Sunday, July 05, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 6, 2015

[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 web site.

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First Run Theatre presents the drama The Bones of Malcom Madcuff by Davd Hawley Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, July 10-19. "When impecunious medical student Frank takes rooms overlooking the cemetery with Victor, he and his very modern fiancée Miriam, are unaware of the macabre sideline in that Victor is running with his shady business partner, Malcolm MacDuff. When Miriam's redoubtable mother, Mrs. Forbes, decides to provide a little assistance to Frank's studies, an anatomical skeleton needs to be procured. But when Malcolm pushes things too far, he looks like taking the blame for both himself and Victor, something he is not likely to forgive. Investigating officer, Sergeant Moscrop of the Edinburgh, police has dealt with all manner of criminals, but he's never dealt with a felon like this before. Is Victor haunted by more than just memories?" Performances take place at De Smet Jesuit High School Theatre 233 N. New Ballas Rd. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

The Randy Dandies presents Burlesque Bingo on Thursdays, beginning on July 9, from 9 to 11 p.m. "As anyone who frequents the bingo parlors knows, the facade of genteel decorum drops once the first game is won. The first cry of “Bingo!” fires up the blood something fierce, and all bets are off from that point forward. Now, imagine what would happen if you throw semi-clad young women into the mix - Ok, now stop imagining. The Randy Dandies present Burlesque Bingo from 9pm to 11:30 pm on Thursdays, and and it promises all the thrills of cutthroat bingo, with the added titillation of local burlesque performers and specialty variety acts plus silly prizes." The show takes place at Meyer's Grove, 4510 Manchester in the Grove neighborhood. For more information: therandydandies.com.

Clinton County Showcase presents Disney's Mulan Jr. July 9-12. “After failing to impress the village matchmaker, it seems as though Mulan has brought dishonor to the Fa family. When her father is called to serve in the Emperor's Imperial army, Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands and disguises herself as a boy in order to serve in her father's place. As she trains and fights for the army, Mulan must keep her gender a secret or else she will bring dishonor to her family and face the penalty of death. In the end, Mulan is able to save China and bring honor to the Fa family.” Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Union Avenue Opera presents Mozart's Don Giovanni Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, July 10-18. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in Italian with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Family Musical Theater presents the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita July 10-19. "Evita concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita's early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. The musical began as a rock opera concept album released in 1976. Its success led to productions in London's West End in 1978, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and on Broadway a year later, where it was the first British musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical." A portion of the proceeds from the performances of “Evita” will benefit Support Dogs, Inc., a St. Louis-based non-profit that provides service dogs and pet therapy to those in need in St. Louis and nationwide. Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit www.familymusicaltheater.org or call 314-571-9579.

The Fantasticks
Insight Theatre Company presents the classic musical The Fantasticks through July 18. "This long running show is a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl, two fathers, and a wall. The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imaginations and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The young lovers do come to realize that, just as El Gallo had said, 'Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.'" Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful Of Hollers through August 29. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in Connor McPherson's one-character one-act play The Good Thief, in rotating repertory with McPherson'sSt. Nicholas July 11-25. The performances take place at Herbie's Vintage 72, 405 N. Euclid in the Central West End. A special pre/post-theatre menu will be available before or after the show, cocktails will be available for the performance, and live music will follow Sunday performances. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the musical Grease Thursdays through Sundays, July 9-19, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "Get out your leather jackets, pull on your bobby socks and take a trip to a simpler time with the high school musical, Grease. Danny is the leader of the “Burger Palace Boys”, a super cool, hard-looking group of high school wheeler-dealers...or so they think! Sandy is Danny's love interest; sweet, wholesome, naïve and cute." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

The Muny presents Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn nightly at 8:15 PM, July 6-12, in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "Happy holidays - all of them! Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn comes to joyous and extravagant life on the Muny stage. A Muny premiere, this will be only the second production in the world of this new musical based upon the beloved 1942 film. With thrilling dance numbers and lively comedy, this wonderful new show features Irving Berlin classics like “Easter Parade,” “Steppin' Out With My Baby,” “Shakin' The Blues Away,” “Be Careful, It's My Heart,” and more!" For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

Lavonne Beyers as Sister George
Photo: David Sanford
Max and Louie Productions presents the dark comedy, The Killing of Sister George by Frank Marcus July 10-26. “Lusty, gin-swilling, cigar-chomping, lesbian, June Buckridge plays the beloved rural nurse, Sister George, the maternal heart and soul of the folksy BBC radio serial Applehurst. When studio executives decide to boost ratings and neutralize their difficult star's public relations problems, the queen of the soaps finds her throne in jeopardy. The undercurrents pull June, her fragile younger 'companion,' and a wily female BBC executive into a precarious minefield of mayhem and manipulation.” Performances take place at the Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information, visit maxandlouie.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Mayhem In Mayberry through July 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in Connor McPherson's one-character one-act play St. Nicholas in rotating repertory with McPherson's The Good Thief, July 10-26. The performances take place at Herbie's Vintage 72, 405 N. Euclid in the Central West End. A special pre/post-theatre menu will be available before or after the show, cocktails will be available for the performance, and live music will follow Sunday performances. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Summer Showbiz presents Shrek the Musical opening Wednesday, July 10, and running through July 19. 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.

