Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rhythm and hues

Celeste Golden Boyer
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson with violinist Celeste Golden Boyer and the Juan Carmona ensemble
What: Music of Chabrier, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, and Juan Carmona
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: November 25 and 26, 2011

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A longer than usual Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra concert Friday night was also long on excitement. We had impressive violin technique by Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer in Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, brilliant orchestral writing by Chabrier (España) and Ravel (Rhapsodie espagnole, Bolero), and visceral thrills from guitarist/composer Juan Carmona and his troupe in the North American premiere of Carmona’s Sinfonia Flamenca. The piece itself is a bit of a mixed bag, but there was no denying the vitality of the performance.

Originally composed in 2006, the Sinfonia incorporates a variety of different melodic and rhythmic flamenco traditions into a three-movement work for orchestra and solo ensemble. It is, as the composer himself acknowledges, “a risky undertaking because we’re mixing two different philosophies: the flamenco one, which is oral tradition from the grass roots, and the classical world, which is more intellectual and is written.” It also makes for a dicey acoustic mix since, at least in these performances, the flamenco musicians are amplified.

Melding such radically different approaches requires, to my way of thinking, the kind of deep knowledge of the traditional orchestra and its instruments that would allow the larger group to be integrated with the soloists. I would think that Mr. Carmona, with his Paris Conservatory training would have that knowledge, but if so he has not seen fit to employ here. As it is, the Sinfonia Flamenca uses the orchestra largely as a homogenous back-up band for Mr. Carmona and his fellow performers.

Juan Carmona
But then, it’s Mr. Carmona and his fellow performers who generated the most excitement Friday night. Yes, the orchestra did their usual fine work and Mr. Robertson was so caught up in the music that he did almost as much dancing on the podium as Carmona ensemble member Nino de los Reyes did on the plywood platform set up for that purpose downstage. Ultimately, though, it was the energy, virtuosity, and intimate, chamber music-style give and take of the guest artists that won over me and (judging from the thunderous applause) the rest of the audience.

The official program lists the Carmona ensemble as follows: Juan Carmona, guitar; Paco Carmona, guitar; Domingo Patricio, flute; El Kiki, vocals; Nino de los Reyes, dancer; and Sergio Martinez, percussion. In reality, though, nearly all of them acted as percussionists at some point, given the importance of hand clapping, finger snapping, and (of course) the athletic, staccato dancing that codifies “flamenco” in the popular imagination. Mr. de los Reyes’s flashy footwork drew the most attention, but each of the six was striking in his own way. Given how hard it often was to hear Mr. Carmona and his players clearly (despite the amplification) it would have been nice to hear them perform by themselves as an encore instead of what we got, which was a repeat of a movement from the Sinfonia.

The remainder of the program was devoted to French music with a Spanish connection, opening with Emmanuel Chabrier’s infectiously cheerful España from 1883. The product of an Iberian vacation in 1882 (during which Chabrier was apparently obsessed with both Spanish music and Spanish women), España was an immense hit and a big boost for the composer’s career. Watching it performed live, I was reminded of what a skilled orchestrator Chabrier was. The music is filled with charming and witty touches as its irresistible melodies are tossed back and forth between sections. Mr. Robertson gave it a brisk but never rushed reading that allowed all the composer’s little touches to come through.

Up next was Saint-Saëns’s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso for violin and orchestra. Originally written for the legendary Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate in 1863, the work’s attractive tunes and flashy writing have made it a hit with violinists and audiences ever since. As was the case last week, Mr. Robertson gave a symphony member the opportunity to step into a solo role. Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer played with fierce concentration and great facility, earning a well-deserved standing ovation. As much as audiences love to see big-name soloists in front of the orchestra, it’s good to be reminded that we have world-class players in the home-town band.

Concluding both the first and second halves of the program were works by Maurice Ravel, who was born in the Basque region of France and spent much of his youth in Spain. His Rhapsodie espagnole, written in 1907 and 1908, was his first major orchestral work and, with its evocation of sultry nights, sensuous dances, and fiery festivals, demonstrates the ingenious use of instrumental color that would mark the rest of his career. The attention to detail and flexible interpretation of tempi that have served Mr. Robertson so well in the past did so here as well, delivering a performance that did full justice to the many moods of the appealing music and brought the first part of the evening to an impressive close.

Ravel’s ever-popular Bolero was the finale of the program and, really what is there to be said about it? Ravel himself apparently began to view it in somewhat the same way that Rachmaninoff came to view his equally popular “Prelude in C-sharp minor”: as a career milestone that eventually became a millstone. At least Ravel wasn’t obliged to perform it everywhere he went. It is, in any case, music that never fails to entertain, especially when the many solo passages are performed with the kind of consummate skill we got on Friday night. It generated the usually visceral excitement and sent us all home with smiles on our faces. And for that, we were all thankful.

Next at Powell Hall: December 2 through 4, Ward Stare is on the podium for Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 and the St. Louis premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Sidereus, with Jennifer Koh as the violin soloist for Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. For more information you may call 314-534-1700, visit stlsymphony.org, like the Saint Louis Symphony Facebook page, or follow @slso on Twitter.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 28, 2011

[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 ArtsZipper site.

I'm now adding my own purely personal comments to events about which I think I have anything worthwhile to say. Because that's what bloggers do.  If I have left your show out, please leave a comment with all the details.

