Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Spare change

Who: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
What: Clybourne Park
When: October 26-November 18, 2012
Where: The Loretto-Hilton Studio Theatre

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(L to R): Mark Anderson Phillips as Russ, Nancy Bell as Bev, Shanara Gabrielle as Betsy, Michael James Reed as Karl, Tanesha Gary as Francine and Chauncy Thomas as Albert. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Change. It’s an inevitable part of life. People come and go, you never step into the same river twice; all that jazz. Self-help books and corporate leadership courses exhort us to embrace change, become change agents, and treat it as an opportunity, not a threat. Somebody moved your cheese? Tough. Go find it.

But change is always scary, especially when you don’t initiate it. And when it hits close to home—literally, as in “just down the block”—a body is likely to see it as a threat, not an opportunity.

Set in the living room of a house in the “Bungalow Belt” of modest single-family homes built in the early years of the 20th century around Chicago’s urban core, Bruce Norris’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize–winning comedy/drama Clybourne Park shows us, in two beautifully constructed and literate acts, what happens when the house down the block changes hands and the new owners are met with hostility and suspicion instead of the Welcome Wagon.

In the first act it’s 1959 and the threat is from a black family—perhaps the same one described in Lorraine Hansberry’s classic Raisin in the Sun (a local production of which closed the same weekend this show opened)—moving into an all-white neighborhood. In the second act it’s 2009, the mostly black neighborhood is recovering from years of drugs and crime, and the problem is a clueless white couple that wants to tear down the house and replace it with a larger one, which is seen as a threat to the neighborhood’s integrity. In both acts an initially cordial atmosphere slowly deteriorates into shouting matches and the threat of physical violence over centuries of social, political, and racial fault lines. Characters talk to each other but rarely listen. The distorting prism of fear makes it impossible for them to even see each other clearly.

As the play opens, Russ (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Bev (Nancy Bell) are packing up in preparation for moving day. The dialog is light-hearted banter about the origins of Neapolitan ice cream that could have been lifted from an episode of Ozzie and Harriet. But all is not what it seems. Russ tells Pastor Jim (Eric Gilde) that he’s moving to get a bigger office and have shorter commute, but we soon learn that it’s really because the house has been darkened by tragedy and Russ can’t stand the memories. The tension escalates when Russ’s fellow Rotarian Karl (Michael James Reed) arrives with his pregnant deaf wife Betsy (Shanara Gabrielle) to inform Russ that the family buying the house (whom Russ has never met) is black and that the neighborhood is “concerned”. When Karl drags the family’s black maid Francine (Tanesha Gary) and her husband Albert (Chauncy Thomas) into the argument by clumsily trying to get them to admit they wouldn’t be comfortable in an all-white community, things quickly get ugly. By curtain time, we’ve moved from Ozzie and Harriet Nelson to Sam Shepard territory.

As the second act begins, fifty years have passed and they have not been kind to the house. Some of the original mill work is gone, the wooden bannister to the second floor has been replaced with a cheap metal monstrosity, and there’s gang graffiti on the walls and trash in the corners. Construction of some sort is obviously going on, though. Seated on folding chairs, boxes, and upended tubs are the new owners Steve and his pregnant wife Lindsey (Mr. Reed and Ms. Gabrielle), their lawyer Kathy (Ms. Bell), homeowner association members Lena and Kevin (Ms. Gary and Mr. Thomas), and their lawyer Tom (Mr. Gilde). It’s hot, they’re tired, Tom has to leave in 45 minutes, and they’re trying to work their way through a convoluted legal document explaining exactly how Steve and Lindsey will have to modify their new home plans to meet the community’s architectural standards. Repeating a pattern established in the first act, they’re constantly interrupted by phone calls and their own conversational digressions, largely on variations of the same topics from that act. And then there’s the matter of that trunk construction foreman Dan (Mr. Phillips) has found buried in the back yard.

Once again, civility deteriorates into a threat of violence, with dialog and even some blocking mirroring the first act. Once again, everything comes to a halt—with no real resolution—when the local church clock strikes four and Mr. Glide’s character has to leave. Left alone, Dan opens the trunk, and past and present merge in a sad epilogue.

If I have been a bit vague about some aspects of the plot it’s because I want to avoid spoilers. Some of the show’s impact rests on revelations. Mostly, though, it comes from the crackling, literate dialog, credible characters, and beautifully balanced construction of the script. The parallels between the first and second acts are just subtle enough to drive home the ironic repetition of history without belaboring the point. There are no real villains here (Karl comes close, but his relationship with his wife softens him) and no real heroes either; just ordinary folks trying and failing to deal with their fears. If you’re looking for a dramatic explanation of why our nation is so fiercely divided, you’ll find one in Clybourne Park.

The show’s ensemble cast is just flawless. Mr. Phillips radiates depression as Russ and slovenly self-assurance as Dan. Ms. Bell’s conflicted Bev strongly contrasts with her driven Kathy. Ms. Gary’s Francine and Lena are two contrasting sides of the same self-assured coin while Mr. Thomas’s Albert and Kevin are both a bit volatile, but in different ways. Both Karl and Steve are conversationally tone deaf but Mr. Reed makes them obviously distinct characters. Ms. Gabrielle is as utterly credible as the deaf Betsy in the first act as she is in the second act as Lindsey who, while not actually deaf, doesn’t seem to really listen much. Mr. Gilde has perhaps the biggest acting challenge since Jim and Tom aren’t all that different, but he pulls it off.

