Thursday, August 25, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 26, 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:


Doubt
Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Douglas J. Cuomo's opera Doubt, based on the play by John Patrick Shanley, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, August 26 and 27. "Father Flynn enjoys a secure appointment and popularity in the community until Sister James suspects him of carrying on an improper relationship with the school's first African-American student. Sister Aloysius, the school's authoritarian principal, sets out to remove Flynn. Gender politics, race relations and the role of the church, questions about personal responsibility, doubt, right and wrong are all brought to bear here. So much in Doubt is about what is left unsaid and continually running beneath the surface." The production stars famed soprano Christine Brewer as Sister James, a role she created at the opera's 2013 premiere. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

My take: As I write in my review for KDHX, I'm not convinced that the operatic adaptation by composer Douglas J. Cuomo and playwright John Patrick Shanley of the latter's 2004 play Doubt: A Parable and its 2008 film version is all the persuasive, but Union Avenue makes an extremely good case for it with a top-notch production, featuring impressive performances in all of the major roles. It brings their season to a very strong close.


Kindertransport
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Kindertransport, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through September 4. “During 1938-39, almost ten thousand children, mostly Jewish, were sent from families at risk in Nazi occupied Germany to safety in Britain. Samuel's play explores the lives of mothers and daughters torn apart and brought together by this “Kindertransport.” ” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: The road to hell, says the cliche, is paved with good intentions. The intentions behind the British Movement for the Care of Children seemed good enough; it tried to save children from the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. But the emotional scars were significant, and they're all on display in the Diane Samuels's script, based on recollections of actual kindertransport children. "Director Deanna Jent has taken the raw emotions laid out by the playwright and spilled them out over two acts," writes Steve Allen at his Stage Door STL blog, "each encompassing less than an hour each. The lives affected are often hard to watch but Jent’s powerful lead brings us a story that we won’t soon forget."


Held Over:

Inherit the Wind
Photo: John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents the drama Inherit the Wind through August 28. "Bert Cates a 1920's schoolteacher is put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibits public school teachers from teaching evolution instead creationism. Rachel Brown who is Cates girlfriend is also the daughter of Reverend Brown is torn between the opposing beliefs held by Cates and her father and her love for both of them." 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: This classic portrayal of the struggle between science and superstition ought to be a museum piece, but the resurgence of radical fundamentalism has created a new wave of attacks on science in our public schools, making this script sadly relevant again. "In a political season," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "a play like Inherit the Wind, running through August 28, 2016 at Insight Theatre Company, serves to remind us that our vote often has ramifications that extend well beyond a politician's name or party affiliation. Our response to the challenges that face our country impacts society on every level, including the education of future generations. This stirring production presents a fresh, engaging, and well-performed case for education, helmed by two of our most persuasive stage veterans."


The St. Lou Fringe Festival runs through Saturday at several venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 N. Grand) and TheStage at KDHX. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. "This year's festival will coincide with Grand Center's new arts event Music at The Intersection and will include both new and familiar programming. 2016 will see the premiere of microtheater (short performances for an audience of no more than 9 patrons in an intimate, immersive setting), spin rooms (post show talk backs an workshops), Voices Unleashed (A number of festival slots are reserved for producers who are underrepresented in mainstream theatrical settings based on ethnicity, gender identity, language, dialect, age, physical ability, BMI, or other barrier), and an incubator program (a specialized collaborative showcase setting with more support for emergent artists). Past favorite programs like Fringe Family and the Artica sculpture garden will again enliven Strauss Park." For a complete schedule, visit stlfringe.comstlfringe.com.

My take: I've been an enthusiastic supporter of the St. Lou Fringe since its scrappy beginnings in June of 2012. Four years later, the Fringe is a major player on the local cultural scene and is attracting attention nation-wide. If you've never "fringed," you have missed an awful lot of unusual—and often unique—entertainment. And this year, with the festival expanded to two weekends, there's no excuse not to check it out.


Tell Me On a Sunday
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Tell Me on a Sunday Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 27. "This pop-rock song cycle follows a young English woman newly arrived in New York, brimming with optimism, and her journey through America and the perils of ill-advised romance. As she seeks out success and love, she weaves her way through the maze of New York and Hollywood social life, and through her own anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, and she begins to wonder whether there are better choices to be made." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

My take: Tell Me On a Sunday may be one of the least-known of Andrew Lloyd Webber's many musicals, right down there with the impressive Aspects of Love. As a one-woman show, it's also one of the most modest. It's by no means ALWs best work and, in fact, the composer himself later turned it into the first act of his full-length musical Song and Dance, but is has some fine music, including the lovely "Unexpected Song", and star Sarah Porter has gotten lots of praise for her performance.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Opera Review: No doubt about it, Union Avenue does a splendid job with "Doubt"

L-R: Elise Quagliata, Christine Brewer, Wes Mason
Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera is bringing its season to an impressive close with the local premiere of Doubt, a not entirely successful musical adaptation by composer Douglas J. Cuomo and playwright John Patrick Shanley of the latter's 2004 play Doubt: A Parable and its 2008 film version.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Shanley's play is a masterful examination of the dangers of both moral certainty and ethical blindness.  Set in a working-class Catholic church in the Bronx in 1964, Doubt chronicles the conflict between Father Brendan Flynn, a young progressive priest who has embraced the humanism of Vatican II, with Sister Aloysius Beauvier, an old school, steel-ruler-discipline nun.  They are at odds not only with how strictly the church school should be run but also with what Sister Aloysius believes is Father Flynn's sexual abuse of young Donald Miller, the school's first black student.  Caught between these two implacable foes is the young and idealistic Sister James, who respects both of them and who, unlike Sister Aloysius, is plagued with doubt.

