Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of September 22, 2014

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

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

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The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the musical The Addams Family, inspired by the cartoons of Charles Addams, Thursdays through Sundays, September 25-October 5. Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the All in the Timing, an evening of one-act comedies by David Ives, through October 5 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through October 12. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Alfresco Productions presents the comedy Arsenic and Old Lace Friday through Sunday, September 26-28. Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org

The November Theatre Company presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins as its inaugural production, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., September 26-October 5. "A powerful Tony Award-winning musical, Assassins is an anachronistic examination of the individuals who have engaged in the darkest acts of American political discourse. Anchoring the production are ignominious figures from American history such as John Wilkes Booth, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, John Hinckley, and others. Through its thoughtful, and at times darkly humorous, exploration of these historical figures, Assassins delves into the men and women behind the act, avoiding glorification of their crimes while offering the audience more than the simplistic treatment often afforded to them by history." Performances take place at The Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan. For more information: www.11theater.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof through October 5. "Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and one of the most touching creations in the history of Broadway, featuring such heartfelt and beloved songs as 'Sunrise, Sunset,' 'If I Were A Rich Man,' and 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker'.” Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Clinton County Showcase presents the drama The Miracle Worker through September 27. "Immortalized onstage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, this classic tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. Trapped in a secret, silent world, unable to communicate, Helen is violent, spoiled, almost sub-human and treated by her family as such. Only Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark, tortured silence. With scenes of intense physical and emotional dynamism, Annie's success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single, glorious word: “water”." Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Alpha Players present the musical Monty Python's Spamalot September 26-October 5 at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org or, call 314-921-5678.

The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts presents Neil Berg's 101 Years of Broadway on Thursday, September 25, at 7:30 PM. “A musical revue of celebrated hits, featuring a dazzling cast of five Broadway stars, accompanied by an all-star New York band. Broadway composer and producer Neil Berg guides the audience through the evening, contributing fascinating anecdotes about the shows and songs themselves.” The Hettenhausen Center for the Arts is at 701 College Rd., at Alton St. on the McKendree University campus in Lebanon, IL. For more information: www.thehett.com

The Normal Heart
HotCity Theatre presents The Normal Heart through September 27. “Debuting in 1985, Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart was perceived as “too urgent to ignore.” The AIDS epidemic was by then full-blown and hysteria was rampant. The intensity of the play helped usher in a new gay activism that could arguably be attributed to the evolution of gay rights in the decades to follow. An acclaimed revival in 2011 and the upcoming HBO version (produced by Ryan Murphy and starring Julia Roberts) have given this (now) modern classic a place in one of the important plays of our times.” Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit www.hotcitytheatre.org or call 314-289-4063.

Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild opens their 104th season with Joan Ackermann's Off the Map Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, September 26-October 5. There will also be a show on Thursday, October 2, at 8 PM. “An offbeat and loving comedy, Off the Map tells the story of the Grodens, a quirky family living way, way off the map in the wilds of New Mexico. We see the story through the eyes of Bo Groden, an 11-year-old growing up amidst a collection of rich, warm characters who will both entertain and inspire you.” Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley presents David Mamet's Oleanna September 26-October 4. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, call 314-644-5522.

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors through October 5. “Francis Henshall needs a job. Recently sacked from his skiffle band, he's hungry and has a bad case of fish and chips on the brain. To make ends meet, he becomes a servant to two different masters. Frazzled Francis tries his best to balance duties and keep his bosses from meeting, but what he doesn't know about them, and what they don't know about each other, quickly become uproarious and riotous cases of mistaken identities and slapstick antics in this laugh-out-loud award-winning comedy.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Storm Large
The Presenters Dolan present Storm Large in Le Bonheur (Good Times) on Saturday, September 27, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. " A killer beauty, an astonishing singer, and a funny, fleshy truth teller, Storm has many lives. 1) rock siren 2) fronts Pink Martini, a salon pop symphony that tours everywhere 3) fronts symphony orchestras all over the world 4) best selling memoirist. She does it all supremely well. We are all very lucky to have her in St. Louis for the second time. Absolutely not to be missed. " The performance takes place at BB's Jazz, Blues, and Soups downtown. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Edison Theatre Ovations! presents Unvelied, written and performed by Rohina Malik, Saturday, September 27, at 8 PM. "Racism. Hate crimes. Love. Islam. Culture. Language. Life. Five Muslim women in a post-9/11 America serve tea and uncover what lies beneath the veil in this compelling one-woman show. Written and performed by Rohina Malik, Unveiled challenges audiences to rethink any preconceived notions they may have had about Muslims. Rohina Malik is a Chicago-based playwright, actress and solo performance artist. She is also a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and artistic associate at the 16th Street Theater. " Performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail edison at The West End Players Guildwustl.edu or visit edison.wustl.edu.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love! (No Biting) through November 2. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of September 22, 2014

