Sunday, March 31, 2013

Humana Festival 2013: "Gnit"

[The 37th Humana Festival of New American Plays runs through April 7 at the Actors Theatre of Louisville.]

“Gnit” by Will Eno
Directed by Les Waters
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 7, 2012

My video blog review with Leslie Wobbe


Synopsis: “Meet Peter Gnit, the recklessly aspiring, self-deluded anti-hero of Will Eno’s ’Gnit‘—a so-so specimen of humanity whose problem-causing skills may well be his most pronounced ability. Today he’ll disappoint his ailing mother, arriving painfully late at her bedside, full of excuses as usual. Then he’ll get distracted, careening out of the house to disrupt the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, absconding with the bride as an angry mob chases him out of town and into the mountains. So begins a lifetime of bad decisions, for Peter Gnit can’t stay put for long: he believes he’s on a mission to discover his Authentic Self.”

If that sounds a bit familiar, it’s because Will Eno’s “Gnit” is intended as a contemporary comic gloss on Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.” And, in fact, many of the Ibsen-based jokes work. I especially liked turning the trolls into a family of real-estate brokers, for example. Unfortunately, many of those gags assume a familiarity with the plot of Ibsen’s play that most theatergoers aren’t likely to posses, at least here in the USA, so some of them fall flat.

Dan Waller as Peter and Kate Eastwood Norris as Stranger 2. 
Photo by Kathy Prehyer
That’s not the biggest problem with “Gnit,” though. The real issue is the rapidity with which the title character’s self-centered cluelessness stops being funny and starts becoming annoying. After two and one-half hours (including intermission), I found myself just wishing Peter Gnit would shut the hell up. When the play takes a serious turn in the final scene, I no longer cared about Gnit enough to care that he had finally found something that looked a little like insight.

There’s enough comic material in “Gnit” for a good one-act, but at its present length the jokes revolving around Gnit’s selfishness start to get a bit stale. Worse yet, Gnit behaves with such callousness in a scene towards the end with a disabled beggar that he becomes actively repulsive.

Script issues aside, though, “Gnit” benefits from a top-drawer cast. Dan Waller’s Peter has the sort of wistful confusion I associate with the character of Joel in “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” Linda Kimbrough is acerbically self-aware as Mother, and Hannah Bos is sweetly self-sacrificing as Solvay. Kris Kling and Kate Eastwood Norris display quick-change artist stills as a variety of Strangers and Danny Wolohan has a virtuoso turn as Town, playing multiple characters at once with nothing more than shifts in vocal tone and emphasis. It’s a great example of theatrical illusion in action.

Les Waters’s direction moves everything along nicely and makes the most of the many gags. Technically the show is fairly solid, although there were apparently some lighting and—judging from the offstage banging—set repair issues the night we saw it.

“Gnit,” in short, might need to go back to the workshop. As it is, this is a very long evening at the theatre in which tedium ultimately overcomes the comedy.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 1, 2013

[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 Florissant Fine Arts Council presents the Montana Rep production of Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues on Thursday, April 4, at 8 PM at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker Road at Waterford Drive in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678.

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.

OnSite Productions presents Childcare by Margaret Stamell Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 5 and 8 PM through April 13. Performances take place at Downtown Children’s Center, 607 North 22nd Street. For more information, visit onsitetheatre.org or call 314-686-0062.

New Jewish Theater presents Oren Neeman's Conviction April 4-14. “In 1486, during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, Catholic priest Andrés Gonzalez committed the unthinkable - he fell in love with and secretly married a Jewish woman. In the process, he begins the journey back to his true identity as a Jew.” 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.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain's 1930s noir thriller, through April 7. “Is it possible to commit the perfect crime? The beautiful and seductive Phillis Nirlinger is willing to try. Aided by smitten insurance agent Walter Huff, Phyllis sets out to murder her husband and collect on a giant insurance claim. Caught in the femme fatale's sinister web of guilt and betrayal, Huff finds himself on a deadly journey that may be more than he bargained for.” Performances take place 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 Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice Friday through Sunday, April 5-7. Performances take place in the Emerson Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, call 314-968-7128.

Photo by Tom Gannam
Stray Dog Theatre presents the Jule Style/Stephen Sondheim musical Gypsy, based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, April 4-20. 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.

The Touhill Performing Arts Center presents Second City: Laughing Matters on Friday and Saturday, April 5 and 6. 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 COCA Family Theatre Series presents Little Nemo in Slumberland Friday at 7 PM and Saturday at 2 and 7 PM, April 5 and 6. “The piece is based on Winsor McCay's cartoon series from the early 20th century Little Nemo in Slumberland and combines physical theatre, clowning and circus elements with scripted language and multimedia components.” COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Murder in Mayberry through April 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Nursery Crimes through April 30th. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The West End Players Guild continues their 102nd season with the St. Louis premiere of Michael Hollinger's Opus by Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 5-14. There will also be a show on Thursday, April 11, at 8 PM. “Four chairs, five people. That's one way to describe the story of Michael Hollinger's Opus-only this game of musical chairs is played not at a children's party, but at the highest levels of musical art.” One-half hour before most performances patrons will be treated to a set by one of three talented local chamber music groups. On opening night, Friday, April 5, the Cahokia String Quartet will play. A Fifth Above Woodwind Quintet will play on Saturday, April 6. The Quartet Brioso will play before four performances, including the evening shows Thursday-Saturday, April 11-13, and the Sunday matinee on April 14. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early and enjoy the pre-show music. 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.