L-R: Elise Quagliata, Wes Mason
Photo: John Lamb
In the opera all of these themes remain intact. But what was originally a taut, ninety-minute one act has been expanded into a full-length work running nearly two hours and forty-five minutes including intermission.   Scenes have been added in the classrooms and the church and the original four-character cast has been expanded to include adult and children's choirs. As a result, the work loses a bit of dramatic steam in places and some of the additional scenes—most notably those set in the classroom—sometimes feel more like filler than anything else.

Other additions, though, work exceptionally well.  The powerful choral number that opens the work, for example, allows us to hear individual members of the congregation reacting to Father Flynn's parable on the unifying nature of doubt.  The choral setting of Flynn's second act sermon on the evil of gossip is equally effective.

So on the whole, Doubt makes for a very compelling theatrical experience.  And for that, Union Avenue's exemplary production can take a great deal of the credit.

As Sister Aloysius, local favorite Christine Brewer once again displays the vocal power and dramatic conviction that have characterized her work on local opera and concert stages for many years.  The character must come across as a formidable figure who is nevertheless capable of compassion, and Ms. Brewer's portrayal is perfect on both counts.

L-R: Melody Wilson, Christine Brewer
Photo: John Lamb
Equally impressive is UAO veteran Elise Quagliata as the conflicted Sister James.  She's a talented singer seems equally comfortable with both the standard repertoire and newer works. As she did in UAO's Dead Man Walking back in 2011, Ms. Quagliata demonstrates that her clear and fluid mezzo voice comes paired with solid acting skills.

Making his UAO debut, baritone Wes Mason makes Father Flynn a very credible and complex character.  Is he villain, victim, or a bit of both?  Shanley leaves the question hanging, and Mr. Mason's nuanced performance keeps the balance intact.

As Mrs. Miller, whose son Donald is at the center of the controversy, mezzo Melody Wilson turns in one of the most remarkable performances of the evening.  The role is a small but vital one, and the scene in which Sister Aloysius tells her what she thinks she knows of the relationship between Donald and Father Flynn is an emotional high point of both the play and the opera.  Mr. Cuomo has written an unforgivingly long a cappella passage for her towards the end of the scene that requires remarkable vocal control, and she delivers it beautifully.  On opening night, her exit prompted spontaneous applause, despite the fact that Mr. Cuomo's seamless score tends to discourage that.

Speaking of Mr. Cuomo's music, its jazzy and astringent sounds neatly underscore the prose of Mr. Shanley's text, although there are times when it feels out of synch with the emotions expressed in that text.  Mr. Cuomo also displays what felt to me like an excessive fondness for drawing out individual words with long, melismatic vocal passages that seem to serve no particular dramatic purpose.  Overall, though, it's a good match for the naturalistic inflections of Mr. Shanley's dialog.

It also sounds like a challenge to play, so conductor Scott Schoonover deserves high praise for leading the orchestra through such a seamless reading of it.  The balance between the signers and the orchestra was quite good, which can be a very tricky business in the sanctuary of the Union Avenue Christian Church. And under his direction the Union Avenue chorus has never sounded better.

L-R: Wes Mason, Christine Brewer
Photo: John Lamb
Kyra Bishop's set, with its massive crucifix set at a drunken angle, mirrors the opera's subtext of faith in crisis, and the bare branches poking up through the floor remind us of the bitter New York winter.  Jeff Behm's lighting enhances the atmosphere.  Teresa Doggett's costumes are, as always, right on target.

Director Tim Ocel adds yet another triumph to his work for UAO, with smart and fluid staging that keeps the dramatic momentum going while always making the dramatic focus clear.  He is, for my money, the best opera director in town.

While I don't think setting Doubt to music enhances it in any way, it still makes for pretty potent theatre and is well worth your time, especially if you haven't been exposed to either the play or the film already.  It raises issues about the risks of moral certainty that are, if anything, more relevant now than they were when the play was first written.  And there is no doubt that Union Avenue's production is a singular accomplishment.

