Sunday, January 21, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 22, 2018

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The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., January 25 - February 4. " A.J. kicked British butt, shafted the Indians and smacked down the Spaniards, all in the name of these United States - who cares if he didn't have permission? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson creators, Michael Friedman (Love's Labour's Lost, The Fortress of Solitude) and Alex Timbers (Love's Labour's Lost, Peter and the Starcatcher), cook up an alternate universe (and draw parallels to today's political/populist landscape) with their musical about the seventh U.S. president. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson follows America's seventh president from his early days as a child on the wild frontier to his controversial reign in the White House." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

The Cabaret Project and The Improv Shop present The Blue Velvet Lounge Saturday, January 27, at 8 pm. There are also performances on February 10 and 24. "The Cabaret Project teams up with The Improv Shop to co-present their dynamic, fully improvised theater piece featuring live jazz standards - direct from the mythical Blue Velvet Lounge. Each performance features eight smart, funny improvisers who create the stories and sagas of the patrons of the Blue Velvet Lounge - on the spot. Surrounded by live jazz vocal standards, this character driven story is a different show each night it's performed. The Blue Velvet Lounge is a perfect evening out for lovers of cabaret and comedy. Food and drink available at the Improv Shop." The performance takes place at The Improv Shop, 3960 Chouteau in The Grove. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Hard Road Theatre Productions presents the jukebox musical Breaking Up is Hard to Do Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm through January 27. "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is an original jukebox musical featuring 18 Neil Sedaka songs, including "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", "Where the Boys Are", "Sweet Sixteen", "Calendar Girl", "Stupid Cupid", and "Love Will Keep Us Together." Set during Labor Day weekend in 1960, the show follows two friends, Lois and Marge, who travel to a resort, Esther's Paradise, in the Catskill mountains to help Marge overcome a recent breakup. While there, romance flourishes in the most unusual places and a visitor from Dick Clark's American Bandstand might just save Esther's Paradise from financial ruin." Performances will be held at the Highland School Kennal, 12760 Troxler Ave, in Highland IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

The Kranzberg Arts Center presents Grammy and Emmy Award-winning pianist and songwriter John McDaniel and cabaret star Barb Jungr in Come Together, an Evening of Music by The Beatles, on Saturday, January 27, at 7 and 9 pm. "In this exciting and critically-acclaimed collaboration, two giants of cabaret from both sides of the Atlantic, the extraordinary and award winning vocalist and performer, London's Barb Jungr and St. Louis born John McDaniel, himself a Grammy and Emmy award winning arranger and pianist, investigate The Beatles song catalogue in their own unique and inimitable fashion. Barb and John celebrate Paul, John, George and Ringo with brand new, breathtaking, inspiring and often unexpected arrangements! This concert is their St. Louis debut together." Performances take place in the cabaret room at the Kranzberg, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Comic Book Killer through April 14. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Faceless
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Faceless through February 4. "Two young women face off in a courtroom, locked in a battle of wills and theologies. Susie Glenn, 18, is on trial. Radicalized online into planning acts of terrorism, she's zealously committed to her cause. Her prosecutor, Claire Fathi, is a Harvard-educated Muslim woman who lives the faith that Susie professes to understand. Their edgy exchanges create a propulsive, escalating tension that makes this brilliantly topical play a true legal thriller." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy/drama Good People through January 28. "Welcome to Southie, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo, where this month's paycheck covers last month's bills, and where Margie Walsh has just been let go from yet another job. Facing eviction and scrambling to catch a break, she thinks an old fling who's made it out of Southie might be her ticket to a fresh start. But is this apparently self-made man secure enough to face his humble beginnings? Margie is about to risk what little she has left to find out. With his signature humorous glow, Lindsay-Abaire explores the struggles and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing." Performances take 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.

New Jewish Theater presents The How and the Why January 24 - February 11. "In Sarah Treem's smart and provocative play about science, family and survival of the fittest, evolution and emotion collide as two women of different generations struggle to come together both on a professional and on a personal level. The play explores many areas of struggle for women, especially in the field of scientific research: the fierce competition among scientists for recognition of their discoveries; the struggles in the academic world for prestigious positions and grant funding: and female attitudes about sex, relationships, men, motherhood and families." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

