Friday, April 21, 2017

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 21, 2017

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:

Dancing at Lughnasa
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through April 30. “Set in 1936 Ireland, the play explores the potential for romance and the lure of pagan rituals in a family's day-to-day life.” There is no performance on Easter Sunday, April 16. Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at

My take: Brian Friel's 1990 memory play of life in rural Ireland has always been highly regarded, and it looks like Mustard Seed has mounted a very successful production. At Ladue News, Mark Bretz describes it as "a heart-rending rendition of Brian Friel’s haunting Irish drama, featuring superb performances by an ensemble cast given affecting direction by Gary Barker." Ann Lemmons Pollack agrees. "Mustard Seed Theatre has put together an ensemble for Brian Friel’s 1990 play that enlivens an already sparkling script," she writes at her St. Louis Eats and Drinks blog. There's basic benevolence at the heart of Dancing at Lughnasa that makes it a welcome antidote to the toxic spite that dominates the daily news cycle these days.

The Drowsy Chaperone
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents the musical The Drowsy Chaperone Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., April 21-23. "It all starts with a man in a chair, who is feeling a little bit blue. To cure his sadness, he throws on one of his old favorite records: the original cast recording of the fictitious 1928 musical The Drowsy Chaperone. He paints us the picture of a hilarious wedding between famous actress Janet Van De Graaf and oil tycoon Robert Martin. The wedding is expected to run smoothly, but toss in an aspiring starlet, a desperate Broadway producer, a couple of suspicious pastry chefs, an erroneous womanizer, and a rather tipsy chaperone and well...things get a little complicated. Sit back and cure any of your 'non-specified sadness,' with this wildly humorous, Tony Award-winning musical." Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, or call 314-968-7128.

My take: There are actually two productions of this delightful "musical within a play" this weekend but I'm giving the nod to the one on this side of the river (the other is at SIU-Edwardsville) with musical direction by the estimable Larry Pry. Possibly the most elaborate insider gag ever placed on the stage, The Drowsy Chaperone is a very smart and very funny parody of musical theatre and, to a certain extent, the very concept of theatre itself. Don't think you have to be a musical theatre geek to enjoy it, though; the in-jokes are general enough to appeal to just about anyone who has ever seen a Fred Astaire film or a Rogers and Hammerstein show. I expect that includes most of you.

The Lion King
Photo: Daniel Murphy
The Fox Theatre presents Disney's The Lion King running through May 7. "Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life as never before. And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly emerges from the mist. This is Disney's The Lion King, making its triumphant return to the Fabulous Fox. More than 85 million people around the world have experienced the awe-inspiring visual artistry, the unforgettable music, and the uniquely theatrical storytelling of this Broadway spectacular - one of the most breathtaking and beloved productions ever to grace the stage." The Fox in at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: How could I not include this? Making its fourth or fifth trip (but who's counting?) to our city since its first appearance here in 2003, this ingenious stage adaptation of the popular Disney film remains a stunning piece of theatre. For those of you who have yet to see this remarkable show, know that the spectacular opening number sets the tone for the entire evening. As a giant red-orange sun rises over the African plain, the first sounds you hear are not those of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Anglo-American pop, which makes up the majority of the score, but rather the distinctly African melodies of Lebo M. Led the baboon Shaman Rafiki and answered by actors high in the side balconies, the call and response changes into “The Circle of Life” as the animals gather at Pride Rock, which slowly rises from the center of the stage. Tall, elegant giraffes, a lumbering elephant, leaping gazelles, a graceful cheetah, colorful birds—they stream in from every aisle and across the stage, surrounding the audience in light, sound, and color. And that's just the beginning of this extraordinary bucket of brilliance from the seemingly bottomless well of Julie Taymor’s genius. Go, take the kids, and enjoy.

