Thursday, August 27, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 28, 2015

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

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New This Week:

One Flea Spare
Photo: Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents One Flea Spare through August 29. "A wealthy couple is preparing to flee their home in plague-ravaged 17th Century London when a mysterious sailor and a young girl sneak into their boarded up house. Now, quarantined together for 28 days, the only thing these strangers fear more than the Plague is each other. Definitions of morality are up for grabs and survival takes many forms in this dark, fiercely intense and humorous play." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: Slightly Askew has once again brought local audiences a local premiere that has critics buzzing. "Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble," write Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "currently offers a brilliant interpretation for the St. Louis premiere of this powerful and poignant story about the dangers that wreak ruin not only on the human body but its fragile psyche as well." "In their latest production," says the Snoop's Theatre Thoughts blog, "the SATE team uses their usual performance space at The Chapel to its fullest potential, presenting an intense, disturbing and remarkable production that’s sure to keep audiences thinking." And, of course, The Chapel provides its venue free of charge to the artists, so every dime you spend goes right to SATE.

Gordon's Entertainment presents St. Louis Legends on Sunday, August 30, at 3 p.m. The show is a cabaret performance the pays tribute to some of the celebrated performers "who have graced the stages of St. Louis with songs, dance, musical compositions, poetry, [and] comedy". Narrated by Linda Kennedy, the show stars Joe Mancuso, Uvee Hayes, Davey Dave, Wendy L. Gordon, Jeanne Trevor, Tish Haynes Keys, J. Samuel Davis, and KDHX's own Deborah Sharn. The performance takes place at the James Egan Theatre in the Florissant Civic Center in Florissant, MO. For more information: florissantmo.thundertix.com or call 314-921-5678

My take: I know enough of these performers, personally and/or professionally, to predict that this will be a killer evening of local jazz and cabaret all-stars. 'Nuff said.

Wild Oats
Photo: Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare presents Wild Oats by James McLure Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., through August 30. Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan in the Carondelet neighborhood. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

My take: This seems to be St. Louis Shakespeare's season for parody. First we had the wittily revisionist Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, and now comes a revisionist take by James McClure on a 1791 comedy by the Irish dramatist John O'Keeffe. Moved to the Wild West, the show is aims for broad comedy and appears to be succeeding. At the Belleville News Democrat, Lynn Venhaus writes that "St. Louis Shakespeare has produced a daffy delight, a refreshing tonic at summer’s end." "Wild Oats rolls from bit to bit and from scene to scene on sheer laughter, plus a little song," writes Judy Newmark at Stltoday.com. "Don’t hesitate to join in."

Held Over:

Alexandra Walker LoBianco as Brünnhilde
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 21 - 29. "A suspenseful tale of courage and sacrifice, Wagner's tale of gods, mortals and giants draws to a close in Götterdämmerung - Twilight of the Gods. The heroic Siegfried gifts Brünnhilde with the ring as a token of their love, but they are soon caught up in events beyond their control. Brünnhilde steps forward to return the universe to its natural order in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. Watch as the Rhine overflows, Valhalla burns, and the kingdom of the gods is destroyed." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: Union Avenue's ambitious presentation of Wagner's complete Ring cycle concludes with this final opera in the series. The company is using reduced versions of the opera prepared by British composer Jonathan Dove and director Graham Vick, but even so this has been a very big and very risky project for them, and it deserves our support. Chicago's Lyric Opera starts another Ring cycle next year, but it's unlikely that you will see another one in St. Louis, reduced or not, for a long time. Happily, as I note in my review for KDHX, it's a strong production, thanks to tremendous performances by the singers and clear, focused stage direction by Karen Coe Miller. Yes, I miss the big moments only a full-size orchestra can provide, but to a certain extent the lack of theatrical flash sharpens the focus on the plot, the characters, and their implicit commentary on matters of morality and power. Which is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Strong performances lend power to an abridged "Götterdämmerung" at Union Avenue Opera

L-R, foreground: Neil Nelson and Clay Hilley
Photo: JohnLamb
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This weekend, Union Avenue Opera concludes its 22nd season with "Götterdämmerung" ("Twilight of the Gods"), the final installment of the most ambitious project in the company's history—Wagner's mammoth operatic cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). It's a strong production, thanks to tremendous performances by the singers and clear, focused stage direction by Karen Coe Miller.

