Wednesday, April 30, 2014

If music be the food of love...

Nashville Ballet's Carmina Burana
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The St. Louis Symphony brings its season to a close this weekend and next with a pair of concerts featuring big, audience-pleasing works.

This week it's a piece for chorus and orchestra that has been performed often by the symphony (most recently in 2011 with David Robertson on the podium) and is a perennial favorite with audiences world wide: Carl Orff's 1936 “scenic cantata” "Carmina Burana."

The celebrity of "Carmina Burana" is, in part, an illustration of the power of the sliver screen. Once described by British critic Richard Osborne as “the best known new composition to emerge from Nazi Germany”, "Carmina Burana" was something of a cult item in this country until John Boorman's 1981 epic "Excalibur" appropriated bits of it for the soundtrack. The resulting upswing in popularity was not unlike that experienced by Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (or the first two minutes of it, anyway) after the release of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

It's a pity that the other two parts of the trilogy of which "Carmina Burana" is only the first entry—the occasionally pornographic "Catulli Carmina" of 1942, based on poems by Catullus, and "Il Trionfo di Afrodite" from 1951—haven't seen an analogous rise in their fame. I'd love to see the Symphony Chorus take a shot at the intense drama of "Catulli Carmina" in particular, even if translation of some of the lyrics would pose a problem for the symphony's more conservative patrons.

Still, a movie can only pique public interest. "Carmina Burana" has sustained it because its rhythmic drive, its colorful orchestration and the immediate emotional appeal of the secular medieval poems that serve as the text are well nigh irresistible.

Carl Orff by Jens Rusch
Orff envisioned this material as the basis for a choral cantata with some mimed action and “magic tableaux.” And, in fact, the first performance in Frankfurt in 1937 was fully staged, with dancers, sets, and costumes. It's usually presented strictly as a concert piece these days (although the Nashville Ballet gave us an impressive staging of it here last February), but the composer's theatrical intentions are evident in every note.

“Carmina Burana” derives its title from an 1847 collection of secular poetry by anonymous authors from the 12th and 13th centuries that turned up in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery in Beuren, Germany. As befits their “vulgar” status, the poems celebrate not the theoretical joys of heaven but rather the practical ones of earth: spring, sex, food, sex, drink, gambling, and sex. They also recognize something that we moderns have lost track of, to our detriment: the heavy influence of blind chance on our lives. The setting of “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”), which opens and closes the work, reminds us that the wheel of fortune is always turning and that none of us should get too cocky, as the universe has a tendency to dope-slap the excessively smug.

A number of guest conductors have had their way with Carmina Burana here over the years. This time around it's Spanish-Venezuelan conductor Carlos Izcaray, making what his web site describes as his "US symphonic debut." It's not his St. Louis debut, though; he was last seen here directing the Opera Theatre orchestra in a dramatically flawed but musically impeccable "Carmen" back in 2012. Mr. Izcaray's resume includes extensive operatic engagements, so I'd expect him to make the most of this work's overtly theatrical elements.

Although "Carmina Burana" is mostly about the chorus, there are some great moments for the soloists. Highlights include "Olim lacus colueram"—a macabre little piece about a roasted swan seen from the bird's point of view—which pushes the tenor soloist up to the very top of his tessitura; “Dulcissime,” which opens with an absurdly difficult upward glissando for the soprano; and “Estuans interius,” a dramatic baritone aria that boils over with the rage and frustration of the disappointed sensualist.

The singers this week—all making their SLSO debuts—are soprano Juliet Petrus, baritone Nmon Ford, and Ryan Belongie. Mr. Belongie is a countertenor (a man who sings in the mezzo or alto range), so he'll probably be pretty comfortable with the swan role.

If you're curious as to what the "Carmina Burana" poems might have sounded like when they were written, there are a number of collections out there by early music groups that are worth checking out. The Boston Camerata and the René Clemencic Consort both have fine recordings out there and the Ensemble Unicorn has a disc that looks interesting enough to entice me to buy it.

Steve Reich in 2006
Opening the program will be "The Four Sections," a 1987 work by American composer Steve Reich. Reich was one of the first of the minimalists, a group of composers who (to quote Paul Schiavo's program notes) "abandoned the abstruse harmonies and tangled rhythms that had become the hallmark of late-modern music and pared their compositions down to a few essential elements: neutral, static harmonies; brief repeating melodic figures; and clear rhythmic patterns within a steady pulse." Other notable members of that school include Philip Glass, John Adams, and Terry Riley (whose 1964 "In C" is widely regarded as one of the first minimalist pieces).

"Reich explains that the work's title has multiple connotations," Mr. Schiavo continues. "It refers to the four families of orchestral instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion). It also references the four movements that comprise the piece. Finally, the title alludes to four harmonic sections within each movement."

In his Composer's Notes at the web site of his publishers, Boosey and Hawkes, Mr. Reich notes that since "each of the movements focuses on one or two of the orchestral sections, one might be tempted to think of it as a concerto for orchestra. However, the focus here is on the interlocking of voices within the sections rather than displaying their virtuosity against the rest of the orchestra. Those familiar with other pieces of mine will recognise this interlocking of similar instruments to produce a contrapuntal web filled with resulting melodic patterns."

"The Four Sections" calls for a fairly sizeable orchestra—nearly 100 players, including two pianos and two synthesizers (SLSO regular Peter Henderson and Nina Ferrigno with two keyboards each) and looks like challenging stuff. I look forward to seeing what our ensemble of virtuosi does with it.

