Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chucks Chocies for the weekend of May 27, 2016

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:

La Bohème
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Puccini's La Bohème opening on Saturday, May 21, and running through June 25. "One of the most performed operas of all time, La bohème has gripped audiences for over a century. Rodolfo and his friends scrape by as bohemian artists, using their wit and charm to escape life's harsher consequences. Rodolfo can't imagine how love will change him until he encounters a beautiful dressmaker, Mimì. Set to lush, irresistible music, Puccini's masterpiece never fails to move audiences to both laughter and tears." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

My take: Pretty much everything I want to say about this fine production is in my 88.1 KDHX review!. There are some minor aspects of this particular La Bohème that I find less than ideal, but the production as a whole is so very good so often that I have no hesitation in recommending it.


Costumes for the witches in Macbeth
Design by Mark Bouman
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's Macbeth, based on the Shakespeare tragedy, opening on Saturday, May 28, and running through June 26. "This opera is a thriller from start to finish - from the eerie prophecies of witches, to Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene, to the chilling and bloody finale. Experience Shakespeare's tale of ruthless ambition and murder as a classic Verdi masterwork, set to some of the most magnificent music in all of opera." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

My take: I haven't seen this yet and won't get the opportunity to do so for a few weeks, but I'm recommending it anyway because I have always liked this economical and dramatically charged operatic version of Shakespeare's terse tragedy. Yes, it's more Italian than it is Scots or English, but it's rattling good yarn all the same.


You can read more about all the upcoming operas at OTSL in my preview post.


Held Over:

The Two-Character Play
The Midnight Company presents The Two-Character Play by Tennessee Williams Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., through June 4. "Two actors, a brother and a sister, are stranded in a theatre, struggling to perform, struggling to survive." Performances take place at the Winter Opera Space, 2322 Marconi on The Hill. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

My take: The recently-concluded Tennessee Williams festival produced a remarkable variety of performances, including an unconventional take on The Glass Menagerie by Upstream and this "weird but oddly wonderful production" (to quote Mark Bretz of Ladue News) of a late and rarely-seen play. It might not be the playwright's best work, but it's being performed by a pair of actors—Michelle Hand and Joe Hanrahan—who are among the best at their craft. That, for me, means that it deserves serious consideration.


Yentl
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents the musical Yentl through June 5 “Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” and updated with new music and lyrics by Jill Sobule, “Yentl” tells the story of a young girl in 19th century Eastern Europe forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her identity. This marks 40 years since the play - then without music - ran on Broadway. With parallels in Singer's short story coinciding with the burgeoning second wave of feminism, we find Yentl as an outsider seeking to find her own voice within a very proscribed world.” 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.

My take: This "rousing, spirited production" (to quote KDHX critic Tina Farmer) is effectively a world premiere, and I'm a big fan of the idea of bringing new works to local stages. Better yet, New Jewish has assembled a very strong cast for this, headed by Shanara Gabrielle in the title role and Andrew Michael Neiman as her love interest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Andrew Haji, Hae Ji Chang, and the company
Photo: Ken Howard
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By the time Puccini and his librettists got around to translating Henri Murger’s episodic 1849 novel Scènes De La Vie Bohème into the 1896 opera La Bohème, it had already enjoyed a considerable European vogue, so it’s not surprising that La Bohème has gone on to become a favorite of opera companies around the world. That includes Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which has presented it five times since 1978.

For its sixth run at this classic tearjerker (which runs through June 25, 2016), OTSL has assembled a fine cast, with particularly strong performers in the supporting roles. Combine that with generally very smart direction and superb orchestral playing and the result is a very gratifying production which, despite a few missteps, serves both Puccini and his librettists very well.

L-R: Sean Michael Plumb, Anthony Clark Evans, 
and Bradley Smoak
Photo: Ken Howard
For those of you who have somehow missed being exposed to this tale of starving artists in the Latin Quarter of Paris, here's a quick summary. On Christmas Eve, the poet Rodolfo, the painter Marcello, the philosopher Colline, and the musician Schaunard are young, creative, broke, and preparing to burn some of their work to heat their squalid Parisian apartment when the equally poverty-stricken seamstress Mimi comes knocking. Before the first act is over, she and Rodolfo are smitten. The opera chronicles the highs and tragic lows of both their relationship and that of Marcello and the singer Musetta. Mimi dies, Musetta doesn't, and nobody lives happily ever after.

