Monday, April 30, 2012

Rach and roll, part 2

Who: Pianist Stephen Hough and The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf
What: Music of Rimski-Korsakov, Shostakovich, and Rachmaninoff
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: April 28 and 29, 2012

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[Download the complete St. Louis symphony program notes in PDF format]

Rachmaninoff’s Second may not be the best of his four piano concerti—both the revised First and (my favorite) the Third are more economical and generate more momentum—but it’s unquestionably his most popular. Saturday night’s performance by Stephen Hough and guest conductor Hans Graf demonstrated why. The flashy (and technically demanding) solo passages, soaring melodies, and showy finale make for a real crowd pleaser, especially when delivered with such intensity and conviction.

The Second is, in some ways, more of a symphony for piano and orchestra than a traditional concerto. There are no extended cadenzas and the piano is closely integrated with the orchestra. As Laurie Shulman points out in her program notes, “Rachmaninoff entrusts most of the melodies to the large ensemble, whereas the piano takes a decorative, textural role.”

That means the orchestra had better be as good as the soloist and that both should work in perfect harmony if the piece is going to really take flight—which is exactly what Saturday’s performance did. From that famous seven-chord introduction to the big tune of the finale (popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1945 as “Full Moon and Empty Arms”), this was a Rach Second that delivered all of the composer’s goods. The orchestra was pretty near flawless and if Mr. Hough looked a bit tired at the end of the evening, I couldn’t hear any indication of that in his elegant and powerful playing. As with the Rach First on Friday morning, he and Mr. Graf were clearly in tune with each other. It was all immensely satisfying.

Also on the program were Shostakovich’s dark and acerbic Symphony No. 1, as well as the local premiere of Rimski-Korsakov’s colorful Skazka (Fairy Tale). For my thoughts on those, check out my review of the Friday morning concert. For now, I’ll just add that Skazka holds up well on a second hearing, episodic and disjointed though it may be, and the Shostakovich First remains a remarkable mix of nose-thumbing comedy and anguish.

Next at Powell Hall: The “Rach Fest” continues Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 2, April 28 and 29, with the Rachmaninoff ‘s Second Piano Concerto replacing the First. The rest of the program is the same as Friday’s. The Rach Fest concludes May 4-6 with the Piano Concerto No. 1 (Friday at 8 PM) and Piano Concerto No. 3 (Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3). Stephen Hough is at the keyboard again with Peter Oundjian at the podium. The program for all three concerts includes Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. For more information you may call 314-534-1700 or visit stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 30, 2012

Updated Friday, May 4

[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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Angels in America, Part 1
Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, May 10-12. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, May 3-5, and May 17-19. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!
Angels in America, Part 2

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 Saturdaysat 9 PM at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185, email stlouis at byebyeliver.com, or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

The Gateway Men's Chorus presents Cabaret Risqué, “an evening of songs about love that lasts a lifetime... or just one night”, on Saturday, May 5 at 8 PM. Al Fischer is pianist and music director for the evening, which features performances by Al Fischer, Ken Haller, Alice Kinsella, Kay Love, Katie McGrath, Tim Schall, Deborah Sharn, and Jeffrey Wright. Proceeds from the fundraiser benefit the Gateway Men's Chorus. The performance takes place at the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information, visit gatewaymenschorus.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels May 4 through 13. Performances take place at the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the musical The Drowsy Chaperone May 3-13. Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

Family Musical Theater presents Godspell May 3-6 at the Ivory Theatre, 7622 Michigan. For more information, visit familymusical.org or call 314-448-1436.


Dramatic License Productions presents the musical I Do! I Do! Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 26 through May 13. Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant. For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.com Read the 88.1 KDHX review!.

New Jewish Theatre presents James Sherman's Jacob and Jack May 3-20. The play is “a rip-roaring, door-slamming backstage farce that combines elements of both contemporary and Yiddish theatre.” 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The Black Rep presents August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom through May 13. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Memphis
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Memphis May 1 through 13. “Inspired by actual events, Memphis is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break.” The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Act II Community Theater presents Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through May 6. 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.

Mur Mur
The Edison Theatre Ovations! for Young People Series presents Mur Mur (The Wall) on Saturday, May 5, at 11 AM. Mur-Mur (The Wall) speaks of the friendships among two teenage couples and a pesky and incorrigible younger brother. With humor and sheer innocence, these five characters are swept up in an air-bound acrobatic ballet.” The performance takes place in the Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543.

West County Family Y's Y-Rep Teens present One Acts 2012 with improv comedy by Show's Over, Thursday through Saturday, May 3-5, at 7:30 PM. Performances take place at the West County YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place. For more information, call (636) 532-6515 Ext. 227.

Black Cat Theatre's Piwacket Theatre for Children presents Piwacket Review on Friday, May 4, at 7 PM at Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton in Maplewood. For more information, call (314) 781-8300 or visit www.blackcattheatre.org.

DaySpring School of the Arts presents the musical The Sound of Music Friday and Saturday at 7 PM, May 4 and 5. Performances take place at De Smet High School Theatre, 233 North New Ballas Road. For more information, visit dayspringarts.org.

Star Trek: Live!
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents Star Trek: Live! Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, May 4 through 19, at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar in University City. The show is presented in cooperation with the St. Louis Science Center's Star Trek: The Experience Exhibit. Visitors to the exhibit receive a “buy one, get one free” admission to any 10:30 performance. For more information, visit stlshakespeare.org.

