Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: The play's not the thing

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Joneal Joplin and Susan Louise O'Connor
Photo: John Gitchoff
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The best things about the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis studio production of the 2015 comedy/drama Heisenberg by Simon Stephens (whose wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened the Rep's mainstage season) are the parts that are, as they say in the restaurant biz, locally sourced. That includes the stellar performances by Joneal Joplin and Susan Louise O'Connor, the thoughtful direction by Rep Artistic Director Steve Woolf, and the subtle but effective sound design by Rusty Wandall.

The worst thing about it, unfortunately, is the script. Commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club, where it was performed by Mary Louise Parker and author/actor Denis Arndt, Heisenberg chronicles the developing relationship between Alex Priest, a quiet London butcher in his mid-seventies with an comprehensive love of music, and Georgie Burns, a forty-ish transplanted American with a flexible notion of truth.

They first meet in a railway station where Georgie has just kissed Alex on the back of the neck, claiming that she mistook him for her late husband. It's a bizarre story and, as it turns out, a wholly fictitious one, along with most of the autobiography that emerges from her long comic monologue. As written, Georgie is manic, self-obsessed, and chronically dishonest--basically the sort of person most of us would cross the street to avoid. And yet Alex not only becomes emotionally involved very quickly but, even more improbably, joins her in a quixotic quest to reconnect with her adult son, who has fled to America and has forcefully severed all ties to her.

The relationship between the two feels arbitrary and unmotivated, and the play itself feels like a seriocomic sketch that has gotten too big for its britches. That might be because, as Emmeline McCabe reports in her program note, the playwright made no attempt to plot out the script in advance but instead "was inspired by the idea of not knowing where something is or where it is going"—a very free interpretation of the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle which gives the show its title. The result is a play that lacks any real dramatic shape and feels unfinished.

For me, ultimately, the rewards of this production came from watching two very talented actors create a credible relationship out of this material. Mr. Joplin's beautifully understated Alex is a subtle masterpiece, shaping a warm and sympathetic human being. Early on, Georgie accurately describes Alex as "not so much a creature of routine as a psychopathic raging monster of it." Watching him emerge from the cocoon of that routine is immensely gratifying.

Ms. O'Connor is just as impressive, rattling off Georgie's gargantuan line load in a way that makes it look as though she's riffing on the spot, and finding moments of vulnerability and even humanity in what is, for the most part, a pretty annoying character. Georgie talks a lot but reveals very little of herself; Ms. O'Connor givers her more depth than the playwright does.

Peter and Margery Spack's simple rectangular set divides the black box space in half, with the audience lined up facing each other on the long sides of the rectangle. The arrangement could have created sight line issues, but Mr. Woolf's blocking takes that into account, and his pacing keeps the show moving while still allowing room for it to breathe. This is, in short, a production that gives the script every possible advantage.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of Heisenberg continues through November 12 in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For me, the strong acting and direction didn't compensate for the weakness of the material, but your mileage may vary.

Monday, October 30, 2017

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of October 30, 2017

The Metropolitan Orchestra of St. Louis
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The Metropolitan Orchestra of Saint Louis presents a concert featuring Astor Piazzola's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, along with music by Chabrier and De Falla, Sunday, November 5, at 7 p.m. The concert takes place at First Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood. For more information: metro-orch.org.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Resident Conductor Gemma New leads the orchestra in John William's score for Jurassic Park, accompanying a showing of the film. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., November 3-5, at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Touhill Performing Arts Center presents The Arianna String Quartet: Poetry in Motion on Friday, November 3, at 8 p.m. "In an evening dedicated to irrepressible rhythms and poetry in sound, the Arianna Quartet presents Franz Joseph Haydn's Quartet in F Major, Op.74, No.2, and Robert Schumann's magnificent Quartet in A Major, Op.41, No.3. Highlighting the evening is a performance of Cuban composer Leo Brouwer's Quartet No.3, a riveting work featuring Afro-Cuban lyricism, dance and percussive rhythms." The Touhill Performing Arts Center in on the University of Missouri at St. Louis campus. For more information: touhill.org.

Washngton University's Danforth University Center Chamber Music Series presents a concert by violinists Silvian Iticovici and Eva Kozma, on Sunday, November 5, at 7:30 p.m. The concert includes music by Leclair, Rózsa, and Ysaÿe, and takes place at the Goldberg Formal Lounge in the Danforth University Center on the Washington University Campus. For more information: music.wustl.edu/events.

Review: A potent Fifth of Beethoven

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Roger Kaza
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Attracting big-name international soloists, as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra does on a regular basis, is a sure sign that an orchestra is playing in the big leagues. So does having first chair players that are good enough to take the solo spot themselves. Friday night (October 27, 2017) we had examples of both.

The concert opened with the Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major by Richard Strauss. Written in 1943, when the composer was in his eighties, it's a warm and nostalgic look back on the cultural traditions that had been seriously poisoned by the Nazi regime under which Strauss labored. The last movement in particular, as Music Director David Robertson pointed out in his pre-concert talk, has a kind of grace that recalls the horn concertos of Mozart.

In the solo spot was SLSO Principal Horn Roger Kaza, delivering a technically solid performance that was a model of classical restraint. That approach worked especially well in the Rondo finale, which skipped along beautifully. For me, though it was a bit less effective on the first and second movements, where a bit more passion would have been welcome. Mr. Kaza also muted his horn a bit too much, I thought, often causing him to be swamped by the orchestra. He and Mr. Robertson showed real rapport, though, and got impeccable support from his fellow orchestra members. It was, overall, a very satisfying piece of work that drew a standing ovation.

Up next was Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs, composed between 1905 and 1908 when he was studying with Arnold Schoenberg but not fully orchestrated and published until 1928. Like the Strauss concerto, this is also music that largely looks back to the past, although in this case that past includes Strauss himself. There's a yearning and ecstatic romanticism to this music that makes it very approachable even if, as René Spencer Saller points out in her program notes, it rather annoyed Schoenberg.

The soloist was soprano Christine Brewer, who is both a big-name international performer as well as a local favorite, with stage credits that include not only Union Avenue Opera and Opera Theatre of St. Louis but also the Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, and English National Opera. No surprise, then, that her singing here combined a luminous, powerful sound with a clear grasp of the text.

Soprano Christine Brewer
Photo: Christian Steiner
Those texts come from seven different German poets and vary from Carl Hauptmann's straightforward "Nacht" (Night) with its vivid evocation of a nocturnal landscape to Rilke's "Traumgekrönt" (Crowned in Dreams) with its more elliptical sexual references. Ms. Brewer showed the sensitivity to the varied moods of the songs that I have come to expect of her over the years. From the post-coital blush of "Libesode"(Ode to Love") to the quiet contemplation of "Im Zimmer" (Indoors), it was all there, and delivered with great authority.