Oedipus Apparatus
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 106th season with the world premiere of Oedipus Apparatus, written and directed by Lucy Cashion, based on Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 21-30. There will also be a show on Thursday, April 27, at 8 PM. "Lucy Cashion is one of St. Louis's most exciting and creative young theatre artists. Her Equally Represented Arts Theatre Company is well-known for cutting edge works such as Trash Macbeth, Make Hamlet and The Residents of Craigslist. Now Lucy brings to our stage the world premiere Oedipus Apparatus, her original work inspired by Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus. It is most definitely NOT the version of this classic tale you read in freshman English!" 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: [Full disclosure: I'm on the board of West End but have not worked on this show.] This wildly inventive and wholly original potpourri combines the general outline of the Oedipus legend (including bits and pieces of the Sophocles tragedy) with classical Newtonian mechanics, plane geometry, Freudian psychology (naturally!) and contemporary pop culture. A site-specific piece composed with West End’s location in mind, Oedipus Apparatus includes live Philip Glass-ish music by Joe Taylor (who also, of course, plays Apollo), ritualistic dance that reminded me of Pina Bausch, a mobile industrial set by Kristin Cassidy and Jacob Francis, live video, and pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Although there might have been one of those in the loopy junk-shop set from which the oracles of Delphi broadcast their vacuous chat show in a style reminiscent of "The View" or "Fox and Friends," with Athena the oleaginous hostess. At just under two hours with no intermission, it could use some editing, but as this is a world premiere that's not very surprising. It gets superb performances, in any case, from a very fine ensemble cast. You might love it or hate it, but you won't soon forget it.

A 2014 Shake 38 show
Photo: J. David Levy
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shake 38, a city-wide performance festival in which all 38 of Shakespeare's plays are performed by 38 different groups in a variety of neighborhoods and locations. Performances take place Wednesday through Sunday, April 19-23. For a complete schedule:

My take: For sheer variety, it's hard to beat Shake 38, the Shakespeare Festival's annual city-wide celebration of The Bard on the week of his birthday. There are performances of the plays themselves at local venues, including Anthony and Cleopatra at Crossroads College Prep, Henry VII at St. Paul United Church of Christ, and Love's Labours Lost at St. Louis Univeristy. But there are also less conventional productions, such as Two Gentlemen of Lebowski at Ryder's Tavern and Equally Represented Arts' twelfth period at the Centene Center. And this week there's a parallel food festival, 38 Eats, with 38 dishes inspired by themes in the plays and created by local chefs For a complete list (because, trust me, there's a lot more):

Held Over:

Seven Guitars
The Black Rep presents the drama Seven Guitars by August Wilson through April 23. "Set in 1948 in the backyard of a Pittsburgh apartment house, Seven Guitars follows Floyd " Schoolboy" Barton's circle of friends and neighbors-the play's seven voices-as they spin a rich tale of the deck that's stacked against them, what they've lost and all they dream of. Part murder mystery, part memory play, Seven Guitars depicts the events leading up to the untimely death of Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, a gifted blues guitarist. Released from jail after serving time for the crime of "worthlessness," Floyd tries to retrieve his guitar and get to Chicago to make a record. He believes he is on the brink of a career breakthrough, but bad decisions and worse luck prevent him from leaving Pittsburgh. " Performances take place in the Emerson Performance Space on the campus of Harris-Stowe State University in midwotn. For more information:

My take: The Black Rep has always done well by the deep, literate works of August Wilson, and this production appears to be no exception. "As always with Wilson," writes Bob Wilcox at KDHX, "Seven Guitars satisfies with its rich language and its deep humanity." In her review at, Judy Newmark praises the acting ensemble and singles out Black Rep founder Ron Himes as "giving the performance of his career."

Sweeney Todd
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Thursdays through Saturdays through April 22. "A macabre musical tells the tale of Sweeney Todd, an unjustly exiled barber, who returns to London seeking vengeance. The road to revenge leads Todd to Mrs. Lovett, proprietress of a failing pie shop, whose luck improves when the demon barbers thirst for blood inspires a new ingredient for her meat pies. Londoners start queuing up for a taste of her unique delectable treats!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: I suppose I shouldn't be including this. It's not that the reviews haven't been great; exactly the opposite in fact. Tina Farmer at KDHX seems to be speaking for the majority. "Gleefully discordant and filled with strong performances," she writes, "anchored by outstanding leads from Jon Hey and Lavonne Byers, the tragically comic musical is fantastic and fun." No, the reason I probably shouldn't include this is that all performances are now sold out. Still, people do cancel and I expect they'll be happy to put you on a waiting list. A good production of this rattling great yarn is worth waiting for, in my book.

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