Sunday, July 15, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 16, 2018

New shows this week include a family musical classic at the Muny, a jukebox musical at Stages, the return of Ken Haller's Medicine Show, and The Cabaret Project's monthly open mic.

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The St. Lou Fringe presents Act Your Pants Off on Thursday, July 19, at 7 pm. "Act Your Pants Off offers a full night of theatrical entertainment wrapped in bawdy, competitive fun! Selected actors duel with short monologues and improvised scenes for the opportunity to wow audiences with their comic burlesque skills. That's right, co-hosts Desirée Declyne and Lola Van Ella won't be the only ones showing a little skin, the actors will also be strip teasing the audience! Local St. Louis favorites Katy Keating, Suki Peters, Paul Cereghino, Michelle Hand, Melissa Allen, and Keaton Trece will be performing their pants off for your votes in two quick rounds of competition, culminating in a grand finale number that you won't want to miss. The event takes place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle on Manchester in the Grove. For more information: stlouisfringe.com.

The Muny presents the musical Annie opening on Wednesday, July 18, at 8:15 pm and running through July 25. "Leapin' lizards! Everyone's favorite plucky, irresistible orphan is back! Based on the popular 1920s Harold Gray comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, Annie is considered one of the most acclaimed musicals of all time. This seven-time Tony Award-winning family favorite features unforgettable hits like "It's the Hard Knock Life," "Easy Street" and the iconic Broadway standard "Tomorrow." You can bet your bottom dollar this is one beloved, multigenerational Muny favorite guaranteed to entertain the entire family." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

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

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. 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 July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Girls Night: The Musical
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Girls Night: The Musical Friday through Sunday, July 20 - 22 "This touching and hilarious musical takes audiences on a journey into the lives of a group of female friends as they go from heartbreak to happiness during a wild night of karaoke. Audience members can't help but laugh, cry and even find themselves singing and dancing in the aisles to some of the most popular hit songs of the '80s and '90s." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the rock musical Hair Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 22. Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Insight Theatre Company presents Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance of Being Earnest through July 22. "The Importance of Being Earnest is a Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Set in 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues. " Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Muny presents the musical Jersey Boys at 8:15 pm on July 16. 'The international sensation arrives at The Muny in style! Jersey Boys, winner of the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, is the authentic biographic story of the magic behind the music of worldwide megahit group, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Featuring over 30 chart-topping hits, including fan favorites "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," this Muny premiere is almost too good to be true, and will leave audiences saying, "Oh, What a Night!"' Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Stages St. Louis presents the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the music of ABBA, July 20 through August 19. "The ultimate feel-good show, MAMMA MIA! uses the music of ABBA to tell the hilarious and touching tale of a teen's search for her birth father on a Greek Island paradise. See why 54 million people all around the world have fallen in love with this pop-music phenomenon of a mother, a daughter, three possible dads, and an unforgettable trip down the aisle! Chock full of explosive dance numbers, you'll want to unleash your inner "Dancing Queen" with such ABBA hits as "Winner Takes It All," "Take A Chance On Me," and the smash title tune, "Mamma Mia." This enchanting tale of love between mothers and daughters, laughter between old friends, and a celebration of newly found family is a guaranteed non-stop party that you won't want to miss!!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Ken Haller
The Presenters Dolan presents Ken Haller in The Medicine Show Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21 at 8 pm. "Ken Haller's shows have been described as "touching," "hilarious," "intimate," and "tremendously entertaining." In The Medicine Show, where "miracle cures" are peddled, Ken weaves songs as diverse as "The Physician" (Cole Porter), "Someone to Fall Back on," (Jason Robert Brown), "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir" (Stephen Sondheim) and more, into a narrative of how becoming a doctor is only the first step toward becoming a healer." The performances take place at The Kranzberg Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 2 July 20 - 29 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in Part 2 are "4th Reich" by Neil LaBute, "Unabridged" by Sean Abley, "The Gettier Problem" by Michael Long, and "The Process" by Peter McDonough. For more information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents Portrait of Christina by St. Louis playwright Jim Danek Fridays through Sundays, July 20 - 29. Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: theatreguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