Director Timothy Near has blocked and paced the show with a keen eye and ear for the script’s parallel structure, and scenic designer Scott C. Neale’s set is probably the most elaborate and realistic piece of work I’ve ever seen in the studio space. It’s beautifully lit by Ann G. Wrightson. Tom Haverkamp’s sound design nicely sets up the contrasting time frames of the two acts.

I just can’t praise this script and the Rep’s splendid production of it highly enough. It’s entertaining, thought provoking, and complex enough to encourage repeated viewing. The requirement for a functioning staircase might make it a stretch for some smaller companies, but I’d be surprised if Clybourne Park didn’t start showing up in the seasons of smaller theatre groups in the future.

Clybourne Park runs through November 18th (extended from the original closing date of November 11th) and if the sold-out house we saw is any indication, tickets are going fast. Get them while you can. For more information: repstl.org or call 314-968-4925.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hello yellow brick road

Who: The St. Louis Symphony conducted by Ward Stare
What: Oz With Orchestra
Where: Powell Symphony Hall
When: October 26-28, 2012

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When you think of the music for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the first names that probably come to mind are Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Their songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “If I Only Had a Brain” have been firmly ensconced in the Great American Songbook for decades.

The real heavy lifting in the soundtrack, however, was done by composer/arranger (and Broadway veteran) Herbert Stothart, who combined Arlen’s tunes with original material (including the famous “Wicked Witch” theme) and even a bit of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain into a seamless, Oscar-winning score. Oz With Orchestra, the brainchild of Emmy Award–wining producer John Goberman, combines a remastered version of the film with “entirely new transcriptions” of that award-wining score played by a live orchestra.

As performed by the symphony under Ward Stare, the result was an ear-opening experience that has given me an entirely new level of respect for Stothart’s work. Heard live, the music revealed fascinating orchestral details inaudible in the original soundtrack and demonstrated how skillfully Stothart and his arrangers (George Bassman, Murray Cutter, Ken Darby, Paul Marquardt, and Roger Edens) used Arlen’s melodies as motifs to accompany the action.

Granted, some of those details may have been added as part of those “new transcriptions”, but on the whole this struck me as the aural equivalent of a historically appropriate gut rehab of an older home. Combine that with the beautifully restored Technicolor print of the film—Oz had never looked so vibrant—and you had a night out that any “Oz” fan was sure to love.

Oz With Orchestra was also a reminder of why Ward Stare’s star is on the rise. Conducting a program like this requires a set of skills that are not, I suspect, common in most conservatories. Mr. Stare had to not only keep track of the printed score and his musicians, but also two monitors—one with a timer and one with the film itself. It looked like a multitasking nightmare to me; he deserves a medal of some sort for pulling it off so well.

I think it might also be a challenge to accompany singers whose performances are essentially cast in concrete. Normally singers and conductors can communicate with and adjust to each other. Here it wasstrictly a one-way information flow and, in fact, there were times when the filmed singers weren’t always completely in synch with the live orchestra.

There were also balance issues between the film soundtrack and the orchestra, at least on opening night. Some dialog got lost in the music, as did some lyrics in the big ensemble numbers. Part of the problem might be that the voice tracks for Wizard of Oz still have that tinny 1939 sound, so they don't project as well as newer films. This wasn’t an issue with Lord of the Rings, for example, even though the orchestral forces there were much larger.

The bottom line is that Oz With Orchestra was family fun in every sense. There was even a costume competition one hour prior to each concert, with a prize pack of symphony goodies (including tickets to December’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie night) for the winner.

And by the way: wasn't Ray Bolger just one hell of a fine dancer?  He only gets to demonstrate his terpsichorean skills for a few minutes in the final cut of Oz, but those few minutes are a brilliant demonstration of the dancer's art.  He seems to be so nearly weightless that you can almost believe he really is made of straw.  That's real magic.

Next at Powell Hall: the regular season returns on November 2 and 3 with Yefim Bronfman performing Brahms’s imposing Piano Concerto No. 2. Helsinki Philharmonic Chief Conductor John Storgårds will be on the podium for the concerts, which include Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s Ricercar No. 2 from The Musical Offering and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 29, 2012

Updated Tuesday, October 30

[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.

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The Black Rep presents Anne and Emmett through November 4. “Anne Frank and Emmett Till meet in a magical place called Memory.They share their stories, their pain, and their hopes in this unforgettable new work.” 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!

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 Saturdays at 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 Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the thriller Cat's Cradle Thursdays through Sundays, November 2 - 11. Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: theaterguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Clybourne Park through November 18. “Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, Clybourne Park is a wickedly funny and provocative new play about the volatile intersection of race and real estate.” 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!

Edison Theatre Ovations! Series presents the Aquila Theatre Company prodution of Cyrano de Bergerac on Friday, November 2 at 8 PM. The performance takes place at Edison Theater on the Washington University campus. For more information, edison.wustl.edu or call 314-935-6543.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs through November 4. 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Missouri History Museum and The Black Rep present Facing the Shadow Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 1 - 11. Performances take place in the Des 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.

The Hawthorne Players present August Wilson's Fences November 2 - 11. The performance takes place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.com.

Alton Little Theater presents The Glass Menagerie November 2 - 11 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

R-S Theatrics presents A Kidaret Cabaret on Friday, November 3 at 7 PM. “R-S Theatrics is proud to present our first ever KIDaret - providing the opportunity for all members of the family to enjoy a night out!“ Leah Luciano is music director and pianist for the performance, which takes place at Arden Mead Center at 17 Selma Avenue in Webster Groves. For more information: r-stheatrics.com or 314-968-8070.

The Crestwood/Kirkwood Youth Theatre presents The Little Mermaid Jr. November 2 through December 2. Performances take place at the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood Community Center. Call 314-822-5855 for more information.

