Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Symphony Review: Happy Haydn highlights mostly-1800 concert

Pianist Yefim Bronfman
Photo: Dario Acosta
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Jolly Haydn and dramatic Beethoven were on tap this past weekend (September 24 and 25, 2016) at Powell Hall, in a program made up mostly of music written around 1800.

The concerts opened, appropriately, with an overture—specifically, the one Mozart wrote for Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute"), the 1791 Masonic-tinged singspiel that would prove to be his last completed work for the stage. From the three solemn opening chords to the end of the sprightly and ingeniously constructed Allegro that follows, this is music with an optimism and drive that contrasts sharply with its creator's failing health and fortunes.

Mr. Robertson gave those opening chords a kind of dramatic poignancy that reminded me of that contrast, then followed it up with an energetic and expertly shaped reading of the body of the overture. It was the kind of performance that lends credence to critic Jeff Counts's characterization of the piece as "the most rewarding six minutes in music," especially when played with such crystalline precision.

Up next was Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37. The work had its premiere at a mammoth 1803 concert that included his Symphony No. 2 and his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. The orchestra was second rate and Beethoven hadn't finished writing out the piano part, playing it instead from memory as Gershwin did at the first performance of Rhapsody in Blue. Subsequent performances were better received, and the concerto is now widely seen as the composer's first truly mature work for piano and orchestra.

The Beethoven revealed here is the dramatic and heaven-storming Beethoven of popular legend. The hushed expectation of the ascending string motif at the beginning soon gives way to high drama with the entrance of the soloist playing music which, as the movement progresses, pushes the capabilities of 1803 piano technology to its limits. The lyrical second movement and energetic finale, with its unexpected fugal passages, are clearly the work of a composer fully in command of his idiom.

Beth Guterman Chu
Soloist Yefim Bronfman, whose prodigious technique has impressed me in the past, delivered everything the score promises. He gave us all the fierce intensity of that first movement, culminating in a particularly dramatic cadenza, with its tranquil final trill leading to a strikingly impassioned coda.

The second movement, which included some fine playing by Principal Flute Mark Sparks and Associate Principal Bassoon Andy Gott, sang as it should, and the final Rondo was completely engaging. In short, Mr. Bronfman and Mr. Robertson gave us a Beethoven third that bodes well for the rest of the complete cycle of Beethoven piano concerti that the SLSO is doing this season.

The second half of the program leapt ahead in time to 1997 with Viola, Viola by English composer George Benjamin (b. 1960). This intimate piece for two violas is the product of a composer who, like Beethoven, continually revises and reworks his pieces until he's sure they're just right. Over the course of its ten minutes, the instruments converse, argue, and finally combine so seamlessly that it can be hard to tell them apart.

It was fun to watch the impressive virtuoso interplay between the wife and husband team of Beth Guterman Chu (Principal Viola) and Jonathan Chu (Assistant Principal Viola) here, but the score itself struck me as a bit arid. I came away feeling that I had admired a neat bit of musical clockwork.

The concert concluded with a wonderfully good-humored romp through Haydn's Symphony No. 102 in B-flat major. First performed in 1795, it was written for the second of two highly successful London engagements in the 1790s. By then Haydn's audiences were increasingly drawn from the educated middle class rather than the aristocracy, and like any good showman, he knew what they wanted: novelty, invention, surprise and a healthy dollop of good humor.

Jonathan Chu
"Haydn's 102nd, just like all of his London symphonies," wrote Tom. Service in a 2013 article for The Guardian, "consecrates a moment in symphonic history when this composer and his listeners were in excellent, mutually appreciative accord, a bond that's renewed every time this symphony is played or listened to today." Mr. Robertson's performance honored that bond in both audible and visual ways. This was especially true in the finale, in which Haydn playfully throws snippets of the melody back and forth between sections like a game of musical tennis. Mr. Robertson followed those leaps with his head like a spectator at Wimbledon, to the obvious amusement of the audience. Purists might object to those sorts of hijinks, but I think Haydn would have loved it.

And all this was, in any case, in the service of a very knowing and idiomatic performance, with the usual high level of playing from the members of the band. I was very much taken with Principal Cello Danny Lee's work in the Adagio second movement as well as the flutes, oboes, and bassoons in the trio section of the comically off-center third movement Menuet.

Mr. Robertson clearly understands both Haydn's humor and inventiveness. I'd like to see him take on more of the composer's symphonies in the future.

Next at Powell: David Robertson conducts with violin soloist Leila Josefowicz on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., September 30 and October 1.  The program consists of John Adams's Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"). Information on this and future concerts is available at the SLSO web site.

Symphony Preview: Points of Departure

Violinist Leila Josefowicz
Photo: Chris Lee
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David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra this weekend (Friday and Saturday, September 30 and October 1) in a program consisting of just two big works: John Adams's 1993 Violin Concerto and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op. 55 ("Eroica") from 1803. Despite the 190 years that separate them, they have something in common: they both represent a distinct stylistic departure for their respective composers.

Beethoven's departure came about as a result of a re-evaluation of his life, described in an 1802 document now known as the "Heiligenstadt Testament." It is, as most classical fans will recall, a letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers Carl and Johann at the town of Heiligenstadt (now part of Vienna) in which he told of his despair over his increasing deafness and his struggles with thoughts of suicide. The letter was never delivered (it was found among his papers after his death in 1827) and seems, in retrospect, to have acted as a kind of catharsis for the composer. Before the "Testament" he was a composer/pianist. Afterwards, he would be exclusively a composer.

It also marked the beginning of the emergence of his unique compositional voice. His first two symphonies were clearly in the mold of Haydn and Mozart. But with the "Eroica" Beethoven created, as Paul Schiavo writes in his program notes, "a new musical genre, the Romantic symphony."

And what a symphony! Those first two big chords are almost like a gauntlet thrown down to challenge established notions of what a symphony should be. Indeed this first movement displays, in Mr. Schiavo's words, a "dramatic intensity [which] was unprecedented in symphonic composition and remains rarely, if ever, equaled two centuries and more later."