Using editions of the operas prepared in 1990 by British composer Jonathan Dove and director Graham Vick for companies that lacked the facilities and budgets necessary to produce Wagner's massive "music dramas" in their original form, Union Avenue Opera has proved that you can retain the narrative drive and much of the dramatic power of these works while still making substantial cuts. "Götterdämmerung" has the most drastic edits of them all, eliminating several characters and cutting the overall running time in half, from over six hours to just under three.

L-R, foreground: David Dillard, Rebecca Wilson
Neil Nelson, Clay Hilley
Photo: John Lamb
That makes the plot-heavy second act, with its memory-erasing magic potions and backstabbing (both metaphorical and literal), so quick that it feels almost telegraphic. And the smaller orchestra can't quite produce the impact required for big moments like Brünnhilde's famous "immolation scene" or Siegfried's Act I Rhine journey and his Act III funeral music. But everything is sung and acted with such conviction that those are ultimately secondary considerations. Solid dramatic values go a long way towards compensating for a lack of spectacle.

Besides, as I noted back when the series began, to a certain extent the lack of theatrical flash sharpens the focus on the plot, the characters, and their implicit commentary on matters of morality and power. Wagner's libretti for the "Ring" operas starkly illustrate the cost of abusing power and personal trust—highly ironic, given the way Wagner the man did both.

Alexandra LoBianco
Photo: John Lamb
Heading the cast is the remarkable Alexandra LoBianco as Brünnhilde, the role she played in "Walküre" and "Sigfried." If there's any justice in this world she will, at some point in her career, get a chance to sing the full-length version of this role on a major stage. She has the vocal power and sheen of a first-rate dramatic soprano and the acting skill to make even the biggest moments credible.

Tenor Clay Hilley returns as Siegfried, once again matching a heroic voice with a convincing character. Bass-baritone Neil Nelson's Hagen is a captivating study in emotional conflict and avarice, delivered with a big, powerful voice that easily handles the low notes of this bass role.

Brünnhilde's sister Valkyrie Waltraute could almost be a throwaway part since she's essentially there just to deliver a lot of exposition about how Wotan is pining away in Valhalla, but alto Melissa Kornacki makes her fascinating nevertheless—beautifully sung with real depth of character.

Clay Hilley and Vassals
Photo: John Lamb
Baritone Timothy Lafontaine schemes and wheedles wonderfully as the dwarf Alberich. David Dillard and Rebecca Wilson round out the supporting cast in fine form as Gunther and his sister Gutrune, both of whom are undone by their dishonorable plotting.

Conductor Scott Schoonover has apparently beefed up Dove's reduced orchestration a bit and, some intonation issues in the brasses not withstanding, the ensemble as a whole played quite well on opening night. I missed the big emotional catharsis of the final moments, but the responsibility for that mostly lies with Mr. Dove and the small size of the orchestra pit.

Patrick Huber's unit set is the same one used for the first three operas. It's dominated by a huge screen on which images and video (designed by Michael Perkins, whose innovative work has graced many a local stage) take the place of the elaborate scenery envisioned by Wagner. They generally work well, especially in the Gibichung palace scenes in the second act, and are very effective in creating the right moods and sense of place. The screen, the catwalk above it, and the stairs to either side take up so much room that most of the action is played out in a fairly shallow area downstage. Still, Ms. Miller manages to create decent stage pictures most of the time, which is impressive.

Melissa Kornacki
Photo: John Lamb
Teresa Doggett and company have done their usual fine work with the costumes. Hagen and the pedestrian Gibichungs are done up as early 20th-century European royalty, complete with brown-shirted Vassals who look eerily like Hitler's infamous paramilitary Sturmabteilung. That immediately sets them apart from country boy Siegfried and emphasizes their division from the supernatural characters who surround them.

