Thursday, November 16, 2017

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of November 17, 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:

Of Mice and Men
Photo: Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Of Mice and Men Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through November 18. "George, an affable migrant farm worker and Lennie, a towering, simple-minded, pleasantly humble young man, have just arrived to work at a ranch. They are bound together by George's devotion and Lennie's seeming-helplessness, but George's guardianship soon leads to an ominous slippery slope. With an approaching lynch mob and blood on Lennie's hands, George is faced with a moral question: spare his friend or allow the ranchers to take matter into their own hands." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: The relevance of this story to a present-day American that seems intent on returning to the bad old economic days seems obvious, but SATE has taken the subtext and put it front and center. "John Steinbeck's short novel", writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "...springs vibrantly to life in Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble's (SATE) riveting production. Director Jacqueline Thompson and the company intentionally cast the emotionally powerful show to authentically reflect our country's migrant workforce, adding poignant relevance to a story originally set in 1935." Does the unusual casting, which includes some cross-gender roles, work? Ms. Farmer thinks so, and Ann Lemmons Pollack, in her St. Louis Eats and Drinks blog, says this is "[f]ine work in an intimate space." YMMV but it looks like SATE has once again produced an innovative and provocative show.


Held Over:

Stones in His Pockets
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 107th season with the comedy Stones in His Pockets Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, November 16 - 19. "The play offers a sharply satiric look at what happens when an American movie company sets up shop in a down-on-its-luck village in County Kerry, Ireland, to film a major motion picture. Enticed by the prospect of making more money as film extras every day than most can make in a week, everyone in the village wants in on the action. Most do get involved but some are left behind, and the village soon learns that there can be a steep price to pay for a few weeks of easy money and Hollywood excitement." 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 www.westendplayers.org.

My take: Full disclosure: I'm on the board and play reading committee at West End, but I have also been a great admirer of the remarkable comedy/drama since my wife and I first saw it in London many years ago. It's a virtuoso exercise for the two-man cast, who have to shift characters rapidly and often to portray around 30 roles in the course of the evening. I have shared the stage with both of the guys in this cast and I can tell you from personal experience that they've got the goods. Mark Bretz's review at Ladue news is typical of the show's notices: "Marie Jones’ whimsical, bittersweet story is given a touching tribute by director Steve Callahan and the talented twosome of Jared Sanz-Agero and Jason Meyers in a sparkling West End Players Guild presentation."


Titus Androgynous
YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous running through November 18. "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.

My take: I'm not a fan of grand guignol theatre in general, but if (say) Evil Dead: The Musical is your particular cup of stage blood, you might want to take a look at this unapologetically outrageous revision of Shakespeare's most violent play (which, to be fair, is often cited as an early example of grand guignol). Over at Ladue News, Mark Bretz praises the production's "inspired silliness" and says this Hallowe'en-themed show is "as much treat as trick."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Winter Opera offers a 'Student Prince' to warm the operetta lover's heart

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

Andrew Marks Maughan and male chorus
Photo: Wylde Brothers Productions
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Time was when operetta was common on local stages. Shows like Rose Marie, The Fortune Teller, and Robin Hood made up the bulk of the season at The Muny when it opened back in 1919, and even as late as the 1970s you could still see the occasional Desert Song or Student Prince on the Forest Park stage.

For those of you longing for the sounds of good old-fashioned operetta in general, or The Student Prince in particular, Winter Opera has a brand new production of that 1924 Sigmund Romberg classic for you Friday and Sunday, November 10 and 12, 2017. And while not quite up to the standard set by their Merry Widow last fall, it's still a nice piece of work that's likely to warm the cockles of the operetta lover's heart.

When it opened on Jolson's 59th Street Theatre on Broadway, The Student Prince was a great hit, running 608 performances. That made it the longest-running show of the decade. Subsequent revivals in the 1930s and 1940s maintained its popularity, but it was undoubtedly the 1954 film version, featuring the voice of the legendary tenor Mario Lanza, that really brought it into the American mainstream.

Caitlin Cisler
Photo: Wylde Brothers Productions
Based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's play Old Heidelberg, the book by American actress and playwright Dorothy Donnelly revolves around young Prince Karl Franz of the mythical kingdom of Karlsberg. Chafing at the gloomy regimentation of castle life, the prince is taken by his kindly tutor Doctor Engel to study at Engel's alma mater, the University of Heidelberg. There he has a brief romance with Kathie, who waits tables at her uncle's beer garden, and is ready to run away with her to Paris when he learns the king is ill and he must return to seal the betrothal to Princess Margaret that was arranged when they both were children. In the end, Margaret persuades Kathie to give up her claim on Karl Franz's affections and Karl Franz reluctantly takes up his kingly mantle, wistfully recalling the good old student days.

It's all rather thin stuff by contemporary standards, with cardboard characters and a perfunctory plot advanced with telegraphic brevity between songs. But what wonderful songs they are!

John Stephens
Photo: Wylde Brothers Productions
The enchanting "Serenade (Overhead the Moon is Beaming)" is probably the most famous number from the show, but there are plenty of other memorable moments in this appealing score, including the students' "Drinking Song" and the moving "Deep in My Heart, Dear." The music is what matters in The Student Prince. A production will stand or fall based on the strength of its voices.

It's a good thing, therefore, that Winter Opera has strong, appealing singers in both the lead and supporting roles, starting with tenor Andrew Marks Maughan as Prince Karl Franz. From the first notes of his sentimental duet "Golden Days" it was obvious that he had an excellent clear voice that projected easily over the orchestra without being strident.

The same is true of soprano Caitlin Cisler as Kathie. Her acting is not, perhaps, in the same league as her fluid and flexible singing, but when she and Mr. Maughan joined their voices in the lovely "Deep in My Heart, Dear" that hardly mattered. They're both attractive and charismatic performers, their vocal blend is ideal, and they are, in any case, dealing with a text that is not what you'd call dramatically deep.

As the kindly and ailing Dr. Engel, bass John Stephens radiates warmth and compassion. Zachary Devin's powerful tenor leads the Heidelberg students in a rousing rendition of the drinking song, ably assisted by baritone Joel Rogier, and Gary Moss once again demonstrates his considerable comic talents as the prince's self-important valet Lutz.