Bass-baritone Bradley Smoak and baritone Sean Michael Plumb turn in two of the strongest performances as Colline and Schaunard, respectively. A regular on the OTSL stage, Mr. Smoak once again displays the ideal combination of vocal power and theatrical prowess that made him a welcome addition to (among others) the company's Pirates of Penzance in 2013 and Don Giovanni in 2011. Mr. Plumb, in his OTSL debut, proves to be a skilled actor with a fine sense of comedy and an accurate, robust voice.

Andrew Haji and Hae Ji Chang
Photo: Ken Howard
Also making his company debut is baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Marcello, who can't decide whether he's less happy with Musetta or without her. His battle and reconciliation with her in the big Café Momus scene of Act II was a highlight of the evening.

Speaking of Our Lady of the Relaxed Virtue, soprano Lauren Michelle (yet another newcomer to the OTSL stage) gives Musetta a bit more of a comic edge than I have seen in other productions. It makes her great fun to watch, even if it makes Marcello's obsession with her a bit less credible, but she sings up a storm in the famed "Musetta's Waltz" sequence and makes the character's compassion for Mimi in the last act very moving.

As Rodolfo, Andrew Haji (a late replacement for the originally scheduled Anthony Kalil), displays a smooth and appealing tenor voice which is not, unfortunately, quite as powerful as that of his fellow cast members, so he tends to get a bit swamped in ensemble numbers. He also is a bit overpowered by his Mimi, Hae Ji Chang, who has the kind of big, rich soprano required for this "full lyric" role. They're fine singers, but neither seemed to be fully invested in their characters, resulting in performances that felt a bit one-dimensional to me.

Lauren Michelle and the company
Photo: Ken Howard
Even so, Mimi's death scene, which OTSL General Director Tim O'Leary calls "one of the most heartbreaking scenes in all of opera," manages to generate the right amount of pathos, so on the whole I can't really complain.

Bass-baritone Thomas Hammons, whose cameo in Tabarro was so moving back in 2013, shows solid comic chops as the befuddled landlord Benoit and Musetta's equally confused sugar daddy Alcindoro.

Director Ron Daniels, Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez, and Costume Designer Emily Rebholz have moved the action from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth, using silent film clips and non-singing actors (including a pair of Charlie Chaplin imitators on roller skates and stage veteran Joneal Joplin as Santa Claus) to set the tone between acts. This makes a certain dramatic sense, in that Paris in the 1920s probably has the same kind of nostalgic feel for the modern audience that the mid-1900s Paris would have had for Puccini's audience at the end of that century.

L-R: Anthony Clark Evans, Thomas Hammons,
Andrew Haji, Sean Michael Plumb, and Bradley Smoak
Photo: Ken Howard
Mr. Daniels's direction is, in any case, fluid and creates interesting visuals, even if he does have the crowd at the beginning of Act II mill around the stage in circles for a bit too long. He has also found more humor in the opera than I have sometimes seen in the past, especially in the opening scene with Rodolfo and his flat mates.

Conductor Emanuele Andrizzi is making his OTSL debut, and it's an auspicious one. His tempi are well chosen, his vocal/orchestral balances are good, and he keeps everything running smoothly. That includes the complex Café Momus scene, with both adult and children's choruses and even an offstage marching band parading through the house. The orchestra plays beautifully, with a big, rich sound that does Puccini proud.