The concert concluded with a rousing Beethoven Symphony No. 5, conducted without a score and with real fire. The Fifth has been performed and recorded so many times by so many different orchestras that it can be difficult for a conductor to put his own stamp on the work, but Mr. Robertson nevertheless managed to do just that with a driving, high-energy interpretation that created tangible excitement.

It even had some surprises to offer, including a headlong first movement and a graceful second that ran, with only the briefest pause, straight into the ghostly third. The orchestra played superbly, with fine solo work from everyone, including Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks in the first movement cadenza and flautist Ann Choomack on piccolo in the finale.

In a 2006 program note on the Beethoven Fifth for the Performance Today radio program, Christopher H. Gibbs noted that "it is difficult to divest this best known of symphonies from all the baggage it has accumulated through nearly two centuries and to listen with fresh ears to the shocking power of the work and to the marvels that Beethoven introduced into the world of orchestral music." Mr. Robertson's energetic approach jettisoned quite a bit of that baggage, reminding us of the work's remarkable power and originality.

Next at Powell Hall: SLSO Resident Conductor Gemma New leads the orchestra in John William's score for Jurassic Park, accompanying a showing of the film. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., November 3-5. As with all film events, there will be popcorn, drink specials, and you'll be able to bring food and drink into the hall with you; so be careful to avoid spills.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 30, 2017

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St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley presents the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, opening on Friday, November 3, and running through November 11th. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, www.stlcc.edu/fv or call 314-644-5522.

Will Bonfiglio in Balloonacy
COCA presents the Will Bonfiglio in Balloonacy Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m., November 4 and 5. "A grownup discovers the fun, imagination and companionship of childhood with the help of a red balloon. This sensory-friendly production packed with physical comedy, intended for young audiences, is a great introduction to live theatre. Written by Barry Kornhauser." COCA is at 524 Trinity in University City. For more information: cocastl.org.

Windsor Theatre Group presents the musical revue Broadway: The Early 1900's - Victor Herbert and His Contemporaries at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 5; 7 p.m. on Friday, November 10; and 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, November 11 and and 12. "Talented professional singers and dancers will take the audience to an era that was very interesting for music lovers. Fantastic shows were staged on Broadway, and jazz, blues and tango began receiving mainstream recognition. Broadway tunes include the great male chorus numbers from Rose-Marie, The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and The New Moon. There will be solo and duet performances of more Broadway selections and the other genres gaining fame. In addition, highlights of plots or other interesting facts about a song will enhance the enjoyment of the attendees." Performances take place at the historic Ozark Theatre, 103 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information call 314-832-2114 or visit the group's Facebook page.

Farah Alvin and William Michals
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Farah Alvin and William Michals in Broadway's Greatest Hits of All Time on Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4, at 8 p.m. "The show that every musical-theater lover has been waiting for. The songs that made Broadway great, that made your heart soar, that you sing leaving the theatre and in the shower! You will hear many of the greatest Broadway songs of all time performed by two of Broadway's most acclaimed voices. The Gaslight is the first stop outside of New York for Scott Siegel's critically acclaimed and wildly popular concert series, which has been playing for 18 months at at Feinstein's/54 Below." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents the musical Bye Bye Birdie at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium November 3-12. The O'FallonTheatreWorks production of Bye Bye Birdie takes audiences back to the 1950s as the era of rock 'n roll is taking off. But to the consternation of legions of fans, rock star and teen heart throb Conrad Birdie is being drafted into the U.S. Army, But no one is more devastated than struggling songwriter Albert Peterson, whose song Birdie was just about to record. Albert's longtime girlfriend, Rosie, pushes Albert to write a new tune, “One Last Kiss,” which Birdie will perform on television to a fan selected in a contest. The scheme works, with attractive Ohio teenager Kim McAfee declared the winner, but no one has counted on the jealous wrath of her boyfriend. The musical score includes popular songs, “Put on a Happy Face” and “Honestly Sincere” in addition to “One Last Kiss.” The O'Fallon Municipal Centre is located at 100 North Main Street in O'Fallon, MO. For more information, visit www.ofallon.mo.us or call 636-379-5606.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Christmas Killer November 3 - December 31. " Welcome to the party sponsored by Chatty Cathy, (and the "Misfit Toys"). We certainly hope that you can find a good home for one of our toys! Of course, it'll be a fun party as long as the wrong element doesn't show up! We're talking about Ricky Stitch, of course. Gee! I hope nothing bad happens to him! Anyway, you'll meet lots of characters tonight. In fact, you'll be a character too! Whether you'd like to participate a lot, or just a little, we promise you great holiday fun when you attend "The Christmas Killer!"" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Black Rep presents the Crossin' Over in Concert on Saturday, November 4, at 8 p.m. "From roots in Africa - from village to slave ship - through the middle passage - from auction block to plantation fields and up to the modern Civil Rights movement, Crossin' Over tells its tale with traditional West African drumming, hymns, psalms and Gospel standards such as 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,' 'Precious Lord,' and 'We Shall Overcome,' as well as contemporary gospel music in the Black church today. Presentation ofThe Frankie Muse Freeman Spirit Awards and The Woodie Lifetime Acheivement Awards will take place at 7:30 p.m." The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: theblackrep.org.

Over Due Theatre presents musical The Drowsy Chaperone Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 3 - 12. "With its laugh-a-minute script and one show-stopping song and dance number after another, it's easy to see why THE DROWSY CHAPERONE won the most Tony Awards of any musical on Broadway in 2006, including Best Book and Score. It all begins when a die-hard musical theatre fan decides to play his favorite cast album in his small brownstone apartment - a 1928 smash hit musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The show magically bursts to life before him as audiences are instantly transported to an earlier time and place and immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day, complete with gangsters, mistaken identities, an off-course aviatrix, and an uplifting ride to the rafters." Performances take place at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive, in Olivette, MO. For more information, call 314-210-2959 or visit overduetheatrecompany.com.

