Sunday, July 14, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 15, 2019

Cabaret is busting out all over this week, with shows from the St. Louis Cabaret Conference and The Cabaret Project. There are also musicals at Stages and the Muny, new plays from St. Louis Actors' Studio and First Run, and a provocative double feature from Encore Theatre Group.

Marilyn Maye
The Cabaret Project presents the 2019 Cabaret Gala, featuring performances by Marilyn Maye, Jim Caruso, Jeff Harner, and Peisha McPhee and hosted by Sirius XM Radio's Christing Pedi, on Thursday, July 18, at 7:30 pm. The show is preceded by cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at 6:30 and takes place at Jazz St. Louis on Washington in Grand Center. Proceeds beenfit The Cabaret Project's performance and training programs. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Blind by Dennis Fisher on Monday, July 15, at 6:30 pm. " Dave and Lloyd, who haven't seen each other in twenty years, reunite to go duck hunting. As they discuss old times, Lloyd reveals he has invited another old classmate to join them in the duck blind. The reunion does not go well." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

Cinderella
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderalla through Tuesday, July 16. "A magical evening awaits, but we mustn't be late! This Rodgers and Hammerstein treasure began as one of the most-watched television programs in history and was finally produced on Broadway in 2013, receiving nine Tony Award nominations. With winsome charm and irresistible fantasy, the score features shoe-in favorites, including "In My Own Little Corner," "The Prince is Giving a Ball" and "Ten Minutes Ago." "It's Possible" this timeless tale will have your heart soaring and prove, once and for all, dreams really can come true." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.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.

The HIlton St. Louis Frontenac presents The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show through July 27. "Solve a hilarious crime while you feast on a fantastic dinner. Just beware! The culprit is hiding in plain sight somewhere in the room, and you may find yourself as a Prime Suspect before you know it!" For more information: https://www.thedinnerdetective.com/st-louis

Encore Theatre Group presents A Dream Deferred Double Feature, consisting of performances of Lorraine Hansberry's drama A Raisin in the Sun and the Bruce Norris comedy Clybourne Park, on Saturday July 20. Raisin in the Sun is performed at 2:30 pm and Clybourne Park at 7:30 pm. "A RAISIN IN THE SUN tells the story of the Youngers, a burdened but strong family consisting of a widowed Mother, a bright and lively college student daughter and a less than satisfied with life son who houses his wife and child in his mother's cramped one bedroom apartment in 1959 South Chicago. A seemingly perfect opportunity for the family members to advance on each of their dreams comes in the form of a $10,000 life insurance check for the life of the late Mr. Younger. Each of them have their own plans for the money's best use but it is ultimately up to Momma (Lena Younger) to decide how the money will be used. Will their dreams flourish with this new seed of hope? Or will the plight of poverty and hopelessness continue to crush and dry them up like a raisin in the sun? CLYBOURNE is the 2009 response to the question, 'What happened to the Youngers after leaving Chicago's south side?' Clybourne Park is a political satire that lends the perspective of the White family who sold the Youngers their house in a less than welcoming neighborhood. In the second act, the audience will witness a fast-forward in time to a modern day conversation between the current homeowners (Younger descendants) and new hopeful White purchasers. WARNING: CONTAINS ADULT LANGUAGE AND SITUATIONS!" The performance takes place at The Fellowship, 3453 S. Jefferson. For more information: www.eventbrite.com

The St. Louis Cabaret Conference presents the Final Showcase and Celebration on Sunday, July 21, at 7:30 pm. " 20 singers take to the stage and sing their hearts out for you. Stick around and enjoy drink and a nosh and say farewell to another STL Cabaret Conference. Celebrate with us!." The event takes place at The Stage at KDHX on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: www.eventbrite.com

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through July 28 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Muny presents the musical Footloose opening on Thursday, July 18, at 8:15 p.m. and running through July 24. "Kick off your Sunday shoes with this 80s favorite! Based on the 1984 Academy Award-nominated blockbuster hit, Footloose shows how a little teenage rebellion and a love of music can open hearts and transform a town. Featuring chart-topping hits, including "Let's Hear It for the Boy," "Holding Out for a Hero" and the Grammy-nominated title track "Footloose," this four-time Tony Award-nominated dancing-sensation will have the entire family burning and yearning to cut loose!" Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Stages St. Louis presents the musical Grease July 19 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.

St. Louis Shakespeare's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents Jaws: The Parody, opening on Friday, July 19, at 8 pm and running through July 27. Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission in University City. For more information: www.stlshakespeare.org

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 21. "This smash Broadway hit is a hilarious and touching story of marriage, family and finding where you belong. Set on an idyllic Greek island on the eve of a wedding, the musical follows a mother, her daughter, and three possible dads on an unforgettable trip down the aisle. Mamma Mia! features the greatest hits of supergroup ABBA, including "Super Trouper," "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo" and more! Come see why more than 54 million people worldwide have laughed and danced to this unforgettable jukebox musical. " Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit www.siue.edu.

