Monday, April 14, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 14, 2014

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 ArtsZipper site.

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The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents its Bullets in the Bathtub through April 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

St. Louis Community College at Meramec Theatre Department presents the musical Bye Bye Birdie Wednesday through Sunday, April 16-20. Performances take place in the theatre on the campus at 11333 Big Bend Road. For more information, call 314-984-7500.

Stray Dog Theatre presents Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 19. "The popular musical, based on British writer Christopher Isherwood’s semiautobiographical short novel Goodbye to Berlin, explores the decadence and seamy underbelly of 1930s Germany where beguiling, self-destructive chanteuse Sally Bowles lives with no thought for tomorrow. As the growing power of the Nazi’s Third Reich secretly begins to take hold, everything is thrown into disarray." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX present the monthly Cabaret Open Stage Night on Wednesday, April 16, from 7 to 10 PM at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The master of ceremonies is 88.1 KDHX senior performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi and the music director is Carol Schmidt. Bring your favorite seasonal songs and be prepared for the big sing-along! 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 Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com or call 314-367-7549.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents An Evening of Music with Julia Murney, a benefit concert for Mustard Seed Theatre Autism Education Project. The performance takes place on Monday, April 14, at 7 PM at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through April 27. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Once through April 20. "Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights... but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It's an unforgettable story about going for your dreams... not living in fear... and the power of music to connect all of us. " The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley Theater Department presents Thornton Wilder's Our Town through April 19. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, call 314-644-5522.

Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero through April 27. This Nobel Prize-winning play "depicts the delightful day in the life on an evangelical con man, forced to deal with creditors, politicians, and the endless temptation of beautiful women." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Washington University Performing Arts Department presents Twelfth Night Thursday and Friday at 8 PM, and Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 17-20. Cross-dressing, love, and madness in1950's Havanna, Cuba highlight this production of one ofShakespeare's funniest, most lyrical comedies." Performances take place in the Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information: pad.artsci.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-5858.

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, April 13, 2014

A new brain

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Who: Taylor Pietz with Justin Smolik
What: If I Only Had a Brain
When: April 10, 2014
Where: The Gaslight Cabaret Festival at the Gaslight Theatre

The title of actor/singer Taylor Pietz's show "If I Only Had a Brain" is somewhat deceptive.  She not only clearly has a brain, she has put it to good use concocting a fresh, funny, and polished cabaret evening that gave the old "this is my life" school of cabaret a quirky, self-effacing spin. 

I'm not normally a big fan of the autobiographical approach, but she made it work well, providing a nice theatrical through line for her song choices.

I should point out that I have known Ms. Pietz professionally for over a decade now.  We first met during a production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" nearly eleven years ago when she was 17 and I was—well—eleven years less old than I am now.  I was playing Senator Wingwoah and she, appropriately, was playing Shy.  I say "appropriately" because she struck me than as a somewhat shy young lady—but with terrific pipes and impressive acting skills. 

The ensuing years have only sharpened those skills and developed that voice into a lovely precision musical instrument.  That old shyness seems to have morphed into a kind of pixyish, cheerfully ironic stage persona.  With her first song ("Put on a Happy Face" from "Bye Bye Birdie") she projected a combination of poise and vulnerability that immediately got (and kept) the audience on her side.

That opening number allowed her to talk about how being an actress involved putting on somebody else's happy (or sad) face and losing yourself in a role.  Her real life, she noted, was closer to the lyrics of her next song, Jamie Cullum's "Twentysomething."  And, in fact, the end of that song's refrain—"I'm still having fun and I guess that's the key / I'm a twentysomething and I'll keep being me"—was something of a recurring theme throughout the evening.  If this show had a message, it would probably be Polonius's admonition to Hamlet: "to thine own self be true."

For the rest of the show, Ms. Pietz touched on subjects such as her checkered academic career ("Don't Wanna Be Here" from Adam Gwon's "Ordinary Days" and "No Reason at All" from Jonathan Reid Gealt's "Thirteen Stories Down"), her questionable dating decisions ("Fuck Was I" by Jenny Owen Youngs), and her inability, as a freelancer, to turn down a project, no matter how insane ("I Cain't Say No," with clever new lyrics by Ms. Pietz).

As you might gather from that last paragraph, "If I Only Had a Brain" heavily favored newer singer/songwriters and the younger generation of theatre composers.  I'm happy to say there were a number of songs here I'd never heard before, which is something that happens all too rarely, at least in my experience.  When she did turn her attention to a classic, though (such as her title song), she made it entirely her own.

Of course, every cabaret show is a team effort, and Ms. Pietz had some pretty substantial talent to help shape this one.  Her music director and pianist, Justin Smolik, has been the resident music director of New Line Theatre (where Ms. Pietz and I first met) since 2010 and has worked with many local professional companies.  His arrangements fitted Ms. Pietz's voice and style like a well-tailored suit and delivered some surprises along the way.  I was especially taken with his semi-ragtime approach to the Beatles classic "Help."

Directing Ms. Pietz was local cabaret and theatre veteran Ken Haller, whose own shows have been big critical and commercial successes.  He and Ms. Pietz gave a nice shape to the show, with the kind of dramatic arc I associate with a well-planned cabaret evening. 

"If I Only Had a Brain" finished in appropriately upbeat style with "That's Life," after which Ms. Pietz came back to accompany herself on a number of her own.  It's still a work in progress, but her current title for it is "That's What My Daddy Said."  I won't tell you exactly what her daddy said, but I will note that 1) it was another "to thine own self be true" message and 2) it brought her show to a conclusion that was as unexpected as it was funny.

