Sunday, May 20, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 21, 2018

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CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The cast of Life Sucks
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents Life Sucks by Aaron Posner May 23 - June 10. "An irreverent adaptation of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, Posner's contemporary riff on the work is altogether wise, profoundly humane, hilarious, quirky, endearing and, in countless clever ways, brilliantly faithful to its source. Posner brings a playful, far from cynical, originality to the story of a group of yearning, frustrated, heartbroken, questioning, and in many ways privileged souls who are, in their varied and deeply flawed ways, trying to cope with all the essential conundrums of existence. It is essentially a play about love, loss and longing - with a healthy dose of Jewish philosophizing thrown in. Never has unhappiness been so much fun." 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.

Lion's Paw Theatre Company presents Plays on the Menu, a reading of the plays Sailing by Michael Shurtleff, The Parrot by Bernard Sobel, and Halves! by Margaret P. Browne on Tuesday, May 22, at noon at The Hearth Room at The Hawken House, 1155 South Rock Hill Road. The readings include lunch. For more information: lionspawtheatre.org.

Lion's Paw Theatre Company presents Plays on the Menu, a reading of the plays Sailing by Michael Shurtleff, The Parrot by Bernard Sobel, and Halves! by Margaret P. Browne , on Wednesday, May 23, at noon at St. Louis Artists' Guild, 12 North Jackson in Clayton. The readings include lunch. For more information: lionspawtheatre.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents the second round of its Playwright Slam on Monday, May 21, at 6:30 pm. "Get ready for a night of fun impromptu theater. The order of scripts to be read will be chosen at random. Actors to read will be chosen at random. Each script will be given a five minute read, and rated by a panel of judges based upon audience reaction. The judges will select several plays to move on to round two which will be ten minutes of the the same script, from which a winner will be chosen." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mark Blitzstein's Regina opening on Saturday, May 26, and running through June 24. "Theft. Blackmail. Murder. Is there nothing that Regina Giddens won't do to satisfy her ambition? Based on Lillian Hellman's play The Little Foxes, and set against a Southern backdrop of spirituals, jazz, and ragtime, this deliciously twisted opera pits siblings and spouses against each other in a battle for the family business. Prepare to be scandalized - and entertained - as the renowned Susan Graham returns to Opera Theatre to portray one of the American stage's most fascinating characters." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Spinning Jenny, a new play by Kevin Ferguson, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., May 25 - June 3. "When Jenny discovers the world outside of her family's traveling carnival she begins to see there's more to life than a quick con job. Will she defy her family for a new way of life or will she be another lost soul on the midway?" Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

La Traviata
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's La Traviata through June 23. "Violetta has one important rule: never fall in love. As a Parisian courtesan, her life is full of parties, admirers, and - most importantly - freedom. Then she meets Alfredo. His naive sincerity sweeps her off her feet. Just when Violetta thinks she has escaped her past, she is asked to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Will pride, love, or honor prevail? Embrace the romance of this Verdi masterpiece, featuring the directing debut of star soprano Patricia Racette" Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

Alpha Players present the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip Peanuts, through May 27. Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 21, 2018

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The Community Music School of Webster University presents the Webster University Singers Reunion Concert on Sunday, May 27, at 3 pm. "Forty alumni reunite for a weekend of singing to celebrate Webster University's nationally recognized choral music program. Join us for a concert program of the singers' favorite selections, including music from the Western European choral tradition, a Cuban rumba, and African American spirituals." The Community Music School is at 535 Garden Avenue on the Webster University campus. For more information: webster.edu/cms.

