Sunday, January 25, 2015

Concert review: Beethoven premieres show off the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Friday and Saturday, January 23 and 24, 2015

David Robertson
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by David Robertson
What: An all-Beethoven concert
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: Friday and Saturday, January 23 and 24, 2015

If the 1807 premiere of Beethoven's "Mass in C major" at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had been as good as the performance we got from David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Friday night, the prince might have been less of a jerk with the composer afterwards.

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview and the SLSO program notes.]

As it was, the shoddy effort by an ill-prepared and apathetic chorus left the prince baffled. "My dear Beethoven," he remarked, "what have you written there?" Beethoven was not amused, and it would be a number of years before the work began to gain a following.

Even so, it has never gotten the same attention as Beethoven's other major choral works—especially the earlier "Christus am Ölberge," ("Christ on the Mount of Olives") and the later "Missa Solemnis"—and this weekend's performances were the first by the SLSO. Which makes the high quality of what we heard Friday night that much more impressive.

The chorus carries most of the burden in the mass, and Amy Kaiser's forces were more than equal to the occasion, displaying that mix of power and finesse that I have come to expect from them. This was especially apparent in the "Credo," the longest and most elaborate of the five sections and the dramatic heart of the work. It's a remarkably exuberant declaration of faith from a man who was not necessarily all that devout, and the symphony choristers gave it a thrilling reading. They were equally at home in the more lyrical passages, especially the hushed "donna nobis pacem" that concludes the sometimes stormy "Agnus dei."

The score calls for four soloists, but they serve a mostly ancillary role, adding decoration and emphasis. That said, we had a quartet of very solid voices here in the persons of soprano Kate Reimann, mezzo-soprano Johanna Nordhorn, tenor Keith Boyer, and bass-baritone Jeffrey Heyl. All four are chorus members as well as familiar figures on the local opera and concert scene, and acquitted themselves well.

There was wonderful work from the orchestra here also. There are some important and very exposed solo passages in the "Agnus Dei," and they came through with wonderful clarity Friday night.

The other big Beethoven piece on the program was the genial "Symphony No. 8" in F major, Op. 83. Written at the same time as the more popular and flashy Seventh, the symphony is, in the words of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Christopher H. Gibbs, "a shorter, lighter, and far more good-humored work than its imposing neighbors, the relentless Seventh and the towering Ninth." Listening to this witty and playful music, it's hard to believe that it was written at a time when the composer was embroiled in an ugly and ultimately futile quarrel with his brother over the latter's love life.

Here, as in the "Mass" Mr. Robertson appeared to have incorporated some of the ideas of the HIP (Historically Informed Performance) set into his approach to "big band" Beethoven. Aside from the tympani (which appeared to be reproductions of the kind of smaller drum Beethoven would have recognized) the instruments were all modern and the ensemble was larger than it would have been in Beethoven's time, but the performances had the kind of snap and drive that I tend to associate with guys like Roger Norrington. I have heard this same influence in the past—most recently in his Mozart "Jupiter" last week. As a fan of the HIP approach, I'm all for it.

Mr. Robertson seemed especially in tune with the whimsical spirit of the Eighth symphony. I'm all for that as well.

The concerts opened with a truly rara avis, the "Three Equali for Four Trombones," written at the request of Franz Xaver Glöggl, the music director of the Linz Cathedral, for an All Soul's Day celebration in 1812. They constitute, in the words of New York Philharmonic annotator James M. Keller, "one of the most curious items in [Beethoven's] entire catalogue." The three short chorales gave four members of the SLSO trombone section a rare chance to take the spotlight, and they delivered the goods.

As an old trombone player myself I am, I suppose, a bit biased, but I must admit that it was a pleasure to hear the precision with which Timothy Myers, Amanda Stewart, Jonathan Reycraft, and bass trombonist Gerard Pagano (who could easily win a G.B Shaw look-like contest) played and even breathed in unison. Yes, I know the two go together, but it's still marvelous to see.

Next at Powell Hall: The regular season continues next week as Nicholas McGegan conducts the orchestra in a program of music by the Johann Sebastian Bach family on Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m., January 30 and 31. Soloists are Andrea Kaplan and Jennifer Nitchman, flutes; Jelena Dirks and Philip Ross, oboe; Asako Kuboki and Ann Fink, violin; and Melissa Brooks, cello. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of January 26, 2015

CMSSL at the Sheldon Ballroom
The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents "Baroque'n Strings" on Monday and Tuesday, January 26 and 27, at 7:30 PM. "Special Guest Artist – Nicholas McGegan, harpsichord with harpsichordist Charles Metz, guitarist Beau Bledsoe, and bassoonist Felicia Foland." The concert takes place at The Sheldon Ballroom, 3648 Washington. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

Nicholas McGegan conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a program of music by the Johann Sebastian Bach family on Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m., January 30 and 31. Soloists are Andrea Kaplan and Jennifer Nitchman, flutes; Jelena Dirks and Philip Ross, oboe; Asako Kuboki and Ann Fink, violin; and Melissa Brooks, cello. "The masterpieces of Johann Sebastian Bach and family are highlighted in this program led by St. Louis audience favorite Nicholas McGegan. Seven of the STL Symphony's own musicians take center stage as soloists in this program of classics from the Baroque era including J.C. Bach's Sinfonia concertante for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Cello and Orchestra" The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.