Closing performances of Doubt are Friday and Saturday, August 27 and 27, at 8 p.m. at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End.  For more information, visit the company web site.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 22, 2016

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


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


Alfresco Productions presents August: Osage County on Saturday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m. "Come see Tracy Lett's Pulitzer Prize winning play! This dark comedy about a big crazy Midwestern dysfunctional family is one you won't want to miss!" 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 Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents CSI: Bissell through October 30. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Doubt
Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Douglas J. Cuomo's opera Doubt, based on the play by John Patrick Shanley, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 26 and 27. "Father Flynn enjoys a secure appointment and popularity in the community until Sister James suspects him of carrying on an improper relationship with the school's first African-American student. Sister Aloysius, the school's authoritarian principal, sets out to remove Flynn. Gender politics, race relations and the role of the church, questions about personal responsibility, doubt, right and wrong are all brought to bear here. So much in Doubt is about what is left unsaid and continually running beneath the surface." The production stars famed soprano Christine Brewer as Sister James, a role she created at the opera's 2013 premiere. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

St. Louis Shakespeare presents the comedy The Heir Apparent by Jean-Fran├žois Regnard, as adapted by David Ives, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., August 26 - September 4. " Paris, 1708. Eraste, a worthy though penniless young man, is in love with the fair Isabelle, but her forbidding mother, Madame Argante, will only let the two marry if Eraste can show he will inherit the estate of his rich but miserly Uncle Geronte. Unfortunately, old Geronte has also fallen for the fair Isabelle, and plans to marry her this very day and leave her everything in his will-separating the two young lovers forever. Eraste's wily servant Crispin jumps in, getting a couple of meddling relatives disinherited by impersonating them (one, a brash American, the other a French female country cousin)-only to have the old man kick off before his will is made! In a brilliant stroke, Crispin then impersonates the old man, dictating a will favorable to his master (and Crispin himself, of course)-only to find that rich Uncle Geronte isn't dead at all and is more than ever ready to marry Isabelle! The multiple strands of the plot are unraveled to great comic effect in the streaming rhyming couplets of French classical comedy, and everyone lives happily, and richly, ever after." Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan in the Carondelet neighborhood. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

Inherit the Wind
Insight Theatre Company presents the drama Inherit the Wind through August 28. "Bert Cates a 1920's schoolteacher is put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibits public school teachers from teaching evolution instead creationism. Rachel Brown who is Cates girlfriend is also the daughter of Reverend Brown is torn between the opposing beliefs held by Cates and her father and her love for both of them." 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.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Kindertransport, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through September 4. “During 1938-39, almost ten thousand children, mostly Jewish, were sent from families at risk in Nazi occupied Germany to safety in Britain. Samuel's play explores the lives of mothers and daughters torn apart and brought together by this “Kindertransport.” ” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival runs through August 27 at several venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 N. Grand) and TheStage at KDHX. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. "This year's festival will coincide with Grand Center's new arts event Music at The Intersection and will include both new and familiar programming. 2016 will see the premiere of microtheater (short performances for an audience of no more than 9 patrons in an intimate, immersive setting), spin rooms (post show talk backs an workshops), Voices Unleashed (A number of festival slots are reserved for producers who are underrepresented in mainstream theatrical settings based on ethnicity, gender identity, language, dialect, age, physical ability, BMI, or other barrier), and an incubator program (a specialized collaborative showcase setting with more support for emergent artists). Past favorite programs like Fringe Family and the Artica sculpture garden will again enliven Strauss Park." For a complete schedule, visit stlfringe.com.

Tell Me On a Sunday
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Tell Me on a Sunday Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 27. "This pop-rock song cycle follows a young English woman newly arrived in New York, brimming with optimism, and her journey through America and the perils of ill-advised romance. As she seeks out success and love, she weaves her way through the maze of New York and Hollywood social life, and through her own anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, and she begins to wonder whether there are better choices to be made." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Next Generation Theatre Company presents the musical West Side Story Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m. through August 27. "Pulled directly from the pages of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical takes place on New York's West Side in the mid-1950s amidst widespread racial and social tension. The show begins as a war is building between two rival gangs fighting over the same piece of turf: born and bred New York boys, The Jets, and Puerto Rican immigrants The Sharks. In the midst of the battlefield are two young romantics, good-boy Tony, a Jet ready to leave the gang life behind, and wide-eyed Maria, the sister of Sharks leader, Bernardo. When Tony and Maria unexpectedly meet and fall for one another, tension between the rival groups only escalates, leading to a bloody and senseless rumble that costs both sides young lives. In spite of the violence, the true story at the core of the show is two lovers trying to find a way to be together-and whether either can survive when hate and ignorance are unwilling to yield." Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theater at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information: florissantmo.thundertix.com

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love through October 28. 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.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 19, 2016

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

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Inherit the Wind
Photo: John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents the drama Inherit the Wind through August 28. "Bert Cates a 1920's schoolteacher is put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibits public school teachers from teaching evolution instead creationism. Rachel Brown who is Cates girlfriend is also the daughter of Reverend Brown is torn between the opposing beliefs held by Cates and her father and her love for both of them." 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: This classic portrayal of the struggle between science and superstition ought to be a museum piece, but the resurgence of radical fundamentalism has created a new wave of attacks on science in our public schools, making this script sadly relevant again. "In a political season," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "a play like Inherit the Wind, running through August 28, 2016 at Insight Theatre Company, serves to remind us that our vote often has ramifications that extend well beyond a politician's name or party affiliation. Our response to the challenges that face our country impacts society on every level, including the education of future generations. This stirring production presents a fresh, engaging, and well-performed case for education, helmed by two of our most persuasive stage veterans."