The Marvelous Wonderettes
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Marvelous Wonderettes through January 28. "The pop doesn't stop in this smash hit musical! A high school prom in 1958 and a 10-year reunion in 1968 provide the backdrop for some of the biggest hits of both decades, performed by an irrepressible quartet of young women. Featuring a stacked playlist that includes "Mr. Sandman," "It's in His Kiss," "Respect," "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Lollipop," it's a joyous snapshot of a musical era." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Mayhem in Mayberry through April. "Welcome to the 10th annual Mayberry-fest. Everyone is looking forward to the highlight of this event - the Miss Mayberry contest. YOU and Sheriff Andy Trailer will judge the contestants (chosen from the audience) on beauty, poise, cookin' skills and a new category this year - Hog callin'. Will the next Miss Mayberry be the vivacious Dazey Doof from Hazzard County? Or the beautiful hillbilly, Elly May Klumpett? Or will it be the lovely Lois Lame from Smallville? Don't county out the charming Paris Hoosier from Hoosierville. She's the main reason the train stops at Petticoat Junction! Sheriff Andy, Deputy Blarney and Aint Bee invite you to join the fun and the mayhem in Mayberry cause it won't be the same without y'all." The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Menopause the Musical
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Menopause the Musical, "a celebration of women and The Change," through March 31. Four women meet while shopping for a black lace bra at a lingerie sale. After noticing unmistakable similarities among one another, the cast jokes about their woeful hot flashes, mood swings, wrinkles, weight gain and much more. The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Bizet's Les Pecheurs De Perles (The Pearl Fishers) Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, January 26 and 28. Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

The Fox Theatre presents the musical School of Rock, running through January 28. "Based on the hit film, this hilarious new musical follows Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher who turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. This high-octane smash features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber, all the original songs from the movie and musical theater's first-ever kids rock band playing their instruments live on stage." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

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

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of January 22, 2018

An American Soldier
Photo: Scott Suchman
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Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents The Dramatic Vision of David Henry Hwang on Thursday, January 25th, at 7 pm. It's the first in a series of three events that take you behind the scenes of the world premiere opera An American Soldier, which OTSL will present this summer. "David Henry Hwang is one of America's most esteemed playwrights and opera librettists, best known for his Tony Award-winning drama M. Butterfly. Hear how he crafted Private Danny Chen's story into an opera libretto." The event takes place at St. Louis University Sinquefield Stateroom at DuBourg Hall, 4th Floor, 221 N. Grand on the St. Louis University campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents a Young Professionals Cocktail Reception on Friday, January 26th, at 5:30 pm. It's the second in a series of three events that take you behind the scenes of the world premiere opera An American Soldier, which OTSL will present this summer. "45 or under? Meet composer Huang Ruo and librettist David Henry Hwang for a happy hour celebrating the fusion of Asian and American culture in food, theater, and music." The event takes place at The Crispy Edge, 4168 Juniata. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents The Danny Chen Story on Saturday, January 27th, at 1:30 pm. It's the third in a series of three events that take you behind the scenes of the world premiere opera An American Soldier, which OTSL will present this summer. "Private Danny Chen's story has had a profound impact on the military's policies surrounding hazing and inclusion. Dig deeper at a panel event featuring both of the opera's creators, Asian-American veterans, and local military leadership." The event takes place at the St. Louis Public Radio Community Room, 3651 Olive in Grand Center. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Jorge Caballero
The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society presents a Great Artist Guitar Series concert with Jorge Caballero on Saturday, January 27, at 8 pm. "A native of Peru, Jorge Caballero is the only guitarist to win the Naumburg International Competition (1996), and in addition won top prizes at the Tokyo International Guitar Competition, the Alhambra Guitar Competition and the First Latin American Guitar Competition. Caballero's program will include Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov in his fourth appearance here." The performance takes at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: guitarstlouis.net.

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Julian Rachlin Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, January 26 and 27. The program includes Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Harmonielehre by John Adams. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

On Sunday, January 28, at 3 pm, The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The 442s and Compositions for L.I.F.E. present Rapped and Remixed. It's "a surprise musical experience for the entire family. Enjoy classic melodies from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet complete with a modern-day twist and contemporary narration. Experience Prokofiev's music like never before." The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents Baroque Music for Strings on Wednesday, January 24, at 8 pm. "Guitarist extraordinaire Kirk Hanser is joined by harpsichordist Charles Metz, bassist Erik Harris and members of the St. Louis Symphony to perform music by Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Boccherini and more!" The Sheldon Concert Hall is on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: sheldonconcerthall.org.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the week of January 15, 2018

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:

Circus Harmony: Legato
Circus Harmony presents Legato Saturday at 2 and 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, January 20 and 21. The show is "a look at circus thru the decades from 1920-2010." Performances take place at City Museum, 701 N. 15th Street. Show admission is free with museum admission. For more information: circusharmony.org.