LifeLight Youth Theatre presents Seussical, the Musical Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM and Saturday at 2:30 PM, May 3-5, at the Pillsbury Chapel & Dale Williams Fine Arts Center at Missouri Baptist University, One College Park Drive. For more information, call (636) 294-2978 or visit lifelightyouththeatre.com.

Curtain's Up Theatre Company presents To Kill a Mockingbird Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, May 3-6. Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the SIU-Edwardsville campus. For more information, visit curtainsuptheater.com.

The St. Louis University Theatre Department presents Caryl Churchill's Vinegar Tom through May 6. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit www.slu.edu/theatre. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Wine Press presents guitarist Mike Krysl and singer Shuana Sconce in an evening of cabaret on Saturday, May 5, from 8 to 11 PM. The Wine Press is at 4436 Olive in the Central West End. For more information, visit stlwinepress.com.

Rach and roll, part 1

Who: Pianist Stephen Hough and The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf
What: Music of Rimski-Korsakov, Shostakovich, and Rachmaninoff
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: April 27, 2012

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[Download the complete St. Louis symphony program notes in PDF format]

Pianist Stephen Hough has both tremendous power and a delicate touch. Hans Graf is a conductor who, while he maintains a disciplined presence on the podium, can nevertheless be passionate and lyrical. Put them together and you have a killer beginning to the two-week “Rach Fest" at the Powell Hall.

Friday morning’s program featured compelling performances of Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” (in the 1917 revision) and Shostakovich’s dark and acerbic “Symphony No. 1”, as well as the local premiere of Rimski-Korsakov’s colorful “Skazka” (“Fairy Tale”). It was, to say the least, a tremendous success and was warmly received by a larger than usual audience.

It has been almost exactly a year since the multi-talented Mr. Hough (he’s a composer and writer on music and theology as well as a virtuoso pianist) graced the stage at Powell Hall. Last time it was a knockout reading of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 2”. This time around his Rachmaninoff First was at least as impressive. Mr. Hough has done the Rach First with the symphony before—in February of 2007 under Maestro Robertson. At that time I noted that he “played with the ease and confidence that are the hallmarks of solid keyboard technique” and see no reason to change that assessment now.

Originally written while Rachmaninoff was a student at the Moscow Conservatory, the concerto was later revised substantially on the eve of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and it's not hard to hear the faint echoes of that turbulence in the sweep and drama of this remarkably concise and vigorous work. Mr. Hough has the chops to give full vent to that drama, cruising through all the flashy writing in the opening and closing movements, but he was equally convincing in the nocturnal yearning of the Andante. Mr. Graf matched him with a soulful reading that made effective use of rubato at key moments without ever losing the concerto’s sense of momentum. His tempo for the finale was brisk, but the symphony musicians handled it with ease.

Friday morning Mr. Hough acknowledged his well-deserved standing ovation with a delightful encore: his own mashup of the Russian song “Leningrad Nights” (known here in the West as both “Midnight in Moscow” and “Moscow Nights”) with motifs from Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2”. It reminded me of the clever Piano Puzzlers that Bruce Adolphe provides for PRI’s “Performance Today” radio broadcast and was much appreciated.

Much as I love Rachmaninoff, the most interesting thing about these concerts to me was the presence of the rarely heard Shostakovich symphony and the even rarer Rimski-Korsakov.

Written as a Leningrad Conservatory graduation piece and first performed in 1926 (when the composer was only 19), Shostakovich’s First Symphony is a remarkable study in contrasts, with chamber music-style solo passages cheek by jowl with the full-tilt bombast of the composer’s more popular works. There are wonderful moments, for example, for the principal oboe, bassoon, flute, clarinet, and cello as well as piano part that calls to mind Stravinsky’s “Petrushka”—a piece that was very likely in the composer’s mind at the time. Perky melodies reminiscent of the stuff Shostakovich probably heard during his work as a cinema pianist pop up in the first and second movement, standing in stark juxtaposition to the brooding and sporadically anguished gloom of the third, while the final Allegro molto wraps everything up in a classic flourish of brass and percussion which manages to sound both triumphant and sarcastic at the same time.

With so many “concerto for orchestra” solo passages, the Shostakovich First is rife with opportunities for individual players to shine—which is exactly what they did Friday morning. Mr. Graf’s interpretation was, I thought, very transparent to the music, allowing Shostakovich to come through pretty much unfiltered. It was tremendously exciting stuff.

This was my first opportunity to see Mr. Graf perform live, by the way. His style, it seemed to me, was marked by equal parts of precision, warmth, and good humor. His podium presence is not overly demonstrative, but I was nevertheless left with the sense that he takes great joy in the music he conducts. That appeared to communicate itself to both the musicians and the audience.

Like the Shostakovich, Rimski-Korsakov’s brief tone poem “Skazka” (“Fairy Tale”) is also filled with lovely solo passages, particularly for clarinet, flute, oboe, and violin. Its episodic structure suggests an underlying narrative related to the work’s literary inspirations—Russian folk tales and Pushkin’s Ruslan and Lyudmila—but the composer declined to be specific, allowing the listener’s mind to conjure up whatever exotic images the colorful music suggests.

Mr. Graf’s performance made the most of the music’s many contrasting moods and the symphony musicians responded with their usual fine playing. The solo passages were beautifully realized, even if the flute had to briefly contend with cell phone accompaniment at one point.

Which brings me to the only negative aspect of Friday morning’s concert: the clueless conduct of some audience members. It’s bad enough that Mr. Graf was obliged to hold the opening downbeat for a minute or two while waiting from some folks on the house floor to stop yakking. What was really rather embarrassing was the applause that broke out during the transition between the third and fourth movements of the Shostakovich. Concert etiquette says you don’t start applauding until the conductor lowers his baton. For many composers (like, say, Shostakovich) silence is an element of composition. Conductors usually respect that. So should audiences.