Union Avenue Opera has done local opera fans a real service with its four-year traversal of the Ring operas. Yes, Dove's scaled-back versions are no substitute for the real thing, but taken on their own terms they're compelling theatre. And in any case, no local opera company has a theatre equipped for the Full Richard.

If you have any interest in Wagner's "Ring" operas at all, you definitely owe it to yourself to see this "Götterdämmerung." If nothing else, it will give you bragging rights when Ms. Lobianco goes on to her inevitable stardom; you can say you saw her when. Final performances are this Friday and Saturday, August 28 and 29, at 8 PM at Union Avenue Opera, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, visit the company web site. Note that there is a parking lot but it tends to fill up quickly, so you'll want to get there not later than 7:30 if you can.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 24, 2015

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

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Mustard Seed Theatre presents The Amish Project August 28 - September 13. "Reactions to a school shooting in an Amish community lead us to the crossroads of grief and grace." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

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

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

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through October 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Götterdämmerung
Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, August 28 and 29. "A suspenseful tale of courage and sacrifice, Wagner's tale of gods, mortals and giants draws to a close in Götterdämmerung - Twilight of the Gods. The heroic Siegfried gifts Brünnhilde with the ring as a token of their love, but they are soon caught up in events beyond their control. Brünnhilde steps forward to return the universe to its natural order in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. Watch as the Rhine overflows, Valhalla burns, and the kingdom of the gods is destroyed." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Ignite Theatre Company presents Ignite the Night on Saturday, August 29, at 7 p.m. " Make history and light the fuse to help Ignite Theatre Company catch fire and support their mission of Service, performance, arts opportunities, real life experience, and kindness initiatives in St.Louis. Sip cocktails, sample hors d'oeuvres, bid on fabulous silent auction items and enjoy one-of-a-kind performances by cast members of Ignite's premiere production "Disney's The Little Mermaid Jr." The event takes place at Neo on Locust, 2801 Locust in midtown. For more information: ignitewithus.org.

One Flea Spare
Photo: Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents One Flea Spare through August 29. "A wealthy couple is preparing to flee their home in plague-ravaged 17th Century London when a mysterious sailor and a young girl sneak into their boarded up house. Now, quarantined together for 28 days, the only thing these strangers fear more than the Plague is each other. Definitions of morality are up for grabs and survival takes many forms in this dark, fiercely intense and humorous play." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Gordon's Entertainment presents St. Louis Legends on Sunday, August 30, at 3 p.m. The show is a cabaret performance the pays tribute to some of the celebrated performers "who have graced the stages of St. Louis with songs, dance, musical compositions, poetry, [and] comedy". Narrated by Linda Kennedy, the show stars Joe Mancuso, Uvee Hayes, Davey Dave, Wendy L. Gordon, Jeanne Trevor, Tish Haynes Keys, J. Samuel Davis, and KDHX's own Deborah Sharn. The performance takes place at the James Egan Theatre in the Florissant Civic Center in Florissant, MO. For more information: florissantmo.thundertix.com or call 314-921-5678

Next Generation Theatre Company presents the musical Singin' in the Rain August 28 - September 5. "Hilarious situations, snappy dialogues and a hit-parade score of Hollywood standards make Singin' in the Rain the perfect entertainment for any fan of the golden age of movie musicals, so grab your tickets to come tap your toes and sing along in this splashy adaptation of the celebrated and beloved film." Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theater at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information: florissantmo.thundertix.com.