Finally, I'd like to offer praise for the excellent rhyming English libretto by Richard Pearlman and Francis Rizzo. Too often, translators make little or no attempt to duplicate the scansion and rhyme schemes of the original material. It's nice to see it done so well here.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis's La Bohème may not be perfect, but it's awfully good and gets the company's fourty-first season off to a gratifying start. It runs through June 25, 2016, at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. Tickets available online or by phone at 314-961-0644.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 23, 2016

The Chamber Project's
Jennifer Gartley
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The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Choice on Friday, May 27, at 8:00 PM. "You vote for your favorites at all of the Chamber Project concerts all season long, and we play the winners in one epic concert. Come and hear your favorites performed one last time at our final concert of the season!" The performance takes place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Shalimar the Clown: Bringing an Acclaimed Novel from the Page to the Stage on Monday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. Guest speakers: Jack Perla and Rajiv Joseph, the composer and librettist of the world premiere opera Shalimar the Clown. It's part of their Spotlight on Opera, a series of four insightful dialogues exploring the ideas in each season's opera, and it takes place at the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents the contemporary chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound on Thursday, May 26, at 8 PM. “The ensemble performs the newest music being composed today with energetic virtuosity and a sense of adventure, creating programs that not only span a wide range of styles, but also transform the traditional concert experience itself.” The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Death, Daggers, and Disease: A Night at the Opera on Monday, May 23 at 8 p.m. A cast of St. Louis opera singers will perform famous death scenes from favorite operas, including"Dead Man Walking," "La bohème," "Carmen," and "La Traviata." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Alexander Weymann
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents pianist Alexander Weymann in a solo recital of music by Handel, Beethoven, Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninov on Wednesday, May 25 at 8 p.m. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents The Greenleaf Singers on Friday, May 27 at 6 p.m. "The Greenleaf Singers is an exciting vocal ensemble specializing in a cappella music of the Renaissance. Their repertoire includes folk songs from village festivals, love melodies from royal palaces, and drinking numbers from raucous taverns. Come and hear their wonderfully blended voices as they bring to life the works of the most gifted composers of the 15th thru 16th Centuries." 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 May 23, 2016

[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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La Bohème
Photo: Ken Howard
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Puccini's La Bohème opening on Saturday, May 21, and running through June 25. "One of the most performed operas of all time, La bohème has gripped audiences for over a century. Rodolfo and his friends scrape by as bohemian artists, using their wit and charm to escape life's harsher consequences. Rodolfo can't imagine how love will change him until he encounters a beautiful dressmaker, Mimì. Set to lush, irresistible music, Puccini's masterpiece never fails to move audiences to both laughter and tears." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644. Read my 88.1 KDHX review!

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Bullets in the Bathtub through July 30. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: mansion.com

Alpha Players present the comedy Dearly Departed through May 29 The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. "Dearly Departed is a drop-dead funny comedy about families, funerals, and fried chicken." For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's Macbeth, based on the Shakespeare tragedy, opening on Saturday, May 28, and running through June 26. "This opera is a thriller from start to finish - from the eerie prophecies of witches, to Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene, to the chilling and bloody finale. Experience Shakespeare's tale of ruthless ambition and murder as a classic Verdi masterwork, set to some of the most magnificent music in all of opera." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Mitzi's Abortion Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., through May 29. "A young woman trying to make an intensely personal decision in a system determined to make it a political one." Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Nursery Crimes through July 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The Two-Character Play
The Midnight Company presents The Two-Character Play by Tennessee Williams Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through June 4. "Two actors, a brother and a sister, are stranded in a theatre, struggling to perform, struggling to survive." Performances take place at the Winter Opera Space, 2322 Marconi on The Hill. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

Yentl
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents the musical Yentl through June 5 “Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” and updated with new music and lyrics by Jill Sobule, “Yentl” tells the story of a young girl in 19th century Eastern Europe forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her identity. This marks 40 years since the play - then without music - ran on Broadway. With parallels in Singer's short story coinciding with the burgeoning second wave of feminism, we find Yentl as an outsider seeking to find her own voice within a very proscribed world.” 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.