Next at Powell Hall: The Rach Fest concludes May 4-6 with the “Piano Concerto No. 1” (Friday at 8 PM) and “Piano Concerto No. 3” (Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3). Stephen Hough is at the keyboard again with Peter Oundjian at the podium. The program for all three concerts includes Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”. For more information you may call 314-534-1700 or visit stlsymphony.org.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chuck's choices for the weekend of April 27, 2012

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

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Union Avenue Opera presents Handel’s Acis and Galatea Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 27-29. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. Union Avenue is a small, young, and adventurous company (they’re doing a reduced version of Das Rheingold later this year!), so it’s always interesting to see what they’re up to. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Stray Dog Theatre’s production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America continues this weekend with Part 1: Millennium Approaches. Next week they’ll present Part 2: Perestroika again, with the entire enterprise concluding the weekend of May 17. These are beautifully written plays and the Stray Dog production has gotten strong notices (see Andrea Braun’s reviews of Part 1 and Part 2 at the KDHX site). I’m hoping to catch the final two weekends myself. Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995.

The Black Rep presents August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom through May 13. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Writing for us at KDHX, Connie Bollinger praised the “convincing, flawless performances” of the principals and the “finessed, punch-to–the-gut impact” of the both the play and the production. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

The St. Louis Symphony continues the "Rach Fest" Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3 PM with performances of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1, and the local premiere of Rimski-Korsakov’s colorful Skazka (“Fairy Tale”). Stephen Hough is at the keyboard and the orchestra is conducted by Hans Graf, Music Director of the Houston Symphony. I saw the Friday morning concert (with the Rachmaninoff First Concerto) and was very impressed; you can see my review here. Stephen Hough has both tremendous power and a delicate touch. Hans Graf is a conductor who, while he maintains a disciplined presence on the podium, can nevertheless be passionate and lyrical. Put them together and you have a killer beginning to the "Rach Fest", which concludes the weekend of May 4. Powell Hall is at 718 North Grand; you can get tickets at stlsymphony.org or by calling 314-534-1700.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lee's summit

Who: Cellist Daniel Lee and The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Oundjian
What: Music of Smetana, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: April 20-22, 2012

[Download the complete St. Louis symphony program notes in PDF format]

If St. Louis Symphony Principal Cello Daniel Lee isn’t feeling extraordinarily pleased with himself right now, it must mean that his virtuosity is exceed only by his modesty. Certainly the spontaneous applause that burst forth after the first movement of the Dvořák Cello Concerto and the standing ovation at the end are the sorts of things guaranteed to gladden the heart and increase the self-esteem of any performer.

For that matter, Peter Oundjian can feel pretty proud of his impassioned reading of Smetana’s Šárka from Má vlast and a snappy Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian). It all made for an entertaining evening of late-19th century music with, to quote symphony program annotator Laurie Shulman, “an emphasis on native rhythms, harmonies, and melodies composed at a great distance from the music capitals of London, Paris, and Vienna.”

The cello doesn’t appear in the symphonic spotlight that often. It’s not that there aren’t concerti out there (although far fewer than for violin or piano), it’s just that most of them are relatively obscure. The Dvořák A minor concerto is probably the most popular—right up there with the Elgar—and justifiably so. Written during the composer’s final year in America, it’s a mature and deeply felt work of genuinely symphonic proportions. It’s also technically challenging without being superficially flashy. There are no cadenzas, for example, and the demands on the soloist’s technique arise naturally out of the concerto’s dramatic narrative.

To play this concerto well, then, you need not only nimble hands but also a warm heart. This is music of deep sorrow and overflowing joy. The soloist had better be open to all of it.

Mr. Lee has all that and then some. Sure, his performance on Friday night was technically proficient. But more importantly it was emotionally genuine. You could see the play of Dvořák’s feelings echoed on his face and in his body. He was, as we say in the theatre, completely in the moment and in tune with not only the music but with his fellow players as well. I have always loved this concerto, and Mr. Lee’s exemplary performance reminded me why.

The concert began and ended with a pair of virtuoso orchestral works. The opener, Smetana’s Šárka, is perhaps an unusual choice. It’s based on an incident from the legendary twelfth-century “Maiden’s War” in which the titular heroine seduces the warrior Ctirad and then, with the help of her fellow Amazons, slaughters him and his men in their sleep. Smetana’s tone painting is fairly literal (even including a snoring bassoon as the men fall asleep) and concludes with a particularly violent orchestral outburst. Mr. Oundjian’s interpretation made the most of the composer’s dynamic contrasts, with an especially hair-raising coda. I’d love to hear him tackle the entire Má vlast.

The evening concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, nicknamed the “Little Russian” for its use of folk material from the Ukraine (a.k.a. “Little Russia”). Tchaikovsky’s first three symphonies don’t get nearly the respect they deserve, in my view, so it was delightful to hear this one at Powell Hall for the first time in nearly twenty years.

The symphony abounds in flashy writing, especially for the winds, and the orchestra’s players were more than up to the task. Even Mr. Oundjian’s breakneck pace in the finale posed no challenge. Everything, including the cheerful little piccolo solo, came through with perfect clarity.