Chuck Lavazzi
The Cabaret Project presents its weekly Singers Open Mic Night on Wednesday, July 18, from 7 to 10 pm. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by pianist and music director Carol Schmidt and hosted by 88.1 KDHX's Chuck Lavazzi. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge on the second floor of the .ZACK performing arts space at 3226 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Spotlight Productions presents Suessical the Musical Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 22. "Now one of the most performed shows in America, Seussical is a fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza! Tony winners, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Lucky Stiff, My Favorite Year, Once on This Island, Ragtime), have lovingly brought to life all of our favorite Dr. Seuss characters, including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, lazy Mayzie and a little boy with a big imagination - Jojo. The colorful characters transport us from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos." Performances take place at Lafayette High School Theater in Wildwood, MO. For more information: www.prcommunityed.org/spotlightproductions

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Twisted Improv on Friday, July 20, at 8 pm 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.

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of July 13, 2018

New on the list: Cabaret, operetta, and a biographical juke-box muscial.

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New This Week:

Bob Wetzel and Craig Becker
Mariposa Productions presents Bob Wetzel and Craig Becker in A Fine Bromance on Friday, July 13, at 8 pm. The show is "a musical journey through a lifelong friendship! Featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim, James Taylor, Noel Coward, Paul Simon....and more!" Lina Koutrakos directs, with musical direction by Rick Jensen. The performance takes place at The Kranzberg Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

My take: Honsesty compels me to point out that Bob is a fellow member of the board of The Cabaret Project, but honesty also comples me to say that I've been very impressed by his smooth and musically sharp work at the Cabaret Project open mic nights. And you can never go wrong when cabaret legends Lina Koutrakos and Rick Jensen are your directors.


H.M.S. Pinafore
Photo by John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta H.M.S. Pinafore Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through July 14. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, this is a jolly and entertaining production of a G&S classic that's a little bit of Savoyard heaven. It's satisfyingly silly and sung to perfection.


Jersey Boys
Photo by Philiip Hamer
The Muny presents the musical Jersey Boys opening on Monday, July 9, at 8:15 pm and running through July 16. 'The international sensation arrives at The Muny in style! Jersey Boys, winner of the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, is the authentic biographic story of the magic behind the music of worldwide megahit group, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Featuring over 30 chart-topping hits, including fan favorites "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You," this Muny premiere is almost too good to be true, and will leave audiences saying, "Oh, What a Night!"' Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: I have always managed to curb my enthusiasm for Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, but there's no question that this juke-box musical gloss on the lives and careers of the group has met with considerable critical acclaim. Writing for MaxSTL, Tina Farmer says Jersey Boys "is more than a touch nostalgic, but the show doesn't feel old. The story is still relatable and nearly every song is a well-crafted piece of pop music history...the focus on the songs and storytelling creates a satisfying and surprisingly intimate evening of theater." "The Muny showcases its best and brightest presentation yet," enthuses Mark Bretz at Ladue News.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: "All the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore"

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

The cast of H.M.S. Pinafore
Photo by John Lamb
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Union Avenue Opera dropped anchor for their 24th season this past weekend with a jolly and entertaining production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore" that's a little bit of Savoyard heaven.

The cast is excellent. As Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty who admits that the junior partnership in a law firm was "the only ship [he] ever had seen," baritone Steven Condy has the character's clueless pomposity and bottomless self-regard down pat, and he delivers Gilbert's lyrics with impressive clarity. Baritone Thomas Gunther shows an equally firm grasp of comic timing as Captain Corcoran, who's "hardly ever" sick at sea, and he brings an impressive, powerful voice to the role. His "Fair moon, to thee I sing" at the top of the second act was a genuine crowd pleaser.

Anthon Heinemann and Leann Schuering
Photo by John Lamb
Tenor Anthony Heinemann brings solid acting skills and an impressive vocal range to the role of Ralph Rackstraw, the sturdy sailor in love with Corcoran's daughter Josephine, although he sounded a bit underpowered compared to the rest of the cast. Soprano Leann Schuering is a real delight as Josephine, displaying a clear, attractive voice in her big second act aria, "The hours keep on apace," in which she tries to decide between true love and true money.

Mezzo Katherine Calcamuggio is an endearingly funny Little Buttercup, and baritone Jacob Lassetter shows a remarkable lower register as the despised Dick Deadeye, a role usually assigned to a bass. Mezzo Erin Haupt makes the small role of Cousin Hebe a comic gem.