Hamid Drake
New Music Circle presents a first-time collaborative performance by Hamid Drake, Cooper-Moore, and Joshua Abrams on Saturday, May 26, at 8 pm. "As a composer, performer, instrument builder/designer, storyteller, teacher, mentor, and organizer, Cooper-Moore has been a major, if somewhat behind-the-scenes, catalyst in the world of creative music for over 40 years. As a composer, performer, instrument builder/designer, storyteller, teacher, mentor, and organizer Joshua Abrams is a composer, bassist, and improviser. His early formative musical experiences include performing in a chamber group conducted by Earle Brown, and busking on the streets of Philadelphia as an original member of The Roots. Since the mid-1990s, Abrams has been a key figure in Chicago's creative music communities. Hamid Drake is an American jazz drummer and percussionist, living in Chicago, but spending a great deal of his time touring worldwide. Drake is widely regarded as one of the great percussionists in jazz and improvised music, with a uniquely poetic approach to drumming; he draws from Afro-Cuban, Indian and African percussion instruments and influences." The performance takes place at Off Broadway, 3511 Lemp. For more information: newmusiccircle.org.

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus presents Memorial Dances on Sunday, May 27, at 3 pm. "MUSIC conveys those emotions which words alone cannot contain. In her latest piece for the Chorus, Composer-in-Residence Melissa Dunphy celebrates our memories but captures our grief at the passing of those we love. This naturally leads us to one of the most personal and poignant of all Requiems, that written for his son by the British composer, Herbert Howells." The concert takes place at Kirkwood Presyterian Church, 100 E. Adams in Kirkwood, MO. For more information: www.chamberchorus.org.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents The Strings of Arda performing a concert of music from countries around the world, inlcuding Somalia, Syria, Bosnia, Congo, and Cuba, on Wednesday, May 23, at 11 am. The Strings of Arda consists of SLSO musicians Asako Kuboki and Becky Boyer Hall, violins; Christian Woehr, viola; Alvin McCall, cello; Christopher Carson, bass; and Thomas Stubbs, percussion. The free concert takes place at The International Institute of St. Louis, 3401 Arsenal. For more information: slso.org.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of May 18, 2018

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 Muny has a couple of high-profile events this weekend in anticipation of its upcoming 100th anniversary season. Friday night, May 18, at 9:15 pm there's An Evening With the Stars, featuring a cast of 100 with special performances by show business legends Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune, along with Broadway and Muny stars Patrick Cassidy, Ken Page, Jenny Powers, Lara Teeter and Graham Rowat. There will also be an ensemble of 32 singers and dancers, the Muny Kids and Muny Teens troupes, and (of course) Muny Orchestra. On Saturday, May 20, from 1 to 5 pm you're invited to a free Centennial Birthday Bash. Events include a Chorus Line headshot mosaic, Follies reunion photos, the "Mile of Muny Memories" and No Business Like Show Business Karaoke. The event will culminate with a grand finale inside the theatre. It all happens at the Muny in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

My take: No matter how you feel about The Muny, it's centennial is certainly worth celebrating. It looks like the weather might even cooperate, with lows in the low 60s Friday night and highs in the upper 80s Saturday with only at 20% chance of rain.


Phantom of the Opera
The Fox Theatre presents the hit Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera through May 20th. "With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of PHANTOM is performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: It's easy and popular in some quarters to sneer at ALWs absurdly popular mega-musicals, but the fact is that Phantom of the Opera is an entertaining and well-crafted diversion. It doesn't raise any important social issues and there's no subtext - what you see is what you get - but it does have the same the mix of humor and melodrama that characterized Leroux's original novel. The lyrical, dramatic, and intelligent score is, in many ways, one of Lloyd Webber's best, managing to both make fun of and pay homage to 18th and 19th-century opera conventions. The "Prima Donna" septet, for example, could pass as a set piece by Meyerbeer or Massenet, both of whom are deftly parodied in the opening number from the fictitious opera Hannibal. And yet, the score has also produced popular songs such as "Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You". The latter is probably one of the most ecstatic love duets to emerge from the theatre since Rogers and Hammerstein's "If I Loved You." Reviews have been good, and I say go out and enjoy the spectacle.