Mr. Oundjian, as I have noted in the past, appears to run a tight musical ship. His podium style is less aerobic than Mr. Robertson’s and more traditional in approach, with the right hand mostly keeping time with the baton and the left cueing soloists and shaping dynamics. The dynamic contrasts he shapes can be extreme, but to my ears they always make sense and serve the music well. He appears to have an excellent rapport with the musicians, which may be one of the reasons he has appeared so often here—and will be returning May 4 and 5.

Next at Powell Hall: The much-heralded “Rach Fest” Friday through Sunday, April 27-29, with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (Friday morning at 10:30) and Piano Concerto No. 2 (Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3) along with Shostakovich’s youthful Symphony No. 1 and Rimski-Korsakov’s Op. 29 Skazka (“Fairy Tale”). Hans Graf is at the podium with Stephen Hough at the keyboard. For more information you may call 314-534-1700 or visit stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 23, 2012

[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+

Union Avenue Opera presents Handel's Acis and Galatea Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 27-29. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in English with projected English text. For more information, visit unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Angels in America, Part 1
Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, April 12-14, 26-28, and May 10-12. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, April 19-21, May 3-5, and May 17-19. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!
Angels in America, Part 2

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents the musical Annie Jr. at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium through April 29. 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.

As You Like It
Washington University Performing Arts Department presents Shakespeare's As You Like It Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM Performances take place in the Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

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 Saturdaysat 9 PM at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185, email stlouis at byebyeliver.com, or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.

Marble Stage Fairy Tale Theatre presents The City Mouse and the Country Mouse Saturdays at noon through April 28 at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Lackland. For more information, call 314-437-0846 or visit www.marblestage.org.

Upstream Theater presents Conversations With an Executioner, adapted from the memoirs of Kazimierz Moczarski by Philip Boehm. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays through April 29 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand. For more information, call (314) 863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Clayton Community Theatre presents the comedy The Foreigner through April 29. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents a staged reading of The Geography Of Nowhere by local playwright Joshua Cook, the winning entry in their New Play Contest, Monday at 7 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.


Dramatic License Productions presents the musical I Do! I Do! Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 26 through May 13. Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant. For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.com.

The Opera Theatre of St. Louis Illuminating Opera series presents St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser in a discussion of Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland on Saturday, April 28, at 9:45 AM. The program takes place at the Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel Avenue. For more information, visit experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 25 through 29. Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, call 314-968-7128.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The Black Rep presents August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom through May 13. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Act II Community Theater presents Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 27 through May 6. 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.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents The New World, based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, as part of the inaugural Shakespeare in the Streets festival scheduled April 27-29. The hour-long play will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 27-28, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at the intersection of Cherokee Street and California Avenue. All performances are free.

West County Family Y's Y-Rep Troupers presents The Pied Piper: A Tale Of Whoa! April 27 through 29. Performances take place at the West County YMCa, 16464 Burkhardt Place. For more information, call (636) 532-6515 Ext. 227.

St. Louis Community College at Wildwood presents the musical revue A Thurber Carnival Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28. Performances take place at the campus, 2645 Generations Drive in Wildwood, MO. For more information, visit www.stlcc.edu/ww or call 636-422-2000.

The St. Louis University Theatre Department presents Caryl Churchill's Vinegar Tom April 27 through May 6. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit www.slu.edu/theatre.

The Winter's Tale
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale through April 29 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!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Here comes the sun

Who: Pianist Leon Fleisher and The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson
What: Music of Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Prokofiev
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: April 14 and 15, 2012

[Download the complete St. Louis symphony program notes in PDF format]

In case you’re wondering where all the brass players in St. Louis were this weekend, they were at Powell Hall raising a ruckus in Prokofiev’s infrequently played Scythian Suite, an electrifying performance of which closed this weekend’s concerts at Powell Hall. The Prokofiev was preceded by a powerful Ravel Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand with the great Leon Fleisher (84 and going strong) at the keyboard and a polished Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances.

As we left, I heard another audience member remark that it was the best concert he’d ever seen at Powell. I wouldn’t go nearly that far, but there’s no doubt that Mr. Robertson and his players were at the to of their game Friday night. If the symphony’s canny marketing campaign emphasizing the “kick out the jams” aspect of the Prokofiev (see savepowellhall.com for details) brought some new listeners in this weekend, they certainly got their money’s worth.

Before the fireworks, though, there was the nocturne. When I first heard Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (a 1961 LP recording by Eugene Ormandy, who conducted the work’s first performance in 1941), I was immediately struck by the “late night” feel of the piece—and not just because of the chimes in the last movement. I was not surprised to learn, then, that Rachmaninoff had originally titled the three sections “Noon,” “Twilight,” and “Midnight”. This was the composer’s last completed work, and there’s a sense throughout of a life approaching its conclusion.

The composer dropped the titles, preferring the let the music speak for itself, and it does so eloquently. The work is filled with evidence of Rachmaninoff’s genius as an orchestrator, with elaborate and complex string writing, inventive use of brasses and winds (including a short but poignant solo for alto sax), and an effective but never overwhelming use of the large percussion battery.

Mr. Robertson and his forces made the most of all of the composer’s genius with a sympathetic reading that gave all the orchestral details their due without losing the work’s sense of momentum. Rachmaninoff can be discursive and performances of his music can become bogged down, but that was not an issue here.

There’s a nocturnal feel as well to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand, written in 1930 on commission for pianist Paul Wittgenstein (older brother of the famed philosopher), who had lost his right arm in World War I. It’s a remarkable piece, with a dark bitonal introduction featuring the contrabassoon (how often does that guy get a solo?), flashy cadenzas for the soloist, and a central march/scherzo with strong jazz and American pop music echoes. It’s as though the composer is inviting us to a dance in the graveyard—a celebration of renewed life in the shadow of the massive death of the “war to end all wars”. Ravel served as an ambulance driver in the cataclysm, and I think the horrors he saw influenced many of his post-war works, including this one.