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, May 19, 2016

Chuck's Coices for the weekend of May 20, 2016

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:

Marsh Cobb
The Emerald Room at the Monocle presents singer Marsh Cobb in The Moon, the Stars, and Other Heavenly Bodies on Sunday, May 22, at 3 p.m. "There is probably no symbol more iconic in American popular music than the moon and stars. Sad songs, happy songs, and of course, love songs. It seems love and the moon go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or chocolate and mint. Or chocolate and, well, just about anything. Marsh Cobb takes us on a tour of some of the best of these songs and what they meant to him throughout his life. A poet and lyricist himself, Marsh has a special connection to song lyrics and the magical effect they produce." The performances take place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: www.buzzonstage.com/st-louis

My take: The blossoming of local cabaret talent in St. Louis has been a wonderful thing to see over the last several years. The combination of the intensive training offered by Tim Schall's St. Louis Cabaret Conference and the availability multiple performance venues has generated enough attention to give the Mound City its own entry in the Reviews section of Cabaret Scenes magazine. Marsh has been a regular at the Cabaret Project's monthly open mic night (which I host) at Tavern of Fine Arts for a few years now, and I have come to admire both his smooth, old-fashioned crooner's delivery and his sense of humor.


Mara Bollini
The Kranzberg Arts Center presents singer Mara Bollini in Taking Chances on Friday, May 20, at 8 p.m. "A native of St. Louis, Mara Bollini has had the privilege of singing and dancing her way across stages throughout the area for decades. “Taking Chances,” Bollini’s debut solo cabaret, is an artistically crafted journey blending music from across the ages as well as musical genres." Tim Schall directs, with music direction by Carl Schmidt. The Kranzberg Center is at 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2506682

My take: Here's more evidence of the flowering of St. Louis cabaret. Mara Bollini has been a familiar figure on the local theatre scene for a while now, which bodes well for her cabaret debut. I am firmly of the opinion that actors do some of the best cabaret.  And you can't go wrong with the team of Tim Schall and Carold Schmidt.


The Two-Character Play
The Midnight Company presents The Two-Character Play by Tennessee Williams Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., through June 4. "Two actors, a brother and a sister, are stranded in a theatre, struggling to perform, struggling to survive." Performances take place at the Winter Opera Space, 2322 Marconi on The Hill. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

My take: The recently-concluded Tennessee Williams festival produced a remarkable variety of performances, including an unconventional take on The Glass Menagerie by Upstream and this "weird but oddly wonderful production" (to quote Mark Bretz of Ladue News) of a late and rarely-seen play. It might not be the playwright's best work, but it's being performed by a pair of actors—Michelle Hand and Joe Hanrahan—who are among the best at their craft. That, for me, means that it deserves serious consideration.


Yentl
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents the musical Yentl through June 5 “Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” and updated with new music and lyrics by Jill Sobule, “Yentl” tells the story of a young girl in 19th century Eastern Europe forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her identity. This marks 40 years since the play - then without music - ran on Broadway. With parallels in Singer's short story coinciding with the burgeoning second wave of feminism, we find Yentl as an outsider seeking to find her own voice within a very proscribed world.” 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.

My take: This "rousing, spirited production" (to quote KDHX critic Tina Farmer) is effectively a world premiere, and I'm a big fan of the idea of bringing new works to local stages. Better yet, New Jewish has assembled a very strong cast for this, headed by Shanara Gabrielle in the title role and Andrew Michael Neiman as her love interest.

Preview: Love, death, and laughter in Opera Theatre of St. Louis's 2016 season

The festival grounds at Opera Theatre
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Summer is almost upon us, which means it's time for picnics on the lawn, champagne receptions, and great musical theatre in Webster Groves. It is, in short, time for Opera Theatre's annual four-show season.

Travel plans will make it impossible for me to provide my usual detailed preview of each opera, so instead here's a quick look at what you can expect on the stage of the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus starting on Saturday, May 21, and running through June 26.

But first, some basics. For four decades now, Opera Theatre has been presenting four operas in rotating repertory every summer. All operas are sung in English with projected English text, so you won't miss a single word. The orchestra is made up of local musicians, mostly from the St. Louis Symphony, and the cast members are drawn from all over the world. Critics come from all over the world as well, making the annual OTSL season a truly international event.

For the full Opera Theatre experience, come early and have a picnic supper and some wine at one of the many tables set up on the Loretto-Hilton Center's lawn or under one of the concession tents. You can bring your own food and drink or buy boxed dinners from Ces and Judy's catering. Come on opening nights and get an added bonus: a champagne and dessert reception after the show with the cast and crew under the main concession tent.