And the audience loved it.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 14, 2014

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The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents a concert featuring violinist Julia Son and cellist Eric Cho, this year's winners of the annual Artist Presentation Society Youth Orchestra competition, on Wednesday, April 16, at 7:00 PM. The concert is part of the STL Symphony in the City series. “They will perform their winning selections and team up in this Mentors and Proteges concert with some of their music mentors, Hiroko Yoshida, violin, Ken Kulosa, cello, and Vera Parkin, piano, to perform additional chamber selections.” The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org/symphony_city.

Amy Kaiser
The St. Louis Symphony's Young Friends of the Symphony presents Sips and Symphonies on Thursday, April 17, at 7:30 PM. “What is Sips and Symphonies? It is a great way to learn about music in a fun, casual environment. On the third Thursday of each month, we get together at Tavern of Fine Arts to listen to and discuss a piece of music being performed at an upcoming concert at Powell Hall. We will have a different guest moderator each month who will help lead an informal conversation about the music.” A special cocktail is created for each event to accompany the music. This month, symphony chorus director Amy Kaiser will discuss Orff's Carmina Burana. The event takes place at The Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert on Friday, April 118, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." This week's featured performer is Andrew Peters, Pastoral Musician with Second Presbyterian Church. Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org.

Dr. Thomas Zirkle
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents a classical open stage night on Monday, March 14 from 7:30 – 9 PM. “Come by yourself or bring your quartet. Sight read through a Beethoven quartet or use this as an opportunity to put the finishing touches on that Hindemith Viola Sonata you have been working on. All ages and skill levels are welcome. We have a 6' grand piano and an accompanist.” 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 a marimba concert by Dr. Thomas Zirkle of St. Louis Community College at Forest Park on Friday, April 18, at 8 PM. This concert will feature music composed (or transcribed) for the marimba. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A face in the crowd

John Clarence Stewart and Sally Diallo
Photo: Bill Breymer
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: brownsville song (b-side for tray) by Kimber Lee
When: March 14 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

Kimber Lee's "brownsville song (b-side for tray)" opens on a bare, harshly illuminated stage.  Lena (Cherene Snow), a middle-aged African-American woman, is in pain.  A resident of the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Lena has been working two jobs and doing everything she can to raise her two grandchildren properly.  Now the older, Tray (John Clarence Stewart), has been gunned down stupidly and senselessly simply because he was standing too close to his gangbanger friend Junior (Joshua Boone).

To the press and public, Tray is just a number—another pointless death in one of "those" neighborhoods.  Lena wants us to know that he was much more than that.  He was, as Steve Moulds writes in his program note, "the glue that held their family together; he was the rising amateur boxer, the promise of a better future."  Anonymous? Faceless?  "He was not!", Lena demands.

As the rest of the play unfolds, we see just how big a void Tray left behind.  We see him playfully interact with his little sister Devine (Sally Diallo), helping her cope with the anxiety their alcoholic mother Merrell (Jackie Chung) caused when she abandoned them.  We see him dealing with attempts to reconnect with him and the rest of his family by a reformed Merrell, who has been assigned to him as a tutor to assist with his college application essay.  And we see him trying to balance his relationship with Junior against his desire to move beyond the sudden violence and gray anonymity of the streets—brought to visual life by Dane Laffrey's set with its massive, faux cinder block units.

Quoted in the program note, playwright Lee says she wanted to portray the real people behind the impersonal numbers of neighborhoods like Tray's.  "It's families living there, trying to get by with what could seem like insurmountable obstacles.  But they're just people trying to put the food on the table, get the kid out of bed, get him dressed, get him to school…doing all the things that all of us do."  Given the campaign of hatred and demonization being carried out against people like Tray and his family by the political right in this country, Ms. Lee's point is one that cannot be made too strongly.

Ms. Lee's writing brims with poetry, passion, beauty and—yes—even a kind of verbal music.  "There's such a musicality and a hum and rhythm to the life in Brooklyn," she notes.  "So it felt right to have the title be some kind of musical thing."  It's called the "b-side," she says, because that's "always the song that nobody's heard.  It's the one that people aren't talking about."  Her characters are sharply drawn and wonderfully three-dimensional.  The final monolog, in which Tray reads his completed college essay—the one that got him the scholarship he will never live to use—was profoundly moving.

I know it sounds like a broken record (if not a b-side) to say this, but once again the Actors Theatre put together a first-rate cast.  Ms. Snow perfectly captured Lena's strength and pain.  Mr. Stewart allowed us to see Tray the boy as well as the man he was becoming.  He did, however, look a bit too mature for his character's eighteen years.  Ms. Chung's Merrell was clearly a woman trying to take control of her life again—low key without being bland.  And young Ms. Diallo was simply a delight as Devine.

Meredith McDonough's direction was clean and focused.  Jake Rodriguez's rap/hip hop sound design neatly captured the urban beat suggested by Mr. Laffrey's sets and Ben Stanton's lights.  Like every other Actors Theatre show I've seen, tech was generally flawless.

"brownsville song (b-side for tray)" deserves a life beyond Louisville.  Casting the role of Devine might be an issue for some companies, but otherwise I think it would be well within the capabilities of any company with access to a decent pool of African-American actors.  The elaborate tech the show got at Actors Theatre didn't strike me as essential; I expect it could be done quite effectively with more minimal staging.