The essentials: Carlos Izcaray conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orff's "Carmina Burana" and Steve Reich's "The Four Sections" Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, May 1-4, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Monday, April 28, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 28, 2014

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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Theatre Lab in coalition with Todd Schaefer's Players Project Theatre Company present The 24 Hour Play Festival, Round 2. All plays are written in 7 days. The setting, director, and actors are all (literally) drawn from a hat and are given 24 hours to rehearse and memorize for the performance on Saturday, May 3, at 8 PM. The performance takes place at Webster High School, 100 Selma Ave. in Webster Groves. For more information: 24hourplayfestround2.brownpapertickets.com or call 314-599-3309.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the musical 9 to 5 Thursday [May 9 only] through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday [May 4 only] at 2 PM, May 2-11. Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956 or visit ktg-onstage.org.

Francis Howell High School's Limelight Theatre presents David Ives's All in the Timing Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday (April 30, May 1 and 2) at 7:30 PM. Performances take place at the Francis Howell Central High School Auditorium in St. Charles. For more information: facebook.com/FHHSvikings.

Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline through June 22. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline’s unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin’ After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always... Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

The Gateway Men's Chorus presents Cabaret Risque III on Saturday, May 3, at 8 PM. Featured performers are Bob Becherer, Robert Breig, Alice Kinsella, Chuck Lavazzi, Kay Martin Love, Donna Weinsting, and Jeffrey M. Wright. Ken Haller is master of ceremonies for the event, with music direction by Al Fischer. Procedes benefit the Gateway Men's Choruis. The show takes place Rialto Ballroom on the fourth floor of the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information: gmcstl.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents The Dapper Flappers May 2 through July 27. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Alton Little Theater presents Hallelujah Girls Thursdays through Sundays, May 1-11, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. "Hilarity abounds when the feisty females of Eden Falls, Georgia, decide to shake up their lives. The action in this rollicking Southern comedy by the authors of Southern Hospitality takes place in SPA-DEE-DAH!, the abandoned church-turned-day-spa where this group of friends gathers every Friday afternoon. After the loss of a dear friend, the women realize time is precious; and if they're going to change their lives and achieve their dreams, they have to do it now! But Sugar Lee, their high-spirited, determined leader, has her hands full keeping the women motivated. The comic tension mounts when a sexy ex-boyfriend shows up unexpectedly, a marriage proposal comes from an unlikely suitor, and Sugar Lee's archrival vows she'll stop at nothing to steal the spa away from her. By the time the women rally together to overcome these obstacles and launch their new, improved lives, you've got a side-splitting, joyful comedy that will make you laugh out loud and shout 'Hallelujah!'" For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Photo: Daniel Brodie
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat April 29-May 11. "One of the most enduring shows of all time, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT is the irresistible family musical about the trials and triumphs of Joseph, Israel's favorite son. The first collaboration of Andrew Lloyd Webber (Jesus Christ Superstar, Phantom of the Opera, Cats) and Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, The Lion King) JOSEPH blends pop, country and rock into an uplifting, technicolored story of biblical proportions. 'JOSEPH is still the wittiest of Lloyd Webber's extravaganzas' declares the Orlando Sentinel." The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

KTK Productions presents the comedy Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig through May 4. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, call 314-351-8984.

COCA presents the Terrapin Puppet Theatre production of Love Saturday at 2 and 5 PM and Sunday at 1 and 4 PM, May 3 and 4. “With a big storm brewing, Oslo's mum says he can only take a few things, or 'love luggage,' to safety. So, Oslo sets out to help his neighbors find their “'ove luggage,' too! This heartfelt and entertaining story is brought to life by Australia's Terrapin Puppet Theatre with traditional and digital puppets, live action and stunning music. Recommended for ages 5 and up.” COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit www.cocastl.org.

Mainstreet Musicals presents staged readings of three new musicals on Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and 4, in the Orthwein Hall at the Muny, 1 Theatre Drive in Forest Park. The musicals are Merton Of The Movies by Doug Katsaros and Donald Brenner (6 PM Saturday and 3 PM Sunday), Pride and Prejudice by Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs (3 PM Saturday and noon Sunday), and Under Fire by Barry Harman and Grant Sturiale (noon Saturday and 6 PM Sunday). For more information: www.mainstreetfestivals.org/stlouis.htm.

Equally Represented Arts presents Make Hamlet through May 3. "This experimental, theatrical production re-envisions Shakespeare's iconic play. It uses the plays inherent meta-theatricality to explore its theme of fractured identity. Shakespeare's tragic text, ERA's ensemble-driven ideals, and the ritual of performance collide as six actors Make Hamlet." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: equallyrepresentedarts.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Medea
Photo: John Lamb
St. Louis University Theatre presents Euripides's Medea adapted by Robinson Jeffers through May 4. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit www.slu.edu/theatre.

Dramatic License Productions presents the comedy The Nerd May 1-18. 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.

On Wednesday, April 30, Opera Theatre of St. Louis docents will discuss the upcoming season, which includes the return of some influential directors as well as an Opera Theatre debut (Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites) and the world premiere of Twenty-Seven by Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek. The discussion takes place at 10 AM at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information: jccstl.com.

Clayton Community Theatre presents Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through May 4. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

Curtain's Up Theatre presents Willy Wonka on May 1-4. "Join Willy Wonka as he offers a personally guided tour of his wonderful chocolate factory to five lucky winners. Music Theater International is removing this show - after June of this year, no one will be able to perform it - making our production one of the last chances for you to see the story come to life on stage!" The performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the SIU-Edwardsville campus. For more information, visit curtainsuptheater.com.

Upstream Theater presents Windmill Baby by David Milroy through May 11. “Winner of the prestigious Patrick White Award, Windmill Baby is an enthralling show about an aging Aboriginal woman named MayMay, who returns briefly to the cattle station where she lived years ago in order to take care of some 'unfinished business.' With warmth, wit, and great heart she tells a story of many layers: Of Black Australians in the service of White Australia. Of unexpected romance and sudden ruination. Of overcoming heartbreak and -most wonderfully of all-of abiding love.“ Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

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.

