeare.org.

Metro Theatre Company and the Missouri History Museum present The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane December 9 - 30. "Edward Tulane is a toy who cares for nobody but himself. Ripped from the arms of the little girl who adores him, this privileged china rabbit is thrown into a life-changing adventure. From the depths of the ocean to the top of a garbage heap, Edward discovers what it means to love others on his extraordinary journey home. With themes of family, empathy, home and redemption, this play is the perfect way to celebrate the warmth of the holiday season." Performances take place in the Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: mohistory.org.

Southampton Church presents Parkside by St. Louis playwright Jim Danek Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sundas as 2 pm, December 9-11. Southampton Church is at 4716 Macklind in South St. Louis City. For more information, email darriousvarner at yahoo.com.

Santa's Helpers Inc. presents Songs of Peace and Joy: The Music of Christmas on Sunday, December 11, at 3 p.m. "Merry Keller and her singing friends, Bob Becherer, Brian Derton, Paul MacFarlane, Katie McGrath, Angie Nicholson, and Dionna Raedeke will delight and entertain you with all your favorite holiday music! Ron Bryant is at the piano and Paul McFarlane will be on guitar. This concert will donate net proceeds to Santa's Helpers, Inc. providing the spirit of Santa to thousands of St. Louis families for over 48 years." The performance takes place at the Sun Theatre, 3625 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2592087

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.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 2, 2016

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

Share on Google+:

New This Week:


Boom
Photo: Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents Boom Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through December 4. "Jo, a female journalism student, and Jules, a male marine biologist, meet in a subterranean biology lab for an erotic "casual encounter." But there's nothing casual whatsoever about this particular evening. Will meaningless sex have meaning? What's going on in the fish tank? And who is that woman, Barbara, pulling levers in the corner? Something is about to explode." Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

My take: Reviews for this latest daring outing by R-S have been quite good. Tina Farmer's review for KDHX is typical. She writes that Boom "peeks into a post-apocalyptic museum where a story of unexpected doom leads to a new creation myth. The humorous pairing of humanity's potential next Adam and Eve is countered by the more clinical, yet nonetheless passionate, observations of our docent, Barbara. The story is part creation myth, part scientific embellishment, and all for laughs in the company's smartly executed retelling."


David Meulemans
The Emerald Room at the Monocle and The Presenters Dolan present singer David Meluemans in December Songs on Friday, December 2, at 7 p.m. "South Florida's David Meulemans shares holiday memories and smooth vocals in this cabaret show comprised of traditional holiday favorites sprinkled with new works. You'll hear “Winter Wonderland” with a Vince Guaraldi feel, and the classic “Home for Christmas” wrapped up in beautiful new arrangements created specifically for this show, right beside some new holiday classics, including “For Christmas All I Need is You” by Bob Levy, and “Hannukah Miracle” by Carla Gordon and Wayne Richards , reflecting Meulemans' penchant for performing brand new material. December Songs makes a “one night only stop” at the Monocle on the way to Manhattan's Metropolitan Room, where Meulemans is currently Artist in Residence." The performance takes place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in the Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

My take: My Christmas elves tell me that this is a big, festive show with lots of great arrangements by the like of Tex Arnold and Sally Mayes. A veteran of the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, David is a smooth presence on stage and the Emerald Room is a very festive venue.


Ari Axelrod
The Emerald Room at the Monocle presents singer Ari Axelrod and pianist/music director Ron McGowan in Taking the Wheel on Saturday, December 3, at 8 p.m. "Recent Webster University graduate Ari Axelrod brings an autobiographical show about a young, ambitious man embarking on life after college. He straddles two, much different worlds only to discover that he will always have a foot in both. Contemporary Broadway, Sondheim and Hebrew Folk Music make up the songlist." The performance takes place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in the Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

My take: Rescheduled from its original October date, this is a show I look forward to seeing. I've seen Ari perform at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, both from the audience and in class when I attended last year. He's a gutsy performer who has had more experience with life's ups and down than many performers with a lot more mileage behind them. Rich lives make for good cabaret, in my experience.


Held Over:

The 2015 cast of All is Calm
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 11. “Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: All is Calm has become an annual winter tradition at Mustard Seed. With a script by Peter Rothstein and musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, this story of the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914—a spontaneous outbreak of peace that occurred at multiple points along the trenches in France—combines splendid and often quite complex a cappella singing with readings of letters from soldiers and other historical documents. At a time when opportunistic politicians are pushing an agenda of hate, fear, and eternal war, this is a play that everyone needs to see. As we used to ask back in the 1960s, "what if they gave a war and nobody came?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Preview: Tchaikovsky's fairy tale ballets dominate the stage at Powell Hall this week

Share on Google+:

If there's one thing you can count on at Christmas time, it's that someone somewhere will be putting on a production of Tchaikovsky's popular 1892 ballet The Nutcracker. This weekend (December 2-4, 2016), that includes the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. But their Nutcracker is probably going to be unlike any other you might have seen.