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The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer Tuesdays through Sundays, November 30 through December 23. Performances take place on the main stage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

Black Nativity
The Black Rep presents Black Nativity: A Holiday Celebration through December 18. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

The Pub Theater Company presents Bye Bye Liver: The St. Louis Drinking Play, a comedic romp through the joys and pitfalls of The Gateway to the West's favorite pastime. Performances take place on “select Saturdays” at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street, and on the first and third Friday of each month at The Fox Hole at The Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester in The Grove. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185 or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

A Christmas Carol
at the Fox
The Fox Theatre presents the Nebraska Theatre Caravan's musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol Thursday through Sunday, December 1 through 4. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678.

Lindenwood University's J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts presents A Christmas Carol Thursday through Saturday, December 1 through 3, at 7:30 PM. The Scheidegger Center is on the Lindenwood campus in St Charles MO. For more information, visit lindenwood.edu/center.

Curtain's Up Theatre Company presents A Christmas Story, based on stories of Jean Shepherd, Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 1 through 4. Performances take place at the Webster School Auditorium in Collinsville, IL. For more information, visit curtainsuptheater.com.

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents A Dickens of a Christmas Carol: A Traveling Travesty through Two Tumultous Acts at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium December 2 through 11. Curtain is 8:00 PM Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 PM on Sundays. The O'Fallon Municipal Centre is located at 100 North Main Street in O'Fallon, MO. For more information, visit www.ofallon.mo.us or call 636-379-5606.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the musical Godspell through December 11. “This musical salute to the Gospel of Matthew will be set in the streets of downtown St. Louis.” Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Dramatic License Productions presents A Holiday Cabaret December 1 through 18. Featured performers are Ron Biggs, Zoe Vonder Haar, April Strelinger, and Brian Kim. For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.com.

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 30 through December 11. Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium on the Webster University campus. Fore more information, call 314-968-7128. For more information, call 314-968-7128.

It's a Wonderful Life - Live!
The St. Louis Shakespeare Company's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents It's A Wonderful Life: Live! Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, December 2 through 10, at the Emerson Black Box Theatre on the campus of Lindenwood University. For more information, visit stlshakespeare.org, call 314-361-5664, or email: info at stlshakespeare.org.

R-S Theatrics, an offshoot of Soundstage Productions, presents the drama Jesus Hopped The A Train at 8 PM December 1 through 10. Performances take place in The ArtSpace at 214 Crestwood Court. For more information, you may email RSTheatrics at yahoo.com or call 314-968-8070.

The Crestwood/Kirkwood Youth Theatre presents the musical The Jungle Book Kids Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 1 through 4. Performances take place at the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood Community Center. Call 314-822-5855 for more information.

Shooting Star Productions presents Just In The Nick Of Time Thursday through Sunday, December 1 through 4. “Santa has been Kidnapped... will Christmas happen this year?” Performances take place at Visitation Academy, 3020 N Ballas Road. For more information, visit shootingstarproductions.org.

The Last Night
of Ballyhoo
New Jewish Theatre presents Alfred Uhry's The Last Night Of Ballyhoo December 1 through 18. Performances take place at the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCCA, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information, call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org.

The Improv Trick hosts weekly Long Form Improv performances every Tuesday at 7:30 PM at Lemmons Restaurant, 5800 Gravois. Long form improv features 15 to 20 minute sketches based entirely on audience suggestions, with audience participation strongly encouraged. For more information, visit theimprovtrick.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Department of Theater and Dance presents A Mato Mosaic by Jose Tojo Wednesday and Thursday, November 30 and December 1, at 7:30 PM; and Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, December 2 through 11. Performances take place in the Metcalf Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774.

The St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the comedy My Three Angels December 2 through 18 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The Avalon Theatre Company presents Portrait Of My People Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM, December 3 and 4. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court. For more information, visit avalontheatre.org.

The Santaland Diaries
Stray Dog Theatre presents The Santaland Diaries Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, December 1 through 17. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

HotCity Theatre presents the satirical Whammy! The Seven Secrets to a Sane Self, conceived by HotCity's Chuck Harper in collaboration with the SIU Edwardsville Department of Theatre and Dance, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM, December 1 through 10. The show explores "what would happen if you took the idea of 'self-help' and the industry that surrounds it, smashed it together with Stanley Kramer's 1964 comic film It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and then looked at this smashup through the lens of a dream." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit www.hotcitytheatre.org or call 314-289-4063.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sound and fury

Erin Schreiber
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson with violinist Erin Schreiber
What: Music of Purcell, Berio, and Bruckner
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: November 18 and 19, 2011

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Writers of music criticism seem unable to discuss the symphonies of Anton Bruckner without invoking the imagery of the Gothic cathedral. Perhaps that’s because they so strongly suggest a connection between the material and ethereal planes – great blocks of sound alternating with moments of otherworldly beauty. The St. Louis Symphony erected a particularly fine Bruckner 7th cathedral on the Powell Hall stage this weekend, preceded by some flashy (if superficial) Berio and sublime Purcell.

It was, as you might imagine, an evening of strong contrasts. This was most apparent in the brief first part of the program, consisting of two radically different works based on the chaconne – a musical form in which a short, repeated melody (usually in the bass line) forms the basis for a series of variations.