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The Artist Presentation Society presents violinist Qian Yin and pianist Po-Chuan Chiang on Sunday, September 28, at 3:00 p.m. in a program of music by Handel, Chausson, Bartok, and Franck. The performance takes at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: www.apsmusic.org.

Alice Conway
Eliot Unitarian Chapel presents a Friends of Music concert on Sunday, September 28, at 3 PM. 'Alice Conway, mezzo-soprano and Nancy Mayo, piano, performing "Frauen Liebe und Leben" by Robert Schumann; and two Italian arias: "Di tanti palpiti" from Gioachino Rossini's "Tancredi"; and "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" from Gaetano Donizetti's "Robert Devereux". James Nacy and Daniel Henderson, cellos, performing Jean Barriere, "Sonata no. 10 in G major for Two Cellos"; David Popper, "Suite for Two Cellos," Op. 16; and Paul Tortelier, "Siamois".' Eliot Unitarian Chapel is at 100 South Argonne in Kirkwood. For more information: fomcstl.org

The Kranzberg Arts Center presents The Matthew Munses Quartet on Monday, September 22, at 7:30 p.m. "Drawing upon a breadth of musical styles, the Matthew Muneses Quintet seeks to express the collective voice of its members. Presenting primarily original music, this group is dedicated to reaching new audiences through its eclectic blend of jazz, rock, classical and multi-cultural folkloric musics." The Kranzberg Center is at the corner of Grand and Olive in Grand Center. For more information: www.matthewmunesesmusic.com.

St. Louis Cathedral Concerts presents members of the St. Louis Symphony in a program of chamber music by Vaughan Williams, Ravel, and Brahms, on Friday, September 26, at 7:30 p.m and again on Sunday, September 28, at 7 p.m. “Cathedral Concerts continues it's series of FREE concerts that brings the great music to you. The featured players in each concert are St. Louis Symphony members Kristin Ahlstrom, violin and Bjorn Ranheim, cello, joined by Matthew Mazzoni, piano and Scott Kennebeck, tenor.” The performance takes place at St. Anselm Catholic Church in Creve Coeur on Friday and at St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in the Shaw Neighborhood of the City of St. Louis on Sunday. For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org

Douglas Neidt
The St. Louis Guitar Society's Great Artist Guitar Series presents Douglas Niedt on Saturday, September 27, at 8 p.m. "A St. Louis favorite son, Douglas gained instant fame at age seventeen upon winning the Chet Atkins International Guitar Competition among 300 applicants. He has studied at the Segovia Master Classes, the Juilliard School and with Christopher Parkening, Narcisco Yepes & Jorge Morel. Recognized for his excellence in teaching, he is head of the guitar program at the Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Missouri at Kansas City. His programming includes music of Latin America, as well as American popular composers such as Duke Ellington, Richard Rodgers, and Dave Brubeck." The performance takes at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: ethicalstl.org.

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and oboe soloist Cally Banham in Sibelius's "Swan of Tuonela," John Adams's "My Father Knew Charles Ives," and Prokofiev's "Symphony No. 5" Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., September 27 and 28. "The STL Symphony is known for its outstanding performance of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony garnering a Grammy® Award for their recording of the popular work in 1985. Prokofiev's work dazzles with brilliant percussion and majestic woodwinds while one of John Adams' pieces is brought to life with the orchestra performing the autobiographical and vibrant piece, My Father Knew Charles Ives." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents cellists James Nacy and Daniel Henderson on Friday, September 26, at 8 p.m. "Cellists James Nacy and Daniel Henderson perform a program of duos by cellists who were composers. Or . . . is that composers who were cellists? In any case, they are playing music of Barriere, Boccherini, Offenbach, Popper, Klengel and Tortelier." 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 pianist Jon Garrett on Saturday, September 28, 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.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Scott Montgomery, Director of Music Ministries at Holy Cross Church, Champaign, Illinois on Friday, September 26, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org

