Thursday, August 06, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of August 7, 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:

The Hawthorne Players present the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel through August 9. "Carousel tells the story of a swaggering, carefree carnival barker, Billy Bigelow, who falls in love with a mill worker, Julie Jordan. Years after he dies tragically, Billy is given a chance to return for a day to try to brighten the life of his unhappy 15-year-old daughter Louise. He watches as the school principal inspires Louise by assuring her that so long as she has hope in her heart, she'll never walk alone." The performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit

My take: Carousel surprised many theatergoers when it made its Broadway premiere on April 19th, 1945. Rogers and Hammerstein's last show, Oklahoma!, was still playing across the street, and the contrast must have been startling. Based on Molnar's downbeat melodrama Liliom from two decades earlier, Carousel's fantasy elements and bittersweet ending were quite a change from the realism and rousing finale of its predecessor. The show had a decent run - 890 performances - and was an immediate hit with the critics. Which makes it only right that the Hawthorne production is such a hit with our own Steve Callahan at KDHX. "This is a charming production," he writes, "deftly directed by Adam Grun, and it’s brim full of the very best things that community theater can offer...Danny Grumich, in the central role of Billy, will simply knock your socks off! He gives a performance of the very highest professional caliber." Hawthorne has a long track record of producing community theatre with a high professional gloss; I've done a couple of shows there myself and have been impressed by the production quality. And the theatre at the Florissant Civic Center is a good, comfortable space with decent acoustics.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler
Photo: Kim Carlson
St. Louis Shakespeare presents The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler by Jeff Whitty Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., through August 9. "This play follows Hedda into the hereafter. There, she encounters Mammy of "Gone With the Wind" fame, and they join forces. Along the way, they encounter starlets, leading ladies, and other madwomen locked in the literary attic, in this darkly funny show." Performances take place at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan in the Carondelet neighborhood. For more information, call 314-361-5664 or visit

My take: From the author of the smart and funny book for the musical Avenue Q comes this ingenious theatrical in-joke. One of the stage's most famous suicides, Hedda Gabler, wakes from her offstage shooting to a literary and theatrical afterlife in which famous (and not-so-famous) fictional characters endlessly relive the tropes their creators designed for them. Refusing to simply repeat the fate Ibsen created for her, she goes off on a voyage of self-discovery, assisted by Mammy from Gone With the Wind and a pair of stereotypically gay characters from 1968 who could be (but aren't) from Boys in the Band or Staircase. As I note in my capsule review for, it's "a clever concept with plenty of laughs along the way." My colleague Tina Farmer at KDHX agrees, calling it "riotously fun and delivered with the sharp, crisp attitude the company does so well." And the Ivory Theatre, now under new management, it great space for live theatre, with plenty of parking, comfortable seats, and some decent restaurants within easy walking distance.

Photo: John Lamb
Union Avenue Opera presents Verdi's Rigoletto Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, July 31 - August 8. "A tale of innocence lost, Rigoletto is Verdi's tense and brutal tale of a deformed court jester caught in a snare of corruption, lechery, and vengeance. It is a chilling whirlwind of revenge: Rigoletto, jester to the Duke of Mantua, cannot protect the person he most loves from the person he most loathes. His beloved daughter Gilda falls in love with the hated Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save the Duke from the assassin hired by her father. This iconic melodrama boasts an action-packed plot and a parade of brilliant music, including the Duke's boastful "La donna è mobile," Rigoletto's "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata," and Gilda's stunning "Caro nome."" 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: I sometimes find myself the odd man out among my fellow critics with some opera productions, but not this time. Everybody basically agrees: Union Avenue has once again done very well indeed by Verdi. As I note in my review for KDHX, from the ominous brass fanfares that open the prelude to Rigoletto's final despairing howl of "La maledizione" ("the curse"), Tim Ocel's knowing direction drives this "Rigoletto" to its tragic conclusion with the relentless energy of a runaway train. Jordan Shanahan's performance in the title role is just riveting: powerfully sing and incisively acted. This is definitely a "must see."

Held Over:

The cast of Anything Goes
Photo: Peter Wochniak
Stages St. Louis presents Cole Porter's Anything Goes through August 16. "Set sail on the S. S. American with a zany group of travelers, bound from New York to merry old England, where gangsters, socialites, and arrow-collar lads collide in a true tap-sensation from a by-gone era when travel was still fun and as unpredictable as the weather. There'll be laughs a-plenty set to a raucous and romantic Cole Porter score. Enjoy meltingly romantic melodies as "I Get A Kick Out Of You," "It's De-Lovely," "Easy To Love," "You're The Top," and "Anything Goes," that will inspire an uproarious and tune-filled trip across the Atlantic where ANYTHING GOES!" Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information, visit or call 314-821-2407.

My take: Porter's hit-laden score and the breezy (and often revised book) combine for great fun, and it looks like Stages is doing it justice. "Every song, every character, every step, every gesture, every tiny comic bit is perfect," writes Steve Callahan at KDHX. "Every single moment of this show is a delight." Having finally had a chance to see it myself, I concur. The original Billy Crocker has been replaced by Brent Michael Diroma, who is a very talented comic actor with a lovely crooner's light baritone/tenor. Definitely worth seeing.

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