The opening work, Henry Purcell’s sublime Chacony in G minor, is a classic example. Originally composed for a viol consort in the 1680s, the composer later expanded the Chacony into an elaborate five-minute fantasia for string orchestra that rings elaborate changes on a deceptively simple-sounding tune. The Symphony strings were truly in their element here, with beautiful tone and perfect intonation.

Beauty, on the other hand, seems to have been the last thing on Luciano Berio’s mind when he wrote the 1981 Corale (on Sequenza VIII) for violin, two horns, and strings. Although the program annotator attempts to make a case for the notion that the work’s focus on two notes – A and B – makes it a kind of chaconne, this strikes me a stretching the definition of the term past the breaking point. To my ears, the Corale is mini concerto that pays indirect homage to the Baroque concerto grosso. A few truly sublime moments for the solo violin aside, the sound is, for the most part, raucously dissonant (often reminiscent of a beehive on full alert) with alarmingly difficult writing for soloist and orchestra alike.

Barefoot and dressed in a flowing black gown, symphony Assistant Concertmaster Erin Schreiber took the solo role and seriously rocked the house. She attacked the aggressive passages (which take up most of the work’s 15-minute length) with athletic vigor, stamping her foot to keep time, but was equally at home the in the occasional flights of lyric beauty. Mr. Robertson and the orchestra were with her all the way, with especially impressive work from the horns, to whom Berio assigns some solo passages that are every bit as startling as the violin line.

Symphony audiences are sometimes overly generous with their standing ovations, but in this case it was well earned. The Corale”may ultimately be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but it certainly does give a virtuoso ensemble like ours a chance to shine.

The major event of the evening, of course, was the Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner. First performed in 1884 and not heard locally since Hans Vonk conducted it back in 1997 (an excellent recording of which is available at the Symphony Boutique), the 7th is in some ways the quintessential Bruckner symphony. The opening movement alternates moments of great, heaven-storming power and quiet mystery, the Adagio builds to a rapturous climax, the Scherzo swings back and forth between the demonic and the bucolic, and the Finale builds inexorably to sheer, brass-heavy exultation. If you only want one Bruckner symphony in your collection, this would be it.

Each movement of the 7th is a kind of world unto itself, and not just because of the sheer length of each ("In the first movement alone,” Sir Thomas Beecham once remarked, “I took note of six pregnancies and at least four miscarriages."). Time seems to act differently here, with each movement incorporating so much emotional depth that it can feel both shorter and longer than the clock indicates. The challenge for the conductor is to fully realize each of those musical environments without losing a sense of what Mr. Robertson refers to as the work’s “insistent pulse”.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Robertson and his forces were fully up to that challenge. Every decision he made felt right to me, and they all contributed to the cumulative power of the music. Tempi were well chosen, and even when (as in the Adagio) they didn’t quite suit my taste, they nonetheless made sense in the context of his overall view of the symphony. The orchestral sound was delicious, some minor intonation issues in the brasses not withstanding, and balances were very good.

That’s no small task given the expanded brass contingent, which includes four “Wagner tubas” – instruments in the euphonium range but with smaller bells and French horn mouthpieces. Mr. Robertson’s decision to divide the brass into two groups on opposite sides of the stage and place the basses at the very back on a raised platform probably helped in that regard. When dealing with forces of this size, some creative staging can’t hurt.

The complexity and length of Bruckner’s symphonies and the number of musicians required make them relative rarities on concert programs. Let’s hope the Symphony builds on the success of this weekend’s 7th by programming more Bruckner in the future. I’d love to hear a good live performance of the apocalyptic 8th or the more concise 4th myself.

Next at Powell Hall: On November 25 and 26, David Robertson returns with a program more oriented towards the tried and true with Saint-Saëns ‘s Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole and Bolero, and the premiere of Juan Carmona’s Sinfonia Flamenca. Second Associate Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer has solo honors in the Saint-Saëns. Perhaps this will pull back some regulars who were apparently put off by Berio and/or Bruckner. For more information you may call 314-534-1700, visit stlsymphony.org, like the Saint Louis Symphony Facebook page, or follow @slso on Twitter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 21, 2011

[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 ArtsZipper site.

I'm now adding my own purely personal comments to events about which I think I have anything worthwhile to say. Because that's what bloggers do.  If I have left your show out, please leave a comment with all the details.

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Windsor Theatre Group presents The 1930s: Its Music and Its Stars Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 3 and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM through November 27. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at 220 Crestwood Court. For more information, call 314-832-2114 or visit windsortheatregroup.com.

Black Nativity
The Black Rep presents Black Nativity: A Holiday Celebration November 26 through December 18. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

The Pub Theater Company presents Bye Bye Liver: The St. Louis Drinking Play, a comedic romp through the joys and pitfalls of The Gateway to the West's favorite pastime. Performances take place on “select Saturdays” at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street, and on the first and third Friday of each month at The Fox Hole at The Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester in The Grove. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185 or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the musical Godspell through December 11. “This musical salute to the Gospel of Matthew will be set in the streets of downtown St. Louis.” Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM 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 Improv Trick hosts weekly Long Form Improv performances every Tuesday at 7:30 PM at Lemmons Restaurant, 5800 Gravois. Long form improv features 15 to 20 minute sketches based entirely on audience suggestions, with audience participation strongly encouraged. For more information, visit theimprovtrick.com.

Mamma Mia!
The Fox Theatre presents musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, November 22 through 27. The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678.