Tchaikovsky in 1906
That's because, to begin with, it will only be half a Nutcracker—specifically, the second half, which takes place entirely in the fanciful Kingdom of Sweets. And, since it's a concert performance, it will be a Nutcracker without dancers. What it will have, though, is "visual design" by Webster University's Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what that will mean, but I can tell you that in the past the SLSO has found some fairly ingenious ways of using projected images to enhance works written for the stage, from a performance of Copland's Appalachian Spring ballet suite accompanied by watercolors inspired by the ballet to vivid projected scenery for a complete performance of Verdi's Aida.

The second act of Nutcracker certainly offers plenty of colorful scenes. There are the various "national" dances (Chinese, Arabian, Spanish, and the Russian Trepak) along with the dance of the mirlitons (a 19th-century cousin of the common kazoo as well as a type of cake). There's also the popular "Waltz of the Flowers," the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" with its famous celesta solo, and the dramatic "Pas de Deux" for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

Mother Giggle and her children
Act II also has one of the odder numbers, at least for contemporary American audiences: "La mère Gigogne et les polichinelles" (roughly: "Mother Gigogne and the puppets"). A character whose origins lie in French marionette theatre, she's usually portrayed as a woman (although often danced by a man) with a huge skirt out of which bursts a collection of tumblers and/or clowns. She would have been recognizable to Tchaikovsky's audiences. These days, not so much. The SLSO program describes the number as "Polchinelle (The Clown)," which has the advantage of being less obscure.

All of this, in any case, means that the Webster artists should find a cornucopia of visual inspiration in Tchaikovsky's music.

UPDATE: According to a press release today, December 2nd, from the SLSO: "Due to technical difficulties beyond our control, the visuals planned in partnership with Webster University Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts will not be displayed for this weekend's performances. However, there is no change to the pieces performed on the program."


Tchaikovsky dominates this weekend's concerts, in fact. Most of the first half of the evening will be taken up with a suite consisting of six selections from Swan Lake (1876) and two from Sleeping Beauty (1889) that will feature concertmaster David Halen's violin, along with Principal Cello Daniel Lee and Principal Harp Allegra Lilly. The Swan Lake numbers include dances for both the White and Black Swans and a couple of "national" dances (Russian and Hungarian). From Sleeping Beauty we get the "Entr'acte symphonique" from Act II, a piece written expressly for the noted Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer, along with music from the following scene, in which Prince Désiré discovers the sleeping Princess Aurore.

The program will open with the overture to Alexander Borodin's patriotic opera Prince Igor. Left unfinished at the time of the composer's death in 1887, Prince Igor was eventually completed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov. The overture was cobbled together by Glazunov, who based on themes from the opera and some sketches Borodin left behind, so in a way it's as much his work as it is Borodin's.

Alexander Borodin, 1865
No matter; it's vibrant and dramatic music, filled with memorable themes-including one that, along with many other Borodin melodies, made its way into Wright and Forrest's 1953 musical Kismet. It pops up repeatedly, but you'll hear it for the first time early in the overture, following the big brass fanfares that come right after the slow introduction. In Kismet it's the basis for the song "The Olive Tree," in which the poetic beggar Hajj realizes life might have great things in store for him.

At the podium will be former SLSO Resident Conductor Ward Stare, whose star has clearly been on the rise since he left St. Louis. I saw him conducting Francesca Zambello's excellent Porgy and Bess in Chicago a couple of years ago and he was recently appointed Music Director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also had guest conducting gigs in Houston, Québec, and Dallas. It will be good to see him back on his old home turf.

The Essentials: Ward Stare conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist David Halen Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., December 2-4, at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: Noble and sentimental Beethoven with Stephen Hough, Robert Spano and the St. Louis Symphony

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.
Conductor Robert Spano
Photo: Angela Moriss
Share on Google+:

There was a lot to be thankful for Friday night (November 25, 2016) as Atlanta Symphony Music Director Robert Spano conducted the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a program that opened with a pair of late Romantic symphonic poems and closed with one of the greatest of the early-nineteenth century piano concertos.