Mary Shelley Monster Show
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Mary Shelley Monster Show by Nick Otten Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., August 17 - 20. "SATE will remount its original play, Mary Shelley Monster Show, by Nick Otten. Mary Shelley: the impulsive teen in a runaway love triangle, the precocious novelist, the daughter of revolutionaries, the lover and wife of philosopher-poet. Mary Shelley: the grieving mother, the martyr-widow, the hack writer. Mary Shelley: the monster and monster's mother. Was Mary Shelley's most famous novel, “Frankenstein” really an autobiography? Is she the creator or the creature? " Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: This innovative piece was very well received when it first appeared back in 2014. At the Stage Door blog, for example, Steve Allen called it "a wonderful, creative piece of theatre" while Mark Bretz at Ladue News said it was "riveting and thought-provoking."


The St. Lou Fringe Festival opens on Friday, August 19, and runs through August 27 at several venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 N. Grand) and TheStage at KDHX. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. "This year's festival will coincide with Grand Center's new arts event Music at The Intersection and will include both new and familiar programming. 2016 will see the premiere of microtheater (short performances for an audience of no more than 9 patrons in an intimate, immersive setting), spin rooms (post show talk backs an workshops), Voices Unleashed (A number of festival slots are reserved for producers who are underrepresented in mainstream theatrical settings based on ethnicity, gender identity, language, dialect, age, physical ability, BMI, or other barrier), and an incubator program (a specialized collaborative showcase setting with more support for emergent artists). Past favorite programs like Fringe Family and the Artica sculpture garden will again enliven Strauss Park." For a complete schedule, visit stlfringe.comstlfringe.com.

My take: I've been an enthusiastic supporter of the St. Lou Fringe since its scrappy beginnings in June of 2012. Four years later, the Fringe is a major player on the local cultural scene and is attracting attention nation-wide. If you've never "fringed," you have missed an awful lot of unusual—and often unique—entertainment. And this year, with the festival expanded to two weekends, there's no excuse not to check it out.


Tell Me On a Sunday
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Tell Me on a Sunday Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 27. "This pop-rock song cycle follows a young English woman newly arrived in New York, brimming with optimism, and her journey through America and the perils of ill-advised romance. As she seeks out success and love, she weaves her way through the maze of New York and Hollywood social life, and through her own anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, and she begins to wonder whether there are better choices to be made." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

My take: Tell Me On a Sunday may be one of the least-known of Andrew Lloyd Webber's many musicals, right down there with the impressive Aspects of Love. As a one-woman show, it's also one of the most modest. It's by no means ALWs best work and, in fact, the composer himself later turned it into the first act of his full-length musical Song and Dance, but is has some fine music, including the lovely "Unexpected Song", and star Sarah Porter has gotten lots of praise for her performance.


Kelsey Bearman
The Emerald Room Cabaret presents singer Kelsey Bearman in Whatever I Want to Be on Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m. "Kelsey offers her fresh, fun take on this wonderfully crazy journey we call “life,” as she playfully explores life's paradoxes, from falling in love to breaking up, from facing fears to embracing life's mysteries. The show includes classic golden-age favorites by Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as selections by contemporary musical theatre composers such as Heisler and Goldrich and Michael John LaChiusa. Engaging and hysterically edgy, “Whatever I Want It To Be” embraces life and the opportunity to make each moment whatever we want it to be." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

My take: As her performance at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference last month reminded me, Kelsey is a very talented performer who very likely has a promising career ahead of her. She's off to New York soon to make a name for herself, so here's your opportunity to say you saw her when.


Held Over:

Bat Boy
Stray Dog Theatre presents Bat Boy: the Musical Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through August 20. “This offbeat comedy/horror musical is a big-hearted satire about prejudice. As ripped from a bizarre tabloid headline and set in a tiny West Virginia town, a strange, deformed boy is found alone in a cave. Once the “bat boy” is brought to light, dark - and hilarious - secrets emerge, shaking the community to its core. A clever, playful pop/rock score highlights the show's delirious take on American eccentricities._For MATURE AUDIENCES: In an effort to keep the selection of shows engaging and dynamic, this production may not be appropriate for all ages." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This is not the first local appearance of this odd little musical which first saw the light of day in London in 1997, and I expect it won't be the last. Reviews have been good, which is not surprising, given that this is just the sort of ensemble cast thing Stray Dog does so well. They show is also a kind of memorial to Stray Dog's late production manager Jay Hall, who died during rehearsals.


The Drowsy Chaperone
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical satire The Drowsy Chaperone through August 21. "With its laugh-a-minute script and one show-stopping song and dance number after another, it's easy to see why THE DROWSY CHAPERONE won the most Tony Awards of any musical on Broadway in 2006, including Best Book and Score. It all begins when a die-hard musical theatre fan decides to play his favorite cast album in his small brownstone apartment - a 1928 smash hit musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone." The show magically bursts to life before him as audiences are instantly transported to an earlier time and place and immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day, complete with gangsters, mistaken identities, an off-course aviatrix, and an uplifting ride to the rafters. " 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: The Drowsy Chaperone is a very smart and mostly very funny parody of musical theatre and, to a certain extent, the very concept of theatre itself. It's fun to watch, and when I saw the local premiere at the Fox back in 2007 I found my appreciation of its cleverness increasing in retrospect - always a good sign. It's essentially the most elaborate in joke in living memory. I haven't seen the Stages production, but honestly it's hard to see how they could not do well by this very strong material. If you love musical theatre, you won't want to miss it.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of August 15, 2016