The drama continues with the heroic funeral march of the second movement, the restless energy of the third movement scherzo, and the towering finale-a set of elaborate variations followed by a powerful coda. It clocks in at around fifty minutes, which no doubt seemed absurdly excessive to audiences accustomed to symphonies half that length. "One early critic," writes Welsh musicologist David Wyn Morris, "described it as 'a very long-drawn-out daring and wild fantasia' which, at least, reveals a response to its emotive power."

Composer John Adams
Photo: Vern Evans
The finale is also a classic example of musical recycling. The theme that serves as the basis for the variations was originally part of a set of twelve "Contredanses" Beethoven wrote between 1791 and 1802. It seems to have been a favorite of his, popping up again in (among other places) his score for the 1802 ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. Composer and writer Drerk Strahan has suggested that Beethoven saw it as a "hero" theme. It certainly becomes heroic in the course of the final movement of the "Eroica."

The departure for John Adams was somewhat less dramatic, and it was the choice of the violin as the solo instrument that initiated it. "A concerto without a strong melodic statement is hard to imagine," recalls the composer. "I knew that if I were to compose a violin concerto I would have to solve the issue of melody. I could not possibly have produced such a thing in the 1980's because my compositional language was principally one of massed sonorities riding on great rippling waves of energy. Harmony and rhythm were the driving forces in my music of that decade; melody was almost non-existent."

"As if to compensate for years of neglecting the 'singing line,'" he continues, "the Violin Concerto (1993) emerged as an almost implacably melodic piece-a example of 'hypermelody.' The violin spins one long phrase after another without stop for nearly the full thirty-five minutes of the piece. I adopted the classic form of the concerto as a kind of Platonic model, even to the point of placing a brief cadenza for the soloist at the traditional locus near the end of the first movement."

Having listened to the concerto, though, I have to say that I'm not sure it's as big a departure from the composer's usual style as his comments suggest. His "hypermelody" does, indeed, unfold as described, but it's ultimately composed of the kind of individual motivic "cells" that characterize so much of the composer's other works. Add up enough minimalism, it seems, and you get a long and winding road of lyricism.

The singing first movement gives way to a second movement based on the old Baroque form of the chaconne, which features a series of increasingly elaborate variations on a simple theme repeated in the bass line. That theme might sound familiar to sharp-eared listeners since it's remarkably close to the little sequence that underscores the words "Space: the final frontier" in the theme of the classic TV show Star Trek. If you doubt me, take a few minutes to view CBC Radio 2 host Tom Allen's tongue-in-cheek video documentary on the lineage of that theme; it's fascinating stuff. I don't know whether Mr. Adams was ever a Star Trek fan or not but he's of the right vintage, so anything is possible.

The concerto ends in a blaze of virtuoso fireworks with the driving "Toccare" third movement. It's the sort of thing that gives a truly proficient violinist a chance to show off and, as the composer notes, "many violinists have taken on the piece, and each has played it with his or her unique flair and understanding. Among them are Gidon Kremer (who made the first recording with the London Symphony), Vadim Repin, Robert McDuffie, Midori and, perhaps most astonishingly of all, Leila Josefowicz, who made the piece a personal calling card for years."

The soloist this weekend will, in fact, be Ms. Josefowicz. So it looks like we can expect an authoritative performance. Mr. Robertson has also shows a strong affinity for the music of John Adams, so the work will be in good hands.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with violin soloist Leila Josefowicz on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. September 30 and October 1. [The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. The Saturday concert will be broadcast, as usual, on St. Louis Public Radio.

Monday, September 26, 2016

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of Septemberr 26, 2016

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Alpha Players present the musical 1776 September 30 - October 9. "It's the summer of 1776, and the nation is ready to declare independence... if only our founding fathers can agree to do it! 1776 follows John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as they attempt to convince the members of the Second Continental Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence." Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

The West End Players Guild opens their 106th season with Tom Stoppard's Arcadia Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, September 30 - October 9. There will also be a show on Thursday, October 6, at 8 PM. "Stoppard spins simultaneous tales set two centuries apart in the same room of an English manor. The stories are bittersweet, the characters are endearing and the play is a delight." 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.

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and The Monocle present cabaret open mic night every Wednesday from 7 to 10 PM. "Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by the guest music director Carol Schmidt on the baby grand." The master of ceremonies is Tim Schall, along with Chuck Lavazzi, senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX, and special guests. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. At least one of your two songs should be a medium-or up-tempo number. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Monocle is at 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Celebration
Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Celebration Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, September 29 - October 22. "With words by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt (The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do!, 110 in the Shade), CELEBRATION tells a wild, adult fable set on New Year's Eve, centered on Orphan, an idealistic and cheerfully optimistic young man, who reminds the wealthy and jaded old man William Rosebud Rich of his younger self; Angel, a sweet but not so angelic erotic dancer who longs to be Somebody; and the cynical Potemkin, who serves as narrator, commentator, and instigator. At the story's core is the primal, often comic struggle between youth and old age, innocence and corruption, love and ambition, poverty and wealth, as Angel tries to decide if she would be better served by her feelings for Orphan or Rich's willingness to fulfill all her material dreams." 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.

Fontbonne University Theatre Department presents Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake), Thursday through Sunday, September 29 - October 2. "It's Christmas, and a year has passed since the untimely death of Janice's father. Struggling to cope, Janice is holding spiteful conversations with her dolls, and Mother is suffering from panic attacks, with only her baking skills to keep her busy. In their deteriorating Apartment that incessantly begs for repairs, their only comforts are visitations from their respective celebrity crushes -- Justin Timberlake and Harrison Ford. With the support of Justin's affection, Janice begins to craft a plan that will mend the chasm in their lives. Meanwhile, the Apartment is developing murderous plans of its own..." Performances take place in the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre on Wydown and Big Bend. For more information: www.fontbonne.edu/academics/departments/fine-arts-department/theatre-productions.