The first half of the concert was pure "program music," beginning with Pohjola's Daughter from 1906, one of Jean Sibelius's many tone poems inspired by the Kalevala, an epic poem by Elias Lönnrot based on Finnish oral folklore and mythology. This is dark, dramatic music depicting the Finnish equivalent of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, with the mythical hero Väinämöinen trying and ultimately failing to win the heart of the titular daughter of the Northland.

Mr. Spano brought out all the drama and vivid tone painting in the score, starting with the brooding evocation of the stark northern landscape brought to life at the start by the orchestra's deepest voices highlighted by solos from, among others, Danny Lee's cello and Tzuying Huang's bass clarinet. Väinämöinen arrived in a powerful and precise fanfare from the brasses, to which Allegra Lilly's harp and Jennifer Nichtman's flutes replied with a perfectly translucent treatment of the theme for Pohjola's daughter.

The SLSO had, surprisingly, never performed this piece before, but you certainly wouldn't have known that from the quality of the playing. Every section of the ensemble sounded perfect, which made the lack of more enthusiastic applause a bit baffling. Yes, this is a piece that ends as softly as it begins, but I don't think the audience should need (to quote a line from Amadeus) "a good bang at the end...to let them know when to clap."

Up next was Fontane di Roma (Fountains of Rome) the first in Ottorino Respighi's very popular "Roman trilogy" of tone poems composed between 1916 and 1928. In only 15 minutes, the music takes you through a day in Rome as viewed through the lens of four of its famous fountains. We see the sun rise through the mists of the fountain at Valle Giulia, spend the morning frolicking with mythical creatures at the Triton Fountain, marvel at Neptune's majestic chariot at the Trevi Fountain at noon, and finally watch the sun go down behind the Fountain at Villa Medici. "The air is full of the sound of tolling bells, the twittering of birds, the rustling of leaves," wrote Respighi his notes on the score. "Then all dies peacefully into the silence of the night."

Like so many of Respighi's scores, Fountains is a virtual textbook of orchestration, with elements of Debussy, Ravel, and even Richard Strauss all mixed with Respighi's own unique point of view to produce a rich palette of instrumental color. You could hear all of that in exquisite detail throughout this performance, beginning with the shimmering violin harmonics and Jelena Dirks's elegant oboe solo in the opening pages. The play of the Triton fountain's naiads was brought to sparkling life by Allegra Lilly and Megan Stout's harps, the high winds, and the percussion section, while the brasses brought out the majesty of the Trevi fountain.

Mr. Spano brought all this together in a reading that favored somewhat brisk tempos, especially in the Trevi movement, that never felt rushed and that missed none of the many wonderful details of the score. It was thoroughly entrancing and warmly received.

Pianist Stephen Hough
Photo: Hiroyuki Ito
After intermission, Stephen Hough joined the orchestra for a noble and graceful reading of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto. Although written under the cloud of war and occupation in Vienna in 1809, this is music that opens in a majestic vein, becomes tender and even wistful in the second movement, and then segues without pause into a cheerful and exuberant rondo.

In his performances of the first three Rachmaninoff concertos with the SLSO back in the spring of 2012, Mr. Hough demonstrated that he had plenty of power when that was called for, but also the ability to display real delicacy. You could hear the power immediately in the oratorical keyboard flourishes that open the first movement and the delicacy in the little diminuendo and touch of rubato that concluded the third solo passage, just before the orchestra entered with the commanding declaration of the first theme.

Throughout the concerto, Mr. Hough and Mr. Spano found lots of shading and subtlety in the music, which made the more dramatic declarations that much more potent. The adagio second movement was pure poetry and the rondo finale danced with rhythmic vitality. The performance as a whole had a real feel of forward momentum, in fact.

As Paul Schiavo points out in his program notes, this is a concerto that integrates the soloist with the orchestra in ways that were novel at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Mr. Hough and Mr. Spano honored that with a truly collaborative performance.

Although I'm familiar with Mr. Spano's work from recordings, this was my first opportunity to see him in person. He's essentially an upper body conductor, making effective and precise use of his hands and baton, but not much given to the kind of podium choreography that has endeared SLSO Music Director David Robertson to so many of us here. He nevertheless comes across as a warm and engaging character who takes joy in making music. Which is, ultimately, the bottom line.