On his toes

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Who: Lara Teeter
What: Lucky To Be Me
When: April 25 and 26, 2014
Where: The Gaslight Cabaret Festival at the Gaslight Theatre

Gotta sing! Gotta dance! Gotta be a cabaret star! The Presenters Dolan closed out the Gaslight Cabaret Festival with Lara Teeter tripping the light fantastic in his cabaret debut "Lucky To Be Me." 

The show was high-energy entertainment from a veteran of the musical theatre stage both in the Big Apple and here in St. Louis, where Mr. Teeter has been a fixture at The Muny, our big outdoor venue, for over two decades as well as head of the musical theatre program at the Webster Conservatory for Theatre Arts since 2007.

As you might expect from someone with Mr. Teeter's credentials, his show relied heavily on classic songs from musical theatre and films.  He set the tone for the ensuing hour or so early on by using "Please Don't Monkey with Broadway" (from the film "Broadway Melody of 1940," where it was sung and danced by Fred Astaire and George Murphy) to comment on how the Great White Way had changed during his life from "a pornographic mess" in the late 1970s to the massive corporate billboard of today.  What followed was a high-level overview of his life and career, liberally illustrated with hits (and a few rarities) from the Great American Songbook.

Lara Teeter in the revival of
On Your Toes
So, for example, the title song from Rodgers and Hart's "On Your Toes" was used to reminisce about his Tony-nominated performance in the 1982 revival of that show, while "Once Upon a Time" (from Charles Strouse and Lee Adams's "All American," where it was sung by one of Mr. Teeter's heroes, Ray Bolger) became a reflection on how marriage and a family led to an unexpected career change.  "Life happens," he observed, and then went on to reflect on the joys of marriage and parenthood with "I Married an Angel" (another Rodgers and Hart title song) and Maury Yeston's lovely "New Words."

Throughout it all, Mr. Teeter matched his charming stage persona with the physical grace that comes from his years as a song and dance man.  A bit where he paid homage to the dancers that influenced him—Dick Van Dyke, Ray Bolger, Gene Kelly, and others—with quick impressions of their characteristic moves, was typical of the way in which he worked his dance background into the warp and woof of the show without coming across as a simple showoff.

Music director and pianist Greg Schweizer provided arrangements that supported Mr. Teeter well, although some of them seemed to push his voice higher than was entirely comfortable for him.  They had great stage chemistry, as was apparent when they turned a fluffed lyric in "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" (which, to be fair, has an apparently bottomless well of words) into an opportunity for some good-natured byplay.  Director Tim Schall's influence was apparent in the show's sound structure and well–thought out blocking.

Mr. Teeter is taking "Lucky to Be Me" to New York City's 54 Below in July, by which time you can expect any minor hiccups to be gone.  I'd be surprised if it wasn't extremely well received in the city Mr. Teeter used to call home.  It certainly was in the city that he calls home now, where it put the cap on a highly successful inaugural spring season of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival.  The festival continues in the fall; see gaslightcabaretfestival.com for more information as it becomes available.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Youth's magic piano

Conrad Tao
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Who: The St. Louis Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin with piano soloist Conrad Tao
What: Music of Roberto Sierra, Saint-Saëns, and Copland
When: April 25–27, 2014
Where: Powell Symphony Hall

[Find out more about the music with the symphony program notes and my symphony preview post.]

When pianist Conrad Tao appeared with the SLSO in February of 2013—as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Markus Groh—I described him as a tremendously talented young man at the beginning of what looked like a very promising career. This weekend Mr. Tao (who is still not 20 years old) validated that judgment with a Saint-Saëns "Piano Concerto No. 2" that was a model of power and delicacy.

The concerto is easily the French master's most popular essay in the form (he wrote five). It gets off to a big, dramatic start with a solo keyboard fantasia, of the sort Bach might have written, followed by an equally dramatic entrance on the part of the full orchestra. Mr. Tao's performance of the opening mini-cadenza was appropriately splashy, but not overpoweringly so. It set the tone for a performance that did full justice to the composer's keyboard pyrotechnics without ever descending into mere flash for flash's sake.

Mr. Tao's ability to project a more delicate sound was most obvious in the second movement—a fleet-footed scherzo with a piano part that sparkles like Champagne. A less sensitive player might (to carry on the metaphor) cause the bubbles to go flat, but Mr. Tao remained effervescent.

The manic tarantella finale that followed generated all the required thrills and resulted in a much-deserved standing ovation. That, in turn, resulted in an encore that gave Mr. Tao a chance to truly show off: the concluding Vivace—Moderato—Vivace from Prokofiev's "Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor," Op. 14 (1912). The movement is a wild, percussive ride that covers almost the entire eight octaves of the keyboard and even (with its repeated triplets) suggests something of the tarantella—which makes it a most appropriate choice following the concerto.

Leonard Slatkin
Under the capable baton of favorite son Leonard Slatkin, the orchestra provided nicely balanced accompaniment. The interplay between soloist and ensemble was simply ideal.

The featured work this weekend is Aaron Copland's "Symphony No. 3." A product of the final years of World War II (the composer began working on it in Mexico in 1944 and completed it just in time for its October 1946 premiere), the symphony perfectly captures the forward-looking optimism that characterized America Victorious. As Copland writes in his autobiography, the Third "was a wartime piece—or, more accurately, and end-of-war piece—intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time."

Friday morning, Mr. Slatkin and the orchestra gave us a performance that did full justice to both the exuberant and contemplative aspects of this music. The finale, with its cheerfully bombastic expansion on the 1942 "Fanfare for the Common Man," was thoroughly rousing; the third movement Andantino quasi allegretto was sweetly nostalgic; and the opening Molto moderato had the gravitas it needs. The rapid passages of the Allegro molto second movement were executed with impressive precision, despite some fairly fast tempo choices by Mr. Slatkin.

A couple of split notes not withstanding, the expanded brass section covered itself with glory Friday morning. The super-sized percussion section (six musicians, not counting the piano and celesta) was particularly impressive as well. There was also lovely work by the winds, especially in the quieter moments just before the final statement of the "fanfare" theme in the final movement.