A Streetcar Named Desire
Photo by Ride Hamilton
The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents A Streetcar Named Desire through May 19. "A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved plays in the history of American theater, is the story of a troubled former schoolteacher, Blanche DuBois, after she leaves a small town in Mississippi and moves in with her sister (Stella) and her sister's husband (Stanley) in New Orleans. With her flirtatious Southern-belle attitude, Blanche upends the precarious relationship between her sister and brother-in-law, leading to even greater conflict during her brief stay. The Dark Room at the Grandel will feature late night jazz following each evening performance. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

My take: You don't need me to tell you that A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the best things Tennessee Williams ever wrote - right up there with The Glass Menagerie - or that it's generally regarded as an American classic. Maybe you don't even need me to point out that Stanley Kowalski's toxic concept of masculinity and attendant moral hypocrisy are trying desperately to make a comeback these days, with active encouragement from our nation's capitol, which makes the script relevant all over again. So I'll just point our that this production has gotten splendid reviews from folks like Tina Farmer at KDHX and Ann Lemmons Pollack at St. Louis Eats and Drinks, among others. And this weekend is your last chance to see it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: The Gershwin shuffle

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

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The movie nights that are part of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's "Powell Hall Live" series have always been a pleasure for me, back since they were largely limited to silent films like "City Lights" and "Phantom of the Opera." There's nothing quite like hearing a good film score performed live by the orchestra while the movie unfolds on the very big screen at Powell Hall.

I saw the final film of the season was last Saturday, (May 13, 2018) and it was a classic: the 1951 Oscar winner "An American in Paris," with the orchestra doing full justice to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.

The 17-minute "American in Paris Ballet" that concludes the movie (and effectively sweeps away what's left of the sketchy story line) is justifiably famous, with inventive choreography by star Gene Kelly and gorgeous Technicolor sets that pay homage to a half-dozen noted early-20th century French painters.

The way Gershwin's original tone poem is re-orchestrated and re-arranged can be a bit disorienting if you know the original, though. Kudos are due the players and conductor Norman Huynh (Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony) for expertly threading the music needle in that score, even managing to stay in synch with Kelly's rapid-fire tap numbers.

There are other moments in the film that sound equally challenging for the live orchestra. There is, for instance, a sequence in which Oscar Levant (as struggling concert pianist Adam Cook) fantasizes about playing the fiery final Allegro Agitato movement from Gershwin's "Concerto in F" with an orchestra, audience, and conductor who all turn out to share his face.

The performance on the film is Levant's own (he was a legendary Gershwin interpreter) but in this concert version of the movie the live band plays the orchestral part. Normally there's some give and take between a conductor and a soloist. I'd say it's a bit more tricky when the soloist has been dead for over four decades, especially when Gershwin's music has, once again, been somewhat arbitrarily rearranged and reshuffled. It all sounded seamless when we saw it on Saturday night.

Conductor Norman Huynh
"An American in Paris" is, in any case, a movie that richly deserves its classic status, colorfully evoking the City of Light despite being filmed almost entirely on a Hollywood back lot. The slim story doesn't get in the way of the endless stream of great Gershwin music. Gene Kelly's character isn't nearly as tiresomely petulant as I remembered and his blitzkrieg charm remains irresistible, especially when paired with his bravura dancing. Co-star Leslie Caron wasn't much of an actress in her film debut here, but her dancing more than makes up for it.

French cabaret star Georges Guétary is a delight in his all-too-brief appearances as aging cabaret singer Henri Baurel. The role was originally intended for the more age-appropriate Maurice Chevalier, but Guétary still pulls it off nicely. Nina Foch is somewhat wasted as spoiled American heiress Milo Roberts, but it's a real pleasure to see footage of the legendary Oscar Levant at the keyboard.

The print, presumably based on the Warner Brothers 2012 digital restoration, was clear and sharp, making it easy to appreciate Vincente Minnelli's direction and the beautiful cinematography of Alfred Gilks and (in the ballet sequence) John Alton. The subtitles made it easy to follow the dialogue, even when (as in the Beaux Arts ball sequence that leads up to the ballet) the live orchestra drowns out that dialogue.