The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents The Lion in Winter November 2 - 11 in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618 939 7469.

Dramatic License Productions presents the comedy Moonlight and Magnolias through November 11. Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Kranzberg Center presents The Rodgers and Hart Songbook with Tim Schall on Friday, November 2, at 8 PM. Greg Schweizer is music director and pianist for the performance, which takes place at the Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/280396.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy The Red Velvet Cake War November 2 - 11. 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.

Act II Community Theater presents Sondheim's Sweeney Todd Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sundas at 2 PM , November 2 - 4. Performances take place at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO. For more information, visit www.act2theater.com, call 636-336-0034 or email info at act2theater.com.

Edison Theatre Ovations! Series presents the Aquila Theatre Company prodution of The Taming of the Shrew on Saturday, November 3, at 8 PM. The performance takes place at Edison Theater on the Washington University campus. For more information, edison.wustl.edu or call 314-935-6543.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 26, 2012

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

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New this week:

The Presenters Dolan presents Breaking the Rules starring pianist, music director, and singer Al Fischer with special guest Charlie Robin. The performance is directed by Ken Haller and takes place on Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27, at 8 PM at The Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. I got to hear a preview of Al's show at the Cabaret Project's montly open mic night last week and was very impressed. It looks like an entertaining evening. I'm also curious to see what Ken Haller's directorial debut looks like. For more information: licketytix.com or 314-725-4200 ext. 10.

The St. Louis Symphony celebrates Hallowe’en a bit early this year with three showing of the classic film The Wizard of Oz. Ward Stare, one of the rising stars in the conducting firmament, leads the orchestra in a live performance of the score to accompany the film. There’s also a costume contest one hour prior to the concert, with winners walking away with a grab bag of Symphony-related goodies, including tickets to the Pirates of the Caribbean film later in the season. Some music lovers may look askance at mass-market events like this, but my attitude is if they help keep the orchestra afloat and possibly even recruit some new listeners, it’s all good. And who doesn't love this movie?  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 and Sunday at 2 at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Held over:

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs through November 4. Performances take place on the main stage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO.  In her review for 88.1 KDHX Connie Bollinger recommends this "unique treatment of an old favorite." I saw the show last weekend and found it completely charming.  Two-character musicals are difficult to pull off, but this one does the trick. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

The Fox Theatre presents the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables through October 28. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. As I note in my review for 88.1 KDHX, Les Misérables is not only one of the best pieces of musical theatre to emerge from the late 20th century, it's also a powerful refutation of the gospel of greed and arrogance currently being preached in this country. The new production retains all the virtues of the original and adds a few novel ones. For more information, visit fabulousfox.com or call 314-534-1678.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Invitation to the dance

Who: The St. Louis Symphony conducted by Nicholas McGegan
What: Baroque Fireworks (music of Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel)
Where: Powell Symphony Hall
When: October 19 and 21, 2012

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Concertgoers seeking an aural palette cleanser after three weeks of great Romantic music at Powell Hall got their heart’s desire this weekend as guest conductor Nicholas McGegan led an irresistible program of "Baroque Fireworks". The evening included some flashy Vivaldi concerti as well as performances of Bach's First Orchestral Suite (BWV 1066) and Handel's Royal Fireworks Music that never lost sight of the fact that this is music based on popular dances.

Mr. McGegan was definitely swinging the Baroque and, judging from the gleeful way he rubbed his hands in anticipation of the final movement of the Vivaldi Concerto in D major for 2 Violins, having a great deal of fun in the process. It’s a pity the house wasn’t larger, but maybe that’s what happens when chamber music goes up against baseball playoffs.

Like many of the great composers of their time, Bach and Handel often worked for the government. The Bach suite that opened the concert, for example, was probably written for the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, where Bach was the resident composer and music director from 1717 to 1723.

The prince was fond of what symphony program annotator Paul Schiavo describes as “lively secular instrumental music”, and Bach filled the bill nicely with an appealing site of six dances preceded by a short “French overture” (the name possibly refers to the fact that the form first appears in the operas of Jean Baptiste Lully) with its characteristic majestic opening followed by a main section.

If some of the recordings of the Bach suites in my collection are any indication, it’s easy to treat this music as weighty stuff. Even in his “light” music, after all, Bach couldn’t stop being a genius at counterpoint. Mr. McGegan’s interpretation, however, never lost the strong rhythmic pulse that reminds us of the suite’s terpsichorean origins. And what wonderfully precise playing by the oboes and bassoon! Bach is particularly generous to their instruments here, and they made the most of it.

Fine solo playing was also the hallmark of the three Vivaldi concerti that made up the middle part of the program. Symphony first violinists Helen Kim and Xiaoxiao Qiang ripped through the 1720 Concerto in D major for 2 Violins with a mix of fierce concentration and virtuosity, as did principal second violinist Alison Harney in the roughly contemporary Concerto in F major for Solo Violin, 2 Oboes, Bassoon, 2 Horns.

In the A minor bassoon concerto, originally written for one of the many gifted pupils at the Pio Ospedale della Pietá (where Vivaldi was the resident composer, teacher, and music director for much of his career), principal bassoon Andrew Cuneo demonstrated that he was equally at home with the flashy passagework of the outer movements and the more lyrical material of the Larghetto. It’s always a joy to see the orchestra members take center stage.