My take: Circus Harmony does excellent outreach work that demonstrates how the arts can make a big difference in the community. If you've ever seen a Circus Flora show, of course, you've seen some of Circus Harmony's students at work as The St. Louis Arches, but the organization's reach and mission go far beyond that. "Circus Harmony," according to their web site, "teaches the art of life through circus education. We work to build character and expand community for youth of all ages, cultures, abilities and backgrounds. Through teaching and performance of circus skills, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence, and leap over social barriers, all at the same time." Since their 2001 Circus Salaam Shalom, which brought Jewish and Muslim kids in St. Louis together, Circus Harmony has been advancing its philosophy of "peace through pyramids, harmony through hand springs" to "inspire individuals and connect communities."


Menopause the Musical
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Menopause the Musical, "a celebration of women and The Change," through February 12. The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

My take: This popular ensemble show has been around for a while now, having premiered in 2001 in Orlando, Florida, in a 76-seat theatre that once housed a perfume shop. It's last visit at the Westport Playhouse was ten years ago, and it seems to have lost none of it's comic shine. "Who will enjoy this," asks Ann Lemmons Pollack a review of the show last year, "beyond women of what they call un age certain? People of both genders around them unless they have no sense of humor. That includes family, friends and co-workers. One of life's cruel jokes is that the menopause hits many households about the same time adolescence does. Here's something to tide us over." Since this is effectively a remounting of that same production, I think I'm on safe ground putting it on the hit list, as I did last January.


Storm Large
The Presenters Dolan present Storm Large and her band on Wednesday, January 17, at 8 pm. "When she is not with her band (including two members of Everclear), Storm fronts Pink Martini and symphony orchestras. This is a different Storm - a sexed-up, powerhouse club rocker; a soulful, spiritual, secular hymnodist; an enchanting storyteller made all the more so by her band's impossibly evocative underscoring. And that astonishing voice." The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com

My take: I have seen two of Storm Large's previous appearances here in St. Louis, in 2014 and 2015, and I can say from personal experience that she's one-woman entertainment conglomerate (rock star, author, actor, and songwriter) whose work is entertaining, raucously and bawdily funny, entirely genuine and utterly theatrical. If you haven't seen her before, you really should not deprive yourself of the opportunity, especially in a great venue like the Sheldon.


Held Over:

Fences
Photo: USI Media
The Black Rep presents the August Wilson's Fences through January 14. "This sensational drama starred James Earl Jones on Broadway in 1987 as Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro Baseball League who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy's bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. " Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: This production certainly appears to have hit a home run with local critics. Tina Farmer at KDHX calls it "finely wrought" and "hard-hitting" white Steve Allen at Stage Door STL says "it's a play you won't want to miss." "If anyone needs to consider whether August Wilson may have been America's greatest playwright of the Twentieth Century," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack "please go to the Black Rep's production of Fences at Washington University's Edison Theatre." 'Nuff said.


The Marvelous Wonderettes
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Marvelous Wonderettes through January 28. "The pop doesn't stop in this smash hit musical! A high school prom in 1958 and a 10-year reunion in 1968 provide the backdrop for some of the biggest hits of both decades, performed by an irrepressible quartet of young women. Featuring a stacked playlist that includes "Mr. Sandman," "It's in His Kiss," "Respect," "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Lollipop," it's a joyous snapshot of a musical era." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: This looks like great fun and judging from the reviews that's just what it is. Tina Farmer at KDHX says it's "an entertaining escape with a soundtrack you can dance to." "Great, almost giddy fun during this cold winter of our discontent," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack. "If you're in the mood for a little 'Respect,'" writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "check out The Marvelous Wonderettes and step back in time when you were younger and high school was the place to be." It may be light as chiffon, but maybe that's not such a bad thing right now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Symphony Preview: On the road again

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

The Granada Theatre
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Jack frost may be nipping at our noses this week in St. Louis, but the members of our St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director David Robertson won't be feeling it. That's because, in an example of very serendipitous timing, they're off on a tour of sunny California--Mr. Robertson's last tour as Music Director, I'm sorry to say.