Parenthetical note: Lutz seems to me to be a gloss on Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else from The Mikado, which makes his disdainful references to Gilbert and Sullivan that much more amusing.

Gary Moss
Photo: Wylde Brothers Productions
Ellen Hinkle, who was such a delight as Frasquita in Winter Opera's Carmen back in March, once again charms as Princess Margaret, most notably in the waltz duet "Just We Two" with tenor Ryan Keller. Although they're both just starting their careers, their vocal and acting skills are already impressive, and I hope to see more of them in the future.

There are many other fine performances in this large cast. That includes (but is not limited to) Karen Kanakis as the stern Grand Duchess Anastasia, Karla M. Hughes as the flighty barmaid Gretchen, and director Dean Anthony as the unyielding Count von Mark.

When I reviewed Winter Opera's Merry Widow last year, I noted that Mr. Anthony clearly had a good eye for what works well on a stage. The same is true here. That includes his choreography, which once again does an excellent job of keeping the real dancers front and center while providing easily executed steps for the non-dancing singers. Things were still a bit rocky in spots when I saw the show at final dress rehearsal, but that could easily change by the time you see it in performance.

Under Scott Schoonover's baton, the Winter Opera orchestra has never sounded better, with a full and polished sound. JC Krajicek, who has costumed so many fine local productions, scores once again with appropriately colorful outfits, including lavish hoop skirts for the women and dashing military garb for the men. Scott Loebl's sets are in the same fairy tale mode, including a nice trompe l'oeil backdrop for the big Act III ball scene that's reminiscent of the one he did for Merry Widow last year.

It's nice to see Winter Opera taking up the mantle of the neglected operetta repertoire. The sentimental melodrama of The Student Prince might not have aged as well as the comic hijinks of The Merry Widow, but it's still fun to hear these classic tunes sung so well in the warm acoustics of the Viragh Center.

Review: Katie McGrath does cabaret to perfection in 'Significant Others' at the Gaslight Theatre

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

Rick Jensen and Katie McGrath
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If you wanted to write a "How to Do Cabaret" textbook, you could easily start with Significant Others, the latest show by former St. Louisan Katie McGrath, which had its local premiere at The Gaslight Cabaret Festival on Friday, November 10.

With a great song list ranging from Bon Jovi to Cole Porter, perfectly tailored arrangements by Rick Jensen, ideally paced direction by Lina Koutrakos, and Ms. McGrath's powerfully genuine stage presence, this was a show that hit all the right notes, literal and figurative.

From the moment Ms. McGrath stepped on stage in a sleek basic black outfit that nicely set off her striking blonde hair and silver earrings, she grabbed the audience's attention with the haunting lyrics Steve Porcaro wrote for the Michael Jackson hit "Human Nature": "Looking out / Across the nighttime / The city winks a sleepless eye." By the time she got to "If this town / Is just an apple / Then let me take a bite" there was little doubt that she was singing not just about her new home town of New York City, but about her entire approach to life as well -- a view confirmed by the next song, a giddy run through Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell" from Guys and Dolls. As we say over at the Church of the SubGenius, she's not just going to eat that apple, she's gong to eat the hell out of it.

I should pause here to point out that I have known Ms. McGrath for over a decade, going back to when we both attended an early edition of the St. Louis Cabaret Conference. Even then, before experience and training had allowed her to polish her craft, it was obvious that her singing had the immediacy and emotional truth that is at the heart of cabaret performance. No wonder that Gerry Geddes, in a review of the NYC debut of this show, wrote that Ms. McGrath has now "pursued, captured, and pretty much perfected cabaret performance."

The "significant others" of the title, as Ms. McGrath points out, goes back to the original psychological definition of the term as anyone who had a strong influence on one's self-concept. For her that includes not only her current partner Chet (the subject of a charming original song by Ms. McGrath and Alex Rybeck near the end of the show) but also her parents, her many siblings, her favorite babysitter, and even Sen. Kamala Harris, whose pointed questioning of Jeff Sessions she praised with Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).

Memories of how her babysitter introduced her and her siblings to the joys of Motown in the 1960s led to an ingenious bit in which Ms. McGrath and Mr. Jensen sang only the backup parts of "Heat Wave" and "Come See About Me" (because only her babysitter could be Diana Ross or Martha Reeves) while she channeled her inner child trying (and failing) to execute the dance moves. That child stayed with us in the next song, Dar Williams's poignant "The Babysitter's Here," which views a failing relationship through the eyes of someone young enough to understand pain, but not yet old enough to understand its source.

Ms. McGrath touched on her family's struggle with alcoholism early on, but did so in a way that not only completely avoided self-pity, but also turned the pain into art with a wistful version of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." That led to a story about encountering Irving Berlin himself during a youthful trip to New York City, which in turn served as the basis for Rupert Holmes's "People That You Never Get to Love." It was an example of the solid dramatic structure of Significant Others, in which the experienced hand of Ms. Koutrakos was evident.

The show closed with a little something they didn't get in the Big Apple: James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James" sung in harmony with St. Louis singers Jeff Wright and Dionna Raedeke as a tribute to the late Neal Richardson, whose work as an arranger, music director, and educator enriched the lives of so many here in St. Louis before his own life was tragically cut short by illness earlier this year. It was a moment of true beauty.

Significant Others was, in short, a perfect blend of laughter and tears delivered by a singer who is now a master of her art, riding on Mr. Jensen's impeccably tailored arrangements. Our loss has been New York City's gain, and it was nice to see Ms. McGrath once again holding forth on her home turf. Let us hope she returns soon.

Significant Others was produced by The Presenters Dolan as part of the fall edition of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival, which concluded on November 11.

Review: Spectacular Ravel and Tchaikovsky with John Storgårds, Marc-André Hameiln, and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

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

John Storgårds
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[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview post.]

"Nothing," wrote Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) "is so good as it seems beforehand." Had she seen the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in action on Saturday, November 11th 2017 (unlikely, given that she died in 1880), she might have revised that aphorism a bit.