Peabody Opera House presents the musical Peter Pan Tuesday and Wednesday, April 2 and 3, at 7:30 PM. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of The Son of the Bar Walker's Daughter or A Long Nigth's Journey Into Day by Joel M. Littman on Monday, April 1, at 6:30 PM at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. There's no admission charge; refreshments and food may be purchased from restaurant. For more information, visit www.stlwritersgroup.com, call 314-865-1296, or send an e-mail to farwemar at aol.com.

Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez through April 13. “Just after the Civil War in Virginia during Passover, a wounded Confederate Officer returns to a ruined plantation to find only two former slaves to care for him. With a new and different social order, the three men must wrestle with the ties that bind them together and the secrets they share. A test of humanity and their Jewish faith.” 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!

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Saturday, March 30

Who: Will Soll's Klezmer Conspiracy
Where: Tavern of Fine Arts
When: Tonight at 8
Why: Celebrate Passover with Will Soll (guitar, mandolin, banjo), Dana Hotle (clarinet), Shlomo Ovadya (dumbek), and Iggie Tiemann (bass) performing an evening of lively Klezmer music in the Tavern's bright and airy performance space.  And don't forget to check out the menu and wine list.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Friday, March 29

Who: OnSite Productions
What: Childcare by Margaret Stamell
Where: Downtown Children’s Center, 607 North 22nd Street
When: Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 5 and 8 PM through April 13
Why: "The play introduces us to daycare staff Roz and Joy, each dealing with financial, professional and personal issues of her own. Enter Andrew and Anita, parents desperately seeking childcare for their son Noah, who is 'totally normal…except with some differences', and the wild ride has begun." OnSite is a unique company that produces plays tailored to specific locations—usually the kind rarely associated with theatre. Previous shows, for example, have been set in such diverse locations as a bowling alley, an Italian restaurant, and a gym. For more information, visit onsitetheatre.org or call 314-686-0062.

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of March 29, 2013

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:

©Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Imaginary Theatre Company and the Missouri History Museum present Annie Oakley through March 30. “ Yee Haw! In 1800s America, a woman doesn't have much of a shot at fame, but that won't stop Annie Oakley. Delighting thousands with her talent as a sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the "Little Sure Shot" dazzles the likes of President Cleveland and Queen Victoria, while showing everyone exactly what a woman is capable of. Follow Annie's adventures in this rootin' tootin' trip through American history as she lifts her family from poverty with her skill and shows everyone that she's 'just as good as any man.'” Performances take place at The Missouri History Museum in Foreset Park. ITC is the Lexus of childrens theatre locally and the Lee Auditorium at the museum is a comfy space. For more information: mohistory.org

First Run Theatre presents a staged reading of Joan of Arc the Musical, with book and music by Mario Farwell and music by Aaron Latina, Friday through Sunday, March 29-31, at 8 PM. Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. I don't know anything about this, really, but I think a staged reading of a new locally-produced musical is automatically of interest. For more information email info at firstruntheatre.com, or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

Photo by Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez through April 13. “Just after the Civil War in Virginia during Passover, a wounded Confederate Officer returns to a ruined plantation to find only two former slaves to care for him. With a new and different social order, the three men must wrestle with the ties that bind them together and the secrets they share. A test of humanity and their Jewish faith.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer describes this as "compelling, engrossing drama that examines a little considered, but incredibly important, period in U.S. history." For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

Mariposa Artists presents Women Under the Influence on Saturday, March 30, at 8 PM, with a cash bar available starting at 7 PM. “Women Under the Influence includes St. Louis cabaret singers Katie McGrath and Debbie Schuster, and features the former Jasmine duo Michele Isam and Carol Schmidt. With a soulful, strong and sultry style, their uplifting harmonies bring new interpretations of their girl-group musical influences, from LaBelle to Adele. Join them for songs of passion, romance, betrayal, survival and joy.” The performance takes place at Joe Buck's Showroom 1000 Clark, downtown. A portion of the evening's proceeds will be donated to Places For People. I caught this show the first time around last November and I think I can assure you of a rockin' good time.  For more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/319297.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of March 25, 2013

[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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Moonlighting Theatre presents the 24-Hour Play Festival Friday and Saturday at 7 PM, March 29 and 30. Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information, visit moonlightingtheatre.org.

©Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Imaginary Theatre Company and the Missouri History Museum present Annie Oakley through March 30. “ Yee Haw! In 1800s America, a woman doesn't have much of a shot at fame, but that won't stop Annie Oakley. Delighting thousands with her talent as a sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the "Little Sure Shot" dazzles the likes of President Cleveland and Queen Victoria, while showing everyone exactly what a woman is capable of. Follow Annie's adventures in this rootin' tootin' trip through American history as she lifts her family from poverty with her skill and shows everyone that she's 'just as good as any man.'” Performances take place at The Missouri History Museum in Foreset Park. For more information: mohistory.org

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.