Winter Opera presents its Winter Fall Opera Gala on Friday, September 26, at 6:30 p.m. "Winter Opera's top artists will be there to perform while you enjoy an amazing dinner at Dominic's Trattoria in Clayton. Help us celebrate the opening of our Eighth Season in style! Cocktails start at 6:30 p.m. The ticket prices includes a four-course dinner, wine and entertainment." The event takes place at Dominic's Trattoria, 200 South Brentwood in Clayton. For more information: www.winteroperastl.org

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chuck's Theatre choices for the weekend of September 19, 2014

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:

Photo: John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents Arthur Miller's classic drama Death of a Salesman through September 21. "A true American classic, this drama follows the last day in the life of salesman Willy Loman. Through memories, dreams and explosive arguments, playwright Arthur Miller delves into the contradictions between denial and reality, between success and failure. This poignant family story of a broken man, his supportive wife and the two sons who try to please him received the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It has been revived on Broadway four times, most recently in 2012." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

My take: Arthur Miller called his 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama a “tragedy of the common man” because its protagonist isn't the powerful, noble character usually associated with the genre. Willy Loman (even his name marks his status in life) is, in the words of his son Biff, “a dime a dozen...a hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all the rest of them”. His foolish and self-destructive pursuit of a dream world in which everything comes to you simply because you're “well liked” isn't just his tragedy, it's a tragedy of an entire culture that raises popularity and personal magnetism above intelligence, ability and even common decency. In a nation where elections routinely hinge on which candidate is the more likable, Miller's play reaches out across half a century to remind us that “attention must be paid”. Reviews have been very good. Here's just one example, from Steve Allen's Stage Door blog: "From top to bottom, this cast is superb and tells this riveting story with pain, passion and a bit of panache."

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof through October 5. "Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and one of the most touching creations in the history of Broadway, featuring such heartfelt and beloved songs as 'Sunrise, Sunset,' 'If I Were A Rich Man,' and 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker'.” Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Reviews for the Stages producion of this justifiably famous hit by Bock and Harnick have been pretty generally positive. Writing for the Riverfront Times, for example, Malcom Gay calls it "a bright production, filled with sumptuous choreography and impressive musical numbers" while our reviewer at KDHX, Laura Kyro, says it's "an entertaining and satisfying production." "The show has been performed once before at Stages in 1999," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "but the current presentation is as fresh and inviting as ever." Sounds like a winner, yes?

The Normal Heart
HotCity Theatre presents The Normal Heart through September 27. “Debuting in 1985, Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart was perceived as “too urgent to ignore.” The AIDS epidemic was by then full-blown and hysteria was rampant. The intensity of the play helped usher in a new gay activism that could arguably be attributed to the evolution of gay rights in the decades to follow. An acclaimed revival in 2011 and the upcoming HBO version (produced by Ryan Murphy and starring Julia Roberts) have given this (now) modern classic a place in one of the important plays of our times.” Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit www.hotcitytheatre.org or call 314-289-4063.

My take: Raves dominate the notices for this one. At Ladue News, Mark Bretz calls it "a most extraordinary production, directed brilliantly by Marty Stanberry, which grabs one by the throat at the start and throttles with shock, grief and drenched desperation at its end." Snoop's Theatre Blog says it's "a must see."

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors through October 5. “Francis Henshall needs a job. Recently sacked from his skiffle band, he's hungry and has a bad case of fish and chips on the brain. To make ends meet, he becomes a servant to two different masters. Frazzled Francis tries his best to balance duties and keep his bosses from meeting, but what he doesn't know about them, and what they don't know about each other, quickly become uproarious and riotous cases of mistaken identities and slapstick antics in this laugh-out-loud award-winning comedy.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: Tina Farmer's review at KDHX describes this as "is a rollicking ride filled with laughs and physical comedy that's suitable for the whole family," and other local critics have said much the same thing. The show was a massive hit in London and on Broadway, so this should not, perhaps, be a surprise. Note that it's relatively long for a comedy, though, clocking in at over two and one-half hours.

