Sunday, August 09, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 10, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

Leslie Craig
The Blue Strawberry
presents Leslie Craig with An Amy Winehouse Tribute on Friday, August 14, at 8 pm. “Amy Winehouse gets an acoustic and intimate tribute from the incredible Leslie Craig, who does Amy justice.”  Regarding coronavirus safety, The Blue Strawberry says: “Aerosol scientists suggest that singing is an activity associated with an increased risk of audience exposure to the SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In order to minimize that risk, the singers in shows presented at Blue Strawberry starting this August will all perform from as far upstage as possible. Our stage is 10 feet deep, and they will perform at the very back of the stage next to the wall. Supporting musicians will all be masked. We will also pull back our front row of seats 4 feet from the lip of the stage. This will create at least 12 feet of space between the singer and the front row of audience members. We have also reduced our inside capacity from 100 to fewer than half that number.” The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Janet Evra
The Blue Strawberry
presents Janet Evra with A Night of Joni Mitchell on Saturday, August 15, at 8 pm. “British-Americanjazz singer Janet Evra returns to Blue Strawberry to perform her favorite tunesfrom her favorite singer-songwriter: Joni Mitchell.  This special showwill feature Joni's hits including "A Case of You", "Both SidesNow", "Woodstock", "Little Green", as well as somedeeper cuts.  Janet will talk about her lifelong love for Joni and shareher insights into Joni's wonderful songwriting and storytelling, and she willplay guitar and bass, performing some songs solo and others with her acoustictrio featuring Will Buchanan on guitar and Drew Weiss on drums.”  Regarding coronavirus safety, The Blue Strawberry says: “Aerosol scientists suggest that singing is an activity associated with an increased risk of audience exposure to the SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In order to minimize that risk, the singers in shows presented at Blue Strawberry starting this August will all perform from as far upstage as possible. Our stage is 10 feet deep, and they will perform at the very back of the stage next to the wall. Supporting musicians will all be masked. We will also pull back our front row of seats 4 feet from the lip of the stage. This will create at least 12 feet of space between the singer and the front row of audience members. We have also reduced our inside capacity from 100 to fewer than half that number.” The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Fox Performing Arts Foundation presents the 10th annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition Finals on Monday, August 10, at 8 pm on PBS Nine. “The final round of the competition was originally scheduled to be performed in front of a live audience in April at the Fox but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to a partnership with Nine PBS, the finalists were provided the opportunity to compete and perform on the Fox Stage for a special broadcast.” For more information:  www.foxpacf.org/

Mark Ballas and company in Jersey Boys (2018)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, August 3 and 6, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. This week's episode includes archive video clips from “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” “Jersey Boys,” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”; Muny artists and real-life couple Jason Gotay and Michael Hartung performing “Song on the Sand” from “La Cage aux Folles”; members of The Muny’s 2018 cast of “Meet Me In St. Louis reuniting via the Internet to sing the famous title song; and "Do-Re-Mi," a special, filmed-at-The-Muny song and dance performance featuring members of The Muny Kids and Teens.  For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free and all time slots are currently taken, but a waitlist is available . For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot is streaming until August 21. Hello From Bertha will begin streaming on August 22. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

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

Friday, August 07, 2020

Review: The Muny's YouTube Variety Hour is just the thing mourning Muny fans

If you’re a fan of The Muny and have not yet had a chance to see an episode of “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour” on their YouTube channel, then, to paraphrase John Adams in “1776”: “Good God, what in the hell are you waiting for?”

Laura Michelle Kelly and the cast of
South Pacific (2013)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Presented live every Monday and Thursday night at 8:15, the “Variety Hour” (which aired its first episode the week of July 20) isn’t so much a substitute for the postponed 2020 season as it is a logical extension and expansion of the Muny’s commitment to musical theatre. Running around 75 to 90 minutes (including a seven-minute intermission), each episode features archived video clips from previous Muny shows along with a wealth of new material, both live and recorded, by The Muny Kids, Muny Teens, and performers who have made previous appearances on the big Forest Park stage.