Spinning Into Butter
Insight Theatre Company presents Spinning Into Butter by Rebecca Gilman August 27 - September 13 "Set on a Vermont College campus, Spinning Into Butter explores racism in America today. The playwright presents ideas about race relations as we see a liberal dean of students, Sarah Daniels, investigate racist comments written to one of the college's few African American students. As a result, Sarah, along with other faculty members and students, explore their own personal ideas about racism leading to surprising discoveries and insights. Who is racist? This performance promises to spark lots of relevant discussion." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Wild Oats by James McLure Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., through August 30. Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan in the Carondelet neighborhood. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of August 24, 2015

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The Confluence Chamber Orchestra presents a Family Concert on Sunday, August 30, at 3 p.m. "Scott Joplin's The Entertainer, Emperor Waltz and Pizzicato Polka by Johann Strauss, Jr., the Vivace from Bach's Double Violin Concerto, plus Swedish wedding marches, Klezmer favorites and more. Conveniently located in downtown Clayton, plenty of free parking on street and in lot behind the church." The concert takes place at St. Joseph Church, 106 N. Meramec in Clayton. For more information: confluencechamberorchestra.org.

The 442s
Nine Network and the St. Louis Symphony present The 442s in concert on Thursday, August 27, at 7:30 p.m. "The 442s take the stage in the Public Media Commons to share their distinctive and innovative blend of jazz, classical, folk and rock music. The 442s features Symphony members Shawn Weil and Bjorn Ranheim, joined by Adam Maness and Sydney Rodway of the Erin Bode Group. The band's self-titled debut album was released last summer and has received critical acclaim here in St. Louis and across the country." The concert takes place at the Public Media Commons on Olive Street in Grand Center. For more information: ninenet.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents pianist Mark Laverty on Friday, August 28, at 8 p.m. "Pianist Mark Laverty will perform the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, English Suite in G Minor and other works by Bach, as well as Concert Etudes, Liebestraum and Mephisto Waltz by Liszt." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 21, 2015

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

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New This Week:

Alexandra Walker LoBianco as Brünnhilde
Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 21 - 29. "A suspenseful tale of courage and sacrifice, Wagner's tale of gods, mortals and giants draws to a close in Götterdämmerung - Twilight of the Gods. The heroic Siegfried gifts Brünnhilde with the ring as a token of their love, but they are soon caught up in events beyond their control. Brünnhilde steps forward to return the universe to its natural order in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. Watch as the Rhine overflows, Valhalla burns, and the kingdom of the gods is destroyed." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: Union Avenue's ambitious presentation of Wagner's complete Ring cycle concludes with this final opera in the series. The company is using reduced versions of the opera prepared by British composer Jonathan Dove and director Graham Vick, but even so this has been a very big and very risky project for them, and it deserves our support. Chicago's Lyric Opera starts another Ring cycle next year, but it's unlikely that you will see another one in St. Louis, reduced or not, for a long time.

The Mighty Wurlitzer
The Fox Theatre presents Those Were the Days with Colonel Jack Moelmann and Friends on Sunday, August 23, at 2 p.m. The show "will take audiences back to a time in the early 1900s when organ concerts were popular entertainment at the Fox Theatre and other great movie palaces across the country. In addition to Jack, two other internationally famous organists are also on the bill - Walt Strony of California and Lew Williams of Arizona - to share the spotlight at the organ as they did in 2008 at the Music Hall. The three organists will display their talent at the organ console in a musical program that will include a variety of pop music, an audience sing-along and a short Laurel and Hardy silent movie comedy that will showcase what the theatre organ was designed to do – accompany silent films. The finale will consist of a tribute to America with a medley of patriotic songs." The Fox Theatre is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: The Fox Mighty Wurlitzer is second in size only to the one at Radio Music Hall. It is original to the theatre and was first played on opening night in 1929. Opportunities to hear the legendary theatre organ in action are sadly rare these days; the last time it accompanied a silent film was in 2007 when the legendary Stan Kann accompanied a showing of The Phantom of the Opera. If you're a fan of these remarkable instruments with their many voices and special effects, you won't want to miss this event, the proceeds of which go o to the Stan Kann Memorial Scholarship which encourages young aspiring organists.