The Black Rep presents the musical Purlie, based on the Ossie Davis play Purlie Victorious, through September 21. "Purlie is the story of Purlie Victorious Judson, a preacher who returns to his homeland to revive an old church and help empower the African Americans who are under the thumb of bigoted Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University Campus. For more information: theblackrep.org

My take: I've always had a soft spot for this exuberant musical version of the play Purlie Victorious by the late actor, playwright, director, and social activist Ossie Davis, so I'm glad to see the good reviews. "With this inspiring, engaging musical," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "the Black Rep once again demonstrates why it is among the most consistently exceptional theater companies in the region. From the selection of material to the technical details to the casting, the company produces compelling shows that entertain without shying away from substantive themes and provocative subjects."

Held Over:

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through October 12. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Call this a qualified recommendation. If you're a lover of Patsy Cline or country music in general, I think you'll have a great time at this show, which is really more of a celebrity impersonation review than a book musical per se. Jacqueline Petroccia captures Cline's voice and manner so accurately it's eerie and Zoe Vonder Haar is a hoot and a half as Louise Seger, the real-life Houston fan who became a close friends and correspondent of Cline. With over two dozen Patsy Cline hits performed to perfection by Ms. Petroccia and a six-piece band, the show is a real feast for fans. See my KDHX review for more information.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Photo: Zachary Stefaniak

Dramatic License Productions presents The Great American Trailer Park Musical through September 21. "Directed by St. Louis theatre veteran actor and director, Alan Knoll with musical direction by Stephen Eros and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak, the adults-only musical is the story of a wayward stripper, Pippi, pursued by her marker-sniffing, highly combustible boyfriend. Pippi hides out in the north Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres, home to an agoraphobic housewife, her toll-collector husband and three gossiping girlfriends who also narrate the wacky story. A four-piece, on-stage band accompanies the cast of seven." Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

My take: The reviews on this cheerfully tacky slice of double-wide life are generally pretty good. Malcom Gay of the Riverfront Times calls it "a blast," KDHX's Laura Kyro says "the audience was having a hoot and a holler," and Snoop's Theater Blog praises its "great, highly energetic cast and strong production values." If you're looking for low class high times, this just might be the ticket.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Mortal Storm

Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson, with pianist Yefim Bronfman and violinist Erin Schreiber
What: Music of Brahms, Vaughan Williams, and Nielsen
When: September 12 and 13, 2014
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis

The late eighteenth century artistic movement known as sturm und drang (usually translated as "storm and stress") had already evolved into the pervading sensibility of the Romantic era by the time the earliest work on this weekend's St. Louis Symphony concerts—the "Piano Concerto No. 1" by Brahms—was written. But "storm and stress" of one sort or another lie at the heart of it and the other two pieces on the program.

David Robertson
In the case of the Brahms, the stress was personal. When the composer began work on the piece in 1854 his friend and mentor Robert Schumann was confined into an asylum following a suicide attempt and the 21-year-old composer had moved in with Schumann's wife Clara to help manage her household and seven children.

Schumann would die in the asylum two difficult years later, and it's hard not to think of the great stress and tragedy of that when you hear the powerfully dramatic opening of the concerto, with its portentous drum rolls, declamatory first theme, and melancholy second. Like the composer's second concerto, it's a big work—nearly 50 minutes long and structured more as a symphony with piano obbligato than a conventional concerto of the period. It demands much in the way of stamina and skill from the soloist.

Pianist Yefim Bronfman demonstrated that he had both when he performed the Brahms Second here back in 2012, and he did it again Friday night. He has the chops to deliver the big, pounding climaxes, especially in the final movement, but he was just as persuasive in the tender lyricism of the Adagio second movement, which Brahms described as a musical portrait of Clara Schumann.

I wouldn't say this concerto is my favorite Brahms. The first movement, in particular, tends to ramble and never fully realizes the dramatic potential of those opening minutes. Still, Mr. Robertson made a very good case for it, pulling every ounce of angst and drama from the score. The second movement was serenely beautiful and the main theme of the Rondo finale was more infused with the spirit of the dance than I have heard in some recordings. There were a couple of ragged moments in the horn section in the first movement but otherwise the orchestra performed at its usual high level.

The "storm and stress" that informs the two works in the second half of the program is more global than personal. Both Ralph Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending" and Carl Nielsen's "Symphony No. 4" ("The Inextinguishable") were begun during the early years of World War I. They're radically different pieces, but the shadow of that great cataclysm hangs over both.