Musetta costume sketches
The season opens on Saturday, May 21, with a recurring favorite: Puccini's La Bohème. Directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by Emanuele Andrizzi, this will be the sixth production of the opera by OTSL. It stars Canadian tenor Andrew Haji as Rudolfo, Kentucky-born baritone Anthony Clark Evans as Marcello, soprano and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition winner Lauren Michelle as Musetta, and soprano Hae Ji Chang as Mimi.

The Story: Although copies of Henri Murger's 1851 short story collection Scènes De La Vie Bohème are no longer the common sight on bookshelves that they once were, the principal characters have never fallen out of favor. Originally published in a Paris literary magazine, the stories of young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s inspired, among other things, one play, two operas, and most recently, the wildly successful rock musical Rent.

It's Puccini's 1896 opera, however, that should probably get most of the credit for embedding the image of the starving artist in a Paris atelier into Western consciousness. The poet Rodolfo, the painter Marcello, and their various young, creative, and broke friends are down on their luck and preparing to burn some of their work to heat their squalid Parisian apartment when the equally poverty-stricken seamstress Mimi comes knocking. Before the first act is over, she and Rudolfo are smitten. The opera chronicles the highs and tragic lows of both their relationship and that of Marcello and the singer Musetta, Our Lady of the Relaxed Virtue.

Highlights: The long, ecstatic love scene between Rudolfo and Mimi at the end of Act I never fails to generate applause, as does the Act II scene at Café Momus, featuring Musetta's famous waltz tune, "Quando m'en vo'" ("When I go along"). And Mimi's death scene at the end of the fourth act can always be counted up on for jerking tears. Director Daniels promises a fresh and breathtaking approach to this old favorite. I look forward to seeing what that means.


The three witches' costume sketch
Saturday, May 28, brings the local premiere of Verdi's Macbeth. Directed by Lee Blakeley and conducted by OTSL Music Director Stephen Lord, the production stars English baritone Roland Wood in the title role, along with soprano Julie Makerov, last seen here as the homicidal Queen of Hearts in Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland in 2012, as the even more homicidal Lady Macbeth.

The Story: Francesco Maria Piave's libretto sticks fairly close to Shakespeare's original, although there are some inevitable expansions for the opera stage. The three witches, for example, have been turned into an entire cackling chorus. The opera currently exists in two different versions: the 1847 original and an 1865 revision prepared for the Théâtre-Lyrique in Paris. That latter version has been the more popular of the two and it's the one OTSL is using.

In an article for Opera Today, Harvard's Daniel Albright says this later version is "more spacious, sprawling, operatic" and goes on to detail why:
[T]he Parisian ballet-pantomime for Hecate offers a glimpse at fate’s control mechanisms; the new chorus for the Scottish refugees has a greater emotional amplitude; and Lady Macbeth’s La luce langue is one of Verdi’s great arias, a show-stopper. If mixed-mode dramaturgy, opportunities for histrionic display, are Shakespearean, then 1865 is more Shakespearean than its predecessor.
No matter which version is used, though, this is a dramatic and fast-moving work that keeps the express-train pace of Shakespeare's original intact.

Highlights: I love the Act I witches' chorus, as well as Lady Macbeth's famous "letter" scene and the Act II drinking scene, interrupted by the appearance of Banquo's ghost. General Director Timothy O'Leary says we should expect "incredible vocal fireworks." And lots of blood.


Zerbinetta
costume sketch
On Sunday, June 5, at 7 p.m. OTSL brings us the opening performance of Richard Strauss's seriocomic Ariadne on Naxos, directed by the company's long-time choreographer Seán Curran with music direction by Rory Macdonald. The cast features globetrotting soprano Marjorie Owens as Ariadne, tenor AJ Glueckert (who has garnered praise for his ringing high notes) as Bacchus, South Korean soprano So Young Park as Zerbinetta, and Cecelia Hall as The Composer.

Yes, there is a role for The Composer. Allow me to explain.