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

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Cyst Happens by Brett Carr on Friday, Septermber 30, at 7:00 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. "What if you woke up one morning and octopuses were eating your brain and you really don't like octopuses? And now you can't drive and you really like cars. And your friends are different, and you really don't like different. And everyone you know is suddenly a doctor, and you really don't like doctors? And...well...I can't remember the other thing." 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 Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the one-man show Defending the Caveman, opening on Friday, September 30, and running through October 23. " Defending the Caveman, is the longest running solo show in Broadway history, is a hilariously insightful play about the ways men and women relate. This prehistoric look at the battle of the sexes is full of wonderful scenarios that celebrate the differences between men and women, making it a perfect entertainment option for couples or for a girls' night out. The show has also been seen and recommended by thousands of marriage and family therapists and counselors for its humorous look at the inherent differences between the sexes." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

St. Louis University Theatre presents Lisa Loomer's Distracted, described as a “fast-paced and comic look at parenting in the age of the Internet and Ritalin”, opening on Friday, September 30, at 8 p.m. and running through October 9. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. For more information, call 314-977-3327 or visit slu.edu/utheatre.

Follies
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies through October 2. “Featuring an all-star cast that includes three Tony nominees, Broadway stars and local favorites, Follies is the biggest Rep production in more than a decade. Join us for our 50th anniversary season opener as we present a breathtaking rendition of this Stephen Sondheim classic!” 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 Emerald Room Cabaret presents comic A Gentle Reminder: Coco Peru's Guide to a Somewhat Happy Life Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.September 30 and October 1. "Ever since becoming a YouTube sensation Coco Peru has been inundated with emails from people of all ages asking her the same question, “Coco, what is the secret to a happy life?” So, being the giver that she is, Coco wrote a new show A GENTLE REMINDER - COCO'S GUIDE TO A SOMEWHAT HAPPY LIFE where, through story and song, Coco shares with her audience a step by step guide that leaves you prepared to enter the world again ready to create your very own “somewhat” happy life. " The performances take place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Hell-Burnt by Danny Washelesky on Saturday, October 1, at 2 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. "Dealing with the Devil takes on new meaning when the game is Texas Hold'em. Putting your soul on the table seems to be the only way out for a man who is all in. In this very funny morality tale, Zack learns that demons cheat, paper cuts are painful, and the path to the outside is inside you." 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 Looking Glass Playhouse presents the rock musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat through October 2. "The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in this delightful musical parable. Joseph, his father's favorite son, is a boy blessed with prophetic dreams. When he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken to Egypt, Joseph endures a series of adventures in which his spirit and humanity are continually challenged. He is purchased by Potiphar where thwarting advances from Potiphar's wife lands him in jail. When news of Joseph's gift to interpret dreams reaches the Pharaoh (wryly and riotously depicted as Elvis), Joseph is well on his way to becoming second in command. Eventually his brothers, having suffered greatly, unknowingly find themselves groveling at the feet of the brother they betrayed but no longer recognize. After testing their integrity, Joseph reveals himself leading to a heartfelt reconciliation of the sons of Israel. Set to an engaging cornucopia of musical styles, from country-western and calypso to bubble-gum pop and rock 'n' roll, this Old Testament tale emerges both timely and timeless." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

Slaying Dragons and The Independence Center present Mind Shattering Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The play is " a theatrical production in two acts exploring causes and events that prompt thoughts and emotions to break from reality, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Performances take place at Southampton Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: slayingdragons.org.

Gitana Productions presents New World, an original one-act play by Lee Patton Chiles about three refugee women from Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Republic of the Congo. The play is based on interviews and documented accounts of three women who came to St. Louis hoping to create a new world by healing old world wounds. Performances are Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., October 1 and 2 at the Nahed Chapman New American Academy in the Gallaudet Building. at 1616 S. Grand. A Q and A session with the participation by the Center for Survivors of Torture and War will follow each performance. For more information: gitana-inc.org.

The Fox Theatre presents the musical Once Friday through Sunday, September 30 - October 2. "Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights... but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Sister Act
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Sister Act through October 9. "There's a real reason to rejoice this season for everybody's favorite nun, Deloris Van Cartier, is coming to STAGES to stir up her special brand of habit-forming fun! Join the happy multitudes who have made SISTER ACT one of Hollywood's favorite film comedies and enjoy all the fun, laughter, and irresistible music that packed pews all over America in this STAGES premiere event. Blessed with a rollicking new musical score from Alan Menken - the composer who brought us BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LITTLE MERMAID, NEWSIES, and ALADDIN - this divine comedy about a sassy, low-rent lounge singer forced to hide out from the mob in the last place anyone would ever look for her - a convent - recently became one of Broadway's smash hit musicals and continues to attract flocks of faithful followers wherever it goes thanks to its soulful chorus of swingin' sisters." 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.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Slasher by Allison Moore Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., September 28 - October 9. “Every actor has their big break: for DiCaprio is was the epic Titanic, for young Sheena it's a low-budget horror movie. At least that's what she thinks, but her mother begs to differ. As a diehard feminist, Frances sees her daughter's role as 'last girl' horribly offensive. She will stop at nothing to pull the brakes on the film. Hopefully everyone survives the ordeal. This hilarious dark comedy won high praise at its premiere at the 2009 Humana Festival. It's a night of laughs...with a few screams mixed in of course.” Performances take place in the Emerson Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, events.webster.edu or call 314-968-7128.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Son of Soil by Andie Berry on Saturday, October 1, at 7 p.m. as part of The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival. "America is sick. The rivers run with blood and the trees bend under human weight. Peak, Ohio is a town trapped by horrific traditions and Ruth has seen her share. In this lyrical vision, she must learn to love across boundaries and find solace in the world that remains." 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.

Three Tall Women
Photo: Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Edward Albee's Three Tall Women through October 9. "In Act One, a young lawyer, "C," has been sent to the home of a client, a ninety-two-year-old woman, "A," to sort out her finances. "A," frail, perhaps a bit senile, resists and is of no help to "C." Along with "B," the old woman's matronly paid companion/caretaker, "C" tries to convince "A" that she must concentrate on the matters at hand. In "A's" beautifully appointed bedroom, she prods, discusses and bickers with "B" and "C," her captives. "A's" long life is laid out for display, no holds barred. She cascades from regal and charming to vicious and wretched as she wonders about and remembers her life: her husband and their cold, passionless marriage; her son and their estrangement. How did she become this? Who is she? Finally, when recounting her most painful memory, she suffers a stroke. In Act Two, "A's" comatose body lies in bed as "B" and "C" observe no changes in her condition. In a startling coup-de-theatre, "A" enters, very much alive and quite lucid. The three women are now the stages of "A's" life: the imperious old woman, the regal matron and the young woman of twenty-six. Her life, memories and reminiscences-pondered in the first act-are now unceremoniously examined, questioned, accepted or not, but, at last, understood." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Valhalla Cemetery and The Hawthorne Players present Voices Of Valhalla: A Hayride Through History September 30 - October 9. Hayrides through Valhalla Cemetery depart every fifteen minutes beginning at 6:30 each evening as members of the Hawthorne Players portray some of the noted locals buried in Valhalla. Valhalla Cemetery is located at 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information, visit hawthorneplayers.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.
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.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of September 26, 2016