Through Friday, January 19th, violin soloist Augustin Hadelich, and the orchestra will be serenading residents of the west coast with the program of Shostakovich, Britten, and Thomas Adès that got such well-deserved applause here last weekend. Or at least they will once they're all in California.

Yesterday (Monday the 15th) they played the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert (78 degrees and sunny), but because of flight delays about third of the orchestra was delayed in Denver so long that they never made it to the concert. So instead of the originally-scheduled Britten Violin Concerto, the orchestra presented Mozart's Symphony No. 40 and Augustin Hadelich performed the Mendelssohn concerto as part of a new program of works better suited to the reduced forces.

Tuesday the 16th is another big travel day, with a three-hour bus trip to Santa Barbara (64 and sunny) where the full orchestra plays the original program at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara. Wednesday it's on to the Mondavi Center at UC-Davis (61, partly sunny), and finally the Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University on Friday where, for a change, it will be 55 with a chance of rain.

At least that will give them a chance to decompress a bit before returning home, where we're expected to have highs in the 50s by the weekend.

They'll be coming back just in time for the SLSO to celebrate 50 years at Powell Hall with a day-long open house, culminating in a showing of the classic musical The Sound of Music. The film was the last one to be shown in the old St. Louis Theatre in 1966 before it was closed down for the renovations that would transform it into elegant Powell Hall.

The Monday Center
As Sarah Bryan Miller of the Post-Dispatch reminds us in her brief history of Powell Hall, the transformation was one devoutly wished, since at the time the SLSO was effectively without a home and was playing in the rather unsuitable Khorassan Room of the Chase Hotel after their long-time home the Kiel Opera House (now the Peabody Opera House) was no longer available. The opening of the 2600-seat Powell, with its European-style gilt and red velvet, was welcomed by audiences, musicians, and critics alike.

Alas, the theatre's pipe organ was sacrificed as part of the renovation, so we'll never hear Saint-Saëns's Third Symphony as the composer intended.

It's not just the SLSO that's celebrating the hall's anniversary, by the way. On Tuesday, January 16th, the St. Louis Public Library opens an exhibit at the central library downtown of historical posters, conductor's sheet music, photographs and other memorabilia from Powel Hall's half century. It'll be on view daily through March 17th.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra resumes its regular season on Friday and Saturday, January 26 and 27, as violinist Julian Rachlin joins Mr. Robertson for a program of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, John Adams's Harmonielehre, and the American premiere of Elegie: Remembrance for Orchestra, written in 2014 by German composer/conductor Peter Ruzicka.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 15, 2018

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Hard Road Theatre Productions presents the jukebox musical Breaking Up is Hard to Do Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, January 19 - 27. "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do is an original jukebox musical featuring 18 Neil Sedaka songs, including "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", "Where the Boys Are", "Sweet Sixteen", "Calendar Girl", "Stupid Cupid", and "Love Will Keep Us Together." Set during Labor Day weekend in 1960, the show follows two friends, Lois and Marge, who travel to a resort, Esther's Paradise, in the Catskill mountains to help Marge overcome a recent breakup. While there, romance flourishes in the most unusual places and a visitor from Dick Clark's American Bandstand might just save Esther's Paradise from financial ruin." Performances will be held at the Highland School Kennal, 12760 Troxler Ave, in Highland IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Comic Book Killer through April 14. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Faceless
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Faceless January 17 - February 4. "Two young women face off in a courtroom, locked in a battle of wills and theologies. Susie Glenn, 18, is on trial. Radicalized online into planning acts of terrorism, she's zealously committed to her cause. Her prosecutor, Claire Fathi, is a Harvard-educated Muslim woman who lives the faith that Susie professes to understand. Their edgy exchanges create a propulsive, escalating tension that makes this brilliantly topical play a true legal thriller." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy/drama Good People January 19 - 28. "Welcome to Southie, a Boston neighborhood where a night on the town means a few rounds of bingo, where this month's paycheck covers last month's bills, and where Margie Walsh has just been let go from yet another job. Facing eviction and scrambling to catch a break, she thinks an old fling who's made it out of Southie might be her ticket to a fresh start. But is this apparently self-made man secure enough to face his humble beginnings? Margie is about to risk what little she has left to find out. With his signature humorous glow, Lindsay-Abaire explores the struggles and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing." Performances take 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.