The Story: As the comic Prologue informs us, the “richest man in Vienna” has engaged both a production of the tragic opera Ariadne on Naxos and a commedia dell'arte troupe as after-dinner entertainment for his guests. To save time, he decrees that both shows must take place simultaneously. The performers can work out the details. The resulting conflicts between the opera company's Composer (a "pants" role), Music Master, Prima Donna, and Tenor on one side and Zerbinetta and her group of buffoons on the other generate plenty of laughs, most of them at the expense of the self-important composer and his egotistical leading lady.

After intermission, we see the hybrid opera within an opera set up in the Prologue. Abandoned on Naxos, Ariadne (with the help of three nymphs) yearns for death, but her lamentations are repeatedly interrupted by Zerbinetta and company, who are determined to cheer her up. Drama eventually wins out, however, when Bacchus arrives, declares his love, and joins Ariadne in a long, rapturous love duet.

The odd structure of Ariadne on Naxos stems from the fact that it was originally written as a one-act postlude to a German translation (by Strauss's frequent collaborator Hugo von Hofmannsthal) of Moliere's comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in 1912. The difficulty and expense of mounting a play and an opera on the same bill eventually forced Strauss and Hofmannsthal to produce a rewrite that allowed the opera to stand on its own. It was first performed in 1916 and has been in circulation ever since.

Highlights: Your mileage may vary, but I have always found the comic carrying on of Zerbinetta and company to be some of the best bits. That said, the concluding love duet for Bacchus and Ariadne shows Strauss at his most rhapsodic. Look for distinguished St. Louis-based actor/singer/playwright Ken Page in the role of the Majordomo.


Salman Rushdie
On Saturday, June 11, at 8 p.m. we get the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown, composed by Jack Perla with a libretto by Rajiv Joseph based on the Salman Rushdie novel of the same name. Tenor Sean Panikkar-an OTSL veteran most recently seen here in the St. Louis Symphony's captivating presentation of Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette-has the title role. The production is part of the company's ongoing New Works, Bold Voices series, which emphasizes the creation of American works that tell compelling modern stories with themes of common humanity in today's world.

The Story: Shalimar the Clown is a story of paradise lost in conflict-ridden 1960s Kashmir, set also in Los Angeles and London. In a pastoral Kashmiri village, a young Muslim boy named Shalimar falls in love with a beautiful Hindu girl named Boonyi. They are performers in a traditional folk theater - he a tightrope walker and she a dancer. Their romance manages to meet with the approval of village elders, resulting in a joyful wedding. But when a new American ambassador meets Boonyi, he seduces her with the promise of a new life, sending Shalimar down a dangerous path of revenge.

Highlights: Who knows? This is a brand-new work, so it's impossible to say what the Best Bits will be. Perhaps the biggest highlight is the fact that Salman Rushdie was in town earlier in the year to support and promote the piece. One interesting aspect will be the scoring, which incorporates traditional Indian instruments like the sitar and tabla. Opera Theatre's commitment to new works is, in any case, a reminder that opera is a vibrant, living art form.

The Essentials: Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents four operas in rotating repertory from May 21 through June 26 in the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For ticket information, visit the Opera Theatre web site.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 16, 2016

[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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Black and Blue
Gitana Productions presents Black and Blue by Lee Patton Chiles at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20. “An original play of hope and healing, exploring the assumptions that all young black men are dangerous, and that all cops are bad. ” Performances take place at Harris- Stowe State University, Emerson Performance Center, 3101 Laclede in midtown St. Louis. For more information: www.gitana-inc.org.

Gitana Productions presents Black and Blue by Lee Patton Chiles at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 22. “An original play of hope and healing, exploring the assumptions that all young black men are dangerous, and that all cops are bad. ” Performances take place at Webster Groves High School, 100 Selma in Webster Groves. For more information: www.gitana-inc.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Puccini's La Boheme opening on Saturday, May 21, and running through June 25. "One of the most performed operas of all time, La bohème has gripped audiences for over a century. Rodolfo and his friends scrape by as bohemian artists, using their wit and charm to escape life's harsher consequences. Rodolfo can't imagine how love will change him until he encounters a beautiful dressmaker, Mimì. Set to lush, irresistible music, Puccini's masterpiece never fails to move audiences to both laughter and tears." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Bullets in the Bathtub through July 30. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: mansion.com

Affton CenterStage Theatre Company presents Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, at 7 p.m. Performances take place at Affton High School in the Judith Rethwisch Auditorium, 8309 Mackenzie Road in south county. For more information, call 636-349-6880 or visit www.afftoncenterstage.org.