As is so often the case, Union Avenue's chorus sings with an authority and clarity that belies its small size, often rendering the projected English supertitles irrelevant. Under Scott Schoonover's expert baton, the orchestra delivers a fine, robust performance of Sullivan's wonderful score, with tempi that are invariably perfect. There were a few moments when singers and orchestra were not quite in synch on opening night, but I'd expect that to work itself out with time.

Kyra Bishop Sanford's multi-level set appears to have sailed straight out of "Anything Goes," an image reinforced by the straw boaters worn by the sailors, but otherwise Teresa Doggett's bright costumes suggest we're still comfortably ensconced in the Victorian era, with horizontal striped shirts for the men and blue and white bustle skirts for the women. Sir Joseph looks appropriately ridiculous, especially in his tacky second act smoking jacket.

L-R: Thomas Gunther, Leann Schuering, Steven Condy
Photo by John Lamb
Director Eric Gibson is sometimes a little too fond of gilding the comic lily with overly busy stage business and unnecessary extra lyrics for the popular patter song "When I was a lad," but that's minor stuff. His pacing is brisk, his blocking makes dramatic sense, and the minimal choreography he has provided for a couple of the chorus numbers makes everyone look good without calling for significant terpsichorean skills.

So, yeah, Union Avenue Opera has gotten their season off to a strong start with a bit of classic Gilbert and Sullivan that's fun and funny. It's not entirely to my taste, but it's awfully well done and that, in these times of what Tom Lehrer might describe as "universal brouhaha," is more than enough.

Performances of "H.M.S Pinafore" continue through Saturday, July 14th 2018, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, at Union and Enright in the Central West End. More information is available at the company web site.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 9, 2018

New items this week include a biographical musical at the Muny, an Oscar Wilde classic at Insight, and a new cabaret show at the Kranzberg.

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Hard Road Theatre Productions presents the children's musical Annie Jr. Thursday through Sunday, July 12 - 15. Performances will be held at the Highland School Kennel , 12760 Troxler Avenue in Highland IL. For more information: www.hardroad.org.

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

Bob Wetzel and Craig Becker
Mariposa Productions presents Bob Wetzel and Craig Becker in A Fine Bromance on Friday, July 13, at 8 pm. The show is "a musical journey through a lifelong friendship! Featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim, James Taylor, Noel Coward, Paul Simon....and more!" Lina Koutrakos directs, with musical direction by Rick Jensen. The performance takes place at The Kranzberg Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. 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 July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the rock musical Hair Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, July 13 - 22. Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

H.M.S. Pinafore
 Photo by John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta H.M.S. Pinafore Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through July 14. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Insight Theatre Company presents Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance of Being Earnest July 12 - 22. "The Importance of Being Earnest is a Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Set in 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym (“Ernest”) for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues. " Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Muny presents the musical Jersey Boys opening on Monday, July 9, at 8:15 pm and running through July 16. 'The international sensation arrives at The Muny in style! Jersey Boys, winner of the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical, is the authentic biographic story of the magic behind the music of worldwide megahit group, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Featuring over 30 chart-topping hits, including fan favorites “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Can't Take My Eyes Off You,” this Muny premiere is almost too good to be true, and will leave audiences saying, “Oh, What a Night!”' Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville presents a musical version of the Shakespeare comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, adapted and directed by Chuck Harper, Department Chair of Theater and Dance, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 15. Performances take place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus of SIU Edwardsville, next to the Student Fitness Center. For more information: siue.edu.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 1through July 15 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in Part 1 are "4th Reich" by Neil LaBute, "Shut up and Dance"by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, "Advantage God" by Norman Kline, and "Hipster Noir" by James McLindon. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Spotlight Productions presents Suessical the Musical Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, July 13 - 22. "Now one of the most performed shows in America, Seussical is a fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza! Tony winners, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Lucky Stiff, My Favorite Year, Once on This Island, Ragtime), have lovingly brought to life all of our favorite Dr. Seuss characters, including Horton the Elephant, The Cat in the Hat, Gertrude McFuzz, lazy Mayzie and a little boy with a big imagination - Jojo. The colorful characters transport us from the Jungle of Nool to the Circus McGurkus to the invisible world of the Whos." Performances take place at Lafayette High School Theater in Wildwood, MO. For more information: www.prcommunityed.org/spotlightproductions

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

Sunday, July 01, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 2, 2018

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The new shows this week are a Gilbert and Sullivan classic, a musical version of a Shakespeare comedy, and this year's LaBute New Play Festival.