PGM Productions, the company that produced this in-concert version of the film, has done an impressive job melding the live orchestra with the filmed performances. Given that its founder, John Goberman, is the creator of the "Live from Lincoln Center" TV series, that's no surprise. Thanks to the SLSO for bringing it to us and for the orchestra for doing such a bang-up job of it.

"An American in Paris" was the last film event for the season, but Powell Hall Live events continue through June, including tribute concerts to Tom Petty and George Michael, along with appearances by acts as varied as Indigo Girls, Boyz II Men, and Heather Land. Those of you wanting to get your 60s mojo on (you know who you are) may want to check out the "Music of Pink Floyd" evening as well. The SLSO Youth Orchestra plays its last concert of the season on June 3rd, and regular concert season resumes in the fall.

Monday, May 14, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 14, 2018

Carol Schmidt
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The Cabaret Project presents Cabaret Open Mic Night on Wednesday, May 16, from 7 to 10 pm. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by pianist and music director Carol Schmidt and host Tim Schall. 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 event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge on the second floor of the .ZACK performing arts space at 3226 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Alton Little Theater presents the Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, through May 20. Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618-462-6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

The Muny presents a Centennial Birthday Bash on Sunday, May 20, from 1 to 5 pm. "Guests will enjoy once in a lifetime experiences that celebrate musical theatre, community and The Muny. With the goal of engaging all generations that have been a part of The Muny family, there will be exciting activities for all. The Muny Centennial Birthday bash is proudly sponsored by Emerson." The performance takes place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

An Evening With C.S. Lewis
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents An Evening With C.S. Lewis Thursday through Sunday, May 17 - 20. "The year is 1963 and the famous British author C.S. Lewis is hosting a group of American writers at his home near Oxford. They are about to experience a captivating evening with a man whose engaging conversation and spontaneous humor made him one of the great raconteurs of his day. Seated in his living room and in front of a warm fire he recalls the people and events that inspired his thought and shaped his life; of his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien; why he nearly abandoned the Narnia Chronicles; how he came to embrace Christianity and of the American woman who turned his life upside down. Described by critics as ‘Extraordinary!’ and ‘A Must See!’ An Evening with C.S. Lewis has proved again and again to be an enthralling theatrical experience and one which has led many thousands to discover (or rediscover) the continuing impact of a man whose collected works made him one of the literary giants of the 20th Century." The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

The Muny presents An Evening With the Stars on Friday, May 18, at 9:15 pm. "This one-night-only production will have a sensational cast of 100, with special performances by show business legends Chita Rivera and Tommy Tune, along with Broadway and Muny stars Patrick Cassidy, Ken Page, Jenny Powers, Lara Teeter and Graham Rowat. The one-night-only production also will include an ensemble of 32 singers and dancers, the beloved Muny Kids and Muny Teens troupes, and the magnificent Muny Orchestra." The performance takes place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

Gateway Opera presents Fifteen-Minute Mozarts Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 pm. "This season Gateway Opera is taking the humor and beauty of Mozart's three Da Ponte operas and pushing them to their absolute, ridiculous limit. Condensing each opera to just 15 minutes each, this is 'Le Nozze di Figaro', 'Don Giovanni', 'and Così fan Tutte' like you've never seen them before, filled with witty absurdity, frantic plot exposition, and - of course - a glorious aria or two." The performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton. For more information: gatewayopera.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Phantom of the Opera
The Fox Theatre presents the hit Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera through May 20th. "With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of PHANTOM is performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