The evening concluded with a rousing Royal Fireworks Music, one of the more popular examples of “big band” Handel. The 1749 fireworks display for which it was written may have been a bust—the entire pavilion burned down before the show could even start—but the music has since become firmly entrenched in the standard repertoire. As with the Bach, Mr. McGegan and the musicians turned in a reading that was lively without sacrificing precision. The brasses, in particular, sounded spectacular, including the smaller (and therefore harder to play) “Bach trumpets” of which Handel was so fond.

Peter Henderson also deserves a tip of the tricorne for his consistently solid harpsichord continuo playing throughout the concert. The keyboardist is, in many ways, the backbone of the ensemble for this material, even if he rarely gets any solo shots.

Next on the symphony calendar is a Pulitzer Series concert at the Pulitzer Foundation on Wednesday, October 24, featuring music by Luciano Berio, Luca Francescon, and Ivan Fedele. The weekend of October 26 through 28 brings screenings of The Wizard of Oz with the score performed live by the orchestra, and the regular season returns on November 2 and 3 with Yefim Bronfman performing Brahms’s imposing Piano Concerto No. 2. Helsinki Philharmonic Chief Conductor John Storgårds will be on the podium for the concerts, which include Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s "Ricercar No. 2" from The Musical Offering and Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 22, 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.

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The Black Rep presents Anne and Emmett October 25 - November 4. “Anne Frank and Emmett Till meet in a magical place called Memory.They share their stories, their pain, and their hopes in this unforgettable new work.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

Catalyst Communications Theatre presents the Variety Children's Theatre production of the musical Annie Friday through Sunday, October 26 - 28. Performances take place at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. For more information: www.varietychildrenstheatre.org.

The Presenters Dolan presents Breaking the Rules starring pianist, music director, and singer Al Fischer with special guest Charlie Robin. The performance is directed by Ken Haller and takes place on Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27, at 8 PM at The Kranzberg Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: licketytix.com or 314-725-4200 ext. 10.

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 Saturdays at 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.

Washington University Performing Arts Department presents the musical Cabaret through October 28. Performances take place in the Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Clybourne Park October 24 through November 18. “Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, "Clybourne Park" is a wickedly funny and provocative new play about the volatile intersection of race and real estate.” 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.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs through November 4. 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The University of Missouri at St. Louis presents the drama In the Blood October 25 - 28. “This 2000 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play is a modern day re-interpretation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Penned by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright of Top Dog Under Dog Suzan-Lori Parks, we follow the story of Hester and her five fatherless children. Parks uses themes from Hawthorne's text to bring a modern story of poverty and oppression to life.“ Performances take place in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on the UMSL campus. For more information, visit touhill.org or call 314-516-4949.

The COCA Family Theatre Series presents John Tartaglia's Imaginocean Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28. COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

The Fox Theatre presents the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables through October 28. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Dramatic License Productions presents the comedy Moonlight and Magnolias October 25 - November 11. 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.

West County Family Y's Y-Rep Tweens present Night of the Teenage Zombies Thursday through Saturday, October 25 - 27. Performances take place at the West County YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place. For more information, call (636) 532-6515 Ext. 227.

Unity Theatre Ensemble presents Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3:00 throiugh October 28. Performances take place at The Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue. For more information: www.utensemble.org or call 314-925-9699.

The Showboat Community Theatre and The Wine Country Follies present Ron Youngman in Songs from Vaudeville, The Silver Screen and The Musical Stage Thursdays at 3 PM through October 25. "Ron has performed in various venues from St. Louis to Beijing, China and New York." Performances take place at The Showboat Theatre in Hermann, Mo. For more information: 1-573-486-2744 or 1-800-932-8687.

Act II Community Theater presents Sondheim's Sweeney Todd Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, October 26 - November 4. Performances take place at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO. For more information, visit www.act2theater.com, call 636-336-0034 or email info at act2theater.com.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Christian values

video
Les Misérables promotional video

What: The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables
When: October 16 – 28, 2012
Where: The Fox Theatre
When: October 16-28, 2012

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The 25th anniversary production of Les Misérables is a few minutes shorter than the original and makes clever use of sophisticated video projection technology that wasn't available in 1985, but it's otherwise every bit as much of a well-oiled theatrical machine as it was the first time I saw it back in the late 1980s.

From the opening prisoners' chorus (moved, in this smart new staging, from a prison yard to a slave ship) through the sublime finale three hours later, the show's canny combination of a conventional but memorable score, compelling characters and situations (the source is, after all, a literary classic), and fluid staging (made even more so by the projected video) grabs and holds your attention and emotions. It remains, in my view, one of the most effective pieces of musical theatre of the late 20th century. No wonder it's now the world’s longest running musical, dethroning the seemingly eternal Cats.

Based on the Victor Hugo novel, Les Misérables focuses on the conflict between the former jailer Javert and the ex-convict Jean Valjean. The former is inflexible, fixated on sin, and sees himself doing God's duty by punishing the wicked. The latter is compassionate, unselfish, and understanding. He's convinced God gave him a second chance so that he could help others.

When Javert prays, it’s for vengeance. When Valjean prays, it’s for someone else’s life. Valjean is pursuing the luminous ideal, Javert its dark opposite. Both claim to be Christian. When, in the final moments, the chorus sings “to love another person is to see the face of God”, there’s not much doubt about which side the show favors.

It is, in short, a powerful refutation of smug self-righteousness and laissez-faire ruthlessness, both of which have been poisoning domestic political discourse for many years. Its appearance locally just a few weeks before an election that pits “every man for himself” against “we’re all in this together” could not be more timely.

As Valjean Peter Lockyer shows not only a ringing head voice and well-integrated falsetto (not surprising, given that his impressive credentials include a stint as Marius, a role that lies more in the tenor than baritone range) but solid low notes as well. He’s a little less physically imposing than I’d expect for a character who is supposed to have nearly superhuman strength, but he’s so thoroughly invested in the role that I quickly set that aside.