Take Two Productions the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, Thursday through Saturday, July 18-20, at 7:30 pm. "ABBA's hits tell the hilarious story of a young woman's search for her birth father. This sunny and funny tale unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter's quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother's past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago." Performances take place at Tower Grove Baptist Church, 4257 Magnolia in the Shaw neighborhood. For more information, visit taketwoproductions.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muurder in Maaaybury! through July 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Great Negro Works of Art
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 2 July 19-28 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. . The plays in part 2 are "Great Negro Works of Art" by Neil LaBute, Predilections by Richard Curtis, "Henrietta" by Joseph Krawczyk, and "Sisyphus and Icarus a Love story" by William Ivor Fowke. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

First Run Theatre presents the plays Overdone by David Hamley and Screaming at Optimum Pitch by Peg Flach Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, July 19-28. Performances take place at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, 517 Theatre Lane in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: firstruntheatre.com.

The St. Louis Cabaret Conference presents the Professional Track Showcase on Saturday, July 20, at 7 pm. "6 select singers from around the country each perform a cabaret set in this culmination of 9 days of study with the St. Louis Cabaret Conference's renowned faculty." The event takes place at The Stage at KDHX on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: www.eventbrite.com

The St. Louis Cabaret Conference presents the Sing Center Stage Showcase on Tuesday, July 16, at 7:30 pm. "18 talented teens take to the stage to showcase the work they've been doing for 5 days as part of this summer performance intensive. This is just the beginning!" The performance takes place at Jazz St. Louis on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: tickets.jazzstl.org

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project presents its monthly Singers Open Mic Night on Wednesday, July 17, 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.

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, July 11, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of July 12, 2019

New productions by the Muny and Union Avenue Opera are on the list this weekend.

New This Week:

Candide
Photo by Dan Donovan
Union Avenue Opera presents Leonard Bernstein's Candide Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through July 13. 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.

My take: It has been 25 years since Opera Theatre did their production of the often-revised Bernstein classic—which is, as it happens, exactly as long as Union Avenue Opera has been in existence. As I note in my review, this version of the show is a worth successor to the excellent one OTSL offered us all those years ago. I can't recommend it strongly enough.


Cinderella
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderalla opening on Monday, July 8, at 8:15 p.m. and running through Tuesday, July 16. "A magical evening awaits, but we mustn't be late! This Rodgers and Hammerstein treasure began as one of the most-watched television programs in history and was finally produced on Broadway in 2013, receiving nine Tony Award nominations. With winsome charm and irresistible fantasy, the score features shoe-in favorites, including "In My Own Little Corner," "The Prince is Giving a Ball" and "Ten Minutes Ago." "It's Possible" this timeless tale will have your heart soaring and prove, once and for all, dreams really can come true." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: I'm usually suspicious of re-writes of classical musicals, but this 2013 makeover of the 1957 made-for-TV classic (which starred Julie Andrews, fresh from her Broadway success in My Fair Lady) was nominated for nine Tony Awards when it appeared on the Great White Way (despite very mixed reviews), and the Muny's new production has gotten high marks for the strength of its cast and it innovative look. Not everyone is impressed here either, but it looks like fun, and you have to give playwright Douglas Carter Beane credit for giving the show a contemporary spin. Plus, all  the hit tunes from the original are still there (although some have new lyrics).

Monday, July 08, 2019

Review: All for the best

Union Avenue Opera has opened its 25th anniversary season with a splendid production of the 1988 Scottish Opera House version of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. The show was last seen locally at Opera Theatre of St. Louis the same year Union Avenue was born, and this is a worthy successor to that exemplary production in just about every respect.

The company
Photo by Dan Donovan
Candide has had a convoluted and difficult history. Even before its 1956 Broadway premiere, it had already gone through a string of lyricists (including Dorothy Parker and James Agee) and over a dozen revisions by Lillian Hellman of her original book. Various incarnations of the show continued to pop up here and there during the ensuing decades, including a 1973 Harold Prince revival that jettisoned half of the score and (after moving to the Broadway Theatre the following year) ended up over $150,000 in the red despite a string of Tony and Critics Circle awards. The 1988 revision UAO is doing was the last one Bernstein himself deemed satisfactory and, while it sags a bit in the second act, it's still effectively the composer's last word on the subject.