The true believer

Photo: Michael Brosilow
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: The Christians by Lucas Hnath
When: March 4 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

When the lights come up on Lucas Hnath’s compelling idea-rich drama “The Christians,” the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Pamela Brown auditorium is instantly transformed into the sanctuary of a typical Christian mega-church, complete with video screens, an organ, and a choir. 

In front of the choir is a pulpit and five chairs, each with a microphone and stand.  All the action will take place in this space, and all of the dialog will be delivered into those microphones.  This, for the playwright, is a way of emphasizing the fact that a preacher's life is "constantly on public display.  The moment you make a mistake, people are very hard on you."

As the play begins, the members of the choir file in and launch into Jennie Wilson’s upbeat hymn “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” The title will prove to be ironic.  Paul (Andrew Garman), the church’s pastor, is about to preach a sermon that proposes a fundamental shift in his congregation’s philosophy.  Like the apostle Paul, he has changed his mind in a radical way.  As the repercussions of that sermon play out over the next 75 minutes, it becomes clear that doctrinal change can be a very dangerous business.

The sermon starts innocently enough.  Paul talks about how the church has grown from its humble storefront origins to an organization with a congregation of thousands, classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool.  Better yet, the church has finally paid off its building loans, thanks to the generosity of its members.  But there's a problem.

"There's a crack in the foundation of this church," he warns.  "And I'm not talking about the building. I'm talking about something like Isaiah talks about, Isaiah 30 verses 12 and 13 'Because you have rejected this word' 'this word' that's God's word he's talking about 'And relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging'."  Mending that crack, though, will involve abandoning what other members of the congregation—most notably assistant pastor Joshua (Larry Powell)—regard as a fundamental tenet of their faith.

Paul and Joshua debate their differences in front of the congregation and while their argument is courteous enough, their beliefs are irreconcilable.  Paul forces a vote by the congregation, which Joshua loses badly.  He leaves the church, slowly and sadly exiting offstage.  But, like his Biblical namesake, he will return to tear down some walls.

The vote doesn't take place on stage.  Like most of the action of the play, it happens offstage and the characters tell us about it.  What happens onstage is a series of arguments between Paul and those close to him—his wife Eilzabeth (Linda Powell), a church elder named Jay (Richard Henzel), Joshua, and choir member Jenn (Emily Donahoe) who has questions about Paul's new/old theology that he can't adequately answer.  That might sound like a recipe for a play that will be more didactic than dramatic, but Mr. Hnath (whose "Death Tax" so impressed me back at the 2012 festival) is too good a writer for that.  His characters are so well drawn and his refusal to take sides is so scrupulous that those exchanges crackle with energy and passion.

As the play progresses, Paul's problems multiply.  Ultimately, he finds himself asking the question which far too many believers seem to ignore: how do you know where your beliefs really come from?  Is that voice in your head God's, Satan's, or just an echo of your own? "I believe what I believe because I know it is true," Paul says towards the end of the play, "but why do I know it's true?—it's a feeling. And where did that feeling come from?—God. God put it there—but how do I know it's God that put it there?—I know it's God because I believe God is there—but how do I know God is there?" 

To say that "The Christians" is thought provoking is to praise it inadequately.  The philosophical and spiritual questions raised by this meticulously written and dramatically gripping play generated lively discussions among our party.  As I prepared to write this review today, my wife and I found ourselves coming back to many of the ideas in the play’s intellectually rich script.  It was one of the best plays I've seen anywhere in recent years.

The performances by the fine Actors Theatre cast did full justice to Mr. Hnath’s dialog.  They were completely comfortable with the microphones, using them as extensions of their bodies, and were fully invested in their characters.  Even the members of the choir were distinct individuals, sketching diverse personalities in the way they sang and in their reactions to the debates on stage.

Les Waters's direction made good use of the space, especially during the confrontation between Paul and his wife.  As Paul paced around on the carpeted dais downstage of the chairs, swinging his microphone cord, you could see him taking on his public persona and shutting her out.  The show was well paced and, despite its argument-counterargument structure, never felt static.

Will "The Christians" have a life beyond Humana?  It certainly deserves one.  Smaller companies might have to finesse the choir, but on the whole it should be well within the capabilities of most groups.  Congratulations to Actors Theatre and the festival for continuing to give us smart, well-crafted scripts like this one.

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 11, 2014

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:

Stray Dog Theatre presents Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 19. "The popular musical, based on British writer Christopher Isherwood’s semiautobiographical short novel Goodbye to Berlin, explores the decadence and seamy underbelly of 1930s Germany where beguiling, self-destructive chanteuse Sally Bowles lives with no thought for tomorrow. As the growing power of the Nazi’s Third Reich secretly begins to take hold, everything is thrown into disarray." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This show has gotten a lot of exposure (you should pardon the expression) lately, but it never hurts to be reminded of how easy it is for people to just go along with evil rather than stand up against it. The Stray Dog production adds a new element by basting an female actor (Lavonne Byers) as the androgynous MC. "If you want to see this show and you should," writes Andrea Braun in her review for KDHX, "get tickets now because the first weekend was sold out before the opening. Ask about cabaret seating (the first rows of pews) with tables and service by the cast."

The Presenters Dolan present Taylor Pietz in If I Only Had a Brain on Thursday, April 10, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "People always see the perfectly put-together 'performer' side of me, but rarely do they see the unpolished and awkward side," says Taylor. "But tonight's the night. With songs highlighting the stumbles, falls, and life lessons of a perfectly imperfect artist." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: I first encountered Ms Pietz over a decade ago when we both appeared in New Line Theatre's production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." I have always been impressed by her musical theatre chops, but last year she started coming to The Cabaret Project's monthly open stage night at Tavern of Fine Arts and I saw the emergence of her cabaret personality. I'm looking forward to this one.

Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues their 103rd season with Kate Fodor's Rx by Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, through April 13. “If there was a drug that could make your dreary job an exciting daily adventure, would you take it? If you did, would it make your life better or worse? And who would dream up such a thing in the first place? Answers to all those questions - liberally laced with laughter - will be found in Rx, the satirical romantic comedy by 2013 Guggenheim playwriting fellow Kate Fodor. The show takes a hilarious look at life, love and Big Pharma.” Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

My take: OK, I'm on the board at West End as well as the play reading committee that recommended this piece in the first place. I also did the sound design for this production. That said, I wouldn't have voted for this script if I hadn't thought it was funny and thought provoking. Ms. Fodor takes on our drug-obsessed society effectively without getting strident. In his review for broadwayworld.com, Chris Gibson calls the show "likable and engaging" and notes that "Renee Sevier-Monsey's direction is well done, maximizing the comic potential of the script while also paying attention to the romance."

Held Over:

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Michael Frayn's comedy Noises Off through April 13. “Disasters abound as a frantic, sleep-deprived touring company of actors rehearses and performs their fictional farce, Nothing On. Too many doors, too many sardines and not near enough time combine to create a riotously funny situation on and off stage for both cast and crew. Michael Frayn's intricately crafted mayhem is hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever written.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: Reviews for this show have been overwhelmingly positive, and with good reason. Michael Frayn's script is an ingenious, brilliantly assembled laugh machine performed with all the necessary precision by a fine ensemble cast.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Man of steel

Photo: Michael Brosilow
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville in association with SITI Company
What: Steel Hammer
When: March 19 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

A lot of talent went into the Actors Theatre of Louisville and SITI Company’s co-production of "Steel Hammer"—and I'm not just talking about the gifted, versatile, and physically robust six-person cast. 

The authors of the production's text—Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux, and Regina Taylor—all have impressive resumes that collectively embrace the worlds of theatre, musical theatre, film, and television.  Composer Julia Wolfe is a big name in the world of classical music, as are the artists who perform her recorded score: Bang on a Can All-Stars and Trio Mediaeval.  To top it all off, director Anne Bogart has been Artistic Director of SITI since she founded it with Tadashi Suzuki in 1992.

With that much going for it, it's a shame that "Steel Hammer" wasn't better.  The concept is a good one: a play with movement and music based on a historically informed version of the legend of that "steel drivin' man" John Henry.  Apparently inspired by Scott Reynolds Nelson's 2006 book "Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend," "Steel Hammer" posits that John Henry was based on a real character: John William Henry, a New Jersey–born free black man who went to Reconstruction-Era Virginia to find work, was imprisoned on trumped-up charges (as so many black men were in the Reconstruction South), and was farmed out as convict labor to build railroad tunnels. 

"Steel Hammer" uses the character's mythic status to build a chronological through line that credibly connects slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation with today's system of privatized, for-profit prisons.  Convict labor, the play suggests, is just another form of slavery—one that always seems to fall most heavily on the backs of black Americans.

Unfortunately, the creators of "Steel Hammer" don't seem to have much faith in the spoken word as a vehicle for their concept.  I realize that's a matter of philosophical conviction, going back to the "Viewpoints" technique (originally developed by Mary Overlie and elaborated upon by Ms. Bogart and Tina Landau) with its insistence that none of the elements of theatre should take precedence over any other.  But that didn't make the results any more convincing.

Most of the show's two-hour running time is taken up with long scenes of repetitive movement (some of which rose to the level of dance) accompanied by equally minimalist and repetitive recorded music.  The opening scene, for example, consisted of the full cast repeatedly striking a series of a half-dozen or so poses that represented the main elements of John Henry's story: manual labor, captivity, struggle, and death.  It went on for several minutes, long after it had made its dramatic point and had become boring—if not actively annoying.

This proved to be a pattern that repeated throughout the evening.  At one point the actors did nothing more than run in circles around the outside of the platform that served as the primary playing area.  After around ten minutes of that I began to wonder if the creators of "Steel Hammer" might be (to paraphrase an Anna Russell line about a certain type of contemporary composer) trying to get away with something.  But then, a lot of post-modernism has the effect on me.

For me, "Steel Hammer" truly came to life only during the rare moments when actual words were spoken.  At one point, for example, Henry (Eric Berryman, in a truly spectacular performance) yearns for freedom and a reunion with his wife (Patrice Johnson Chevannes, very impressive here and in other roles in the show).  In another, Berryman is treated as the subject of a series of lectures on the Henry legend by the rest of the cast.  As a satire of the academic treatment of folklore, I thought it worked quite well. 

Perhaps the best thing about "Steel Hammer," though, was a monolog in which Ms. Chevannes played an ancient former slave reminiscing about the hard lives of Southern blacks before and after the Civil War and recalling the night she met John Henry.  It was a beautiful piece of acting using a solid and compelling script.

There is, I think, a good 45- to 60-minute play in "Steel Hammer."  At two hours with no intermission, however, it felt heavily padded and sometimes veered perilously close to self-parody.  I also felt that it made physical demands on the cast—and especially on Mr. Berryman—that approached the abusive.  By the end of the performance Mr. Berryman was drenched in sweat and looked exhausted.  I find it a bit ironic that a play about the evil of pushing a man past the point of physical pain appears to do the same thing to the actor playing that role.