OnSite Productions presents Childcare by Margaret Stamell Fridays at 8 PM and Saturdays at 5 and 8 PM, March 29 – April 13. Performances take place at Downtown Children’s Center, 607 North 22nd Street. For more information, visit onsitetheatre.org or call 314-686-0062.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain's 1930s noir thriller, through April 7. “Is it possible to commit the perfect crime? The beautiful and seductive Phillis Nirlinger is willing to try. Aided by smitten insurance agent Walter Huff, Phyllis sets out to murder her husband and collect on a giant insurance claim. Caught in the femme fatale's sinister web of guilt and betrayal, Huff finds himself on a deadly journey that may be more than he bargained for.” Performances take place 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!

First Run Theatre presents a staged reading of Joan of Arc the Musical, with book and music by Mario Farwell and music by Aaron Latina, Friday through Sunday, March 29-31, at 8 PM. Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information email info at firstruntheatre.com, or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Murder in Mayberry through April 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Nursery Crimes through April 30th. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents The Pig Iron People Friday through Sunday, March 29-31. Performances take place in the Emerson Studio Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, call 314-968-7128.

The Black Rep presents The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez through April 13. “Just after the Civil War in Virginia during Passover, a wounded Confederate Officer returns to a ruined plantation to find only two former slaves to care for him. With a new and different social order, the three men must wrestle with the ties that bind them together and the secrets they share. A test of humanity and their Jewish faith.” 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!

Mariposa Artists presents Women Under the Influence on Saturday, March 30, at 8 PM, with a cash bar available starting at 7 PM. “Women Under the Influence includes St. Louis cabaret singers Katie McGrath and Debbie Schuster, and features the former Jasmine duo Michele Isam and Carol Schmidt. With a soulful, strong and sultry style, their uplifting harmonies bring new interpretations of their girl-group musical influences, from LaBelle to Adele. Join them for songs of passion, romance, betrayal, survival and joy.” The performance takes place at Joe Buck's Showroom 1000 Clark, downtown. A portion of the evening's proceeds will be donated to Places For People. For more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/319297.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Saturday, March 23

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Christopher Rouse
Who: The St. Louis Symphony conducted by David Robertson with Mark Sparks (flute) and David Halen (violin)
What: Music of Copland, Bernstein, and Christopher Rouse
Where: Powell Symphony Hall
When: Tonight at 8 and Sunday at 3
Why: "This all-American program features two of America’s greatest composers, Bernstein and Copland, painting musical portraits of Americana. Concertmaster David Halen steps forward performing Bernstein’s passionate Serenade and Principal Flute Mark Sparks performs Christopher Rouse’s lyrical Flute Concerto. Copland’s rowdy Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo bring this concert to a riveting finale." It's always nice to see a couple of our local players in the star soloist roles.  The program consists of a suite of the music Aaron Copland composed for a failed experimental play Quiet City, a new flute concerto by Christopher Rouse (whose Symphony No. 3 was a big hit of the 2011 season), Leonard Bernstein's Serenade, and the popular Four Dance Episodes from Copland's ballet Rodeo. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Friday, March 22, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Friday, March 22

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Who: The Edison Theatre at Washington University
What: Ethel with Robert Mirabel
Where: The 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City
When: Tonight at 8
Why: "Ethel, acclaimed as America's premier post-classical string quartet and Grammy-winning Native American flutist Robert Mirabal join the string quartet with Native American flutes (Tdoop-Pootse) and drums (Mooloo) to create a cross-cultural contemporary music event inspired by the sun mythology of Native America. The evening includes collaborations on Robert Mirabal's compositions, ancient Native American music and Ethel's complimentary original repertoire along with the works of composers such as Don Byron, John Luther Adams and more. Additional vocals provided by the Washington University Department of Music Chamber Choir." And how can you not like a string quartet named Ethel? For more information: edison.wustl.edu.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of March 21, 2013

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 Bistro at Grand Center presents A Cabaret Evening featuring Shirely Aschinger, Kevin Cherry, Kari Donovan, Erica Perlow and Charlene Reimann with music direction by Carol Schmidt on Saturday, March 23, at 8 PM. ”This original evening of songs - some you will know, some that will be new to you - will entertain and touch you.” Tim Schall directs. The Bistro is at 3536 Washington Blvd in Grand Center. The showcase is the finale of an eight-week cabaret performance workshop taught by Tim and Carol, so you know it's going to be polished. For more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/351510.

Peabody Opera House presents A Chorus Line Thursday through Sunday, March 21-23. Well, who doesn't like A Chorus Line? And, as I have said before, the Peabody is one of the best places in town for musical theatre. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

Union Avenue Opera presents La Vie de Bohème on Saturday, March 24, at 7 PM. It's an evening of dinner, drinks, and entertainment by UAO artists and takes place at Dressel's Pub, 419 N. Euclid in the Central West End. Union Avenue has an impressive track record of producing quality opera in a difficult space. They deserve our support. For more information: unionavenueopera.org.