Andrew Varela looks every inch the stocky and brutish Javert and matches it with a powerful voice. He brings a bit more depth to the character than I have seen in some previous performances, which greatly enhances his confrontations with Valjean and makes his eventual suicide (beautifully staged here with the help of a flying rig) that much more plausible.

As Fantine, for whose early death Valjean is an unwitting catalyst, Betsy Morgan makes the transition from fresh-faced and healthy to downtrodden and dying very effectively, and the deathbed scene in which Valjean promises to make amends by protecting her daughter Cosette is appropriately moving (don’t come to this show without a hanky). Lauren Wiley is most winning as the adult Cosette, while Hannah Isabel Bautista as Little Cosette had a nice star turn on opening night with “Castle on a Cloud” (she alternates in the role with Abbey Rose and Erin Clearlock).

Max Quinlan’s Marius is charming in his early scenes and, more importantly, convincingly tragic in “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”—sung here on a bare stage with Marius surrounded by the ghosts of his fallen comrades from the barricades of the ill-fated 1832 revolution (hanky time again). Brianna Carlson-Goodman is a particularly intense Éponine, dying of unrequited love for Marius and, eventually, a National Guard bullet. “On My Own” (a favorite with young musical theatre singers) is the character’s big Act II number and she makes the most of it.

Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamie play the comic villain roles of Thénardier and Madame Thénardier (those champions of enlightened self-interest) a bit too broadly for my taste, but they do so with such perfect consistency that I expect my quibble is with director James Powell (who otherwise seems to have made excellent choices) rather than with the actors. Besides, the opening night audience loved them.

Other strong performances include Marcus D’Angelo’s courageous urchin Gavroche (he alternates with Joshua Colley) and Jason Forbach’s doomed Enjolras, although in the final analysis there’s really not a weak link anywhere.

New staging ideas aside, much of this new Les Mis looks familiar. The biggest change is probably the absence of the turntable and the use of the aforementioned video projections to provide a sense of movement in key scenes. That’s particularly noticeable in the Act I finale, in which the actors appear to be marching through the streets of Paris, and in the progression of Valjean and Marius through the sewers in Act II. Fans of the show will be happy to see that none of their favorite moments are gone and that some (such as Javert’s suicide) have been enhanced. The sound mix—always an iffy proposition at the Fox—was quite good, at least from where I sat in row F.

“The Christian ideal”, wrote G.K. Chesterton in 1910, “has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Certainly both Victor Hugo’s novel and the musical based on it are testaments to how difficult it is, while our current political culture seems to demonstrate what happens when it’s left untried. I’d like to believe that a show like Les Misérables can change hearts and minds, but given the infinite human capacity for compartmentalization and denial, I’m not sanguine about that notion.

Still, this is a moving and entertaining show regardless of your political color, and I just can’t recommend this new production highly enough. Go see it. It’s fun. It’s a terrific story and it’s filled with great music. And if it convinces you that we really are all in this together, so much the better.

Les Misérables continues at the Fox in Grand Center through October 28th. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 18, 2012

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

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New this week:

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs through November 4. Performances take place on the main stage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. Praise has been pouring for this one, so I'm listing it even though I won't see it until this Saturday. In her review for 88.1 KDHX Connie Bollinger recommends this "unique treatment of an old favorite." For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

The Fox Theatre presents the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables through October 28. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. As I note in my review for 88.1 KDHX, Les Misérables is not only one of the best pieces of musical theatre to emerge from the late 20th century, it's also a powerful refutation of the gospel of greed and arrogance currently being preached in this country. The new production retains all the virtues of the original and adds a few novel ones. For more information, visit fabulousfox.com or call 314-534-1678.

Held over:

New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. Once again, New Line brings St. Louis the local permiere of a much-praised cutting edge musical.  In his review for 881. KDHX, Robert Mitchell describes it as "a bloodty good history lesson." For more information, newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

St. Louis Actors Studio presents the drama Good through Sunday at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. “C.P. Taylor's Good examines Germany's descent into Nazism through the story of John Halder, a literature professor who is initially reluctant to accept the philosophy of the Nazi Party.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but given the way domestic politics seem to be going these days, a reminder of the seductiveness of fascism could not be more timely. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Andrea Braun describes it as a "worthwhile and intriguing evening of theatre." For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Upstream Theater presents Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape Thursday through Sunday at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand. This is, to say the least, a show that has not suffered from over-exposure locally, so any production is a cause for celebration. That's especially true when, as Andrea Braun notes in her review for 88.1 KDHX, the production is such a fine one. For more information, call (314) 863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org.

The Showboat Community Theatre and The Wine Country Follies present Ron Youngman in Songs from Vaudeville, The Silver Screen and The Musical Stage Thursdays at 3 PM through October 25 and Friday, October 19, at 7:30 PM. "Ron has performed in various venues from St. Louis to Beijing, China and New York." I saw Ron's vaudeville show a couple years ago at the Kranzberg Center and was very much impressed with both his performance and his affection for a period of American musical history for which I also have considerable fondness. He also does one heck of an Eddie Cantor impersonation. Performances take place at The Showboat Theatre in Hermann, Mo. For more information: 1-573-486-2744 or 1-800-932-8687.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 15, 2012

Updated Thursday, October 18

[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.

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The Brass Rail Players present the thriller And Then There Were None. Performances take place Thursday through Sunday, October 18 - 21, at the Governor French Adacemy In Belleville, Il. For more information, visit brassrailplayers.org.