L-R: Jesse Darden, Thomas Gunther
Photo by Dan Donovan
Candide is based loosely on Voltaire's brief comic novel puncturing the absurdities of complacent optimism. Indoctrinated by their tutor Dr. Pangloss to believe that they live in "the best of all possible worlds," the handsome Candide and his beloved Cunegonde learn the hard way that human life, in its natural state, is (to quote Thomas Hobbes) "nasty, poor, brutish, and short."

The script puts them through a thoroughly incredible series of globetrotting adventures and (especially) coincidences that take satirical jabs at organized religion, politics, love, and nearly every other human institution. In the end, Candide and Cunegonde learn to accept the world as it is and make the best of it. In a chorale finale that contains some of Bernstein's most ecstatic music, they agree to "make our garden grow".

Brooklyn Snow
Photo by Dan Donovan
This ought to be the basis for biting parody and theatrical farce, and much of the time it is. Bernstein's final version adds some of sentimental and dramatic moments that would have the overall effect of soft-pedaling the irony if recent political events in the English-speaking world had not so forcefully illustrated the degree to which we were living in our own Panglossian fantasy world.

Great voices and generally first-rate performances dominate UAO's production, with pride of place going to the performers who carry the bulk of the story: the chorus. Under Scott Schoonover's expert direction, this remarkable 15-member ensemble takes on a bewildering variety of roles in the opera's many scenes. Some have named roles and some don't, but all of them are always thoroughly in character and singing with crystalline clarity.

There are more wonderful individual performances in the cast than I can list here, but two of the most obvious come from tenor Jesse Darden as the painfully naive Candide and soprano Brooklyn Snow as Cunegonde.

Christopher Nelson, Brooklyn Snow
Photo by Dan Donovan
Mr. Darden makes the evolution of his character completely credible and sings with authority and power. A graduate of the prestigious Indiana University Vocal Performance program, Ms. Snow displays a stunning combination of vocal athleticism and sparkling stage presence. Her performance of the celebrated coloratura aria "Glitter and be gay" got sustained and richly deserved applause. Together, they are "a practically perfect pair" (to quote Stephen Sondheim, who contributed lyrics to the Harold Prince version of Candide).

Baritone Thomas Gunther, an admirable Captain Corcoran in UAO's H.M.S. Pinafore last season, turns in another fine set of comic performances as Voltaire, Pangloss, and Candide's two traveling companions. Tenor Charlie Tingen gets plenty of laughs as Cunegonde's vain brother Maximillian. And tenor Christopher Nelson makes a striking UAO debut in multiple roles.

L-R: Gina Malone, Brooklyn Snow, Charlie Tingen,
Jesse Darden, Anthony Heinemann,
Thomas Gunther
Photo by Dan Donovan
Soprano Gina Malone (Peep-Bo in UAO's quirky Mikado in 2016) is a delight as the maid Paquette, a girl who can't say "no" in any language. Celebrated soprano Christine Brewer brings her usual finely honed instrument to the role of the cynical Old Lady, who is a bit short in the fundament department, but this cheerfully vulgar character doesn't seem a good match for her strengths.

Bernstein's score is extraordinarily rich, ranging from ingenious patter songs to massive, harmonically complex ensemble numbers. It's wonderful music and, in a work that runs three hours with intermission, there's a lot of it. Mr. Schoonover and his orchestral forces give a fine account of it, despite a few moments when the players and singers seemed not quite in synch.

Brooklyn Snow, Christine Brewer, Jesse Darden
Photo by Dan Donovan
Stage Director Annamaria Pileggi has done a fine job moving her substantial forces quickly through the opera's many scenes with minimal use of props and set pieces. Indeed, C. Otis Sweezey's set consists of little more than some platforms, a few ornate ladder-back chairs, and a set of poles on which the actors hang signs to let us know where the action is taking place. Teresa Doggett's costumes continue the theme of elegant minimalism, with most of the performers in white, Mozart-era outfits to which small items like hats or coats are added to suggest individual characters. It all keeps the show flowing smoothly and at a brisk pace.

Union Avenue Opera's Candide gets the company's new season off to a glorious start. There are two more performances this Friday and Saturday at 8 pm (July 12 and 13) at the Union Avenue Christian Church at 733 Union in the Central West End. Given the size of the crowd when I attended last Saturday, you'd be wise to get your tickets sooner rather than later.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 8, 2019

This week, we have new shows from The Muny and Independent Theatre Company along with cabaret Queen tribute and two different productions of Mamma Mia!.

Candide
Photo by Dan Donovan
Union Avenue Opera presents Leonard Bernstein's Candide Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through July 13. 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.