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The Community Music School of Webster University presents a concert by The Webster University Chamber Orchestra on Monday, September 26, at 7 p.m. " Conductor Paul G. Davis leads the Webster University Chamber Orchestra in our season opening concert that features two competition winners who have just returned from a study abroad term at our Webster campus in Vienna, Austria. The concert will feature our 2016 Aria Competition Winner, Danielle Feinstein, who will sing Mozart's "Deh vieni non tardar," and Offenbach's "Elle a fui, la tourterelle," and our 2016 Concerto Competition Winner, Stephen Lucido, who will perform Doppler's Fantaisie Pastorelle Hongroise. The concert opens with the Overture to Don Giovanni and Copland's Quiet City showcasing Robert Souza on trumpet. The first movement of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 will close the evening." The Community Music School is at 535 Garden Avenue on the Webster University campus. For more information: webster.edu/cms.

Thibault Garcia
The Ethical Society presents a Great Artist Guitar Series concert with Thibaut Garcia on Saturday, October 1, at 8 p.m. "Thibaut Garcia: Already First Prize Winner of the “Jose Tomas,” “Seville,” and “Ana Amalia” (Spain); “Terra Siculorum” (Romania), “Ana Amalia” (Germany), and most recently the GFA (Oklahoma City, USA) International Guitar Competitions, this Franco-Spanish guitarist from Paris, France, is just 22 years old! A stunning new talent in his St. Louis debut!" The performance takes at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road. For more information: ethicalstl.org.

Forest Park Forever presents the world premire of a work by Adam Maness performed by the string quartet The 442s and percussionist Montez Coleman on Thursday, September 29, at 6:30 p.m. "The 442s spent 30+ Hours in Forest Park creating music with passersby, capturing every interaction on film. The 442s pianist and multi-instrumentalist, Adam Maness, then stitched together hours of audio and video into a multi-media work that will include live accompaniment by The 442s and drummer Montez Coleman." The performance takes place in the Trolley Room at the Forest Park Visitors and Education Center at 5595 Grand Drive in Forest Park. For more information: forestparkforever.org.

Hearding Cats Collective presents composer and saxophonist Ned Rothenberg in concert on Saturday, October 1, at 7:30 p.m. "Composer/Performer Ned Rothenberg has been internationally acclaimed for both his solo and ensemble music, presented for the past 33 years on 5 continents. He performs primarily on alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, and the shakuhachi - an endblown Japanese bamboo flute. His solo work utilizes an expanded palette of sonic language, creating a kind of personal idiom all its own." The performance takes place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: heardingcatscollective.org.

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus
The St. Louis Chamber Chorus presents Concert One: Rebirth and Revival on Sunday, October 2, at 3 p.m. "The choir opens it 61st season 'New Sites and New Sounds' with pieces by Francis Poulenc, Martha Shaffer, Orlando Gibbons, Charles Wood, Granville Bantock, and a world premiere 'The Day of Resurrection' by composer in residence, Melissa Dunphy." The concert takes place at Resurrection of Our Lord Catholic Church, 3900 Meramec in South City. For more information: www.chamberchorus.org.

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with violin soloist Leila Josefowicz on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. September 30 and October 1. "Shocking audiences since its premiere, Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 will jolt you from its opening chords and move you through the energetic and transformative work. Music Director David Robertson leads Beethoven's striking piece paired with another revolutionary work for its time, John Adams' Violin Concerto performed by sensational American violinist, Leila Josefowicz." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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


Anna Skidis
The Presenters Dolan and the Emerald Room Cabaret present singer/actress Anna Skidis in Almost There on Saturday, September 24, at 8 p.m. "It feels great to set and achieve your dreams, but what about that bit in the middle? It's not as easy as a quick, musical montage like in the movies... but here's some music, anyway. Anna Skidis Vargas sings the songs of Radiohead, Katie Thompson, Etta James, Disney, and more." 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: It's my view that some of the best cabaret comes from experienced actors. That's because a well-constructed cabaret show is much like a one-act play, with an emotional arc and a distinct sends of beginning, middle, and end. Actors are most likely to be familiar with that structure. Ms. Skidis is a well-established local actor, so I'd expect this to be a show well worth your attention.


Stone Spiral Coffeehouse presents Jan Marra in a solo concert of original songs on Friday, September 23, at 8 p.m. "The Stone Spiral is in its ninth year of providing the friendliest and tastiest atmosphere in the neighborhood, with newspapers, coffee, tea, beer, wine and most especially espresso. Then there's all the nice plates of food and books to read and art to look at and buy." Stone Spiral Coffeehosue is at 2500 Sutton in Maplewood, MO. For more information: stonespiralcoffee.com.

My take: Jan provided us with some pretty amazing performances at the Cabaret Project's open mic night at the late lamented Tavern of Fine Arts over the years, so this should be a fascinating show. And Stone Spiral is a very funky and intimate setting (I have performed there myself in the past) with a nice selection of food and drink.


Toy Hyams and Lisa Rothauser
The Presenters Dolan and the Emerald Room Cabaret present Tor Hyams and Lisa Rothauser in The Songs of Tor and Lisa: How we became successful musical theater writers in only four years, three months, twenty-two days and eleven hours... on Friday, September 23, at 8 p.m. "Grammy-nominated songwriter Tor Hyams and veteran Broadway performer Lisa Rothauser debut their favorite selections from the dynamic duo's four-year collaboration in musical theatre. This one-night-only event will showcase music from four of their original musicals currently in development (Stealing Time, Auburn, LIFE. Who Knew?, and Green Acres The Musical) and a few songs too early to tell what they are. Tor and Lisa met at a bar one night four years, three months, twenty- two days and eleven hours ago and the rest is this story." 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: It's always interesting to hear from singer/songwriter teams. As a bonus, this show provides a behind-the-scenes look at some projects that are still in the development stage. And, let's face it, aren't you just a little bit intrigued by what Green Acres the Musical might sound like? As an added incentive, local musical theatre and cabaret star Ben Nordstrom will be opening for Hyams and Rothauser.