Next at Powell Hall: Ward Stare conducts the orchestra and violin soloist David Halen in suites from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballets along with Borodin's Prince Igor Overture and the complete second act of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. TheNutcracker selections will be accompanied by projected visuals presented in partnership with the Webster University Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., December 2-4, at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 28, 2016

Share on Google+:

The University of Missouri at St. Louis presents 1984, adapted from the George Orwell novel by by Michael Gene Sullivan, Fridays and Saturdays a 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., December 2 - 11. "1984 brings us the story of Winston Smith, a cog in the giant machine state of Oceania. Physically and mentally under the omnipresent eye of Big Brother, Winston has been caught struggling for scraps of love and freedom in a world awash with distrust and violence. With the brutal "help" of four Party Members, Winston is forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen inquisitor, and the audience -- which acts as a silent witness to his torture. A ferocious and provocative adaptation of one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century." The performances take place at the Kranzberg Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. For more information, kranzbergartscenter.org/calendar/current-events/item/umsl-theatre-1984.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents the St. Louis premiere of Artistic Director Taylor Gruenloh's Adverse Effects, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., December 2 - 11. "After the unexpected death of their daughter, Phil (Carl Overly Jr.) and Jessica (Musa Gurnis) must find a balance in their marriage while struggling with being middle class in the Midwest while battling against the interests of pharmaceutical reps, medical researchers, and a local journalist looking for the truth. Richard (Phil Leveling), a university scientist, is being paid by a pharmaceutical company to put his name on studies he didn't conduct. Allysa (Julianne King), the representative of the pharmaceutical company, wants a more lavish life. Maurice (Maurice Walters II), the local reporter for a small town online newspaper, wants to connect some dots." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

The 2015 cast of All is Calm
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 11. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents David Mamet's American Buffalo December 2 - 18. "This volatile drama starred Robert Duvall in the original Broadway production and has seen revivals with Al Pacino most recently on Broadway . In a Chicago junk shop three small time crooks plot to rob a man of his coin collection, the showpiece of which is a valuable “Buffalo nickel”. These high-minded grifters fancy themselves businessmen pursuing legitimate free enterprise. But the reality of the three- Donny, the oafish junk shop owner; Bobby, a young junkie Donny has taken under his wing and “Teach”, a violently paranoid braggart- is that they are merely pawns caught up in their own game of last-chance, dead-end, empty pipe dreams." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Annie
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Annie Friday at 7:30 .m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 6 p.m., December 2-4. "Leapin' Lizards! The world's best-loved musical returns in time-honored form. Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin and choreographed by Liza Gennaro, this production of ANNIE will be a brand new incarnation of the iconic original." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

R-S Theatrics presents Boom Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through December 4. "Jo, a female journlism student, and Jules, a male marine biologist, meet in a subterranean biology lab for an erotic "casual encounter." But there's nothing casual whatsoever about this particular evening. Will meaningless sex have meaning? What's going on in the fish tank? And who is that woman, Barbara, pulling levers in the corner? Something is about to explode." Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

Buyer and Cellar
Stray Dog Theatre presents the one-man comedy Buyer and Cellar December 1 - 17. “Underemployed Los Angeles actor, Alex More, is hired to work in a faux shopping mall created by superstar, Barbra Streisand in the basement of her Malibu home. One day, the Lady Herself comes below to play. It soon feels like real bonding downstairs, but will their relationship ever make it upstairs? Buyer & Cellar is a comedic tour-de-force, fictionally drawn from fact, which explores the price of fame, the cost of things, and the oddest of odd jobs." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Lindenwood University presents a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. December 1 - 3. "This timeless classic follows the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge on a fantastic journey through time and space, forced to confront his past, present, and future through the aid of his spiritual guides. Returning to the main stage Lindenwood Theater for 2016, A Christmas Carol is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit, and to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas.” The performance takes place at The Lindenwood Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit www.lindenwood.edu/center.

A Christmas Carol
Photo: Lon Brauer
Opening Wednesday, November 30, at 8 p.m. and running through December 24, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Carol, adapted by David H. Bell from the novel by Charles Dickens. "On Christmas Eve, the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is given a chance at redemption as he's visited by four ghosts - his old partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future - who teach him it's never too late to change." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Curtain's Up Theatre presents A Christmas Story, based on stories by Jean Shepherd, Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. December 2 - 4. "A Christmas classic - 9-year-old Ralphie desperately wants to find a genuine Red Ryder BB gun under the Christmas tree. He pleads with his mother, his teacher, and even Santa Claus himself. Of course, he's told, "You'll shoot your eye out!" Furnaces explode, father wins a hideous lamp and tongues are frozen to lamp posts." Performances take place The Wildey Theatre is at252 North Main Street in Edwardsville, Illinois. For more information, visit curtainsuptheater.com.