It is, in short, a kind of re-invention of the classic Vaudeville show for the digital age, with the additional wrinkle that all the performers are physically distanced—often by many miles. Technically, it’s impressive as hell, and consistently entertaining.

Les Misérables (2013)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The quality of the archived video clips, while variable, is generally quite good. The sound, which was apparently pulled straight from the mixing board, is excellent, and the single camera often zooms in to give you a view of the performers normally available from only the closest box seats. The August 3rd show, for example, included a performance of “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” (from “South Pacific,” 2013) that brought us right up on stage with Laura Michelle Kelly’s irresistibly charming and fleet-footed Nellie Forbush, while still providing a good view of the ensemble. “One More Day,” the Act I finale of “Les Misérables” from that same year, captured the sweep and grandeur of the 81-member cast while allowing the complex counterpoint of the music to come through with a clarity that is difficult to achieve in a live performance.

And you’re guaranteed a comfortable seat with no rain or oppressive humidity or planes flying overhead. Also no crowds of people walking to the exits during the curtain call. What’s not to like?

Dancer/choreographer
Chloe O. Davis
The best parts of the “Variety Hour,” though, have been the new pieces staged specifically for the show. I have been most impressed with the dance numbers by Muny cast members.

In the first episode, St. Louis native and Muny regular Lara Teeter danced with athletic grace and perky humor through a deserted Muny to “Take Me Away.” The second episode brought us dancer/choreographer Chloe O. Davis (another St. Louis native and Muny veteran) performing a tribute to Black dance legends like Katherine  Dunham, George Faison, Debbie Allen, Hope Clarke, Gregory Hines, Donald Byrd,  Bill T. Jones and Camille A. Brown. Titled “My Tribute to Black Broadway and Black Choreography: I Thrive Now Because You Dared Then,” this bravura piece mixed audio and video clips from the original stars with Ms. Davis’s flawless recreations of their signature moves. I found it totally compelling and was sorry it wasn’t twice as long.

The August 3rd edition, though, brought us the most idiosyncratic and beautifully ambiguous work to date: “undefeat,” by dancer and choreographer Jon Rua (also a Muny vet, but probably best known for his work on the original production of "Hamilton"). Performed to the “Prelude” of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, it alternated video of Mr. Rua dancing on the roof of his apartment building with close-ups of him fighting off depression while “sheltering in place” from the pandemic. It was touching and brilliantly conceived.

Beth Leavel and Adam Heller in Gypsy (2018)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
There have been many other highlights over the last few weeks—far too many for a complete list. My favorite moments have included:

• The Muny Kids singing and signing “Happiness” from “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”; totally adorable.
• The Muny Teens in a high-energy mashup of “Not While I’m Around” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” from “Sweeney Todd” and “The Sound of Music,” respectively
• Ken Page’s powerful live performance, from the Culver Pavillion just outside the east entrance, of “Memory” from “Cats”
• The cast of 2019's rewritten version of "Paint Your Wagon" singing the rousing "How Can I Wait?"
• Muny artists and real-life couple Beth Leavel and Adam Heller in their home with a thoroughly heartwarming version of “You’ll Never Get Away From Me” from “Gypsy,” which they did together at The Muny in 2018.

As this is being written, you can still see the third episode of “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour” Thursday, August 6, at 8:15 pm on the Muny YouTube channel. It and other Thursday webcasts will include closed captioning as well as descriptive audio.

Mark Ballas and company in Jersey Boys (2018)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The fourth installment, which airs August 10 and 13, includes archive video clips from “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” “Jersey Boys,” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”; Muny artists and real-life couple Jason Gotay and Michael Hartung performing “Song on the Sand” from “La Cage aux Folles”; members of The Muny’s 2018 cast of “Meet Me In St. Louis reuniting via the Internet to sing the famous title song; and "Do-Re-Mi," a special, filmed-at-The-Muny song and dance performance featuring members of The Muny Kids and Teens. If it’s anything like the first three, it should be a must see for musical theatre fans in general and lovers of The Muny in particular.