Cocktails and Curtain Calls presents In the Shadow of the Glen by John Millington Synge running through January 21st. "In The Shadow of the Glen, Dan Burke is convinced that his wife, Nora is playing away so he fakes his own death, waits for proof and scuppers her plans. However Nora leaves with her head held high on the arm of a not so perfect stranger." Performances take place in the Patriot Room at McGurks Irish Pub, 1200 Russell in Soulard. For more information: eventbrite.com or call (314) 249-7488

Circus Harmony presents Legato Saturdays at 2 and 7 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through January 21. The show is "a look at circus thru the decades from 1920-2010." Performances take place at City Museum, 701 N. 15th Street. Show admission is free with museum admission. For more information: circusharmony.org.

The Marvelous Wonderettes
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Marvelous Wonderettes through January 28. "The pop doesn't stop in this smash hit musical! A high school prom in 1958 and a 10-year reunion in 1968 provide the backdrop for some of the biggest hits of both decades, performed by an irrepressible quartet of young women. Featuring a stacked playlist that includes "Mr. Sandman," "It's in His Kiss," "Respect," "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Lollipop," it's a joyous snapshot of a musical era." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Mayhem in Mayberry through April. "Welcome to the 10th annual Mayberry-fest. Everyone is looking forward to the highlight of this event - the Miss Mayberry contest. YOU and Sheriff Andy Trailer will judge the contestants (chosen from the audience) on beauty, poise, cookin' skills and a new category this year - Hog callin'. Will the next Miss Mayberry be the vivacious Dazey Doof from Hazzard County? Or the beautiful hillbilly, Elly May Klumpett? Or will it be the lovely Lois Lame from Smallville? Don't county out the charming Paris Hoosier from Hoosierville. She's the main reason the train stops at Petticoat Junction! Sheriff Andy, Deputy Blarney and Aint Bee invite you to join the fun and the mayhem in Mayberry cause it won't be the same without y'all." The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Menopause the Musical
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Menopause the Musical, "a celebration of women and The Change," through March 31. Four women meet while shopping for a black lace bra at a lingerie sale. After noticing unmistakable similarities among one another, the cast jokes about their woeful hot flashes, mood swings, wrinkles, weight gain and much more. The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

The Fox Theatre presents the musical School of Rock, running through January 28. "Based on the hit film, this hilarious new musical follows Dewey Finn, a wannabe rock star posing as a substitute teacher who turns a class of straight-A students into a guitar-shredding, bass-slapping, mind-blowing rock band. This high-octane smash features 14 new songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber, all the original songs from the movie and musical theater's first-ever kids rock band playing their instruments live on stage." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

First Run Theatre presents Skeletons in the Closet, an evening of one-act plays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through January 21. The plays are Swept Away by David Hawley and Bird's Nest by Daniel Weshelesky. Performances take place in the Thomas Hunter Theatre at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

The Presenters Dolan present Storm Large and her band on Wednesday, January 17, at 8 pm. "When she is not with her band (including two members of Everclear), Storm fronts Pink Martini and symphony orchestras. This is a different Storm - a sexed-up, powerhouse club rocker; a soulful, spiritual, secular hymnodist; an enchanting storyteller made all the more so by her band's impossibly evocative underscoring. And that astonishing voice." The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com

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

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of January 15, 2018

Members of the Town and Country Symphony Orchestra
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Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Kaitlynn Eaton, Interim Director of Music at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport, LA, on Friday, January 19, 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.

The Town and Country Symphony Orchestra presents a special benefit concert for Ritenour High School Scholarship Fund on Sunday, January 21, at 2:30 pm. The performances Beethoven's Wellington's Victory and takes place at Ritenour High School, 9100 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information: tcsomo.org.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Review: Young at heart

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

Augustin Hadelich
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[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview post.]

The audience might have been grayer than usual at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's 10:30 am Coffee Concert Friday (January 12, 2018), but the music was all the work of composers in the prime of their youth.

The concert opened with a suite from the chamber opera (four singers and a small pit band in its original form) Powder Her Face, which premiered in 1995 when composer Thomas Adès was only 24. Based on the life of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (1912-1993), whose elegant and fashionable life took a bizarre turn after a near-fatal fall down an elevator shaft in 1943 turned her into something of a sex addict, the opera has generally gotten good reviews despite (or maybe because of) the R-rated nature of its story.