Gesher Music Festival
Artistic Director Sara Sitzer
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The Gesher Music Festival presents The Route 66 Mixtape on Thursday, August 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the Wool Theatre at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. " Gesher partners with the Missouri History Museum to take listeners on a musical road trip down America’s Historic Highway! Explore the works of composers who helped shape the cultural landscape of America through folk songs, concert music, and film scores. With Festival Artistic Director Sara Sitzer telling the stories behind the music and live performances by the talented Gesher Artists, you won't want to miss this musical twist on Americana!" For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

The Gesher Music Festival presents Welcome to America on Saturday, August 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. "A nation made up of immigrants from countries and cultures around the world, America has offered sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and opportunity to those seeking a fresh start. Explore the stories of some of America’s most fascinating immigrant composers, and enjoy the music that reflects those stories. From Italy, Argentina, Germany, and Austria, the music on this program mirrors the vast variety and beauty of the people that make up our country today." For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of August 15, 2016

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


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


Bat Boy
Stray Dog Theatre presents Bat Boy: the Musical Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through August 20. “This offbeat comedy/horror musical is a big-hearted satire about prejudice. As ripped from a bizarre tabloid headline and set in a tiny West Virginia town, a strange, deformed boy is found alone in a cave. Once the “bat boy” is brought to light, dark - and hilarious - secrets emerge, shaking the community to its core. A clever, playful pop/rock score highlights the show's delirious take on American eccentricities._For MATURE AUDIENCES: In an effort to keep the selection of shows engaging and dynamic, this production may not be appropriate for all ages." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents CSI: Bissell through October 30. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Union Avenue Opera presents Douglas J. Cuomo's opera Doubt, based on the play by John Patrick Shanley, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, August 19 - 27. "Father Flynn enjoys a secure appointment and popularity in the community until Sister James suspects him of carrying on an improper relationship with the school's first African-American student. Sister Aloysius, the school's authoritarian principal, sets out to remove Flynn. Gender politics, race relations and the role of the church, questions about personal responsibility, doubt, right and wrong are all brought to bear here. So much in Doubt is about what is left unsaid and continually running beneath the surface." The production stars famed soprano Christine Brewer as Sister James, a role she created at the opera's 2013 premiere. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

The Drowsy Chaperone
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical satire The Drowsy Chaperone through August 21. "With its laugh-a-minute script and one show-stopping song and dance number after another, it's easy to see why THE DROWSY CHAPERONE won the most Tony Awards of any musical on Broadway in 2006, including Best Book and Score. It all begins when a die-hard musical theatre fan decides to play his favorite cast album in his small brownstone apartment - a 1928 smash hit musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone." The show magically bursts to life before him as audiences are instantly transported to an earlier time and place and immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day, complete with gangsters, mistaken identities, an off-course aviatrix, and an uplifting ride to the rafters. " 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.

The Gesher Music Festival presents The Great (Jewish) American Songbook on Sunday, August 21, at 3 p.m. in the Wool Theatre at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. "Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Leonard Bernstein -- these are just a few of the many composers and lyricists most famous for their contributions to the Great American Songbook. Join us for a celebration of this classic American music, so much of which was created by Jewish artists! From Broadway and the cabarets to classical chamber music, this program is filled with known and beloved tunes as well as lesser-known yet incredible American musical gems." For more information: www.geshermusicfestival.org.

Inherit the Wind
Photo: Robbie Love
Insight Theatre Company presents the drama Inherit the Wind through August 28. "Bert Cates a 1920's schoolteacher is put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibits public school teachers from teaching evolution instead creationism. Rachel Brown who is Cates girlfriend is also the daughter of Reverend Brown is torn between the opposing beliefs held by Cates and her father and her love for both of them." 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.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Kindertransport, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., August 19 - September 4. “During 1938-39, almost ten thousand children, mostly Jewish, were sent from families at risk in Nazi occupied Germany to safety in Britain. Samuel's play explores the lives of mothers and daughters torn apart and brought together by this “Kindertransport.” ” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation present Love's Labor, opening Friday, August 19, at 7:30 p.m. and running through Sunday, August 21. "Shakespeare Festival St. Louis partners with the Pulitzer to create a combined visual and performing arts event drawing inspiration from the exhibitions on view to explore themes of domesticity and “the everyday.” Entitled Love's Labor, the interactive performance for four actors and one violinist unfolds throughout the Pulitzer's galleries, following the story of a contemporary relationship and questioning what makes and breaks a home. Love's Labor is conceived, written, and directed by Shakespeare Festival Associate Artistic Director Bruce Longworth. The performances are free to attend, but tickets are required." The performances take place at The Pulitzer Arts Foundation, 3716 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: pulitzerarts.org.