I'll admit that I was looking forward to this concert. The program included my favorite Tchaikovsky symphony -- the Fourth, in F minor -- as well as Ravel's endlessly inventive Piano Concerto in G, and the guest conductor, John Storgårds, impressed me mightily when I last saw him in back in April. I was not, however, expecting to be quite as blown away as I was.

Things got off to a fine start with the local premiere of the Tänzchen im alten Stil ("Little Dance in the Old Style"), composed in 1918 by one of the great names in Hollywood film music, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It's an ingratiating gloss on the classic Viennese waltz, with a slyly humorous beginning and a middle section with echt romantisch solos for cello and horn, followed by a coda that cleverly combines both themes.

Mr. Storgårds gave it a very idiomatic treatment, complete with those small pauses between the first and second beat (luftpausen) that characterize the Viennese waltz. The orchestra played beautifully, including solos in the opening section from Associate Principal Flute Andrea Kaplan, Associate Principal Clarinet Diana Haskell, and bassoonist Vincent Karamanov. Principal Cello Daniel Lee and Associate Principal Horn Thomas Jöstlein carried out their solos with equal aplomb.

When pianist Marc-André Hamelin joined the orchestra for the Ravel concerto, though, it quickly became clear that the evening wasn't just gong to be good, it was going to be great.

Marc-André Hamelin
When Ravel wrote the concerto, he set out to make it technically challenging, hoping that it would force him to improve his own game at the keyboard. That didn't happen; Paris Conservatoire piano professor Marguerite Long played at the 1932 Paris premiere. But it did create a work that demands, especially in the wistful second movement, a pianist with technique and soul.

Mr. Hamelin displayed both Saturday night, dashing off the flashy stuff in the first and third movements with ease while caressing that long-limbed waltz theme in the second. He was completely in synch with Mr. Storgårds's loving and rhythmically free approach to that movement as well as his more dynamic interpretation of the other two. Mr. Storgårds also highlighted lots of little details like Principal Harp Allegra Lilly's solo in the first movement and the run up the piano keyboard to the first restatement of the main theme.

And speaking of solos, let's direct some applause to Cally Banham for that yearning English horn line in the second movement.

The concert concluded with what can only be called a kick-ass performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Written in 1876-77, at a time when the composer's mood swung between hope and despair, this is the most compact and dramatically expressive of all his symphonies. From the commanding "fate" motive first intoned by the brasses at the beginning to the nearly hysterical triumph of the finale, this is a piece that grabs you by the lapels and doesn't let go until the end.

Which is exactly what Mr. Storgårds and the SLSO did Saturday night. If you were there, you know what I mean. Starting with a brilliant statement of the "fate" motive by the brass section, this was a Tchaikovsky Fourth that commanded one's attention and simply crackled with energy.

There were so many great moments in this express train of a performance that I really can't list them all here. I loved the relentless "march of doom" at the end of the first movement, for example, as well as the barn-burning intensity of the finale. For me, Mr. Storgårds delivered a Tchaikovsky Fourth against which all others must be measured, with the high drama of the music accentuated by the conductor's magisterial podium presence and big, dramatic, full upper-body gestures.

Everyone played their hearts out, both in the many solos and in the ensemble overall. The melancholy main theme of the second movement was beautifully rendered by Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks and Associate Principal Bassoon Andy Gott. The string section played the pizzicato third movement with intense concentration (you could see it on their faces as well as hear it) and impressive precision. The horn and brass sections were stunning all the way through. And Thomas Stubbs deserves a particular shout-out for doing such a great job with the insanely fast cymbal part in the finale.

Not surprisingly, the applause following this was thunderous as the audience leapt to its feet. I don't think standing ovations at Powell Hall are always justified, but I had no hesitation about joining in this time.

Since this was Veteran's Day (originally Armistice Day, which I've always felt was more appropriate), the concert was preceded by a short speech honoring the Gold Star families present by SLSO trumpeter Jeff Strong, who is a former member of the US Marine Band. It was tastefully done, and an appropriate reminder.

Next at Powell: David Robertson conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, along with Joélle Harvey, soprano; Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Skelton, tenor; and Shenyang, bass-baritone in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3 p.m., November 18 and 19. There's also a free Youth Orchestra concert Friday at 8 p.m. with Resident Conductor Gemma New at the baton. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Monday, November 13, 2017

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of November 13, 2017

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African Musical Arts presents its IMI Chamber Players on Saturday, November 18, at 7 p.m. "IMI Chamber Players will present music for woodwind quintet and piano, in a rousing concert to commemorate the legacies of two luminary figures in African American music scholarship. Concert will feature Wendy Hymes on flute, Carrie Smith on oboes, Mary Bryant on clarinets, Donita Bauer on bassoon, Peter Ulfers on French horn and Sunghee Hinners on piano. Narration by Fred Onovwerosuoke." The concert takes place at the Parkway UCC Auditorium, 2841 N. Ballas Rd. For more information: africarts.org.

Monday and Tuesday, November 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents Hits of Greatful Dead Composers. The program features music by Schubert, Dovark, and Beethoven and takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

The Chamber Project St. Louis
The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Voyager on Friday, November 17 at 8 PM. "Experience a concert from a rare vantage point, up on stage with the musicians. This unique seating arrangement is fitting for a program all about travel and its influences. A hidden gem, Paul Emil Cras' String Trio is featured on this program that includes music from American Valerie Coleman, Brit Errollyn Wallen and Toru Takemitsu, a Japanese composer inspired by Emily Dickinson." The concert takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org.

The Gesher Music Festival presents a concert by pianist Einav Yarden on Tuesday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m. The concert includes music by Beethoven, Bartok, Haydn, and Schumann, and takes place at The Ethical Society at 9001 Clayton Rd. For more information: geshermusicfestival.com.