Soloist Leon Fleisher has made something of a career out of performing left-handed piano music, having spent fifty of his eighty-four years unable to move two fingers of his right hand. He eventually regained the use of both hands (a journey recounted in the 2006 documentary Two Hands), but he’s still the king of this specialized repertoire. His performance Friday night was both powerful and elegant. Mr. Fleisher may walk like an octogenarian, but he doesn’t play like one. Mr. Robertson and the orchestra were with him every step of the way, with all the transparency and sensitivity to Ravel’s elaborate musical tapestry that one could ask for.

The audience rewarded everyone with a standing ovation. Mr. Fleisher responded by graciously making his way back into the orchestra to bring contrabassoonist Bradford Buckley to his feet to share in the applause. It was a lovely moment. How often does that rather unglamorous instrument get to be in the spotlight, after all?

The much-anticipated Scythian Suite was everything you might expect from a composer in his early twenties fired up by Le Sacre du Printemps and eager to make his mark on the scene. The music was originally intended to be part of a full-length ballet titled Ala and Lolly with a scenario by poet Sergey Gorodetzky involving prehistoric Scythian warrior Lolly, his love for the sun god’s daughter Ala, and his battle with Chuzhbog, the god of darkness. It was proposed to (and rejected by) Sergei Diaghilev for his Ballet Russes. Prokofiev salvaged a four-movement suite from it, which he conducted to howls of outrage from the Russian musical establishment (“noisy,” “rowdy,” and “barbarous” were some of the nicer descriptions) in 1916. Later American performances resulted in accusations of “Bolshevism”. Some days you just can’t win.

The outrage is somewhat understandable. Scored for an orchestra of Mahlerian proportions with a massive brass section and imposing percussion battery, the Scythian Suite achieves rock concert-level volume in the violent opening section and is filled with a kind of gleefully modernist primitivism. There are also beautifully transparent sections, though, and overall the “Scythian Suite” is a lot more than just a joyful noise. There’s tremendous creativity and fire here and, as with the rest of this weekend’s program, lavish orchestral invention.

I’ve been a fan of this piece since I first encountered Eric Leinsdorf’s recording in 1967, but this was my first opportunity to hear it live as the size of the forces required make performances expensive and therefore rare. I was not disappointed. Mr. Robertson, always a very physical conductor, threw himself into this vital music with more than his usual enthusiasm, drawing out brilliant and precise playing from everyone. With big musical canvases like this, attention to detail becomes, somewhat paradoxically, that much more important.

Next at Powell Hall: Symphony Principal Cello Danny Lee performs Dvořák’s Cello Concerto along with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 ("Little Russian") and Smetana’s Šárka from Má vlast Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 20-22. Peter Oundjian is at the podium. For more information you may call 314-534-1700 or visit stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 16, 2012

Updated Monday, April 16

[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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Angels in America, Part 1
Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, April 12-14, 26-28, and May 10-12. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, April 19-21, May 3-5, and May 17-19. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995.

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents the musical Annie Jr. at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium April 20 through 29. 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.

As You Like It
Washington University Performing Arts Department presents Shakespeare's As You Like It Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 20 through 29. Performances take place in the Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-6543.

Center Stage Theatre at St. Charles Community College presents Becky's New Car by Steven Dietz Wednesday at 7 PM, Thursday at 10 AM and 7 PM, Saturday at 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM, April 18 - 22. Performances take place at the St. Charles Community College Fine Arts Building, 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive. For more information, visit stchas.edu/calendar.

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 Saturdaysat 9 PM at Maggie O'Brien's, 2000 Market Street. For more information, you may call 314-827-4185, email stlouis at byebyeliver.com, or visit byebyeliver.com/stlouis.


Cavalia Promotional Video

Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse runs through April 21. Cavalia is “a lavish production involving 38 riders, aerialists, acrobats, dancers, and musicians, and featuring 45 magnificent horses from all over the world. A show unlike any other, Cavalia celebrates the relationship between humans and horses, virtually reinventing the equestrian arts.” Performances take place under the White Big Top at the corner of South 7th and Cerre Streets, across Highway 40 from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. For more information, you may visit www.cavalia.net or call 1-866-999-8111. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville presents a new adaptation of Cinderella by Sean Graney. “Mr. Graney has taken the Cinderella story and stirred it with the libretto from the Massanet opera, Cendrillon by Henri Cain, to create a new take on the young woman who triumphs over her nasty, abusive stepmother and stepsisters to marry her Prince Charming.” The play contains adult content and is not intended for children. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 18 - 22, in the Dunham Hall theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774.

Marble Stage Fairy Tale Theatre presents The City Mouse and the Country Mouse Saturdays at noon through April 28 at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Lackland. For more information, call 314-437-0846 or visit www.marblestage.org.

Upstream Theater presents Conversations With an Executioner, adapted from the memoirs of Kazimierz Moczarski by Philip Boehm. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays through April 29 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand. For more information, call (314) 863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Exit the King
The West End Players Guild concludes their 101st season with Ionesco's Exit the King Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through April 22. 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Clayton Community Theatre presents the comedy The Foreigner April 20 through 29. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents a staged reading of The Geography Of Nowhere by local playwright Joshua Cook, the winning entry in their New Play Contest, Sunday and Monday at 7 PM, April 23 and 24, 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 Opera Theatre of St. Louis Illuminating Opera series presents St. Louis Symphony Chorus Director Amy Kaiser in a discussion of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte on Saturday, April 21, at 9:45 AM. The program takes place at the Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel Avenue. For more information, visit experienceopera.org or call 314-961-0644.