Peter Henderson
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents "Sheldon Classics: Africa" on Wednesday, January 28, at 8 p.m. "St. Louis Symphony principal percussionist Will James is joined by pianist Peter Henderson and other members of the St. Louis Symphony for music inspired by the rhythms and sounds of Africa. Will James will play two works for solo marimba, and Peter Henderson will play music by Scott Joplin, William Grant Still and St. Louis' own Fred Onovwerosuoke." The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents "Unfinished Business: An Evening of French and German Song" on Saturday, January 31, at 8 p.m. "Join tenor Phil Touchette and pianist Jon Garrett for an evening of French and German artsong for which Phil has been chomping at the bit to finally perform in public! The evening begins with six songs of Henri Duparc (including "L'invitation au voyage" and "Phidylé"), followed by Robert Schumann's "Dichterliebe" (Op. 48) and will conclude with opera arias by Mozart, Franz Lehár and Engelbert Humperdinck." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 26, 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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Upstream Theater presents Bashir Lazhar by Évelyne de la Chenelière January 30 - February 12. "An Algerian refugee in Montreal is hurriedly hired as a substitute for a class of sixth graders who, like him, have experienced recent trauma. As he devotes his heart and soul to his students, his unorthodox methods challenge a system embedded in routine. A timely and poetic piece about grief and healing, love and survival. In 2011 the play was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film Monsieur Lazhar." The play stars J. Samuel Davis with live music by Farshid Soltanshahi Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

Hard Road Theatre Productions presents Drinking Habits Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, January 30-February 1. "Set in the present day outside the small town of Shady Glenn, USA, Drinking Habits revolves around a couple of nuns who, unknown to their Mother Superior, have been secretly making wine and selling it to the village locals in order to keep their convent open. Problems begin when the threat of a possible early frost could ruin their harvest. Meanwhile, Mother Superior is in a tizzy when she believes a spy from Rome is coming to shut her convent down. Throw in a couple of nosy reporters, a new member to the convent, a local “magical” priest, and a simple groundskeeper and you end up with several mistaken identities, some tender romances, and tons of laughs." Performances will be held at Highland High School Kennel, 12760 Troxler Avenue in Highland, IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

Circus Harmony presents Giubilante Saturday at 2 and 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, January 31 and February 1. Performances take place at City Museum, 701 N. 15th Street. Show admission is free with museum admission. For more information: circusharmony.org.

(L-R): Anderson Matthews and Richard Prioleau
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, based on the classic film, through February 1. "A progressive couple's proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter arrives home bursting with excitement and an unexpected fiancé. Expectations and reality collide when questions of race, fear and cultural beliefs are staring them directly in the face. A new adaptation of the award-winning film explores family and acceptance and asks which has the greater hold on our hearts." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Imagining Madoff
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents Imaginaing Madoff through February 8. "A fantasia conjured by the playwright featuring an imagined conversation between unrepentant Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and Holocaust survivor, poet and investment client Solomon Galkin. In an all-night study session, these two Jewish men find themselves in a moral showdown as they banter about a myriad of subjects from baseball, to the Talmud, to human decency and the story of Abraham and Isaac. The play concerns itself with the terrible beauty and magnificent danger of absolute faith, either in God or men. As an audience, we share a sense, even to the end, that we can change what's already past. It is a moral investigation." 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.

Clayton Community Theatre presents James Goldman's The Lion in Winter Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through February 8. "Sibling rivalry, adultery, and dungeons - Lion in Winter, by James Goldman, is a modern day classic. Comedic in tone, dramatic in action - the play tells the story of the Plantagenet family who are locked in a free for all of competing ambitions to inherit a kingdom. The queen, and wealthiest woman in the world, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has been kept in prison since raising an army against her husband, King Henry II. Let out only for holidays, the play centers around the inner conflicts of the royal family as they fight over both a kingdom, as well as King Henry's paramour during the Christmas of 1183. As Eleanor says, "every family has its ups and downs," and this royal family is no exception." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

 The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Murder in Mayberry. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Phantom of the Grand Ole Opery through April 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The cast of Safe House
©Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Safe House through February 8. "In 1843 Kentucky, the Pedigrews hold a unique place in their community as free people of color. While one brother has dreams of opening his own business as a cobbler and creating a life for his family, the other risks everything in an effort to help slaves escape. Inspired by the lives of his ancestors, playwright Keith Josef Adkins tells a gripping and heart-wrenching story of love, freedom and survival." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

New Line Theatre Off Line presents Shootin' the Sh!t: An Adult Cabaret on Saturday, January 31, at 8 PM. The evening will include great songs from contemporary and classic shows, including New Line productions. Featured performers will be Zachary Allen Farmer (Bonnie & Clyde, Next to Normal, Bukowsical, Hair, Night of the Living Dead, High Fidelity, Love Kills, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), Todd Schaefer (Hands on a Hardbody, Bat Boy, Evita, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Rocky Horror Show, Sunday in the Park with George), and Jeffrey M. Wright (High Fidelity, Hands on a Hardbody, Next to Normal, Assassins, Grease, I Love My Wife). The show is directed by Mike Dowdy. The performance takes place at the Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.newlinetheatre.com or 314-534-1111.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., January 29 - February 8. Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of January 23, 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:

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, January 23 and 25. "A woman, a man, and a bet between friends. What will it take for Suzel and Fritz to admit they love each other?" Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. The opera is sung in Italian with project English supertitles. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

My take: Although nowhere near as well-known as Mascagni's one big hit, the tragic one-act Cavalleria Rusticana, L'Amico Fritz is considered by many critics to be musically superior, even though its comic libretto is considerably lighter. Nobody gets killed here and everything ends happily. I don't think the opera has ever been performed in St. Louis, so this may be your first (and possibly) only chance to see it on a local stage. Winter Opera's theatre is one of the best in town for musical theatre; it's a pity the shows don't run longer.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy Fox on the Fairway through January 25. "Filled with mistaken identities, slamming doors, and over-the-top romantic shenanigans, The Fox On the Fairway is a fast-paced and charmingly madcap adventure about love, life, and man's eternal love affair with golf." 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.

My take: Best known for his wildly popular comedy Lend Me a Tenor, Ken Ludwig seems to be a dab hand at farce. "Director Lyndsay Somers Hick," says KDHX's Tina Farmer, "makes the most of the expansive set’s many entrances, repeatedly employing a slapstick chase element the actors gleefully embrace and the audience continuously responds to. Solid casting and a willingness to play big for laughs results in a light and fluffy farce in which everyone ends up happy, the characters and the audience." This is the sort of thing KTG does well, so it should be plenty of good, clean, fast-paced fun.