You can hear a fair amount of the eccentricity in the suite--a 2017 co-commission by the SLSO along with four other notable orchestras and Carnegie Hall--which uses a full-size orchestra and a huge percussion battery. The tango-style Overture sounds like a dance band in hell complete with discordant, wailing saxophones (played with bluesy precision Friday morning), but the music soon gives way to an almost saccharine Scene with Song featuring impeccable solos by Concertmaster David Halen and Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews that wouldn't have sounded out of place in the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. There's also an intoxicated Waltz with icy string pizzicatos and a Hotel Manager's Aria with the horns, at the bottom of their register, acting as the voices of death.

There's humor, ingenuity, and aural variety in this music--more than I recall hearing in my only other exposure to Mr. Adès's work, his In Seven Days (Concerto for Piano With Moving Image), which the SLSO performed in 2012. It was, in fact, great fun to hear--something I find myself saying all too rarely about a lot of newer music--and performed with genuine élan (in the French sense of mouvement d'amour) by conductor David Robertson and his forces.

Up next was the Violin Concerto by Benjamin Britten, written in 1938 and 1939 when the composer was in his mid-twenties. Composed in response to the horror of the Spanish Civil War, the concerto was described by Britten as "without question my best piece," but he went on to say that it was "rather serious I'm afraid."

That it is. As an indictment of modern warfare with its ensuing trauma, I'd put it right up there with Nielsen's fifth symphony and Vaughan Williams's fourth. The concerto opens with a five-note figure on the tympani that's soon joined by an anguished, ascending theme on the violin. The two ideas dominate the rest of the movement, sometimes in opposition to each other, sometimes joined so closely that it's hard to tell them apart. The second movement is a wildly virtuosic scherzo that feels like one of Hieronymus Bosch's creepier paintings set to music. It's almost monothematic, based largely on a triplet figure that's first stated by the violin and then gurgles away in the bassoons before moving on to the rest of the orchestra. A cadenza leads to the final movement. Marked "Andante lento," it's a passacaglia (a series of variations on a repeating theme in the bass line) that moves contrapuntally around the orchestra and drips with anguish until the work concludes on a hushed and uncertain note, vacillating between major and minor but never really settling on either.

The soloist has his work cut out for him here. In a 2010 interview for violinist.com, violinist Janine Jansen describes the concerto as "quite demanding," and she's not exaggerating. The Vivace second movement is especially hair raising, with lots of "double stops and even double-stop harmonics" (to quote Ms. Jensen again), but the cadenza that leads into the Passacaglia is no less fearsome.

Nor are all the challenges technical. The emotional profundity of both the opening Moderato con moto and the closing Passacaglia demands a musician who has heart as well as nimble fingers. I'm happy to say that the young Italian-born violinist Augustin Hadelich is just such a performer.

His commitment to the music was obvious from the first notes, as both his facial expressions and body language displayed a deep, intense connection to both Mr. Britten and Mr. Robertson. Yes, his skill in negotiating the flashy stuff on his 1723 Stradivarius was unassailable, but what really made this performance work was his ability to put across the intense feeling behind those notes.

Mr. Robertson did a superb job shaping the music, bringing out all the drama and passion. He began slowly, on the low end of moderato, which made the build to the fervent central section of the first movement that much more powerful. He and Mr. Hadelich produced a second movement that hummed with energy, leading into a monumental final movement.

Music blogger Ben Hogwood once wrote that hearing this was like being in a "massive church." After Friday's performance, I see what he meant. I especially liked the fact that Mr. Robertson allowed the silence after the uncertain ending to linger before finally lowering his baton and accepting the applause. It was an incredibly dramatic moment.

The concert concluded with the Symphony No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written when the composer was still a student at the Leningrad Conservatory and first performed when he was 19 years old. It's a remarkable study in contrasts, with chamber music-style solo passages cheek by jowl with the full-tilt swagger of the composer's more popular works. Perky melodies reminiscent of the stuff Shostakovich probably heard during his work as a cinema pianist pop up in the first and second movements, standing in stark juxtaposition to the brooding and sporadically anguished gloom of the third. And the final Allegro molto wraps everything up in a classic flourish of brass and percussion, reflecting the young composer's brash confidence while still retaining the sense of sarcasm that is always just below the surface.

It's rather like a noisy and diverse party in which the guests have nothing much in common other than their relationships to the host.

There are a lot of great solo moments in this piece, such as Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks's plangent solo in the third movement, Mr. Halen's Korngold-esque moment in the finale, and Shannon Woods's tympani break in that same movement. There was excellent playing as well by Principal Flute Mark Sparks, Associate Principal Trumpet Thomas Drake, Principal Cello Daniel Lee, Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo, and Associate Principal Clarinet Diana Haskell. I'm told the reed players were a bit concerned about the effects of this weather on those little bits of cane that are the heart and soul of their instruments, but they sounded just fine to me.