I wanted to like "Steel Hammer."  Its historical and political points are valid and important.  Alas, its creators have not, in my view, served those points well, however imposing their credentials.

Money (that's what I want)

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L-R: LeRoy McClain, Annie Purcell, David Ross, Kasey Mahaffy
Photo:Bill Breymer
Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: Partners by Dorothy Fortenberry
When: February 26 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

Clare (Annie Purcell) is an aspiring chef married to Paul (David Ross), an IT manager for a New York City law firm. She loves trying out new recipes on her best friend Ezra (Kasey Mahaffy) and his boyfriend Brady (LeRoy McClain), who teaches "at risk" kids.  Ezra wants to start a Tex-Mex food truck business with Clare. She, in turn, wants him to marry Brady.  When Clare gets an unexpected financial windfall as a result of a long-forgotten class-action lawsuit, She, Paul, and Ezra find themselves faced with some tricky choices.

That should be the set-up for a lively comedy examining the difficulties in trying to mix business, love, and friendship.  And, in fact, Dorothy Fortenberry's script bristles with funny lines.  In "Partners," just about everybody is a joker.  Indeed, that's the problem: the humor in "Partners" comes mostly in the form of Neil Simon-esque jokes.  It doesn't, unfortunately, come from well-developed characters in credible situations.

The biggest problem with "Partners" is the central character of Clare.  She's self-centered, devoid of insight, and has an unerring knack for turning silk purses into sow's ears.  Worse yet, she's passive aggressive with a vengeance.  She allows Ezra, for example, to spend hours of his own time developing a business plan for a project that she apparently doesn't want to undertake.  Rather than simply say she's not interested, she produces a litany of excuses for why she never makes a meeting on time or meets a deadline.

Husband Paul doesn't get much better treatment.  Her cooking is too spicy for his stomach, but she makes no real effort to change her recipes.  She hides her financial good fortune from him and then, while he's making plans to use it in ways that will benefit both of them, she gives most of it away to a marriage equality organization.  Why either he or Ezra have any affection for the tiresome Clare is frankly hard to fathom.

Scenes between Ezra and Brady—both well-drawn and sympathetic characters—were more interesting.  I found their relationship was more credible than Clare and Paul's.  The scene in which Brady proposes marriage (but not, alas, monogamy) to Ezra was touching and true.

At only 65 minutes, "Partners" is hardly a long play.  But, despite strong performances from the cast, it felt like one, largely because Clare wore out her welcome about halfway through.  Lila Neugebauer's smart direction made the best of this shallow script, greatly assisted by Daniel Zimmerman's realistic sets, Paul Toben's lights, and Lindsay Jones's original music and sound.  But you know you're in trouble when a fast scene change gets as much applause as your curtain call.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The soul of wit

"Winter Games"
Photo: Tom Legoff
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: Ten Minute Plays
When: April 5 and 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Theatre

It may be trite to say that big things come in small packages, but as a description of this short (45 minute) trio of one-acts, it's also completely true.

The program opened with Rachel Bonds's charming slice of life vignette "Winter Games," directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh.  On an early winter morning in a small Pennsylvania town, bakery employee Mary (Julia Bynum) is smoking out back, waiting for the morning rush of customers.  She's been up all night watching the winter Olympics and is grumpy as hell.  She's joined by fellow employee Jamie (Jason Huff).  He's well rested and a compulsive optimist.  She seems to be just the opposite.  But as they talk about the games and the feral cats that hang around the bakery, they soon find that they're not as different as Mary might have thought. 

Will they become friends?  Lovers?  Who knows?  The important thing is that they make a connection and that, in a ten-minute play is enough.  Ms. Bynum and Mr. Huff were utterly credible and comfortable in their characters and Ms. Yousefzadeh's minimalist direction served the piece well.

Next was Jason Gray Platt's one-actor play, "Some Prepared Remarks (A History in Speech)," directed by Les Waters.  Bruce McKenzie is the protagonist, who takes us through his life—from an awkward child giving a report in front of class to an elderly man delivering a eulogy at his wife's funeral—using notes on pieces of paper.  Brightly colored construction paper at the beginning, then index cards and small notes until, at the end, his life lies scattered in front of him.  Like paper, Mr. Platt seems to be saying, our lives are fragile and easily swept away.

Mr. McKenzie's performance was a masterpiece of understatement, beautifully illuminating this often funny and heartbreakingly real script.  His Parkinson's tremors at the end were, perhaps, a bit overdone, but by then he had so thoroughly inhabited this character that it hardly mattered.

The set concluded with Gregory Hischak's absurdly surreal "Poor Shem," in which three office workers—Kendel "a dominant male" (Andrew Garman), Kaitlin "a woman of easily diluted passions" (Jackie Chung), and Kyle "a less-dominant male" (Matthew Stadelmann)—discover that the paper jam in their copy machine contains not just 8-? by 11 sheets but also (preposterously) the titular Shem.  What should they do?  Call the repairman?  Call a priest?  Hit "reset"?  The only thing they all agree on is that it would be a bad idea to hit "print" again.

"Poor Shem" started out as a purely spoken word piece and I can see how its silly premise might work better as a radio play.  Nevertheless this trio of actors and director Meredith McDonough had great fun with it, delivering exactly the quota of laughs the audience needed after the emotional depths of Mr. Platt's script.