The Tesseract Theatre Company presents a free reading of Parabolis by local playwrights David and Jules Crespy on Wednesday, November 23, at 7:00 PM at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar (across the street from The Pageant). Visit www.tesseracttheatre.org for more info or email contact at tesseracttheatre.org.

The St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents Ramona Quimby, based on the books of Newberry Medal-winning writer Beverly Clearly, on Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26, at 2 PM. Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.florissantmo.com.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 14, 2011

[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 ArtsZipper site.

I'm now adding my own purely personal comments to events about which I think I have anything worthwhile to say. Because that's what bloggers do.  If I have left your show out, please leave a comment with all the details.

Share on Google+

Windsor Theatre Group presents The 1930s: Its Music and Its Stars Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 3 and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM through November 27. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at 220 Crestwood Court. For more information, call 314-832-2114 or visit windsortheatregroup.com.

Center Stage Theatre at St. Charles Community College presents The 39 Steps Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, November 16 through 20. Performances take place in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building on the campus at 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, MO. For more information, call 636-922-8050 or visit stchas.edu.

Anatol
Washington University Performing Arts Department presents Anatol, “Arthur Schnitzler's strikingly modern deconstruction of a dapper but self-deluding would-be Don Juan”, Thursday and Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM, November 17 through 20. Performances take 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.

Citilites Theatre presents Maltby and Shire's musical Baby Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-773-1879. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents the comedy Blithe Spirit through November 20 in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618 939 7469.

The Pub Theater Company presents Bye Bye Liver: The St. Louis Drinking Play, a comedic romp through the joys and pitfalls of The Gateway to the West's favorite pastime. Performances take place on “select Saturdays” at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street, and on the first and third Friday of each month at The Fox Hole at The Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester in The Grove. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185 or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

Topper Productions presents Cabaret and Cabernet, a cabaret showcase featuring seven local singers with Don Kellembach on piano, on Wednesday, November 16. Dinner begins at 7 and the show at 8; admission price includes dinner and a glass of wine as well as the show. The performance takes place at The Wine Press, 4436 Olive. For more information, call 314-965-2526.

Cannibal! The Musical!
Crestwood Booth Theatre presents Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical -- Live!!! through November 19. Performances take place at Crestwood ArtSpace, 109 Crestwood Plaza, Suite 134 - near the southeast mall entrance. For more information, visit www.Cannibal-STL.com or call the Cannibal! Hotline 314-662-0097. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents the musical Carousel Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, November 16 through 20. Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton Center 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. For more information, call 314-968-7128.

The Alton Little Theater presents the drama Children of a Lesser God through November 20 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618-462-6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the musical Godspell November 18 through December 11. “This musical salute to the Gospel of Matthew will be set in the streets of downtown St. Louis.” Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM 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.

HotCity Theatre presents the Greenhouse New Play Festival Friday and Saturday at at 7 PM and Sunday at 4 PM, November 18 through 20. The plays are Release Point by Gino Dilorio (Friday), Goodbye Ruby Tuesday by EM Lewis (Saturday), and Shake and Be Saved! by Christopher Wall (Sunday). Performances are free and take place at the Centene Center, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information, call 314.289.4060 or visit hotcitytheatre.org.

OnSite Productions presents Hit-Story by Carter Lewis through November 20. The production is “set in Clayton's high-performance fitness center”, Sweat, at 8011 Maryland Avenue. For more information, visit onsitetheatre.org or call 314-686-0062. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

Muddy Waters Theatre Company presents Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-799-8399. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Edison Theatre at Washington University Presents the “live-action graphic novel” Intergalactic Nemesis Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19, at 8 PM. Performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543, e-mail edison@wustl.edu or visit edison.wustl.edu.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Joshua's Boots, an opera for young people by Adolphus Hailstork and Susan Kander, on Friday, November 18, at 7 PM at the Touhill Performaing Arts Center on the University of Missouri St. Louis campus. For more information, visit touhill.org or call 314-516-4949.

The Improv Trick hosts weekly Long Form Improv performances every Tuesday at 7:30 PM at Lemmons Restaurant, 5800 Gravois. Long form improv features 15 to 20 minute sketches based entirely on audience suggestions, with audience participation strongly encouraged. For more information, visit theimprovtrick.com.

Metro Theatre Company presents Tomato Plant Girl Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM, November 19 and 20. Performances take place in the Mainstage Auditorium at Clayton High School. For more information visit metrotheatercompany.org.

The COCA Family Theatre Series presents Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters Friday through Sunday, November 18 through 20. COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

Murdering Marlowe
The West End Players Guild presents Charles Marowitz's Murdering Marlowe, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. “William Shakespeare is an aspiring playwright desperate to make his mark in London. The greatest obstacle to his success is the prominence of Christopher Marlowe, the 'superstar' of the Elizabethan theatre. This intriguing thriller explores the high price of envy, love and blind ambition, all played out among the familiar names of Shakespeare's day.” Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit westendplayers.org. The play is directed by 88.1 KDHX theatre critic Robert A. Mitchell. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Missouri History Museum presents The Black Rep and The St. Louis Actors' Studio production of Palmer Park Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through November 20. The performances take place in the Lee Auditorium at the History Museum at Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park. For more information, you may visit mohistory.org or call (314) 361-9017. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

Clayton Community Theatre presents the drama A Piece of My Heart Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 8 PM through November 20. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

The St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents Ramona Quimby, based on the books of Newberry Medal-winning writer Beverly Clearly, Sunday, November 20, at 2 PM and again on Friday and Saturday, November 25 and 26, at 2 PM. Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.florissantmo.com.