Hard Road Theatre Productions presents the original musical Zombie Prom Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., July 9-12. "Set in the fabulous 1950s, ZOMBIE PROM is the tale of a sweet teenage girl named Toffee and her rebel-without-a-cause boyfriend, Jonny. The two meet at Enrico Fermi High School and fall in love, but Principal Delilah Strict intervenes and persuades Toffee to break up with Jonny for her own good. Tortured by his betrayed love, Johnny drives his motorcycle to a nearby nuclear power plant and flings himself inside a cooling tower. Toffee mourns the loss of her love, but Jonny returns in an altered state, professes his love, and promises to take Toffee to the prom if she'll have him. As Toffee finds herself torn between being with her love and living a “normal” life, Principal Strict deals with the dilemma and chaos that Johnny's return brings to the school and threatens to cancel the senior prom." Performances will be held at Highland High School Kennel, 12760 Troxler Avenue in Highland, IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

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 July 6, 2015

The Compton Heights Concert Band presents free Musical Mondays concerts featuring marches, show tunes and classical favorites at Mondays at 7:30 p.m. through August 3rd. Guest artists this week (July 6) are Carl and Mason T. Capps on bluegrass guitar and mandolin. The concert takes place in Tower Grove Park at the historic Henry Shaw Bandstand. For more information: chband.org.

The Compton Heights Concert Band in
Tower Grove Park
Photo: Jim Sparks
The Compton Heights Concert Band presents free Sunday Serenades concerts featuring marches, show tunes and classical favorites on Sundays at 7:30 PM through July 26. This week (July 12), the concert is a Tribute to Julie Andrews. The concerts takes place in Francis Park at Donovan and Eichelberger on the Compton Heights Band’s "Carol Joy Brooks Memorial" Stage. For more information: chband.org.

The Gateway Festival Orchestra presents Mostly Mozart, a free concert on Sunday, July 12, at 7:30 PM. "Enjoy a free live concert by a fifty-piece professional orchestra. Bring a lawn chair or a blanket for relaxing on the grass in beautiful Brookings Quadrangle on the campus of Washington University. Parking is free and plentiful. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is available for purchase, and children receive an attendance prize." The concert features music by Mozart along with Prokofiev's "Classical Symphony" and takes place at the Brookings Quadrangle on the Washington University campus. For more information: www.gatewayfestivalorchestra.org

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents pianist Greg Mills on Friday, July 10, at 8 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents pianist David Allen Flowers, cellist Amanda Mendez, and violinist Mark Timmerman performing "Coffee Stains" by David Allen Flowers on Saturday, July 11, at 6 PM. "'Coffee Stains' is a collection of character pieces that were designed to be performed in the busy atmospheres of a café or a lounge. The size of the ensemble is conducive to a more intimate musical environment, one that the composer hopes will engage an audience and contradict the more rigid-seeming protocol of a standard concert performance. The evening will move from images of whirring machinery, to vivid nostalgia, and even into day dreaming as the music explores the different scenes one might experience while enjoying a cup of coffee." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of July 3, 2015

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

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New This Week:

The Fantasticks
Insight Theatre Company presents the classic musical The Fantasticks July 2-18. "This long running show is a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl, two fathers, and a wall. The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imaginations and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The young lovers do come to realize that, just as El Gallo had said, 'Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.'" Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

My take: I haven't seen this production yet, but the play itself is one of the great musicals of the past century, with a memorable score and a funny and literate book. Based on Rostand's The Romancers, the show has a very Gallic outlook on life and love that makes it unusual in American musical theatre and always worth seeing.

Grand Center presents the Grand Center Theatre Crawl on Friday, July 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. at various locations in the Grand Center Arts District. " It's a 'tasting menu' of the best of St. Louis theatre, and it's free! Every half hour, 6-9pm, you'll stroll to a different Grand Center venue for a short show from one of your favorite St. Louis theatre companies. See shows from nine St. Louis theatre companies, and yes, there will be prizes!" Featured theatre companies include Prison Performing Arts, West End Players Guild, St. Louis Actors' Studio, Insight Theatre Company, R-S Theatrics, and Union Avenue Opera. For more information: grandcenter.org

My take: Here's a chance to get sneak previews of some of what's coming up on local stages. I'll be there as part of the West End Players Guild team. We'll be presenting some readings from our first show, David Ives' Venus in Fur, and handing out (appropriately) licorice whips. Come on down!

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

St. Lou Fringe Report 4: Big Comedy Finale

This past Saturday (June 27th, 2015) was the last day of the St. Lou Fringe Festival and, by sheer coincidence, also the best one as far as the shows I saw went. Better yet, three of the four I saw were by local groups.