New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through October 21. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents the musical Bunnicula Friday at 7:30 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM, October 19 - 21. Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. “A floppy-eared bunny with mysterious habits is staking out its place in this spine-tingling new musical co-written by Tony-nominated playwright Charles Busch and based on the best-selling books by James & Deborah Howe.” For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.florissantmo.com.

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 Saturdays at 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.

Washington University Performing Arts Department presents the musical Cabaret October 19 - 28. Performances take place in the Edison Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Student Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543.

Circus Flora and Mercy Children's Hospital present A Celtic Night Circus: Tír na ng at 7 PM Thursday through Saturday at 4 PM Sunday, October 18 - 21. The show takes place in an intimate, yellow-and-orange big top tent erected on the northwest grounds of Chesterfield Mall, 113 Chesterfield Center, the original community where Circus Flora first performed 26 years ago. For more information: circusflora.org.

Over Due Theatre presents the comedy Cheaper by the Dozen Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, October 19 - 21. Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.com.

Fontbonne University presents Crave October 17 - 21. “Written by Sarah Kane and directed by Tricia Duffin, Crave is an intense and experimental piece that explores the yearning and the longing to form relationships and the forces that stop these relationships from working.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information: fontbonne.edu or 314-862-3456.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs through November 4. 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. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis Jazz and Blues Vespers presents Deborah Sharn and saxophonist Ray Vollmar in concert with Carolbeth True on piano, Ric Vice on bass and Clancy Newell on drums on Sunday, October 21, from 6 to 8 PM. The free concert takes place at the 2nd Baptist Church at 9030 Clayton Road at McKnight. For more information: stlouisjazzandbluesvespers.com.

St. Louis Actors Studio presents the drama Good through October 21 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. “C.P. Taylor's Good examines Germany's descent into Nazism through the story of John Halder, a literature professor who is initially reluctant to accept the philosophy of the Nazi Party.” For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Upstream Theater presents Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Performances are Thursday through Sunday 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!

New Jewish Theater presents Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers through October 21. Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Fox Theatre presents the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables October 16 - 28. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1678. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Clinton County Showcase presents the comedy Noises Off through October 21. Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Unity Theatre Ensemble presents Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 3:00, October 19 - 28. Performances take place at The Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Avenue. For more information: www.utensemble.org or call 314-925-9699.

The Showboat Community Theatre and The Wine Country Follies present Ron Youngman in Songs from Vaudeville, The Silver Screen and The Musical Stage Thursdays at 3 PM through October 25, and Friday, October 19, at 7:30 PM. "Ron has performed in various venues from St. Louis to Beijing, China and New York." Performances take place at The Showboat Theatre in Hermann, Mo. For more information: 1-573-486-2744 or 1-800-932-8687.

Shrewsbury Community Theater presents the musical The Sound of Music Thursday through Sunday, October 18 - 21. For more information, you may call 314-647-1003.

First Run Theatre presents the 2012 Spectrum One-Act Play Festival Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, October 12 through 21. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4616 Macklind. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical Spring Awakening Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 20. There will be a matinee on the closing Saturday at 2 PM in addition to the evening show. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rosemary and Time

Who: Christy Simmons
What: Count Your Blessings: A Tribute to Rosemary Clooney
When: October 4 – 14
Where: The Missouri History Museum

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I’ve always maintained—sometimes against stiff critical headwind—that cabaret is essentially a form of musical theatre, and that some of the best cabaret artists are the ones with a solid stage background. If you doubt that, head on over to the Missouri History Museum to see Christy Simmons’s Count Your Blessings and be convinced.

Ms. Simmons’s stage experience is obvious is nearly every moment of this remarkable mix of cabaret, biography, and musical theatre that recounts the ups and downs of the famed singer's often troubled life with a canny combination of song and story. It looks as polished and professional as it sounds, and it sounds awfully fine. Yes, there are a few moments when the eyes and ears of a director who is not also the star would have been helpful and the song list is perhaps a bit ballad-heavy, but the show is so engaging and well thought out that these are little more than quibbles.

At this point I should probably point out that Ms. Simmons and I are not strangers. We’ve shared the stage before and done the St. Louis Cabaret Conference together. Nothing unusual there; the local cabaret scene is not large and I know almost everyone in it. I also know a good show when I see it, though, and Count Your Blessings is, by any standard you can name, a good show. The mix of songs includes plenty of Clooney’s hits along with some less familiar titles, the balance of music and biography is right, and the presentation is first-rate.

Count Your Blessings makes good use of the History Museum’s stage. The three-piece combo (piano, acoustic bass, and drums) is spread across the back of the stage, which is simply but elegantly dressed with tables, candles, a few props, and a picture of Ms. Clooney. It’s all beautifully lit by Becca Holmes and the overall look and sound is that of a high-end nightclub—very appropriate for the subject at hand.

It helps, of course, that Clooney’s real life almost sounds like the plot of a Hollywood biopic. Saddled with a horrific childhood, Clooney began singing on the radio at an early age simply to survive and soon became a major attraction Tony Pastor’s band. Film and TV stardom followed, but career pressures and the singer’s poor choice in men—she married the fickle and self-centered film star José Ferrer not once but twice—eventually led to drug addition and a nervous breakdown. The fact that she recovered from that breakdown, married dancer Dante DiPaolo (the true love her life), and went on to a second career as a jazz singer would surely seem the stuff of fiction if it weren’t true.