KTK Productions presents the comedy Same Time Next Year Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, call 314-351-8984.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the comedy Social Security through November 20. Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, visit theaterguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

Family Musical Theatre presents A Song for Christmas November 10 through 20 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-448-1436.

The Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen Of Verona Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through November 19, at The Black Cat Theater, 2810 Sutton Boulevard. For more information, visit slightlyoff.org or call (314) 827-5760.

St. Louis Community College at Meramec Theatre Department presents the Samm-Art Williams comedy The Waiting Room November 16 through 20. Performances take place in the theatre on the campus at 11333 Big Bend Road. For more information, call 314-984-7500.

The waltz of folly

Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jun Märkl with pianist Horacio Gutiérrez
What: Music of Beethoven, Richard Strauss, and Ravel
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: November 11 through 13, 2011


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The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra marked Veteran's Day with a heroic performance by pianist Horacio Gutiérrez and conductor Jun Märkl of Beethoven's Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor")—a work written under the cloud of war and occupation. Conflict and triumph of a different sort were featured in a deeply moving reading of Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and the circle was closed with Ravel's essay on Armageddon in 3/4 time, La Valse. Quite an evening.

When Beethoven was writing his concerto in 1809, Vienna was not so much the fabled “City of Dreams” as a metropolis of nightmares. The French laid siege to it with shelling so fierce that at one point the composer took refuge in his brother’s house and covered his head with pillows to escape the din. “[L]ife around me”, he wrote, “is wild and disturbing, nothing but drums, cannons, soldiers, misery of every sort.” The royal family—including Beethoven’s friend and patron Archduke Rudolf—fled, along with many of the notable families with whom the composer had become close.

Left alone and, once the French occupation began, in difficult financial circumstances due to rapid inflation, Beethoven had little else to do but compose. The Fifth Concerto is probably the most famous work to emerge from this difficult period, although the Op. 81a piano sonata (“Les Adieux”) is probably a close second. Both were dedicated to Rudolph.

Much has been written about the Concerto No. 5, so I won’t presume to waste your time with my own analysis, especially when there are concise and informative articles on Wikipedia and at the Classy Classical blog . The magisterial first movement, the wistful second, and, after that famous descending figure in the bassoon, the jolly concluding rondo all show Beethoven at his best. They offer a wealth of opportunities to shine for soloist and conductor.

And shine is what Mr. Gutiérrez and Mr. Märkl did. Like Eric Le Sage, who was so impressive last week in the Schumann concerto, Mr. Gutiérrez eschewed flash and theatricality at the keyboard, opting instead for a straightforward, no-nonsense approach. An entrance, a nod to the conductor, and he was off. Physically, he’s a great bear of a performer, but at the keyboard he did delicate and lyrical as well as forceful and heroic. That famous fortissimo-to-diminuendo barrage of octaves in the first movement was a good case in point. He and Mr. Märkl went, in short, where Beethoven took them, and compelled us to come along.

Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration (Tod und Verklärung), which opened the second half of the concert, deals with war of a different sort—the struggle of an artist’s soul to shuffle off a dying mortal coil and find the ideals he strove for in (to quote from the composer’s detailed narrative) “everlasting Time and Space”. Although Strauss, on his deathbed, remarked that “dying is exactly like I composed it 60 years ago”, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a young man’s view of the transition from here to eternity. It’s filled with great, cinematic torrents of sound, passages of nostalgic longing, and, finally, one of the most sublime finales to be found anywhere.

The dramatic stakes, then, are high, and a good performance should be both exhilarating and touching. Conducting without a score—and therefore free adopt a far more freewheeling style on the podium than he did in the Beethoven—Mr. Märkl delivered all that and more. The dramatic moments were powerful. The passages when the protagonist “recollects his childhood, and then his youthful days of passionate striving” brought a lump to my throat, anyway. And the final apotheosis was translucent.

The evening concluded with Ravel’s La Valse, a work that began in 1911 as “a piece in the style of the earlier Strauss, not Richard” entitled simply Wein (Vienna). And, in fact, a bit of it shows up in the Valses nobles et sentimentales from that same year. Before it could be completed, however, World War I (in which the composer served as an ambulance driver) intervened, and by the time La Valse was submitted to (and foolishly rejected by) Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes in 1919, it had become something far more profound. Ravel described it as “an impression of a fantastic whirl of destiny leading to death”. I can’t hear it without envisioning a huge, ornate machine spinning faster and faster until it hurls itself to pieces—as the complex structure of 19th-century Europe did in the so-called “war to end all wars”.

Once again, Mr. Märkl conducted without a score, this time giving full vent to the Viennese waltz that inspired the piece, complete with the Luftpausen (those minute hesitations between the first and second beat) that are characteristic of the genre. As in last week’s Daphnis et Chloé, La Valse is filled with brilliant orchestral writing that offers nearly everyone a chance to show off, including infrequently heard instruments such as the bass clarinet and contrabassoon. The symphony musicians rose to the challenge, as they nearly always do, and the results were exemplary—as, indeed, they were all night.