Held Over:

Spellbound!
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical Spellbound! A Musical Fable Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 22. "Spellbound is the story of a young woman's journey for inner strength and self-worth in a mythical land where at every turn she is thwarted by an evil enchantress, shape-shifting beasts, and a plethora of magic potions. Full of humor and adventure this world premiere musical is not to be missed! " Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Written by Stray Dog founder Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White, Spellbound! is a big step forward for this gutsy company. In her review for KDHX, Tina Farmer writes that the show "doesn't tell a new story, and it never pretends to be more than the lovely, fantasy-laden fable that it presents. But it is richly layered, with several memorable tunes that successfully mix musical genres into a fresh, uplifting story. The effect is immersive and cathartic, encouraging audiences to let go of their cares and embrace a delightfully new interpretation of a much-loved tale." I'm a great admirer of Stray Dog's work, both as an actor and audience member, so I have no hesitation in recommending this first foray into presenting original material.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 17, 2015

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's events web site.

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

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

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through October 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Union Avenue Opera presents Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 21 - 29. "A suspenseful tale of courage and sacrifice, Wagner's tale of gods, mortals and giants draws to a close in Götterdämmerung - Twilight of the Gods. The heroic Siegfried gifts Brünnhilde with the ring as a token of their love, but they are soon caught up in events beyond their control. Brünnhilde steps forward to return the universe to its natural order in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. Watch as the Rhine overflows, Valhalla burns, and the kingdom of the gods is destroyed." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in German with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents One Flea Spare August 19 - 29. "A wealthy couple is preparing to flee their home in plague-ravaged 17th Century London when a mysterious sailor and a young girl sneak into their boarded up house. Now, quarantined together for 28 days, the only thing these strangers fear more than the Plague is each other. Definitions of morality are up for grabs and survival takes many forms in this dark, fiercely intense and humorous play." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Spellbound!
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical Spellbound! A Musical Fable Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 22. "Spellbound is the story of a young woman's journey for inner strength and self-worth in a mythical land where at every turn she is thwarted by an evil enchantress, shape-shifting beasts, and a plethora of magic potions. Full of humor and adventure this world premiere musical is not to be missed! " Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Mighty Wurlitzer
The Fox Theatre presents Those Were the Days with Colonel Jack Moelmann and Friends on Sunday, August 23, at 2 p.m. The show "will take audiences back to a time in the early 1900s when organ concerts were popular entertainment at the Fox Theatre and other great movie palaces across the country. In addition to Jack, two other internationally famous organists are also on the bill - Walt Strony of California and Lew Williams of Arizona - to share the spotlight at the organ as they did in 2008 at the Music Hall. The three organists will display their talent at the organ console in a musical program that will include a variety of pop music, an audience sing-along and a short Laurel and Hardy silent movie comedy that will showcase what the theatre organ was designed to do – accompany silent films. The finale will consist of a tribute to America with a medley of patriotic songs." The Fox Theatre is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Twisted Improv on Friday, August 21, at 8 p.m. at The Steamboat Room, 314 S. Clay in Kirkwood, MO. "Join Adam and his crew for an interactive night of fun and laughter.Beer, wine and food available from Kirkwood Station Brewery." For more information: ktg-onstage.org.

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Wild Oats by James McLure Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., August 21 - 30. Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan in the Carondelet neighborhood. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of August 17, 2015

Gusrav Mahler
The Gesher Music Festival presents Degenerate Music, a concert of music the Nazis deemed "degenerate," on Thursday, August 20, at 7:30 PM. The concert takes place at the Missouri History Museum as part of their exhibit on Nazi Propaganda, "State of Deception: music of Mahler, Webern, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg and Weill". The Missouri History Museum is at Lindell and Debaliviere in Forest Park. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
The Gesher Music Festival presents From Degenerate To Hollywood - featuring the work of composers who fled Europe and became successful in Hollywood, on Saturday, August 22, at 7:30 PM. The concert features music of Eisler, Goldschmidt, Korngold and Schoenberg and takes place at the Washington University Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

The Gesher Music Festival presents Voices From Imprisonment, music composed or played in Concentration camps, on Sunday, August 23, at 8 PM. The concert features music of Levitas, Schulhoff and Faure and takes place at the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents soprano Angela Moore and pianist Jon Garrett on Saturday, August 22, at 8 p.m. "Soprano Angela Moore performs December Songs (a song cycle by Maury Yeston based on Die Winterreise by Schubert) and some favorites from the musical theatre repertoire." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 14, 2015