David Meulemans
The Emerald Room at the Monocle and The Presenters Dolan present singer David Meluemans in December Songs on Friday, December 2, at 7 p.m. "South Florida's David Meulemans shares holiday memories and smooth vocals in this cabaret show comprised of traditional holiday favorites sprinkled with new works. You'll hear “Winter Wonderland” with a Vince Guaraldi feel, and the classic “Home for Christmas” wrapped up in beautiful new arrangements created specifically for this show, right beside some new holiday classics, including “For Christmas All I Need is You” by Bob Levy, and “Hannukah Miracle” by Carla Gordon and Wayne Richards , reflecting Meulemans' penchant for performing brand new material. December Songs makes a “one night only stop” at the Monocle on the way to Manhattan's Metropolitan Room, where Meulemans is currently Artist in Residence." The performance takes place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in the Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the bawdy interactive comedy Dixie's Tupperware Party, opening on Tuesday, November 29, and running through December 18. "After a final meeting with her parole officer, this ex-con mother of three from a trailer park in Alabama straighten out her life by selling the iconic plastic bowls. She quickly became the hottest seller in the country by throwing the kind of parties you won't soon forget. With her booze-filled sippy cup, Dixie shares many alternative uses for what she calls "the most fantastic plastic crap on the planet" which made THE TODAY SHOW cheer, "This is not your grandmother's Tupperware Party." The show is bawdy and interactive and you can actually buy some Tupperware along the way. ADULT CONTENT." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

Driving Miss Daisy
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents Driving Miss Daisy December 1 - 18. "In 1948 Atlanta, Daisy Werthan, a rich, sharp-tongued, Jewish, 72-year-old widow has just demolished another car. Her son Boolie informs her that he will from this point on be hiring a chauffeur for her. Thus begins the 25-year relationship between Daisy and Hoke Colburn, her driver. She regards him with disdain and he is not impressed with her patronizing tone and latent prejudice. But despite their differences, they grow closer and more dependent on each other over time. The once contentious relationship blossoms into a profound, life-altering friendship that transcends all the societal boundaries placed between them. An iconic tale of pride, changing times and the transformative power of friendship." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents the musical The Glorious Ones Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., November 30 - December 11. “In sixteenth-century Italy, a new form of comedic theatre is forming at the hands of Flaminio Scala: Commedia Dell'arte. Flaminio gathers a group of lowlifes together to create an acting troupe that specializes in improvisational comedy with masked characters. From the creators of Seussical and Ragtime comes a beautiful tribute to an important moment in theatre history and to the highs and lows of being an actor, then and now. Prepare yourselves for jokes that are as bawdy as they are old and as silly as they are sweet.” Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium in Webster Hall on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu/conservatory/season or call 314-968-7128.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents A Good Woman an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Soul of Szechuan by Professor Chuck Harper and the cast, featuring original poetry by Kenny Coleman. December 2-11. "A Good Woman explores what it takes to be good in a world that is not so good. Says Chuck Harper, the Director, 'It is a play that I have always wanted to work on, more because I wanted to figure it out than because I had an idea of what I wanted to do with it. In our adaptation we've rewritten the play based on several translations. It is simple in its presentation, but the situations and questions are quite complex. This is a fascinating play.' Mr. Harper also noted that this version is not for children due to the adult language used throughout the show." Performances take place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siue.edu.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents It's a Wonderful Death through January 8, 2017. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Central Visual and Performing Arts High School presents Irving Berlin's White Christmas Friday through Sunday, December 2-4. "Based on the beloved, timeless film, this heartwarming musical adaptation features seventeen Irving Berlin songs and a book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have a successful song-and-dance act after World War II. With romance in mind, the two follow a duo of beautiful singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont Lodge, which just happens to be owned by Bob and Phil's former army commander. The dazzling score features well known standards including Blue Skies, I Love A Piano, How Deep Is the Ocean and the perennial favorite, White Christmas. "The Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is at 3125 S. Kingshighway in south St. Louis City. Fore more information: gcpastl.org.

St. Louis Shakespeare's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 10:30 p.m. December 2 - 10. "Hop aboard the Millennium Falcon and help Luke, Leia, Han, Artoo, & Threepio get Chewbacca home in time to celebrate Life Day with his Wookie family! Originally airing just once in 1978, Magic Smoking Monkey brings this galactic and cosmically bizarre spectacular back to life, and takes you behind the curtain to witness its creation. Featuring a kitschy cavalcade of 70s superstars like Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, and other surprises - your holiday season will never be the same! Costume contest nightly - come as your favorite member of the Rebel Alliance or Wookie or Droid or Representative of the Galactic Empire or 1970's TV personality and win! (braggin' rights and a cheap prize!)" Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission in University City. For more information: stlshakespeare.org.