David Robertson conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Joélle Harvey, soprano; Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano; Stuart Skelton, tenor; and Shenyang, bass-baritone in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3 p.m., November 18 and 19. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Gemma New
Gemma New conducts The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra on Friday, November 17, at 8 p.m. "The St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, led by Music Director Gemma New kicks off their 48th season with a stirring program featuring a compelling new work by British-American composer Anna Clyne and Dvorák's Symphony No. 8. Don't miss your chance to hear the most talented young musicians from across the region at Powell Hall. Admission is FREE but a ticket is required." The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Washngton University's Danforth University Center Chamber Music Series presents a concert by pianist Einav Yarden on Wednesday, November 15, at 7:30 p.m. The concert includes takes place at the Goldberg Formal Lounge in the Danforth University Center on the Washington University Campus. For more information: music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Wind Ensemble concert on Thursday, November 16, at 7:30 p.m. The concert takes place at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu or call 314-935-5566.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Choirs Concert on Sunday, November 19, at 7:30 p.m. The concert takes place at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu or call 314-935-5566.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 13, 2017

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The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents Alice in Wonderland Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through November 19, in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Shakespeare's comedy As You Like It Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., November 15 - 19. "When your life is at risk and you flee court to find refuge in the woods, it's good to have a clown along. Stepping into the magical Forest of Arden with the philosophical fool Touchstone and her cousin Celia, Rosalind disguises herself as a young man and takes a walk into self-discovery. In this brave new world, she finds other court exiles - and the man she loves! Falling in love and learning who you are by acting the part are at the heart of this charming production in which romantic playfulness builds to a woodland wedding extravaganza." Performances take place on the Browning Mainstage Theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu/conservatory/season or call 314-968-7128.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents The Christmas Killer through 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 St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents the Dragons Love Tacos Sunday, November 19, at 2 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, November 24 and 25, at 2 p.m. "Theatreworks USA's newest musical revue of beloved contemporary children's books! Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin Dragons love all sorts of tacos-except spicy ones! When a boy throws his new dragon friends a spicy salsa taco party , red-hot trouble ensues. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein It's bedtime for the little red chicken. Papa is going to read her a story, but the chicken can't help interrupting. Will the chicken ever get to sleep? The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds A story about the creative spirit in all of us. Vashti can't draw, but when her teacher says “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” Vashti discovers she is an artist, after all. Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Mercy, a porcine wonder, and Mr. Watson go for a ride every Saturday in Mr. Watson's automobile. But one Saturday, guess who winds up behind the wheel? Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa School Days by Erica Silverman, painted by Betsy Lewin Yee Haw! Cowgirl Kate and her loyal horse Cocoa are the perfect pair. They do everything together, until school is in session-and horses are not allowed!" Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.florissantmo.com

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Kiss Thursday and Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2 p.m., November 16 - 19. "A company of American actors have discovered a play on the internet from an unknown Syrian playwright and they stage it. They are earnest in their attempts to present socially conscientious work in solidarity with the global moment, but for all their good intentions, something gets lost in translation and they get it woefully wrong. The play asks if we can discern from afar with any clarity what is happening in our world today. Chilean born Guillermo Calderón is considered one of the most promising playwrights on the international stage." 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.

St. Louis Community College at Meramec presents Middletown by Will Eno, Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 p.m., October November 15 - 29. "Middletown is a deeply moving and funny new play exploring the universe of a small American town. Featuring characters that are as interesting as they are introspective, Middletown comes to life as a microcosm of the American Dream. As a friendship develops between longtime resident John Dodge and new arrival Mary Swanson, the lives of the inhabitants of Middletown intersect in strange and poignant ways in a journey that takes them from the local library to outer space and numerous points between." Performances take place in the theatre on the campus at 11333 Big Bend Road. For more information, stlcc.edu/MC or call 314-984-7500.

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

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Of Mice and Men Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through November 18. "George, an affable migrant farm worker and Lennie, a towering, simple-minded, pleasantly humble young man, have just arrived to work at a ranch. They are bound together by George's devotion and Lennie's seeming-helplessness, but George's guardianship soon leads to an omnious slippery slope. With an approaching lynch mob and blood on Lennie's hands, George is faced with a moral question: spare his friend or allow the ranchers to take matter into their own hands." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

On Your Feet
The Fabulous Fox presents On Your Feet: The Gloria and Emilio Estafen Broadway Musical through November 19. "From their humble beginnings in Cuba, Emilio and Gloria Estefan came to America and broke through all barriers to become a crossover sensation at the very top of the pop music world. But just when they thought they had it all, they almost lost everything. From international superstardom to life-threatening tragedy, ON YOUR FEET! takes you behind the music and inside the real story of this record-making and groundbreaking couple who, in the face of adversity, found a way to end up on their feet." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Independent Theatre Company presents Patience Davis in the one-woman show Random Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18, at 8 p.m. “This powerful, poetic and often comic play doesn't waste a word as it tells of a West Indian family who believe you should 'never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you' - only to find it sitting in their front room, in the shape of three policeman bearing bad news.” Performances take place at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves, 517 Theater Lane, Webster Groves. Tickets are available at the door with cash or check.

St. Charles Community College presents The Penelopiad Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m, and Sunday at 2 p.m., September November 15 - 19. "The Penelopiad is Margaret Atwood's new stage adaptation of her own wry, witty, and wise novel. In what amounts to a theatrical Olympiad, Penelope and her wronged maids tell their side of the story - how she patiently and devotedly waited 20 years for the return of her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War, only to have him repay her and her maids' devotion with heart-wrenching ruthlessness. Full of music, poetry, and movement, this new telling of an ancient story echoes with the fluidity of the original mythic material and timeless resonance for today." Performances take place in the FAB Theater in the Donald D. Shook Fine Arts Building on the campus at 4601 Mid Rivers Mall Drive in Cottleville, MO. For more information, call 636-922-8050 or visit stchas.edu.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the comedy Ripcord Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 19. "A sunny room on an upper floor is prime real estate in the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, so when the cantankerous Abby is forced to share her quarters with new-arrival Marilyn, she has no choice but to get rid of the infuriatingly chipper woman by any means necessary. A seemingly harmless bet between the old women quickly escalates into a dangerous game of one-upmanship that reveals not just the tenacity of these worthy opponents, but also deeper truths that each would rather remain hidden." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

First Run Theatre presents the 2017 Spectrum One-Act Play Festival Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, through November 19. This year's plays are Storage by Tom Moore, Cooter Holland Rides a Tractor by Tim Naegelin, Raisinets by Samantha L. Shanker, Wake-Up Call by Zachary Michael Jack, Pride of Dummies by Joe Wegescheide, and Placebo Effect by David Hawley. Performances take place in the Thomas Hunter Theatre at DeSmet Jesuit High School, 233 N New Ballas Road. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

The West End Players Guild continues its 107th season with the comedy Stones in His Pockets Thursday through Saturday at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, November 16 - 19. "The play offers a sharply satiric look at what happens when an American movie company sets up shop in a down-on-its-luck village in County Kerry, Ireland, to film a major motion picture. Enticed by the prospect of making more money as film extras every day than most can make in a week, everyone in the village wants in on the action. Most do get involved but some are left behind, and the village soon learns that there can be a steep price to pay for a few weeks of easy money and Hollywood excitement." 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 www.westendplayers.org.