Held Over:

Follies
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies through October 2. “Featuring an all-star cast that includes three Tony nominees, Broadway stars and local favorites, Follies is the biggest Rep production in more than a decade. Join us for our 50th anniversary season opener as we present a breathtaking rendition of this Stephen Sondheim classic!” 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: Laurel wreaths are in order for director Rob Ruggiero and the cast and crew of this production of the utterly brilliant 1971 commercial flop by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman (best known for his popular comedy/drama "The Lion in Winter"). Broadway and cabaret stars Christiane Noll and Emily Skinner head the large and impressive ensemble cast. This remarkable story of personal and cultural disintegration has always been an expensive challenge to produce, but the Rep has proved to be more than up to the task, getting their 50th season off to a rousing start. The big "mirror" production number, in particular, is a true coup de théâtre, as women of the ensemble execute Ralph Perkins' complex choreography with superhuman precision.


A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder opening Tuesday, September 13, and running through September 25. "Coming direct from New York, where a most gentlemanly NPR critic said he'd “Never laughed so hard at a Broadway musical," Gentleman's Guide tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by - you guessed it - eliminating the eight pesky relatives (all played by one fearless man) who stand in his way. All the while, Monty has to juggle his mistress (she's after more than just love), his fiancée (she's his cousin but who's keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars! Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way to his inheritance... and be done in time for tea." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Speaking of rave reviews, this hit Broadway musical has been gather them for some time now, copping the 2014 Tony for Best Musical along the way. This tour has gotten great notices locally. "Sometimes people complain that theater isn’t 'fun", writes Judy Newmark at STLToday.com. "These people need to see 'A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,' the blithe treat that opened Tuesday at the Fox Theatre. If that doesn’t make them change their minds, nothing will."


Miss Julie, Clarissa and John
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep presents the drama Miss Julie, Clarissa And John through September 25. "Inspired by August Strindberg's groundbreaking 1888 naturalistic drama Miss Julie, Mark Clayton Southers relocates the action from Sweden to a Reconstruction-era Virginia plantation.The dangerous attraction between the landowner's daughter and his top servant takes on new shades as its taboo nature expands from crossing boundaries of social class to also encompass racial lines. The situation is heightened further by Southers' extensive development of the third onstage character from Strindberg's play, who in this searing version becomes central to the conflict through her identity as the mulatto daughter of a slave woman. The result of the Midwest premiere production is an intense struggle that illuminates cultural dynamics of two key moments in U.S. history: then and now." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org

My take: Rewriting Strindberg's 1888 tragedy and moving it to the post-Civil War South could be an invitation to disaster, but Mr. Southers appears to have pulled it off, based on the reviews. At Stage Door STL, Steve Allen says the script is "is nothing short of brilliant" while the production itself is "powerful theatre, well directed and a splendid cast who exemplifies the quality and longevity of the Black Rep."

Symphony Preview: Ludwig van Beethoven, technology pioneer

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A vast chronological gulf separates three of the pieces on this St. Louis Symphony program this Saturday and Sunday (September 24 and 25, 2016) from the fourth. The works by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven on the program all date from the final decade of the 18th century while the music that opens the second half of the concert—George Benjamin's Viola, Viola—is from the final decade of the 20th.

Drawing of Mozart by Doris Stock, 1789
And yet, they all, somehow, get lumped under the category of "classical music." SLSO program annotator René Spencer Saller rightly decries the term as an "annoying lower-case catch-all term for the sort of thing that symphony orchestras do" but then goes on to remind us that Mr. Benjamin "might have been born 133 years after Beethoven's death, but he was still shaped by him. We all were. We all are.” So maybe the "classical" label isn't entirely bogus.

The concerts open, appropriately, with an overture-specifically, the one Mozart wrote for Die Zauberflöte ("The Magic Flute"). Written towards the end of the composer's sadly brief life (Mozart had only a few months to live when it premiered in September of 1791), Die Zauberflöte was intended not for an audience of nobles at court but rather for ordinary folks at a suburban theater that was closer in ambience to a tavern. A singspiel with spoken dialog instead of recitatives and a text in German instead of the fashionable Italian, the work is the fantastic and somewhat incoherent tale of romance, magic, and the triumph of love and reason over superstition.

Mozart was a Master Mason in the "Zur Neugekrönten Hoffnung" ("New Crowned Hope") lodge in Vienna, so both the overture and the opera are filled with Masonic musical references, including frequent uses of the number three in various combinations. You hear it immediately in the three solemn chords that open the overture, which quickly shifts gears to a sprightly and ingeniously constructed Allegro. "Mozart treats us to right away to fugue, transformation, delightful instrumental playfulness and an invigorating sense that something special is in store", writes Jeff Counts in program notes for the Utah Symphony. "This is the hopeful music of a man with plans for the future, not the last rites of someone who felt time slipping and assumed he had said enough. From this perspective, the Overture to The Magic Flute may well be the most rewarding six minutes in music."

Beethoven in 1803
Painted by Christian Horneman
Up next is Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, a work which shows the composer in a role for which he is not, in my experience, always given enough credit: that of an "early adopter" of technology.

The technology in question is that of the piano. At the time Beethoven was writing the C minor concerto (around 1800, although he had ideas for it a few years earlier), major technological advances were being made in the design and construction of the instrument. It was becoming bigger and heavier, the sound was getting more robust, and the range of notes wider. When Beethoven began composing in the 1780s, the piano (then called the fortepiano) was basically an amped-up harpsichord with strings that were struck instead of plucked and a range of around four or five octaves. By the time he died in 1827, the piano had evolved into something closely resembling the contemporary concert grand, with a range of nearly eight octaves and the ability to produce the kind of thunderous climaxes that composers like Fanz Liszt loved so much.