The Muny presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderalla opening on Monday, July 8, at 8:15 p.m. and running through Tuesday, July 16. "A magical evening awaits, but we mustn't be late! This Rodgers and Hammerstein treasure began as one of the most-watched television programs in history and was finally produced on Broadway in 2013, receiving nine Tony Award nominations. With winsome charm and irresistible fantasy, the score features shoe-in favorites, including "In My Own Little Corner," "The Prince is Giving a Ball" and "Ten Minutes Ago." "It's Possible" this timeless tale will have your heart soaring and prove, once and for all, dreams really can come true." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.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.

The HIlton St. Louis Frontenac presents The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show through July 27. "Solve a hilarious crime while you feast on a fantastic dinner. Just beware! The culprit is hiding in plain sight somewhere in the room, and you may find yourself as a Prime Suspect before you know it!" For more information: https://www.thedinnerdetective.com/st-louis

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through July 28 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Independent Theater Company presents Ntozake Shange's choreopoem For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, July 12-14. "Ntozake Shange's groundbreaking 'choreopoem' is a spellbinding collection of vivid prose and free verse narratives about and performed by Black women." Performances take place at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, 517 Theatre Lane in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, July 12-21. "This smash Broadway hit is a hilarious and touching story of marriage, family and finding where you belong. Set on an idyllic Greek island on the eve of a wedding, the musical follows a mother, her daughter, and three possible dads on an unforgettable trip down the aisle. Mamma Mia! features the greatest hits of supergroup ABBA, including "Super Trouper," "Lay All Your Love On Me," "Dancing Queen," "Waterloo" and more! Come see why more than 54 million people worldwide have laughed and danced to this unforgettable jukebox musical. " Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit www.siue.edu.

Take Two Productions the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, Friday and Saturday, July 12 and 13, at 7:30 pm and Thursday through Saturday, July 18-20, at 7:30 pm. "ABBA's hits tell the hilarious story of a young woman's search for her birth father. This sunny and funny tale unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter's quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother's past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago." Performances take place at Tower Grove Baptist Church, 4257 Magnolia in the Shaw neighborhood. For more information, visit taketwoproductions.org.

The Presenters Dolan presents Terry Barber's Mercury - The Music of Freddie Mercury and Queen on Saturday, July 13, at 8 pm. "A band that rocked the world, and the fame, decadence, tragedy and triumph that swirled around its leader. Hear incredible renditions of We Will Rock You, The Show Must Go On, Under Pressure, I Want It All, Hammer To Fall, Radio Ga Ga, Fat Bottomed Girls, Love Of My Life, We Are The Champions, Barcelona, The Great Pretender, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bohemian Rhapsody and more. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: www.metrotix.com

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muurder in Maaaybury! through July 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Color Timer
Photo by Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 1 through July 14 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in part 1 are "Great Negro Works of Art" by Neil LaBute, "Color Timer" by Michael Long, "Privilege" by Joe Sutton, and "Kim Jong Rosemary" by Carter W. Lewis. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Encore Theatre Group presents Lorraine Hansberry's drama A Raisin in the Sun Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 pm. "A RAISIN IN THE SUN tells the story of the Youngers, a burdened but strong family consisting of a widowed Mother, a bright and lively college student daughter and a less than satisfied with life son who houses his wife and child in his mother's cramped one bedroom apartment in 1959 South Chicago. A seemingly perfect opportunity for the family members to advance on each of their dreams comes in the form of a $10,000 life insurance check for the life of the late Mr. Younger. Each of them have their own plans for the money's best use but it is ultimately up to Momma (Lena Younger) to decide how the money will be used. Will their dreams flourish with this new seed of hope? Or will the plight of poverty and hopelessness continue to crush and dry them up like a raisin in the sun?" The performance takes place at The Fellowship, 3453 S. Jefferson. For more information: www.eventbrite.com.

The Revolutionists
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 14. "Four beautiful, badass women lose their heads in this irreverent, girl-powered comedy set during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen (and fan of ribbons) Marie Antoinette, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle hang out, murder Marat, and try to beat back the extremist insanity in 1793 Paris. This grand and dream-tweaked comedy is about violence and legacy, art and activism, feminism and terrorism, compatriots and chosen sisters, and how we actually go about changing the world. It's a true story. Or total fiction. Or a play about a play. Or a raucous resurrection…that ends in a song and a scaffold. " Performances take place at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.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, June 30, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 1, 2019

The Muny and Insight continue to celebrate revolution while the Actors' Studio opens its annual new play festival and Union Avenue Opera unveils a new production of Leonard Bernstein's often-revised Candide.