Held over:

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Next to Normal Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through March 23. "From the composer of High Fidelity comes the most adult, most mature rock musical to hit Broadway in decades, an unrelentingly intense, brutally honest – and often, darkly funny – story about a bipolar woman and the family that grapples with her illness, all set to a hard driving rock and roll score that explodes with raw, searing emotion. Rolling Stone called it 'the best new musical of the season – by a mile.'” I saw the national tour of this show at the Fox in April of 2011 and was very much taken with it. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Laura Kyro praises "the amazing acting and singing by all members of the cast." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, call 314-534-1111.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Venus in Fur through March 24. “Vanda is determined to land the lead in Venus in Fur, a new play based on a classic erotic novel. Her emotionally charged audition for the playwright/director unexpectedly becomes an electrifying and dangerous game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex.” 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. As I note in my review for 88.1 KDHX, the script could do with a bit of trimming but "overall it's a classic example of the 'well-made play' a la Terrence Rattigan or J.B. Priestly." Performances and direction are first-rate.

The Fox Theatre presents the drama War Horse through March 24. "A heartwarming drama about the unlikely bond between a hoarse and his young master, War Horse also boasts itself with its marvelous horse puppets intricately crafted by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. No play in Broadway has ever roused audiences’ emotions with such vivid and lifelike imagery and stimulating scenic designs and a story that reminds us that unwavering dedication, bravery and friendship is timeless and universal other than this modern theatrical masterpiece." The show is also a powerful indictment of the insanity and brutality of mechanized warfare. We saw this in London last fall and were very much impressed. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan describes War Horse as "visually and aurally stunning." The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Thursday, March 21

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Matthew Lopez - On Stage from source/record on Vimeo.

Who: The Black Rep
What: The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez
Where: The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
When: Tonight at 8 through April 13
Why: “Just after the Civil War in Virginia during Passover, a wounded Confederate Officer returns to a ruined plantation to find only two former slaves to care for him. With a new and different social order, the three men must wrestle with the ties that bind them together and the secrets they share. A test of humanity and their Jewish faith.” The play won the 2011 John Gassner New Play Award from the NY Outer Critics Circle and has garnered much critical praise. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Wednesday, March 20

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Al Fischer
Who: The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX
What: Cabaret open mic night
Where: The Tavern of Fine Arts
When: Tonight from 7 to 10 PM
Why: Since last summer, the monthly open mic at Tavern of Fine Arts has become the place to catch established and new cabaret talent trying out new material and reviving old favorites. There's no cover charge and the Tavern has a nice assortment of food and drink to make the evening even more convivial. I'm the master of ceremonies, as usual, and the special guest music director this month is Al Fischer. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com or call 314-367-7549.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

After the ball

Founding members of the St. Louis Theater Circle


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Well, the first St. Louis Theater Circle awards have all been handed out.  A crowd of nearly 300 actors and theatre fans gathered at the Florissant Civic Center theater last night to eat, drink, and be merry celebrating professional theatre in St. Louis.  There were some minor hiccups along the way, but on the whole the ceremony went smoothly, everyone had a fine old time, and I was reminded of what a big, vibrant performing arts community we have here in St. Louis.

The complete list of honorees is below.  Whether you agree with all of them or not, you've got to admit it's a fairly diverse list.  Personally, as the only member of the St. Louis Theater Circle who is also a member of the Music Critics of North America, I was very gratified to see that two of the musical theatre awards went to our premier opera company, Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

I was also glad to see some of our smaller companies walk off with some awards.  It's a reminder that you need not have a big budget to produce big theatre.

The Theater Circle will be getting together in a few weeks for a debriefing/lessons learned session, and I expect we'll make a few minor tweaks in the process next year (maybe we'll even have a web site by then!), but don't look for any major changes.  I mean, why mess with success?


THE HONOREES

COMEDY

Outstanding Production: “The Comedy of Errors,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Outstanding Director: Paul Mason Barnes, “The Comedy of Errors”

Outstanding Actor: Greg Fenner, “Fully Committed,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Actress: Meghan Maguire, “Talley's Folly,” New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor: Antonio Rodriguez, “The Violet Hour,” Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Supporting Actress (tie): Teresa Doggett, “Season's Greetings,” St. Louis Actors' Studio, and Kirsten Wylder, “The Divine Sister,” HotCity Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble: “Jacob and Jack,” New Jewish Theatre

DRAMA

Outstanding Production: “Clybourne Park,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Outstanding Director: Timothy Near, “Clybourne Park”

Outstanding Actor: Michael Scott Rash, “9 Circles,” R-S Theatrics

Outstanding Actress (tie): Nancy Bell, “Clybourne Park,” and Patrese McClain, “No Child ...” The Black Rep

Outstanding Supporting Actor: David Wassilak, “Angels in America,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actress: Laura Kyro, “Angels in America”

Outstanding Ensemble: “Clybourne Park”

Outstanding New Play: “The Invisible Hand” by Ayad Akhtar, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

MUSICALS

Outstanding Production: “Sunday in the Park with George,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Director: Rob Ruggiero, “Sunday in the Park with George”