COCA Theatre Company presents the musical Mirette Friday through Sunday, January 23-25. "COCA Theatre Company (CTC) presents Mirette, with book by Elizabeth Diggs, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones and based on the book Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. Mirette is an imaginative, musical adaptation of the award-winning children's book, set in late 19th century Paris. A willful young girl is delighted when she discovers her mother's new boarder is none other than the Great Bellini, whose glorious tightrope-walking days were cut short when he lost his nerve. Demonstrating an innate talent for balancing, she convinces the reluctant Bellini to teach her his craft. Mirette is directed by Chris Limber, with musical direction by Phil Woodmore and circus staging by Josh Routh." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

My take: Yes, that's the Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones who produced one of the longest-running musicals in history, The Fantasticks. Chris Limber is a veteran actor and director here in St. Louis as well as a cabaret performer, so I think you can expect a polished production of this rarely-seen musical.

Emily C. Johnson
The Chapel Venue presents Emily C. Johnson in New Girl in Town: A Cabaret at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 24. The pianist and music director is Maggie McCarthy and the show features guest appearances by singers Sarah Dowling, Kevin Urday, Kendra Moore, Lillian Johnson, Eileen Engel, Sara Rae Womack, and Rachel Kuenzi. The Chapel is at 6238 Alexander in Clayton. For more information: thenewgirlstl.weebly.com.

My take: Emily gave us a preview of her show at the Cabaret Project open mic this past Wednesday, with sparkling performances of "Taylor the Latte Boy" (by the talented team of Heiser and Goldrich) and "The Trolley Song" (from Meet Me in St. Louis). The Chapel is a nice, intimate space that works well for cabaret, and it charges nothing for artists to perform there, so every dime of every ticket sales goes straight to the performers. Your ticket price includes two drinks at the bar as well. Such a deal.

Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Fox Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella January 20 - February 1. "With its fresh new take on the beloved tale of a young woman who is transformed from a chambermaid into a princess, this hilarious and romantic Rodgers + Hammerstein's CINDERELLA combines the story's classic elements - glass slippers, pumpkin, and a beautiful ball along with some surprising twists. More than just a pretty face with the right shoe size, this Cinderella is a contemporary figure living in a fairytale setting. She is a spirited young woman with savvy and soul who doesn't let her rags or her gowns trip her up in her quest for kindness, compassion and forgiveness. She longs to escape the drudgery of her work at home and instead work to make the world a better place. She not only fights for her own dreams, but forces the prince to open his eyes to the world around him and realize his dreams too." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, fabulousfox.com.

My take: Based on Rodgers and Hammerstein's famous made-for-television musical from 1957, this retooled stage version has a new book by playwright Douglas Carter Beane (best known for his comedy As Bees in Honey Drown). "More than just a pretty face with the right shoe size" says the official press release, "this Cinderella is a contemporary figure living in a fairytale setting. She is a spirited young woman with savvy and soul who doesn't let her rags or her gowns trip her up in her quest for kindness, compassion and forgiveness. She longs to escape the drudgery of her work at home and instead work to make the world a better place. She not only fights for her own dreams, but forces the prince to open his eyes to the world around him and realize his dreams too." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz calls it "effervescent and charming" while the Post-Dispatch's Judy Newmark says it "looks like a storybook come to life."

Held Over:

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, based on the classic film, through February 1. “A progressive couple's proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter arrives home bursting with excitement and an unexpected fiancé. Expectations and reality collide when questions of race, fear and cultural beliefs are staring them directly in the face. A new adaptation of the award-winning film explores family and acceptance and asks which has the greater hold on our hearts.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: Reviews have been very positive for this show. Writing for Broadwayworld.com, for example, Chris Gibson calls it "an engaging and thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience that I cannot recommend highly enough." "Under Seth Gordon's expert direction," writes Malcom Gay at the Riverfront Times, "the Rep's cast teases the nuances from Kreidler's adaptation, delivering a powerful, immersive performance that - if not exactly challenging to an audience already won over to its essential argument - masterfully navigates the shifting waters of race, class, familial acceptance and personal responsibility as they move to overrun the narrow cultural channels that have defined them." Other critics have been equally enthusiastic. I saw the show last weekend and I agree that a winner is coming to dinner.

Symphony Preview: Old Beethoven is new again at Powell Hall, January 23 and 24, 2015

"Beethoven Letronne" by Blasius Höfel
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Common
This weekend two of the three works on the St. Louis Symphony program are making their first appearances on the Powell Hall Stage. That's not exactly news; the SLSO has given local audiences a good many local and even world premieres over the years. What's remarkable is that this time the local premieres are by Beethoven.

The SLSO has performed plenty of Beethoven in its 135 seasons, but never the 1807 "Mass in C Major" or the even rarer "Three Equali for Four Trombones" from 1807.

At around 43 minutes, the "Mass" is the big work on the program—although still not all that long as settings of the Latin mass go. In fact, the composer was striving for tranquility and simplicity, rather than the kind of high drama that would mark his much later (and more popular) "Missa Solemnis". As René Spencer Saller writes in her program notes, "the beauty of the Mass resides in its many deceptively simple details: the block harmonies of the choir, the flickering dissonances and sudden shifts from very loud to soft, the celestial tessitura (those sustained spells when the contraltos are clinging to the upper reaches of their register sound a lot more effortless than they are). Instead of the epic scope of Mozart's and Haydn's Masses, all that Holy Roman grandeur, Beethoven set his sights on the human scale."

The mass was written on commission from Prince Nikolaus Esterházy for his wife's name day. This put Beethoven in august company—Esterházy had ordered masses from Hummel and Haydn for the same occasion in the past—but when he got to the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt for the rehearsals he found himself treated as a poor relation, relegated to substandard housing and assigned an orchestra and chorus who appeared apathetic and incompetent.

The premiere was a disaster. "After the first performance of the Mass," write Cal Tech's Jeff McMillan and Donna Akutagawa, "the Prince reportedly said, 'My dear Beethoven, what have you written there!', evidently in a condescending tone. Beethoven immediately became irritated by this, and he left the Prince's court on the same day of the performance. The score was then dedicated to Prince Ferdinand Kinsky instead." The popularity of the piece has recovered a bit since, but it's still dwarfed by the "Missa Solemnis."