1776
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents the musical 1776 nightly at 8:15 through July 3rd. "With the American Revolution underway, a nation's independence is ready to be claimed. The three-time Tony Award-winning 1776 sets ablaze the historic signing of the Declaration of Independence and illuminates the personalities, passions and compromises that created a nation. Featuring a telling score that includes "Sit Down, John," "He Plays the Violin" and "Momma Look Sharp," this Muny production will mesmerize, delight and inspire you." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Union Avenue Opera presents Leonard Bernstein's Candide Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, July 5 - 13. 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.

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.

The HIlton St. Louis Frontenac presents The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show through July 27. "Solve a hilarious crime while you feast on a fantastic dinner. Just beware! The culprit is hiding in plain sight somewhere in the room, and you may find yourself as a Prime Suspect before you know it!" For more information: https://www.thedinnerdetective.com/st-louis

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through July 28 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muurder in Maaaybury! through July 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 1 July 5 - 14 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in part 1 are "Great Negro Works of Art" by Neil LaBute, "Color Timer" by Michael Long, "Privilege" by Joe Sutton, and "Kim Jong Rosemary" by Carter W. Lewis. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of The Red Diary by Charlie Jacobsen on Monday, July 1, at 6:30 pm. "The red diary of Marilyn Monroe is the focus of this comedy adventure which takes place during an eventful afternoon in St. Louis. Why the diary was hidden here is another matter, but its exact location was encoded in a painting at the Art Museum. Many years later Charlie, the grandson of the man who hid it has taken job at the museum to search for the painting. Charlie’s AI assistant Eva and her agent Nikita join in the chase and everyone converges on the curator’s bookstore in a madcap ending." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

The Revolutionists
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 14. "Four beautiful, badass women lose their heads in this irreverent, girl-powered comedy set during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror. Playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen (and fan of ribbons) Marie Antoinette, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle hang out, murder Marat, and try to beat back the extremist insanity in 1793 Paris. This grand and dream-tweaked comedy is about violence and legacy, art and activism, feminism and terrorism, compatriots and chosen sisters, and how we actually go about changing the world. It's a true story. Or total fiction. Or a play about a play. Or a raucous resurrection…that ends in a song and a scaffold. " Performances take place at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Review: You say you want a revolution

The 1969 American Revolution musical "1776," a splendid production of which is at the Muny through July 3rd, is not so much a traditional Broadway show as it is a play with musical interludes. Fortunately that play, by veteran screenwriter Peter Stone (his film credits include "Charade" and "Father Goose"), is a damn fine one.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Jenny Powers, Robert Petkoff
Photo courtesy of The Muny
Although it plays fast and loose with some historical facts, the book for "1776" is remarkably faithful to the personal and political conflicts that nearly sunk American independence. It is, for example, true that the Continental Congress demanded 86 changes in Jefferson's original Declaration of Independence--including, infamously, the deletion of an anti-slavery clause. But it's fictional that approval of the actual independence by the Congress was dependent on those changes.

Still, that fiction is based on the reality of the compromises that were necessary to achieve independence. When, towards the end of the play, Benjamin Franklin notes that "revolutions come into this world like bastard children...half improvised and half compromised" it provokes the laughter of recognition.

Robert Petkoff, Ali Ewoldt, Adam Heller
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The score for "1776" is by songwriter Sherman Edwards, whose previous credits consisted mostly of pop tunes like "Wonderful, Wonderful" and "See You In September." There are only 15 songs--not a lot for a show that runs around three hours, including intermission--but they all illuminate character and advance the story line brilliantly. Indeed, they're so closely integrated into the show that they have never had a life outside of it, but that's hardly a knock on their quality.

In any case, a production of "1776" is going to stand or fall on the strength of its cast, and the Muny has assembled a darn near perfect one here. Robert Petkoff anchors it as John Adams, with a commanding voice and an appealing combination of passion and spiky combativeness in the opening number "Sit Down, John." He also captures the character's sentimental side in "Yours, Yours, Yours," the touching duet with his wife Abigail, winningly played by Jenny Powers.

Harry Bouvy, Alex Prakken, Benjamin Love
Photo courtesy of The Muny
Adam Heller is an appealing rogue as Benjamin Franklin and Keith Hines's Thomas Jefferson is a classic example of the iron fist in a deceptively genteel velvet glove. Ali Ewoldt shines in her cameo appearance as Martha Jefferson, describing her husband's musical courtship in the charming waltz "He Plays the Violin."

In fact, anyone seeing "1776" for the first time would probably be surprised to see how many of the best musical moments go to relatively minor characters. The most notable is likely "Molasses to Rum," in which North Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge mounts a cynical defense of slavery by pointing out the way New England maritime interests profited from it indirectly as part of the "triangular trade" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangular_trade#Atlantic_triangular_slave_trade. Bobby Conte Thornton delivers it with a serpentine smirk and a powerful voice that makes the song as fascinating as it is morally appalling. Equally memorable is the moving "Momma Look Sharp" in which the Courier (Alex Prakken), Congressional Custodian Andrew McNair (Harry Bouvy), and the nameless Leather Apron (Benjamin Love) lament the deaths of young soldiers in the war.

