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The University of Missouri at St. Louis presents 1984, adapted from the George Orwell novel by by Michael Gene Sullivan, Friday and Saturday a 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9 - 11. "1984 brings us the story of Winston Smith, a cog in the giant machine state of Oceania. Physically and mentally under the omnipresent eye of Big Brother, Winston has been caught struggling for scraps of love and freedom in a world awash with distrust and violence. With the brutal "help" of four Party Members, Winston is forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen inquisitor, and the audience -- which acts as a silent witness to his torture. A ferocious and provocative adaptation of one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century." The performances take place at the Kranzberg Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. For more information, kranzbergartscenter.org/calendar/current-events/item/umsl-theatre-1984.
My take: In his review for KDHX, Steve Callahan calls this "a stunningly fine stage adaptation" of Orwell's apparently prophetic novel. "Director Matthew Kerns", he writes, "has done beautiful work in his staging of this difficult but very important piece." At a time when local theatre is running heavily towards vision of sugarplums, here's a dystopian nightmare that serves as a warning.
|Will Bonfiglio in Buyer and Cellar|
Photo: John Lamb
My take: A one-actor show can be great fun if the script is worthwhile and the actor is up to the task. The script for Buyer and Cellar got plenty of praise from local critics when the Rep did it last spring and Will Bonfiglio has gotten good marks for his work (Judy Newmark calls it a "knockout performance"), so this looks like a safe bet for your weekend.
The Gateway Men's Chorus presents A Celebration of the Season on Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, at 8 p.m. GMC unwraps their 30th anniversary season with a night of beautiful music, campy carols, and holiday favorites, including John Rutter's "Gloria" with a full brass and percussion ensemble and pipe organ. The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: gmcstl.org.
My take: The GMC is a local musical treasure, so I always include them in this list. 'Nuff said.
|A Christmas Carol|
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
My take: Some of my friends turn into Scrooges at this time of year. I turn into Scrooge's nephew, cheerfully singing along with every carol and enjoying the hell out of holiday gatherings. That means I'd probably recommend this even if the reviews weren't so good, but as it happens my fellow critics are in danger of running out of verbal laurel wreaths to bestow on this production. Harry Hamm calls it "a polished, warm and large-scale production". "The redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge is among the most beloved of holiday stories," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "and The Rep's production delivers the spectacle of the story in a standout revival that's a welcome theatrical treat." I'll be there this weekend; join me.
|Driving Miss Daisy|
Photo: Eric Woolsey
My take: I've had a great deal of affection for this show since I played the role of Boolie many years ago at West End Players. NJT appears to be doing a good job with this very funny and moving script, and its message could not be more timely. As Robert Cohn writes at the Jewish LIght, the play "is not only good theater: It is a reminder that even in the darkest days, people of good will can improve human relations and substitute the power of love for the corrosive effects of hate."
Photo: Carol Rosegg
My take: Looking for a family friendly show that isn't A Christmas Carol? This might be a good bet. "The story behind the story of Peter Pan" writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "is a refreshing and delightful concoction of high-stepping choreography, intelligent lyrics and a lush, beautifully written score that make for an evening of engaging entertainment for children and adults alike. Handsomely mounted and energetically performed, Finding Neverland makes for an ideal holiday treat at the Fox Theatre." In a review soon to be published at KDHX, Amy Burger calls it an "inspiring story of life, death, love and the power of imagination."
|The Glorious Ones|
My take: Anything by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is worth seeing, in my view. Writing for KDHX, Steve Callahan describes this as "a fond, loving, bawdy musical bouquet" and goes on to say that the production "is a small but rich one, under the caring direction of Quin Gresham. High praise must go to him as well as to music director Larry Pry and movement coach Jamie McKittrick. All the others in the production team--designers, actors and staff--are very gifted students at the Conservatory." The Webster students do consistently good work, in my experience, and this is a nice contrast with the various holiday sugarplums on stage right now.
|The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special|
My take: Speaking of contrasts, here's a loopy tribute to one of the oddest things ever to hit the boob tube. Broadcast for the first (and only) time in 1978, the original show was greeted with a mix of incredulity and, by those watching it under the influence of the right chemicals, dangerous hilarity. It was perhaps best summed up by Nathan Rabin at AV Club, who wrote: ""I'm not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine." Reviewing this production for KDHX, Tina Farmer describes it as "a great choice for light, laughter filled entertainment with plenty of fresh references and skewering wit." Honestly, I'm surprised MSM hasn't decided to roast this particular turkey before.
Santa's Helpers Inc. presents Songs of Peace and Joy: The Music of Christmas on Sunday, December 11, at 3 p.m. "Merry Keller and her singing friends, Bob Becherer, Brian Derton, Paul MacFarlane, Katie McGrath, Angie Nicholson, and Dionna Raedeke will delight and entertain you with all your favorite holiday music! Ron Bryant is at the piano and Paul McFarlane will be on guitar. This concert will donate net proceeds to Santa's Helpers, Inc. providing the spirit of Santa to thousands of St. Louis families for over 48 years." The performance takes place at the Sun Theatre, 3625 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2592087
My take: Rounding out the new entries in this week's very long hit list, here's a show of holiday favorites by some of our finest cabaret artists, and all for a good cause. I've seen and worked with nearly all of these folks in the past and, trust me, you can't go wrong with this lineup of talent.
|The 2015 cast of All is Calm|
Photo: John Lamb
My take: All is Calm has become an annual winter tradition at Mustard Seed. With a script by Peter Rothstein and musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, this story of the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914—a spontaneous outbreak of peace that occurred at multiple points along the trenches in France—combines splendid and often quite complex a cappella singing with readings of letters from soldiers and other historical documents. At a time when opportunistic politicians are pushing an agenda of hate, fear, and eternal war, this is a play that everyone needs to see. As we used to ask back in the 1960s, "what if they gave a war and nobody came?