The Emerald Room Cabaret at The Monocle resents Amy Armstrong in Mama's Big Ones, a musical tribute to Mama Cass Elliot of The Mamas and the Papas, Friday at 8 p.m., August 19. "Amy is the complete package - an exceptionally fine singer and dead-on comedienne, the total pro who is fresh and compelling and funny every night. Now she is bringing us her Mama Cass show, developed and honed on her tour of Mexican resort clubs this winter. Mama's Big Ones (the title of Cass's first solo album) takes us through her life and work. Though far from all, a big part of Cass's professional life was The Mamas and The Papas, whose California Dreamin' defined a sound for a generation. 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.

Mary Shelley Monster Show
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Mary Shelley Monster Show by Nick Otten Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., August 17 - 20. "SATE will remount its original play, Mary Shelley Monster Show, by Nick Otten. Mary Shelley: the impulsive teen in a runaway love triangle, the precocious novelist, the daughter of revolutionaries, the lover and wife of philosopher-poet. Mary Shelley: the grieving mother, the martyr-widow, the hack writer. Mary Shelley: the monster and monster's mother. Was Mary Shelley's most famous novel, “Frankenstein” really an autobiography? Is she the creator or the creature? " Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival opens on Friday, August 19, and runs through August 27 at several venues in the Grand Center area including the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 N. Grand) and TheStage at KDHX. Performances include traditional theater, dance, music, comedy, circus arts, performance art, cabaret, and burlesque, with acts from St. Louis and around the country. "This year's festival will coincide with Grand Center's new arts event Music at The Intersection and will include both new and familiar programming. 2016 will see the premiere of microtheater (short performances for an audience of no more than 9 patrons in an intimate, immersive setting), spin rooms (post show talk backs an workshops), Voices Unleashed (A number of festival slots are reserved for producers who are underrepresented in mainstream theatrical settings based on ethnicity, gender identity, language, dialect, age, physical ability, BMI, or other barrier), and an incubator program (a specialized collaborative showcase setting with more support for emergent artists). Past favorite programs like Fringe Family and the Artica sculpture garden will again enliven Strauss Park." For a complete schedule, visit stlfringe.comstlfringe.com.

Tell Me On a Sunday
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Tell Me on a Sunday Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through August 27. "This pop-rock song cycle follows a young English woman newly arrived in New York, brimming with optimism, and her journey through America and the perils of ill-advised romance. As she seeks out success and love, she weaves her way through the maze of New York and Hollywood social life, and through her own anxieties, frustrations, and heartaches, and she begins to wonder whether there are better choices to be made." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Next Generation Theatre Company presents the musical West Side Story Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 and 7 p.m., August 19-27. "Pulled directly from the pages of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the musical takes place on New York's West Side in the mid-1950s amidst widespread racial and social tension. The show begins as a war is building between two rival gangs fighting over the same piece of turf: born and bred New York boys, The Jets, and Puerto Rican immigrants The Sharks. In the midst of the battlefield are two young romantics, good-boy Tony, a Jet ready to leave the gang life behind, and wide-eyed Maria, the sister of Sharks leader, Bernardo. When Tony and Maria unexpectedly meet and fall for one another, tension between the rival groups only escalates, leading to a bloody and senseless rumble that costs both sides young lives. In spite of the violence, the true story at the core of the show is two lovers trying to find a way to be together-and whether either can survive when hate and ignorance are unwilling to yield." Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theater at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information: florissantmo.thundertix.com

Kelsey Bearman
The Emerald Room Cabaret presents singer Kelsey Bearman in Whatever I Want to Be on Saturday, August 20, at 8 p.m. "Kelsey offers her fresh, fun take on this wonderfully crazy journey we call “life,” as she playfully explores life's paradoxes, from falling in love to breaking up, from facing fears to embracing life's mysteries. The show includes classic golden-age favorites by Rodgers and Hammerstein as well as selections by contemporary musical theatre composers such as Heisler and Goldrich and Michael John LaChiusa. Engaging and hysterically edgy, “Whatever I Want It To Be” embraces life and the opportunity to make each moment whatever we want it to be." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love through October 28. 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.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 12, 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:

Aida
The Muny presents Elton John and Tim Rice's musical Aida opening on Monday, August 8, and running nightly at 8:15 pm through August 14 in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "A decade ago, Muny audiences fell in love with an unforgettable tale. Set in ancient Egypt, this timeless saga of forbidden love between the Ethiopian princess Aida and her Egyptian captor has been re-envisioned for this enchanting production. Expect to be captured yourself by Elton John's soaring melodies including “Written in the Stars,” “The Gods Love Nubia” and “Elaborate Lives.” Aida is the thrilling finale to the Muny season." For more information, visit muny.org or call 314-361-1900.

My take: When I reviewed the tour of the Broadway production back in 2001, I found Aida to be pretty entertaining but rather thin stuff overall. But reviews for the Muny's version have been good and this is certainly a show that allows the Muny to display its glossy tech. "Surely any story involving ancient Egypt has the potential for good visuals," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack, "and the opening scene, taking place in the dessert, pyramids in the background, gives us to understand that this is all fantasy, simply by creating a scene that evokes something from Tatooine in Star Wars." And given the weather lately, you won't have to try very hard to imagine you're in Egypt.