Bobby Conte Thornton and the company
Photo courtesy of The Muny
There are many other fine performances here, including great work by local actors like Ben Nordstrom (Dr. Josiah Bartlett), Jerry Vogel (Rev. John Witherspoon), Larry Mabrey (Lewis Morris), and Joneal Joplin (Stephen Hopkin, never without his rum). There's not a weak link anywhere. Given that there are 27 named roles, that's pretty impressive.

Luke Cantarella's unit set has enough levels to create a variety of playing areas, especially when combined with John Lassiter's lights and the massive Muny turntable. Greg Emetaz's video projections add visual interest and even some fireworks for Adams's big final number "Is Anybody There?" There's not much choreography in "1776," but the steps Enrique Brown has given his cast or singing actors work well for them.

Adam Heller, Robert Petkoff, Keith Hines
Photo courtesy of The Muny
James Moore conducts a fine account of the score and Rob Ruggiero's expert direction pulls everything together into an immensely satisfying whole. Yes, it's a long show, but it's so compelling that you'll probably be astonished by how late it has gotten by the time the cast takes their curtain call at around 11:15.

That said, it can be hard to watch "1776" now. That's because it reminds us that we are a nation founded by well-read, educated men who could (and usually did) speak and write in coherent English sentences. At a time when the executive branch is dominated by puerile illiteracy, it's difficult to contemplate how far we have fallen.

Performances of "1776" continue through July 3rd on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. Come early to get a good parking spot, and then grab a drink and a snack and settle in to watch the preshow Americana-themed cabaret starring St. Louis's own Omega D. Jones and Berklea Going on the small stage east of the main entrance. You'll be glad you did.

Review: The kids are alright

This past Tuesday night (June 25th, 2019) Opera Theatre offered the fifth edition of its annual "Center Stage" concert. If what I saw Tuesday was any indication, I'm pretty annoyed with myself for missing the last four.

This article originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

The quintet from Il barbiere di SivigliaPhoto by Eric Woolsey
Center Stage features members of OTSL's Gaddes Festival and Gerdine Young Artists programs performing opera excerpts. They were accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony conducted by Roberto Kalb and, in two of the selections, by Assistant Conductor Jacobsen Woolen. Working in the limited space in front of the orchestra on the Loretto-Hilton stage, MaryAnn McCormick, James Blaszko, and Seán Curran provided some limited staging that provided a good sense of the dramatic shape of the selections without cluttering up the space with set pieces. The evening was a perfectly balanced mix of old and new, familiar and rare, comic and tragic, all delivered with a degree of professionalism that speaks well to the quality of OTSL's programs for emerging artists.

The septet from The Merry Widow
Photo by Eric Woolsey
There were so many wonderful performances that I can't list them all here, so I'll content myself with listing some of my personal favorites, beginning with an enchanting "Qui di sposa eterna fede," the great "lovers' farewell" duet from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" by tenor Matthew Cairns and soprano Elena Villalón. Ms. Villalón was also impressive earlier as Marzelline in "Jetzt, Schätzchen, jetzt sind wir allein," a comic duet from Beethoven's "Fidelio," with tenor Ryan Bryce Johnson as her hapless would-be suitor Jaquino.

There were other terrific love duets as well. Soprano Sydney Baedke and baritone Hayden Smith were touching in "The Zephyr/One Star: from Rick Ian Gordon's "Grapes of Wrath" while soprano Lisa Marie Rogali and Mr. Cairns got the delicate bloom of "Suzel buon di" (from Mascagni's "L'Amico Fritz") just right. Soprano Katerina Burton and tenor Ángel Vargas were properly tragic in "No, Non dir questo" from Puccini's "La Rondine."

"A Real Slow Drag" from Treeomonisha
Photo by Eric Woolsey
There was plenty of great comedy as well, in numbers like "To part is such sweet sorrow" from "Die Fledermaus" with Ms. Baedke, soprano Jessica Niles, and baritone Gregory Feldmann and "You're back where you first began" (from "The Merry Widow") with the male septet, headed by baritone Leroy Y. Davis as Danilovitsch, performing a kick line courtesy of Mr. Curran. The rapid-fire patter ensemble from "Il barbiere di Siviglia" in which everyone tries to convince poor Don Basilio that he has scarlet fever, was done to a fine comic turn. The quintet consisted of Mr. Feldmann as Figaro, mezzo Jamie Groote as Rosina, and baritone Heeseung Chae as an enraged Dr. Bartolo, with tenor Calvert Young as Almaviva and bass Griffen Hogan Tracy as the befuddled Basilio.