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

The Drowning Girls
Photo by Aaron Markham
Fourth Wall Down presents The Drowning Girls through July 14. 'The play gasps to life with Bessie, Alice, and Margaret (English women of the early 1900s) trying to remember their lives. Though fragmented, the tragic truth is slowly unraveled: each unassuming, lonely and on the cusp of 'spinsterhood', they're surprised to find Love, along with an avenue toward societal worth… Marriage to "a man of independent means".' Performances take place at Wild Carrot, 3901 Shaw in the Shaw Neighborhood. For more information: www.fourthwalldown.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. 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 July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Union Avenue Opera presents Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, July 6 - 14. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville presents a musical version of the Shakespeare comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, adapted and directed by Chuck Harper, Department Chair of Theater and Dance, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, July 6 - 15. Performances take place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus of SIU Edwardsville, next to the Student Fitness Center. For more information: siue.edu.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 1 July 6 - 15 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in Part 1 are "4th Reich" by Neil LaBute, "Shut up and Dance"by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, "Advantage God" by Norman Kline, and "Hipster Noir" by James McLindon. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Take Two Productions the musical Rock of Ages Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 7. "It's the tail end of the big, bad 1980s in Hollywood, and the party has been raging hard. Aqua Net, Lycra, lace and liquor flow freely at one of the Sunset Strips last legendary venues, a place where sex machine Stacee Jaxx takes the stage and scantily clad groupies line up to turn their fantasies into reality. Amidst the madness, aspiring rock star (and resident toilet cleaner) Drew longs to take the stage as the next big thing (and longs for small-town girl Sherrie, fresh off the bus from Kansas with stars in her eyes). But the rock and roll fairy-tale is about to end when German developers sweep into town with plans to turn the fabled Strip into just another capitalist strip mall. Can Drew, Sherrie, and the gang save the strip - and themselves - before it's too late? Only the music of hit bands Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and more hold the answer." Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, visit taketwoproductions.org.

Singin' in the Rain
The Muny presents the musical Singin' in the Rain opening on Wednesday, June 27, at 8:15 p.m. and running through July 3. "A timeless Muny favorite, Singin' in the Rain has all the makings of a Tinseltown tabloid headline - the starlet, the leading man, a love affair for the ages and the unexpected transition from the silent film era to "talkies." Known for its unforgettable hit-parade of Hollywood standards, splashy production numbers, hilarious situations and snappy dialogue, this Muny production is sure to be a downpour of pure delight." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Light rain

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

L-R: Corbin Bleu, Berklea Going, Jeffrey Schecter
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"Singin' in the Rain," the 1983 stage adaptation of the beloved 1952 movie musical, will probably never make anyone's list of Best Musicals of All Time. But the Muny's production of the 2012 London revival is, to paraphrase the Bard, entertaining enough and 'twill suffice.

Set in the late 1920s, the story of both the original movie and the stage version by Broadway veterans Betty Comden and Adolph Green concerns matinee idol Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly in the film), pianist/sidekick Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor), and aspiring actress and singer Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). When Lockwood's movie studio decides to make the change to talking pictures, the grating voice of Lockwood's co-star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) threatens to end both their careers even as her unwelcome interference threatens the budding romance between Lockwood and Selden.

When I last saw this show at the Muny back in 1995, I suggested that the acting opportunities available to the leads in this show were somewhat limited by the fact their characters aren't fictional creations so much as distillations of the public personas of three legendary performers who appeared in the original film. What was called for, I thought, were skilled impersonations rather re-interpretations.

L-R: Corbin Bleu, Megan Sikora, George Merrick
Well, we all make mistakes.

Viewed over two decades later, I'm now obliged to admit that a talented musical theatre actor can capture the essence of the film's original stars without ever coming close to celebrity impersonation. That's certainly what's happening this week in Forest Park.