The "Three Equali," on the other hand, remain stuck in obscurity. They were composed at the request of Franz Xaver Glöggl, the music director of the Linz Cathedral, for an All Soul's Day celebration in 1812 and, in the words of New York Philharmonic annotator James M. Keller, constitute "one of the most curious items in [Beethoven's] entire catalogue." They're rarely heard these days, if only because it's hard to find a spot on most concerts for a five-minute suite for four trombones (in this case, two altos, a tenor, and a bass).

As for the term "equale," Mr. Keller notes that Glöggl "may have originated the term in the sense it is used here, to describe a mourning piece played by an ensemble of similar instruments...Such pieces were apparently specific to Austria, and especially to Linz. Apart from Beethoven's, the only other equale we are likely to encounter today are those composed (again for trombone ensembles) by two composers from Linz: Wenzel Lambel (who wrote ten, for three or four trombones) and Anton Bruckner (who produced two, for three trombones)." As a former trombonist myself, I'm rather looking forward to this little rarity.

"Metronom Mälzel 1815"
Photo by Andreas Praefcke
Licensed Under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons
In the same year that Beethoven wrote the "Four Equali," he also supposedly knocked out "Ta ta ta," (WoO 162) a comic canon whose lyrics are a tongue-in-cheek tribute to what was then the latest in musical technology: the metronome. This now-commonplace timekeeping device was, back in 1812, still under development in the workshop of Johann Mälzel. Beethoven, so the story went, learned of it during a party at Mälzel's and was very taken with the idea and improvised the canon on the spot. He then used the little "tick-tock" melody as the basis for the second movement of the symphony he was writing: the eighth in F major, Op. 93. Which, as it happens, is the other big work on the program this weekend.

The story may or may not be true. In "The Symphony, a Listener's Guide" Michael Steinberg presents it as real while Wikipedia, expressing what now appears to be the majority view, insists that the story is apocryphal and that the melody is actually a reference to Haydn's "Clock" symphony. Regardless, both the movement and the canon are whimsical fun.

For some time now, it has been commonly accepted that, starting with the "Eroica," Beethoven's symphonies tended to fall into pattern in which big, heaven-storming works alternated with more genial and modest pieces, with the latter suffering in popularity by comparison. Beethoven often wrote (and premiered) his symphonies in pairs, so the contrast may have been deliberate.

Certainly the Eighth, which was written at the same time as the Seventh, fits the pattern. As the Philadelphia Orchestra's Christopher H. Gibbs has written, the Eighth "is a shorter, lighter, and far more good humored work than its imposing neighbors, the relentless Seventh and the towering Ninth. According to his student Carl Czerny, in comparison with the extraordinary enthusiasm that greeted the Seventh Symphony there was initially a puzzled reaction in Vienna to the Eighth. 'That's because it is so much better' was Beethoven's alleged response."

In my feckless youth, I was inclined to prefer Beethoven's grander odd-numbered symphonies to their more modest companions. These days, I'm becoming more of an even-numbered person, especially when it comes to the unfailingly charming Fourth and Eighth. Let me know whether or not you agree by leaving a comment or two below.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus along with Kate Reimann, soprano; Johanna Nordhorn, mezzo-soprano; Keith Boyer, tenor; and Jeffrey Heyl, bass-baritone in an all-Beethoven program featuring the "Mass in C Major" and "Symhony No. 8" Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., January 23 and 24. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review: Mostly Mozart with the St. Louis Symphony

Richard Goode
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Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson with pianist Richard Goode
What: Music of Mozart, Lutoslawski, and Tippett
When: January 17 and 18, 2015
Where: Powell Hall, St. Louis

[Find out more about the music in my symphony preview post.]

We may never know who first applied the nickname "Jupiter" to Mozart's last symphony—American musicologist Daniel Heartz posits that it was impresario Johann Peter Salomon—but it's not hard to see why the name stuck.

Scott Andrews
The music has a kind of Olympian power and grandeur, along with a degree of structural clarity that makes it possibly the ideal Classical symphony. It's music brimming with vitality and optimism. It never fails to impress, especially when played with the kind of assurance and vigor David Robertson and the SLSO gave it this past Sunday.

Granted, this was modern, "big band" Mozart (although Thomas Stubbs was apparently using smaller period-reproduction tympani), but the performance had the kind of vitality I associate with smaller "original instrument" ensembles. The strong tempo and dynamic contrasts I have come to associate with Mr. Robertson were all there as usual, as was the attention to orchestral detail. The result was an impressive reading that reminded me of how much the "Jupiter" looks forward to the Romantic era while crystallizing the Classical style.

Kristin Ahlstrom
The other big Mozart work on the program—the "Piano Concerto No. 17" from 1784—fared just as well. Soloist Richard Goode played with a delicacy and fluid grace that was the aural equivalent of good Champagne—smooth, but bubbly and piquant. Mr. Goode was clearly wrapped up in the music, often singing or humming to himself (inaudibly, at least from the dress circle) and generally showing signs of intense concentration and pleasure.

The orchestra responded well to Mr. Robertson's direction and played impeccably. Mozart put a lot of reliance on the winds in this concerto, and the SLSO players did not disappoint. They sounded splendid, especially in the emotional depths of the second movement.

Shawn Weil
Strong orchestral playing also characterized the two twentieth-century pieces that made of the rest of the program. The concert opened with a dazzling performance of Witold Lutoslawski's playful 1955 "Dance Preludes" by SLSO Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews. Quoted in the program notes, Mr. Andrews describes this brief (ten minute) piece as "very fun, rhythmic, based on the Polish folk tradition, but without taking direct quotations from folk music." Certainly that spirit of fun was present in the playing of both Mr. Andrews and the orchestra; there was even an occasional chuckle from some of us in the audience at the composer's little winks and nods.