A major player in this technological revolution was the English firm of John Broadwood and Sons. As part of their marketing campaign, they sent their new pianos to Haydn and Beethoven, with the result that Beethoven made use of the expanded range of notes for his new concerto. “As originally composed,” writes Ms. Saller, “his Third Concerto requires the soloist to play a high G, which is believed to be the earliest instance of that particular note in the piano repertory. In 1804, after trying out a new expanded keyboard design, Beethoven extended the range to include the C that sits over the fifth ledger line above the treble staff. Even though going higher and higher meant that his concerto could be played only on new, state-of-the-art pianos, Beethoven wanted his concerto to reflect these technological advancements.”

George Benjamin
Beethoven's technological innovations will be played this weekend by Yefim Bronfman, a celebrated performer whose "volcanic pianism" so impressed me when he performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 five years ago. He has the chops to deliver the big dramatic moments along with the musical sensitivity required for the Largo second movement, with its improvisatory feel.

The second half of the concert opens with a local premiere: Viola, Viola. Written in 1997 by English composer George Benjamin (b. 1960), this intimate little piece for two violas is the product of a composer who, like Beethoven, continually revises and reworks his pieces until he's sure they're just right. Over the course of its ten minutes, the instruments converse, argue, and finally combine so seamlessly that it can be hard to tell them apart. Appropriately for such an intimate piece, the soloists will be the wife-and-husband team of Beth Guterman Chu (Principal Viola) and Jonathan Chu (Assistant Principal Viola).

The concerts end with the Haydn's Symphony No. 102 in B-flat major. It was part of a dozen symphonies (the last ones he wrote, in fact) Haydn composed for a pair of trips to London in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Those trips were highly successful, both in terms of critical reception and income. No. 102 was written for the second sojourn, by which time Haydn had a pretty good idea of what his audiences wanted.

Haydn in 1791
Painted by Thomas Hardy
Those audiences were no longer what they were a few decades earlier. Concerts were now public events for the masses, not private affairs for the nobility. Attendees were increasingly educated and middle class. And, as Trinity College's Tom Service writes in his analysis of the 102nd symphony for The Guardian, Haydn knew that this audience "understood and appreciated his invention, his games of expectation and surprise, his effortless manipulation of genre, affect, and expressivity. And he knew he could push them and himself even further when he came back, when his celebrity and status were even greater than before. That means these symphonies are, in effect, palimpsests of listening, pieces composed with their effectiveness for a musically literate audience in mind."

And so we get a symphony that's filled with surprises, invention, and the composer's trademark wit. "Haydn's 102nd, just like all of his London symphonies," writes Mr. Service, "consecrates a moment in symphonic history when this composer and his listeners were in excellent, mutually appreciative accord, a bond that's renewed every time this symphony is played or listened to today."

You can renew that bond this weekend at Powell Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. or Sunday at 3 p.m. The Saturday concert will also be broadcast live on St. Louis Public Radio, but as always I recommend hearing it live.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Symphony Preview: Mostly Mozart, all familiar

Mozart in the 17702
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The Cardinals may be out of town battling the Reds in Cincinnati this weekend, but nevertheless the St. Louis Symphony has a double header of its own for you, with one program on Friday night (September 23, 2016) and a completely different one on Saturday and Sunday.

For now, let's talk about Friday. It's the first of the four "Music You Know" concerts spaced out during the new season. Sponsored by the Whitaker Foundation, "Music You Know" is a series devoted to relatively short works which will be familiar to SLSO regulars and very user-friendly to newcomers.

For this first concert, the focus is (with one big exception; see below) on the Greatest Hits of the 17th and 18th centuries, with easy-on-the-ears favorites by Pachelbel, Boccherini, and Mozart.

Pachelbel's famous Canon in D, with its increasingly elaborate variations unfolding over a simple tune in the bass line, surely needs no introduction. Nor does the charming "Minuet" movement from Boccherini's String Quintet, Op. 11, No. 5. The entire quintet is pretty fine stuff, for that matter, but that third movement has eclipsed the other three in popularity.

Mozart is represented by two works: the very familiar Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the somewhat less celebrated Bassoon Concerto, K. 191, from 1774. The latter presented significant technical challenges for the relatively primitive bassoons available back then, but Friday's soloist—Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo—is likely to navigate them with ease. The concerto is also distinguished by a lyrical second movement which, to quote American Classical Orchestra founder Thomas Crawford, "would only have been known in ore or two examples from mature Haydn." Coming from a 21-year-old who was writing his first solo wind concerto, it's remarkable.

Andrew Cuneo
An interesting side note on Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: over the years the title has commonly been translated as "A Little Night Music". To Mozart's German-speaking contemporaries, though, it would have meant "A little serenade"-not a specific title, but simply a generic description. Mozart never gave it a title of its own and apparently didn't give it much thought. It's not clear when it was first performed and it wasn't even published until well after his death in 1827. One wonders what Mozart would have made of its enduring popularity.

Scored for an ensemble of two violins, viola, cello and optional double bass, Mozart's little serenade is now more commonly heard in an expanded version for string orchestra. That should make it a nice showpiece for the SLSO strings. For the true lover of orchestral strings, however, the gem on this weekend's program will likely be the closing work, Vaughan Williams's 1910 Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.

This lush, rhapsodic meditation a on a 16th century psalm tune conjures up images of the lofty, echoing cathedrals of a bygone age, transforming the modest and mysterious original into an ecstatic celebration of sheer sound. Written for two string ensembles and a solo string quartet, the Fantasia can only be fully appreciated in a live performance. You can distinguish the separate groups sonically in a recording, but to truly understand Vaughan Williams's ingenious reworking of the multiple chorus techniques of the Renaissance (with their reliance on spatial separation), you need to be able to see the interaction among the three groups.