As Ms. Simmons points out early in the evening, her show is not an exercise in celebrity impersonation. When she sings Clooney hits like “This Will Be My Shining Hour”, “Half As Much,” or “You Make Me Feel So Young,” she’s giving you her interpretations, not a reproduction of Clooney’s. There is a riveting section in the second act in which she takes on the role of Clooney to dramatize the singer’s famous mental meltdown following Robert Kennedy’s assassination, but that’s clearly established as a set piece that departs from the norm. For the rest of the show, Rosemary Clooney’s songs are used to tell the story of Rosemary Clooney’s life, assisted with excerpts from the singer’s sometimes painfully honest autobiography.

And the performances of those songs couldn’t be better. Ms. Simmons has a well-trained voice that can belt or purr as needed, so she’s equally at home up-tempo numbers like “It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing” and downbeat ballads like Billy Strayhorn’s unsettling “Lush Life”. Her backup band is tight and the vocal/instrumental balance is excellent. The first weekend the band consisted of Paul Westcott on piano, Dave Troncoso on bass, and Clancy Newell on drums. The redoubtable Joe Dreyer replaces Mr. Westcott on the closing weekend while Jim Guglielmo takes over the percussion Thursday through Saturday.

I was never a fan of Rosemary Clooney, but I found Count Your Blessings to be a consistently entertaining and, in keeping with the History Museum’s mission, educational show. For fans of the late singer, I expect it’s a little bit of heaven. For the rest of us, it’s just a darned fine bit of musical theatre.

Count Your Blessings continues through October 14 in the Lee Auditorium of the History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: mohistory.org.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 11, 2012

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

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New this week:

St. Louis Actors Studio presents the drama Good through October 21 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. “C.P. Taylor's Good examines Germany's descent into Nazism through the story of John Halder, a literature professor who is initially reluctant to accept the philosophy of the Nazi Party.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but given the way domestic politics seem to be going these days, a reminder of the seductiveness of fascism could not be more timely. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The Showboat Community Theatre and The Wine Country Follies present Ron Youngman in Songs from Vaudeville, The Silver Screen and The Musical Stage Thursdays at 3 PM, October 11 - 25, and Friday, October 19, at 7:30 PM. "Ron has performed in various venues from St. Louis to Beijing, China and New York." I saw Ron's vaudeville show a couple years ago at the Kranzberg Center and was very much impressed with both his performance and his affection for a period of American musical history for which I also have considerable fondness. He also does one heck of an Eddie Cantor impersonation. Performances take place at The Showboat Theatre in Hermann, Mo. For more information: 1-573-486-2744 or 1-800-932-8687.

Held over:

New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 21. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. Once again, New Line brings St. Louis the local permiere of a much-praised cutting edge musical.  In his review for 881. KDHX, Robert Mitchell describes it as "a bloodty good history lesson." For more information, newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

The Missouri History Museum and Topper Productions present Christy Simmons in Count Your Blessings: A Tribute to Rosemary Clooney, Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM,. Simmons' band features Joe Dreyer (Thursday through Saturday) and Paul Westcott (Sunday), piano; Jim Guglielmo (Thursday through Saturday) and Clancy Newell (Sunday), drums; and Dave Troncoso, bass. Performances take place in the Des Lee Auditorium at the History Museum at Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park. As I note in my review for 881. KDHX, Ms. Simmons has managed to combine cabaret, theatre, and biography in an entertaining and educational evening—most appropriate for the History Museum's mission. For more information:mohistory.org or call 314-361-9017.

Upstream Theater presents Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays, October 5 - 21, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand. This is, to say the least, a show that has not suffered from over-exposure locally, so any production is a cause for celebration. That's especially true when, as Andrea Braun notes in her review for 88.1 KDHX, the production is such a fine one. For more information, call (314) 863-4999 or visit www.upstreamtheater.org.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Pro-Life

Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, Women of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, and St. Louis Children’s Chorus conducted by David Robertson
What: Mahler, Symphony No. 3
When: October 5 and 6, 2012
Where: Powell Hall

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A warmly expansive and well-played Mahler Symphony No. 3 this weekend by David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony was enhanced by fine solo work and the voices of the St. Louis Children's Chorus and the Women of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. This is music you don't hear that often because of the size and disposition of the forces, so the decision to present it was a welcome one, to say the least.

Many composers have taken their inspiration from nature, but it took the vision of Mahler to turn that inspiration into a massive six-movement pantheistic hymn. Clocking in at close to 100 minutes, this is no jolly pastoral picture in the mode of Beethoven or Dvorak, but rather a vast expression of what George Bernard Shaw (who, ironically, considered Mahler "expensively second-rate") described as the “Life Force”, moving from primal chaos to perfection. Granted, Shaw’s perfection was human while Mahler’s is divine, but the journeys are similar.

The 3rd presents its share of interpretive challenges. To pick just one example, the episodic first movement (originally titled “Pan Awakes: Summer Marches In”) could without a strong hand at the tiller easily degenerate into a series of musical tableaux. As conductor Bruno Walter (a strong Mahler advocate) once noted, “[i]n regard to this one movement—and to this one alone—I must admit that the effort to take it in musically is frequently thwarted by the intrusion of non-musical matter, of fantastic images, that break the musical texture.” Mr. Robertson held it all together, though, and brought it to a rousing conclusion, assisted by some first-rate solo work from (among others) Timothy Myers on trombone and Cally Banham on English horn.

The audience clearly loved it. A ripple of spontaneous applause broke out, prompting a smiling Mr. Robertson to turn to the house and say “it’s OK”, after which the ripple became a wave.

And so it continued for the remainder of the evening. The “Tempo di Menuetto” second movement (original title: “What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me”) was appropriately bucolic. The more boisterous third movement “Scherzando” (“What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me”) with its nostalgic offstage posthorn interludes (played in this case by a trumpet) was a nice study in contrasts.