Sorry, Please Continue
www.facebook.com/SorryPleaseContinue
It was mostly a day of comedy, beginning with "Sorry, Please Continue." Described as a mix of the storytelling of the "Moth Radio Hour" with the off-the-cuff wisecracks of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000," the show features "some amazing stories told by anyone who wants to participate mixed with commentary from some of St. Louis’ funniest comedians."

The theme Saturday afternoon was "Family." The first storyteller (Siobhan O'Loughlin, whose "The Rope in Your Hands" was also part of the Fringe) related how she, as a result of a bizarre set of accidents (puppets were apparently involved) found herself sleeping in bed with her sister and her sister's boyfriend—only to be awakened by the couple doing the Horizontal Cha-Cha right next to her. The second storyteller (Christine Compas) described how she became embroiled in a true Wedding From Hell. Burlap and Christmas lights were involved.

Both stories, while fairly interesting, were transmuted into comedy gold by the three members of "Sorry, Please Continue" (Jeremy Hellwig, Amy Milton, and Stryker Spurlock at this show). They played off each other expertly and invariably timed their interruptions for maximum comic effect. I think it would be easy to come across as snarky or just plain mean in a situation like this, but not these three; it was good-natured fun all the way. If you want to see them in action, they perform on the third Thursday of each month at Foam, 3359 South Jefferson. You can also check out their Facebook page.

Moscow!
eratheatre.org
Next was the Equally Represented Arts production of "Moscow!" Described as a drinking-game version of Chekov's "Three Sisters," Lucy Cashion's script was an ingenious one-hour reduction of the original, with everyone in the cast (and much of the audience) taking a drink whenever anyone said "Moscow." Which, if you know your Chekov, happens a lot.

Julia Crump, Ellie Schwetye, and Rachel Tibbets headed a remarkably talented cast as the three titular sisters. Under Ms. Cashion's direction, the show moved at light speed, with actors rattling off vast chunks of Chekov with machine-gun precision while marching about the stage in precise steps through the box-like maze of red chairs that served as a set.

Music Arranger and Director Joe Taylor underscored it all with wonderful selection of Russian melodies (mostly Prokofiev and Khachaturian, as I recall) performed live. The entire production, in short, displayed the kind of polish and professionalism that would make it welcome almost anywhere; I hope they repeat it. For more information on ERA, visit their web site.

L-R: Johnny Iguana, Yana, Michael Caskey
claudettes.com / Marisa Klug-Morataya
Next it was music with a weirdly comic edge with "Welcome to Claudette's Bar" at TheStage @ KDHX. The concept is that pianist Johnny Iguana and drummer Michael Caskey were dragooned by the semi-mythical Claudette into playing in her dive bar in Oglesby, IL ("an hour and a half southwest of Chicago's South Side"), where she put them on salary and dubbed them "The Claudettes." She never appears in person, but harasses them via cell phone into selling drinks during their show.

That's all set up in an amusing video before Mr. Iguana and Mr. Caskey come out on stage. As they launched into their live set—which sounded like a hard-driving combination of Vince Guaraldi, Raymond Scott, and Eric Satie on speed—an LED display ran bizarre commercial messages from Claudette. These ranged from weird drink specials ("$8 Midori Shooters," "MONDAY NIGHT: DESIGNER NIGHT! You design shot, I design price") to warnings ("You: Fake ID Me: Real Gun") to the occasional political statement ("This machine kills fascists!"). Mr. Iguana's electric piano is hidden behind a box painted to look the like the back of an old-fashioned upright piano, adding to the diver bar ambience.

Through it all, the duo performed with a slightly unhinged intensity, mugging it up and delivering solid, power-chord punk piano originals along with some fairly bent versions of classics like "California, Here I Come" and "Brazil." It was great fun, but it would have been nice had their vocalist Yana been there to change the sound up a bit. As it is, she appeared only on the video.

For more information on the Chicago-based Claudettes, check out their web site.

Poor Monsters at the Fringe awards
www.facebook.com/poormonsters
The evening ended with one of the most inspired theatrical productions of the festival: "Or What You Will" by the all-female ensemble Poor Monsters: Laurel Kassenbrock, Katy Keating, Alicen Moser, Kristin Rion, Taylor Steward, and Sarah Griffith. The show consisted of twelve short plays by seven women playwrights, all inspired by Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." The plays were presented in sets of two, and after each set the audience decided, by their applause, which of the two would advance to the next round until, in sports bracket fashion, one was finally declared the winner.

Although I enjoyed all twelve of the playlets, my own favorites were Ms. Griffith's "Her Breast Is Fit for Pearls, But I Was Not a Diver," which proves to be a surprisingly touching gloss on the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson; Ms. Moser's "The Shape of Love," in which the playwright, as Feste, tries to invent an increasingly tricky song about the increasingly complex relationships of the play; and Ms. Keating's "Revenge of the Siss," in which Malvolio finally triumphs over his enemies in the boxing ring.