Titus Androgynous
YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous running through November 19. "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 Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Twisted Improv on Friday, November 17, at 8 p.m. at The Steamboat Room, 314 S. Clay in Kirkwood, MO. "Join Adam and his crew for an interactive night of fun and laughter.Beer, wine and food available from Kirkwood Station Brewery." For more information: ktg-onstage.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.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of November 10th, 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:

Emily Skinner
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Emily Skinner in Broadway Her Way on Saturday, November 11, at 8 p.m. "In her captivatingly all-in cabaret show, Tony-nominated Broadway star Emily Skinner (Side Show, Billy Elliot, The Full Monty) takes us on a tour of her neighborhood. A favorite at The Rep in Follies and at the MUNY in The Little Mermaid. Among his many accomplishments, Emily's MD John Fischer is the Music Director of the renowned center of dance, Jacob's Pillow, located in The Berkshires of western Massachussetts." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: If you liked Alice Ripley's show last month, there's a good chance you'll find this one appealing as well, since she and Ms. Ripley (who famously co-starred in Sideshow on Broadway) teamed up for a duet show, Unattached, at 54 Below last year. If you were lucky enough to see her in Follies at the Rep last year, you know she's a real musical theatre pro.


Elsie Parker
The Jacoby Arts Center presents Elsie Parker and the Poor People of Paris in Days of Wine and Piaf, an evening of the songs of Edith Piaf, on Friday, November 10, at 8 p.m. The Jacoby Arts Center is at 627 E. Broadway in Alton, IL. For more information: jacobyartscenter.org.

My take: i will confess to being a huge admirer of Edith Piaf (I have visited her grave in Paris twice) and French popular songs in general. Elsie Parker and her group have the same affection for this material and it shows on their polished and committed performances.


Katie McGrath
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Katie McGrath in Significant Others on Friday, November 10, at 8 p.m. "Significant Others: the people, places and events that make us - well, us. Features a lively mix of Great American Songbook, pop, country and soul. McGrath's proceeds will benefit St. Louis's own Guardian Angel Settlement Association, whose social services programs and developmental childcare program work to improve the lives of those in our community struggling with poverty." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: Katie McGrath was a notable cabaret artist here in St. Louis for years before her recent move to the Big Apple. In addition to her solo work, she was a member of the rockin' Women Under the Influence as well as a political activist, organizing two Concert Across America events to raise awareness about gun violence. Since then she has been making a name for herself in NYC. It's good to have her back in town for a few days.


The Spitfire Grill
Photo: Ken Clark
The Hawthorne Players present musical The Spitfire Grill through November 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.

My take: Is this production worth a trip out Florissant? Richard Green over at Talkin' Broadway certainly thinks so. "100% charming, and perfectly cast, the 2001 musical Spitfire Grill finds its magic in unexpected places," he writes. "There's the frightening modern chasm of economic dislocation (set in a rural Wisconsin community) and a slow-dawning miracle of escape for all concerned, as you may remember from the 1996 movie with Ellen Burstyn. And, at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre, Hawthorne Players gives it the perfect setting, heartwarming, with a good dash of snark. Yes, this is an unadulterated rave." My experience with Hawthorne is that they often do very good work, and have a well-equipped and comfortable theatre to work with.  Add this to your musical theatre list for the weekend.


Stones in His Pockets
Photo: John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 107th season with the comedy Stones in His Pockets Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 10 - 19. "The play offers a sharply satiric look at what happens when an American movie company sets up shop in a down-on-its-luck village in County Kerry, Ireland, to film a major motion picture. Enticed by the prospect of making more money as film extras every day than most can make in a week, everyone in the village wants in on the action. Most do get involved but some are left behind, and the village soon learns that there can be a steep price to pay for a few weeks of easy money and Hollywood excitement." There will also be a show on Thursday, November 17, at 8 PM. 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 www.westendplayers.org.

My take: Full disclosure: I'm on the board and play reading committee at West End, but I have also been a great admirer of the remarkable comedy/drama since my wife and I first saw it in London many years ago. It's a virtuoso exercise for the two-man cast, who have to shift characters rapidly and often to portray around 30 roles in the course of the evening. I have shared the stage with both of the guys in this cast and I can tell you from personal experience that they've got the goods.


The Student Prince
Photo: Wylde Brothers Productions
Winter Opera St. Louis presents Sigmund Romberg's operetta The Student Prince Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, November 10 and 12. Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

My take: We don't get to see much operetta these days. Sure, there's the occasional Gilbert and Sullivan, but I can't recall the last time I saw a professional production of Rombert's tuneful The Student Prince. Winter Opera gave us one of the best productions of Merry Widow I've ever seen last year, and while what I saw at final dress rehearsal last night wasn't quite in that league, it was still quite good. Soprano Caitlin Cisler and tenor Andrew Marks Maughan sound terrific in the leads and in the role of Detlef tenor Zachary Devin leads the men's chorus in a fine version of the famous "Serenade." The orchestra under Scott Schoonover has never sounded better.


Held Over:

Windsor Theatre Group presents the musical revue Broadway: The Early 1900's - Victor Herbert and His Contemporaries at 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.

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 bringing us a full evening of this classic stuff.


Ken Haller and Marty Fox
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents singer Ken Haller and pianist Marty Fox in Happy Haller Days on Thursday, November 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.

My take: In my review of Ken's last production, The Medicine Show, I noted that he "delivered the goods with that combination of theatrical smarts and vocal authority that has made him one of our town's principal cabaret exports." He and Marty Fox have done another first rate job this time around; check out my review of this show for details.