I've been coming to Humana for four years now, but this was my first opportunity to catch the ten-minute play program.  If this one was typical, I have apparently missed some good stuff.

Mixing it up

Zach Wymore and Mirirai Sithole in "War of Attrition"
Photo: Bill Breymer
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: Remix 38 by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Idris Goodwin, Basil Kreimendahl, Justin Kuritzkes, and Amelia Roper
When: March 21 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

Every Humana Festival has a late night show that features the members of the Acting Apprentice Company.  In previous years, the format has been an evening of short plays with a common theme. 

This year, the festival took a different approach.  "In a nod to the many world premieres that have made the Humana Festival what it is today," writes Hannah Rae Montgomery in her program note, "we complied a list of arresting dramatic elements, structural conceits, and vivid images from a representative sampling of particularly influential plays.  We then invited our intrepid playwrights to create several short scenes which incorporate items on the list."

The result was a varied and variable collection of nine one-acts running around 90 minutes and reflecting an impressive variety of themes and styles.  Some worked better than others and a few wanted some trimming, but none was lacking in imagination.  For the sake of brevity, I'm just going to single out the plays that struck me as the most effective; you can see a complete list of all nine plays at the end of this review.

Justin Kuritzkes contributed one of the best pieces in the set.  Performed entirely in mime, "War of Attrition" neatly skewered the idiocy of armed conflict as the generals of two opposing eighteenth-century armies (Zach Wymore and Mirirai Sithole) repeatedly fail to compromise while volley after volley reduces the numbers of their armies.  When the last soldier on each side has fallen, the generals load and fire their muskets at each other—and miss.  Because, after all, they're generals and haven't the foggiest notion of how to actually fight.  As the lights dim, they're still at it.

Idris Goodwin (whose "How We Got On" was, hands down, the best show of the 2012 festival) gave us an amusing, in-jokey look at the audition process with "is that what I look like?" as well as a creepy portrait of a psychopath in "The Sharpening Man.”

"Finger Play (not a real title)" by Basil Kreimendahl had the darkly comic feel of a Cohen brothers film, as an accidentally amputated finger becomes the subject of an intense search and (weirdly) an object of religious veneration.

Easily the finest piece of the evening, though, was Jackie Sibblies Drury's "and now I only dance at weddings," in which a young woman (Peregrine Heard) tries to explain what she hates about weddings.  Anyone who has ever been to a wedding probably recognized the absurd situations acted out by the members of the ensemble—the smarmy DJ, the drunken antics, and of course, the often abandoned and lubricious dancing.  And yet when, in the final touching scene, the protagonist walked down her own aisle, we were reminded that behind all the lunacy is a great deal of love.

Ian Frank's direction kept the evening moving along briskly and his blocking insured that nobody in the Bingham Theatre's black box space missed any critical action.  Lindsay Jones's pre-show music, which  remixed classic songs from the last 40 years, was also great fun. Taken as a whole, "Remix 38" was one of the better late night shows I've seen at Humana.  It wasn't perfect, but it never wore out its welcome, and even the plays that didn't entirely succeed still had something worthwhile to offer.

The plays in "Remix 38" were (in order of performance): "Every Show You've Ever Seen" by Amelia Roper, "Like We Do" by Basil Kreimendahl, "If…Then…" by Justin Kuritzkes, "a love song // a remix /" by Amelia Roper, "is that what I look like?" by Idris Goodwin, "War of Attrition" by Justin Kuritzkes, "The Sharpening Man" by Idris Goodwin, "Finger Play (not a real title)" by Basil Kreimendahl, and "and now I only dance at weddings" by Jackie Sibblies Drury.

Adult content

Matthew Stadelmann, Tiffany Villarin, Brooke Bloom and Paul Niebanck
Photo: Bill Breymer
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Who: Actors Theatre of Louisville
What: The Grown-Up by Jordan Harrison
When: March 7 – April 6, 2014
Where: 38th Humana Festival of New American Plays

Ten-year-old Kai (Matthew Stadelmann) is enthralled when his grandfather (Paul Niebanck) tells him a story about a magical doorknob fashioned from a crystal eye of the mermaid figurehead from an ancient ship.  Pop the doorknob off, his grandfather tells him, and place it on another door, and that door will magically take you somewhere else. 

Playing hide and seek with his sister (Brooke Bloom), Kai decides to put the story to the test—and suddenly finds himself an adult writer, taking a meeting with a comically fast-taking TV producer (Chris Murray) and trying to sell a story about a magical doorknob.

From that point on, each use of the doorknob seems to push Kai farther ahead in the timeline of his life while his sister chases after him through a chronological maze that includes a side trip to a room that contains one of every magical object in the world (they all come in pairs, don't you know…).  And their story begins to increasingly resemble the one that Kai wrote as a youngster—the story that began his literary career.

"The Grown-Up" works on multiple levels.  It's both a magical adventure tale and a reflection on the mutability of human memory.  Most notably, it's an impressive dramatization of how, with age, the past tends to fuse into a big cognitive lump, and last year becomes increasingly difficult to separate from the last decade.  As Amy Wegener writes in her program notes, "the play evokes the dizzying sense of how fast life goes, how remarkably difficult it is to construct a satisfying complete narrative out of our time on earth." 

Has Kai actually become a Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time?  Or is he just reconstructing his life in retrospect, using his first successful short story as a template? As was the case with Mr. Harrison's excellent "Maple and Vine" from four years ago, the refusal to spell everything out makes for appealing and thoughtful comedy and drama.