Poor Monsters doesn't appear to have a web site, but they do have a Facebook page where you can find out what they're up to next.

I've been an enthusiastic supporter of the St. Lou Fringe since its scrappy beginnings in June of 2012. Three years later, the Fringe is a major player on the local cultural scene and is attracting attention nation-wide. If you've never "fringed," you have missed an awful lot of unusual—and often unique—entertainment. When it comes around again next summer, don't miss it. I know I won't.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 29, 2015

[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 web site.

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The Fantasticks
Insight Theatre Company presents the classic musical The Fantasticks July 2-18. "This long running show is a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl, two fathers, and a wall. The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imaginations and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The young lovers do come to realize that, just as El Gallo had said, 'Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.'" Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful Of Hollers through August 29. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Grand Center presents the Grand Center Theatre Crawl on Friday, July 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. at various locations in the Grand Center Arts District. " It's a 'tasting menu' of the best of St. Louis theatre, and it's free! Every half hour, 6-9pm, you'll stroll to a different Grand Center venue for a short show from one of your favorite St. Louis theatre companies. See shows from nine St. Louis theatre companies, and yes, there will be prizes!" Featured theatre companies include Prison Performing Arts, West End Players Guild, St. Louis Actors' Studio, Insight Theatre Company, R-S Theatrics, and Union Avenue Opera. For more information: grandcenter.org

Hairspray
muny.com
The Muny presents the classic musical Hairspray nightly at 8:15 PM through June 30 in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "Winner of eight Tony® Awards including the 2003 Tony® for Best Musical, Hairspray brings its infectious beat and hilarious fun to the Muny for 8 performances. Set in the changing times of 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show AND creating a perfect integrated world! Does she have the moves and the courage? Based on the 1988 John Waters Film of the same name, Hairspray features incredible dance numbers and a blazing set of pop tunes including "Good Morning Baltimore" and "You Can't Stop The Beat!"" For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Mayhem In Mayberry through July 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

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 June 29, 2015

Baritone Robert Ellison
The Compton Heights Concert Band presents free Musical Mondays concerts featuring marches, show tunes and classical favorites at Mondays at 7:30 p.m. through August 3rd. This week's concert (June 29) features baritone soloist Robert Ellison and includes a performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" complete with cannons. The concert takes place in Tower Grove Park at the historic Henry Shaw Bandstand. For more information: chband.org.

The Compton Heights Concert Band presents free Sunday Serenades concerts featuring marches, show tunes and classical favorites on Sundays at 7:30 PM through July 26. Guest artists this week (July 5) are Carl and Mason T. Capps on bluegrass guitar and mandolin. The concerts takes place in Francis Park at Donovan and Eichelberger on the Compton Heights Band's "Carol Joy Brooks Memorial" Stage. For more information: chband.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents the flute/guitar duo of Erika May and Tom Byrne in an evening of jazz, Latin, and classical music on Tuesday, June 30, at 8 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Celli Amici on Thursday, July 2, at 8 PM. "Cellists Joshua Adams, Amy An, Sarah Madsen, and Mel Priese perform a program of of light classical music and favorite movie themes." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

St. Lou Fringe Report 3: A full house

Khnemu Menu-Ra
Thursday, June 25th, turned out to be my best Fringe experience yet, with two fine one-person shows and a powerful cabaret act.

Things got off to a strong start with “Origins of Love”, a smartly theatrical cabaret starring a pair of actors well known on the local theatre scene, Khnemu Menu-Ra and Antonio Rodriguez. With a narrative thread assembled from the works of Shakespeare and a song list that ranges from Stephen Sondheim to Trent Reznor to the Lebanese-British singer-songwriter Mika, “Origins of Love” rings an impressive variety of changes on the theme of love and its discontents.

A well-designed cabaret show will often feel like a one-act play, with a dramatic through line and possibly the sense, by the end, that you have gone on a journey with the performers. “Origins of Love" is exactly that kind of show. It opens with Mr. Menu-Ra (who carries the majority of the show) performing the “Bottom's dream” speech (from “A Midsummer Night's Dream”), the moves smoothly and logically to Sondheim's "Invocation" (cut from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum") and finally "High Flying, Adored" from "Evita." That last song is performed as a duet with pianist and music director Leah Luciano, whose skill as a singer and musician is also essential to the success of the evening.