St. Louis Actors Studio presents Tracy Letts's drama Killer Joe through April 22 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Hawthorne Players present Kristen Laurence 's stage adaptation of Louis May Alcott's Little Women Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through April 22. 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.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The Black Rep presents August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom through May 13. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis Community College at Forest Park Theatre Department presents Medea, A Homegirl's Story April 19 through 22. Performances take place in the Bastian Theatre on the campus at 5600 Oakland. For more information, call 314-644-9100.

Fezziwig's Marketplace presents guitarist Mike Krysl and singer Shuana Sconce in an evening of cabaret on Friday, April 20, from 6 to 8 PM. Fezziwig's Marketplace is at 218 W. St. Louis Street in Lebanon, IL. For more information, visit fezziwigsmarket.com.

Marble Stage Theatre presents Neil Simon's Plaza Suite Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 19 through 22, at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Lackland. For more information, call 314-437-0846 or visit www.marblestage.org

The Kranzberg Arts Center presents singer and guitarist Tom Goss in concert with special guest Ken Haller on Tuesday, April 17, at 7 PM. The Kranzberg is at 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information visit tomgossmusic.net.

Florissant Valley Community College presents The Vagina Monologues through April 22. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, call 314-644-5522.

DEAF Inc. presents The Vagina Monologues, performed in spoken English and American Sign Language, Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM and Saturday at 2:30 PM. Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue. For more information, visit vday.deafinc.org or call 314-714-6399.

The Winter's Tale
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale through April 29 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!

Maryland Heights Community Theatre presents the musical The Wizard of Oz April 19 and 22 at the Maryland Heights Centre, 2344 McKelvey Road. For more information, call 314-738-2599.

Southern exposure

Jeffrey M. Wright: Southern Roots
The Presenters Dolan at The Kranzberg Center, St. Louis
April 13 and 14, 2012

[Full disclosure: I have worked on stage with Jeffrey M. Wright, Carol Schmitt, and Tim Schall in the past.]

Call it nostalgia or simple habituation, but the fact is most of us have strong emotional attachment to the music with which we grew up. It’s no surprise, then, that those of us who are cabaret performers often return to the soundtrack of our childhood when we think of material for a show.

St. Louis actor and singer Jeffrey M. Wright’s Arkansas childhood was filled with the sounds of Nashville country and crossover music, as well as Southern rock. His Southern Roots show was a celebration of that heritage, with songs ranging from mainstream hits like “Wichita Lineman” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night” to country rock classics like Elvis Presley’s 1969 hit “Rubbernecking” and newer songs like Sara Evans’s “Suds in the Bucket” from 2004. It was a tremendously enjoyable evening of material not often heard in a cabaret context and a reminder, once again, that the cabaret tent is large enough to encompass a range of music styles that goes well beyond the Great American Songbook.

Mr. Wright is a very engaging and polished performer with a fine light baritone voice. He was at his best in songs like “Southern State of Mind” and “I’m Still a Guy” where he could bring the full force of his charm to bear, but that didn’t stop him from capturing the rueful subtext of Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” or finding a somewhat surprising angry edge to a countrified voice and guitar arrangement of “One For My Baby”. Overall I’d say the choice of material in Southern Roots gave Mr. Wright a chance to expand his dramatic range that he probably doesn’t get that often in his theatrical work. Which is, of course, one of the reasons some actors enjoy cabaret so much in the first place.

Carol Schmitt’s inventive arrangements, stylish piano work, and backup vocals demonstrated once again why she has become such a popular music director for local singers. Guitarist Steve Schenkel added just the right amount of country seasoning to the mix, along with some impressive solo breaks. And director Tim Schall’s hand could be seen in the show’s pacing and dramatic shape.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's a Shatner world after all

Who: William Shatner
What: Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It
Where: The Peabody Opera House, St. Louis
When: April 12, 2012

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Not all one-person shows are created alike. Some are like quality off-the-rack suits that can be worn effectively by anyone of the right physical type; think “Belle of Amherst” or “Barrymore”. Others are like custom-tailored outfits designed for a unique individual; think most cabaret shows. “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It” is that second type of show.

And, to paraphrase Rod Stewart, he wears it well.

“Shatner’s World” is, in fact, a kind of spoken word cabaret in which the veteran actor weaves stories drawn from his life on and off the stage into an entertaining narrative that not only reveals much of his character but also manages to lay out a kind of philosophy of life: never be afraid to take a chance and always say “yes”. Like all great cabaret shows, it has a logical progression, a dramatic shape, and a satisfying conclusion. Video and audio clips interspersed throughout the show nicely punctuate each section.


William Shatner talks about how being rushed to the E.R. after a riding accident wasn't quite like Rescue 911.

The William Shatner that is revealed in “Shatner’s World” is a remarkably charming and wise fellow; the sort of witty raconteur you’d love to have at a dinner party. He’s filled with fascinating stories about his Canadian childhood, his experiences as a young actor at the Stratford (Ont.) Shakespeare Festival, his work on Broadway and live television (including a hilarious story about a disastrous fight scene with Lon Chaney, Jr.), his love of horses, and the ups and downs of his personal life.

In one of many moments of self-mockery, he uses a funny story about his performance in the Broadway flop “The World of Suzie Wong” to explain “why I talk like this”. Heck, he even manages to slip in a quantum physics joke.