So head on over to Powell Hall and immerse yourself. There's only one performance of this "Music You Know" program on Friday, September 23, at 8 p.m.. Tickets are available at the SLSO web site.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of September 19, 2016

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The Presenters Dolan and the Emerald Room Cabaret present singer/actress Anna Skidis in Almost There on Saturday, September 24, at 8 p.m. "It feels great to set and achieve your dreams, but what about that bit in the middle? It's not as easy as a quick, musical montage like in the movies... but here's some music, anyway. Anna Skidis Vargas sings the songs of Radiohead, Katie Thompson, Etta James, Disney, and more." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project and The Monocle present cabaret open mic night every Wednesday from 7 to 10 PM. "Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by the guest music director Carol Schmidt on the baby grand." The master of ceremonies is Tim Schall, along with Chuck Lavazzi, senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX, and special guests. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. At least one of your two songs should be a medium-or up-tempo number. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Monocle is at 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: thecabaretproject.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

Follies
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies through October 2. “Featuring an all-star cast that includes three Tony nominees, Broadway stars and local favorites, Follies is the biggest Rep production in more than a decade. Join us for our 50th anniversary season opener as we present a breathtaking rendition of this Stephen Sondheim classic!” 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 Monroe Actors Stage Company presents the Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through September 25, in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder running through September 25. "Coming direct from New York, where a most gentlemanly NPR critic said he'd “Never laughed so hard at a Broadway musical," Gentleman's Guide tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by - you guessed it - eliminating the eight pesky relatives (all played by one fearless man) who stand in his way. All the while, Monty has to juggle his mistress (she's after more than just love), his fiancée (she's his cousin but who's keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars! Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way to his inheritance... and be done in time for tea." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

KTK Productions presents the musical Gypsy through September 25. "Gypsy tells the story of the dreams and efforts of one hungry, powerhouse of a woman to get her two daughters into show business. Gypsy is loosely based on the 1957 memoir of famous striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee, entitled Gypsy: Memoirs of America's Most Celebrated Stripper. The memoir and the musical focus on the story of Gypsy Rose Lee's mother, Rose, and earned Rose a place in the theatrical and literary canon as the quintessential, archetypal 'Stage Mother.'" Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Stone Spiral Coffeehouse presents Jan Marra in a solo concert of original songs on Friday, September 23, at 8 p.m. "The Stone Spiral is in its ninth year of providing the friendliest and tastiest atmosphere in the neighborhood, with newspapers, coffee, tea, beer, wine and most especially espresso. Then there's all the nice plates of food and books to read and art to look at and buy." Stone Spiral Coffeehosue is at 2500 Sutton in Maplewood, MO. For more information: stonespiralcoffee.com.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the rock musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening on Thursday, September 22, and running through October 2. "The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in this delightful musical parable. Joseph, his father's favorite son, is a boy blessed with prophetic dreams. When he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken to Egypt, Joseph endures a series of adventures in which his spirit and humanity are continually challenged. He is purchased by Potiphar where thwarting advances from Potiphar's wife lands him in jail. When news of Joseph's gift to interpret dreams reaches the Pharaoh (wryly and riotously depicted as Elvis), Joseph is well on his way to becoming second in command. Eventually his brothers, having suffered greatly, unknowingly find themselves groveling at the feet of the brother they betrayed but no longer recognize. After testing their integrity, Joseph reveals himself leading to a heartfelt reconciliation of the sons of Israel. Set to an engaging cornucopia of musical styles, from country-western and calypso to bubble-gum pop and rock 'n' roll, this Old Testament tale emerges both timely and timeless." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

Miss Julie, Clarissa and John
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep presents the drama Miss Julie, Clarissa And John through September 25. "Inspired by August Strindberg's groundbreaking 1888 naturalistic drama Miss Julie, Mark Clayton Southers relocates the action from Sweden to a Reconstruction-era Virginia plantation.The dangerous attraction between the landowner's daughter and his top servant takes on new shades as its taboo nature expands from crossing boundaries of social class to also encompass racial lines. The situation is heightened further by Southers' extensive development of the third onstage character from Strindberg's play, who in this searing version becomes central to the conflict through her identity as the mulatto daughter of a slave woman. The result of the Midwest premiere production is an intense struggle that illuminates cultural dynamics of two key moments in U.S. history: then and now." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org

The Department of Music at Washington University presents Places, a song recital featuring Kara Baldus and Kelsey Klotz, on Sunday, September 25, at 2 p.m. "Join Kara and Kelsey for an afternoon thinking and dreaming about places: places that inspire us, that frighten us, or that contain curious mysteries. The recital will include selected musical pieces of a variety of genres-from jazz to pop music to show tunes to indie favorites-in a musical exploration of various places, whether physical, in our lives, or in our relationships with others." The concert takes place in the Pillsbury Theatre at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

Christ Memorial Productions presents Seussical the Musical Fridasy and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM, through September 25. "Seussical is a fun and popular musical that combines elements of several of the most popular works of Dr. Seuss with focus on the central theme: 'A person's a person no matter how small'." Performances take place at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church, 5252 South Lindbergh. For more information, visit CMPShows.org or call 314-631-0304.

Sister Act
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Sister Act through October 9. "There's a real reason to rejoice this season for everybody's favorite nun, Deloris Van Cartier, is coming to STAGES to stir up her special brand of habit-forming fun! Join the happy multitudes who have made SISTER ACT one of Hollywood's favorite film comedies and enjoy all the fun, laughter, and irresistible music that packed pews all over America in this STAGES premiere event. Blessed with a rollicking new musical score from Alan Menken - the composer who brought us BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LITTLE MERMAID, NEWSIES, and ALADDIN - this divine comedy about a sassy, low-rent lounge singer forced to hide out from the mob in the last place anyone would ever look for her - a convent - recently became one of Broadway's smash hit musicals and continues to attract flocks of faithful followers wherever it goes thanks to its soulful chorus of swingin' sisters." 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 Presenters Dolan and the Emerald Room Cabaret present Tor Hyams and Lisa Rothauser in The Songs of Tor and Lisa: How we became successful musical theater writers in only four years, three months, twenty-two days and eleven hours... on Friday, September 23, at 8 p.m. "Grammy-nominated songwriter Tor Hyams and veteran Broadway performer Lisa Rothauser debut their favorite selections from the dynamic duo's four-year collaboration in musical theatre. This one-night-only event will showcase music from four of their original musicals currently in development (Stealing Time, Auburn, LIFE. Who Knew?, and Green Acres The Musical) and a few songs too early to tell what they are. Tor and Lisa met at a bar one night four years, three months, twenty- two days and eleven hours ago and the rest is this story." The performance takes place in The Emerald Room at The Monocle Bar, 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

Alton Little Theater presents Steel Magnolias Thursdays through Sundays through September 25. "The celebrated Southern classic of family and friendship, this is the story of a group of strong and beautiful women who cluster around Truvy's Beauty Parlow in a small Louisiana parish. The story centers on Shelby, who moves fro wedding to childbirth to medical complications with a love of live and a willingness to face its possibilities bravely with support from steely southern sisterhood." Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

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.
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.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of September 19, 2016

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The Cathedral Concerts Chamber Music Series presents members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a program of music by Bach, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich on Monday, September 19, at 7:30 p.m. The concert takes place at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in South St. Louis City. For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org.

