Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of July 17, 2015

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:

Andy Christopher as Buddy Holly
The Muny presents presents the Muny premiere of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story nightly at 8:15 PM, July 13-19, in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. " The story of beloved American rock 'n' roll icon Buddy Holly explodes onto The Muny stage in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Buddy Holly created the sounds and styles that made American rock 'n' roll, and this fantastic show features songs you've loved for decades: "That'll Be The Day," "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," "Peggy Sue," and "Johnny B. Goode!" Another Muny premiere, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story is an all-American summer night's energy boost!" For more information, visit or call 314-361-1900.

My take: This is a classic "jukebox musical" in that it's mostly a celebration of the music of Buddy Holly grafted on to a lightweight biography of the singer, who died tragically young (age 22) in the light plane crash that also claimed the lives of pop stars Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (an event memorialized as "the day the music died" in Don McLean's "American Pie"). Great art it ain't, but it looks the the Muny is giving it a big, flashy, and very polished production. In her review for 88.1 KDHX, Tina Farmer describes this as "a rousing, high energy tribute to the prolific musician that highlights not only his status as an early rock icon, but also his contributions to the civil rights movement as demonstrated through both his actions and a genuine appreciation for the music that developed from the African American blues tradition." "Led by the frenzied and inspired performance by Andy Christopher in the title role," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "it’s so easy to enjoy the sounds of 1950s pioneer rock on The Muny stage."

Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Mozart's Don Giovanni Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, through July 18. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. The opera is sung in Italian with projected English text. For more information, visit or call 314-361-2881.

My take: You wouldn't know it from the ominous opening chords, but Don Giovanni is technically an opera buffa - an 18th-century mix of the comic and the dramatic with the emphasis on the former. And while the libretto by Mozart's frequent collaborator Lorenzo DaPonte has more than its share of humor, it also has love, lust, intrigue, betrayal, murder, a hint of the supernatural, and a morally uplifting finale in which we are reminded that "sinful lives will end in hell." No wonder this particular version of the Don Juan legend has remained in the repertory since 1787. What Don Giovanni mostly has, of course, is some of Mozart's finest music for the theatre - hardly surprising, since it dates from the same year as the "Prague" Symphony (K. 504), the K. 515 and K. 516 string quintets, and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. It also boasts an almost perfect balance between action and introspection. "From the moment that Scott Schoonover raised his baton to invoke that incredible athletic overture," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX, "it was re-confirmed to me that Don Giovanni is indeed the zenith of 18th Century opera...As is its wonderful common practice Union Avenue Opera has found superlative voices for this production." "Union Avenue Opera has opened its 21st season with a strong and wonderful performance that features many excellent voices," agrees Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "some familiar and others making their UAO debut, in a production guided masterfully by conductor Scott Schoonover and director Jon Truitt."

The Killing of Sister George
Max and Louie Productions presents the dark comedy, The Killing of Sister George by Frank Marcus through July 26. "Lusty, gin-swilling, cigar-chomping, lesbian, June Buckridge plays the beloved rural nurse, Sister George, the maternal heart and soul of the folksy BBC radio serial Applehurst. When studio executives decide to boost ratings and neutralize their difficult star's public relations problems, the queen of the soaps finds her throne in jeopardy. The undercurrents pull June, her fragile younger 'companion,' and a wily female BBC executive into a precarious minefield of mayhem and manipulation." Performances take place at the Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information, visit

My take: Marcus's 1964 play was considered pretty scandalous in its day, mostly because of the implied (but never explicitly stated) lesbian relationship between the two main characters (a relationship made more manifest in the 1968 film version). It looks less shocking these days, but it still plays out as pretty dark farce. The Max and Louie production has apparently not downplayed any of that. "Director Brooke Edwards," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "neither shies away from nor overemphasizes the cruelty inherent in the women's relationship or June's apparent dislike of nearly everyone who crosses her path..The show is a dark farce, almost a play of very bad manners, and the humor helps to keep the tone light and the action moving forward, and I very much enjoyed the performances while appreciating, if not quite embracing, each character's choices."

“Cold in Hand” by Steve Apostolina
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil LaBute New Theater Festival, Part 1 through July 19 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. The festival features professional, new and previously unproduced one-act plays 45 minutes or less in length, chosen from submissions to the festival over the previous year. The plays in Part 1 are "Kandahar" by Neil LaBute; "Cold in Hand"; "Custom" by Mark Young; "A Taste of Heaven" by Chris Holbrook; "Stand Up for Oneself" by Lexi Wolfe; and "A Stranger Here Myself" by Rich Orloff. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit

My take: Reviews of part one of the festival indicate that it's something of a mixed bag, with the best notices going to LaBute's own contribution "Kandahar," about a returning war veteran whose inability to adjust to life stateside has violent consequences. But that's what you should expect from a festival of new plays by new playwrights. "Take off the rose-colored glasses and look at different aspects of human nature, as seen through the eyes of prolific playwright Neil LaBute and emerging provocative writers" writes Lynn Venhaus at the Belleville News-Democrat. "LaBute, who peers into the blackness of men’s souls and writes clearly about good and evil, presents his distinctive style, as well as the contest winners, over the next few weekends at the LaBute New Play Festival." "The first set of plays provides a lot of variety," writes the St. Louis Theatre Snob, "played out on Patrick Huber’s minimal and incredibly versatile set, and is a promising start to this year’s festival. "

St. Nicholas
The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in Connor McPherson's one-character one-act play St. Nicholas in rotating repertory with McPherson's The Good Thief through July 26. The performances take place at Herbie's Vintage 72, 405 N. Euclid in the Central West End. A special pre/post-theatre menu will be available before or after the show, cocktails will be available for the performance, and live music will follow Sunday performances. For more information:

My take: Joe Hanrahan has become something of a one-man theatre company over the past several years, taking one-character plays to unusual venues including the St. Lou Fringe (where his House was a highlight this year). Herbie's Vintage 72 certainly qualifies as non-traditional theatre space: an upscale French brasserie-style restaurant that has been a fixture in the Central West End for decades now.

St. Nicholas is the story of an alcoholic theatre critic who becomes enamored of a not-overly-talented actress, only to find himself sucked into a cult of vampires. "The plot and action represent, in many ways, a rather straightforward tale of redemption in the making" writes Tina Farmer at KDHX. "It is Hanrahan's skillful interpretation that compels us to lean in and listen to his tale. Through inflection, movement and direct invitation, he lures us in then wanders, pontificates and weaves this strangely satisfying and textured story." The Good Thief is the story of a Dublin burglary that goes wrong and erupts into a gun battle with multiple casualties. "The episode he recounts is so violent that at times," writes Judy Newmark at, "you might find yourself covering your eyes or your mouth — only to realize that, of course, there’s nothing to see but a small man who has to use his fingers to make a “gun.” That’s the power of good storytelling."

Held Over:

The Fantasticks
Insight Theatre Company presents the classic musical The Fantasticks through July 18. "This long running show is a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl, two fathers, and a wall. The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imaginations and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The young lovers do come to realize that, just as El Gallo had said, 'Without a hurt, the heart is hollow.'" Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre, 530 East Lockwood on the campus of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit

My take: The Fantasticks is one of the great musicals of the past century, with a memorable score and a funny and literate book. Based on Rostand's The Romancers, the show has a very Gallic outlook on life and love that makes it unusual in American musical theatre and always worth seeing. "If you are among the few who have never seen a production of The Fantasticks," writes Bob Wilcox at KDHX, "the current one at Insight Theatre Company offers you a splendid introduction to this ever-charming musical."

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