PRIME presents Reverie on Saturday, May 19, at 8 pm. "Reverie will consist of six original plays that are written, rehearsed and performed within a 24-hour period. Each team will consist of an ensemble of local writers, actors, and directors. Visual artists and theatrical technicians will apply the final touches to each unique play. In addition, PRIME has recruited a range of artisans to create a pop-up theater. The team will transform a vacant storefront into a surreal dreamworld." The event takes place at 2712 Cherokee in south St. Louis. For more information: primetheatre.org.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Photo by Ride Hamilton
The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents A Streetcar Named Desire opening on Thursday, May 10, at 7:30 pm and running through May 19. "A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved plays in the history of American theater, is the story of a troubled former schoolteacher, Blanche DuBois, after she leaves a small town in Mississippi and moves in with her sister (Stella) and her sister's husband (Stanley) in New Orleans. With her flirtatious Southern-belle attitude, Blanche upends the precarious relationship between her sister and brother-in-law, leading to even greater conflict during her brief stay. The Dark Room at the Grandel will feature late night jazz following each evening performance. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Verdi's La Traviata opening on Saturday, May 19, and running through June 23. "Violetta has one important rule: never fall in love. As a Parisian courtesan, her life is full of parties, admirers, and - most importantly - freedom. Then she meets Alfredo. His naive sincerity sweeps her off her feet. Just when Violetta thinks she has escaped her past, she is asked to make an unthinkable sacrifice. Will pride, love, or honor prevail? Embrace the romance of this Verdi masterpiece, featuring the directing debut of star soprano Patricia Racette" Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus. All performances are sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org call 314-961-0644.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Twisted Improv on Friday, May 18, at 8 pm 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.

Alpha Players present the musical You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, based on the comic strip Peanuts, May 18 - 27. Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 14, 2018

The St. Louis Chldren's Choirs present a special 40th anniversary concert, featuring 5 newly commissioned works by notable choral composers, on Saturday, May 19, at 7 pm. Current singers ranging in age from 6 - 18 years old will be joined onstage by an Alumni Chorus of singers from previous years, and SLCC founder Diane Finley will be honored for her vision and contributions to choral music education. The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Conductor Brent Havens
Brent Havens conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and vocalist Josh Olsen in A Tribute to George Michael on Friday, May 18, at 7:30 pm. "Celebrate the life of one of the best-selling music artists of all time when the SLSO pays tribute to George Michael. Relive your favorite George Michael memories as the SLSO takes you on a journey through some of his biggest hits including 'Careless Whisper,' 'Faith,' 'Father Figure' and more!" The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Town and Country Symphony Orchestra presents Music of the Americas on Sunday, May 20, at 2:30 p.m. The performance takes place in Ridgway Auditorium at The Principia, 13201 Clayton Road. For more information: tcsomo.org

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of May 11, 2018

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 Case of the Missing Belhop
Circus Flora presents its new show, The Case of the Missing Bellhop through May 13. "The world-famous Balding Hotel has long been an exclusive getaway for dignitaries and nobility from around the world. A place where the staff and crew have unusual skills and where people can go about their business without many questions asked - making the hotel famous for luxury and impeccable service. But when a beloved bellhop goes missing, the Balding begins to attract attention. Secrets proliferate and questions abound! What happened to the bellhop, and who knew about it?" The show takes place at Circus Flora's new home at 3401 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: circusflora.org.

My take: Circus Flora is now firmly entrenched as a St. Louis tradition, and the decision to move their annual show from summer to spring means you can mostly beat the heat when you go (although this weekend is looking pretty summery). "The venerable Circus Flora brings fresh acts, a sparkling new lead character and a charming story with a touch of Wes Anderson whimsy to its new permanent home in Grand Center," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX. "The result is a delightfully entertaining and fun to follow along mystery that ups audience interaction as well as eliciting the usual gasps, awes and ahs." 'Nuff said; gather the family together and head down to Grand Center.


The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents a showing of the classic musical An American in Paris, with the score performed live by the orchestra under the direction of Norman Huynh, Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, May 12 and 13. "Winner of six Academy Awards - including Best Picture - and one of the American Film Institute's Top 10 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time, An American in Paris, stars Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly and features the timeless original music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin." The showings take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

My take: Yes, this isn't really theatre, but An American in Paris has some wonderfully theatrical dance along with a score by George Gershwin, who was one of the great theatre composers of the last century. And it's a live performance by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, so I'm going to shoehorn it in here. These movie events are always great fun and there's nothing quite like hearing that film score performed by a real orchestra in a real concert hall.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Review: Farewell Symphony

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

David Robertson
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In her program notes for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concerts this past weekend (May 4 - 6, 2018), René Spencer Saller quotes composer and jazz trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis as describing the final, quiet moments of his "Swing Symphony" this way: "It's a wistful feeling; it's not sad, and it's not happy. It's a feeling of contentment, a quiet celebration. It's like the last breath you take: 'We did this. We had a good time.'"