Titus Androgynous
YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous 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.

My take: I'm not a fan of grand guignol theatre in general, but if (say) Evil Dead: The Musical is your particular cup of stage blood, you might want to take a look at this unapologetically outrageous revision of Shakespeare's most violent play (which, to be fair, is often cited as an early example of grand guignol). Over at Ladue News, Mark Bretz praises the production's "inspired silliness" and says this Hallowe'en-themed show is "as much treat as trick."

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Review: The holiday doctor is in

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

Ken Haller and Marty Fox
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The doctor is in, and he's got the cure for your holiday blues. All of them.

Happy Haller Days!, the latest show from singer/actor/pediatrician Ken Haller, is a romp through a full calendar year of three-day weekends, starting with Christmas and working around the calendar. Peppered with insights from Mr. Haller's life in medicine and theatre, the evening is fun and funny, but also touching and profound.

The song choices are varied and sometimes even inspired. Memories of the hard life of Mr. Haller's Swedish grandmother, for example, introduce an Independence Day segment that features a low-key version of Neil Diamond's "America." For Labor Day, reflections on his days as a resident physician on Manhattan's posh Upper West Side lead to Harburg and Lane's rarely heard "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" from Finian's Rainbow.

Perhaps the most emotional moment, though, comes with the return to Christmas, as Mr. Haller's thoughts on his decade as a pediatrician in poverty-stricken inner city East St. Louis, make way for an inspiring arrangement of "Light," from Next to Normal. Based on an arrangement for the Gateway Men's Chorus by the late Neal Richardson, it blends the voices of Mr. Haller and his pianist and music director Marty Fox in tight and powerful harmony. The song's hope that the light will make "wasted world we thought we knew...look brand new" feels particularly relevant in the context of today's bleak political landscape.

Balancing out the drama are some true comic gems, like "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas," which the ten-year-old Gayla Peevey took to number 24 on the Billboard charts in 1963. Mr. Haller does an impressive job of channeling his own inner child in his charming performance. Perhaps the biggest laughs of the evening, though, came from the Valentine's Day entry, Marilyn Miller and Cheryl Hardwick's "Making Love Alone," a hymn of praise in beguine tempo to (ahem) taking matters into one's own hands. Bernadette Peters brought the house down with it on The Tonight Show in 1989. The Haller and Fox team got even more mileage out of it by taking it just a bit slower, giving the audience room to laugh at the song's many jokes.

As I have written previously, Mr. Haller never fails to deliver a combination of theatrical smarts and vocal authority that has made him one of our town's principal cabaret exports. He and Mr. Fox also have a great rapport on stage, something that was obvious in their last effort, The Medicine Show. Expert direction by Gaslight Cabaret Festival producer Jim Dolan kept everything moving at a good pace and helped insure the sense of a dramatic arc that, in my view, is a major characteristic of a well-designed cabaret performance. The capacity crowd at the Gaslight Theater clearly loved what they saw.

That said, I have to note that while it may be true that, as the old wheeze goes, an elephant never forgets, there's no escaping the fact that people do. On opening night, Mr. Haller occasionally got lost in a couple of lyric-heavy numbers, which suggests to me that there might be too many of those in the show. That's a very minor complaint, though, which is why it's at the very end of this review.

Ken Haller and Marty Fox will reprise Happy Haller Days! at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 9, at the Gaslight Theater in the Central West End, as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. It's a tremendously entertaining evening from one of our best and most prolific cabaret stars; go and enjoy.

Review: "Jurassic Park" at the St. Louis Symphony returns us to those thrilling days of yesteryear

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

Gemma New
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Remember when the score of a movie was there to provide emphasis at key moments rather than to act as an omnipresent background? The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra took us back to those thrilling days of yesteryear last weekend (November 3-5, 2017) with showings of Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park, accompanied by a live performance of the John Williams score.

Yes, the music is almost nonstop during the action-packed final moments of the movie, but there are also long stretches of unaccompanied dialog. That allows Williams's exciting and intelligent music to reinforce the action and highlight character without beating you over the head constantly. Directors of recent big-budget films should taken note.

It is, in any case, always a pleasure to hear a Williams score. Encountered in live performance, his music reveals fascinating details that can sometime go unnoticed in a theatre. Examples include the ominous use of the contrabassoon in the early scenes and the loopy music accompanying the "how we cloned dinosaurs" cartoon shown to Jurassic Park visitors. And then there's the harsh modernism that creeps into the action scenes as the chaos theory embraced by Jeff Goldbum's character proves to be all too real.

Mr. Williams's musical toolbox is, in sort, eclectic and seemingly inexhaustible -- as you might expect from someone whose involvement with the film music business extends all the way back to his days as a jazz keyboardist and film and TV studio pianist. Jurassic Park might not be his most inventive work, but it's still irresistible.

So is the film itself. Computer animation may have come a long way since Jurassic Park's digital dinosaurs wowed audiences 25 years ago, but that first appearance of the brachiosaurus is still pretty breathtaking and the velociraptors are still creepily intelligent, if scientifically inaccurate. The screenplay, adapted from Michael Crichton's book by Crichton and David Koepp, is predictable and riddled with stereotypes, and Spielberg's direction is heavily manipulative as always, but together they still produce a truly "ripping yarn," as the Brits say.

For these SLSO movie events, though, the score is the real draw. Like many big-budget films from the last few decades, Jurassic Park calls for a massive orchestra with an augmented percussion section and a full complement of brasses. Some of it also sounds rhythmically tricky, especially in the action scenes, but the band played it to perfection under the direction of Resident Conductor Gemma New.

Conducting in sync with a movie has always struck me as a demanding task, since it requires attention to the score, the orchestra, and, on a small monitor in front of the podium, a customized version of the film with "streamers" that help the conductor cue the players. Ms. New was fully in command of all her forces Friday night, though, and delivered an impressive reading of the score. I haven't had a chance to see her conduct a more conventional program yet, but I look forward to the opportunity.