Inspired by a George Meredith poem that describes the characteristic way skylarks spiral up into the sky while singing, "The Lark Ascending" is a work of surpassing beauty for violin and orchestra. Begun in 1914 and completed in 1920, the work is a wistfully nostalgic look back at a bucolic way of life shattered forever by the winds of war. The final pages, in which the lovely main theme slowly fades into silence as it makes its final ascent, can surely melt the hardest heart.

Erin Schreiber
The last time I saw Assistant Concertmaster Erin Schreiber in the solo spot (November of 2011), she was rocking the house in Luciano Berio's absurdly difficult “Corale (on Sequenza VIII) for violin, two horns, and strings.” The Vaughan Williams, with its sustained lyricism and ethereal final section, requires an entirely different kind of virtuosity. I'm happy to report she delivered the goods, with a performance of transparent beauty. The balance between soloist and orchestra was also quite good, at least from where we sat in the first row of the dress circle. That's not always easy to accomplish in Powell Hall's acoustical environment, which tends to swallow up soloists.

Nielsen's "Symphony No. 4" confronts the horror of the war directly. Like G. B. Shaw, Nielsen believed in a kind of pantheistic "life force" that pervaded all of nature. It's that force that Nielsen saw as "inextinguishable," even in the face of war and death. As he wrote in his program notes for the piece, "music is life, and like it inextinguishable." That force is demonstrated most dramatically in the famous "timpani battle" in final movement, in which timpani players placed on opposite sides of the orchestra fire volleys of sound at each other, but that's just the most vivid example of what British music writer Hugh Ottoway describes as "an elemental opposition of forces" that pervades the whole symphony.

This is dynamic, propulsive music, and it got an appropriately kinetic performance from Mr. Robertson and the symphony, with some really fine playing by the musicians. Nielsen's orchestration gives each of the different sections of the band a chance to shine. Brasses dominate the first and last movements, woodwinds the dance-like second, strings the searing third and, of course, the timpanists get to mix it up in the finale. They were all on top of their game Friday night, but percussionists Tom Stubbs and Shannon Wood deserve a particular shout-out for their performances.

I'm a great fan of Nielsen's symphonies and feel they haven't gotten nearly the attention they deserve locally. I'd be happy to see them on the Powell Hall stage more often, especially when they're performed with this kind of skill and conviction.

This weekend's concerts mark multiple anniversaries for the SLSO. It's the orchestra's 135 season and the 10th under Mr. Robertson. It's also the 20th for Concertmaster David Halen and Chorus Director Amy Kaiser (whose work you'll hear next week in the score for "Pirates of the Caribbean"). Mr. Robertson led the entire audience in a celebratory champagne toast at intermission, and a splendid time was had by all.

Next at Powell Hall: it's a movie night as Richard Kaufman conducts the orchestra and chorus in Hans Zimmer's score for "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" while the film plays on the big screen. Showings are Friday and Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 2 p.m., September 18-21. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of September 15, 2014

[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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St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the All in the Timing, an evening of one-act comedies by David Ives, September 19-October 5 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline September 18-October 12. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline's unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin' After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents the classic musical Annie Get Your Gun through September 21 in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. " Annie Oakley is the best shot around, but when shooting ace Frank Butler's ego won't accept Annie's talent, it's up to Annie to prove to him that love trumps talent." For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Big Easy Murder through October 26. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX present the monthly Cabaret Open Stage Night on Wednesday, September 17, from 7 to 10 PM at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The master of ceremonies is 88.1 KDHX senior performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi and the music director is Carol Schmidt. Bring your favorite seasonal songs and be prepared for the big sing-along! 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 Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit The Cabaret Project or call 314-367-7549.