Fontbonne University presents the musical Elegies Wednesday through Sunday, November 2 - 5. Elegies is a song cycle about the deaths of friends and family, written in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Performances take place in the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre on Wydown and Big Bend. For more information: fontbonne.edu

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Brandon Bennett in the one-man show Elvis My Way opening on Thursday, November 2nd, at 2 and 8 p.m. and running through Sunday the 5th. "Elvis: My Way stars the electrifying Brandon Bennett, who most recently appeared in Chicago's "Million Dollar Quartet." Bennett sets the stage ablaze in a spine-tingling tribute to the King himself Elvis Presley. With his pure-bred Southern charm, powerful voice, and scandalous moves, Bennett was named the "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist" by Elvis Presley Enterprises at Graceland. His must-see show traverses Elvis' career from the Rock n' Roll nativity of the '50s-to the iconic comeback television concert of the 60s-to the legendary jumpsuits of the '70s. All-time greatest hits include "Blue Suede Shoes," "Can't Help Falling in Love," "Suspicious Minds," and many more." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

The Fabulous Fox presents An Evening With Garrison Keillor: Just Passing Through on Saturday, November 4th, at 8 p.m. "In a solo performance, the acclaimed host of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, shares hilarious anecdotes about growing up in the American Midwest, the people of Lake Wobegon, and "late-life fatherhood." With a wonderful, dry sense of humor (and sometimes with music), Keillor captivates audiences using his unique blend of comedy, class, charisma, and wisdom as he shares his journey to becoming one of America's greatest storytellers." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Hamlet
Photo: Peter Wochniak
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's Hamlet through November 5. "For the first time in its 50-year history, The Rep will produce Hamlet. Spurred on to vengeance by the ghost of his father, Prince Hamlet hovers in limbo between bloody retribution and madness. Potentially fatal indecision delays his every step. With its profound soliloquies, complexly shaded characters and brutal plotting, it's Shakespeare's most enduring tragedy." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents singer Ken Haller and pianist Marty Fox in Happy Hallerdays on Thursdays, November 2 and 9, at 8 p.m. . "In his take on the holidays, Ken promises to be surprising,funny, personal, moving, great company and just a little exasperating. Just like all our holidays! The very well done video below by Paul Schankman takes you into the world of Ken's shows. " The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the thriller The Haunting of Hill House Fridays through Sundays, November 3 - 12. "A small group of people are brought together in a brooding, mid-Victorian mansion believed to harbor evil. Led by Dr. Montague, an investigator of supernatural phenomena, the visitors probe the secrets of the old house and draw forth the paranormal powers that it is alleged to possess - powers which have brought madness and death to those who have lived there in the past." Performances take place in the Guild theatre at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves, MO. For more information: theatreguildwg.org or call 314-962-0876.

Heisenberg
Photo: John Gitchoff
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Heisenberg through November 12. "A serendipitous encounter at a London train station propels two very different people into a shared orbit. Georgie is crass, deeply odd and impulsive. On a whim, she kisses the neck of Alex, a much older and more subdued man who is sitting by himself. In the unexpected conversations that follow, Georgie and Alex discover shared passions amidst the uncertainty of personal connection. This life-affirming play uncovers the extraordinary in the everyday." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the comedy Lend Me a Tenor November 3 - 12. "It's 1934 and Saunders, the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, is primed to welcome world famous, Tito Morelli, Il Stupendo, the greatest tenor of his generation, to appear for one night only as Otello. The star arrives late and, through a hilarious series of mishaps, is given a double dose of tranquilizers and passes out, is he dead? Will crisis be averted with a substitute? Will the audience be fooled? Not likely! A sensation on Broadway and in London's West End, Ken Ludwig's Tony Award winning, madcap comedy is guaranteed to leave audiences teary-eyed with laughter." Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre of the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road. For more information, call 314-821-9956 or visit ktg-onstage.org.

Act Two Theatre presents the musical Little Shop of Horrors Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30 and Sundays a 2 p.m., November 3 - 12. Performances take place in the St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd, St. Peters, MO 63376. For more information: act2theater.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Murder on 34th Street November 3 - December 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The Spitfire Grill
The Hawthorne Players present musical The Spitfire Grill November 3 - 12. "Recent parolee, Percy Talbott, is trying to find a place for a fresh start and ends up in the small town of Gilead, Wisconsin. The local sheriff finds her a job at the only eatery in this struggling town, The Spitfire Grill-for sale for the last 10 years. Percy suggests the gruff owner, Hannah, try raffling it off. The entry fee is one hundred dollars and an essay on why you want the grill. This musical triumph is an inspiring celebration of new beginnings and the power of what one person can do." The performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 921-5678 or visit hawthorneplayers.info.

YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous opening on Friday, October 27, and running through November 11. " Did you know that Shakespeares most brutal tragedy is actually a comedy? YoungLiars aim to prove the point with a vengeance in this riotous reimagining of Titus Andronicus - where the Italian Commedia smashes into All-American Splatter, and Shakespeare comes along for the ride. Titus Androgynous is YoungLiars deliciously deranged deep-dive into the perverse passions and vaudeville violence of the Bard's bloodiest play." Performances take place in in the hundred-year-old basement of the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street in Grand Center. For more information: brownpapertickets.com.

Lindenwood University presents the drama The Visit Wednesday through Saturday, November 2 - 4, at 7:30 p.m. " A wealthy woman returns to her debt ridden home town and offers a sum greater than they have ever imagined to help out. But there is a condition: she wants the life of a villager who years ago had caused her to be expelled from town in disgrace. Ringing denial of this absurd demand is followed by the gradual corruption of everyone in town. He is murdered and money is passed over his body to the town. The lady leaves with a fantastic entourage and with the coffin of her old lover." The performances take place at The Lindenwood Theatre at the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information, call 636-949-4433 or visit www.lindenwood.edu/center.

The Jacoby Arts Center presents Paper Slip Theater's improv show When We First Met on Saturday, November 4, at 8 p.m. "Under the direction of company founder Ed Reggi, the evening’s host, the troupe will take real life stories about dating and falling in love to a whole new comedy experience. Audience members provide all the stories as the evening unfolds into hilarity." The Jacoby Arts Center is at 627 E. Broadway in Alton, IL. For more information: jacobyartscenter.org.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Review: Thanks for the memories

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

David Robertson and Orli Shaham
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When I reviewed the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's world premiere of Steven Mackey's Stumble to Grace a few years ago, I was struck by the music's whimsy and humorous sensibility as well as by its flashy orchestral writing. All of those qualities were present once again last Sunday (October 22, 2017) at Powell Hall, as the SLSO opened their concert with Mackey's 2015 Mnemosyne's Pool.

Laid out in five movements and running around forty minutes, Mnemosyne's Pool is scored for a massive orchestra (nearly 100 musicians), including a percussion battery that includes everything from a triangle to a brake drum. The wildly inventive variety of sounds that Mackey produces with those forces provides much of the work's charm.

The title refers to the Greek goddess who presided over the pool of memory in Hades, and in his notes at the Boosey and Hawkes website, Mr. Mackey says that the work centers on "the role of memory in musical creation and reception." An abrupt change in the melodic line "asks the listener to remember an earlier point in the line instead of continue inexorably forward."