Next at Powell Hall: David Robertson is back on the podium with Bruckner’s titanic Symphony No. 7, along with Purcell’s Chacony in G minor and Luciano Berio’s Chorale (on Sequenza VIII) on Friday and Saturday, November 18 and 19, 2011. Erin Schreiber is the violin soloist in the Berio. For more information you may call 314-534-1700, visit stlsymphony.org, like the Saint Louis Symphony Facebook page, or follow @slso on Twitter.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Et in Arcadia Ego

Stèphane Denève
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Stèphane Denève with pianist Eric Le Sage
What: Music of Schumann and Ravel
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: November 4 and 5, 2011

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If I had a plethora of laurel wreathes (is that the right collective noun?) to throw around I’d crown the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor Stèphane Denève, and every member of Amy Kaiser's chorus with them for their joyous performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Friday night. The composer called it a "symphonie choréographique"; the choreographer Michael Folkine of the Ballets Russes, for whom it was written 100 years ago, called it a ballet; and nearly everyone since has called it Ravel’s greatest work. As performed by Mr. Denève and the orchestra, I call it a great success, with flawless solos, precise ensembles, and gorgeous sound overall.

Like Ravel, Mr. Denève has studied at the Paris Conservatoire. Unlike the composer (who was expelled), Mr. Denève graduated with honors and has gone on to make a name for himself as an exponent of French music. He certainly seemed to be right at home with Daphnis et Chloé, conducting with passion and, perhaps more importantly, impressive precision.

Precision matters because, for all its lush harmonies and brilliant orchestration (when was the last time you heard an alto flute solo?), the ballet is nevertheless very logically organized. The composer himself noted that it was "constructed symphonically according to a strict tonal play by the method of a few motifs, the development of which achieves a symphonic homogeneity of style." It’s a reminder the Ravel was, as Eric Salzman has noted, a classicist at heart.

With a running time of nearly an hour, Daphnis et Chloé is Ravel’s longest work and follows a very detailed scenario describing the courtship of the shepherdess Chloé by the goatherd Daphnis. A band of pirates kidnaps Chloé, but she’s rescued by Pan and all ends happily with an exuberant "Danse generale". The music is vividly descriptive of the stage action, so the decision to project a translation of the scenario on a screen in synch with the music added considerably to the experience. With very little effort, I could reconstruct the entire ballet “in my mind’s eye” (as Hamlet says). Pictures of what I assume to be sketches of Leon Bakst’s original Ballet Russes costumes were shown before the music started, which also helped to set the mood. The Symphony is making very creative use of their projection capabilities these days and doing so in ways that always enhance the music.

The concert opened with another Ravel ballet score, a far more modest orchestration of four movements from Schumann’s magnum opus Carnaval. The arrangement was made for a 1914 London performance by Ballets Russes star Vaslav Najinsky, who was attempting to form his own ballet company. Najinsky came down with the flu, the performance never happened, and the Carnaval arrangements had to wait until 1975 for a public performance. This weekend marked the first appearance in St. Louis.

I’d like to say the Schumann/Ravel Carnaval is an undiscovered gem, but in fact it felt more like “Ravel Lite”. The orchestration is modest and, aside from some witty moments in which the melody is tossed back and forth between sections in the final march, not terribly interesting. It got a first-class performance, though, and it did help set the musical stage for the big work of the first half, Schumann’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor.

Eric Le Sage was the soloist for the Schumann. Making his local debut, the young French pianist has been hailed as something of Schumann expert, having recorded all of the composer’s piano output in a prize-winning series for the French Alpha label. His program bio notes that critics have praised “his very subtle sound and his real sense of structure and poetic phrasing”. If his performance of the concerto Friday night is any indication, the critics couldn’t be more accurate.

If your piano preferences run toward the flashy, this would not be the interpretation for you, but it might be one that Schumann would have admired. His intent was always to create a kind of symphony for piano and orchestra rather than the sort of virtuoso showpiece that he and his fellow contributors to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik disdained, so I think he would have appreciated the way in which Mr. Le Sage’s pianism seamlessly integrated with the orchestra under Mr. Denève. This was an A Minor Concerto of chamber music–style intimacy and the kind of close, cooperative give and take that goes with it. I’m not completely persuaded by it, but there’s no denying that Mr. Le Sage and Mr. Denève made an awfully strong case for it.

All this fine work was done for a disappointingly small house on Friday. I realize that everyone (justifiably) loves it when Mr. Robertson in on the podium, but Mr. Denève is a very charismatic conductor who takes an obvious joy in his work. He’s part of long list of distinguished guest conductors that have appeared at Powell Hall over the years. They all deserve our support, as does the orchestra as a whole.

Next at Powell Hall: Jun Märkl is on the podium for more Ravel (La Valse), Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) with Horacio Gutiérrez at the keyboard. For more information you may call 314-534-1700, visit stlsymphony.org, like the Saint Louis Symphony Facebook page, or follow @slso on Twitter.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 7, 2011

Updated Tuesday, November 8, 2011

[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 ArtsZipper site.

I'm now adding my own purely personal comments to events about which I think I have anything worthwhile to say. Because that's what bloggers do.  If I have left your show out, please leave a comment with all the details.

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Windsor Theatre Group presents The 1930s: Its Music and Its Stars Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 3 and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3 PM, November 11 through 27. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at 220 Crestwood Court. For more information, call 314-832-2114 or visit windsortheatregroup.com.

Citilites Theatre presents Maltby and Shire's musical Baby Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-773-1879.