I was especially interested to hear how he came to terms with the way his best-known role came to dominate his life. As anyone who has ever seen “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” knows, early success in a popular medium can come to haunt an actor who has greater ambitions. Many artists have spent most of their lives running away from their Greatest Hit. Mr. Shatner tells of how an interview he did with Patrick Stewart, in which the famed actor says that if he died tomorrow he’d be happy to be known as Captain Picard, caused him to have “an epiphany” and understand that he could feel the same way about Captain Kirk.

Towards the end of the evening Mr. Shatner talks about how much he loves the spoken word. That love of language permeates the show. Whether he’s telling old burlesque jokes or relating a moving tale about a champion horse that he loved not wisely but too well, it’s clear that Mr. Shatner loves the well-turned phrase. At just over two hours with no intermission there are, perhaps, a few too many of them in “Shatner’s World”, but given that Mr. Shatner is something of a living library of recent theatre, television, and even recording history, I’d say that’s forgivable.

Finally: as anyone ambitious (or crazy) enough to have done one can attest, a successful one-person show is nearly always a team effort. Team Shatner consists of irector Scott Faris, scenic designer Edward Pierce, lighting designer Ken Billington, and sound designer Peter Fitzgerald. Congratulations to all of them for an entertaining evening.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 12th

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

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It’s embarrassment of riches time in St. Louis, on both the theatre and concert scenes.

Angels in America, Part 1
Stray Dog Theatre presents Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM, April 12-14, 26-28, and May 10-12. I'm including this one on the basis of both my admiration for the script, which is boundless, and my admiration for Stray Dog Theatre, which is based on the many positive experiences I've had as an actor working for the company.  They cast good people, in my experience, and treat them well.  Besides, the two Angels in America plays are not performed often as they are very challenging both for the audience and the producing company.  Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995.


Cavalia, its run extended yet again, continues through April 21 under the Really Big Top on Cerre Street at the I-64 Broadway exit. It’s the Rolls Royce of equestrian shows—a flashy, elegant evening featuring 48 horses, a raft of acrobats and aerialists, and some impressive multi-media effects. The show is not without its longueurs but even so, anyone who loves horses won't want to miss it. See my review at the KDHX web site. Visit www.cavalia.net or call 1-866-999-8111.

Exit the King
The West End Players Guild concludes their 101st season with Ionesco's Exit the King Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 13 through 22. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of directors of West End Players Guild, as well as the play reading committee. That said, this is not a script that has ever generated much enthusiasm on my part, so I was surprised at how engaging and (yes) funny I found the show to be when I sat in on a dress rehearsal this week. Credit director Renee Sevier-Monsey and her polished cast. Sets, costumes, and lights look pretty slick as well. 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. You can see some underground rehearsal video at the West End Players blog.

 
"It's like a musical wrecking ball"

The St. Louis Symphony has been marketing this weekend’s concerts with a clever on-line campaign emphasizing the high energy (and volume) of Prokofiev’s rarely heard Ala and Lolly (Scythian Suite), Op. 20. Written in 1915, the piece was originally intended as a ballet for Serge Diaghilev based on a legendary pre-Christian race known as the Scythians. Diaghliev turned it down—maybe it sounded too similar to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps from two years earlier—so Prokofiev turned it into an orchestral suite. Its 1916 premiere didn’t cause riots, but it did scandalize the conservative Russian musical establishment with its unapologetic dissonance and rhythmic drive. A timpanist at the premiere is said to have burst the skin of one of his drums at one especially violent moment.

The rest of the program should prove exciting as well: Rachmaninoff’s valedictory Symphonic Dances and Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand with the great pianist Leon Fleisher at the keyboard. David Robertson is on the podium. Performances are Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 14 and 15. For more information, visit stlsymphony.org.

Jeffrey M. Wright
The Presenters Dolan present Jeffrey M. Wright in Southern Roots Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14, at 8 PM at The Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. Carol Schmidt is pianist and music director for the show, which is directed by Tim Schall. In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that I have worked with all of these folks at one time or another on stage. I have, as a result, a keen appreciation for their talents, which are substantial. I haven’t seen this particular show yet, of course, but in the past I have found Jeff to be a very engaging and skilled performer and have been impressed with Carol’s ability to tailor arrangements to a performer’s strengths. For more information, call 314-725-4200 stn. 10 or visit licketytix.com.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Second live

Who: Masterworks Broadway
What: Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden (Original Soundtrack)

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Liza Minnelli seems to be a performer who inspires either adoration or annoyance. People like yours truly who don’t have strong feelings one way or the other seem to be in the minority. Which may make me the ideal reviewer for the Masterworks Broadway’s re-release of Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden.

The story behind the release of this newly remastered recording of the famous 1974 concert is a bit convoluted. Here’s how the official press release explains it:
The 27-year-old dynamo had sold out an entire month’s run of 24 concerts in 36 hours, setting a house record for the Winter Garden Theater. The show itself, which opened on January 6, was simply titled Liza. The album Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden was quickly released by Columbia Records in April, but had to be withdrawn from the market due to contractual conflicts over her performance of songs from the Cabaret film score, which were available on the then-current soundtrack album. Only pirated versions of the album have circulated since. This is the first time that the entire show will come out on CD and digital release.
Bob Fosse directed the show, with choreography by Ron Lewis. Marvin Hamlisch served as musical director, and Kander and Ebb supplied new songs.

Just a bunch of unknowns, right?