To me, the many shifts of mood and orchestral color in Mnemosyne's Pool did, in fact, evoke memories, but they were memories of other composers. The first section, for example, unfolded as a kind of passacaglia that reminded me of Bach. Later a bassoon figure brought Bartok to mind while other passages strongly suggested the work of Leonard Bernstein. There were no explicit quotes or even paraphrases (Mr. Mackey is too original for that), but the overall effect was a kind of kaleidoscopic total recall of a century or so of sound, all filtered through Mr. Mackey's unique sensibility.

In his spoken introduction, maestro David Robertson noted that Mnemosyne's Pool was a work that he had come to love, and his enthusiasm showed in everything he and the SLSO musicians did. The work is, as a Musical America critic noted, a kind of "concerto for orchestra" that bristles with remarkable solo passages for nearly every instrument, and the members of the band all had chances to strut their stuff. Will James and his percussion section, in particular, covered themselves with glory.

After intermission, the orchestra turned to more familiar territory, beginning with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

First performed in 1870 and then revised in 1877 and 1880, Romeo and Juliet manages the neat trick of compressing the essential emotional themes of Shakespeare's five-act tragedy into around 20 minutes of music. Mr. Robertson's interpretation was appropriately theatrical, featuring strong dramatic contrasts, beginning with a hushed opening chorale and delicate string pizzicati that made the transition to the first statement of the battle music all the more potent. The famous "love theme" had a lush, swooning feel, enhanced by especially fine playing from Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein and the rest of the horn section.

The concert concluded with one of the great showpieces of the twentieth century, Rachmaninoff's brilliant Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini from 1934. The Russian expatriate was one of the previous century's great pianists, and the Rhapsody served him well as he toured Europe and America, including an appearance with the SLSO in December of 1934. The piece is a sort of mini-concerto, consisting of 24 variations on (appropriately) the twenty-fourth and last of Niccolò Paganini's Caprices for solo violin -- a tune that has proved irresistible for composers from Liszt to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

At the keyboard was Orli Shaham, who first met Mr. Robertson when two were appearing together at Powell Hall in 1999. They were married in 2003, the same year Mr. Robertson became the SLSO Music Director, but have rarely appeared together with the orchestra. With Mr. Robertson's tenure coming to an end this season, this past weekend's appearance could be the last one they ever do together with the SLSO, which lent a kind of poignancy to the event.

The performance itself displayed the mix of nuance and technical skill that I have come to expect from Ms. Shaham. You could hear the former in the subtle gradations of tone that mirrored changes in the mood of the music, accompanied by changes in facial expression and body language that indicated a deep involvement with the score.

As for Ms. Shaham's virtuosity, it was apparent in every precisely rendered note of this challenging work. This was particularly noticeable in her seemingly effortless way with the fiercely difficult final variation, which even the composer was said to have found a bit daunting.

The applause Sunday was prolonged enough to move Ms. Shaman to play an encore for us: Bach's Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a, in the B minor transcription by the Russian pianist Alexander Siloti. The luminous mix of Baroque and late Romantic elements was an ideal way to end the concert.

Next at Powell Hall: David Robertson conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in music by Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, and Beethoven Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 27-29. Soprano Christine Brewer will perform Berg's Seven Early Songs and SLSO Principal Horn Roger Kaza will play Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 2. The concerts will conclude with Beethoven's popular Symphony No. 5. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 27, 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:

Baskerville
Photo: John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, A Sherlock Holmes Mystery through October 29. The play is "a tour de force with actors playing many different characters in madcap comedy." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

My take: If you have seen The 39 Steps (a production of which is also on the boards right now at Alton Little Theater), you've got the basic concept for Baskerville: a comedic stage adaptation of a literary classic with a small cast playing multiple roles around a couple of actors who plays the same characters throughout. In this case, John J. O'Hagan and Kent Coffel play Holmes and Watson, respectively, which three other actors dash about the stage playing everyone else. Reviews have been good and, as a Holmes fan from way back, I have to say I find the idea intriguing.


Windsor Theatre Group presents the musical revue Broadway: The Early 1900's - Victor Herbert and His Contemporaries at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 29, and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 5 and 12. "Talented professional singers and dancers will take the audience to an era that was very interesting for music lovers. Fantastic shows were staged on Broadway, and jazz, blues and tango began receiving mainstream recognition. Broadway tunes include the great male chorus numbers from Rose-Marie, The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and The New Moon. There will be solo and duet performances of more Broadway selections and the other genres gaining fame. In addition, highlights of plots or other interesting facts about a song will enhance the enjoyment of the attendees." Performances take place at the historic Ozark Theatre, 103 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information call 314-832-2114 or visit the group's Facebook page.

My take: I'm putting this on the list for the simple reason that I'm very fond of music from the early years of the 20th century. Heck, I even created an entire show around it. Herbert and his contemporaries aren't heard that much these days, which is a pity. Thanks to Windsor for brining us a full evening of this classic stuff.


Fasano and Comstock
The Presenters Dolan presents Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano in Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain on Friday, October 27, at 8 p.m. as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "COOL BRITANNIA! Join the New York nightclub world's most celebrated couple as they celebrate the great songs of Great Britain in this new and wildly entertaining show. Songs by such writers as Noel Coward, Anthony Newley, Ivor Novello, Sting, and the Beatles." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: It has been over a decade since I reviewed the Comstock-Fasano duo, but I still clearly remember what a strong impression they made. I dubbed it a richly rewarding night for lovers of American song. I'd expect this show to do the same for fans of British song.


The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents the musical Urinetown Fridays and Saturdays at at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 29. "Winner of three Tony awards in 2002, Urinetown has been described as the "anti-musical." Brechtian in spirit and dystopian in setting, the show is wildly funny and engaging. Bruce Weber of The New York Times wrote ten days after the 9/11 attacks that "Urinetown...is simply the most gripping and galvanizing theater experience...equal parts visceral entertainment jolt and lingering provocation. The context of the historical moment makes us ask ourselves going in: Can we laugh and thrill to a musical at a time like this?" In 2017 others may be asking a similar question. We are confident that revisiting Urinetown will be just the ticket." The performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

My take: Urinetown is a extraordinarily well crafted rock musical that 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. And the cast includes my fellow KDHX theatre critic Laura Kyro. Had to get that in.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Symphony Preview: Cafe Vienna

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We were in Vienna for a few days earlier this month and drenched ourselves in musical history. We visited the Mozarthaus museum. We saw a concert at the Musikverein and took a tour of the Vienna State Opera. We even stayed at the Hotel Beethoven on Papagenogasse, where the wall of our room was dominated by a picture of Placido Domingo in Fidelio.

And, of course, we had coffee and pastries.

This music scheduled for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts this weekend (October 27 - 29, 2017) brought all of that back to mind. Two of the three works on the program were first performed in Vienna and the third, while premiered in Salzburg, was performed there by the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Böhm. So it's essentially "all Vienna all the time" this weekend.