From there, the selections from Shakespeare—performed, I'm happy to report, with an excellent feel for both the meter and the meaning—are used to segue among segments on various aspects of love, from juvenile sexual conquest to dark obsession, and finally to light-hearted acceptance. The show is filled with impressive moments, including Mr. Menu-Ra's performance of the title song (from Stephen Trask's score for "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") and Mr. Rodriguez's hilarious "Stumble Along" (from "The Drowsy Chaperone"). Ms. Luciano also has a nice solo on "I'd Rather Watch You," a clever 1920's pastiche from Joshua Schmidt's score for the 2008 musical adaptation of Elmer Rice's "The Adding Machine."

stlfringe.com
Kimberly Lawson is credited as the director of "Origins of Love." I don't know how much of this show is hers and how much is Mr. Mr. Menu-Ra's, but between them they have come up with one of the stronger cabaret productions I've seen recently. And I've seen some pretty darned good ones.

Next, I hiked down the street to the CEL Center for Architecture and Design for The Midnight Company's presentation of Joe Hanrahan's latest one-man play, David MacIvor's "House." Described as a stand-up-sit-down comedy nightmare," "House" is the story of Victor who is, as he puts it, "fucked up, but not weird. You're born weird, but you get fucked up." It starts out as a comic, no-fourth-wall complaint about Victor's therapy group and soon moves on to an equally funny but increasingly bizarre series of complaints about his life. His wife Mary Ann doesn't love him, to begin with, and his father ran off to the circus to become The Saddest Man in the World.

OK. Odd, but possible. But then: his sister hosts parties for dogs who, according to Victor, behave eerily like humans. And when he tells his mother that he is planning to leave Mary Ann, she turns into a demon, levitates to the ceiling, and begins slashing up the house with a razor-sharp tongue.

Maybe not so possible. Mr. MacIvor's script and Mr. Hanrahan's charmingly believable performance combine to lure you into this story. Victor's disconnect from reality doesn't become obvious until he has already become ingratiating, and by then there's no turning back. "House" is a perfect combination of virtuoso acting and compelling story telling.

Blair Godshall
facebook.com/blair.godshall.5
Finally, it was off to TheStage @ KDHX for "ODDyssey," actress Blair Godshall's comic monolog about her "10-year journey of odd jobs, odd skills and odd people." Fresh out of college with a theatre degree, Ms. Godshall realized that the odd jobs she had taken to help finance her education were going to have to continue while she tried to find a way to make a living on stage. That meant lots of work in various service industries involving "screaming children, dangerous heights, sexist midterm papers, even more sexist bosses, extra hot coffee, expensive glass and reasonably priced sausages".

She tells her stories with a sure sense of comic timing and a slightly caustic attitude that often reminded me of another skilled comic and actress, Sandra Berhnard. She changes from her own persona to that of other characters quickly and credibly, and it's not surprising to discover, towards the end of her show, that she is finally working as an actress on a regular basis.

"ODDyssey" is obviously a work in progress. Ms. Godshall was still working from a script and sometimes had to vamp while she got back on track, and her one-act play doesn't really have much of an end yet, but that's minor stuff. "ODDyssey" is still great fun, and a reminder of the mundane stuff your WTFs (Weird Theatre Friends) have to do in order to grab some creative freedom.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival continues through Saturday, June 27, at various venues in Grand Center. For more information, check the festival web site.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of June 26, 2015

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

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New This Week:

Hairspray
muny.com
The Muny presents the classic musical Hairspray nightly at 8:15 PM, June 23-30, in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "Winner of eight Tony® Awards including the 2003 Tony® for Best Musical, Hairspray brings its infectious beat and hilarious fun to the Muny for 8 performances. Set in the changing times of 1960s Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad dreams of dancing on the Corny Collins Show AND creating a perfect integrated world! Does she have the moves and the courage? Based on the 1988 John Waters Film of the same name, Hairspray features incredible dance numbers and a blazing set of pop tunes including “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can't Stop The Beat!”" For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

My take: No doubt about it, this is a big, splashy, entertaining musical with a message that is (somewhat sadly) still very relevant. In his review for Broadwayworld.com, Chris Gibson calls this "an exuberant and colorful staging..a really good show for the entire family,with plenty of laughs, catchy songs, and a timely message as well." "Today" writes Judy Newmark at stltoday.com, "the optimistic, Tony-winning show about tearing down barriers resonates more than ever. It feels like a gift."

Mariposa Artsts presents Women Under the Influence—consisting of Carol Schmidt, Michele Isam, Debbie Schuster and Katie McGrath—are together again, sharing their latest soul, rock and jazz selections in support of Huntington's Disease Society of America. The show takes place on Friday, June 26, at 8 p.m. at Soulard Preservation Hall, 1921 South 9th St. in Soulard. For tickets, head on over to brownpapertickets.com.

My take: I've been a big fan of this group since I previewed their first show. WUI takes its inspiration from performers whose work is not particularly well represented on the cabaret scene: the girl groups and soul sisters of the 1960s. Pop and R&B classics like “Met Him on a Sunday,” “He’s So Fine,” “Come See About Me,” and “He’s a Rebel” make up most of the set list, but there are also a few nods to contemporary stars like Adele (“Rumor Has It”), Rhiana (“Take a Bow”), and even Dolly Parton (“Jolene”). The group has a way of making all of those tunes their own—with tight vocal harmonies and even a bit of swingin' '60s choreography—and, in classic cabaret style, telling a story in the process.