Bat Boy
Stray Dog Theatre presents Bat Boy: the Musical Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through August 20. “This offbeat comedy/horror musical is a big-hearted satire about prejudice. As ripped from a bizarre tabloid headline and set in a tiny West Virginia town, a strange, deformed boy is found alone in a cave. Once the “bat boy” is brought to light, dark - and hilarious - secrets emerge, shaking the community to its core. A clever, playful pop/rock score highlights the show's delirious take on American eccentricities._For MATURE AUDIENCES: In an effort to keep the selection of shows engaging and dynamic, this production may not be appropriate for all ages." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This is not the first local appearance of this odd little musical which first saw the light of day in London in 1997, and I expect it won't be the last. Reviews have been good, which is not surprising, given that this is just the sort of ensemble cast thing Stray Dog does so well. They show is also a kind of memorial to Stray Dog's late production manager Jay Hall, who died during rehearsals.


Amy Ogle
The Emerald Room at the Monocle presents singer Amy Ogle in Nick of Time on Friday, August 12, at 8 p.m. "In her all new show, Amy explores the realization of a dream. And ours." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

My take: Amy is a genuinely talented performer with a wide range and a solid voice. She can make you laugh as easily as she can bring a tear to your eye. I've seen her do great work at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference and at the open mic nights at the late, lamented Tavern of Fine Arts.


David Giuntoli
The Emerald Room at the Monocle and The Presenters Dolan present David Guintoli in Sinatra...The Man and His Music on Saturday, August 13, at 8 p.m. "David Giuntoli sings songs that Frank Sinatra made famous. He would have been 100, if alive, and although he was from a different era, his musical stylings are a as swinging today as they were in the 40s, 50s, and 60s when he was at his peak. Sinatra had a gift of taking songs from great composers like, Cole Porter, Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn, and, along with his fantastic arrangements, giving them that “Sinatra” stamp. The show includes these songs; I've Got the World on a String, All or Nothing at All, The Best is Yet to Come, I've Got You Under My Skin, The Way You Look Tonight, Angel Eyes, Fly Me to the Moon, Night and Day, The Lady is a Tramp and more." The show features Adam Maness on piano and Ben Wheeler on bass. The performance takes 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: No, this is not the David Giuntoli who stars in Grimm, but rather my fellow Cabaret Project board member in his first solo show. The focus on Sinatra makes perfect sense, given that Mr. Giuntoli is a baritone with a crooner's sensibility and an affection for the Great American Songbook.


Held Over:

The Drowsy Chaperone
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical satire The Drowsy Chaperone through August 21. "With its laugh-a-minute script and one show-stopping song and dance number after another, it's easy to see why THE DROWSY CHAPERONE won the most Tony Awards of any musical on Broadway in 2006, including Best Book and Score. It all begins when a die-hard musical theatre fan decides to play his favorite cast album in his small brownstone apartment - a 1928 smash hit musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone." The show magically bursts to life before him as audiences are instantly transported to an earlier time and place and immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day, complete with gangsters, mistaken identities, an off-course aviatrix, and an uplifting ride to the rafters. " 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: The Drowsy Chaperone is a very smart and mostly very funny parody of musical theatre and, to a certain extent, the very concept of theatre itself. It's fun to watch, and when I saw the local premiere at the Fox back in 2007 I found my appreciation of its cleverness increasing in retrospect - always a good sign. It's essentially the most elaborate in joke in living memory. I haven't seen the Stages production, but honestly it's hard to see how they could not do well by this very strong material. If you love musical theatre, you won't want to miss it.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Glimmerglass Festival, 2016, Day 3: Enemy aliens

Rev. Parris discovers Tituba and the girls
Photo: Karli Cadel
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Our three days at the Glimmerglass Festival concluded on July 31, 2016, with an exemplary production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1961 operatic version of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  I reviewed this for Classical Voice North America, but due to space constraints on their web site, I was obliged to edit my original review.  Here is the full-length version.

In a 1989 New York Times article reflecting on his 1953 play The Crucible, Arthur Miller wrote, "Political movements are always trying to position themselves against the unknown-vote for me and you're safe." The relevance to contemporary politics could hardly be more obvious.

Rev. Hale leads the villagers in a hymn
Photo: Karli Cadel
In both the play and the opera, fear stalks the streets of Salem Village. Many of the villagers are afraid of the land grab schemes of the wealthy Thomas Putnam, while his wife Ann is afraid that her numerous miscarriages are the work of supernatural forces. Reverend Parris, meanwhile, fears for the health of this daughter Betty, who lies in bed with a mysterious illness.

The tensions and resentments in the village come to a head when Parris discovers his niece Abigail Williams and other village girls dancing in the woods with the Barbadian slave Tituba. Pressured by the witchcraft expert Reverend Hale and the girls, Tituba confesses to witchcraft. As the villagers pray over Betty, it appears that Tituba's confession and their hymns have worked and Hale declares Satan's hold broken.

John Proctor pleads with Elizabeth
Photo: Karli Cadel
But Abigail and the other girls have tasted power for the first time in their repressed lives, and soon they're staging regular demonstrations of "possession," accusing others in the village of supernatural persecution. A special court is convened to hear the accusations, and eventually Danforth, the Deputy Governor, is brought in to run the hearings, in which the increasingly wild accusations of the girls are presumed to be true and the accused are presumed guilty. Worse yet, as farmer Giles Corey discovers, accusing the girls of fraud is considered an offense all by itself. Before long, dozens of citizens are in prison, awaiting execution and, for those who refuse to confess and name others involved in the fictitious conspiracy, torture.