As is usually the case with Actors Theatre shows, the cast was talented and versatile.  Mr. Stadelmann and Ms. Bloom managed the neat trick of convincingly portraying children who are simultaneously adults.  Mr. Niebanck's gramps was wise and wily.  Mr. Murray's glad-handing TV producer (and magic item guardian) was hilarious.  Tiffany Villarin and David Ryan Smith very effectively took on multiple roles and provided second-person narration as needed.

The play was greatly enhanced by polished and precise direction by Ken Run Schmoll, atmospheric lighting by Paul Toben and original music and sound by Linsday Jones.  James Schuette's sets and costumes were minimal by design.  "The special effects in my newest plays are the actors themselves, and the language," notes Mr. Harrison.  He separates all his work into "plays with furniture" vs. "plays without furniture."  "The Grown-Up" is one of the latter, which should make it a good candidate for small companies looking for a new work for their seasons.

At 70 minutes with no intermission, "The Grown-Up" felt (as do the majority of recent plays, in my experience) like a play that wanted to be a film.  That's not necessarily a criticism, as it's a fine and satisfying script, but I do sometimes long for the days when there were actual intermissions at the theatre.

Monday, April 07, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 7, 2014

Updated Tuesday, April 8

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 ArtsZipper site.

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Maryland Heights Community Theatre presents the Alice @ Wonderland Thursday and Sunday, April 10 and 13, at the Maryland Heights Centre, 2344 McKelvey Road. For more information, call 314-738-2599.

Lindenwood University presents Anna Karenina by Helen Edmonson, based on the novel by Tolstoy. Performances take place Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 10-13, in the black box theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. "Anna Karenina, wife of Alexei Karenin, falls in love with Count Vronsky. When her husband refuses a divorce, the lovers run off together to Venice to escape the disapproval of Russian high society. But Vronsky is lured back to the old country by an offer of reinstatement in the military, and Anna must follow. There her tragic affair begins to unravel, in tandem with Anna's frail psyche. This classic story of love and betrayal isn't to be missed!" For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit lindenwood.edu/center.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents its Bullets in the Bathtub through April 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

Stray Dog Theatre presents Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 19. "The popular musical, based on British writer Christopher Isherwood’s semiautobiographical short novel Goodbye to Berlin, explores the decadence and seamy underbelly of 1930s Germany where beguiling, self-destructive chanteuse Sally Bowles lives with no thought for tomorrow. As the growing power of the Nazi’s Third Reich secretly begins to take hold, everything is thrown into disarray." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents A Drama Studio Showcase on Thursday, April 10. The performance takes place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956 or visit ktg-onstage.org.

Clinton County Showcase presents the drama Doubt through April 13 Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place April 11 - May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through April 27. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Presenters Dolan present Taylor Pietz in If I Only Had a Brain on Thursday, April 10, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "People always see the perfectly put-together 'performer' side of me, but rarely do they see the unpolished and awkward side," says Taylor. "But tonight's the night. With songs highlighting the stumbles, falls, and life lessons of a perfectly imperfect artist." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Department of Theatre, Dance, and Media Arts at the University of Missouri at St. Louis presents The Laramie Project Thursday through Sunday, April 10-13. Performances take place at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. For more information, visit touhill.org or call 314-516-4949.

The Hawthorne Players present Laughter on the 23rd Floor Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, through April 13. The performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.com.

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Michael Frayn's comedy Noises Off through April 13. “Disasters abound as a frantic, sleep-deprived touring company of actors rehearses and performs their fictional farce, Nothing On. Too many doors, too many sardines and not near enough time combine to create a riotously funny situation on and off stage for both cast and crew. Michael Frayn's intricately crafted mayhem is hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever written.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Once April 8-20. "Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights... but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It's an unforgettable story about going for your dreams... not living in fear... and the power of music to connect all of us. " The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley Theater Department presents Thornton Wilder's Our Town April 11-19. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, call 314-644-5522.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Taylor Gruenhoh's A Path Far From Here Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 4 PM, through April 13. "Things get a bit awkward when, after meeting Lisa on a sex website, Mark accidently gets trapped in an apartment with three women and a drag queen. With ecstacy and alcohol in his system Mark tries to understand the way the world moves around him. Lisa's mystery of a husband is possibly on his way, Anne was just fired for sleeping with her boss' brother, Flora was bitten at work today, and Cooper just wants to keep everyone calm, collected, and relatively unhurt. Injurious sex, misguided love, and experimental governmental drugs force this night off the rails. Each show will be preceded by a ten-minute curtain opener play, The Missouri Horror, by David Crespy." Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission on Delmar, across from the Pageant. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents cabaret singer Christy Simmons along with special guest vocalist Rosemary Watts in Playin' With the Boys on Tuesday, April 8, at 7:30 PM. Accompanying Ms. Simmons will be pianist and music director Joe Dreyer along with Dave Troncoso on bass and Clancy Newell on drums. Admission is free but "donations will be greatfully accepted." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in Debaliviere Place. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues their 103rd season with Kate Fodor's Rx by Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, through April 13. “If there was a drug that could make your dreary job an exciting daily adventure, would you take it? If you did, would it make your life better or worse? And who would dream up such a thing in the first place? Answers to all those questions - liberally laced with laughter - will be found in Rx, the satirical romantic comedy by 2013 Guggenheim playwriting fellow Kate Fodor. The show takes a hilarious look at life, love and Big Pharma.” Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Presenters Dolan present Storm Large and Her Four-Piece Band in Taken by Storm: Songs of Seduction and Obsession on Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. " A great singer, killer beauty and funny, fleshy truth teller, Storm has many lives. 1) She is a rock siren. 2) She fronts Pink Martini, a sophisticated pop symphony that tours all over the world. 3) She triumphed ("Sensational," said the NY Times) in a recent Brecht/Weil show at Carnegie Hall with Leonard Slatkin. 4) Best Selling Memoirist. She does it all supremely well. Very lucky to have her in St. Louis for the first time. Not to be missed. Definitely new key. With songs by Elvis Costello, Cole Porter, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Olivia Newton-John and Storm Large." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero April 9 - 27. Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org