As Don Lockwood, Corbin Bleu lights up the Muny stage with his own version of Kelly's famous Blitzkrieg charm and blinding smile, along with strong, graceful dance moves and an impeccable voice. Whether he's shuffling, tapping, or soft-shoeing through classics like "Fit as a Fiddle", "Good Morning", or the title song (complete with on-stage rain), or crooning to Berklea Going's Kathy Selden, he's always in character and in the moment. Besides, you've got to admire any hoofer who can look that good on a rain-slicked stage.

Ms. Going is also treasure as the iron-willed and golden-voiced singer who is only willing to keep her light hidden under a basket for so long. Her performance of "You Are My Lucky Star" is a high point of the first act, as is her song and dance number with the ensemble women in "All I Do Is Dream of You." She's also a more than capable dancer, holding her own with her co-stars in the lively "Good Morning."

Debby Lennon
Jeffrey Schecter is Cosmo Brown. The role calls for a combination of precise comic timing, athletic dancing, and the ability to be endearing without becoming sappy. Mr. Schecter does it all, and splendidly. The audience took to him immediately on opening night, applauding enthusiastically at his big comic dance number "Make 'Em Laugh."

Megan Sikora hits all the right notes--along with some deliberately hilarious wrong ones--as Lina Lamont, the woman with a voice that could peel paint. The part offers less room for interpretation than the three leads since it's mostly a matter of reproducing Ms. Hagen's brassy bombshell shtick from the film, but even so Ms. Sikora puts her own comic spin on it. That's most apparent in her second act showstopper "What's Wrong With Me," a song that never appeared in the original film but probably should have.

The supporting cast is strong as well, with fine performances from Jeff McCarthy as studio boss R.F. Simpson, Debby Lennon as both gassy gossip columnist Dora Bailey and Lamont's long-suffering elocution coach, George Merrick as film director Roscoe Dexter, and Halle Morse as Lina's co-conspirator Zelda Zanders. A special tip of the critical hat is also due dancer Lizz Picini for her slinky and sexy turn as The Girl in the Green Dress in the "Broadway Rhythm" number.

Corbin Bleu
Under the direction of Ben Whiteley the Muny orchestra sounded at the top of their game on opening night, the humidity not withstanding. Director Marc Bruni keeps everything moving briskly and looking polished, while Rommy Sandhu's choreography is a neat mix of classical dance moves and vintage styles of the 20s and 30s. Sets by Paul Tate dePoo III, video projections by Greg Emetaz, and lighting by Nathan W. Scheuer all help to create a properly glitzy Hollywood ambience, as do Tristan Raines's period costumes.

So, yeah, "Singin' in the Rain" is great fun, although on opening night the show was not without its issues. There were some ragged spots, a missed entrance, and everything looked just a bit under-rehearsed. That's because, as fate would have it, the final dress on Tuesday night was disrupted by a massive thunderstorm. On-stage rain is essential for "Singin' in the Rain," but only when it's under the control of the stage manager.

I expect those issues to be resolved by the time you read this, though, so I have no hesitation about recommending it to fans of the original movie or anyone who is looking for a light, entertaining musical evening. And unlike the version of the show I saw back in 1995, this more streamlined revival never wears out its welcome. If the weather permits, go and enjoy. Performances continue through Tuesday, July 3rd, and tickets are available at the Muny web site.

Review: Under the rainbow

L-R: Thomas Conroy, Angela Ingersoll, Kyle Hately
Photo by John Lamb
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There's no doubt about it, Angela Ingersoll is Judy Garland in Max and Louie Productions' End of the Rainbow, and I don't know how she does it every night.

This harrowing look at the star's final flameout during a five-week run at London's Talk of the Town nightclub in late 1968/early 1969 (just months before her death from a barbiturate overdose) can be difficult to watch because Ms. Ingersoll's performance is so convincing, and also because the script by Peter Quilter is so unrelenting in its look at Garland's disastrous private life, with its insecurity, financial ruin, and drug and alcohol addiction.

Fortunately the concert performances interspersed with the backstage drama are spectacular, and the five-piece band directed by Thomas Conroy (who also turns in a compelling performance as Garland's fictional pianist and admirer, Anthony) adds real punch to every number.