Insight Theatre Company presents Arthur Miller's classic drama Death of a Salesman through September 21. "A true American classic, this drama follows the last day in the life of salesman Willy Loman. Through memories, dreams and explosive arguments, playwright Arthur Miller delves into the contradictions between denial and reality, between success and failure. This poignant family story of a broken man, his supportive wife and the two sons who try to please him received the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. It has been revived on Broadway four times, most recently in 2012." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Ekphasia, or "The Shadow Girl" by Cary Simowitz on Friday, Septermber 19, at 7:00 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. "Owen's thoughts split the sky like cerebral lightning bolts. His accelerated intelligence dissects behavior and calculates the equation of the world around him. Trapped by the voice within, Owen recalibrates in order to decipher the one thing his brain doesn't understand...his heart. It's a love story like no other." The performance takes place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof through October 5. "Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical and one of the most touching creations in the history of Broadway, featuring such heartfelt and beloved songs as 'Sunrise, Sunset,' 'If I Were A Rich Man,' and 'Matchmaker, Matchmaker'.” Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Good in Everything by Nancy Bell, based on Shakespeare's As You Like it, as its Shakespeare in the Streets 2014 production nightly at 8 PM, Thursday through Saturday, September 18-20. The production will feature the combined talents of professional actors performing alongside local residents and students. Performances take place Central Avenue between Forsyth Blvd. and Maryland Avenue. For more information: sfstl.com

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Photo: Zachary Stefaniak
Dramatic License Productions presents The Great American Trailer Park Musical through September 21. "Directed by St. Louis theatre veteran actor and director, Alan Knoll with musical direction by Stephen Eros and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak, the adults-only musical is the story of a wayward stripper, Pippi, pursued by her marker-sniffing, highly combustible boyfriend. Pippi hides out in the north Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres, home to an agoraphobic housewife, her toll-collector husband and three gossiping girlfriends who also narrate the wacky story. A four-piece, on-stage band accompanies the cast of seven." Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Kairos by Kristen O'Neal on Saturday, Septermber 20, at 2:00 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. "On a train platform, in a liminal world, the past collides with the present, and the future disembarks to find itself altered. A soldier, two lovers, a homeless man and an needling mother, confront versions of their lives and themselves from bygone days." The performance takes place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

Christ Memorial Productions presents the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical The King and I Friday sand Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through September 21. Performances take place at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church, 5252 South Lindbergh. For more information, visit CMPShows.org or call 314-631-0304.

Alton Little Theater presents the comedy Leading Ladies Thursdays through Sundays, through September 21, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "Two English Shakespearean actors, Jack and Leo, find themselves so down on their luck that they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. When they hear that an old lady in York, PA is about to die and leave her fortune to her two long lost English nephews, they resolve to pass themselves off as her beloved relatives and get the cash. The trouble is, when they get to York, they find out that the relatives aren't nephews, but nieces! Romantic entanglements abound, especially when Leo falls head-over-petticoat in love with the old lady's vivacious niece, Meg, who's engaged to the local minister. Meg knows that there's a wide world out there, but it's not until she meets “Maxine and Stephanie” that she finally gets a taste of it." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Clinton County Showcase presents the drama The Miracle Worker through September 27. "Immortalized onstage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, this classic tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. Trapped in a secret, silent world, unable to communicate, Helen is violent, spoiled, almost sub-human and treated by her family as such. Only Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark, tortured silence. With scenes of intense physical and emotional dynamism, Annie's success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single, glorious word: “water”." Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

The Normal Heart
HotCity Theatre presents The Normal Heart through September 27. “Debuting in 1985, Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart was perceived as “too urgent to ignore.” The AIDS epidemic was by then full-blown and hysteria was rampant. The intensity of the play helped usher in a new gay activism that could arguably be attributed to the evolution of gay rights in the decades to follow. An acclaimed revival in 2011 and the upcoming HBO version (produced by Ryan Murphy and starring Julia Roberts) have given this (now) modern classic a place in one of the important plays of our times.” Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit www.hotcitytheatre.org or call 314-289-4063.

One Man, Two Guvnors
©Photo by Lon Brauer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the comedy One Man, Two Guvnors through October 5. “Francis Henshall needs a job. Recently sacked from his skiffle band, he's hungry and has a bad case of fish and chips on the brain. To make ends meet, he becomes a servant to two different masters. Frazzled Francis tries his best to balance duties and keep his bosses from meeting, but what he doesn't know about them, and what they don't know about each other, quickly become uproarious and riotous cases of mistaken identities and slapstick antics in this laugh-out-loud award-winning comedy.” Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

The Black Rep presents the musical Purlie, based on the Ossie Davis play Purlie Victorious, through September 21. "Purlie is the story of Purlie Victorious Judson, a preacher who returns to his homeland to revive an old church and help empower the African Americans who are under the thumb of bigoted Ol' Cap'n Cotchipee." Performances take place at the Edison Theater on the Washington University Campus. For more information: theblackrep.org