I have a total of three Liza Minnelli CDs in the collection: the soundtrack of Liza With a ‘Z’ (1972), a 2004 “Best Of” collection on Columbia/Legacy, and the somewhat embarrassing (to my ears) Minnelli on Minnelli from 2000. “Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden” is, as you might expect, much closer to Liza With a ‘Z’ or the “Best of” disc than it is to Minnelli on Minnelli. That means that when it’s good—which it mostly is—it’s very good indeed.

Of course, Ms. Minnelli was at the top of her game when she recorded this. Fresh from Broadway, film, and television triumphs and performing for a wildly enthusiastic audience, she sounds energized and completely engaged. Yes, her breathy patter can become a big precious at times, but nobody can accuse her of not being honest in her performances. We say in the cabaret world that you must, above all else, be genuine, and she certainly seems to be that.

The selection of material is quite good as are the arrangements. I found a pair of Azanvour songs (“And I In My Chair (Et Moi Dans Mon Coin)” and “There Is A Time (Le Temps)” especially powerful and the “If You Could Read My Mind/Come Back To Me” works quite well. Among the Kander and Ebb numbers written specifically for the show, “Exactly Like Me” is probably the most amusing, describing the star’s humorous encounters with fans who think they look “exactly like” her. And Edith Piaf’s “The Circle” (with lyrics by Ebb) is a keeper.

Minnelli fans will, of course, want a copy of this. If, like me, you’re neither and admirer or a detractor, your purchasing decision might depend on whether or not you have a copy of Liza with a ‘Z’ already and/or whether the mix of material on this disc (see below for a complete track listing) appeals to you. The recording is available for purchase on CD and digital download now at www.MasterworksBroadway.com. The album will be available from all retailers and digital service providers on May 8, 2012.

Legends Of Broadway: Liza Minnelli Live At The Winter Garden track list:


Track Title Songwriter(s)
1 Overture J. Nash, Fred Ebb, John Kander
2 If You Could Read My Mind/Come BackTo Me A.J. Lerner, B. Lane, Gordon Lightfoot
3 Shine On Harvest Moon J. Norworth, N. Bayes
4 Exactly Like Me Fred Ebb, John Kander
5 The Circle E. Piaf, Fred Ebb
6 More Than You Know E. Eliscu, W. Rose, Vincent Youmans
7 I'm One Of The Smart Ones Fred Ebb, John Kander
8 Natural Man B. Hebb, S. Baron
9 I Can See Clearly Now J. Nash
10 And I In My Chair (Et Moi Dans Mon Coin) Charles Aznavour, D. Newburge
11 There Is A Time (Le Temps) J. Davis, G. Lees, Charles Aznavour
12 Quiet Thing Fred Ebb, John Kander
13 Anywhere You Are/ I Believe You Fred Ebb, John Kander
14 Cabaret Medley Fred Ebb, John Kander
15 You and I Stevie Wonder
16 It Had to Be You Gus Kahn Isham Jones
17 My Shining Hour Johnny Mercer Harold Arlen

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The times, they were a-changin'

Who: Masterworks Broadway
What: Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center (Original Soundtracks)

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The combined release of the original soundtrack recordings of Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center on Masterworks Broadway is a historically significant event, and not just because of the importance of the two stars, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett.

When the first of these two CBS television specials (the Carnegie Hall) was recorded in 1962, Andrews (age 27) and Burnett (age 29) were rising Broadway stars. Ms. Andrews had two solid hits behind her (The Boy Friend in 1954 and Camelot in 1961) and one blockbuster (My Fair Lady in 1956) while Ms. Burnett had burst upon the scene in Once Upon a Mattress in 1959. At a time when Broadway was still a major source of hit songs, that meant that both were also rising national celebrities. Their music director, Irwin Kostal, was also a product of the theatre scene, as was their scriptwriter, Mike Nichols (known then primarily for his work with Elaine May).

By the time the Lincoln Center concert was broadcast in 1971, the landscape of American pop culture had changed dramatically. Thanks to radio, recordings and (according to some) payola, Broadway had been eclipsed in the music world by the pop/rock singer/songwriter and elsewhere by film and television. Andrews had largely abandoned theatre for movies (as had Nichols and Kostal) and Burnett for television. Broadway would have its ups and down, but it would never be the force in popular culture that it once was.

You can hear the difference in the big medley numbers in each show. For the 1962 Carnegie Hall concert, it’s a “History of Musical Comedy”, a ten-minute whirlwind tour beginning with some vaudeville era classics and culminating in “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein, age 44) with Andrews as Maria and Burnett abandoning her comic persona to play it straight as Anita. For the 1971 Lincoln Center show, by way of contrast, a thirteen minute “Medley of the 60s” features songs by The Beatles, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell, Joni Mitchell, The Fifth Dimension, and Petula Clark. The times, they were a-changin’.

Historical significance aside, however, Julie and Carol is an entertaining look at a pair of musical theatre giants at the peak of their powers. I was especially taken with “You’re So London”, in which Ms. Andrews and Ms. Burnett make fun of their contrasting public faces; Ms. Andrews’s lovely elaboration of “Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be”; and “From Russia: The Nausiev Ballet”, a loopy parody of Russian folk ballet. Some bits that clearly relied heavily of sight gags (such as a ballet send-up from the Lincoln Center show) fall a bit flat on the recording, but on the whole this is a welcome addition to the catalog.

Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center is available for purchase now on CD (as specially priced two-disc set) and digital download exclusively via www.MasterworksBroadway.com. The double set will be available from all retailers and digital service providers on May 8, 2012.