The concerts open with that last work I mentioned. It's the Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major by Richard Strauss. First performed on August 11th, 1943, the concerto's warmly nostalgic sound stands in stark contrast to the state of mind of its composer. His heath was not good, his wife was going blind, and the regime to which he had effectively sold his soul-and which he would later describe as a "twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals"-was collapsing. Small wonder, then, that he took refuge in a kind of musical nostalgia.

Roger Kaza
Its lyricism not withstanding, the concerto is a difficult piece to perform, which may be one of the reasons why this is only the second time the SLSO has presented it. The local premiere was given back in 1987 with the famed Barry Tuckwell as the soloist. This time the solo spot will be taken by SLSO Principal Horn Roger Kaza. As someone who loves seeing local band members take center stage, I'm very much looking forward to his performance.

Up next will be the Seven Early Songs, composed by Alban Berg between 1905 and 1908 when he was studying with Arnold Schoenberg but not published until 1928. They hark back to the late Romantic sound world of Mahler and Strauss for the most part and are less terse and elliptical than the kind of thing Berg was writing when he published them. That means you can expect something very different from the last Berg song cycle we heard at Powell Hall.

That last song cycle was the Five Orchestral Songs to Picture-Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg, performed by local favorite Christine Brewer last May. It's only appropriate, then, that Ms. Brewer is back as the soloist this time around. Ms. Brewer has substantial operatic credentials and Berg's songs are always very theatrical, so it should be a good fit.

Christine Brewer
Photo: Christian Steiner
At the other end of the popularity spectrum is the final work on the program, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. The opening movement, in particular, has been heard and parodied so often that it's easy to forget that the symphony's premiere on December 22, 1808, was not a great success. The Fifth was part of a mammoth five hour program that included the Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral"), the Piano Concerto No. 4, a couple of movements from the Mass in C, a concert aria ("Ah, perfido"), and the Op. 80 Choral Fantasy. Beethoven conducted and played the solo piano part in the concerto and the Fantasy.

There was only one rehearsal before the concert, the musicians weren't up to Beethoven's demands, the auditorium was cold, and by the time the Fifth was played after intermission the audience was exhausted. Things went so badly that at one point the Choral Fantasy had to be stopped completely after a performance error. Not auspicious.

In fact, it wasn't until E.T.A. Hoffmann published an enthusiastic review of the newly published score in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung a year and a half later that everyone began to sit up and take notice of the Fifth. "Radiant beams shoot through this region's deep night," wrote Hoffmann of the music's dramatic effect, "and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy everything within us except the pain of endless longing-a longing in which every pleasure that rose up in jubilant tones sinks and succumbs, and only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with full-voiced harmonies of all the passions, we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits."

More and better-rehearsed performances followed. By the time Hector Berlioz wrote his Critical Study of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies he could state that the Fifth was "without doubt the most famous of the symphonies" and "the first in which Beethoven gave wings to his vast imagination without being guided by or relying on any external source of inspiration." Today the Fifth is famous not just on earth but in outer space as well; a recording of the first movement by the Philadelphia Orchestra was part of the Voyager Golden Record, included on the first two Voyager space probes launched in 1977 and now speeding through deep space.

The essentials: David Robertson conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in music by Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, and Beethoven Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 27 - 29. Soprano Christine Brewer will perform Berg's Seven Early Songs and SLSO Principal Horn Roger Kaza will play Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 2. The concerts will conclude with Beethoven's popular Symphony No. 5. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Review: Alice Ripley's new show is fearless but could use a bit of fine tuning at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival, October 21 and 22, 2017

This review originally appeared at 88.1 KDHX, where Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic.

Alice Ripley
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Broadway star Alice Ripley strikes me as fiercely courageous performer.

Back in 2010 at the Fox in a tour of Next to Normal, her Diana (a role she created on Broadway), was a dynamic and deeply troubled force of nature despite Ms. Ripley's audible vocal fatigue. You can argue about whether performing under vocal stress was a good idea or not, but there's no question that it took real guts.

I saw that same "go for broke" bravery in the opening number of her latest cabaret show, which had its world premiere at the Gaslight Cabaret Festival this weekend (Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22). It was Leon Russell's soulful "A Song for You," expanded and extended to include volcanic outbursts of passion and even some idiosyncratic scatting. This was a kind of post-Wagnerian elaboration that left me wondering where the heck she was going with it and then being impressed with the destination. She broke the rules, took chances, and ultimately succeeded.

Which was essentially what she did for the entire evening.

At around ninety minutes, that evening was maybe a bit longer than it should have been, and if I were directing this show I'd suggest possibly making cuts in the first half, which consisted of dramatically charged renditions of pop songs from the sixties and beyond. Sometimes, as in a fiercely vulnerable version of Aaron Neville's 1966 "Tell It Like It Is," the results were gripping. But ultimately there were too many deeply felt ballads in a row for me and I began to tune out.

I tuned back in, though, for Ms. Ripley's chatty and engaging patter, which related the songs to her life without descending into the kind of embarrassingly personal details that sometimes mars that approach. At no point did I want to shout "too much information!" Good for her.

And I really tuned in for the second half, which consisted of piansit/music director Brad Simmons's beautifully arranged medleys from some of the many hit Broadway shows in Ms. Ripley's impressive resume. I was particularly taken with the three numbers from Sunset Boulevard, the show in which she played the role of Betty when it opened on Broadway in 1994. She said she'd love to play Norma Desmond now, and if the powerful way she delivered "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye" is any indication, she is definitely ready for her close-up.

Brad Simmons
Photo: Kevin Alvey
The collection of tunes from the 1992 stage version of Tommy bubbled with raucous joy and Ms. Ripley's heartfelt performance of "I Miss the Mountains," Diana's first big number in Next to Normal, was a reminder of why she got that 2009 Tony award.

Mr. Simmons, it should be noted, contributed not only impeccably well-tailored arrangements but great vocals as well. When he and Ms. Ripley sang close harmony-as they did several times-it was such a thing of beauty that I was willing to ignore the fact that they were facing each other and not actively involving the audience. That should have been a turn-off, but wasn't. Their performance chemistry was irresistable.