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Telegraph by Will Jacobs on Saturday, Septermber 20, at 7:00 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. " A peculiar telegraph operator, Mr. Rivers, looks for lost love in the lyricism of electrical impulse. His search is disrupted by the arrival of the very determined Mrs. Emily Stone, who brings light to the darkened corners of his Pennsylvania home. Together, they grapple with love and laughter within the abstractions of language and the rhythms of dots and dashes. Winner of the 2014 A.E Hotchner Playwriting Competition. Telegraph will be produced by the Performing Arts Department in April 2015." The performance takes place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love! (No Biting) through November 2. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of September 15, 2014

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The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Passion, featuring works by Bach, Beethoven, Kenji Bunch and Kevin Puts on Tuesday, September 18, at 7:00 PM. “Exploring the passion that makes the heart sing and that keeps us going through thick and thin, this program features works by Bach, Bunch, Puts, and Beethoven for violin, cello, clarinet and marimba.” 88.1 KDHX senior performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi will be the narrator for Bunch's "Sonnet 128." The performance takes place at The Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org

The St. Louis Symphony celebrates "Talk Like a Pirate Day" with a showing of the film Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., September 19-21. Richard Kaufman conductions the orchestra and chorus in a live performance of the score to accompany the movie. The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony’s Young Friends of the Symphony presents Sips and Symphonies on Thursday, September 18, at 7:30 PM. “What is Sips and Symphonies? It is a great way to learn about music in a fun, casual environment. On the third Thursday of each month, we get together at Tavern of Fine Arts to listen to and discuss a piece of music being performed at an upcoming concert at Powell Hall. We will have a different guest moderator each month who will help lead an informal conversation about the music.” A special cocktail is created for each event to accompany the music. This month, symphony keyboardist Peter Henderson will discuss Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. The event takes place at The Tavern of Fine Arts, 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Alexander Schutt
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents Alexander Schutt performing the six Bach Cello Suites on Tuesday, September 17, at 7:30 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.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by David Harrison of Irvington United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana. on Friday, September 19, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org

Friday, September 12, 2014

Passion on tap

The artistic directors of The Chamber Project
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When, just over a year ago, I published a post on this here blog about the innovative programming being done by The Chamber Project St. Louis, I never would have guessed that I might become part of that programming thirteen months later.

I guess it's a good thing it was a positive article!

Those of you who know me might be a bit surprised to learn that I'm appearing as a guest soloist in a classical chamber music concert. Yes, I played a number of instruments in my feckless youth, but none of them very well and none of them at all now. And while I'm a fixture (not of the plumbing variety) on the local cabaret scene, I do not have anything remotely like a classically trained voice.

I do, however, have plenty of experience as an actor, and it's in that capacity that I made my debut with The Chamber Project last night (September 11, 2014; the concert repeats on September 18) in Kenji Bunch's "Sonnet 128" for narrator, cello, and percussion. This haunting and charming little work (around seven minutes long) is part of a longer evening titled "Passion" which, according to the group's web site, explores "the passion makes the heart sing and that keeps us going through thick and thin."

The evening opens with the prelude to Bach's "Cello Suite No. 1," which segues straight in to the Bunch. It's a dramatically smart move, and the leap from the 17th century to the 21st ("Sonnet 128" premiered at Tanglewood in 2003) feels remarkably seamless to me.

A short break for a stage re-set and audience discussion is then followed by "And Legions Will Rise" for violin, clarinet, and marimba by St. Louis native Kevin Puts. The composer says the work "is about the power in all of us to transcend during times of tragedy and personal crisis. While I was writing it, I kept imagining one of those war scenes in blockbuster films, with masses of troops made ready before a great battle. I think we have forces like this inside of us, ready to do battle when we are at our lowest moments." The fact that it was written just a few months before the 9/11 attack is one of those "you can't make this stuff up" real-life coincidences.

The concert closes with Beethoven's "String Trio, op. 9 no. 1" In G major, a lively and engaging work from the point in the composer's life when he was just beginning to hit his musical maturity. His first symphony was still two years away when he wrote the three trios of his Op. 9, but you can hear the beginnings of the revolutionary changes he would bring to the forms of the 18th century structural and harmonic models in this music.