Roberto Sierra
The concert opened with a local premiere, Roberto Sierra's "Fandangos" from 2000. The work was commissioned by Mr. Slatkin and was inspired by a "Fandango" for harpsichord by Spanish composer Antonio Soler (1729–83). Quoted in Paul Schiavo's program notes, the composer describes the piece as “a fantasy, or a ‘super-fandango,' that takes as point of departure Soler's work and incorporates elements of Boccherini's fandango and my own Baroque musings.”

In practice, that translates as a lively, kaleidoscopic elaboration on Soler's original that ripples through every section of the ensemble—a kind of mini-"concerto for orchestra" that gave everyone a chance to show off. It was a great choice for an orchestra with the SLSO's depth of talent and was enormous fun to hear. Mr. Slatkin, as you might expect, knows the music well—he conducted without a score—so I think one would have to regard his performance as definitive.

The concert will be repeated Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 26 and 27, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. The Saturday performance will be broadcast on St. Louis Public Radio, 90.7 FM, HD 1, and via live Internet stream. With a piece like the Copland Third, though, the live experience is highly recommended.

Next at Powell: Carlos Izcaray conducts orchestra and chorus in Orff's ever-popular "Carmina Burana" and Steve Reich's "The Four Sections" Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, May 1–4. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 28, 2014

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St. Louis Cathedral Concerts presents The Alleluia Ringers on Friday, May 2, at 8 PM at the cathedral at 4431 Lindell. “The Alleluia Ringers, just one of Concordia University's fine musical groups, is comprised of 14 undergraduate students who ring 6 octaves (73 bells) and 6 1/2 octaves of handchimes (79). The group is chosen by audition each fall. This is the 27th year under the direction of Dr. John Behnke.” The performance takes place at the cathedral at 4431 Lindell. For more information: www.cathedralconcerts.org.

McKendree College presents the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra on Sunday, May 4, at 3 PM. "Nearly 100 of the region's finest young musicians, ages 12 to 22, represent 35 schools throughout greater St. Louis and beyond. The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra has had a significant impact on the region's student musicians for the past 41 years." The concert takes place in the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts on the college campus in Lebanon, IL. For more information: thehett.com.

The Missouri Women's Chorus presents Romantic Women, a concert exploring the depth of music written for women's voices by the masters of the Romantic period, on Sunday, May 4, at 3 PM. " Selections will include the Johannes Brahms "Ave Maria" which he wrote for his Hamburg Frauenchor, Verdi's "Laudi alla Vergine Maria," which has been described as one of the "most beautiful a cappella pieces ever composed for women," a surprisingly modern series of six choruses by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and other gorgeous works composed for women's choruses. Come experience the beautiful music that inspired major composers of the 19th century!" The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union in the Central West End. For more information: www.missouriwomenschorus.org.

The St. Louis Art Museum presents Metropolitan Opera Live at SLAM: Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte on Saturday, May 3, at 11:45 AM. The live digital HD video broadcast from New York takes place in The Farrell Auditorium at the Art Museum in Forest Park. For more information: slam.org.

Carlos Izcaray
Carlos Izcaray conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orff's Carmina Burana and Steve Reich's The Four Sections Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, May 1-4, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. “Often found in pop culture, Orff's riveting masterpiece is best known for its driving rhythms, evocative lyrics and the spellbinding “O Fortuna.” Experience Carmina burana live with the STL Symphony and Chorus. It's guaranteed to give you goosebumps.” For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony presents a program featuring Jooyeon Kong and Melody Lee, violins; Christian Tantillo, viola; and Elizabeth Chung, cello on Thursday May 1, at noon as part of the Symphony in Your College series. The performance takes place at Whelpley Auditorium at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, 4588 Parkview Place. For more information: stlsymphony.org/symphony_college.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents violinist Fiona Brickey in a program of music by Bach, Bruch and Beethoven on Wednesday, April 30, at 7:30 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Christine Johnson
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents soprano Christine Johnson on Thursday and Saturday, May 1 and 3, at 7:30 PM. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents soprano Rebecca Dellegrazio and pianist Diana Umali on Friday, May 2, at 8 PM. " Soprano Rebecca Dellegrazio and pianist Diana Umali return to Tavern of Fine Arts on Friday, May 2 at 8 PM to present scenes of SPRING, Scenes of LOVE, Scenes from the GARDEN, and Scenes of HOME. They will be joined by soprano Melissa Peterson, tenor Jon Garrett, and narrators Rick & Karen Zelle. Artist Brian Anderson will be drawing live during the concert. His finished drawings will be raffled off at the conclusion of the concert." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by Nicholas Mourlam of the University of Notre-Dame on Friday, May 2, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org.

The Town and Country Symphony Orchestra presents a concert of the music of Brahms, Osborne, and Sibelius on Sunday, May 4, at 2:3o PM. The performance takes place in Ridgway Auditorium at The Principia, 13201 Clayton Road. For more information: tcsomo.org

Friday, April 25, 2014

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 25, 2014

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 Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents the musical Into the Woods Wednesday through Sunday, April 23-27. Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theater at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: www.webster.edu/fine-arts/departments/conservatory/index.html or call 314-968-7128.

My take: The Webster Conservatory does consistently excellent work and Into the Woods is one of Sondheim's more thoughtful and inventive shows. The second act is nearly always problematic, but if anyone can make a good case for it, they can.

The Presenters Dolan present Lara Teeter in Lucky to Be Me on Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Join Lara Teeter for his St. Louis cabaret debut, sharing his journey as artist, teacher, husband and dad. Claimed by both our town and Broadway (a Tony Nominee) as one of its own, Lara Teeter shows us just how fresh the songbook is in a master song and dance man's hands. And feet. " The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: Lara Teeter has a been an important force on the musical theatre and cabaret scene locally for many years. He and Neal Richardson have done impressive work with the musical theatre students at the Webster Conservatory, as anyone who has seen their annual cabaret night can attest. It will be interesting to see what his own show looks like.