Alpha Players present the comedy Dearly Departed May 20 - 29at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. "Dearly Departed is a drop-dead funny comedy about families, funerals, and fried chicken." For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

The Fox Theatre presents the musical Jersey Boys opening Wednesday, May 18, and running through Sunday, May 22. The musical is based on the careers of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. "This is the story of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history. They wrote their own songs, invented their own sounds and sold 175 million records worldwide - all before they were thirty!" The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Mitzi's Abortion Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., May 20-29. "A young woman trying to make an intensely personal decision in a system determined to make it a political one." Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

Marsh Cobb
The Emerald Room at the Monocle presents singer Marsh Cobb in The Moon, the Stars, and Other Heavenly Bodies on Sunday, May 22, at 3 p.m. "There is probably no symbol more iconic in American popular music than the moon and stars. Sad songs, happy songs, and of course, love songs. It seems love and the moon go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or chocolate and mint. Or chocolate and, well, just about anything. Marsh Cobb takes us on a tour of some of the best of these songs and what they meant to him throughout his life. A poet and lyricist himself, Marsh has a special connection to song lyrics and the magical effect they produce." The performances take place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: www.buzzonstage.com/st-louis

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Nursery Crimes through July 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Act Two Theatre presents Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (Female Version) through May 22. "Unger and Madison are at it again! Florence Unger and Olive Madison, that is, in Neil Simon's hilarious contemporary comic classic: the female version of The Odd Couple. Instead of the poker party that begins the original version, Ms. Madison has invited the girls over for an evening of Trivial Pursuit. The Pidgeon sisters have been replaced by the two Costazuela brothers. But the hilarity remains the same. " Performances take place in the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO 63376. For more information: act2theater.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Skin Deep Thursdays through Sundays through May 22 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. If you like a show that is filled with laugh-out-loud humor then Skin Deep is sure to please. A large, lovable, lonely-heart, named Maureen Mulligan, gives romance one last shot on a blind-date with sweet awkward Joseph Spinelli; she's learned to pepper her speech with jokes to hide insecurities about her weight and appearance, while he's almost dangerously forthright, saying everything that comes to his mind. They were set up on the date by Maureen's sister Sheila and her husband Squire, who are having problems of their own: Sheila undergoes a non-stop series of cosmetic surgeries to hang onto the attractive and much-desired Squire, who may or may not have long ago held designs on Maureen, who introduced him to Sheila. " For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

The Kranzberg Arts Center presents singer Mara Bollini in Taking Chances on Friday, May 20, at 8 p.m. "A native of St. Louis, Mara Bollini has had the privilege of singing and dancing her way across stages throughout the area for decades. “Taking Chances,” Bollini’s debut solo cabaret, is an artistically crafted journey blending music from across the ages as well as musical genres." Tim Schall directs, with music direction by Carl Schmidt. The Kranzberg Center is at 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2506682

The Two-Character Play
The Midnight Company presents The Two-Character Play by Tennessee Williams Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., through June 4. "Two actors, a brother and a sister, are stranded in a theatre, struggling to perform, struggling to survive." Performances take place at the Winter Opera Space, 2322 Marconi on The Hill. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

New Jewish Theater presents the musical Yentl through June 5 “Based on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” and updated with new music and lyrics by Jill Sobule, “Yentl” tells the story of a young girl in 19th century Eastern Europe forbidden to pursue her dream of studying Talmud. Unwilling to accept her fate, she disguises herself as a man. But when she falls in love, Yentl must decide how far she's willing to go to protect her identity. This marks 40 years since the play - then without music - ran on Broadway. With parallels in Singer's short story coinciding with the burgeoning second wave of feminism, we find Yentl as an outsider seeking to find her own voice within a very proscribed world.” 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.