David Kim
Sir Michael Tippett's "Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli" from 1953 (which opened the second half of the concert) is more substantial stuff. Scored for two string orchestras along with two solo violins and a solo cello, it takes an excerpt from the "Concerto grosso, op. 6, no. 2" by Arcangelo Corelli (published in 1741) and uses it as the foundation for an elaborate structure consisting of seven variations, a fugue, and a blissful finale.

The two violin soloists have perhaps the most challenging music, often trading licks like country fiddlers, but Kristin Ahlstrom and Shawn Weil (both members of the SLSO strings) were more than up to the task. The solo cellist doesn't get as many flashy passages, but SLSO Assistant Principal Cello David Kim did well by it. The solid, polished sound of the symphony strings back them up under Mr. Robertson's incisive direction.

Next at Powell: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus along with Kate Reimann, soprano; Johanna Nordhorn, mezzo-soprano; Keith Boyer, tenor; and Jeffrey Heyl, bass-baritone in an all-Beethoven program featuring the "Mass in C Major" and "Symphony No. 8" Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m., January 23-25. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 19, 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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Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Alone Together Thursday through Sunday, January 22-25, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "In the hilarious Broadway comedy, Alone Together, Mom and Dad have spent the last thirty years raising three active sons. How they looked forward to the peace, the quiet and the privacy of an empty nest. After considerable comic turmoil and revelation of deep feelings, the nest is finally emptied. Peace now? Quiet? Not for long. All three sons come charging back home after experiencing some hard knocks in the real world, and Mom and Dad have quite a time pushing them out again." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, January 23 and 25. "A woman, a man, and a bet between friends. What will it take for Suzel and Fritz to admit they love each other?" Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. The opera is sung in Italian with project English supertitles. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX present the monthly Cabaret Open Mic Night on Wednesday, February 18, from 7 to 10 PM at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The special guest Master of Ceremonies this month is Cabaret Project Executive Director Tim Schall and the music director is Carol Schmidt. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. At least one of the two songs should be medium or up-tempo. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com or call 314-367-7549.

Hard Road Theatre Productions presents Drinking Habits Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, January 23-31. "Set in the present day outside the small town of Shady Glenn, USA, Drinking Habits revolves around a couple of nuns who, unknown to their Mother Superior, have been secretly making wine and selling it to the village locals in order to keep their convent open. Problems begin when the threat of a possible early frost could ruin their harvest. Meanwhile, Mother Superior is in a tizzy when she believes a spy from Rome is coming to shut her convent down. Throw in a couple of nosy reporters, a new member to the convent, a local “magical” priest, and a simple groundskeeper and you end up with several mistaken identities, some tender romances, and tons of laughs." Performances will be held at Highland High School Kennel, 12760 Troxler Avenue in Highland, IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy Fox on the Fairway through January 25. "Filled with mistaken identities, slamming doors, and over-the-top romantic shenanigans, The Fox On the Fairway is a fast-paced and charmingly madcap adventure about love, life, and man's eternal love affair with golf." 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Circus Harmony presents Giubilante Saturdays at 2 and 7 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, January 24 - February 1. Performances take place at City Museum, 701 N. 15th Street. Show admission is free with museum admission. For more information: circusharmony.org.

(L-R): Anderson Matthews and Richard Prioleau
©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, based on the classic film, through February 1. "A progressive couple's proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter arrives home bursting with excitement and an unexpected fiancé. Expectations and reality collide when questions of race, fear and cultural beliefs are staring them directly in the face. A new adaptation of the award-winning film explores family and acceptance and asks which has the greater hold on our hearts." Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

New Jewish Theater presents Imaginaing Madoff January 22 - February 8. "A fantasia conjured by the playwright featuring an imagined conversation between unrepentant Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and Holocaust survivor, poet and investment client Solomon Galkin. In an all-night study session, these two Jewish men find themselves in a moral showdown as they banter about a myriad of subjects from baseball, to the Talmud, to human decency and the story of Abraham and Isaac. The play concerns itself with the terrible beauty and magnificent danger of absolute faith, either in God or men. As an audience, we share a sense, even to the end, that we can change what's already past. It is a moral investigation." 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.

Clayton Community Theatre presents James Goldman's The Lion in Winter Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, January 22 - February 8. "Sibling rivalry, adultery, and dungeons - Lion in Winter, by James Goldman, is a modern day classic. Comedic in tone, dramatic in action - the play tells the story of the Plantagenet family who are locked in a free for all of competing ambitions to inherit a kingdom. The queen, and wealthiest woman in the world, Eleanor of Aquitaine, has been kept in prison since raising an army against her husband, King Henry II. Let out only for holidays, the play centers around the inner conflicts of the royal family as they fight over both a kingdom, as well as King Henry's paramour during the Christmas of 1183. As Eleanor says, "every family has its ups and downs," and this royal family is no exception." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

COCA Theatre Company presents the musical Mirette Friday through Sunday, January 23-25. "COCA Theatre Company (CTC) presents Mirette, with book by Elizabeth Diggs, music by Harvey Schmidt, lyrics by Tom Jones and based on the book Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. Mirette is an imaginative, musical adaptation of the award-winning children's book, set in late 19th century Paris. A willful young girl is delighted when she discovers her mother's new boarder is none other than the Great Bellini, whose glorious tightrope-walking days were cut short when he lost his nerve. Demonstrating an innate talent for balancing, she convinces the reluctant Bellini to teach her his craft. Mirette is directed by Chris Limber, with musical direction by Phil Woodmore and circus staging by Josh Routh." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