Equally Represented Arts presents Make Hamlet, April 21 through May 3. "This experimental, theatrical production re-envisions Shakespeare's iconic play. It uses the play's inherent meta-theatricality to explore its theme of fractured identity. Shakespeare's tragic text, ERA's ensemble-driven ideals, and the ritual of performance collide as six actors Make Hamlet." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: equallyrepresentedarts.com.

My take: Non-traditional approaches to Shakespeare's classics can be a risky proposition, but as Steve Callahan notes in his review for 88.1 KDHX, this production "powerfully captures all the fears, doubts, anxieties and philosophical wonderings in which Shakespeare's play is so rich. This production expects much of its audience: it expects intelligence; it expects a good familiarity with Shakespeare's play; it expects an open mind; it expects a sense of humor. But if you have these things then ERA's production of 'Make Hamlet' is certainly for you." The Chapel Venue is non-traditional in its own way. It offers the space free of charge to performers and volunteers run the bar at the back of the house. It's definitely worth supporting that kind of attitude.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shake 38, a city wide performance festival in which all 38 of Shakespeare's plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of neighborhoods and locations. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday, April 23-27. For a complete schedule: sfstl.com.

My take: Speaking of non-traditional approaches to The Bard, Shake 38 provides more Shakespeare than you can (ahem) shake a stick at ("if that's your idea of a good time," to quote Groucho). Want to see Titus Andronicus at a hookah bar? Or Romeo and Juliet at a juvenile detention center? How about Julius Caesar at City Hall, Pericles at a coffee house, or Henry V at The Stage @ KDHX? All this and more will unfold this weekend; check out the web site for a complete schedule

Held Over:

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: St. Louis doesn't export that much theatre, so when it does it's worth taking notice. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan says that "you can count your lucky stars that right now it is again playing in St. Louis. This is the most powerful, moving new play I've seen in years." I think you can take that to the bank, as they say.

Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero through April 27. This Nobel Prize-winning play "depicts the delightful day in the life on an evangelical con man, forced to deal with creditors, politicians, and the endless temptation of beautiful women." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: Once again, the Black Rep has brought us a rarely-seen show from the pen of a noted playwright—in this case Nigeria's Wole Soyinka. "This play might have come from the pen of an archaic Aristophanes," writes Steve Callahan in his review for 88.1 KDHX. "But this little play is awash in quite beautiful dance and music and ravishing African rhythms. There is African song with gorgeous harmonies. At one moment, in a frenzy of prayer, there is a shrill ululation—the most thrilling sound in the world. All of this music and dance is so exquisitely done. And it so beautifully supports the feeling of stylization—the feeling that this is an ancient folk tale." If that doesn't sound fascinating, you must be fascination proof.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Top of the pops

Aaron Copland in 1962
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"There is no doubt about it—this is the greatest American symphony!" Thus (according to the 28 October 1946 issue of "Time") spake Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitsky after conducting the first performance of Aaron Copland's "Symphony No. 3." Was he right?

You can come to your own conclusions this weekend as St. Louis Symphony conductor emeritus Leonard Slatkin (still a favorite with local audiences) conducts the Copland symphony along with Saint-Saëns’ "Piano Concerto No. 2" and Roberto Sierra's "Fandangos."

Personally, I've always had a great deal of affection for Copland's Third. It perfectly captures the forward-looking optimism that characterized America in the years immediately after World War II. As Copland writes in his autobiography, the Third "was a wartime piece—or, more accurately, and end-of-war piece—intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time."

The symphony unfolds in four movements. "It was composed," writes Copland, "in the form of an arch, in which the central portion, that is the second-movement scherzo, is the most animated, and the final movement is an extended coda, presenting a broadened version of the opening material…The second movement stays close to the normal symphonic procedure of a usual scherzo, while the third is the freest of all in formal structure, built up sectionally with its various sections intended to emerge one from the other in a continuous flow, somewhat in the matter of a closely knit series of variations."

That third movement is, for me, the emotional heart of this symphony. There's a kind of lyrical intensity to it that reminds me of the analogous movement from Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 5" from 1937, albeit without the existential despair. And that's not the only resemblance.

Like the Shostakovich Fifth, Copland's symphony reverses the usual order of the scherzo and slow movements. It also opens with a declamatory and dramatic statement and closes with a big brassy finale. Copland's—based on his 1942 hit "Fanfare for the Common Man"—is unambiguously uplifting. Shostakovich's is much more open to interpretation.

I don't know whether or not Copland had the Shostakovich in the back of his mind during the two years he spent writing the Third. As far as I know, he has never said that he did. Besides, there are major differences between the two works. Copland genuinely intended his symphony to be triumphant while Shostakovich very likely intended his to be a subtle attack on the kind of bombast the commissars wanted to hear. And, of course, Copland didn't write his symphony under the threat of arrest, interrogation, and possible death in a Gulag. Still, if you listen to them back to back, they feel like two sides of the coin—or maybe Yin and Yang.

Camille Saint-Saëns
Tucker Collection, New York Public Library
The other Big Work on this weekend's program is also a favorite, not only of mine, but also of concertgoers in general. Camille Saint-Saëns's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor," Op. 22 is easily the French master's most popular concerto (he wrote five). It gets off to a big, dramatic start with a solo keyboard fantasia of the sort Bach might have written (had he been around in 1868 when Saint-Saëns composed the concerto for virtuoso Anton Rubenstein) followed by an equally dramatic entrance on the part of the full orchestra. The second movement is a fleet-footed scherzo with a piano part that sparkles like Champagne and the finale is flashy tarantella that provides a real workout for the soloist. Done well, the concerto is always a crowd pleaser and likely to induce standing ovations.