The Shostakovich First is, to say the least, episodic, often coming to a complete halt while the composer shifts gears. Mr. Robertson's interpretation gave it a real sense of momentum nevertheless, building up considerable excitement in the more bombastic sections and bringing out all the details in the more transparently scored moments. Great work, and well deserving of the standing ovation it got.

The SLSO will be taking this program on the road January 16-19, with performances at multiple venues in California at Palm Desert, Santa Barbara, UC-Davis, and Stanford. The season locally resumes the weekend of January 26-28.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of January 12, 2018

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:

Fences
Photo: USI Media
The Black Rep presents the August Wilson's Fences through January 14. "This sensational drama starred James Earl Jones on Broadway in 1987 as Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro Baseball League who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded as a black man from the major leagues during his prime, Troy's bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and his son, who now wants his own chance to play ball. " Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: This production certainly appears to have hit a home run with local critics. Tina Farmer at KDHX calls it "finely wrought" and "hard-hitting" white Steve Allen at Stage Door STL says "it's a play you won't want to miss." "If anyone needs to consider whether August Wilson may have been America's greatest playwright of the Twentieth Century," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack "please go to the Black Rep's production of Fences at Washington University's Edison Theatre." 'Nuff said.


The Marvelous Wonderettes
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Marvelous Wonderettes through January 28. "The pop doesn't stop in this smash hit musical! A high school prom in 1958 and a 10-year reunion in 1968 provide the backdrop for some of the biggest hits of both decades, performed by an irrepressible quartet of young women. Featuring a stacked playlist that includes "Mr. Sandman," "It's in His Kiss," "Respect," "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Lollipop," it's a joyous snapshot of a musical era." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: This looks like great fun and judging from the reviews that's just what it is. Tina Farmer at KDHX says it's "an entertaining escape with a soundtrack you can dance to." "Great, almost giddy fun during this cold winter of our discontent," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack. "If you're in the mood for a little 'Respect,'" writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "check out The Marvelous Wonderettes and step back in time when you were younger and high school was the place to be." It may be light as chiffon, but maybe that's not such a bad thing right now.


Held Over:

The Cabaret Project and The Improv Shop present The Blue Velvet Lounge Saturday, January 13, at 8 pm. There are also performances on January 27 and February 10 and 24. "The Cabaret Project teams up with The Improv Shop to co-present their dynamic, fully improvised theater piece featuring live jazz standards - direct from the mythical Blue Velvet Lounge. Each performance features eight smart, funny improvisers who create the stories and sagas of the patrons of the Blue Velvet Lounge - on the spot. Surrounded by live jazz vocal standards, this character driven story is a different show each night it's performed. The Blue Velvet Lounge is a perfect evening out for lovers of cabaret and comedy. Food and drink available at the Improv Shop." The performance takes place at The Improv Shop, 3960 Chouteau in The Grove. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

My take: Cabaret shows are carefully planned, but so is a good improv show. Improvisation works best when there's some sort of structure to build on. So combining the two makes more sense than you might think, especially when the singer at the center of it all is local cabaret pro Tim Schall.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Symphony Preview: News of the world

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

Dmitri Shostakovich in 1935
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In the introduction to his chapter on Shostakovich in the 1967 Penguin Books edition of The Symphony, British musicologist Robert Layton described the Russian symphonist somewhat dismissively as a "documentary composer, far more bound up with this time than...Prokofiev, or any other of his Soviet contemporaries."

These days that would probably be a minority view. Yes, Shostakovich was heavily influenced by the economic and political turmoil that characterized 20th century Russian history. How could it be otherwise? But even in the early Symphony No. 1, which David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will perform this weekend (January 12 and 13), you can hear how he transmuted those external experiences into a sound that was uniquely his own.

Written as a Leningrad Conservatory graduation piece and first performed in 1926 (when the composer was only 19), Shostakovich's First Symphony is a remarkable study in contrasts, with chamber music-style solo passages cheek by jowl with the full-tilt bombast of the composer's more popular works. Perky melodies reminiscent of the stuff Shostakovich probably heard during his work as a cinema pianist pop up in the first and second movements, standing in stark juxtaposition to the brooding and sporadically anguished gloom of the third. There's a piano part that calls to mind Stravinsky's Petrushka. And the final Allegro molto wraps everything up in a classic flourish of brass and percussion, reflecting the young composer's brash confidence while still retaining the sense of sarcasm that is always just below the surface.