Outstanding Actor (tie): Ron Bohmer, “Sunday in the Park with George,” and Rod Gilfrey, “Sweeney Todd,” Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Actress: Jennifer Theby, “Urinetown the Musical,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor: Dean Christopher, “Chicago,” the Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actress: Anna Skidis, “Spring Awakening,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Ensemble: “Sunday in the Park with George”

Outstanding choreographer: Dana Lewis, “My One and Only,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding musical director (tie): Stephen Lord, “Sweeney Todd,” and F. Wade Russo, “Sunday in the Park with George”

DESIGN, PLAYS

Set design: Scott Neale, “Clybourne Park,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Costume design: Margaret Weedon, “The Comedy of Errors,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Lighting design (tie): Steve Carmichael, “The Hairy Ape,” Upstream Theatre; Nathan Schroeder, “Talley's Folly,” New Jewish Theatre, and Michael Sullivan, “Way to Heaven,” New Jewish Theatre

Sound Design: Robin Weatherall, “Way to Heaven”

DESIGN, MUSICALS

Set design: Adrian Jones, “Sunday in the Park with George,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Costume design: Alejo Vietti, “Sunday in the Park with George”

Lighting design: John Lassiter, "Sunday in the Park with George”

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Tuesday, March 19

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What: War Horse
Where: The Fox Theatre
When: Tonight at 8 through Sunday
Why:"This powerfully moving and imaginative drama, filled with stirring music and songs, is a show of phenomenal inventiveness that is currently playing to packed houses in London, New York and Toronto. At its heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, that bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride." The show is also a powerful indictment of the insanity and brutality of mechanized warfare. We saw this in London last fall and were very much impressed. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan describes War Horse as "visually and aurally stunning." For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Monday, March 18, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Monday, March 18

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Who: The St. Louis Theater Circle
What: St. Louis Theater Circle Awards
When: Tonight at 7 (optional buffet dinner starts at 5:30)
Where: The Florissant Civic Center Theater
Why: The awards recognize outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theatre as judged by local theatre critics who are members of the Circle. That includes yours truly, as you might have guessed. The ceremony is preceded by an optional buffet dinner at 5:30 PM from With Love Catering and takes place at the Florissant Civic Center Theater. Tickets for both the ceremony ($10) and the buffet ($15 additional) are available at the door. Music for the ceremony will be provided by pianist and Webster University faculty member Carol Schmidt, who is also the music director for the monthly cabaret open mic night at Tavern of Fine Arts (which just happens to be this Wednesday).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of March 18, 2013

[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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©Photo by Eric Woolsey
The Imaginary Theatre Company and the Missouri History Museum present Annie Oakley March 21 through 30. “ Yee Haw! In 1800s America, a woman doesn't have much of a shot at fame, but that won't stop Annie Oakley. Delighting thousands with her talent as a sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, the "Little Sure Shot" dazzles the likes of President Cleveland and Queen Victoria, while showing everyone exactly what a woman is capable of. Follow Annie's adventures in this rootin' tootin' trip through American history as she lifts her family from poverty with her skill and shows everyone that she's 'just as good as any man.'” Performances take place at The Missouri History Museum in Foreset Park. For more information: mohistory.org

St. Louis Shakespeare presents As You Like It through March 24. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit stlshakespeare.org.

The Alpha Players of Florissant present the Noel Coward's comedy Blithe Spirit through March 24 at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678.

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 Bistro at Grand Center presents A Cabaret Evening featuring Shirely Aschinger, Kevin Cherry, Kari Donovan, Erica Perlow and Charlene Reimann with music direction by Carol Schmidt on Saturday, March 23, at 8 PM. ”This original evening of songs - some you will know, some that will be new to you - will entertain and touch you.” Tim Schall directs. The Bistro is at 3536 Washington Blvd in Grand Center. For more information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/351510.

Al Fischer
The Cabaret Project and 88.1 KDHX present a monthly Cabaret Open Mic Night on Wednesday, March 20, from 7 to 10 PM at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The master of ceremonies is 88.1 KDHX senior performing arts critic Chuck Lavazzi and the special guest music director this month is Al Fischer. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt at Waterman in the Central West End. There's free parking in the lot right across the street. For more information, visit tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com or call 314-367-7549.

Peabody Opera House presents A Chorus Line Thursday through Sunday, March 21-23. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

Alton Little Theater presents Clue, the Musical March 15-24 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

St. Louis Actors Studio presents the world premiere of Day Of The Dog by Daniel Damiano through March 24 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. “A South Florida couple obtains the services of a somewhat enigmatic Canine Relations Specialist in order to curb the violent behavior of their dog Carrot, but gradually learn that a dog is merely a reflection of the people who house him.” For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Double Indemnity, based on James M. Cain's 1930s noir thriller, through April 7. “Is it possible to commit the perfect crime? The beautiful and seductive Phillis Nirlinger is willing to try. Aided by smitten insurance agent Walter Huff, Phyllis sets out to murder her husband and collect on a giant insurance claim. Caught in the femme fatale's sinister web of guilt and betrayal, Huff finds himself on a deadly journey that may be more than he bargained for.” Performances take place at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