 The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Murder in Mayberry. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Emily C. Johnson
The Chapel Venue presents Emily C. Johnson in New Girl in Town: A Cabaret at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 24. The pianist and music director is Maggie McCarthy and the show features guest appearances by singers Sarah Dowling, Kevin Urday, Kendra Moore, Lillian Johnson, Eileen Engel, Sara Rae Womack, and Rachel Kuenzi. The Chapel is at 6238 Alexander in Clayton. For more information: thenewgirlstl.weebly.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Phantom of the Grand Ole Opery through April 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Fox Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella January 20 - February 1. "With its fresh new take on the beloved tale of a young woman who is transformed from a chambermaid into a princess, this hilarious and romantic Rodgers + Hammerstein's CINDERELLA combines the story's classic elements - glass slippers, pumpkin, and a beautiful ball along with some surprising twists. More than just a pretty face with the right shoe size, this Cinderella is a contemporary figure living in a fairytale setting. She is a spirited young woman with savvy and soul who doesn't let her rags or her gowns trip her up in her quest for kindness, compassion and forgiveness. She longs to escape the drudgery of her work at home and instead work to make the world a better place. She not only fights for her own dreams, but forces the prince to open his eyes to the world around him and realize his dreams too." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, fabulousfox.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The cast of Safe House
©Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Safe House January 21 - February 8. "In 1843 Kentucky, the Pedigrews hold a unique place in their community as free people of color. While one brother has dreams of opening his own business as a cobbler and creating a life for his family, the other risks everything in an effort to help slaves escape. Inspired by the lives of his ancestors, playwright Keith Josef Adkins tells a gripping and heart-wrenching story of love, freedom and survival." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

Peabody Opera House presents the Seasame Street Live: Let's Dance! Thursday through Sunday, January 22-25. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of January 19, 2015

Megan Stout and Frances Tietov
stlsymphony.org
Eliot Unitarian Chapel presents a Friends of Music concert on Sunday, January 25, at 3 PM. "A selection of pieces for solo harp performed by Frances Tietov, former principal harpist of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano, performed by Siroth Charnond, violin; James Blinn, cello; and Chiann-yi Yawitz, piano." Eliot Unitarian Chapel is at 100 South Argonne in Kirkwood. For more information: fomcstl.org.

The Missouri Chamber Music Festival presents "Pro Jam for the ProAm" Tuesday, January 20, at 6:30 p.m. " The Missouri Chamber Music Festival is inviting YOU to "Pro-Jam for the ProAm", a lively, fun party supporting the MOCM ProAm Intensive Workshop. Hear groups from last year's workshop, enjoy food, wine, beer and even join in the fun yourself as we open the floor for a Chamber Music Jam Session at the Tavern of Fine Arts! Some of your favorite MOCM Artists and ProAm faculty will be on hand to read and jam! Scott Andrews, Nina Ferrigno, Felicia Foland, Angie Smart, Chris Tantillo and Thomas Jostlein will join in the fun." The event takes place at The Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

David Robertson
David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus along with Kate Reimann, soprano; Johanna Nordhorn, mezzo-soprano; Keith Boyer, tenor; and Jeffrey Heyl, bass-baritone in an all-Beethoven program featuring the "Mass in C Major" and "Symhony No. 8" Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., January 23 and 24. "This all-Beethoven program featuring the composer’s lighthearted Symphony No. 8, the STL Symphony Trombones performing a rare work for four trombones as well as the first subscription performances of Beethoven’s glorious Mass in C with the St. Louis Symphony and Chorus." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Steven Jarvi conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in "The Science of Sound and the Art of Noise" Sunday at 3 p.m., January 25. "Maestro Steven Jarvi and a special guest will lead demonstrations of sound waves and sound creation in the various instruments of the orchestra. Featured works include Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus Overture, selections from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and more!" The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Angel Romero
angelromero.com
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents guitarist Angel Romero on Saturday, January 24, at 7:30 PM. “Angel Romero has appeared as soloist with such leading orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. As conductor, he has led numerous orchestras worldwide including the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Royal Philharmonic, among others. Mr. Romero, who is hailed for his superior artistry as the maestro of Spanish guitar and of Romero Guitar Quartet fame, will be appearing as our guest soloist in our first concert of the New Year.” The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents musicians of the Saint Louis Symphony perform the music of J.S. Bach on Saturday, January 24, at 4 p.m. "In preparation for their upcoming solos with the Symphony on January 30 & 31, Asako Kuboki and Jelena Dirks run through Concerto in D Minor for Violin and Oboe and Andrea Kaplan runs through Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 209. Peter Henderson accompanies them on the piano. Henderson will also perform a selection of solo piano pieces by Bach." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Mascagni's "L'Amico Fritz" Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, January 23 and 25. "A woman, a man, and a bet between friends. What will it take for Suzel and Fritz to admit they love each other?" Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. The opera is sung in Italian with project English supertitles. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Symphony Preview: Mostly Mozart with the St. Louis Symphony, January 17 and 18. 2015

Mozart when he was cool
Have you ever wondered who comes up with those descriptive little subtitles that accompany so many notable compositions?  I'm talking about Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, Mendelssohn's "Scotch" Symphony or the "Gypsy" rondo movement from Haydn's "Piano Trio No. 39"?  The answer varies, but the one thing you can count on is that it probably wasn't the composer.

Take, for example, Mozart's "Symphony No. 41," which closes this weekend's St. Louis Symphony Concerts.  It's known as the "Jupiter" symphony, but Mozart didn't call it that.  In his book "Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven 1781-1802" American musicologist Daniel Heartz posits that impresario Johann Peter Salomon (famous for bringing Haydn to London in the 1790s) first applied the nickname in a piano arrangement of the symphony, but nobody really knows for sure.

It's a fitting name, though.  The music has a kind of Olympian power and grandeur, along with a degree of structural clarity that makes it possibly the ideal Classical symphony.  It's music brimming with vitality and optimism.  And yet it dates from the summer of 1788—a time in Mozart's life when, as Daniel Durchholz relates in his program notes, the composer's non-musical world was falling apart: "He still had to teach; his wife was ill; one of their children, a daughter, had recently died; Viennese society, which once had celebrated him, had tired of his work and his grating personality; and he was forever in dire straits financially."

By contrast, the other big Mozart piece on the program, the "Piano Concerto No. 17" in G major (K. 453) was written when Mozart was still the toast of Vienna.  In the spring 1784 Mozart was in demand everywhere, he had just married Constanze Weber, and it looked like he was going to make a go of working as a freelance compose and pianist.  From the very beginning, there's an air of graceful cheerfulness about this music that makes it hard to resist. 