Southampton Church presents Parkside by St. Louis playwright Jim Danek Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays as 2 pm, December 2-11. Southampton Church is at 4716 Macklind in South St. Louis City. For more information, email darriousvarner at yahoo.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. November 30 - December 3. Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siue.edu.

Ari Axelrod
The Emerald Room at the Monocle presents singer Ari Axelrod and pianist/music director Ron McGowan in Taking the Wheel on Saturday, December 3, at 8 p.m. "Recent Webster University graduate Ari Axelrod brings an autobiographical show about a young, ambitious man embarking on life after college. He straddles two, much different worlds only to discover that he will always have a foot in both. Contemporary Broadway, Sondheim and Hebrew Folk Music make up the songlist." The performance takes place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in the Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents Winter Wonderland, a holiday cabaret featuring Zoe Vonder Haar, John Flack, Peter Merideth, Emily Peterson and Steve Neale, on Saturday, December 3, at 11 a.m. "Celebrate the season with a wonderful mix of winter and holiday music, old and new, performed by acclaimed actress Zoe Vonder Haar and a cast of some of St. Louis' finest singers! Hear favorites such as “Snow,” from White Christmas, “Sleigh Ride,” “Joy to the World” and many more!" The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3658 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: sheldonconcerthall.org.

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 November 28, 2016

Share on Google+:

The Pulitzer Arts Foundation presents members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performing contemporary chamber works on Wednesday, November 30, at 7:30 p.m. The performance takes place in the newly renovated space at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 3716 Washington. For more information: pulitzerarts.org/program/st-louis-symphony-concert-series

Second Presbyterian Church presents Advent Vespers on Sunday, December 4, at 4 p.m. "The Second Church Chorale and Orchestra present portions of Edward Elgar's The Apostles. The Vespers also includes hymns, readings, and music for handbell choir." The church is at 4501 Westminster Place in the Central West End. For more information: secondchurch.net.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents the contemporary chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound on Thursday, December 1, at 8 PM. "The ensemble performs the newest music being composed today with energetic virtuosity and a sense of adventure, creating programs that not only span a wide range of styles, but also transform the traditional concert experience itself." The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

Stile Antico
Wednesday, November 30, at 8 p.m. St. Louis Cathedral Concerts presents the Stile Antico Holiday Concert. "The a cappella vocal ensemble performs music from their latest recording, A Wondrous Mystery, including Eccard's infectiously joyful Übers Gebirg Maria geht and Praetorius' double-choir Magnificat, which includes the carols In dulci jubilo and Josef lieber, Josef mein." The performance takes place at The Cathedral Basilica on Lindell in the Central West End. For more information: cathedralconcerts.org.

Ward Stare conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist David Halen in a suite from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty ballet, the complete second act of The Nutcracker, and Borodin's Prince Igor Overture. The Nutcracker selections will be accompanied by projected visuals presented in partnership with the Webster University Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., December 2 - 4, at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The University City Symphony Orchestra presents Family Reunion in Austria on Sunday, December 4, at 3 p.m. "The program for "Family Reunion in Austria" will highlight the musical legacy of arguably the most famous Austrian composer families. We invite you to contrast, compare, and enjoy the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father, Leopold, as well as the amazing Strauss Family of composer/musicians. Our featured soloist will be Thomas Jöstlein, Associate Principal Horn for the St. Louis Symphony. The concert is FREE and open to the public." The performance takes place at All Saints Catholic Church, 6403 Clemens in University City. For more information: ucso.org.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Review: In Chicago, "Hamilton" lives up to the hype

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.
L-R: José Ramos, Miguel Cervantes, Joshua Henry, Wallace Smith
Photo: Joan Marcus
Share on Google+:

Let's cut to the chase: you know all those things you've heard about how intelligent, theatrically powerful, and just generally wonderful Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical Hamilton is? Well, they're all absolutely correct. This is a flat-out brilliant piece of musical theatre that manages to be both educational and entertaining at the same time.

Tickets for the Broadway original are almost impossible to get, but fortunately the PrivateBank Theatre in the Chicago Loop is hosting the only other open-ended run of Hamilton in the country. That makes the trip north well worthwhile.

If you've somehow missed all the hype surrounding this amazing show, know that Hamilton is the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, including his heroic leadership during the Revolutionary War, his rapid rise to and fall from political power, and his friendship and rivalry with Aaron Burr, who finally killed Hamilton in a duel over the latter's support for Burr's political rival, Thomas Jefferson.