The Florissant Fine Arts Council presents the State Theatre of Georgia production of the musical Eleanor: Her Secret Journey on Wednesday, March 20, at 8 PM at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker Road at Waterford Drive in Florissant, MO. “Starring M*A*S*H actress Loretta Swit, Eleanor: Her Secret Journey is an engaging and educational theatrical event, following the years after World War I, as recalled by Mrs. Roosevelt looking back from 1945. From the producers of FDR (2010-11 Applause/Applause season), it's an incredibly personalized, intimate portrait of the historic woman and the many challenges that surrounded her. Her canny and clear-eyed intelligence helped her evolve from an ugly duckling into a powerful woman whose greater beauty emerged from the warmth and compassion she brought to issues of war, peace and human rights.” For more information, call 314-921-5678.

Washington University Performing Arts Department presents "If I Were You" and Other Elvis Presley Songs by Leah Barsanti, winner of the A. E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition, Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM, March 21-24. “Bret has a secret, and his plucky little sister Sadie is determined to spy on him to learn the truth. She follows him to a clandestine club house, unravels the mystery, and learns what happens when an Elvis impersonator actually becomes 'The King.'” Performances take place in the Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, call (314) 935-5858.

Union Avenue Opera presents La Vie de Bohème on Saturday, March 24, at 7 PM. It's an evening of dinner, drinks, and entertainment by UAO artists and takes place at Dressel's Pub, 419 N. Euclid in the Central West End. For more information: unionavenueopera.org.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents Joe Orton's Loot through March 24. Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents staged reading of Love In The Time Of Cholera by Caridad Svich; based on the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on Saturday March 23, at 3:00 PM as part of the Ignite! New Play Festival. “Based on the award-winning novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and written by Obie Award-winning dramatist Caridad Svich, this lyrical, imagistic play charts the profound love story between a feverishly romantic man and a sensual, passionate woman, and 50-plus years of their unusual, magical story of love. A play with music written in Spanish, this is the debut of its English language translation.” The reading takes place at the Sally S. Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel in Webster Groves. For more information, visit repstl.org.

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Next to Normal Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through March 23. "From the composer of High Fidelity comes the most adult, most mature rock musical to hit Broadway in decades, an unrelentingly intense, brutally honest – and often, darkly funny – story about a bipolar woman and the family that grapples with her illness, all set to a hard driving rock and roll score that explodes with raw, searing emotion. Rolling Stone called it 'the best new musical of the season – by a mile.'” Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, call 314-534-1111. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Murder in Mayberry through April 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Nursery Crimes through April 30th. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Spotlight Theatre presents Passion Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, throuh March 23. “Passion is the story of Christ's last days. Adapted from the Bible by Pamela Reckamp, the production features sacred music, stylized movement, and incorporates the audience into the telling of 'the greatest story ever told.'" Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. For more information: www.itickets.com/events/300229.html or 314-412-6848.

The St. Louis Theater Circle presents the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards on Monday, March 18, at 7 PM. The awards recognize outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theatre as judged by local theatre critics who are members of the Circle. The ceremony is preceded by an optional buffet dinner at 5:30 PM from With Love Catering and takes place at the Florissant Civic Center Theater. Tickets for both the ceremony and the buffet are available at the door. Music for the ceremony will be provided by pianist and Webster University faculty member Carol Schmidt.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Department of Theater and Dance presents Tennessee William's Suddenly Last Summer through March 24 in the Dunham Hall theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a staged reading of Tamarack House by Michael Dowling on Wednesday, March 20, at 7:30 PM as part of the Ignite! New Play Festival. “A big, old boarding house sits on a beautiful spot of land in a small New England town, but its days are numbered as housing developments encroach. The house is rundown and beat up but has hidden potential, not unlike the discarded misfits who live there. Caught in the whirlpool of a fleeting American dream, they struggle to hold onto the house that defines them. They've got to figure out what to do, and quick. A funny, quirky and moving story by an exciting new American voice.” The reading takes place at the Sally S. Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel in Webster Groves. For more information, visit repstl.org.

Samantha Macher
The Tesseract Theatre Company presents To The New Girl From The Former Mrs._______: Sound Advice for My Husband's Wife or Mistress by Samantha Macher. “Ten different women, from all walks of life, giving advice to the "other woman" on the proper "care" of their former mates.” Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 4 PM. Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar (across the street from The Pageant). Visit www.tesseracttheatre.org for more info or email contact at tesseracttheatre.org.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Venus in Fur through March 24. “Vanda is determined to land the lead in Venus in Fur, a new play based on a classic erotic novel. Her emotionally charged audition for the playwright/director unexpectedly becomes an electrifying and dangerous game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex.” 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!