This week's soloist should have what it takes to get that ovation. His more recent SLSO appearance was as a last-minute replacement for an ailing Markus Groh last February. He delivered what I described as "a bang-up performance" of Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 3” and followed it up with a spectacular encore: Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.” Named a Gilmore Young Artist in 2011 (a prestigious appointment), Mr. Tao was the only classical musician on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list that year of people changing the world. And he's not even 21 yet.

The concerts open with a local premiere: Roberto Sierra's "Fandangos" from 2000. The work was commissioned by Mr. Slatkin for the National Symphony Orchestra and was inspired by a "Fandango" for harpsichord by Spanish composer Antonio Soler (1729-83). Quoted in Paul Schiavo's program notes, the composer describes the piece as “a fantasy, or a ‘super-fandango,’ that takes as point of departure Soler’s work and incorporates elements of Boccherini’s fandango and my own Baroque musings.” It's scored for a large orchestra (including castanets) and looks like it should be pretty colorful stuff.

The essentials: Leonard Slatkin conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and pianist Conrad Tao in "Fandangos" by Roberto Sierra, the "Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor," op. 22 by Saint-Saëns, and the "Symphony No. 3" by Copland on Friday at 10:30 AM, Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 25-27, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org. The Saturday performance will be broadcast on St. Louis Public Radio, 90.7 FM, HD 1, and via live Internet stream.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 21, 2014

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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Stages St. Louis presents the musical Always..Patsy Cline April 22 -June 15. "Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar star in the return engagement of the show critics called 'exceptional, must see entertainment.' The touching and true story of Country music legend Patsy Cline and her friendship with Texas housewife Louise Seger returns to STAGES this spring. Combining down home country humor, heartache and 27 of Patsy Cline’s unforgettable hits such as 'Crazy,' 'Walkin’ After Midnight,' and 'Sweet Dreams,' Always… Patsy Cline endures as a piece of genuine Americana." Performances take place at The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. For more information, visit stagesstlouis.org or call 314-821-2407.

Peabody Opera House presents Blue Man Group April 25 - 27. For more information, visit peabodyoperahouse.com or call 314-622-5420.

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

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

New Jewish Theater presents Ed Asner in his one-may play FDR Sunday, April 27, at 7 PM. “Asner's FDR, explores the life of one of America's best-loved presidents and the events and decisions that shaped a nation. This powerful play takes us through FDR's White House years including the Depression, the steps leading up to WWII and the war years. Asner shows us why this president was known as “that man in the White House,” scorned by many and admired by most.” The performance take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through April 27. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents the musical Into the Woods Wednesday through Sunday, April 23-27. Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theater at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: www.webster.edu/fine-arts/departments/conservatory/index.html or call 314-968-7128.

KTK Productions presents the comedy Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig April 25 - May 4. Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, call 314-351-8984.

Lion's Paw Theatre Company presents a reading of the plays The Hysterical Misogynist by Murray Schisgal, Charm of the British by Laura Cotton, and Siren Song of Stephen Jay Gould by Benjamin Bettenbender, on Tuesday, April 22, at noon. The reading, which includes lunch, takes place at The Hearth Room at The Hawken House, 1155 South Rock Hill Road. For more information: lionspawtheatre.org.

The Presenters Dolan present Lara Teeter in Lucky to Be Me on Friday and Saturday, April 25 and 26, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Join Lara Teeter for his St. Louis cabaret debut, sharing his journey as artist, teacher, husband and dad. Claimed by both our town and Broadway (a Tony Nominee) as one of its own, Lara Teeter shows us just how fresh the songbook is in a master song and dance man's hands. And feet. " The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Equally Represented Arts presents Make Hamlet, April 21 through May 3. "This experimental, theatrical production re-envisions Shakespeare's iconic play. It uses the plays inherent meta-theatricality to explore its theme of fractured identity. Shakespeare's tragic text, ERA's ensemble-driven ideals, and the ritual of performance collide as six actors Make Hamlet." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: equallyrepresentedarts.com.

St. Louis University Theatre presents Euripides's Medea adapted by Robinson Jeffers April 25 - May 4. Performances take place in Xavier Hall, 3373 West Pine Mall. For more information, call (314) 977-2998 or visit www.slu.edu/theatre.

Lindenwood University's J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts presents Memphis: the Musical on Monday, April 21, at 8 PM. The Scheidegger Center is on the Lindenwood campus in St Charles MO. For more information, visit lindenwood.edu/center.

St. Charles Community College presents Next Year's Man of Steel Wednesday through Sunday, April 23-27. Performances take place in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building on the campus at 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, MO. For more information, call 636-922-8050 or visit stchas.edu.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shake 38, a city wide performance festival in which all 38 of Shakespeare's plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of neighborhoods and locations. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday, April 23-27. For a complete schedule: sfstl.com.

Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero through April 27. This Nobel Prize-winning play "depicts the delightful day in the life on an evangelical con man, forced to deal with creditors, politicians, and the endless temptation of beautiful women." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Clayton Community Theatre presents Agatha Christie's The Unexpected Guest Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 25 - May 4. Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

Upstream Theater presents Windmill Baby by David Milroy April 25 - May 11. “Winner of the prestigious Patrick White Award, Windmill Baby is an enthralling show about an aging Aboriginal woman named MayMay, who returns briefly to the cattle station where she lived years ago in order to take care of some 'unfinished business.' With warmth, wit, and great heart she tells a story of many layers: Of Black Australians in the service of White Australia. Of unexpected romance and sudden ruination. Of overcoming heartbreak and -most wonderfully of all-of abiding love.“ Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

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, April 19, 2014

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of April 21, 2014

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The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Evolution, featuring works by Goldstein, Gould, and Dovrak on Friday, April 25, at 8 PM. “Dvorak's melodic String Quintet lays the groundwork for future generations. Goldstein's soaring Quintet takes an old genre and gives it a new sound. Gould's duet for clarinet and bass pays homage to Benny Goodman and the music of the swing era.” The performance takes place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org

COCA presents the COCA Allegro Spring Concert on Sunday, April 27, at 4 PM. "Allegro, COCA's student vocal ensemble under the direction of Voice Coordinator Phil Woodmore, performs its annual Spring Concert. Allegro has a repertoire that combines musical theatre, pop and seasonal arrangements." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information: cocastl.org.

The Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis presents a Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") and the Brahms Symphony No. 4 on Sunday, April 27, at 7 PM. The concert will be performed at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright. For more information: metro-orch.org

Leonard Slatkin conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and pianist Conrad Tao in Fandangos by Roberto Sierra, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 22 by Saint-Saëns, and the Symphony No. 3 by Copland on Friday at 10:30 AM, Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, April 25-27, at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. “Honored with a Grammy® nomination for the 1992 recording of Copland's Symphony No. 3 with the STL Symphony, Leonard Slatkin makes a triumphant return to Powell Hall to conduct the work that captures the essence of America and its people. Described as an “American monument” by Leonard Bernstein, Copland's Third Symphony comes to a spectacular conclusion based on themes from his Fanfare for the Common Man. Heralded on Forbes 2011 “30 under 30” list of people changing the world, gifted pianist Conrad Tao performs Saint-Saëns' capricious Piano Concerto No. 2.” For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The St. Louis Symphony presents a collaborative concert with the St. Louis Low Brass Collective on Thursday, April 24, at 7:30 PM. The concert is part of the STL Symphony in the City series. “Members of the St. Louis Symphony, U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America top local freelance artists and local college professors will join forces to present the best in low brass music. The All-Star lineup will feature separate works for bass trombone and wind quintet and tuba and wind quintet. It will also feature solo works and low brass ensembles including an composition for eight trombones by Grammy award winning composer Anthony DiLorenzo.” The concert takes place at the Sheldon Concert hall, 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org/symphony_city.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents jazz pianist and composer Peter Martin and St. Louis Symphony violinist David Halen in Jazz Meets Classical in the 20th Century in Beyond on Wednesday, April 23, at 8 PM. "Peter Martin, music director for jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, recently wrote a major jazz/classical work for the 100th Anniversary of The Sheldon, combining top jazz musicians and a string quartet of David Halen and members of the Symphony. We'll hear excerpts from that exciting composition and other music combining the best of jazz and classical music." The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

The Tavern of Fine Arts presents UMSL student violinist Shay Sienkiewicz in her senior recital on Wednesday, April 23, at 7:20 PM. This concert will feature music composed by Bach, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information: tavern-of-fine-arts.blogspot.com.

Third Baptist Church presents an organ concert by John Nothaft of Indiana University on Friday, April 25, at 12:30 PM as part of its free Friday Pipes series. "Join us on Fridays at Third Baptist Church for Friday Pipes, the free organ recital series celebrating the restoration of the church's 72-rank Kilgen/Möller pipe organ. Each week a different performer will be presenting a program of classical, church, and theatre organ music in the beautiful sanctuary of Third Baptist. This season's performers come from across the USA, and even from around the world. Free parking is available in the church lots on Washington Avenue." Third Baptist Church is at 620 N Grand. For more information: www.third-baptist.org.

Storm watch

Storm Large at the Aladdin Theatre
Portland, Oregon, 2012
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Who: Storm Large and her Four-Piece Band
What: Taken by Storm: Songs of Seduction and Obsession
When: Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12, 2014
Where: The Gaslight Cabaret Festival

Storm Large (yes, that's her real name) seems to be a one-woman entertainment conglomerate: rock star, author, actor, songwriter, and creator of the much-praised one-woman show "Crazy Enough" (based on her memoir of the same name).

No surprise, then, that her show " Taken by Storm: Songs of Seduction and Obsession" defied easy categorization. It was at least as much rock as cabaret (especially in its attitude), but it was solidly theatrical as well.

The important thing, though, is that it was entertaining as hell. The show Ms. Large and her four-piece band put on was a bit long by cabaret standards (over 90 minutes) but it felt shorter. That's because Ms. Large was such a hypnotic, compelling, and energetic performer. Statuesque, slinky (in a "poured into it" gold gown), and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice, she bounded on stage and immediately grabbed the audience's attention with a powerful rock anthem–styled version of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" (which she describes as a classic song of obsession).

She kept that attention through an impressively varied mix of songs by everybody from Jacques Brel (a just-this-side-of-creepy "Ne Me Quitte Pas), to "Sacred Love" by the punk band Bad Brains (the original vocal track of which was recorded by lead singer Paul Hudson from jail), to James Shelton's rueful "Lilac Wine," about drowning feelings of lost love. She did Tom Waits's "Saving All My Love for You" with all the "looking up from the bottom of the barrel" poetry you could ask for. The sappy "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (from the film version of "Grease), on the other hand, was done from the POV of a borderline psychotic dominatrix ("I think that's a better message for our young people," Ms. Large observed). And there were even a couple of the singer's own compositions, including the ultimate break-up number "I Want You to Die."

And if that weren't enough, at about the point where I began thinking that Ms. Large's over-the-top, irresistibly dramatic stage persona might be a good fit for a Jim Steinman rock anthem, she gave us exactly that: the 1983 Bonnie Tyler hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (I had been hoping for "Nowhere Fast," but what the heck). And, since Ms. Large apparently can't do anything predictable, she turned it into an audience participation number. At one point she asked us all to sing "turn around, bright eyes" as though we were "little gay fairies" (the kind with wings) and darned if we didn't give it our best shot.

Ms. Large's songwriting talents, by the way, aren't limited to revenge numbers. Her next to closing song, "Angels in Gas Stations," was a beautiful little slice-of-romantic-life poem ("God is every damn where tonight," runs the refrain), while her "8 Miles Wide" was a cheerfully upbeat and totally outrageous declaration of female empowerment. "My vagina is eight miles wide," goes the refrain to that one. "Absolutely everyone can come inside / If you're ever frightened, just run and hide." OK, then.