So, yeah, this new show (the working title of which would appear to be "The Ripley Prescription") needs some fine tuning, but it's an impressive, theatrically potent piece already. For Ms. Ripley's fans, who were present in force the night I saw the show, The Ripley Prescription was just what the doctor ordered. For me, it was a demonstration of her vocal versatility and substantial acting chops. I expect that the show will be another feather in her already highly decorated cap before long.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival continues through November 11th at the Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 23, 2017

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Alton Little Theater presents The 39 Steps Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 29. "A beautiful spy tells a lethal secret to a man she's just met. With that, our hero Richard Hannay finds himself embroiled in a riotous chase across England and Scotland, discovering clues, dodging police, and charming ladies at every turn. With tons of characters played by a small group of actors, the play provides actors the opportunity to perform multiple wildly creative characters in the midst of a fast-paced, hilarious evening at the theatre." Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Baskerville
Photo: John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company presents Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, A Sherlock Holmes Mystery through October 29. The play is "a tour de force with actors playing many different characters in madcap comedy." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information, call 314-556-1293 or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

Windsor Theatre Group presents the musical revue Broadway: The Early 1900's - Victor Herbert and His Contemporaries at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 29, and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 5 and 12. "Talented professional singers and dancers will take the audience to an era that was very interesting for music lovers. Fantastic shows were staged on Broadway, and jazz, blues and tango began receiving mainstream recognition. Broadway tunes include the great male chorus numbers from Rose-Marie, The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and The New Moon. There will be solo and duet performances of more Broadway selections and the other genres gaining fame. In addition, highlights of plots or other interesting facts about a song will enhance the enjoyment of the attendees." Performances take place at the historic Ozark Theatre, 103 E. Lockwood in Webster Groves. For more information call 314-832-2114 or visit the group's Facebook page.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the one-man show Defending the Caveman, running through October 29. "Defending the Caveman is the longest running solo show in Broadway history, is a hilariously insightful play about the ways men and women relate. This prehistoric look at the battle of the sexes is full of wonderful scenarios that celebrate the differences between men and women, making it a perfect entertainment option for couples or for a girls' night out. The show has also been seen and recommended by thousands of marriage and family therapists and counselors for its humorous look at the inherent differences between the sexes." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: westportstl.com.

The Presenters Dolan presents Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano in Downton Abbey Road: The Best of Britain on Friday, October 27, at 8 p.m. as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "COOL BRITANNIA! Join the New York nightclub world's most celebrated couple as they celebrate the great songs of Great Britain in this new and wildly entertaining show. Songs by such writers as Noel Coward, Anthony Newley, Ivor Novello, Sting & the Beatles." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Hamlet
Photo: Peter Wochniak
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's Hamlet through November 5. "For the first time in its 50-year history, The Rep will produce Hamlet. Spurred on to vengeance by the ghost of his father, Prince Hamlet hovers in limbo between bloody retribution and madness. Potentially fatal indecision delays his every step. With its profound soliloquies, complexly shaded characters and brutal plotting, it's Shakespeare's most enduring tragedy." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Haunted Hunter through October 27. "The rumor is true! Word on the street? This place is Haunted! That's right! ...and lots of famous sleuths, detectives and ghost hunters from around the world will be there to catch a glimpse of our famous, (and elusive), ghost "Billy", (better known as "Billy, the Spook"). Gee! If someone gets "Whacked", we'll have plenty of detectives to solve the crime, won't we! Everyone plays a part! You could be "Sherlock Homes", "Miss Garble", or even "The Hardly Boys". Call today for tickets to this "hauntingly silly" dinner theater." The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Heisenberg October 25 - November 12. "A serendipitous encounter at a London train station propels two very different people into a shared orbit. Georgie is crass, deeply odd and impulsive. On a whim, she kisses the neck of Alex, a much older and more subdued man who is sitting by himself. In the unexpected conversations that follow, Georgie and Alex discover shared passions amidst the uncertainty of personal connection. This life-affirming play uncovers the extraordinary in the everyday." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Smoking Gun through October 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous opening on Friday, October 27, and running through November 11. " Did you know that Shakespeares most brutal tragedy is actually a comedy? YoungLiars aim to prove the point with a vengeance in this riotous reimagining of Titus Andronicus - where the Italian Commedia smashes into All-American Splatter, and Shakespeare comes along for the ride. Titus Androgynous is YoungLiars deliciously deranged deep-dive into the perverse passions and vaudeville violence of the Bard's bloodiest play." Performances take place in in the hundred-year-old basement of the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street in Grand Center. For more information: brownpapertickets.com.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents the musical Urinetown Fridays and Saturdays at at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 29. "Winner of three Tony awards in 2002, Urinetown has been described as the "anti-musical." Brechtian in spirit and dystopian in setting, the show is wildly funny and engaging. Bruce Weber of The New York Times wrote ten days after the 9/11 attacks that "Urinetown...is simply the most gripping and galvanizing theater experience...equal parts visceral entertainment jolt and lingering provocation. The context of the historical moment makes us ask ourselves going in: Can we laugh and thrill to a musical at a time like this?" In 2017 others may be asking a similar question. We are confident that revisiting Urinetown will be just the ticket." The performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Symphony Preview: Getting very near the end

Orli Shaham
Photo: Christian Steiner
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There are, as you probably know, major changes coming at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in the next few years. Long-time Music Director David Roberson concludes his tenure with the group at the end of the 2017-18 season, to be replaced by the young French conductor Stéphane Denève in the 2019-2020 season.

It's an amicable parting to be sure, but it means that the current season is one of "lasts," one of which will be the last joint appearance on the Powell Hall stage this Saturday and Sunday of Mr. Robertson and his wife, pianist Orli Shaham. Ms. Shaham will play Rachmaninoff's bravura Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in a program that also includes Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Mnemosyne's Pool, a 2015 orchestral work by Steven Mackey.

They only perform jointly a couple of times a year and although Ms. Shaham has been a frequent soloist with the SLSO, they haven't both shared the stage here in St. Louis that often, but this is still a significant milestone for local music lovers. I dropped a couple of questions about that into a virtual bottle and floated them to Ms. Shaham over the Interwaves.

Chuck: You've said that you're looking forward to making chamber music with the SLSO in your performance of the Rachmaninoff. Can you elaborate on that? How is performing this like performing chamber music, in your view?

Orli: Rachmaninoff varies many aspects of the theme in each of the 24 variations. Specifically, he constantly changes up the instrumentation, so you end up with many different groupings of musicians from all the different sections of the orchestra. There are some very intimate moments in which it's just the piano and a few solo strings or a few solo winds, or one particular section of the orchestra with the piano. In that way it's really like chamber music on a grand scale.

David Robertson
Photo: Dan Dreyfus
Chuck: You and David Robertson met backstage at Powell Hall in 1999 and married in 2003, the same year as his appointment as music director at the SLSO. Now that you're preparing to play your last joint concert with Mr. Robertson and the orchestra, what impact do you feel the whole St. Louis experience has had on you and your family? What are some of your better memories from these years?

Orli: Over the years, we've had a wonderful relationship with both our St. Louis Symphony family as well as with many, many people all around St. Louis City and County.

From the very beginning, we felt embraced by the St. Louis community. I remember the first time people took us on tours around the neighborhoods and told us where we should have a good coffee or a quick lunch, and maybe even make our home. That warm welcoming atmosphere from the community and from the musicians on the stage has been a staple of our time there. We've had a lot of situations where people just made us feel like we've always been St. Louis citizens.