The Fox Theatre presents the drama War Horse March 13-24. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. "This powerfully moving and imaginative drama, filled with stirring music and songs, is a show of phenomenal inventiveness that is currently playing to packed houses in London, New York and Toronto. At its heart are astonishing life-sized puppets created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, that bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses strong enough for men to ride." For more information: fabulousfox.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Black Rep presents The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez March 20-April 13. “Just after the Civil War in Virginia during Passover, a wounded Confederate Officer returns to a ruined plantation to find only two former slaves to care for him. With a new and different social order, the three men must wrestle with the ties that bind them together and the secrets they share. A test of humanity and their Jewish faith.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. For more information, visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3810.

Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

TV or not TV?

You could argue that television doesn't really come under the heading of entertainment as defined by this blog, but a recent blog post by Allison Morris in the on-line publication Education News makes a point that is worth noting: that TV is not necessarily a "vast wasteland" (as Newton Minnow once famously said). There are islands of healthy vegetation in the sea of pollution.  Here's her argument in a graphic nutshell. Comments welcome.

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Graphic courtesy of Education News.

Better TV Infographic

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Saturday, March 16

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©Photo by Lon Brauer
Who: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
What: Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, adapted for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright
Where: The Loretto-Hilton Center
When: Tonight at 5; performances run through April 7
Why: “Is it possible to commit the perfect crime? The beautiful and seductive Phillis Nirlinger is willing to try. Aided by smitten insurance agent Walter Huff, Phyllis sets out to murder her husband and collect on a giant insurance claim. Caught in the femme fatale's sinister web of guilt and betrayal, Huff finds himself on a deadly journey that may be more than he bargained for.” The 1944 film adaptation by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler is a classic of film noir. This stage adaptation is brand new; the world premiere took place just last year. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

Friday, March 15, 2013

TPTBT (The Place to Be Tonight): Friday, March 15th

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Samantha Macher
Who: The Tesseract Theatre Company
What: To The New Girl From The Former Mrs._______: Sound Advice for My Husband's Wife or Mistress by Samantha Macher
Where: The Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar (across the street from The Pageant)
When: Tonight at 8 through March 24
Why: From the company web site: “Ten different women, from all walks of life, giving advice to the 'other woman' on the proper 'care' of their former mates.” You've got to admit that it's a provocative idea and, of course, local professional theatre companies producing local premieres is always a good thing. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 4 PM, March 13-24. Prior commitments are going to prevent me from seeing this, but that's no reason for you to miss it. Visit www.tesseracttheatre.org for more info or email contact at tesseracttheatre.org.

Samantha Macher, FYI, is a Playwright-in-Residence at Sky Pilot Theatre in Los Angeles, California. Her play The Arctic Circle was a Reva Shiner Comedy Award Finalist and a Dolce Revolution Playwriting Contest finalist, and was produced in Manhattan in affiliation with Playwright’s Horizons.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of March 14, 2013

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 Gateway Men's Chorus presents Bad Boys on Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16, at 8 PM. “This flamboyant show will feature B-52s Fred Schneider and the Gateway Men's Chorus, performing the famed B-52s music such as Love Shack, Monster, Hot Pants Explosion, Dreamland and Planet Claire! The Chorus will get into a singing and dance number with "Let it Go" from the Broadway hit The Full Monty! Hear "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, "Papa Don't Preach" by Madonna, "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper, "Fever" by Peggy Lee, "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" from Company by Stephen Soundheim and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man Of Mine", with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, is one of the most famous songs from their classic 1927 musical play Show Boat.“ The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Avenue in University City. For more information, visit gmcstl.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a staged reading of Soups, Stews And Casseroles: 1976 by Rebecca Gilman on Saturday, March 16, at 3 PM as part of the Ignite! New Play Festival. “When the main employer in Monroe, Wisconsin is bought out, a whole town learns what it means to have their livelihood, identity and destiny taken from them. The Duerst family is experiencing these tensions first hand, along with a few others of their own. The author of Spinning into Butter and many others, Rebecca Gilman is one of the most highly regarded playwrights in the US today. A Repertory Theatre of St. Louis commission.” The reading takes place at the Sally S. Levy Opera Center, 210 Hazel in Webster Groves. The Ignite! festival provides a fascinating first look at new work. For more information, visit repstl.org.

©Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Venus in Fur through March 24. “Vanda is determined to land the lead in Venus in Fur, a new play based on a classic erotic novel. Her emotionally charged audition for the playwright/director unexpectedly becomes an electrifying and dangerous game of cat and mouse that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, seduction and power, love and sex.” 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. As I note in my review for 88.1 KDHX, the script could do with a bit of trimming but "overall it's a classic example of the 'well-made play' a la Terrence Rattigan or J.B. Priestly." Performances and direction are first-rate.