Next at Powell Hall: John Storgårds conducts the orchestra along with pianist Marc-André Hamelin in music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky Friday at 10:30 a.m, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., November 10-12. The program features Ravel's Concerto in G and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Symphony Preview: Self-improvement program

Maurice Ravel birthday party, New York City, March 8, 1928
L-R: Oscar Fried, conductor; Eva Gauthier, singer;
Ravel at piano; Manoah Leide-Tedesco, composer-conductor;
and composer George Gershwin
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This weekend (November 10 - 12, 2017) at Powell Hall, guest conductor John Storgårds takes the podium as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra plays a varied program featuring the local premiere of a piece that's almost 100 years old, one of Tchaikovsky's Greatest Hits, and a popular piano concerto that was the result of a failed attempt at self-improvement by Maurice Ravel.

The Ravel work in question is the Concerto in G, written mostly between 1929 and 1932. It's one of only two piano concertos in his catalog (the other is the Concerto in D for the left hand, written at around the same time) and it represented an attempt by Ravel to improve his own less than stellar skill as a pianist.

Ravel, as Washington University's Hugh Macdonald has written, was not a virtuoso at the keyboard. “In his public appearances as a concert pianist,” notes Mr. Macdonald, “he had preferred to play easier pieces like the Sonatine and was all too conscious that his technique was not up to his most demanding works, such as Gaspard de la nuit. But rather than write a piece within his own capacity, he decided to write a concerto of proper difficulty and simply acquire the technique to play it.” Thus was born the Concerto in G.

The composition process was apparently long and difficult, having begun as early as 1911, according to Mr. Macdonald:
"Gustave Samazeuilh recounted that in 1911 he and Ravel spent a holiday in the Basque region (where both of them had come from) and that Ravel sketched a “Basque Concerto” for piano and orchestra. Without the right idea for a central linking movement the work was abandoned, to reappear 20 years later as the G-major Concerto. This at least suggests a Basque origin for some of the themes, although it is easier, without any general familiarity with Basque music, to recognize that the livelier themes emerge from Ravel's preoccupation with the brilliant percussive qualities of the piano itself and that the languorous melodies betray his gift for giving a peculiarly sophisticated edge to the language of jazz."

Jazz was certainly in the air in Paris in the late 1920s and Ravel got a taste of the real thing during a 1928 tour of the USA, so much is understandably made about the jazzy influences in the concerto; possible Basque influences, not so much. Regardless of the source of the concerto's inspiration, though, the result is characteristically Ravel: inventive, witty, and brilliantly orchestrated.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Ravel's attempts to bring his keyboard skills up to the level required by the concerto came to naught, unfortunately. He was already in his mid fifties-a time in life when learning new skills becomes more difficult-and his health was declining, resulting in memory problems and difficulty concentrating. So when it came time for the French premiere of the concerto, the solo role went to Marguerite Long, who taught piano at the Paris Conservatoire between 1906 and 1940. And even she found it a challenge.

“It is a difficult work,” she observed in the posthumously published Au Piano avec Maurice Ravel, “especially in respect of the second movement where one has no respite. I told Ravel one day how anxious I was, after all the fantasy and brilliant orchestration of the first part, to be able to maintain the cantabile of the melody of the piano alone during such a long slow flowing phrase... 'That flowing phrase!' Ravel cried. 'How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!'"

At the Steinway for this weekend's concerts will be Canadian pianist and composer Marc-André Hamelin, last seen here in 2009. He has made a number of recordings for Hyperion, concentrating on some of the more obscure composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the inventive American Frederic Rzewski, virtuoso pianist Leopold Godowski, and one of my own favorites, Charles-Valentin Alkan. That seems apt preparation for a work as eclectic as the Ravel concerto.

The concerts will open with the first local performance of Tänzchen im alten Stil ("Little Dance in the Old Style"), composed in 1918 by one of the great names in Hollywood film music, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Written when the composer was just beginning to make a name for himself and long before the rise of Hitler would drive him to expatriate status in the USA, this short (around seven minutes) piece looks back nostalgically to the “old style” of the Viennese waltz and, as Benjamin Pesetsky tells us in the program notes , features a “gorgeous cello solo that would be equally at home in a Brahms symphony or a silver-screen love theme.” If you've ever heard Korngold's popular Violin Concerto or his classic film scores (like The Adventures of Robin Hood or The Prince and the Pauper), you know what to expect.

The concerts will conclude with my favorite Tchaikovsky symphony-his Fourth, in F minor, last heard in Powell Hall in March 2015, with David Robertson at the baton. I'm going to basically reprise what I wrote about it back then because it's still valid and because I am occasionally given to bouts of sloth.

"Tchaikovsky with wife Antonina Miliukova"
by Ivan Grigoryevich Dyagovchenko
Licensed under Public Domain
via Wikimedia Commons
Tchaikovsky began writing the symphony during a winter of discontent (to paraphrase Shakespeare) in 1876-77. "Since we last met," he wrote to his friend Ivan Klimenko on May 8, 1877, "I am very much changed-especially mentally. Not a kopek's worth of fun and gaiety is left in me. Life is terribly empty, tedious, and tawdry. My mind turns towards matrimony, or indeed any other steady bond. The only thing that has not changed is my love for composing. If the conditions of my life were different, if my desire to create were not balked at every step...I might write something really decent."

His disastrous attempt at marriage in 1877 to a former student, Antonina Miliukova didn't help matters any. He was gay, she didn't get it, and the entire business collapsed after only a few months. Still, by the beginning of 1878, all that Sturm und Drang had resulted in the creation of "something really decent." Although initially dismissed by critics who were baffled by the first movement's length of (at just over 17 minutes, it takes up about half of the symphony's total time) and unusual structure, the Fourth would gradually gain acceptance and acclaim. It's now one of Tchaikovsky's most popular symphonies.

As well it should be. The composer poured all of his hope and despair into this most compact and dramatically expressive of all his symphonies. From the commanding "fate" motive first intoned by the brasses at the beginning to the nearly hysterical triumph of the finale, this is a piece that grabs you by the lapels and doesn't let go until the end. I've loved this work from the first time I heard it in a recording by Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra on my parents' old console stereo some fifty years ago. I think you will as well.