That might sound like dry stuff, but Mr. Miranda tells the tale with a non-stop torrent of deliberately and cheerfully anachronistic hip-hop, rap, soul, and even a bit of big-band jazz and 1960s pop. Thomas Kail's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's sharply contemporary choreography move the story along at a breezy pace that makes the show's running time of just under three hours pass far too quickly, and the performances from the ensemble cast are nothing short of stunning.

Chris De'Sean Lee and company
Photo: Joan Marcus
In this version of Hamilton's story, the cast is aggressively diverse. Jefferson, Burr, Lafayette, and George Washington are all black. Hamilton is Latino. This is, in short, an ensemble that looks like America in 2016 instead of 1776. That makes the story feel sharply contemporary and reminds us that the men and women who made this country possible weren't carefully posed images in paintings, but living, breathing, and very fallible human beings. It's the sort of thing the now-classic musical 1776 did over four decades ago.

Heading this incredible cast are Miguel Cervantes as Hamilton and Joshua Henry as Burr. Mr. Cervantes (who alternates in the role with Joseph Morales) radiates determination and energy as the man who is repeatedly asked, "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" His performance has an urgency that's matched by Mr. Henry's Burr, who is in a constant war between his admiration of Hamilton's ability and his jealousy of the success it brings.

Ari Afsar is a sympathetically appealing Eliza, Hamilton's long-suffering wife, who finds her way to forgiveness for his affair with Maria Reynolds (a seductively smoky Samantha Marie Ware) and goes on to shape an important legacy of her own. Karen Olivo is a passionate Angelica Schuyler, Eliza's sister and a woman with whom Hamilton had a devoted but (at least in this version of the story) entirely intellectual relationship.

L-R: Karen Olivo, Ari Afsar, Samantha Marie Ware
Photo: Joan Marcus
Chris De'Sean Lee is a lively comic presence as both Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson and Jonathan Kirkland perfectly captures George Washington's quiet authority. Wallace Smith shines in the sharply contrasting roles of James Madison and revolutionary spy Hercules Mulligan. And José Ramos was wonderfully affecting in the roles of two doomed characters: Hamilton's friend John Laurens, who is killed in a completely unnecessary battle with the British, and Hamilton's son Philip, slain in an equally pointless duel defending his father's honor.

The day we saw the show, Jin Ha was hilariously effete as King George III (the role is usually played by Alexander Gemignani). His song "You'll Be Back," which treats the colonies as unfaithful lovers ("Remember we made an arrangement when you went away, now you’re making me mad") is, appropriately, a mock-1960s "British invasion" ballad.

That song is just one example of Mr. Miranda's seemingly limitless musical imagination. His score is filled with ingenious touches. When, for example, Jefferson makes his appearance at the top of the second act, having spent the entire revolution in France, his song "What'd I Miss?" written in the style of the late big band era, suggesting how out of touch he is with the more contemporary sounds of the other characters. The debates between Jefferson and Hamilton are staged as rap contests, complete with hand-held mics, in which the characters cheerfully dis each other in rhyme. And the lyrics are filled with theatrical references, from Shakespeare to Gilbert and Sullivan and even Oscar Hammerstein II.

The company
Photo: Joan Marcus
The set by David Korins is simple and suggests a late eighteenth-century wharf, with brick walls and a high wooden catwalk along the back and sides of the stage. Set pieces are whisked on and off to suggest scene changes, often with the help of a turntable. It's all very fluid and seamless.

There's currently no announced end date for the Chicago run of Hamilton. Tickets are currently being sold well into the summer (a Facebook friend just announced that he had seats for July) and I expect it will continue beyond then if sales warrant it. I assume a tour will play the Fox at some point, but I think this is a show that really deserves to be seen in a Broadway-sized house like the one in Chicago. The lyrics are rich, inventive, and often rapid-fire, and I expect many of them will be lost in the Fox's acoustics.

In nations, as in nature, diversity is a source of strength. Hamilton is a reminder of that strength. We are, as JFK wrote in his book of the same name, "a nation of immigrants," so it's encouraging to note that, when we saw Hamilton, spontaneous applause burst out when Jefferson and Hamilton sang "immigrants: we get the job done." Information on Hamilton and other live theatre in Chicago is available at the Broadway in Chicago website.