The essentials: The Chamber Project of St. Louis, with yours truly as special guest, repeats their "Passion" program at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 18, at the Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust. The performance is part of their "On Tap" concert series at local imbibing establishments where you can consume the libation of your choice along with the music—much as audiences often did back in Beethoven's day. For more information on this and other Chamber Project projects, check out their web site.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chuck's Theatre Choices for the weekend of September 12, 2014

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

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New This Week:

The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Photo: Zachary Stefaniak
Dramatic License Productions presents The Great American Trailer Park Musical through September 21. "Directed by St. Louis theatre veteran actor and director, Alan Knoll with musical direction by Stephen Eros and choreography by Zachary Stefaniak, the adults-only musical is the story of a wayward stripper, Pippi, pursued by her marker-sniffing, highly combustible boyfriend. Pippi hides out in the north Florida trailer park Armadillo Acres, home to an agoraphobic housewife, her toll-collector husband and three gossiping girlfriends who also narrate the wacky story. A four-piece, on-stage band accompanies the cast of seven." Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

My take: The reviews on this cheerfully tacky slice of double-wide life are generally pretty good. Malcom Gay of the Riverfront Times calls it "a blast," KDHX's Laura Kyro says "the audience was having a hoot and a holler," and Snoop's Theater Blog praises its "great, highly energetic cast and strong production values." If you're looking for low class high times, this just might be the ticket.

Matt Smith
Photo: John Jeffcoat
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents Matt Smith in his one-man show My Last Year With the Nuns at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, September 12, as part of Xfest: 4 Days of Experimental Theater. "Master monologist Matt Smith turns his 8th grade year in 1966-67 into a wild coming-of-age comedy---a comedy grounded in his Catholic education, racism, and the joys and horrors that are male adolescence. Smith's stories---about the young hooligans he admired but couldn't bring himself to emulate; about the nun who tried, sometimes cruelly, to steer him and his friends on the path to righteousness; about a fleeting friendship with a black kid that gives him an unexpected view of escalating trouble---and jolting humor in serious events. My Last Year with the Nuns gathered critical and popular acclaim for Smith's dynamic performance and trenchant writing." The performance takes place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus in Edwardsvile, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siuexfest.com.

The Seldoms
Photo: Andrew Musch
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents a performance of Power Goes by The Seldoms at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 13, as part of Xfest: 4 Days of Experimental Theater. "In this new dance theatre work, artistic director Carrie Hanson responds to Robert Caro's famed biography of Lyndon B. Johnson and uses this controversial historical figure as a lens through which to see broader and enduring patterns of political power. Power Goes combines physical action and contemporary dance, spoken word, sound design including historical recordings, and visual design including text/video/photo in order to explore the relationship between political power and social action. " The performance takes place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsvile, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siuexfest.com.

My take: SIU-Es Xfest has turned into a festival of cuttting-edge theatre and theatre-like substance that brings performers from all over the country to the metro-east area. These last two offering of the fetival which began on Wednesday) are good examples: a one-man memory play on Friday and a mulit-media dance work on Saturday. If you're looking for something different and challenging this weekend, this is your best bet.

Held Over:

Photo: John Lamb
R-S Theatrics presents the musical First Lady Suite by Michael John LaChiusa Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through September 14. "First Lady Suite provides a witty and poignant glimpse into the private lives of such women as Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mamie Eisenhower; all were First Ladies during historic times who navigated their public private lives through achievements and tragedy while always being second to their husband's job." Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit r-stheatrics.com.

My take: Once again, R-S is bringing us the local premiere of an unconventional and innovative piece of musical theatre. A lyricist, librettist, and composer of both musical theatre and opera, LaChiusa has contributed to a long list of shows, none of which (as far as I know) has been produced locally. So thanks to R-S for giving local audiences a chance to see and hear the man's work.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Human Terrain by Jennifer Blackmer. "This world-premiere explores the treasonous relationship between a US Cultural Advisor and an Iraqi woman during the Iraq War." Performances take place through September 14 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: As Steve Callahan points out in his review for 88.1 KDHX, Mustard Seed "has a charter of examining moral questions." This play is an obvious fit for that charter, examining a real-life Army program in which anthropologists and sociologists were recruited to use their understanding of the cultures of countries currently occupied by Western forces to aid in combat operations in those nations. The program was controversial among anthropologists and raised tricky ethical questions. Callahan noes that "the play succeeds in giving us a powerful evening of drama, with a number of strong theatrical moments."