Just one example of that was this summer. We spent much of in Australia (some of it for work and some of it on vacation with the kids). We specifically wanted to come back to the states in time to see the eclipse - and of course there was no better place to see it than in St. Louis. But David had to stay in Sydney because he had performances there, so it was just me and the kids. I thought "gosh it might be a little lonely to share this experience with them," but it would still be totally worth it. Sure enough, when I mentioned to some of the musicians that we'd be in town for the day, before I could even blink, a plan was in place: A wonderful gathering with a number of musicians from the orchestra and their families, other children for my kids to play with, and a brilliant idea for the perfect spot. It turned out not only to be a great celestial event but a great social one as well.

The Essentials: David Robertson conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with piano soloist Orli Shaham, in music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Steven Mackey Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., October 21 and 22. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chuck’s Choices for the weekend of October 19, 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:

The Cabaret Project and The Curtain Call Lounge at the Fox present the Broadway Open Mic Night on Thursday, October 19, from 8 to 11 p.m. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by the pianist and music director Carol Schmidt. The special guest MC this month in Bob Wetzel. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The Curtain Call Lounge is next door to the Fabulous Fox in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

My take: Granted, I'm member of the Cabaret Project board and the usual host of the open mic, but I can tell you from personal experience that this is a good time all the way around, whether you're a singer or just a lover of great music. Since its inception over five years ago, the open mic has been attracting some of our area's finest singers interested in performing favorite songs or trying out new material. And the Curtain Call has a nice lineup of food and drinks for you.


The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's Hamlet through November 5. "For the first time in its 50-year history, The Rep will produce Hamlet. Spurred on to vengeance by the ghost of his father, Prince Hamlet hovers in limbo between bloody retribution and madness. Potentially fatal indecision delays his every step. With its profound soliloquies, complexly shaded characters and brutal plotting, it's Shakespeare's most enduring tragedy." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: Director Paul Mason Barnes' fast-paced take on Shakespeare's classic has gotten great notices from pretty much everyone, as have the performances from his cast. I'll be seeing it this weekend and will let you know my thoughts on it next week.


The Presenters Dolan presents Broadway star Alice Ripley on Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21, at 8 p.m. as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Alice Ripley brings to her cabaret shows the explosive brilliance that has taken her to Broadway stardom. In addition to Next to Normal, she has been in the original Broadway casts of Les Miserables (Fantine), Sunset Boulevard, Side Show, The Rocky Horror Show, and American Psycho. Currently appearing as Kathleen on the new Netflix comedy Girlboss." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com

My take: Ms. Ripley is a Broadway star with solid credentials, and I have always said that musical theatre people make some of the best cabaret performers.


And now, a diverse brace of shows that have been accumulating rave reviews since Chuck's Choices went on hiatus while yours truly was traveling around Europe. They all close this weekend the they're all worth your attention.

New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Lizzie Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 21. "A prominent businessman and his wife are brutally axed to death in their home. Their daughter Lizzie Borden is the prime suspect. Lizzie's trial is a coast-to-coast media sensation, and her story becomes an American legend." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical Spring Awakening Thursdays through Saturdays through October 21. "Spring Awakening explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion that is illuminating and unforgettable. This landmark musical is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality, and rock and roll that since its premiere has been exhilarating audiences like no other musical in years. A heart-rendering story that follows a group of teenage friends as they travel the fraught and rocky path of adolescence and find themselves along the way." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Upstream Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of Sweet Revenge Fridays through Sundays through October 22. "Considered the finest Polish comedy ever written, this 19th century verse drama uses Moliere-like wit to poke fun of human follies. Upstream takes the hijinks to another level by presenting the play as performed by an actual amateur Polish immigrant theater from the 1930s. A sympathetic satire with a focus on tolerance." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

New Jewish Theater presents Tuesdays With Morrie through October 22. "In this adaptation of the dearly loved book by Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie explores the ever-deepening relationship of journalist Albom with his Brandeis University professor and mentor, Morrie Schwartz. 16 years after graduation from college, Mitch catches Morrie on a television news program and discovers he is battling Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). What begins as a one-time visit to his former professor turns into a weekly pilgrimage where Mitch is schooled in life lessons and ultimately discovers the meaning of life." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 16, 2017

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Alton Little Theater presents The 39 Steps Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., October 20 - 29. "A beautiful spy tells a lethal secret to a man she’s just met. With that, our hero Richard Hannay finds himself embroiled in a riotous chase across England and Scotland, discovering clues, dodging police, and charming ladies at every turn. With tons of characters played by a small group of actors, the play provides actors the opportunity to perform multiple wildly creative characters in the midst of a fast-paced, hilarious evening at the theatre."  Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL.   For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

Insight Theatre Company presents Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, A Sherlock Holmes Mystery through October 29.  The play is "a tour de force with actors playing many different characters in madcap comedy." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown.   For more information, call 314-556-1293or visit insighttheatrecompany.com.

The Cabaret Project and The Curtain Call Lounge at the Fox present the Broadway Open Mic Night on Thursday, October 19, from 8 to 11 p.m.  Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by the pianist and music director Carol Schmidt. The special guest MC this month in Bob Wetzel. If you’re planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key.  It’s also recommend that you have your song memorized.  The Curtain Call Lounge is next door to the Fabulous Fox in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the one-man show Defending the Caveman, running through October 29. "Defending the Caveman, is the longest running solo show in Broadway history, is a hilariously insightful play about the ways men and women relate. This prehistoric look at the battle of the sexes is full of wonderful scenarios that celebrate the differences between men and women, making it a perfect entertainment option for couples or for a girls’ night out. The show has also been seen and recommended by thousands of marriage and family therapists and counselors for its humorous look at the inherent differences between the sexes."  The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza.  For more information: westportstl.com.