Or, as we now call it, enhanced interrogation.

Judge Danforth hears Mary Warren's testimony
Photo: Carli Kadel
The list of accused includes Elizabeth Proctor whose husband, John, had a clandestine affair with Abigail. Abigail thinks getting Elizabeth executed will bring John back to her, but he's determined to repair his marriage. Unable to convince Abigail to recant her accusation, he confesses to the affair in court to expose Abigail's fakery, only to find it discounted and accused of witchcraft himself.

In the end the case against Elizabeth collapses when Abigail steals money from Parris and runs away while the village begins to openly rebel against Danforth's court. Proctor is offered a last chance to avoid the gallows if he signs a confession but he refuses to blacken his name, inflict shame on his sons, and give Danforth the ammunition he needs to justify his reign of terror. As he is led to the gallows, Hale pleads with Elizabeth to get him to sign, but she refuses. “He has found his name and his goodness now", she says. "God forbid I take it form him.”

Abigail and the girls are "posessed"
Photo: Karli Cadel
The libretto by Bernard Stambler considerably shortens and streamlines Miller's play, which was inspired in part by the modern-day witch hunts of the late Senator McCarthy, but leaves intact the searing indictment of the power of mob mentality and the moral corruption of politicians who feed on it. Today the mob is on the Internet and social media, but the intellectually disreputable process is the same.

When The Crucible had its premiere at New York City Opera in 1961, New York Times critic Harold Schonberg essentially praised the Robert Ward score with faint damns, calling it "noncommittal music" that "did little to intensify the characters on state, the moods they were feeling, or the situations in which they found themselves."

Proctor is accused by Danforth
Photo: Karli Cadel
Time has not judged his judgment well. While it's certainly true that nobody is likely to leave a production of The Crucible whistling the tunes, it's hard to square Mr. Schonberg's criticisms with what I heard here. This is a score of tremendous narrative power, high drama, and often-unexpected beauty. A scene cut from the original play but restored here, in which Proctor pleads with Abigail to forget him and spare Elizabeth's life, is wonderfully lyrical, calling to mind Gershwin's "Bess, You is My Woman Now", while the trial scenes have real visceral impact.

It may be true that Mr. Ward, who died just a few years ago, did not have the distinctive harmonic or melodic style of (say) Copland or Bernstein, but if this score is any indication, he had a sure sense of what works on stage. He is quoted as saying that if you can't play it or sing it, you shouldn't write it. He clearly followed his own advice here.

Marry Warren warns Elizabeth
Photo: Karli Cadel
The cast for this production is an impressive one, with powerful, accurate voices and credible acting skills. Leading the pack is baritone Brian Mulligan as John Proctor, with a big voice and dramatic stage presence. This is a key role, requiring plenty of vocal stamina along with the ability to make the character's crisis of conscience believe able. Mr. Mulligan has both. The women's roles are critical in The Crucible and director Francesca Zambello has assembled an impressive ensemble to fill them. Mezzo Jamie Barton, whose warm voice distinguished her Jane Seymour in Chicago Lyric's Anna Bolena back in 2014, racks up another success as the conflicted Elizabeth Proctor. Soprano Ariana Wehr is a credibly conniving Abigail, mezzo Zoie Reams commands attention as Tituba, and soprano Maren Weinberger is a compelling Mary Warren, who tries to tries to expose the fraud of Abigail and the other girls, only to succumb to peer pressure in the end. All three singers are part of the company's Young Artists program, which gives you some idea of how strong it must be.

Abigail pleads with Proctor to flee with her
Photo: Karli Cadel
Members of the Young Artists program turn in some very mature performances of the male roles as well. That includes, but is by no means limited to, baritone Michael Miller as the greedy Thomas Putnam; tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Giles Corey, whose attempt to expose the girls' fakery results in his own death; and tenor Frederick Ballentine as Rev. Parris. Among the older men, bass-baritone David Pittsinger stands out as Rev. Hale, whose regret is too little and too late, as does tenor Jay Hunter Morris (an Artist in Residence this year) as the arrogant Danforth, whose declaration that he would "draw and quarter ten thousand men" to preserve order could have come from the current presidential campaign.

All the performances in this large cast are very strong, in fact. You can find a complete list at the production web page. In a discussion before the opera, Ms. Zambello noted that she had intentionally used "color blind" casting to create an ensemble that would look like America today in all its diversity. It's a valid artistic decision, but I'm not sure that works with a piece so firmly rooted in the 1690s. That's a minor point, though. Her direction is otherwise as clear and theatrically on target as usual.

Canadian conductor Nicole Paiement leads the wonderfully polished orchestra in a sympathetic and robust reading of the score. Glimmerglass's purpose-built theater has a good-sized orchestra pit and excellent acoustics, allowing every note of the music to come through clearly.

The Glimmerglass Festival production of The Crucible runs through August 27 in rotating repertory with four other shows. For more information, visit the company web site. At a time when the forces of fear and scapegoating are once again abroad in the land, this is surely a "must see."