There's great work here as well by Kyle Hatley as Garland's last husband, Mickey Deans. As written, Deans is seriously conflicted, trying to save Garland from her self while still keeping her happy-or at least placated. Mr. Hately allows us to see both the love and pain.

L-R: Angela Ingersoll, Paul Cereghino
Photo by John Lamb
Paul Cereghino shows versatility in multiple roles as a stoic porter, distracted assistant stage manager, and somewhat smarmy BBC interviewer.

The high drama of Garland's backstage life became a bit much at times and started to feel a bit numbing, at least to me. I also thought that focusing more on Garland's offstage excesses rather than her onstage success robbed her of some dignity. More of Judy Garland the legendary performer and less of Judy Garland the nervous wreck would have been preferable.

That said, nobody should miss Ms. Ingersoll's stunning performances of Garland's hits, such as her heartbreaking "The Man That Got Away," or her "Come Rain or Come Shine," in which Garland is just inches away from completely losing control. It's like watching a high wire act without a net.

Bracing and tragic, End of the Rainbow is a powerful tribute to Garland's genius and madness. Performances continue through this Sunday, July 1st, at the Grandel Theatre.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of June 29, 2018

New on the list: Judy Garland in decline, zoo animals on the loose, a new LGBTQIA chorus, and samplers from Hawthorne Players and a vast variety of local theatre groups.

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New This Week:

Voices of Valhalla (2016)
Photo by Ken Clark
The Hawthorne Players present Echoes of Valhalla on Saturday, June 30, at 2 and 7 pm. For the past eight years, the popular "Voices of Valhalla" events held each October have sold out within the first 24 hours. Author and director Larry Marsh, says that "Echoes of Valhalla" will be a wonderful opportunity for folks who have been unable to get tickets in the past to see some of the very best performances given over the last eight years. The seats are a lot more comfortable in the Civic Center Theatre than on those hay wagons, and you won't have to worry about rain or hay allergies! As in the outdoor hayride productions, leading actors from Hawthorne Players will bring to life the stories and times of people buried in the historic Valhalla Cemetery on St. Charles Rock Road." The performance takes place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.info.

My take: I had a chance to both see and appear in the outdoor version of this annual event in 2014 and 2016, and I must say that I was impressed by the professionalism of both the script (assembled by director Larry Marsh from historical sources) and the quality of the performances. In the outdoor version, you pile on a hay wagon and are driven through historic Valhalla Cemetery. At various points during the ride, the wagon stops and an actor portraying a historical figure buried at Valhalla steps out of the darkness and delivers a monolog on his or her life. They can be comic, tragic, or a combination of the two, but they're always well researched and informative. And in this special encore performance, you can sit in a theater in air-conditioned comfort.


End of the Rainbow
Photo by John Lamb
Max and Louie Productions presents Angela Ingersoll in End of the Rainbow through July 1. "It's 1968 and Judy Garland is about to make her comeback… again. In a London hotel room, with both her new young fiancé and her adoring accompanist, Garland struggles to get "beyond the rainbow" with her signature cocktail of talent, tenacity and razor sharp wit. Featuring some of Garland's most memorable songs, this savagely funny play-with-music offers unique insight into the inner conflict that inspired and consumed one of the most beloved figures of our time." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: maxandlouie.com.

My take: This season, Max and Louis have been concentrating on shows about extraordinary real-life women singers in even more extraordinary situations. That has included Billie Holiday, the eccentric Florence Foster Jenkins and, finally, the great Judy Garland in a decline of operatic proportions. At Ladue News, Mark Bretz says "Ingersoll, who dazzled patrons in April at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza in her tribute concert, Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine, is both brilliant and extraordinary in her portrayal of the doomed star in the current production being staged by Max & Louie Productions. It’s a performance which any local fan of Garland should not miss." I plan to be there this Friday.


St. Louis Public Radio presents the Grand Center Theatre Crawl on Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 1 and 6 pm, June 29 and 30, at various locations in the Grand Center Arts District. Join St. Louis Public Radio for the finest offerings of the bustling St. Louis theatre scene at the Grand Center Theatre Crawl. Rotate through venues in Grand Center to get free access to 24 local theatre groups in short performances." Featured theatre companies Equally Represented Arts, Insight Theatre Company, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, Prison Performing Arts, R-S Theatrics, The Midnight Company, and West End Players Guild. For more information: stlpublicradio.org

My take: Here's a chance to get sneak previews of some of what's coming up on local stages. Think of it as a kind of theatrical tasting menu. And for free, no less.