The Cathedral Concerts Chamber Music Series presents members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in a program of music by Bach, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich on Tuesday, September 20, at 7:30 p.m. The concert takes place at Sts. Joachim & Ann Catholic Church in St. Charles. For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org.

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with soloists Andrew Cuneo, bassoon and Karin Bliznik and Jeffrey Strong, trumpets, on Friday at 8 p.m., September 23. "The amazing talent of STL Symphony musicians is on display with Mozart's Bassoon Concerto and Vivaldi's Concerto for Trumpets and Strings. Enjoy an evening of hometown virtuosity and familiar favorites that concludes with Pachelbel's Canon in D and Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra with soloists Yefim Bronfman, piano, and Beth Guterman Chu and Jonathan Chu, violas, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., September 24 and 25. "Kicking off our season featuring all five Beethoven piano concertos, Music Director David Robertson and renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman join together for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Haydn's dream-like and adventurous Symphony No. 102." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of September 16, 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:


Am I Black Enough Yet?
Photo: Brittanie Gunn
Tesseract Theatre Company presents Am I Black Enough Yet?, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. through September 18. "Presented in skit comedy form, with titles of vignettes ranging from "Honorary Black Folk" to "Two Black Girls, One of Them White" to "International Slang Council", this play will get you laughing, but will also get you to thinking. Through the power of theatre the audience is transformed into an "all black" audience. The non-black audience members are now regular black audience members, while regular black audience members are now über-black, 'Shaft level black'. And with an all black audience anything can be talked about, mixed in to the conversation. Right?" Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

My take: Tesseract has been tackling new and adventurous material for many years now. The company's current production is a reprise of the first show they ever presented, and it's getting good notices. "Still relevant," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "the entertaining show is the perfect choice to revisit as the company prepares for its next chapter, in the new .Zack Arts Incubator."


Follies
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies through October 2. “Featuring an all-star cast that includes three Tony nominees, Broadway stars and local favorites, Follies is the biggest Rep production in more than a decade. Join us for our 50th anniversary season opener as we present a breathtaking rendition of this Stephen Sondheim classic!” 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: One of Sonheim's more intellectualy ambitious works (the book is by James Goldman, best known for the brilliant Lion in Winter), Follies uses the age-old device of mismatched lovers to reflect on the fragmentation and disintegration of American culture in the years following World War II. It's a complicated and frankly expensive piece to produce, which is probably one reason why it hasn't been seen here since the original Broadway cast played the Muny in 1971. Reviews for the Rep production have been uniformly excellent and I'm looking forward to seeing this myself this weekend.


A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder opening Tuesday, September 13, and running through September 25. "Coming direct from New York, where a most gentlemanly NPR critic said he'd “Never laughed so hard at a Broadway musical," Gentleman's Guide tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession by - you guessed it - eliminating the eight pesky relatives (all played by one fearless man) who stand in his way. All the while, Monty has to juggle his mistress (she's after more than just love), his fiancée (she's his cousin but who's keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars! Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way to his inheritance... and be done in time for tea." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Speaking of rave reviews, this hit Broadway musical has been gather them for some time now, copping the 2014 Tony for Best Musical along the way. This tour has gotten great notices locally. "Sometimes people complain that theater isn’t 'fun", writes Judy Newmark at STLToday.com. "These people need to see 'A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,' the blithe treat that opened Tuesday at the Fox Theatre. If that doesn’t make them change their minds, nothing will."


Love? Actually...
Photo: Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents Love? Actually..., an evening of three one-act musicals, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through September 18. Performances take place at The Westport Playhouse, 635 Westport Plaza. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

My take: R-S continues to go its own unique way, this time with a trio of one-act musicals that take a wry look at love and its discontents. "Director Christina Rios and musical director Leah Luciano have put together an evening of completely engaging entertainment that looks at love from the failed perspective" writes Tina Farmer at KDHX.


Miss Julie, Clarissa and John
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Black Rep presents the drama Miss Julie, Clarissa And John through September 25. "Inspired by August Strindberg's groundbreaking 1888 naturalistic drama Miss Julie, Mark Clayton Southers relocates the action from Sweden to a Reconstruction-era Virginia plantation.The dangerous attraction between the landowner's daughter and his top servant takes on new shades as its taboo nature expands from crossing boundaries of social class to also encompass racial lines. The situation is heightened further by Southers' extensive development of the third onstage character from Strindberg's play, who in this searing version becomes central to the conflict through her identity as the mulatto daughter of a slave woman. The result of the Midwest premiere production is an intense struggle that illuminates cultural dynamics of two key moments in U.S. history: then and now." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org

My take: Rewriting Strindberg's 1888 tragedy and moving it to the post-Civil War South could be an invitation to disaster, but Mr. Southers appears to have pulled it off, based on the reviews. At Stage Door STL, Steve Allen says the script is "is nothing short of brilliant" while the production itself is "powerful theatre, well directed and a splendid cast who exemplifies the quality and longevity of the Black Rep."


Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Remember Me as its Shakespeare in the Streets 2016 production nightly at 8 PM, Friday through Sunday, September 16 - 18. "Local beer, donuts, bowling and the Bard will all come together as Shakespeare in the Streets heads to Maplewood. This year's production, Remember Me, will feature a mash-up of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Macbeth, with a little Romeo and Juliet thrown in." The production will feature the combined talents of professional actors performing alongside local residents and students. Performances take place in the streets of Mapelwood, MO. For more information: sfstl.com

My take: The Shakespeare in the Streets project is a remarkable if not unique example of how theatre can be a community event. Each summer, the company produces an original script in and around the streets of a particular St. Louis neighborhood, relying heavily on the particular aspects of that neighborhood for inspiration. This time around there are Maplewood ghosts and, of course, live music by local performers.