He could easily have been describing the mood among many at Powell Hall on Sunday afternoon, when the quirky, fade-out trumpet solo that brought Mr. Marsalis's piece to an end also brought to an end David Robertson's tenure as Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I have no doubt that Mr. Robertson will return as a guest conductor at some point (as Leonard Slatkin continues to do), but these were the last notes of the last concert he will ever conduct as the orchestra's leader. The champagne toast to Mr. Robertson in the lobby at intermission had a celebratory air, but overall it was hard for me to ignore the fact that this marked the end of an era.

That era was marked by, among other things, a cheerful and well-considered advocacy for newer works in general and American music in particular. It seems only appropriate, then, that the program consisted entirely of American music composed since World War II, beginning with a nicely shaded performance of the "Three Dance Episodes" from Leonard Bernstein's wartime musical "On the Town." The final dance, "Times Square: 1944" had an especially nice swing and a cheerfully raucous trumpet solo by Associate Principal Thomas Drake.

Up next was another Bernstein composition, the "Prelude, Fugues, and Riffs" for clarinet and jazz band. It was written in 1949 for the Woody Herman combo, but the band broke up before the piece could be performed. The work didn't see the light of day in its final form until October 16, 1955, as part of an episode for the cultural television show Omnibus, to which Bernstein was a frequent contributor. It's a piece that crackles with energy, from the driving brass and percussion opening to the concluding "Riffs" section with its wild, keening clarinet solo.

Scott Andrews
SLSO Principal Clarinet had the solo spot this weekend, accompanied by guest instrumental ensemble the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis on lead trumpet and the SLSO's Gerard Pagano on bass trombone. If there were any doubts as to whether a classically trained musician could but lose and "wail," Mr. Andrews's ecstatic performance surely put them to rest.

The concerts concluded with Mr. Marsalis's "Swing Symphony" (officially his Symphony No. 3), first performed by Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic in 2010. With seven movements and a running time of over an hour, it's an big work that encompasses, as Ms. Saller points out in her notes, "a whirlwind tour of jazz history, moving from ragtime to big band, bebop, hard bop, Afro-Cuban mambo, and the modal experiments of Miles Davis and John Coltrane." I'd add that there is also, in the penultimate "Think Space: Theory" movement, a nod to the jazz/classical fusion that Gunther Schuller called "third stream jazz" in the late 1950s in the form of a complex jazz fugue.

That's an ambitious undertaking made even more so by the fact that it's cast as a kind of modern version of the Baroque concerto grosso, with the larger ensemble (the full orchestra) set against the smaller solo group (the Lincoln Center jazz band). Unfortunately, the size of the Powell Hall stage made it impossible to clearly separate the two groups. The jazz band was surrounded on all three sides by the orchestra, which made it hard to clearly hear the differences between the two, at least from our seats in the Dress Circle.

Wynton Marsalis
Still, there is much that's powerful and ingenious in this work. The first movement, "St. Louis to New Orleans," moves seamlessly from the sounds of ragtime to low-down blues, while the "All-American Pep" movement that follows is a wonderfully hallucinatory tribute to 1920s jazz. "Midwestern Moods" is a driving tribute to the Kansas City style big band sound (described by Mr. Robertson as "eight beats to the bar and no cheating"), "Manhattan to L.A" evokes the infectious sounds of Latin jazz, and "Modern Modes and the Midnight Moan" includes a brilliantly manic trumpet solo by Mr. Marsalis, along with a final section that vividly evokes a smoky, late night club. The classical fusion sounds of "Think Space: Theory" act as a bridge to the final movement, "The Low Down Up on High," with its echoes of Afro-American sacred music and a final, oddly unresolved trumpet solo that fades out into breathy silence.