Held Over:

The Barber of Seville
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Rossini's comedy The Barber of Seville in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 27. "There's a good reason it's one of the world's most popular operas! Rossini's zany and sparkling score sets the gold standard for opera that is fresh, elegant, funny, and brimming with vocal fireworks. Delight as the young barber Figaro helps Count Almaviva steal the beautiful Rosina from under the nose of her doddering guardian." 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: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, everyone connected with this production can congratulate themselves on a job well done. Taking as his point of departure the animated and colorful films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, Mr. Shell has produced a loopy, slightly surreal, and highly engaging take this comic opera classic. The updated bits are always funny and sometimes inspired. And there aren't so many of them that they pull focus from the singers and the text and score of the opera. This is a production that respects the intelligence of its audience and doesn't assume that we need to be constantly distracted in order to be entertained.

Emmeline
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Tobias Picker's drama Emmeline in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 27. "Inspired by a compelling true story from a mill town in 19th century New England, Emmeline's heart-wrenching saga echoes the age-old Oedipus legend." 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: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: An out of town trip prevented my from seeing this revival of Tobias PIcker's 1996 opera, although I did get a chance to chat with the director beforehand. Reviews of this production have been very positive, though, and its sharp critique of what I would describe as soulless self-congratulation of corporate Christianity is as relevant as ever. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan describes it as "a strikingly beautiful opera—visually and musically." "Both musically and theatrically," says Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "Emmeline is a bravura performance that resonates with its beauty."

One Summer on 2nd Street
Circus Flora presents its new show, One Summer on 2nd Street through June 28 under the air-conditioned, red-and-white, big top tent in Grand Center next to Powell Hall. "Travel back with us to The Jazz Age - to a time at which American cities grew rapidly, becoming home to families from all walks of life and corners of the map. We'll journey together to a typical block in a typical city on a typical day - and meet a very atypical set of families. Find yourself enchanted by a small Ukrainian family who tame the cats that live in the alley. Feel the excitement as Russian carriage drivers ride wildly through the streets, and the Flying Wallendas maneuver their way along clotheslines strung between buildings. Experience the bliss of young love, determined to stand strong amid their families' protests. These stories, and more, will come alive under the Big Top this summer." For more information, visit circusflora.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: One of the more welcome harbingers of summer in St. Louis is the appearance of Circus Flora's air-conditioned tent on the parking lot just south of Powell Hall. Once the big top is in place, you know that an evening of thrills, comedy and all-around family friendly entertainment awaits you within its pleasantly cool confines. "Circus Flora shows always tell a story," Tina Farmer reminds us in her KDHX review. "[T]his year it's 'One Summer on Second Street.' A tale of summer in the city with a nostalgic feel, the story encourages us to meet our neighbors and treat our animal friends with love and respect. Naturally, the lesson is delivered with an abundance of fantastic feats of skill, strength, and athleticism." Grab some popcorn and cotton candy, listen to the band organ before the show, and be a kid again. Or stay one, as the case may be.

Richard the Lionheart
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the American premiere of Handel's Richard the Lionheart in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 26. "If you only know him from Robin Hood, you don't know the whole story of Richard the Lionheart. Shipwrecked on the way to the Third Crusade, one of England's bravest kings must disguise himself to protect his future bride and prevent war in a foreign land. But who can he trust in this all-too-real game of thrones? Handel's virtuosic vocal writing in this opera, never before heard in the United States, makes Richard an eagerly-anticipated event for all music-lovers." 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: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: Critical word on this one has been generally good. "The chief point of Baroque opera," writes Sarah Bryan Miller at stltoday.com, "is the production and enjoyment of lavish vocal displays; if you can have an effective and engaging staging to go with them, all the better. In its new production of Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart” (“Riccardo Primo”), Opera Theatre of St. Louis has largely succeeded in both". At 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan calls it "truly astonishing" and "the most perfect production of an opera that I've ever seen". As I write in my own review at OnSTL.com, I wouldn't go that far, but the singing is certainly spectacular.

La Rondine
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Puccini's La Rondine in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 28. " Can a beautiful, sophisticated Parisian courtesan find happiness with a young man from the country? Or is her love affair doomed by a past she cannot keep secret? Celebrated OTSL music director Stephen Lord brings Puccini's gorgeous music and romantic storytelling to life in this stunning, new belle epoque period production." 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: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: La Rondine was always a bit of a problem child for Puccini. He left it in three different versions. I've seen two of them, and while in both cases the libretto was so cryptic that characters' decisions often seemed weirdly unmotivated, there was no getting around the fact that the composer lavished some truly wonderful music on that text. The music and, even more importantly, the singing actors are the reasons to see this beautifully sung, impeccably acted, intelligently directed, and all-around entertaining production. As I say in my review for KDHX, this production is a reminder of why we love opera in the first place.

