Thursday, November 05, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of November 6, 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:

Carmina Burana
Dance St. Louis presents the Nashville Ballet production of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM. The production features 120 singers, 60 musicians, and 40 dancers, including The University of Missouri-St. Louis Orchestra and Singers, The Bach Society of Saint Louis and The St. Louis Children's Choir. The opening act for Carmina Burana a world premiere performed by Saint Louis Ballet and choreographed by Dance St. Louis Artistic and Executive Director Michael Uthoff. Performances take place at the Touhill Center on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. For more information:

My take: When this production first hit town back in February of 2013, I dubbed it "an impressive piece of dance theatre that succeeds both as Spectacle and as Art." The first (and least sexually explicit) of Orff’s Trionfi trilogy of choral theatre works, 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. While Carmina Burana has been a popular concert item at the St. Louis Symphony in recent years, chances to see a fully staged version are rare, and if 2013 is any indication this is one of the best.

I and You
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the drama I and You through November 15. "Anthony is an effortlessly popular "A" student; Caroline is a prickly cynic, homebound with a serious illness. This unlikely duo sits in Caroline's room, trying to cobble together a report on Walt Whitman overnight. As they work and procrastinate, argue and compromise, the teens begin to uncover each other's hidden depths. Full of surprising humor and emotion, I and You explores bravery in the face of an uncertain future and the unique, mysterious connections that bind us." Performances take place in the studio theater at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit

My take: As I write in my review, this play is a kind of dramaturgical magic trick. For most of its 85-minute length it looks like a conventional (but sharply written) buddy story about a pair of teens who find unexpected connections and friendship while working on a school project based on Walt Whitman's visionary poetry collection "Leaves of Grass." And then Ms. Gunderson pulls the rabbit out of the hat and shows us (to quote the Firesign Theatre) that "everything you know is wrong." The fact that she does this in a way that is entirely plausible and consistent with everything that has gone before is a testament to her strength as a dramatist. It's an intelligent script given a flawless presentation.

Dom Thomas
The Kranzberg Center presents Love, a cabaret starring Dom Thomas, on Saturday, November 7, at 6 and 8 p.m. "Come see Saint Louis' own Dom Thomas in his new cabaret show Love. Featuring a full band; Dom will preform classic tunes from the American song book, as well as original music from his upcoming album 'Sweet Dreams'. Discover Dom's Love for life, family and music in his brand new cabaret!" The Kranzberg Center is at 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: I first saw Mr. Thomas shortly after he arrived in St. Louis last year at The Cabaret Project open mic night (which I host) . He impressed me (and everyone else who has seen him) with his smooth, charming song delivery, with its echoes of the great Nat "King" Cole and other classic crooners.

Mamma Mia!
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, Friday through Sunday, November 6-8. The Fox Theatre is at 517 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit or call 314-534-1678.

My take: Let me state, for the record, that I am not now nor have I ever been a fan of the 1970s pop quartet ABBA. When they were cranking out hits like “Dancing Queen”, I was sneering at them and listening to Elvis Costello and The Ramones. I say this not to make you think I'm a Cool Guy (TM) but rather to reassure you that when I describe Mamma Mia! as a completely captivating evening of musical theatre, it's not because of any latent nostalgia for platform shoes and white spandex. No, it's because producer Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and playwright Catherine Johnson (all from Britain, where this show began and where the population have in inexplicable love affair for the Swedish group) have put together a fast-paced, funny, and occasionally even touching show that can send even a die-hard ABBA hater like yours truly out of the theatre with a smile on his face and a handful of those bouncy, hook-laden melodies rattling around in his brain. We first saw this in London a few years after its 1998 opening and found it to be great fun. The American version changes everyone from English to American, which seems unnecessary, but it's still a hoot.

The COCA Theatre Company presents Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World, Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7. "This contemporary pop/rock musical introduces the audience to an array of characters ranging from a young man who has determined that basketball is his ticket out of poverty to a woman standing on a ledge 57 stories above Fifth Avenue. What emerges is a world on the brink of change filled with extraordinary people moving it forward." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information, call (314) 725-6555 or visit

My take: Songs for a New World is an interesting hybrid of song cycle, musical revue, and book musical. There's narrative thread, but it's inferred from the lyrics rather than stated in dialog (of which there is none), which may explain why this remarkably rich show isn't done more often. I haven't seen COCA's production, so I'm recommending this strictly on the strength of the material.

Storm Large
The Presenters Dolan present Storm Large and Her Four-Piece Band on Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "A great singer, killer beauty and funny, fleshy truth teller, Storm has many lives. 1) She is a rock siren. 2) She fronts Pink Martini, a sophisticated pop symphony that tours all over the world. 3) She triumphed ("Sensational," said the NY Times) in a recent Brecht/Weil show at Carnegie Hall with Leonard Slatkin. 4) Best Selling Memoirist. She does it all supremely well. Very lucky to have her in St. Louis for the first time. Not to be missed. Definitely new key. With songs by Elvis Costello, Cole Porter, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Olivia Newton-John and Storm Large." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information:

My take: When I first saw Storm Large last spring at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival, I said she was 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). She's a hypnotic, compelling, and energetic performer, and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice. So, yeah, you should definitely see her.

Act Two Theatre presents the satirical musical Urinetown, November 6-15. "Winner of three TONY Awards, three Outer Critic's Circle Awards, two Lucille Lortel Awards, and two Obie Awards, Urinetown is a hilarious musical satire of the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, municipal politics and musical theatre itself! Hilariously funny and touchingly honest, Urinetown provides a fresh perspective of one of America's greatest art forms. In a Gotham-like city, a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year drought, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens must use public amenities, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity's most basic needs. Amid the people, a hero decides he's had enough, and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom!" Performances take place in the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO 63376. For more information:

My take: Here's another recommendation based entirely on the show itself, since I haven't seen Act Two's production. Urinetown takes on a serious subject—water and the way we take it for granted—in an entertaining way. As climate change dries up glaciers and creates water shortages in glacier-fed rivers and lakes, this show's message is, if anything, even more relevant now than when I first saw it many years ago.

Held Over:

Angel Street
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the drama Angel Street through November 8. Mrs. Bella Manningham is going mad. Confined to an old and dark London home, her suave husband and caretaker, Jack, accuses her of playing wicked pranks and tricks that she can't recall, tormenting Bella and making her question her own sanity. Frightened, Bella believes everyone is against her, until one evening when a keen police inspector pays her a visit, shedding light on information that could save her life. Equal parts mystery, psychology and sin, Angel Street is one of Broadway's longest running plays. " Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit

My take: Sometimes a play's film adaptation will completely eclipse the original—just ask Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, whose 1940 drama Everybody Comes to Rick's would achieve fame as Casablanca. In the case of the 1938 thriller Angel Street, the 1944 film adaptation Gaslight (as the play was originally name in Britain) has become so familiar that the Rep adding it to the title. In any case, the original seems to have retained its suspense, despite the fact that pretty much everybody on the planet now knows the plot twists. "This is expertly crafted entertainment that will surely get you in the mood for the Halloween season," writes Chris Gibson at, "and I highly recommend it!" At KDHX, Sarah Richardson says it's "an enjoyable, diverting show with a delightful cast and fantastic design." I agree about the cast, although it seems clear to me that the director has asked both leads to overact, especially in the final scene, with detracted from my enjoyment of what is, overall, a good production.

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