It's a vivid sonic tapestry, in short, with some especially inventive writing for the jazz band (I don't think have ever seen such a wide variety of mutes in a brass section, for one thing). The structure of the work is, perhaps, a bit too episodic for its length, but on the whole it was a great pleasure to hear it.

The "Swing Symphony" bristles with great solo moments for both the jazz band and orchestral musicians, and they got bravura performances from everyone when we heard the work on Sunday afternoon, under Mr. Robertson's deeply committed and well-paced direction. The packed house responded with multiple standing ovations for Mr. Robertson, Mr. Marsalis, and the musicians. As valedictory appearances go, it was unbeatable.

We did this. We had a good time.

This past weekend's concerts concluded the SLSO regular subscription season, but special events continue at Powell Hall throughout May and June, beginning with a showing of the classic musical film "An American in Paris" this coming Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, 2018. The orchestra will perform the score live under the direction of Norman Huynh. The regular season resumes in September.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 7, 2018

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Alton Little Theater presents the Lerner and Lowe musical Camelot Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, May 11 - 20. Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

The Case of the Missing Belhop
Circus Flora presents its new show, The Case of the Missing Bellhop through May 13. "The world-famous Balding Hotel has long been an exclusive getaway for dignitaries and nobility from around the world. A place where the staff and crew have unusual skills and where people can go about their business without many questions asked - making the hotel famous for luxury and impeccable service. But when a beloved bellhop goes missing, the Balding begins to attract attention. Secrets proliferate and questions abound! What happened to the bellhop, and who knew about it?" The show takes place at Circus Flora's new home at 3401 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: circusflora.org.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

Gateway Opera presents Fifteen-Minute Mozarts Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 pm. "This season Gateway Opera is taking the humor and beauty of Mozart's three Da Ponte operas and pushing them to their absolute, ridiculous limit. Condensing each opera to just 15 minutes each, this is 'Le Nozze di Figaro', 'Don Giovanni', 'and Così fan Tutte' like you've never seen them before, filled with witty absurdity, frantic plot exposition, and - of course - a glorious aria or two." The performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive in Clayton. For more information: gatewayopera.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents A Fistful of Hollers through July 28. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Get "Hitched" To A Redneck Or Die through July 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents the musical Guys and Dolls through May 13. "Considered by many to be the perfect musical the tale chronicles gambler, Nathan Detroit, as he tries to find the cash to set up the biggest craps game in town. The authorities are breathing down his neck; meanwhile, his girlfriend, nightclub performer, Adelaide, laments that they've been engaged for 14 years. Nathan turns to fellow gambler, Sky Masterson, for the dough, and as a result, Sky ends up chasing the straight-laced missionary, Sarah Brown. The story takes us from the heart of Times Square to the cafes of Havana, Cuba, and even into the sewers of New York City, with the memorable music from Frank Loesser." 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.

Phantom of the Opera
The Fox Theatre presents the hit Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera opening on Wednesday, May 9, and running through May 20th. "With newly reinvented staging and stunning scenic design, this new version of PHANTOM is performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, making this one of the largest productions on tour in North America." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Slaying Dragons presents My River, My Valley by Ron Osborne on Saturday, May 12, at 7:30 pm. "The theatrical troupe Slaying Dragons and David Coblitz are partnering to bring an evening of play production and print display to demonstrate how these creative mediums can be a great source of expression for those who suffer from the effects of mental and emotional illness. My River, My Valley concerns how people survive their emotional devastation and mental turmoil when they are displaced and lose everything." The performance takes place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information: eventbrite.com