Smokey Joe's Café
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical revue Smokey Joe's Café, based on the songs of Leiber and Stoller through June 28. " Welcome to the neighborhood for a nostalgic exploration of the lives, loves, and aspirations of a group of friends who know how to rock 60s style. Featuring nearly 40 chart-topping hits that span over three decades of popular American music, this thrilling Grammy Award-winning song celebration will knock your socks off. Relive the glory days of rock and roll with such pop standards as "Stand By Me,""Jailhouse Rock," "I'm A Woman," "Hound Dog," and "On Broadway." Now, Baby, that's rock 'n' roll! Words and Music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller." Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

My take: What's not to love about this jaunty musical revue of the songs of Leiber and Stoller? If you know of this duo only as the composers of rock classics like "Get a Job" or "Jailhouse Rock," though, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the variety of their songwriting skills. The Stages version has gotten lots of praise, too. At 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer calls it "a rousing, toe-tapping, finger-snapping production," while over at stltoday.com Judy Newmark praises "nonstop numbers that put the familiar songs onto their twinkling feet." Baby, that is rock and roll!

Scot Moore, creator of
Men Will Be Boys at the Fringe
The St. Lou Fringe Festival opens on Wednesday, June 17, and runs through June 27 at several venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 N. Grand) and The Stage at KDHX. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. For a complete schedule, visit stlfringe.com.

My take: I've been a big booster of the Fringe since its scrappy beginnings as a four-day, low-budget events at a handful of venues in the summer of 2012. Now budgets are bigger, there are more event spaces (including The Stage @ KDHX, with state-of-the-art lights and sound), and the festival runs for ten days, but the same spirit of pushing the entertainment envelope is still there. I'm seeing a dozen of there is overage from my fellow KDHX critics Steve Callahan and Tina Farmer. Check us out and, by all means, check out the Fringe. There's a little something for everyone.

Opera Review: In San Francisco, a world premiere examines a little-known World War II horror

Act I prayer scene
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Who: San Francisco Opera
What: Two Women by Marco Tutino
Where: The War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
When: through June 30, 2015

New operas can be a crapshoot, but San Francisco Opera has pretty much rolled up a winner with "Two Women" ("La Ciociara"), running through the end of June. Based on the 1958 novel "La Ciociara" by Alberto Moravia (and "informed by" Luca Rossi's screenplay for De Sica's famous 1960 film, "Two Women"), the libretto by Fabio Ceresa and composer Marco Tutino could use a bit of fine-tuning, but the lush neo-romantic score is filled with wonderful stuff.

"Two Women" is the story of Cesira, a strong-willed widow and Roman shopkeeper, and her daughter Rosetta and their attempt to flee the increasing violence of the campaign to liberate Italy. After her shop is nearly destroyed by Allied bombing, Cesira prevails upon Giovanni, her supplier of semi-legal goods, to take her and Rosetta to Cesira's birthplace in the mountainous Ciociaria region outside Rome. The thuggish Giovanni agrees, but extracts payment in the form of a sexual assault during the bombing.

Cesira, Rosetta, and Lt. Buckley
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
In the mountains, Cesira encounters and falls in love with Michele, a young pacifist, and together they save the life of John Buckley, a downed American pilot. The intervention eventually costs Michele his life, thanks to betrayal by Giovanni, who opportunistically swears loyalty to the Fascists.

Cesira and Rosetta hit rock bottom at the end of the second act when, seeking refuge in the bomb-damaged church in the village of Sant'Eufemia, they are raped by Moroccan troops fighting for the Allies under French command. The assault badly traumatizes Rosetta and nearly destroys her relationship with Cesira. In the end the two women reconcile and find strength in their love for each other, but it's a hard road for both.

The rape, it should be noted, is an event drawn from historical fact. The Moroccan Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, were, in fact, given carte blanche to loot, pillage, and rape by French General Alfonse Juin as a "reward" for their fierce fighting against the Nazis. By one estimate, as many as 7,000 women were raped and as many as 800 family members killed by the Moroccans for attempting to defend the women.

Cesira, Rosetta, and Goumiers
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
This is pretty strong stuff—verismo on steroids—and Mr. Tutino gives it the widescreen treatment with an unabashedly romantic and very dramatically effective score. Mr. Tutino has gotten some criticism for writing in an overly conservative style, but as someone who has heard far too much music in which the notion of melody has been ruthlessly suppressed, I found it refreshing.

You can hear Puccini's musical fingerprints here, but even more prominent, to my ears, was the work of the great Italian cinema composers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Nino Rota comes immediately to mind, but so do Riz Ortolani (best known for his "Mondo Cane" score) and Ennio Morricone.