For more information on the “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour,” visit The Muny’s web site.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 3, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

Robert Nelson
The Blue Strawberry
presents Robert Nelson: Return to Love on Saturday, August 8, at 8 pm. “Return To Love is an intimate evening of classic love songs that capture the elegance of Ellington's Harlem jazz era, the finger snapping cool jazz of the 50's and 60's, and a return to jazz inspired interpretations of soulful contemporary classics.”  Regarding coronavirus safety, The Blue Strawberry says: “Aerosol scientists suggest that singing is an activity associated with an increased risk of audience exposure to the SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In order to minimize that risk, the singers in shows presented at Blue Strawberry starting this August will all perform from as far upstage as possible. Our stage is 10 feet deep, and they will perform at the very back of the stage next to the wall. Supporting musicians will all be masked. We will also pull back our front row of seats 4 feet from the lip of the stage. This will create at least 12 feet of space between the singer and the front row of audience members. We have also reduced our inside capacity from 100 to fewer than half that number.” The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

Les Misérables at the Muny (2013)
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny
presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, August 3 and 6, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. “The show will include All Shook Up, Les Misérables, Newsies and South Pacific. The program will also feature new songs and dances from Muny artists across the U.S., a performance by Muny artists and real-life couple Beth Leavel and Adam Heller, and a cast reunion sing-along to “Tomorrow” with members of The Muny’s 2018 cast of Annie.  For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free, but time slots must be reserved in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently This Property in Condemned is streaming until August 7, when A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

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

Thursday, July 30, 2020

"Every Day a Little Death": Stray Dog's "Lobby Hero" movingly tells of small tragedies

The essence of tragedy is the fatal flaw in the protagonist’s noble character. It’s a crack in the foundation that eventually causes the entire edifice of their life to come crashing to the ground, usually with fatal consequences for all involved.

Gary F. Bell and the cast of Lobby Hero
This can be thrilling in the theatre, I think, at least partly because it so rarely happens in real life. Most people have very few great flaws, but very many minor failings. Little mistakes, tiny hurts, and small betrayals can inflict pain, but there’s no great, heaven-storming crash. “Every Day a Little Death,” as the song from A Little Night Music goes.

The four characters in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 drama Lobby Hero, live streaming in a compelling production by Stray Dog Theatre through Friday July 31st, are ordinary working stiffs rather than nobility, and their story isn’t so much tragic as it is ironic. All four do what they think is the right thing, but it inevitably turns out wrong. No empires fall, but feelings are hurt, careers damaged, and friendships crippled. Life goes on, but everyone dies a little.

Jeremy Goldmeier
Set in the lobby of a middle-income apartment building in New York City in the wee hours of several consecutive mornings, the story of Lobby Hero revolves around the hapless Jeff (Jeremy Goldmeier), whose aimless life has left him working the graveyard shift as the building security guard. His stern boss William (Abraham Shaw) tells him to shape up and pushes self-help books on him which, of course, Jeff never reads. Jeff yearns to impress rookie cop Dawn (Eileen Engel), but she’s smitten with her overbearing senior partner Bill (Stephen Peirick)—until she discovers that the purpose of his late-night visits to the building is a regular hookup with a woman on the 22nd floor.

William, meanwhile, has problems of his own. His brother has been implicated in the particularly heinous rape and murder of a nurse who had the misfortune to witness a gang of teenagers stealing drugs from a hospital. William’s brother claims he’s innocent, but he hasn’t got an alibi and asks William to cover for him by claiming they were at the movies together. For a man of William’s moral principles, it’s a serious conflict. He’s not completely convinced by his brother’s protestations of innocence, but he also knows the cops will assume a young black man with a troubled past and no alibi is guilty regardless of the truth.