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 16, 2016

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The Luminary Arts Center presents trumpeter Rhys Chatham with the Vernacular String Trio on Sunday, May 22, at 8 p.m. "Join us on May 22nd for a special solo show with legendary composer, guitarist and trumpet player Rhys Chatham.He was the founder of the music program at The Kitchen in downtown Manhattan in 1971 and was its music director between 1971-73 and 1977-80. Rhys Chatham altered the DNA of rock and created a new type of urban music by fusing the overtone-drenched minimalism of John Cale and Tony Conrad with the relentless, elemental fury of the Ramones the textural intricacies of the avant-garde colliding with the visceral punch of electric guitar-slinging punk rock." The performance takes place at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 2701 Cherokee Street. For more information: theluminaryarts.com.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Ariadne on Naxos: Backstage Drama, Onstage Comedy - When Art Mimics Life on Monday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. The guest speaker will Ken Page, Broadway actor and The Majodomo in Ariadne on Naxos. It's part of their Spotlight on Opera, a series of four insightful dialogues exploring the ideas in each season's opera, and it takes place at the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

Vocalist James Delisco
Brent Havens conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with vocalist James Delisco in Music of Michael Jackson on Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. "From his early start in the music industry with the Jackson 5 to his successful solo career, the “King of Pop” reigns at Powell Hall! Celebrating the one and only Michael Jackson, the STL Symphony is joined on stage with a full rock band performing hits including “Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Man in the Mirror” and many more. Relive the biggest hits from Jackson's celebrated career and incredible influence!" Performances take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Steven Jarvi conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with pianist Jim Brickman on on Sunday, May 22 at 3 p.m. "Since the release of his debut album in 1994, Jim Brickman's romantic piano sound has made him the best-selling solo piano artist of our time and one of contemporary music's most popular stars. Hear Brickman's signature style in concert with the STL Symphony performing chart-topping hits from his multi-platinum recordings." Performances take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of May 13, 2016

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:

Brian Owens
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents Brian Owens in Lean on Me Saturday, May14, at 11 a.m. "Acclaimed vocalist Brian Owens is quickly making a name for himself nationally as the new torch bearer for classic soul music in the tradition of Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. He returns to The Sheldon with a tribute to the legendary Bill Withers, performing hits including “Lean on Me,” “Just the Two of Us,” and more! " The Sheldon Concert Hall is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

My take: Mr. Owens is a compelling and gifted performer, especially when he steps away from recreating the work of earlier soul and rhythm and blues giants and allows us to see and hear his own takes on these classics. When that happens, it's magical.


The Two-Character Play
The Tennessee Williams Festival runs through May 15 at multiple venues throughout the St. Louis area. Events include theatrical performances, films, exhibits, lectures, and even a Williams-themed St. Louis bus tour. For more informatoin and a complete schedule of events, visit twstl.org.

My take: There are so many different events celebrating the life and work of this true St. Louis original that, rather than list them individually, I'm gong to suggest that you visit the festival web site and check them out yourself. Upstream's production of The Glass Menagerie (see below) and Midnight Company's local premiere (as far as I know, anyway) of The Two-Character Play (pictured)—a late Williams work that's rarely seen—have gotten some good notices, but by all means check out all the offerings.

Held Over:

The Glass Meangerie
Photo: Brian Wochniak
Upstream Theater presents Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, with live music by Joe Dreyer, through May 15. "As Tennessee Williams' classic has entered our collective memory, it has moved from cutting-edge to canonical. Upstream Theater aims to take the piece out of the museum in a way guaranteed to move you, and move you to think. We are proud to present this production in conjunction with the inaugural Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: This radical re-thinking of the Williams classic starts with the assumption that, as a "memory play," it need not concern itself too much with realism. So, in this version, Tom is an elderly man man near the end of his life instead of a younger man still finding himself. Both Tom (J. Samuel Davis) and his mother Amanda (Linda Kennedy) are black while his sister is white, and the sister in this production is actually disabled instead of simply frail. As Steve Callahan writes in his review for KDHX, this doesn't necessarily work at all times. "The Upstream production of The Glass Menagerie will leave you wondering about many things," he says. "But that's good! Do see it. It's well worth your time." And, of course, there's the fact that Davis and Kennedy are very accomplished actors.