There is, in fact, a strongly cinematic cast to the entire production. Video projections by S. Katy Tucker (whose innovative work has been featured at several St. Louis Symphony concerts recently) are used to create virtual sets as well as special effects like the Allied bombing of Rome in Act I, while excerpts from World War II documentaries serve as a stark reminder of the cost of occupation. Extended video sequences, accompanied by long musical interludes, are used for some of the scene changes. Not surprisingly, director Francesca Zambello, whose sure hand keeps everything flowing smoothly, describes herself in her program note as a great fan of the "Golden Age of Italian Cinema."

Mark Delavan as Giovanni
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
The cast for this opera is a strong one all the way around. Soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci is a force of nature as the formidable Cesira—a vocal powerhouse and deeply committed actress. As Rosetta, soprano Sarah Shafer radiates vulnerability and backs it up with a wonderfully expressive voice.

Baritone Mark Delavan has the unenviable task of giving life to the appalling Giovanni, a character that is part Iago, part Scarpia, and all sociopath. Giovanni is, according to Mr. Tutino, intended to be the personification of what he sees as the real villain of the piece: the institution of war. Playing a symbol is not the easiest of tasks, but Mr. Delavan manages to suggest that there may actually a human being in there somewhere, repellent as he may be. And his voice is impressive, with great low notes.

Tenor Dimitri Pittas's Michele is appealing and sympathetic, while tenor Joel Sorenson and mezzo Buffy Baggott provide some rare comic relief as the spineless lawyer Sciortino, who helps betray Michele to the Nazis, and his clueless mother Maria, who doesn't understand why her dinner guests keep disappearing. Other performers of note include baritone Edward Nelson as Lt. Buckley, baritone Christian Van Horn as an oily Nazi officer, and singer-songwriter Pasquale Esposito as a local lad who entertains the village during its liberation party with the popular Italian song "La strada nel bosco" ("The Path in the Wood")—bits of which are threaded throughout the opera's score.

Cesira and Allied soldiers
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti conducts the seventy-piece orchestra with great authority and an obvious love for the music, and the musicians play exquisitely.

"Two Women" is certainly not without its issues. The misfortunes heaped upon Cesira and Rosetta feel, at times, so overwhelming that numbness begins to set it. And the character of Giovanni is almost devoid of any real psychology—the hazard, I suppose, of being more symbol than human. Still, it's one of the more potent and theatrically satisfying new operas I have seen lately, and the San Francisco Opera is to be commended for producing it.

"Two Women" has two more performances on Sunday and Tuesday, June 28 and 30, at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. It was interesting to see it immediately after Berlioz's "Les Troyens" which, even in SFO's somewhat anti-war staging, still tends to treat war as a mostly heroic undertaking. "Two Women" is a reminder of just how little heroism there can actually be in armed conflict.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

St. Lou Fringe Report 2: Of Wonderland and Mustache Wax

Kevin M. Lamb with bike and mustache
With apologies to Rev. Dodgson: The time has come, the critic said, to talk of many things / Of Wonderland and mustache wax, and kids who act and sing.

My St. Lou Fringe experience yesterday (Sunday, June 21) consisted of two shows: "Alice in Wonderland," the 1970 adaptation by Andre Gregory and the Manhattan Project of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" performed by students from Mary Institute Country Day School; and "Mustache Across America," a monolog by Kevin M. Lamb about his bicycle trip across America wearing a mustache and following a mustache-shaped route.

Let's dispense with the latter first. Objectively, biking from the seashore of Portland, Maine, to the seashore at Portland, Oregon is a pretty remarkable accomplishment. It's the sort of thing that, in the hands of a skilled monologist or a gifted writer, could produce some fascinating stories and/or profound insights. In Mr. Lamb's case, unfortunately, it produced a fairly ordinary narrative and some snippets of video of men being interviewed by Mr. Lamb saying mostly uninteresting things about their mustaches.

Mr. Lamb and his collaborator and videographer Caleb Knaan (with whom he did an amusing mustache rap number at the top of his show) are turning "Mustache Across America" into a documentary. If that gives Mr. Lamb a chance to polish and think a bit more about his material, the results might be worth seeing. As it stands, though, his show was a bit of a snooze, even if it did educate me on how to sleep on top of a fast-food restaurant without getting busted.

The MICDS kids had an obvious advantage in that both their source material and its adaptation have solid track records. Mr. Gregory has a long and distinguished career as a writer, director, and actor, and his children's theatre adaptation of Carroll's classic story offers plenty of opportunities for the cast to run, jump, shout, play theatre games, and generally enjoy themselves. Which they did, with abandon.

The members of the cast varied in experience and ability, as you might expect at their age, but they generally did a credible job, and some of them were quite gifted. The mostly kids audience Sunday afternoon appeared to be enjoying itself, as did the parents.

Both of these shows are over now, but the Fringe continues through Saturday, June 27. Monday and Tuesday evenings are taken up with workshops and participatory events, and Wednesday evening with a block party. Fringe performances pick up again Thursday at 6 p.m. For more information, check out the Fringe web site.