Billy Elliot
The Fox Theatre presents Billy Elliot - the Musical through November 13. The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents the comedy Blithe Spirit November 11 through 20 in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618 939 7469.

The Pub Theater Company presents Bye Bye Liver: The St. Louis Drinking Play, a comedic romp through the joys and pitfalls of The Gateway to the West's favorite pastime. Performances take place on “select Saturdays” at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street, and on the first and third Friday of each month at The Fox Hole at The Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester in The Grove. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185 or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

Cannibal! The Musical!
Crestwood Booth Theatre presents Trey Parker's Cannibal! The Musical -- Live!!! through November 19. Performances take place at Crestwood ArtSpace, 109 Crestwood Plaza, Suite 134 - near the southeast mall entrance. For more information, visit www.Cannibal-STL.com or call the Cannibal! Hotline 314-662-0097. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Alton Little Theater presents the drama Children of a Lesser God November 12 through 20 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618-462-6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Circle Mirror Transformation
©Photo by Lon Brauer
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Anne Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation Tuesdays through Sundays through November 13. Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

Lindenwood University's J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts presents Ed Asner as FDR on Saturday, November 12. The J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts is located on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit lindenwood.edu/center.

OnSite Productions presents Hit-Story by Carter Lewis through November 20. The production is “set in Clayton's high-performance fitness center”, Sweat, at 8011 Maryland Avenue. For more information, visit onsitetheatre.org or call 314-686-0062.

Muddy Waters Theatre Company presents Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 20. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-799-8399. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

The Hawthorne Players present the comedy I'm Not Rappaport Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 13. Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.com.

The Improv Trick hosts weekly Long Form Improv performances every Tuesday at 7:30 PM at Lemmons Restaurant, 5800 Gravois. Long form improv features 15 to 20 minute sketches based entirely on audience suggestions, with audience participation strongly encouraged. For more information, visit theimprovtrick.com.

Murdering Marlowe
The West End Players Guild presents Charles Marowitz's Murdering Marlowe, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 11 through 20. “William Shakespeare is an aspiring playwright desperate to make his mark in London. The greatest obstacle to his success is the prominence of Christopher Marlowe, the 'superstar' of the Elizabethan theatre. This intriguing thriller explores the high price of envy, love and blind ambition, all played out among the familiar names of Shakespeare's day.” Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit westendplayers.org. The play is directed by 88.1 KDHX theatre critic Robert A. Mitchell.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy Noises Off Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM, November 10 through 13. Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956 or visit ktg-onstage.org.

Act II Community Theater presents the musical Nunsense Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through November 13. Performances take place at The St. Peters Community and Arts Center, 1035 St. Peters-Howell Road in St. Peters, MO. For more information, call 636-219-0150 or email info at act2theater.com.

The Missouri History Museum presents The Black Rep and The St. Louis Actors' Studio production of Palmer Park Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through November 20. The performances take place in the Lee Auditorium at the History Museum at Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park. For more information, you may visit mohistory.org or call (314) 361-9017. Read the 88.1 KDHX Review!

Clayton Community Theatre presents the drama A Piece of My Heart Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 8 PM, November 11 through 20. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

The Avalon Theatre Company presents Portrait Of My People Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM, November 12 and 13 and December 3 and 4. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court. For more information, visit avalontheatre.org.

KTK Productions presents the comedy Same Time Next Year Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 11 through 20. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, call 314-351-8984.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the comedy Social Security November 11 through 20. Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, visit theaterguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

Family Musical Theatre presents A Song for Christmas November 10 through 20 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-448-1436.

The Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen Of Verona Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, November 10 through19, at The Black Cat Theater, 2810 Sutton Boulevard. For more information, visit slightlyoff.org or call (314) 827-5760.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Deep Thought

J.P. Viernes as Billy Elliot
Photo by Joan Marcus
What: Billy Elliot – the Musical
When: November 1–13, 2011
Where: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis

I’ve never seen Billy Elliot, the 1990 film on which Billy Elliot – the Musical is based, so I can’t say how effective lyricist and playwright Lee Hall has been in adapting his own screenplay to the stage. What I can say is that while the show has much to recommend it, including spectacular choreography and an attractive and often memorable score by Elton John, it ultimately fails to deliver on its dramatic promise. The story of Billy’s struggle to pursue his dream without betraying his family ought to be gripping but, at least on opening night, it was merely interesting.

It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of powerful material here. Set against the backdrop of the tragically failed 1984 Durham miners’ strike, the plot revolves around Billy’s discovery of his gift for dancing and his dream of auditioning for the Royal Ballet. Encouraged by Mrs. Wilkinson, the local dance teacher, Billy must overcome not only his father’s prejudices about the perceived lack of masculinity of his art but also the crippling economic barriers erected by the strike and the brutal campaign by Margaret Thatcher’s corporatist regime to crush both the strike and the union. Billy eventually gets his audition and much more, but not without paying a financial and moral price.

I think Mr. Hall’s book is at least partly responsible. It raises interesting questions about the conflict between the needs of the lucky gifted individual and those of the community as a whole and then sidesteps them, opting for what struck me as a somewhat shallow “feel-good” ending complete with a flashy company dance number and interminable curtain calls.