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the farce Run For Your Wife Fridays through Sundays through May 12. 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.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents A Streetcar Named Desire opening on Thursday, May 10, at 7:30 pm and running through May 19. "A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved plays in the history of American theater, is the story of a troubled former schoolteacher, Blanche DuBois, after she leaves a small town in Mississippi and moves in with her sister (Stella) and her sister's husband (Stanley) in New Orleans. With her flirtatious Southern-belle attitude, Blanche upends the precarious relationship between her sister and brother-in-law, leading to even greater conflict during her brief stay. The Dark Room at the Grandel will feature late night jazz following each evening performance. Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Jacob Storms in the one-man show Tennessee Rising Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm, May 11 - 13 "To the masses he is a legend in the pantheon of the American stage and screen who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, fully formed in 1945. But just how did this young poet, Thomas Lanier Williams III, born in Columbus Mississippi, raised in St. Louis, go on to become the playwright who created Amanda and Laura, Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois, Maggie The Cat, Big Daddy and his greatest, most unexplored role, Tennessee Williams? This is what "Tennessee Rising" sheds light upon." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: twstl.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents the panel discussion Tennessee Williams: The French Quarter Years on Saturday, May 12, at 10 am. "Moderator David Kaplan, curator and co-founder of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, has staged Williams' plays worldwide, including a collection of one-acts at the Stockton House for the 2016 Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis. A collection of his essays written during the last decade was published in 2015, "Tenn Years: Tennessee Williams On Stage." He is also the author of "Tennessee Williams in Provincetown" and the author of two series of theater textbooks: "Five Approaches to Acting and Shakespeare," "Shamans, and Show Biz" (Hansen Publishing Group). He is the editor of "Tenn at One Hundred," a comprehensive look at Williams' evolving reputation." The event takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents The Wizard of Oz Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through May 13. Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.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.

Friday, May 04, 2018

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 7, 2018

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The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents The Three Bs on Monday, May 7, at 7:30 pm. The concert of music by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents a showing of the classic musical An American in Paris, with the score performed live by the orchestra under the direction of Norman Huynh, Saturday at 7 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, May 12 and 13. "Winner of six Academy Awards - including Best Picture - and one of the American Film Institute's Top 10 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time, An American in Paris, stars Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly and features the timeless original music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin." The showings take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Sangeetha presents a fusion concert of North Indian style (Hindustani) vocal music by Ms. Sandhya Pandurangi on Saturday, May 12, at 7 p.m. "A student of classical music from the age of seven, she has learnt from eminent artists in India, is an All India Radio artist and has performed across the US and in India. She is an expert in singing songs in many languages and has recorded music albums. She also teaches music to many and performs regularly for fund raising events." The concert takes place at the Chesterfield Community Theatre at the West County YMCA, 16464 Burkhardt Place. For more information: sangeetha.org.

The Sheldon Concert Hall presents the contemporary chamber ensemble Alarm Will Sound on Thursday, May 10, at 8 p.m. “The ensemble performs the newest music being composed today with energetic virtuosity and a sense of adventure, creating programs that not only span a wide range of styles, but also transform the traditional concert experience itself.” The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

Sima Bina
The Washington University Department of Music presents Sima Bina in concert on Friday, May 11, at 8 pm. "Sima Bina is a notable Persian classical musician, an Iranian composer, researcher, painter and teacher, described by Radio WDR Germany as the “grand lady of Iranian folk music.” A lifetime of dedicated work on Persian folk music has made Master Sima Bina a legendary character in the history of Iranian music. Since 1993, she has accepted invitations to perform her music worldwide in prestigious festivals and organized concerts featuring Persian classical music." The event takes place in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu/events.

The Washington University Department of Music presents members of the Missouri Chamber Music ensemble performing works by Saint-Saëns, Martinu, Milhaud, and Bartók on Sunday, May 13, at 10:30 am. "Folk idiom connects the vibrant works on our popular Morning Music concert. Bright musical colors and warm expression combine when wind instruments, piano, and strings explore musical partnerships throughout this lively concert. Each of the evocative pieces on this concert creates a cultural atmosphere specific to each composer's time and place." The event takes place in the Pillsbury Theatre at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu/events.