The Essentials: John Storgårds conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, along with pianist Marc-André Hamelin in music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky Friday at 10:30 a.m, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., November 10 - 12. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 6, 2017

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The Monroe Actors Stage Company presents Alice in Wonderland Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., November 10 - 19, in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

Emily Skinner
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Emily Skinner in Broadway Her Way on Saturday, November 11, at 8 p.m. "In her captivatingly all-in cabaret show, Tony-nominated Broadway star Emily Skinner (Side Show, Billy Elliot, The Full Monty) takes us on a tour of her neighborhood. A favorite at The Rep in Follies and at the MUNY in The Little Mermaid. Among his many accomplishments, Emily's MD John Fischer is the Music Director of the renowned center of dance, Jacob's Pillow, located in The Berkshires of western Massachussetts." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Windsor Theatre Group presents the musical revue Broadway: The Early 1900's - Victor Herbert and His Contemporaries at 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.

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents the musical Bye Bye Birdie at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium through November 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 through 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 Jacoby Arts Center presents Elsie Parker and the Poor People of Paris in Days of Wine and Piaf, an evening of the songs of Edith Piaf, on Friday, November 10, at 8 p.m. The Jacoby Arts Center is at 627 E. Broadway in Alton, IL. For more information: jacobyartscenter.org.

Over Due Theatre presents musical The Drowsy Chaperone Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, November 10 - 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.

The St. Louis Writers Group presents a reading of End of Silence by Gerry Mandel on Monday, November 6, at 6:30 p.m. "Based on actual events, with a dose of imagination and dramatic license, End of Silence takes us to Hollywood in the late 1930s, when Hitler was brutalizing Europe, while Hollywood said and did nothing to protest. The play focuses on Charlie Chaplin, silent comic film genius, who faces the two biggest challenges of his phenomenal career: Make a "talkie", and take on Hitler and Nazi Germany, while the studio heads remained silent and fearful." The event takes place at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: stlwritersgroup.com.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Girls Night: The Musical opening on Tuesday, November 7th, at 8 p.m. and running through Sunday the 12th. "This touching and hilarious musical takes audiences on a journey into the lives of a group of female friends as they go from heartbreak to happiness during a wild night of karaoke. Audience members can't help but laugh, cry and even find themselves singing and dancing in the aisles to some of the most popular hit songs of the '80s and '90s." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the thriller The Haunting of Hill House Fridays through Sunday through November 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 through November 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. through November 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 through December 31. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Of Mice and Men Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., November 8 - 18. "George, an affable migrant farm worker and Lennie, a towering, simple-minded, pleasantly humble young man, have just arrived to work at a ranch. They are bound together by George's devotion and Lennie's seeming-helplessness, but George's guardianship soon leads to an omnious slippery slope. With an approaching lynch mob and blood on Lennie's hands, George is faced with a moral question: spare his friend or allow the ranchers to take matter into their own hands." Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

The Fabulous Fox presents On Your Feet: The Gloria and Emilio Estafen Broadway Musical opening on Tuesday, November 7, at 7:30 p.m. and running through the 19th. "From their humble beginnings in Cuba, Emilio and Gloria Estefan came to America and broke through all barriers to become a crossover sensation at the very top of the pop music world. But just when they thought they had it all, they almost lost everything. From international superstardom to life-threatening tragedy, ON YOUR FEET! takes you behind the music and inside the real story of this record-making and groundbreaking couple who, in the face of adversity, found a way to end up on their feet." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

On Monday, November 6, at 7 p.m. That Uppity Theatre Company in conjunction with US Green Building Council-Missouri Gateway Chapter and Missouri Interfaith Power and Light present Playhouse Emissions: A Climate Change Theatre Action. Produced by Joan Lipkin and Pamela Reckamp, Playhouse Emissions: A Climate Change Theatre Action will feature a sampling of the CCTA international collection of short plays inspired by climate change and prevailing attitudes towards science. Admission is free, but registration is requested online or at the door. Registration and networking at 7-7:30, program will begin at 7:30, with resource tables following from 8:45-9:30. The event takes place at the Ethical Society, 9001 clayton Road. For more information: www.usgreenbuildingcouncilstlouisregionalchapter.memberlodge.org

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the comedy Ripcord Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., November 9 - 19. "A sunny room on an upper floor is prime real estate in the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, so when the cantankerous Abby is forced to share her quarters with new-arrival Marilyn, she has no choice but to get rid of the infuriatingly chipper woman by any means necessary. A seemingly harmless bet between the old women quickly escalates into a dangerous game of one-upmanship that reveals not just the tenacity of these worthy opponents, but also deeper truths that each would rather remain hidden." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Katie McGrath in Significant Others on Friday, November 10, at 8 p.m. "Significant Others: the people, places and events that make us - well, us. Features a lively mix of Great American Songbook, pop, country and soul. McGrath's proceeds will benefit St. Louis's own Guardian Angel Settlement Association, whose social services programs and developmental childcare program work to improve the lives of those in our community struggling with poverty." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

First Run Theatre presents the 2017 Spectrum One-Act Play Festival Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 10 - 19. This year's plays are Storage by Tom Moore, Cooter Holland Rides a Tractor by Tim Naegelin, Raisinets by Samantha L. Shanker, Wake-Up Call by Zachary Michael Jack, Pride of Dummies by Joe Wegescheide, and Placebo Effect by David Hawley. Performances take place in the Thomas Hunter Theatre at DeSmet Jesuit High School, 233 N New Ballas Road. For more information, call (314) 352-5114 or visit www.firstruntheatre.com.

The Spitfire Grill
The Hawthorne Players present musical The Spitfire Grill through November 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.

The West End Players Guild continues its 107th season with the comedy Stones in His Pockets Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 10 - 19. "The play offers a sharply satiric look at what happens when an American movie company sets up shop in a down-on-its-luck village in County Kerry, Ireland, to film a major motion picture. Enticed by the prospect of making more money as film extras every day than most can make in a week, everyone in the village wants in on the action. Most do get involved but some are left behind, and the village soon learns that there can be a steep price to pay for a few weeks of easy money and Hollywood excitement." There will also be a show on Thursday, November 17, at 8 PM. 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 www.westendplayers.org.

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Sigmund Romberg's operetta The Student Prince Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, November 10 and 12. Performances take place at The Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh. For more information, visit winteroperastl.org.

YoungLiars presents Titus Androgynous 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.

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.