It is, in short, a collage of external influences unified by Shostakovich's unique sensibility. It's not a documentary, it's art, even if it's a bit rough around the edges.

Also on the program is a piece that Mr. Layton might also have considered a "documentary" work in that it was inspired by the geopolitical news of the day. It's the Violin Concerto Op. 15, written by Benjamin Britten in 1938 and 1939 and later revised in 1950. Composed for Spanish violinist Toni Brosa, the concerto reflects the composer's sorrow over the Spanish civil war, which tore the nation apart from 1936 to 1939, ending with the triumph of Franco's brutal fascist regime.

Britten was very fond of the work. "It is without question my best piece," he observed. "It is rather serious I'm afraid." That was putting it mildly. Running around 40 minutes, the concerto is a dramatic and sometimes disturbing piece that combines fierce technical challenges with strong emotional content.

The concerto opens with a short (five note) figure on the tympani (a possible reference to the opening of Beethoven's Violin Concerto) that's soon joined by an anguished, ascending theme on the violin. The two ideas dominate the rest of the movement, sometimes in opposition to each other, sometimes joined so closely that it's hard to tell them apart. The second movement is a wildly virtuosic scherzo that feels like one of Hieronymus Bosch's creepier paintings set to music. It's almost monothematic, based largely on a triplet figure that's first stated by the violin and then gurgles away in the bassoons before moving on to the rest of the orchestra.

Benjamin Britten (R) and tenor Peter Pears with canine friend
A cadenza leads to the final movement. Marked "Andante lento," it's a passacaglia (a series of variations on a repeating theme in the bass line) that drips with anguish. "I began to feel as if I was in a massive church," writes Ben Hogwood in his Good Morning Britten blog, "the horns intoning a chant that gets taken up by the strings, as if the orchestra is slowly standing in response to the soloist's pleas for peace. Here the music sounds more like Shostakovich than any Britten so far, but at no point is it derivative. The closing notes are, in a sense, infuriating, because Britten deliberately plays between the major and minor key. The home 'note' of D isn't in question, but he creates continued uncertainty by refusing to resolve, and that stays with the listener afterwards".

Much, I imagine, like the uncertainty about the future one might feel when one's country has fallen under the heel of fascism.

"It's quite demanding, definitely," notes violinist Janine Jansen in a 2010 interview for violinist.com about her recording of the concerto with Paavo Järvi and the London Symphony. "There are some places, like the Scherzo, in the second movement, where it's very fast and there are a lot of double stops, and even double-stop harmonics. So it's quite tricky...But it is written so well, it's really an amazing piece to play, even with its difficulties. One doesn't think about it during the performance because one is so taken by the music and especially, for me, the end of the piece. The whole coda --this is the most impressive moment. It starts like a prayer, but it ends in a kind of scream, it's incredible. Every time one plays it, one can't move afterwards, physically and emotionally."

The soloist this weekend is Augustin Hadelich. I last heard him here in 2013 in a performance of Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 that combined virtuoso flash with real emotional sensitivity. He'll certainly need both of those skill sets for the Britten concerto.

The concert opens with a newly assembled suite from the 1995 chamber opera Powder Her Face by contemporary British composer Thomas Adès. The opera is based on the life of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll (1912-1993), whose elegant and fashionable life took a bizarre turn after a near-fatal fall down an elevator shaft in 1943. She emerged from the ordeal with no sense of smell or taste and a voracious sexual appetite--a great deal of which was on display in the notorious 1963 divorce trial that ended her marriage to Ian Douglas Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll. A lavish lifestyle and bad investments eventually led to a penniless death but (to quote a Tom Lehrer lyric about a very different historical figure) "the body that reached her embalmer / was one that had known how to live."

The suite, a 2017 co-commission by the SLSO along with four other notable orchestras and Carnegie Hall, consists of three dance episodes from the opera (published 2007 as Dances from Powder Her Face and performed by the SLSO in October 2013) along with five additional movements. The original scoring for a 15-piece pit orchestra has been expanded to symphonic proportions, with a large percussion battery that includes a pop gun, a washboard, two whips (!) and a paper bag.

"I'm not making this up, you know," as Anna Russell once said.

The Essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Augustin Hadelich Friday at 10:30 am and Saturday at 8 pm, January 12 and 13. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center.