Madagascar: A Musical Adventure
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Madagascar: A Musical Adventure, based on the animated film, through July 1. "STAGES invites you to take a journey out of the Central Park Zoo and onto an enchanted desert isle with your favorite crack-a-lackin' friends from the DreamWorks blockbuster film, MADAGASCAR! Join Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the hip-hip Hippo, and, of course, mad King Julien for a musical adventure of a lifetime. Filled with gut-busting laughs galore, rockin' dance moves, and an upbeat up-to-the-minute score that includes "Move It, Move It," exploring a brave new world was never so much ridiculous fun!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: Looking for something the whole family can enjoy? Stages has your ticket(s). "Stages St. Louis," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "brings the musical version of the popular 2005 animated feature across the state from Kansas City, where it had its world premiere in 2016, to the Reim Theatre for a rousing, rambunctious good time for kids and adults alike."

Singin' in the Rain
The Muny presents the musical Singin' in the Rain opening on Wednesday, June 27, at 8:15 p.m. and running through July 3. "A timeless Muny favorite, Singin' in the Rain has all the makings of a Tinseltown tabloid headline - the starlet, the leading man, a love affair for the ages and the unexpected transition from the silent film era to "talkies." Known for its unforgettable hit-parade of Hollywood standards, splashy production numbers, hilarious situations and snappy dialogue, this Muny production is sure to be a downpour of pure delight." Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, nobody would mistake Singin' in the Rain for the Great American Musical, but it's great fun nevertheless, especially when performed by such an outstanding cast. Corbin Bleu lights up the stage as Don Lockwood, and co-stars Berklea Going, Jeffrey Schecter, and Megan Sikora are shining up there with him. It's fun for the whole family, so go and enjoy.


The Black Tulip Chorale presents You Come Too Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 1 pm, June 30 and July 1. The Black Tulip Chorale is "St. Louis' only LGBTQIA-friendly mixed voice ensemble welcoming all genders and orientations. In its inaugural season, the Black Tulip Chorale promotes social consciousness through the finest in choral repertoire." Performances take place at the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Road, on Saturday and at the St. Paul United Church of Christ, 3510 Giles, on Sunday. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com

My take: This is the first outing (you shold pardon the expression) by a spinoff group of the much-admired Gateway Men's Chorus. Dr. Ken Haller, who is also much admired for his work as a cabaret singer, actor, and (most recently) cabaret director is a force majeure here, which is reason enough to recommend this concert.


Held Over:

Corinne Melançon and Steve Isom
in I Do! I Do!
Photo by Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical I Do! I Do!, by the creators of The Fantasticks, through July 1. "I DO! I DO! tells the poignant story of 50 years in the married lives of Michael and Agnes. This two character musical version of the comedy/drama 'The Fourposter' takes place entirely in a bedroom and takes its audience on a whirlwind journey that begins in 1895 and ends half a century later. I DO! I DO! offers its audiences a frank look at the miracle of marriage as Michael and Agnes experience childbirth, parenthood, and the eventual settling down to face the future and their advancing years together. Originally written for the Broadway stars, Mary Martin and Robert Preston, STAGES employs the innovative theatrical hat-trick of two separate rotating casts: neither of which you will want to miss! An unabashed gift to the many couples who have walked through our doors, I DO! I DO! will be sure to steal your heart while celebrating the many triumphs and heartaches of marriage: past, present, and future!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: Originally staged on Broadway back in 1966 and revised for a revival 30 years later, this charming if slight show will strike some familiar chords for anyone who has been married for any length of time. Despite a coupe of emotional crises that are resolved with implausible ease, the emotional stakes in this script are not high, but the appealing score (including the "My Cup Runneth Over," a lovely number that was inescapable back in the late 1960s) and polished production still make this well worth your time. Because, really, not everything has to be fraught with dramatic weight. I saw the "purple" cast, consisting of Stages regular Steve Isom and Corinne Melançon (who is also the production's dance captain). Their work is impeccable, but I don't think you can go wrong with the "red" cast of David Schmittou and Kari Ely either.