Granted, we can't listen to it today the way Viennese audiences would have back then.  They would have found some of the composer's key changes and his prominent use of winds to be surprising; ditto the dramatic pauses in the second movement.  Today we just have to admire the artistry.

Speaking of artistry, the piano soloist for the Mozart will be Richard Goode, whose program bio describes him as "one of today’s leading interpreters of Classical and Romantic music."  His extensive concert schedule this year will include appearances with the Boston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as recitals at Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and Wigmore Hall in London.  Mr. Goode is also well represented on disc, with many recordings on the Nonesuch label (for which the SLSO has also recorded).

Keeping company with the Mozart works are two pieces by 20th century composers: Witold Lutoslawski's "Dance Preludes" from 1955 and Sir Michael Tippett's "Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli" from 1953.

The former is a modest ten minute suite scored for clarinet and small orchestra that soloist Scott Andrews (SLSO Principal Clarinet) describes in the program notes as "very fun, rhythmic, based on the Polish folk tradition, but without taking direct quotations from folk music." "I was very excited to hear that I’d be doing this with David Robertson this season," he continues. "He has a nice touch with the rhythmic repertoire. I’ve done it a number of times with piano in recital, but I’m looking forward to explore again the orchestral textures. It really changes the piece.”  Originally scored for clarinet and piano, the suite was later orchestrated by Lutoslawski and became one of more popular works.

"Tippett old age" by Source.
Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia
The Tippet is a more substantial piece.  Scored for two string orchestras along with two solo violins and a solo cello, it takes an excerpt from the "Concerto grosso, op. 6, no. 2" by Arcangelo Corelli (published in 1741) and uses it as the foundation for an elaborate structure consisting of seven variations, a fugue, and a blissful finale.  "Its radiant climax and the quiet Pastorale that follows are among Tippett’s most inspired pages," writes David Matthews in "Michael Tippet, an Introductory Study."  Tippet himself said the music "passes to and from between the dark and the light"—a contrast Tippet would, according to Mr. Durchholz, "strive to reconcile in nearly all of his life’s work."

The soloists for the Tippet will be violinists Shawn Weil and Kristin Ahlstrom along with cellist David Kim.  Mr. Weil is heavily involved with the orchestra's Education and Community programs and is also a member of the jazz/rock crossover ensemble The 442s, which has played for St. Louis jazz singer Erin Bode.  Ms. Ahlstrom is Associate Principal Second Violin with the SLSO, has active solo and chamber music careers, and is married to SLSO keyboardist Peter Henderson.  Mr. Kim, who has been Assistant Principal Cello since 2004, is also very active outside of the SLSO, including extensive work with the Community Music School of Webster University.  They and the symphony strings will get quite a workout with this piece, which features virtuoso writing for both soloists and the ensemble.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with pianist Richard Goode Saturday at 8 p.m. (also broadcast on St. Louis Public Radio), and Sunday at 3 p.m., January 17 and 18.  The program features Lutoslawski's "Dance Preludes," Michael Tippet's "Fantasia concertante on a Theme of Corelli" and Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 17" and "Symphony No. 41" ("Jupiter).   The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center.  For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Chuck's choices for the weekend of January 16, 2015

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

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New This Week:

The Book of Mormon
Peabody Opera House presents the musical The Book of Mormon Tuesday through Sunday, January 13-18. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

My take: As you probably know, this show has collected lots of critical praise and has been a huge hit with audiences. Everyone says the show is crude and funny and, as I observed in my review of the show when it played the Fox two years ago, it certainly is. But what you hear less often is how very smart and well-constructed it is. Anybody can be a smart-ass. Being a smart-ass with a little heart is more difficult, but this show pulls it off.  Trey Parker and his collaborators know just how far they can push the envelope without braking it.  The Peabody is less cavernous than the massive Fox, which makes it a better venue for theatre, so the show should work well there.

Nnenna Freelon (center) and the cast of
The Clothesline Muse
Edison Theatre Ovations! presents The Clothesline Muse Friday at 8 p.m., January 16. "The Clothesline Muse explores the clothesline as a metaphor of the African-American community lifeline. The clothesline was a place to meet, to work, to socialize, and to share traditions and common struggles. Inspired by the seemingly small act of hand washing, drying, folding and ironing, the project uses music, dance, text and visual art to celebrate the role played by African-American washerwomen in history and society. Six time Grammy-nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon is a driving force and featured artist in this newly-created, multi-disciplinary theatrical production." The performance takes place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail edison at wustl.edu or visit edison.wustl.edu.

My take: Reviewing the show for Thinking Dance at it's premiere last spring, Lisa Bardadrson wrote: "The Clothesline Muse is a work so densely rich with metaphor, symbolism and reference to the African diaspora that I, a white woman from the suburbs of Seattle, likely missed much of it. But no matter; the universality of the message was crystal clear: we are all connected by the actions of our ancestors, whose humble beginnings can yield rich rewards to future generations...The Clothesline Muse is a fully realized work that I found deeply gratifying. The line, in the end, connected and closed, forming a perfect circle." This is the final season for the Ovations! series at Edison, so this may be your only opportunity to see this and the other non-traditional shows in the current lineup.

Shannon Marie Sullivan and Richard Prioleau
in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Photo: Lon Brauer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, based on the classic film, through February 1. “A progressive couple's proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter arrives home bursting with excitement and an unexpected fiancé. Expectations and reality collide when questions of race, fear and cultural beliefs are staring them directly in the face. A new adaptation of the award-winning film explores family and acceptance and asks which has the greater hold on our hearts.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: Reviews have been very positive for this show. Writing for Broadwayworld.com, for example, Chris Gibson calls it "an engaging and thoroughly entertaining theatrical experience that I cannot recommend highly enough." "Under Seth Gordon's expert direction," writes Malcom Gay at the Riverfront Times, "the Rep's cast teases the nuances from Kreidler's adaptation, delivering a powerful, immersive performance that - if not exactly challenging to an audience already won over to its essential argument - masterfully navigates the shifting waters of race, class, familial acceptance and personal responsibility as they move to overrun the narrow cultural channels that have defined them." Other critics have been equally enthusiastic. It looks like a winner is coming to dinner.