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

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New This Week:

Oklahoma!
The Muny presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical Oklahoma! nightly at 8:15 PM, August 10-16, in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "Rodgers and Hammerstein's masterpiece Oklahoma!, the musical that changed Broadway and America, returns to The Muny stage in a grand and glorious production. In its first Muny production since 2007, this beautiful and dramatic show features an unforgettable story and a score filled with landmark songs such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're in Love," and of course, "Oklahoma!"" For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

My take: It's easy to forget, all these years later, how innovative this first collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein was when it opened in 1943. With direction by Rouben Mamoulian and choreography by Agnes de Mille (the first of her 15 Broadway shows), this was serious musical theatre. The tight integration of book, music, and dance was unusual at the time, as was the seriousness of the subject matter. "A show this deeply ingrained in our collective memory can be tough to produce," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "but the MUNY's production delivers the familiar with affection in a bright, quick-paced show that mostly hits all the right notes." "This lovingly rendered production breathes new life into a show that's an absolute natural for the outdoor setting that The MUNY's stage provides," says Chris Gibson at Broadwayworld.com. "See it, and be enriched by a vibrant presentation that's a perfect way to introduce your family to the considerable charms of this musical, as well as the venue staging it!"

Mariposa Artists presents Dionna Raedeke in Shine Like Gold on Friday, August 14, at 8 p.m. Described as "a musical journey from dark to light," the show features guest performers Mike Krysl on guitar, Ben Wheeler on bass, Jonnie Brown on percussion, and vocalist Emilie Nevins-Carter. Admission include two complimentary drinks and parking is free. The performance takes place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton. For more information: brownpapertickets.com.

My take: When most folks think of cabaret, I expect the image that comes to mind is that of a single performer backed up by a piano, possibly augmented with bass or percussion. That's certainly the most common arrangement but, as singer (and visual artist) Dionna Raedeke and guitarist Mike Krysl will be demonstrating this Friday, it's by no means the only one. A relatively new addition to the St. Louis cabaret scene, Ms. Raedeke has garnered raves for her singing and musical taste. "Dionna is one of my new favorite singers," says actor, singer and teacher Jason Graae. "Her voice has such a haunting beauty and it comes directly from her soul." New York-based singer, songwriter and music director Rick Jensen—who accompanied Ms. Raedeke for her 2011 show Sight - Sound—agrees, describing her as a "vocally compelling and consistently original in her performance." An inventive musician who lists influences as diverse as Robin Trower, Django Reinhardt and Leonard Bernstein, Mike Krysl has often impressed me with both the ingenuity and virtuosity of his inventive and original takes on rock and pop standards. Note also the The Chapel provides its space for free, so all procedes go straight to the artists.

Spellbound!
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical Spellbound! A Musical Fable Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 22. "Spellbound is the story of a young woman's journey for inner strength and self-worth in a mythical land where at every turn she is thwarted by an evil enchantress, shape-shifting beasts, and a plethora of magic potions. Full of humor and adventure this world premiere musical is not to be missed! " Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Written by Stray Dog founder Gary F. Bell and Robert L. White, Spellbound! is a big step forward for this gutsy company. In her review for KDHX, Tina Farmer writes that the show "doesn't tell a new story, and it never pretends to be more than the lovely, fantasy-laden fable that it presents. But it is richly layered, with several memorable tunes that successfully mix musical genres into a fresh, uplifting story. The effect is immersive and cathartic, encouraging audiences to let go of their cares and embrace a delightfully new interpretation of a much-loved tale." I'm a great admirer of Stray Dog's work, both as an actor and audience member, so I have no hesitation in recommending this first foray into presenting original material.