There were some immensely appealing rarities in the evening, such as the scene from Dvorak's "Rusalka" in which the sorceress Jezibaba (mezzo Rehanna Thelwell in a performance of hair-raising intensity) cons poor Rusalka (beautifully sung by soprano Greer Lyle) into giving up her voice so she can become human and wed her prince. One of my favorites was the brief scene from Ravel's "L'heure espagnole," with mezzo Courtney Elvira as Concepción, the wife of clockmaker Torquemada (tenor Ndumiso Nyoka) who smuggles her lovers upstairs in clocks. Everyone involved got the comic absurdity of the situation just right.

Elena Villalón as Marzelline in Fidelio
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The concert concluded with two great ensemble numbers: the complex "Tonight Quintet" from "West Side Story" with its multiple vocal lines and "A Real Slow Drag," the toe-tapping finale from Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha." The latter featured the entire ensemble led by Ms. Burton as Treemonisha and mezzo Tesia Kwarteng as Lucy, along with the graceful dancers from OTSL's "Fire Shut Up In My Bones."

It was a delight hearing the orchestra on the stage rather than down in the pit. The acoustics in the theatre are fairly dry, making it easier to hear individual instrumental voices in a way that's not really possible in Powell Hall. Although the band occasionally overwhelmed the singers, the balance was pretty good overall.

"Center Stage" was a one-night-only event and while I understand the necessity of that from a scheduling stand point, given its high quality, it's a pity there aren't more performances. You can, in any case, see many of these performers in the regular season shows, which continue through June 30th.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of June 28, 2019

New productions by the Muny and Max and Louie join the Grand Center Theatre Crawl on an already crowded list of recommendations.

New This Week:

1776
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents the musical 1776 opening on Thursday, June 27, at 8:15 p.m. and running through July 3rd. "With the American Revolution underway, a nation's independence is ready to be claimed. The three-time Tony Award-winning 1776 sets ablaze the historic signing of the Declaration of Independence and illuminates the personalities, passions and compromises that created a nation. Featuring a telling score that includes "Sit Down, John," "He Plays the Violin" and "Momma Look Sharp," this Muny production will mesmerize, delight and inspire you." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: While 1776 is unquestionably fictional and compresses and rearranges history in order to create viable theatre, there's no doubt that it is, at heart true to the story of the political and personal conflicts that eventuall led to American independence. It's entirely unlike a conventional musical and, in fact, it holds the record for the longest scene in a musical without any music, with over a half-hour passing between the fourth and fifth songs during the first act. There's no singing or dancing chorus and nearly all of the 28 named characters are well-drawn individuals. It's a remarkable piece of musical theatre and the Muny's production is first rate.


Fire Shut Up In My Bones
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Fire Shut Up In My Bones by Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, based on the memoir by columnist Charles Blow, through June 29. "One moment can change everything. When Charles discovers that his cousin has returned to his Louisiana hometown, he races home from college to confront his past. Memories and shadows surround Charles as he strives to move beyond a cycle of violence and forge a brave new path. Terence Blanchard, composer of OTSL's sold-out hit Champion, teams up with screenwriter Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) for a haunting, powerful, and tender coming-of age story inspired by a memoir celebrated as "stunning" (Essence), "riveting" (Chicago Tribune), and "exquisite" (The New York Times)." The opera runs approximately two hours and 25 minutes with one intermission and is performed in English with English supertitles. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: opera-stl.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: A world premiere is always important, and while I was not as impressed by this work as others have been, there's no doubt that it gets an excellent production by Opera Theatre.


St. Louis Public Radio presents the Grand Center Theatre Crawl on Friday from 7-10 pm. and Saturday at from 2-5 and 7-10 pm, June 28 and 29, at various locations in the Grand Center Arts District. Join St. Louis Public Radio for the finest offerings of the bustling St. Louis theatre scene at the Grand Center Theatre Crawl. Rotate through venues in Grand Center to get free access to 24 local theatre groups in short performances." Featured theatre companies Equally Represented Arts, Insight Theatre Company, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, Prison Performing Arts, R-S Theatrics, The Midnight Company, and West End Players Guild. For more information: stlpublicradio.org

My take: Here's a chance to get sneak previews of some of what's coming up on local stages. Think of it as a kind of theatrical tasting menu. And for free, no less.