When, on the day of his departure for ballet school, Mrs. Wilkinson tells Billy to leave and never look back, wouldn’t this have been a good time for Billy to acknowledge the debt he owed to the community that raised him? When a “scab” miner donates hundreds of pounds to the fund for Billy’s audition trip to London, wouldn’t this have been an opportunity for the strikebreaker to acknowledge that it was compensation for his betrayal? The script’s great strength is that it raises provocative political and moral issues. Its great weakness is that it effectively punts them. Yes, the story can’t have the same resonance for an American audience that it had for a British one, but even so I feel it should have had more impact that it did.

The often-sluggish pace of the production was also an issue, at least on opening night. Some comic scenes were drawn out and milked for laughs, while other moments were sometimes prolonged past the point where dramatic tension had dissipated. The potential was there for both comedy and tragedy, but not enough of it was realized to prevent “Billy Elliot” from descending into tedium by the end of its three-hour running time

That’s a shame, since there are some truly exceptional performances in this Second National Tour production, starting with the ensemble. I know that protocol says I should start with the leading actors, but “Billy Elliot” is a show in which the ensemble does a lot of the heavy lifting. Peter Darling’s choreography is as inventive as it is complex, and the polished execution of his dances is a thing of beauty.

Perhaps the best example of this is “Solidarity”, which pits striking miners against police while juxtaposing their violent confrontation with the gentle dancing of the girls in Mrs. Wilkinson’s class. The intricate mingling of all three groups emphasizes the intrusion of violent conflict into the community’s daily life, while a bit in which the cops and miners exchange hats points out the way in which the strike divides the community. You could wind up wearing either hat; it’s just the luck of the draw. The dance demands precision timing and gets it.

Among the principals, J.P. Viernes shines in the title role. Despite his youth, he’s already something of a veteran in the part, having played it in Chicago, Toronto, and San Francisco. His assured work here is no surprise, therefore, but it’s still quite impressive. He alternates in the role with Ty Forhan, Kylend Hetherington, and Lex Ishimoto.

Leah Hocking shows both the “sod off” attitude and heart of gold of Mrs. Wilkinson, and matches both with fluid dance moves. Her big “Born to Boogie” number, in which she reminds Billy how fundamentally human the desire to dance really is, was a highlight. Patrick Wetzel is a hoot as her surprisingly agile dogsbody, Mr. Braithewaite.

Substituting for Patty Perkins on opening night, ensemble member Jillian Rees-Brown turned in a touching performance as Billy’s grandmother. “We’d Go Dancin’”, the song in which she remembers her late, unlamented husband,” was a fine solo turn. “I hated the sod – for thirty-three year,” she recalls, “but we’d go dancing, he was me own Brando / And for a moment there my heart was a’glow”. The accompanying choreography, with the entire male ensemble taking on the role of the young Grandpa, is simple but highly effective.

Rich Hebert’s Dad was clearly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. His lament for his lost past and dim future, “Deep Into the Ground”, was moving. He was equally convincing in the character’s comic moments during the “backstage” sequence at Billy’s London audition. At the other end of the timeline, Jacob Zelonky was a comic dynamo as Billy’s friend Michael, cheerfully comfortable with both his love of cross-dressing and his emerging gayness. The entire subplot with Michael struck me as an irrelevant distraction, though.

Cullen R. Titmas was a powerful presence as Billy’s older brother Tony. Tony is the character who fully articulates the terrible cost of the failed strike, so Mr. Titmas’s strong performance was essential. It’s Tony, after all, who reminds us that while the realization of Billy’s dream is a cause for celebration, there are still 200,000 men who will soon be out of work and “they can’t all be dancers”. The question of whether it’s better to help one boy achieve greatness than to help many more lead average but fulfilling lives is one of many left on the table at the end of the evening.

The visual design elements of the show are first rate. Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes neatly highlight time, place, and character, while Ian MacNeil’s sets are models of efficiency, strongly delineating the different scenes while allowing for fluid shifts among them.

The traveling pit band sounded great. It was augmented by five local musicians: Mike Buerk and Rob Hughes in woodwinds, Nancy Schick on French horn, Andy Tichenor on trumpet, and Jay Hungerford on bass. The wind section is especially welcome, given the strong influence of the classic British brass band on Elton John’s score.

The quality of the amplified sound was, sadly, not up to the quality of either the instrumental or vocal performances. It was muddy at best and, when combined with the very realistic-sounding northern English accents of the cast, rendered much of the spoken and sung dialog incomprehensible. If you haven’t already familiarized yourself with the original cast recording, you’d be advised to do so before seeing this show.

Sight lines are also an issue. The false proscenium the tour uses is probably an unavoidable necessity given how many different spaces it has to play, but it greatly reduces visibility on either side of house center. You’ll want to bear that in mind when purchasing tickets.

That said, I think Billy Elliot – the Musical is worth seeing. Yes, it doesn’t always succeed, but when it fails, it does so in a way that’s interesting and thought provoking. Sometimes an ambitious failure is more compelling than a modest success. My wife and I were thinking and talking about the issues raised in Billy Elliot long after the show was over, which is more than I can say about some far more coherent plays in recent memory.

Billy Elliot – the Musical runs through November 13 at the Fox Theatre in Grand Center. Be aware that the show’s language is sometimes realistically frank, as its treatment of sexuality, so you’ll want to take that into account when deciding whether to bring your offspring. I’d say that by the time they’re Billy’s age (he’s 11 at the beginning of the show) they’re probably up for it, but your mileage may vary. In any case, you may visit fabulousfox.com or call 314-534-1678 for more information.