Held Over:

The cast of Anything Goes
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents Cole Porter's Anything Goes through August 16. "Set sail on the S. S. American with a zany group of travelers, bound from New York to merry old England, where gangsters, socialites, and arrow-collar lads collide in a true tap-sensation from a by-gone era when travel was still fun and as unpredictable as the weather. There'll be laughs a-plenty set to a raucous and romantic Cole Porter score. Enjoy meltingly romantic melodies as "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "It's De-Lovely," "Easy To Love," "You're The Top," and "Anything Goes," that will inspire an uproarious and tune-filled trip across the Atlantic where ANYTHING GOES!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Porter's hit-laden score and the breezy (and often revised book) combine for great fun, and it looks like Stages is doing it justice. "Every song, every character, every step, every gesture, every tiny comic bit is perfect," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX. "Every single moment of this show is a delight." Having finally had a chance to see it myself, I concur. The original Billy Crocker has been replaced by Brent Michael Diroma, who is a very talented comic actor with a lovely crooner's light baritone/tenor. Definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

At Stages St. Louis, the artistic outreach story goes on.

The cast of The Story Goes On
Photo: Peter Wochniak
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"Laws", Otto von Bismarck is reported to have said, "are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made." Had he been an actor instead of 19th-century Germany's Iron Chancellor, he might have added, "Oh, and musical theatre, too. Especially musical theatre." Because, as anyone who has ever been in a musical would tell you, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into creating that seemingly effortless mix of song and dance the audience finally sees.

Nevertheless, the past Monday (August 10) Stages St. Louis fearlessly gave an audience of backers (and a few press types, including me) a look at a work in progress: The Story Goes On: The Songs of Maltby and Shire. Running around an hour, this first draft of a new revue based on the songs of the composers of (among others), Closer Than Ever, Starting Here Starting Now, Big, and Baby was a polished and entertaining glimpse behind the scenes at the creative process. Even von Bismarck would have been impressed.

The cast of The Story Goes On
L-R: Austin Hohnke, Leah Berry, Julie Cardia,
John Flack, Bronwyn Tarboton, Erik Keiser
Photo: Peter Wochniak
The Story Goes On is the first project of the Emerson American Musical Creative. Established by Emerson in conjunction with Stages back in 2013, the project is designed to establish St. Louis as a hub for the creation of new American musical theater productions. "Emerson and Stages are both committed to progress in our respective worlds and we could not be more proud at Stages to merge Emerson's name with our newest division," said Stages Executive Producer Jack Lane in a 2013 press release. "The musical is truly an indigenous American art form, though its existence has become threatened due to the radical expenses of producing on Broadway. Throughout the last twenty years, a number of forward thinking regional theatres have established nurturing and safe environments in which to create new works. The majority of the great Broadway musicals of the past two decades were in fact created outside of New York... I look forward to the day when St. Louis will be known as the home of great new American musicals."

Based on what I saw Monday night, that day may have arrived.

Stages Triple Threats
The sneak peek at The Story Goes On was part of Cheers!, Stages' annual cabaret fundraiser. The evening included a performance by Triple Threats, the company's program of musical theatre students in grades 5 through 8, along with lively byplay by hosts Kari Ely (a Stages veteran and a popular local actress) and Brennan Caldwell (making his first Stages appearance this season). There was also an auction and a raffle, bringing the total amount raised at the event to over $77,000.00 for Stages' artistic and outreach programs—not shabby for one night.

And the company's outreach programs continue to flourish. On July 28th, the Employee Community Fund of the Boeing Company announced funding for Stages' Access the Arts programming. The grant will support staffing and costs for outreach residencies at partner sites as well as courses and workshops offered at the Stages Performing Arts Academy in Chesterfield. Access the Arts provides classes, workshops, and performance opportunities enabling children with physical, cognitive, and developmental challenges, including Down syndrome, visual impairments, and autism, to participate fully in the musical theatre arts. It serves over 350 students annually.

Stages flawless presentation of Anything Goes closes this weekend—final performance is Sunday the 16th—and then the company opens its production of The Full Monty on September 4th. Based on the 1997 British comedy, the show boasts a by noted playwright Terrence McNally and music by David Yazbeck. Fore more information, check out the Stages web site.