Indecent
Photo courtesy of Max and Louie
Max and Louie Productions presents Indecent Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm through June 30. "Winner of numerous awards including an acclaimed Tony-winning run on Broadway, "Indecent" by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel, is the true story of a groundbreaking scandalous play and the courageous artists who risked their careers and lives to perform it. " Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: maxandlouie.com.

My take: Probably the most succinct summary of this production comes from Ann Lemmons Pollack: "Indecent is a beautiful, heavy-going drama. Paula Vogel’s play...tackles censorship, homophobia and antisemitism in an utterly seductive manner. It’s themes are serious-to-downright-grim, but it’s mesmerizing. The Max and Louie production of it at the Grandel gives it all they’ve got and does it proud." Other critics have been equally quick to praise the show.


Held Over:

The Boy from Oz
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical The Boy From Oz through June 30. "Dazzling and hilarious as the legendary Peter Allen himself, THE BOY FROM OZ follows the Australian singer-songwriter from his humble beginnings performing in backcountry pubs to his international stardom beside such Hollywood icons as Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli. " 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.

My take: Peter Allen's many fine songs have been a real blessing to cabaret artists over the years. This is a show I very much wanted to see but just couldn't because of our travels. Here's your last chance to enjoy it before it closes.


The Caper on Aisle 6
Circus Flora presents its new show, The Caper on Aisle 6 through June 30 under the air-conditioned, red-and-white, big top tent in Grand Center. "A trip to the grocery store is not usually the most exciting part of our day. But the market is a place of intrigue and excitement in "The Caper in Aisle 6." An ancient and powerful substance, long thought to be gone from the Earth, is found in the unlikeliest of places: aisle six of the local grocery store. What secrets does aisle six hold, and what adventures will it set in motion?" For more information: circusflora.org.

My take: If it's summer, it must be time for Circus Flora. Although I was born and have spent most of my life in St. Louis, there are some local traditions and institutions that I never have and probably never will understand. (White Castle, for example, or the business about asking where you went to high school. What's THAT all about, anyway?) Circus Flora, though, is a St. Louis tradition that anyone can embrace. And it's nice that they now have a permanent home instead of temporary quarters on the Powell Hall lot.


The Coronation of Poppea
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea through June 28. "The fight for the throne is never dignified. Poppea will stop at nothing to become Empress, no matter who she has to blackmail, betray, or kill. And Emperor Nero, who is infatuated with Poppea, is not thinking with his head. Separately, they're bad enough. Together, they will turn Rome upside down. Sexy, bloodthirsty, and unapologetic, this opera is the best kind of political thriller." The opera runs approximately two hours and 50 minutes with one intermission and is performed in English with English supertitles. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus.  For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: Virtue punished. Wisdom dismissed out of hand. Just another day with Fox and Friends. Or maybe an opera written in 1643 that's sadly relevant today. I think this production jumps the shark a bit in the final act, but it's wickedly entertaining up to that point.


The Marriage of Figaro
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mozart's comedy The Marriage of Figaro running through June 29. "Life at court is about to get complicated. The maid Susanna is determined to wed her fiancé, Figaro, while the Count is equally determined to add her to his list of conquests. But Susanna and Figaro won't allow one self-entitled nobleman to ruin their happy ending! They each hatch their own plots to teach their master a lesson. What follows is a whirlwind day of romantic intrigue, cunning schemes, and uproarious fun. One of Mozart's most beloved masterpieces, The Marriage of Figaro reminds us all that love will always prevail, and forgiveness is always within reach." The opera runs three hours and ten minutes with one intermission and is sung in English with English supertitles. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. For more information: opera-stl.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: Mozart's opera is over 230 years old but (as I wrote in my review) the new Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production is as fresh as (to quote W.S. Gilbert) “the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la.” Credit director Mark Lamos, whose theatrical resume is substantial, for keeping the pace tight and respecting both the material and his audience enough to make sure the comic business is all based on the characters, the text, and the music.


Rigoletto
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's Rigoletto running through June 30. "There is no purer love than that of a father for his daughter - and no more impossible task than protecting her from the world. Rigoletto is a bitter court jester who serves the Duke of Mantua, a lecherous womanizer. Together, they are despised throughout the city. But alone, Rigoletto is all tenderness when it comes to his innocent young daughter, Gilda. Little does he know that an ominous curse is about to take its toll. When the Duke seduces Gilda, only to then abandon her, the enraged father swears vengeance. Set to some of Verdi's most powerful music, this tale of innocence lost is wrenchingly poignant and all too human." The opera runs approximately two hours with one intermission and is performed in English with English supertitles. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

My take: Rigoletto is dark and disturbing stuff, especially in this menacing production. Not all of the director's decisions make sense, but most of them work very well. And the singing and acting could hardly be better.