Metro Theater Company presents Unsorted by Wesley Middleton Saturday and Sunday, April 12 and 13, at noon. “Clothes are the characters in a playful world where everyone must be sorted, according to the bully-boss known as 'Jacket.' Separate and divided? No way! These mixety characters want to hang out with each other. Distinctly separate categories make no more sense to the clothes than they do in our world. But Jacket is in charge. The sorting must be done...or else!” Performances take place at Wydown Middle School's new theater in Clayton. For more information: metrotheatercompany.org

Family Musical Theater presents Victor/Victoria Thursday and Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, through April 13, at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-571-9579.

Over Due Theatre presents the Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take it With You Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through April 13. Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.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.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 7, 2014

Carter Enyeart
The Community Music School of Webster University presents a Cello Master Class with Carter Enyeart on Saturday at 1 PM and Sunday at 4 PM, April 12 and 13. "Cello students will perform and be coached by Mr. Enyeart. Students, teachers, and those with a general interest in music are invited to observe. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music, Carter Enyeart has enjoyed a distinguished and varied career. His experience as a member of the Pittsburgh and San Francisco Symphony Orchestras, principal cellist of the Dallas Opera, member of the renowned Philadelphia String Quartet and American Piano Trio and his duties as Associate Artistic Director and cellist of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth give him strong credentials in the symphonic and chamber music fields. His teaching at Ball State University, Northwestern University, and the University of North Texas preceded his current appointment as Rose Ann Carr Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor of Cello at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory." The school is at 535 Garden Avenue in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: www.webster.edu/cms.

St. Louis Cathedral Concerts presents The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by David Robertson, on Tuesday, April 8, at 8 PM at the cathedral at 4431 Lindell. “Cathedral Concerts is proud to welcome the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus back to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis for their first performance in this great space in over 10 years. Conducted by David Robertson, the St. Louis Symphony & Chorus will make the dome ring with their world-renowned playing and singing.” For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org.

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus presents Concert Three: The Ancients Speak - Egyptian "The majesty and the mystery of Egypt have enthralled artists from many ages and traditions, prompting musical reactions from composers as diverse as Vagn Holmboe (Denmark), Darius Milhaud (France), and Shin-ichiro Ikebe (Japan). These selections are complemented by paeans to the sun by Franz Schubert, Lily Boulanger and Jussi Chydenius." The concert takes place on Sunday, April 13, at 3 PM at the John Burroughs School Theatre, 755 S Price Road. For more information: www.chamberchorus.org.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents a Pulitzer Series concert on Tuesday, April 9, at 7:30 PM. David Robertson will conduct members of the orchestra in Nico Muhly's Drones and Violin (2011) and Morton Feldman's Three Voices (1982). The performance takes place at the Pultzer Center for the Arts, 3716 Washington. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Michael W. Smith joins The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11, at 7:30 at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. “For more than 25 years, Michael W. Smith has been the reigning king of contemporary Christian music. Smith returns to join the STL Symphony for live performances of songs from his enormously popular recordings.” For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Ben Folds
Ben Folds joins The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Saturday and Sunday, April 12 and 13 at 7:30 at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. “Acclaimed as witty and engaging, singer-songwriter Ben Folds returns to Powell Hall after a sold-out performance in 2011 joining the STL Symphony to perform fan-favorites from his celebrated albums.” For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Second Presbyterian Church presents organist Andrew Peters in a 175th Anniversary Concert on Sunday, April 13, a 4 PM. "Organist Andrew Peters closes the 2013-2014 Couts Music Series with a varied program on the church's 60-rank Schantz organ. Peters has won awards in several organ competitions and plays recitals across the United States. His program includes works of J.S. Bach, Hindemith, Joseph Jongen, and concludes with the exciting "Finale" from Louis Vierne's Third Symphony!" Second Presbyterian Church is at 4501 Westminster Place. For more information: www.secondchurch.net.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents The Chamber Project St. Louis in A Very Open Rehearsal on Wednesday, April 9, at 7:30 PM. “Dana (clarinet) and Adam (Bass) rehearse a jazzy duet written as a birthday gift for the famous King of Swing, Benny Goodman. They will be preparing for the upcoming Chamber Project St. Louis concert on April 25th and you get to be part of the process in this interactive Very Open Rehearsal.” 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 saxophonist Brian Utley on Saturday, April 12, at 8 PM. “An advocate of new music, Utley has recently premiered works by Perry Goldstein, L. Mark Lewis, Stephen Lias and William Price, and plans to present a new work by David Froom in the 2012-2013 concert season. He also performs in a variety of chamber music settings and is a co-founder of the award-winning Red Stick Saxophone Quartet. He has recorded on the New Tertian Records and Magni Publications labels, and is currently involved in a recording project featuring 21st century music by American composers.” The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert on Friday, April 11, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org.