The following two vocal movements bring humanity into the picture. The first is a nocturnal setting for contralto of lines from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra about how Joy goes deeper and lasts longer than Woe (performed with great feeling by mezzo Susan Graham). The second is a sunny contrasting setting of a poem from Das Knaben Wunderhorn (Youth’s Magic Horn, a collection of folk poetry that dominated Mahler’s work for much of the 1890s) about how St. Peter (sung by the soloist from the previous movement) is readily forgiven by a loving Christ.

The angels are portrayed by the women’s and children’s choruses, with the latter mostly singing “bimm, bamm” in imitation of the tuned bells also called for in the score. In keeping with Mahler’s requirements, the bells and kids were placed house right behind the dress circle boxes, providing a nice antiphonal effect for those seated in the orchestra and dress circle. That poses a bit of a challenge for both the performers and conductor, but Mr. Robertson and company came through beautifully.

The final movement is perhaps the toughest nut to crack for both the conductor and the audience. Unfolding with deliberate slowness (it’s marked “Slow. Peacefully. With feeling.”) over a half-hour, this remarkable movement was seen by the composer as “the peak, the highest level from which one can view the world.” It’s serene, all embracing, and, although it requires a lot from an audience that has already gone through a substantial musical sojourn, it ultimately leads to a powerful and ecstatic conclusion that makes it all worthwhile.

For me, Friday night’s performance just missed that last bit of ecstasy. I don’t know how much of that was Mr. Robertson’s somewhat leisurely approach to the work as a whole and how much might have been what sounded rather like fatigue from some of the players, particularly in the brass section (from which much is demanded). I couldn’t help wonder whether it might have been best to put an intermission after the first movement (as is sometimes done) to give both players and audience members a chance to rest and reflect.

That said, this Mahler 3rd is a darned impressive achievement that bodes well for the rest of the season. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The season continues next week (October 12–14) with a program of Beethoven, Ravel, and Debussy with guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and pianist Pascal Rogé.  For more information: stlsymphony.org

Sunday, October 07, 2012

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 8, 2012

Updated Monday, October 8

[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.

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New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through October 21. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111. 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 Saturdays at 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.

St. Peter's UCC in Ferguson, MO, presents A Cabaret at St. Peter's, with music director David Horstmann and ten local cabaret artists, at 7 PM on Sunday, October 14. St. Peter's UCC is located at 1425 Stein at West Florissant. For more information, you may call the church office at 314-521-5694 or visit www.stpeterschurch.org.

Over Due Theatre presents the comedy Cheaper by the Dozen Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, October 12 - 21. Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.com.

The Missouri History Museum and Topper Productions present Christy Simmons in Count Your Blessings: A Tribute to Rosemary Clooney, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, October 4-14. Simmons' band features Joe Dreyer and Paul Westcott, piano; Clancy Newell, drums; and Dave Troncoso, bass. Performances take place in the Des 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.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the musical Daddy Long Legs October 10 through November 4. 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.

Affton CenterStage Theatre Company presents Dearly Departed October 12 - 14. Performances take place at the Robert Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 636-349-6880 or visit www.afftoncenterstage.org.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Department of Theater and Dance presents Fame - the Musical Tuesday through Sunday, October 9 - 14, in the Dunham Hall theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774.

St. Louis Actors Studio presents the drama Good through October 21 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. “C.P. Taylor's Good examines Germany's descent into Nazism through the story of John Halder, a literature professor who is initially reluctant to accept the philosophy of the Nazi Party.” For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

Upstream Theater presents Eugene O'Neill's The Hairy Ape. Performances are Thursdays through Sundays through October 21, 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!

The Touhill Performing Arts Center presents The Improv Shop on Wednesday, October 10, at 7:30 PM. “This hilarious, Chicago-style improv will feature the Armando format - a celebrity (TBA) tells a story based on audience suggestion and the troupe then builds an original, full-length improvisational play based on the story. St. Louis' own Improv Shop is known for creating dynamic, rolling-in-the aisles comedy improv.” The Touhill Performing Arts Center in on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. For more information, you may visit www.touhill.org or call (314) 516-4949.

The West End Players Guild opens their 102nd season with Steven Dietz's Inventing Van Gogh Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through October 14. There will also be a show on Thursday, October 11, at 8 PM. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. The play is directed by 88.1 KDHX theatre critic Steve Callahan. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Florissant Fine Arts Council presents Letters Home on Saturday, October 13, at 8 PM. The play “puts the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq front and center by bringing to life actual letters written by soldiers serving in the Middle East. The play, without politicizing, gives audiences a powerful portrait of the soldiers' experience in the ongoing war, patriotism, and what it means to serve our country today.” The performance takes place in the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, visit florissantfinearts.com or call 314-921-5678.

New Jewish Theater presents Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers through October 21. Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283

Clinton County Showcase presents the comedy Noises Off October 12 - 21. Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

The Showboat Community Theatre and The Wine Country Follies present Ron Youngman in Songs from Vaudeville, The Silver Screen and The Musical Stage Thursdays at 3 PM, October 11 - 25, and Friday, October 19, at 7:30 PM. "Ron has performed in various venues from St. Louis to Beijing, China and New York." Performances take place at The Showboat Theatre in Hermann, Mo. For more information: 1-573-486-2744 or 1-800-932-8687.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical Spring Awakening Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 20. There will be a matinee on the closing Saturday at 2 PM in addition to the evening show. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis University Theatre presents David Lindsay-Abaire's Wonder of the World through October 14. 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!