Mr. Lonergan has drawn all four characters in such believable depth and detail that their trials are immediately moving. The more I think about the play, the more powerful it grows—a sure sign of great writing.

Director Gary F. Bell has assembled a very strong cast for his production. Mr. Peirick is completely convincing as the swaggering bully Bill—the sort of role he rarely gets to play, in my experience. Mr. Shaw shows the slow crumbling of William’s moral foundation in painful detail.

Ms. Engel all too clearly details the painful choices demanded of a woman taking on a man’s world in the pre-#metoo era and the personal cost of making them. And Mr. Goldmeier’s Jeff is a sad and touching combination of decency and ineptitude. The ultimate schlemiel, he means well but does a good thing badly, with unfortunate results for everyone.

The cast of Lobby Hero
Mr. Bell has given Lobby Hero a semi-staged production recorded live on the Stray Dog stage. All the characters are in costume and make limited use of props, but each one is enclosed in an acoustically dampened plexiglass booth to insure maximum protection from the coronavirus pandemic. They communicate via microphones and headsets, creating a kind of hybrid of stage production and radio play. Video edits allow actors to “fade to black” when they exit, but otherwise this has the immediacy of a real-time performance.

That said, the lack of blocking and a physical set tends to make the play a bit static at times and the actors can’t do much in the way of movement inside their individual booths. I couldn’t help wondering whether this might have worked better as an actual radio play, with liberal use of sound effects to make up for the lack of set and some props. It is, in any case, a creative approach to doing theatre during the plague years.

Lobby Hero is available for on-demand streaming through Friday the 31st, but you must reserve a ticket in advance online.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 27, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

Metro Theater Company presents digital streaming productions of Early Days — Stories of the Pandemic Digital Archive: A St. Louis COVID-19 Digital Play (live streamed Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m.) and the virtual premiere of A Kids Play About Racism (available Saturday and Sunday, August 1-2). Written by MTC Producing Associate John Wolbers, Early Days, is part of Metro Theater Company's partnership with the Missouri Historical Society to document our region's experiences with the historic COVID-19 pandemic from the unique perspectives of submissions from people of all backgrounds. A Kids Play About Racism “utilizes theatre to offer young children and families a way to engage in meaningful conversation about race. As part of the production, educational materials developed by Seattle Children’s Theatre in collaboration with the Northwest African American Museum will extend the experience and enhance age-appropriate engagement. For more information: www.metroplays.org.

42nd Street at the Muny, 2016
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, July 27 and 30, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. “The show will include never-before-aired clips from past Muny summer productions, cast reunion sing-alongs, songs and dances created via video by Muny artists from across the U.S., Munywood Squares and so much more.” This week's episode includes clips from Aida, 42nd Street, Spamalot and Oklahoma!, as well as St. Louis native Chloe O. Davis performing My Tribute to Black Broadway and Black Choreographers: I Thrive Now Because You Dared Then. For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free, but time slots must be reserved in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

Lobby Hero
Stray Dog Theatre streams a new production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero  on demand from 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 27, to 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 31. Participation is limited to the first 750 reservations, and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. "Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly." Reservations and viewings for Lobby Hero are free, and available beginning at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18 at www.straydogtheatre.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently This Property in Condemned is streaming until August 7, when A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

Union Avenue Opera presents an online sneak preview of their 2021 production of Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) on Friday, July 31, at 7 pm. “We've invited director Jon Truitt to share his vision for the show along with musical contributions from Janara Kellerman (Rosina) and Andy Papas (Dr. Bartolo).” For more information or to view the video, visit the UAO Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UnionAvenueOpera.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 20, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

MUTE: A Play for Zoom
St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Gaslight Theater presents Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, July 24-26. “Limited seating is available.” The Gaslight Theater is at 358 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: gaslighttheater.net.