Review: At Lyric Opera of Chicago, "Don Quichotte" sings a song of kindness

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.
L-R: Ferruccio Furlanetto and Nicola Alaimo
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Share on Google+:

Powerful, moving performances and a strong sense of whimsy highlight a beautiful production of Jules Massenet's last big hit, Don Quichotte, at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

When Jules Massenet wrote his operatic treatment of poet Jacques Le Lorrain's play Le chevalier de la longue figure (very freely adapted from Cervantes' Don Quixote) in 1909, both he and his style of composition were on the way out. Two years after the opera's highly successful 1910 premiere in Monte Carlo, Massenet would be dead of abdominal cancer and his poplar, romantic style would soon be eclipsed by revolutionaries like Stravinsky, impressionists like Debussy and Ravel, and serialists like Berg.

But fashionable or not, Don Quichotte has proved to be enduringly popular over the last century and is still produced often enough to come in at number 140 worldwide on the Operabase list for the 2014/15 season. The current Lyric production, which originated with San Diego Opera in 2009, does full justice to Massenet's colorful score and librettist Henri Cain's gentle, elegiac version of the tale of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance.

Clémentine Margaine and Ferruccio Furlanetto
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The characters of the Don and Sancho are essentially unchanged from the originals in this treatment but aside from the famous battle with the windmills, the story is radically different. Instead of being a figment of the Don's imagination, Dulcinea (now Dulcinée) is a very real and very wealthy beauty who is pursued by many suitors and bored with them all. Amused by the Don's absurd attempts to woo her, Dulcinée send him on a quest of sorts to retrieve a pearl necklace stolen by Ténébrun, a local bandit.

Disarmed by the Don's nobility, Ténébrun gives him the necklace. But when the Don returns the necklace to Dulcinée and proposes to her, he's mocked by her party guests and gently rebuffed by her. Broken in spirit and health, he retreats to the mountains where, tended by the faithful Sancho, he has one last hallucination of Dulcinée's voice calling him to the heavens as he expires.

The role of Don Quichotte was first sung by the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, and many of history's great bassos have taken it on since. When Lyric first presented Don Quichotte in 1974, for example, the role was sung by Nicolai Ghiaurov. This time around, the man behind the Don's spiky hair and beard is Ferruccio Furlanetto, who has made something of a career of the part, playing it to great acclaim all over the world.

Nicola Alaimo and Ferruccio Furlanetto
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
His is a gentle and even bemused Don Quichotte, confident in his folly and passionate in defense of his core values of honesty, compassion, and generosity. His complete immersion in the character and his powerful voice -- solid even in its lowest notes -- make his performance the solid foundation on which this fine production is built.

Baritone Nicola Alaimo is Sancho, a role which has more dramatic depth than you might expect. When his heartbroken master is mocked by Dulcinée's party guests, it's Sancho who rises to his defense in the passionate "Riez, allez, riez du pauvre ideologue" ("Laugh, laugh at this poor idealist"), excoriating the crowd for their heartlessness. While Mr. Alaimo is very affecting here and in the Don's death scene, he's equally adept at the comedy of the first and second acts.

Mezzo Clémentine Margaine rounds out the principal cast as a languid Dulcinée, as disappointed with her easy life as she is amused by it. Like Mr. Furlanetto and Mr. Alaimo, she has a voice that easily fills the Lyric's large house.

Tenors Alec Carlson and Jonathan Johnson are Dulcinée's adult suitors Juan and Rodriguez while soprano Diana Newman and mezzo Lindsay Metzger have the "pants" roles of her juvenile admirers Pedro and Garcias. These are primarily comic parts and they do a fine job with them. Bradley Smoak, who St. Louis audiences will recognize from his many appearances at Opera Theatre, turns in a nice cameo as Ténébrun.

L-R: Ferruccio Furlanetto and Bradley Smoak
Photo: Todd Rosenberg
The members of Michael Black's chorus sing and act their roles with great skill and Sir Andrew Davis conducts with his customary authority.

"Like children," observes director Matthew Ozawa in the program book, "when we open a book we are given permission to use our imagination to create a new world." And in fact, this Don Quichotte opens with a small boy alone on stage reading the Don's adventures in a huge book. As he turns the pages, the story comes to life around him in the bright storybook colors of Ralph Funicello's sets and Missy West's costumes. The literary concept is carried out as well in the quotes from Cervantes's novel that are projected on a scrim at the beginning of each act. Even when their stories are radically altered, it seems, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza stubbornly remain true to their essential selves.

As his dramatic arc passes from simple comedy to pathos and eventually tragedy, Don Quixote's dedication to kindness and mercy is a reminder that our natures do have better angels, if only we would pay them more heed. Like Pushkin's "holy fool" or Shakespeare's clowns, the Don's folly shows those around him the way to wisdom, if they have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Lyric Opera's production of Don Quichotte runs through December 7 at the opulent Civic Opera house in the Chicago Loop.