Emery Entertainment presents Evil Dead -  The Musical opening on Thursday, October 12, at 7:30 p.m. and running through October 22. "The Winner of the 2007 Dora Audience Choice Award for Toronto’s favorite show, Evil Dead - The Musical is the hilarious and outrageous story of five college friends spending the weekend in an abandoned cabin in the woods after accidently unleashing an evil force that turns them all into Candarian demons. The “Splatter Zone,” located within the first three rows of seating, is for super fans who can’t get enough of blood “splatter” during their favorite scenes of death and destruction in the woods. Audience members in these seats are covered in fake blood as part of the ‘real-life’ effects that take place during scenes in the show. In addition to some dismembered limbs, demons telling bad jokes and catchy tunes ("Look Who’s Evil Now," "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Demons"), the show features a saucy combination of wit and sexual innuendo that keeps audiences laughing."  The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre across from Powell Hall in Grand Center.  For more information: metrotix.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Shakespeare's Hamlet through November 5.  “For the first time in its 50-year history, The Rep will produce Hamlet. Spurred on to vengeance by the ghost of his father, Prince Hamlet hovers in limbo between bloody retribution and madness. Potentially fatal indecision delays his every step. With its profound soliloquies, complexly shaded characters and brutal plotting, it’s Shakespeare’s most enduring tragedy.” Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus.  For more information: repstl.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Haunted Hunter through October 27. "The rumor is true! Word on the street? This place is Haunted! That's right! ...and lots of famous sleuths, detectives and ghost hunters from around the world will be there to catch a glimpse of our famous, (and elusive), ghost "Billy", (better known as "Billy, the Spook"). Gee! If someone gets "Whacked", we'll have plenty of detectives to solve the crime, won't we! Everyone plays a part! You could be "Sherlock Homes", "Miss Garble", or even "The Hardly Boys". Call today for tickets to this "hauntingly silly" dinner theater." The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Lizzie
Photo: Jill Ritten Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the rock musical Lizzie Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 21. "A prominent businessman and his wife are brutally axed to death in their home. Their daughter Lizzie Borden is the prime suspect. Lizzie's trial is a coast-to-coast media sensation, and her story becomes an American legend." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Take Two Productions the musical Next to Normal through October 21. "The Tony Award winning musical explores how one suburban household copes with crisis and mental illness. Dad's an architect; Mom rushes to pack lunches and pour cereal; their daughter and son are bright, wise-cracking teens, appearing to be a typical American family. And yet their lives are anything but normal. The mother has battled manic depression for 16 years. Next to Normal takes audiences into the minds and hearts of each character, presenting their family's story with love, sympathy and heart." Performances take place at Southampton Presbyterian Church, 4716 Macklind. For more information, visit taketwoproductions.org.

Muny Magic at the Sheldon presents Our Leading Men Wednesday and Thursday, October 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m. "Complementing last fall’s Our Leading Ladies concert, Our Leading Men features the talented quartet of Ben Davis (Curly in Oklahoma!, 2015; Emile de Becque in South Pacific, 2013); Davis Gaines (Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, 2017); Jay Armstrong Johnson (Jack Kelly in Newsies, 2017; Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, 2016); and Mykal Kilgore (Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017). This promises to be an evening of celebration through song of the iconic musical theatre men who have appeared on the Muny stage throughout its 99-year history."  Performances take place at the Concert Hall in Grand Center.  For more information: muny.org.

The Presenters Dolan presents Broadway star Alice Ripley on Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21, at 8 p.m. as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival.  "Alice Ripley brings to her cabaret shows the explosive brilliance that has taken her to Broadway stardom. In addition to Next to Normal, she has been in the original Broadway casts of Les Misérables (Fantine), Sunset Boulevard, Side Show, The Rocky Horror Show, and American Psycho. Currently appearing as Kathleen on the new Netflix comedy Girlboss."  The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com

Alfresco Productions presents the musical The Rocky Horror Show Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through October 21.   "One fateful night, Brad Majors and his fiancée, Janet Weiss — a wholesome, well-behaved, utterly normal young couple — innocently set out to visit an old professor. Unfortunately for them, this night out is destined to be one they will never forget. A thunderstorm and a flat-tire force them to seek help at the castle of Dr. Frank ’N’ Furter, a transvestite scientist with a manic genius and insatiable libido. Brad, Janet, and Frank’ N’ Furter’s cohorts are swept up into the scientist’s latest experiment. The night’s misadventures will cause Brad and Janet to question everything they’ve known about themselves, each other, love, and lust. A loving homage to the classic B sci-fi film and horror genres with an irresistible rock’n’roll score, The Rocky Horror Show is a hilarious, wild ride that no audience will soon forget." Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL.  For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Smoking Gun through October 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical Spring Awakening Thursdays through Saturdays through October 21. "Spring Awakening explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion that is illuminating and unforgettable. This landmark musical is an electrifying fusion of morality, sexuality, and rock & roll that since its premiere has been exhilarating audiences like no other musical in years. A heart-rendering story that follows a group of teenage friends as they travel the fraught and rocky path of adolescence and find themselves along the way." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee.  For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Upstream Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of Sweet Revenge Fridays through Sundays through October  22.  "Considered the finest Polish comedy ever written, this 19th century verse drama uses Molière-like wit to poke fun of human follies. Upstream takes the hijinks to another level by presenting the play as performed by an actual amateur Polish immigrant theater from the 1930s. A sympathetic satire with a focus on tolerance." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center.  For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

New Jewish Theater presents Tuesdays With Morrie through October 22.   "In this adaptation of the dearly loved book by Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie explores the ever-deepening relationship of journalist Albom with his Brandeis University professor and mentor, Morrie Schwartz. 16 years after graduation from college, Mitch catches Morrie on a television news program and discovers he is battling Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). What begins as a one-time visit to his former professor turns into a weekly pilgrimage where Mitch is schooled in life lessons and ultimately discovers the meaning of life." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.  For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Clayton Community Theatre presents August Wilson's drama Two Trains Running Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through October  22.  "This Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, set in a diner in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1969, dramatically highlights the changing attitudes toward race in the North at the time, from the perspective of urban blacks. This will be Nada Vaughn's second August Wilson production for CCT, having previously directed The Piano Lesson in 2015."  Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre.  For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit placeseveryone.org.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents the musical Urinetown Fridays and Saturdays at at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., October 20 - 29.  "Winner of three Tony awards in 2002, Urinetown has been described as the “anti-musical.” Brechtian in spirit and dystopian in setting, the show is wildly funny and engaging. Bruce Weber of The New York Times wrote ten days after the 9/11 attacks that ”Urinetown…is simply the most gripping and galvanizing theater experience…equal parts visceral entertainment jolt and lingering provocation. The context of the historical moment makes us ask ourselves going in: Can we laugh and thrill to a musical at a time like this?” In 2017 others may be asking a similar question. We are confident that revisiting Urinetown will be just the ticket." The performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus.  For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.artsci.wustl.edu.

COCA Theatre Company presents the musical The Wiz Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m., July 21 - 23.  "This beloved seven-time Tony Award-winning musical features a dazzling mix of rock, gospel and soul music – including Brand New Day and Home – to create a refreshing update to a timeless classic. The Black Rep’s Ron Himes joins COCA to direct Dorothy and her crew as they adventure through the Land of Oz in an upbeat, family-friendly, retelling of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."  The performances take place in the Founder's Theater at COCA, 524 Trinity in University City.  For more information: cocastl.org.

Variety Children's Theatre presents The Wizard of Oz Thursday through Sunday, October 19 – 22.  Performances take place at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri – St. Louis campus.  For more information: touhill.org.

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.