Accompanying Ms. Large were pianist and (I assume) music director James Beaton, guitarist Matt Brown, bass guitarist Scott Weddle, and drummer Greg Eklund. They all rocked the house and (if YouTube is any indication) they have all performed with Ms. Large often enough to be very comfortable with both her and with each other.

So, yeah, Storm Large's show did not fit into any easy niches and was not for the easily offended. But the cabaret tent is a big one (maybe even eight miles wide…), so there's plenty of room for high-energy hijinks by performers like Storm Large and her band. And only a dedicated Puritan or some other variety of killjoy could have failed to have a good time there. Thanks to Jim Dolan for continuing to bring a great variety of cabaret talent to town.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival concludes April 25 and 26 with Lara Teeter's "Lucky to Be Me." For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 18, 2014

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:

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: St. Louis doesn't export that much theatre, so when it does it's worth taking notice. In his review for 88.1 KDHX, Steve Callahan says that "you can count your lucky stars that right now it is again playing in St. Louis. This is the most powerful, moving new play I've seen in years." I think you can take that to the bank, as they say.

Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Once through April 20. "Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights... but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It's an unforgettable story about going for your dreams... not living in fear... and the power of music to connect all of us. " The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Turning popular films into musical theatre isn't a new trend (anybody remember the Burt Bacharach/Hal David/Neil Simon hit Promises, Promises from 56 years ago?) but it has certainly accelerated in recent years, and not always with salubrious results. Once seems to have gotten the approach right, though. "This beautifully staged and performed tale is bittersweet and softly played in gentle melodies and pure harmonies," writes Tina Farmer in her review for 88.1 KDHX, "with just the right mix of Irish and Czech-influenced folk traditions."

Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero through April 27. This Nobel Prize-winning play "depicts the delightful day in the life on an evangelical con man, forced to deal with creditors, politicians, and the endless temptation of beautiful women." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org.

My take: Once again, the Black Rep has brought us a rarely-seen show from the pen of a noted playwright—in this case Nigeria's Wole Soyinka. "This play might have come from the pen of an archaic Aristophanes," writes Steve Callahan in his review for 88.1 KDHX. "But this little play is awash in quite beautiful dance and music and ravishing African rhythms. There is African song with gorgeous harmonies. At one moment, in a frenzy of prayer, there is a shrill ululation—the most thrilling sound in the world. All of this music and dance is so exquisitely done. And it so beautifully supports the feeling of stylization—the feeling that this is an ancient folk tale." If that doesn't sound fascinating, you must be fascination proof.

Held Over:

Stray Dog Theatre presents Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 19. "The popular musical, based on British writer Christopher Isherwood’s semiautobiographical short novel Goodbye to Berlin, explores the decadence and seamy underbelly of 1930s Germany where beguiling, self-destructive chanteuse Sally Bowles lives with no thought for tomorrow. As the growing power of the Nazi’s Third Reich secretly begins to take hold, everything is thrown into disarray." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: This show has gotten a lot of exposure (you should pardon the expression) lately, but it never hurts to be reminded of how easy it is for people to just go along with evil rather than stand up against it. The Stray Dog production adds a new element by basting an female actor (Lavonne Beyers) as the androgynous MC. "If you want to see this show and you should," writes Andrea Braun in her review for KDHX, "get tickets now because the first weekend was sold out before the opening. Ask about cabaret seating (the first rows of pews) with tables and service by the cast."

Monday, April 14, 2014

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of April 14, 2014

Updated Thursday, April 17

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

St. Louis Community College at Meramec Theatre Department presents the musical Bye Bye Birdie Wednesday through Sunday, April 16-20. Performances take place in the theatre on the campus at 11333 Big Bend Road. For more information, call 314-984-7500.

Stray Dog Theatre presents Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through April 19. "The popular musical, based on British writer Christopher Isherwood’s semiautobiographical short novel Goodbye to Berlin, explores the decadence and seamy underbelly of 1930s Germany where beguiling, self-destructive chanteuse Sally Bowles lives with no thought for tomorrow. As the growing power of the Nazi’s Third Reich secretly begins to take hold, everything is thrown into disarray." 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!

Mustard Seed Theatre presents Falling, written and directed by Deanna Jent. "Fresh from its off-Broadway run, Falling returns with the original St. Louis cast. The New York Post writes: "This heartfelt and nuanced family drama is shot through with dark humor. Falling soars!" While Falling explores hard truths within a family dealing specifically with autism, the story is really about loving someone who is hard to love." Performances take place through May 4 at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through April 27. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Once through April 20. "Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards® including Best Musical, ONCE is a truly original Broadway experience. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, ONCE tells the enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who's about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights... but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Emotionally captivating and theatrically breathtaking, ONCE draws you in from the very first note and never lets go. It's an unforgettable story about going for your dreams... not living in fear... and the power of music to connect all of us. " The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley Theater Department presents Thornton Wilder's Our Town through April 19. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, call 314-644-5522.

Photo: Stewart Goldstein
The Black Rep presents Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero through April 27. This Nobel Prize-winning play "depicts the delightful day in the life on an evangelical con man, forced to deal with creditors, politicians, and the endless temptation of beautiful women." Performances take place at the Emerson Performance Center on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University. For more information: theblackrep.org. Read the 88.1 KDHX review!

Washington University Performing Arts Department presents Twelfth Night Thursday and Friday at 8 PM, and Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, April 17-20. Cross-dressing, love, and madness in1950's Havanna, Cuba highlight this production of one ofShakespeare's funniest, most lyrical comedies." Performances take place in the Studio Theatre in the Mallinckrodt Center on the Washington University campus. For more information: pad.artsci.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-5858.

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.