Metro Theater Company presents a digital streaming version of the critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner... Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin through July 26. The production, which was directed by MTC Artistic Director Julia Flood, is available in a pay-what-you-can pay-per-view environment at www.metroplays.org/watchnow.

The Little Mermaid (2017) at the Muny
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, July 20 and 23, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. “The show will include never-before-aired clips from past Muny summer productions, cast reunion sing-alongs, songs and dances created via video by Muny artists from across the U.S., Munywood Squares and so much more.” For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free, but time slots must be reserved in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

Lobby Hero
Stray Dog Theatre streams a new production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero  on demand from 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 27, to 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 31. Participation is limited to the first 750 reservations, and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. "Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly." Reservations and viewings for Lobby Hero are free, and available beginning at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18 at www.straydogtheatre.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently Our Lady of Larkspur Lotion is streaming until July 25, when This Property is Condemned will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Review: Of thee they sing

Like so many other performing arts organizations, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) has been obliged to increase its online presence to keep its work visible during the pandemic.  One of the most impressive of efforts in this area is the “Songs of America” project.

Malena Smith
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
“Songs of America” is a YouTube playlist featuring a solid half hour of performances that, according to SLSO press materials, “celebrate the breadth of voices in American music, framed against a backdrop of St. Louis landmarks.”

Having had the chance to watch the entire playlist, I have to say that that description is completely on target.  This is a tremendous collection of stellar performances of American tunes by SLSO musicians and area singers.

The SLSO Wind Quintet
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
“Songs of America” opens with an arrangement for voice and string quartet of “America the Beautiful” by Adam Maness of the crossover string ensemble the 442s. Sung with tremendous heart by Malena Smith of the SLSO IN UNISON chorus, the performance starts on the Powell Hall stage then then shifts to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis, with a panoramic view of downtown and the arch in the background, finally returning to Powell for the last few moments.

Up next is an irrepressibly jolly version of Scott Joplin’s “The Easy Winners,” performed on the brick patio of the Scott Joplin House. The arrangement by Kenneth Abeling for wind quintet and percussion is reminiscent of the famous “Red Back Book” orchestral versions of Joplin’s rags published here in 1912, but with a dash of chamber music delicacy.

The 442s
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The mood changes again with the transcendently beautiful “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker (one of the first black graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music), performed at the Soldier’s Memorial downtown. Former SLSO resident conductor Gemma New leads nine members of the symphony strings in a powerfully moving rendition. At one point the music rises to elegiac heights while the camera pans over a stone tablet engraved with the legend “those who made the supreme sacrifice.” It’s one of those “lump in the throat” moments that reminds me why I attend classical concerts.

Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is next, and while it’s a huge contrast musically, it’s every bit as gripping. Brian Owens, a familiar figure on the local music scene, shows his wide vocal and emotional range here, accompanied by the 442s with arranger Adam Maness on guitar. The performance at Kiener Plaza includes the arch and the Old Courthouse in the background.

Brian Owens
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The mood becomes jaunty again as Music Director Stéphane Denève plays Brian Holland’s arrangement of W.C. Handy’s “The St. Louis Blues” on the piano at his home. His swinging, good-humored take on this classic is a reminder of how popular American jazz has always been in France. The video includes shots of a number of local landmarks, including the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Wall of Fame mural with its images of local jazz and blues legends.

Kennedy Holmes wraps it up with a lovely, soaring “Amazing Grace” at First Baptist Church. She’s accompanied by a quartet of SLSO string players in yet another elegant Maness arrangement.

Kennedy Holmes and SLSO string players
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
In all of the “Songs of America” performances, the musicians are clearly working at a safe distance from each other, and those who aren’t playing wind instruments or singing are masked. Kudos to the SLSO for setting such a good example.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s “Songs of America” concert is available at the orchestra’s YouTube channel, along with a choice assortment of other music videos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes features.  Information on this and other SLSO projects is available at their web site.

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