The Fox Theatre presents the drama War Horse March 13-24. "A heartwarming drama about the unlikely bond between a hoarse and his young master, War Horse also boasts itself with its marvelous horse puppets intricately crafted by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company. No play in Broadway has ever roused audiences’ emotions with such vivid and lifelike imagery and stimulating scenic designs and a story that reminds us that unwavering dedication, bravery and friendship is timeless and universal other than this modern theatrical masterpiece." We saw this in London last fall and were just knocked out by it. How well this will translate to the stage at the Fox (which is several times larger than the one in which we saw it) is open question, but the play itself is very strong. The Fox Theatre is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Held over:

Photo credit: Zachary Stefaniak
Dramatic License Productions presents the comedy Boeing, Boeing through March 17. “1960s Paris. American playboy Bernard is engaged to three beautiful flight attendants: a feisty German, a lusty Italian, and a take-charge Texan, each oblivious to the other. When flight schedules collide and an old college chum shows up for an unexpected visit, comedy and turbulence ensue in this "non-stop" comedy.” Performances take place at Dramatic License Theatre located at the upper level of Chesterfield Mall (near Sears and across from Houlihan's Restaurant). In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Missy Heinemann says this production "offers a high-energy, laugh-out-loud evening of theater." For more information, call 636-220-7012 or visit dramaticlicenseproductions.org.

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Next to Normal Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, February 28 through March 23. "From the composer of High Fidelity comes the most adult, most mature rock musical to hit Broadway in decades, an unrelentingly intense, brutally honest – and often, darkly funny – story about a bipolar woman and the family that grapples with her illness, all set to a hard driving rock and roll score that explodes with raw, searing emotion. Rolling Stone called it 'the best new musical of the season – by a mile.'” I saw the national tour of this show at the Fox in April of 2011 and was very much taken with it. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Laura Kyro praises "the amazing acting and singing by all members of the cast." Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. For more information, call 314-534-1111.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Leap of faith

Who: Winter Opera St. Louis
What: Puccini’s Tosca
Where: The Skip Viragh Center
When: March 8 and 10, 2013

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Winter Opera has closed their current season with a musically splendid and visually satisfying production of Puccini’s 1900 political melodrama Tosca. Acting and some casting choices did not always strike me as ideal, but the company sang beautifully, the orchestra sounded solid, and the sets and costumes were, given the group’s small budget, quite lavish.

It was, in short, quite a feather in the cap of the organization I’m starting to regard as The Little Opera Company That Could.

Anyone who thinks that there's anything new about the phenomenon of public figures hiding their profane desires under a blanket of bogus piety needs to consider Tosca. The villain of the opera, Baron Scarpia, is a classic example of how morality and respect for order can become a false front for lust, violence, and falsehood. Scarpia also provides us one of the great moments of Italian opera in the final scene of Act I as he plots the seduction and betrayal of Tosca while the crowd celebrates High Mass. It's a spectacular scene, and one of the best examples of dramatic irony in operatic literature.

Tosca Ensemble & Children's Chorus
Baritone Nelson Martinez as Scarpia
Photo © Ron Lindsey
Winter Opera’s staging of that scene was an illustration of this production’s strengths. The stage was quickly and efficiently filled with members of the adult and children’s chorus, the 19-piece orchestra played its collective heart out, and the act came to an appropriately dramatic conclusion. There was even a genuine Catholic cleric (Msgr. Borcic) to play the Cardinal.

The principals in this production all had fine, strong voices that were solid throughout their ranges.

Baritone Nelson Martinez was a terrific Scarpia. He’s a physically large actor who made his size an integral part of his portrayal, emphasizing Scarpia’s boundless lust for physical pleasure. He was on solid textual ground there; Scarpia’s opening aria in Act II is nothing if not a glutton’s version of Iago’s “Credo” in Otello. When Tosca ventilates him with his own dinner knife at the end of that act, it’s one of the most satisfying bits of bloody justice in Italian opera.

Soprano Stella Zambalis got Tosca’s intensity and delivered a first-class “Visi d’arte,” but seemed to lack the strong sexual presence that would make Scarpia's obsession for her credible. It didn’t help that the lighting darkened her nasolabial folds, which made her look older than Tosca ought to be. This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed less than ideal lighting on that stage; it’s something Winter Opera might want to take a look at.

Soprano Stella Zambalis as Floria Tosca
Photo © Ron Lindsey
Tenor Alex Richardson was vocally an exceptional Cavaradossi. I didn’t find his acting quite as convincing, but when he and Ms. Zambalis were both soaring through their love scenes I found it easy to forgive any theatrical failings.

I was also impressed with Nathan Whitson’s Angelotti, Chloe Haynes’s charming offstage Act III Shepherd, and director Mark Freiman’s fussy Sacristan. The Sacristan’s character is the only bit of comic relief in the opera’s otherwise grim verismo mix of passion, deceit, and violence, so a strong performance here is always welcome.

Lighting issues aside, the technical aspects of Winter Opera’s Tosca were quite good. JC Krajicek’s costumes looked great and were appropriate for the characters. Scott Loebl’s sets were equally impressive; his Farnese Palace interior drew applause as soon as the curtain went up. Steven Jarvi, who has just been appointed Resident Conductor at the St. Louis Symphony, led the orchestra in a wonderfully disciplined reading of the score.

Winter Opera remains one of the better practitioners of musical theatre in St. Louis. They also have the distinction of being the only one of our three opera companies to be working in a space that wasn’t retrofitted to present opera—a virtue not to be taken lightly. It will be interesting to see them develop in the future.

Winter Opera’s 2013-2014 season begins November 8 and 10 with Gounod’s Faust. Tickets go on sale on August 1st. For more information: winteroperastl.org.