Archie Coleman and Curtis Lewis
in Stereo Heart
First Run Theatre presents the drama Stereo Heart by Mario Farwell Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, January 16-18. "This world premiere play is set in a rundown TV and Stereo repair shop in St. Louis. Theo and Sunny Freeman, a father and son team, run the shop and share an explosive secret. Theo has never been a pillar of society, and Sunny has served three stints in prison and is still on parole. While working on a Sony widescreen, Theo and Sunny discover a half-million dollar's worth of cocaine, and devise a scheme to sell the drugs. They soon learn that the drugs are the property of a drug kingpin named Three Thumb Hank. Georgette, the matriarch of the family, unaware of the intrigue unfolding in her household, sells a metal drum in which Theo stored the coke. When Theo and Sunny discover the drum has been sold, Sunny makes a desperate attempt to retrieve it. Three Thumb Hank returns and demands his merchandise. The family is thrown into chaos, secrets are revealed, and dreams are shattered resulting in tragic consequences." Performances take place at De Smet Jesuit High School Theatre, 233 N. New Ballas Rd. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

My take: First Run performs the highly valuable service of producing new plays by area playwrights. Mr. Farwell has had a number of his scripts produced there, so he's hardly the new kid on the block. In his review for KDHX, Bob Nickles says the script is "strong and rich in symbolism." "Something special happens when a community tells stories about itself," he writes. "Space opens up to laugh at ourselves and to weep together, especially when the stories we tell are true ones. For all its uneven energy and clever lines, 'Stereo Heart' tells the truth, and I have to think our communities are the better for it."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 12, 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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Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Alone Together Thursdays through Sundays, Jnuary 15-25, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "In the hilarious Broadway comedy, Alone Together, Mom and Dad have spent the last thirty years raising three active sons. How they looked forward to the peace, the quiet and the privacy of an empty nest. After considerable comic turmoil and revelation of deep feelings, the nest is finally emptied. Peace now? Quiet? Not for long. All three sons come charging back home after experiencing some hard knocks in the real world, and Mom and Dad have quite a time pushing them out again." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Peabody Opera House presents the musical The Book of Mormon Tuesday through Sunday, January 13-18. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

Nnenna Freelon (center) and the cast of
The Clothesline Muse
Edison Theatre Ovations! presents The Clothesline Muse Friday at 8 p.m., January 16. "The Clothesline Muse explores the clothesline as a metaphor of the African-American community lifeline. The clothesline was a place to meet, to work, to socialize, and to share traditions and common struggles. Inspired by the seemingly small act of hand washing, drying, folding and ironing, the project uses music, dance, text and visual art to celebrate the role played by African-American washerwomen in history and society. Six time Grammy-nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon is a driving force and featured artist in this newly-created, multi-disciplinary theatrical production." The performance takes place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail edison at wustl.edu or visit edison.wustl.edu.

Alfresco Productions presents The Day They Shot John Lennon Friday through Sunday, January 16-18. "In the Manhattan Street in front of the Apartment Building where John Lennon was shot to death, many moved and shocked New Yorkers assembled there to pay tribute to their slain idol. It is from the interwoven stories of a cross section of these people that the author built this play. You will be transported right back to that December 1980 day of mourning when the songs of an era took on sad new ironies, and when no one could think of the right words to express and inexplicable loss." Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy Fox on the Fairway January 16-25. "Filled with mistaken identities, slamming doors, and over-the-top romantic shenanigans, The Fox On the Fairway is a fast-paced and charmingly madcap adventure about love, life, and man's eternal love affair with golf." 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.

Shannon Marie Sullivan and Richard Prioleau
in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Photo: Lon Brauer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, based on the classic film, through February 1. “A progressive couple's proud liberal sensibilities are put to the test when their daughter arrives home bursting with excitement and an unexpected fiancé. Expectations and reality collide when questions of race, fear and cultural beliefs are staring them directly in the face. A new adaptation of the award-winning film explores family and acceptance and asks which has the greater hold on our hearts.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

The St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents Lily's Purple Plastic Purse January 16-18. "Lilly loves everything about school, especially her cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. When he confiscates her prized possession, a purple plastic purse that plays music, joy turns to misery. Lilly, who is used to being the brightest and loudest mouse around, will also have to get used to sharing the spotlight with her new baby brother in this charming adaptation of Kevin Henkes' award-winning children's book. Gripped with anger after losing her purse, Lilly draws a mean portrait of Mr. Slinger and hides it in his book bag. When she gets her purse back and opens it outside of school, she finds a surprising note: "Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better." Suddenly wracked with guilt, Lilly sets out to make up with her teacher, but villainous bicycle-riding bullies, a spotlight-stealing baby brother and the dreaded "uncooperative chair" will test our heroine's resolve."Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.florissantmo.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Phantom of the Grand Ole Opery through April 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Archie Coleman and Curtis Lewis
in Stereo Heart
First Run Theatre presents the drama Stereo Heart by Mario Farwell Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, January 16-18. "This world premiere play is set in a rundown TV and Stereo repair shop in St. Louis. Theo and Sunny Freeman, a father and son team, run the shop and share an explosive secret. Theo has never been a pillar of society, and Sunny has served three stints in prison and is still on parole. While working on a Sony widescreen, Theo and Sunny discover a half-million dollar's worth of cocaine, and devise a scheme to sell the drugs. They soon learn that the drugs are the property of a drug kingpin named Three Thumb Hank. Georgette, the matriarch of the family, unaware of the intrigue unfolding in her household, sells a metal drum in which Theo stored the coke. When Theo and Sunny discover the drum has been sold, Sunny makes a desperate attempt to retrieve it. Three Thumb Hank returns and demands his merchandise. The family is thrown into chaos, secrets are revealed, and dreams are shattered resulting in tragic consequences." Performances take place at De Smet Jesuit High School Theatre, 233 N. New Ballas Rd. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

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