Friday, July 22, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of July 22nd, 2016

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:

Mamma Mia!
The Muny presents the musical Mamma Mia!, based on the songs of ABBA, opening on Thursday, July 21, and running nightly at 8:15 pm through July 28 in the outdoor theatre in Forest Park. "After 14 years and nearly 6,000 performances on Broadway, the phenomenal worldwide megahit Mamma Mia! arrives at The Muny like a breath of fresh island air. Prepare to be swept into the contagious excitement of 22 memorable ABBA hits, including "Dancing Queen," "Take a Chance on Me" and "The Winner Takes It All." You haven't seen Mamma Mia! in its full splendor until you've seen it under the stars at The Muny." For more information, visit or call 314-361-1900.

My take: As I wrote in my review of the 2002 USA tour of this show on its first visit to the Fox, 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. But when I first saw Mamma Mia! in London back in 2001 surrounded by wildly enthusiastic Brits (who apparently feel about ABBA the way the French feel about Jerry Lewis), I had to admit it was great fun. I found it a completely captivating evening of musical theatre, mostly because Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and playwright Catherine Johnson (all from Britain, where this show began) 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. So enjoy it, already.

Photo: Mike Snodderly
Theatre Nuevo presents Orgullo: A Pride of One Acts through July 24. Orgullo (Spanish for "pride") will feature bilingual scripts from playwrights nationwide, focusing on the themes of Latin pride and identity. Original work from national playwrights like Tlaloc Rivas, José Casas, Alvaro Saar Rios and more will be featured in the lineup of one act plays. Performances take place at the 1900 Park Creative Space in Lafayette Square. For more information:

My take: With deranged hatred of immigrants in general and Latino immigrants in particular spewing from Cleveland right now, the timing of this unusual evening could not be better. "The ten stories tell of the Latino experience with contemporary, relatable stories that could happen in almost any community in the United States," writes Tina Farmer in her review for KDHX. "But each story is varied, with truths and complexities that represent the fullness of life, not simply a single perspective. Rather than focusing on fancy sets or big production numbers, Theatre Neuvo demonstrates a deep commitment to storytelling with this production...a compelling evening's entertainment."

The Cabaret Project presents The St. Louis Cabaret Conference Closing Night Showcase and Celebration on Sunday, July 24, at 7 p.m. as part of the 2016 St. Louis Cabaret Festival. "The newly remolded Jazz at the Bistro is the perfect supper club! Dinner seating or just drinks and appetizers start at 6 pm. And at 7 p.m. its time for the core group of talented singers of the St. Louis Cabaret Conference to show audiences why they've come from all over the country to be mentored by the Conference's renowned faculty. Join us for this closing night showcase and stick around for the post show party that starts up as soon as the last bow is taken. Party noshes are on us!" The performance takes place at Jazz at the Bistro, across from The Fox in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: As someone who has seen and/or performed in most of the closing showcases over the years, I can attest to the wonderful variety and skill of the performers who take the stage in this big, two-act show. Seating for pre-show dinner or drinks begins at 6 p.m. and the show starts at 7.

The Cabaret Project presents The St. Louis Cabaret Conference Professional Track Showcase on Saturday, July 23, at 8 p.m. as part of the 2016 St. Louis Cabaret Festival. "Mentored by Marilyn Maye, Faith Prince, Tedd Firth and Billy Stritch, as well as other members of the prestigious St. Louis Cabaret Conference Faculty, these singers take to the stage to show you why they are on the right track! The St. Louis Cabaret Conference presents these select singers in there own showcase of mini cabaret sets to show so you can see why they are ready to take their talents and ambitions and make their mark in the cabaret world - if they haven't already." The performance takes place at The Stage @ KDHX in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: These are singers from the most advanced of the Cabaret Conference's three tracks. They're established cabaret pros from around the country, often with many shows to their credit, who are polishing their craft here in St. Louis. The showcase presents each of them in short, carefully tailored sets that display their range and talent. Pro Track students have also been acting as warm-up acts for the three shows by Conference faculty this year (the last of which, starring Tony DeSare, is tonight, the 22nd) and their work has been truly impressive.

Tont DeSare
The Cabaret Project presents singer/pianist Tony DeSare and his Trio in From Sinatra to Prince on Friday, July 22, at 8 p.m. as part of the 2016 St. Louis Cabaret Festival. "Named a Rising Star Male Vocalist in Downbeat magazine, DeSare brings his youthful, contemporary flair to the masterful Sinatra style standards of the past and offers sophisticated takes on pop classics such as the late genius Prince's Kiss- throwing in some of his own top notch originals along the way. DeSare has three top ten Billboard jazz albums under his belt and has headlined in prestigious venues such as New York's 54 Below and Carnegie Hall, along with major performing arts centers and numerous symphony orchestras throughout North America and abroad. Tony DeSare and his trio offer St. Louis audiences a fresh take on old school class that swings, swoons and gets your feet stompin'!" The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: Although he has appeared in St. Louis as part of jazz combos in the past, this is Mr. DeSare's first solo cabaret appearance in town. Singers attending the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, where Mr. DeSare (like the other Cabaret Festival headliners) is on the faculty, have had nothing but good to say about him. Here's your chance to catch a rising star.

Held Over:

Grey Gardens
Photo: Dan Donovan
Max and Louie Productions presents the musical Grey Gardens through July 30. "Not since Mama Rose and Gypsy has there been a mother/daughter act as hilarious, as heartbreaking and as utterly unforgettable as "Big" Edith and "Little" Edie Beale - Jackie Kennedy's most outrageous relatives - in the acclaimed musical smash Grey Gardens! From the grandeur of an East Hampton high society party in 1941 to the sensational tabloid headlines that rocked the Kennedy clan in 1973, Grey Gardens is scandalously entertaining. Step into the world of Grey Gardens and see the other side of Camelot." Performances take place at the Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information, visit

My take: The folks at Max and Louie must be popping open the champagne right now, given how much critical praise they're getting. Steve Allen's review at Stage Door STL is typical. "Reviewing a production is, of course, a personal viewpoint", he writes, "and every one of the several critics we have in our town will vary in their opinions. But with “Grey Gardens,” the current musical from Max and Louie Productions, I think we'll join forces in our praise for just about every aspect from casting and direction down through the technical creators. If it isn't flawless, it comes pretty darn close." 'Nuff said, I guess.

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