Thursday, September 29, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of September 30, 2016

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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Alpha Players present the musical 1776 September 30 - October 9. "It's the summer of 1776, and the nation is ready to declare independence... if only our founding fathers can agree to do it! 1776 follows John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as they attempt to convince the members of the Second Continental Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence." Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information:, call 314-921-5678.

My take: This is one of my favorite musicals. The book by Peter Stone (one of the small number of writers to earn an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy during his career) sticks fairly close to historical events, portraying the shifting alliances and political deals that eventually led to the break with Great Britain. Sherman Edwards's score supports that book and illuminates character brilliantly. I haven't seen this production, of course, but there's no question that they've got really strong material to work with.

Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild opens their 106th season with Tom Stoppard's Arcadia Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, September 30 - October 9. There will also be a show on Thursday, October 6, at 8 PM. "Stoppard spins simultaneous tales set two centuries apart in the same room of an English manor. The stories are bittersweet, the characters are endearing and the play is a delight." Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit

My take: This is another case of a recommendation based on the strength of the material. Stoppard's play is a brilliant piece of work, combining comedy, drama, and a centuries-spanning mystery with crackling, intellectually rich dialog. And director Ellie Schwetye is well known locally for her impressive work with Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble. I'm on the board of West End Players Guild, but have not been involved in this production.

Three Tall Women
Photo: Patrick Huber
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Edward Albee's Three Tall Women through October 9. "In Act One, a young lawyer, "C," has been sent to the home of a client, a ninety-two-year-old woman, "A," to sort out her finances. "A," frail, perhaps a bit senile, resists and is of no help to "C." Along with "B," the old woman's matronly paid companion/caretaker, "C" tries to convince "A" that she must concentrate on the matters at hand. In "A's" beautifully appointed bedroom, she prods, discusses and bickers with "B" and "C," her captives. "A's" long life is laid out for display, no holds barred. She cascades from regal and charming to vicious and wretched as she wonders about and remembers her life: her husband and their cold, passionless marriage; her son and their estrangement. How did she become this? Who is she? Finally, when recounting her most painful memory, she suffers a stroke. In Act Two, "A's" comatose body lies in bed as "B" and "C" observe no changes in her condition. In a startling coup-de-theatre, "A" enters, very much alive and quite lucid. The three women are now the stages of "A's" life: the imperious old woman, the regal matron and the young woman of twenty-six. Her life, memories and reminiscences-pondered in the first act-are now unceremoniously examined, questioned, accepted or not, but, at last, understood." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit

My take: It has been a long time since I have seen a production of Albee's autobiographical play (the principal character is modeled on his mother) and I don't recall finding it very engaging. But reviews of the Actors' Studio production have been very positive (article by Steve Allen and Ann Lemmons Pollack are typical) so I'm giving it a tip of the virtual topper here. It's not a script that gets produced very often, probably because it's not necessarily easy to cast, so it's hard to say when you'll get another opportunity to see it.

Voices of Valhalla
Photo: Ken Clark
Valhalla Cemetery and The Hawthorne Players present Voices Of Valhalla: A Hayride Through History September 30 - October 9. Hayrides through Valhalla Cemetery depart every fifteen minutes beginning at 6:30 each evening as members of the Hawthorne Players portray some of the noted locals buried in Valhalla. Valhalla Cemetery is located at 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information, visit

My take: I had a chance to both see and appear in this annual event for the first time in 2014 (missed last year's because of travel commitments), and I must say that I was impressed by the professionalism of both the script (assembled by director Larry Marsh from historical sources) and the quality of the performances. Here's how it works: you pile on a hay wagon and are driven through historic Valhalla Cemetery. At various points during the ride, the wagon stops and an actor portraying a historical figure buried at Valhalla steps out of the darkness and delivers a monolog on his or her life. They can be comic, tragic, or a combination of the two, but they're always well researched and informative. I'm acting in it again this year, playing the "oldest dead person" in Valhalla. Come on out and find out the details.

Held Over:

Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Stephen Sondheim's musical Follies through October 2. “Featuring an all-star cast that includes three Tony nominees, Broadway stars and local favorites, Follies is the biggest Rep production in more than a decade. Join us for our 50th anniversary season opener as we present a breathtaking rendition of this Stephen Sondheim classic!” 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: Laurel wreaths are in order for director Rob Ruggiero and the cast and crew of this production of the utterly brilliant 1971 commercial flop by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman (best known for his popular comedy/drama "The Lion in Winter"). Broadway and cabaret stars Christiane Noll and Emily Skinner head the large and impressive ensemble cast. This remarkable story of personal and cultural disintegration has always been an expensive challenge to produce, but the Rep has proved to be more than up to the task, getting their 50th season off to a rousing start. The big "mirror" production number, in particular, is a true coup de théâtre, as women of the ensemble execute Ralph Perkins' complex choreography with superhuman precision.

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