Sunday, November 18, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 19, 2018

The Cabaret Project open mic and a play reading by the St. Louis Writers Group join the list this week.

Disney's Aladdin
The Fabulous Fox presents Disney's Aladdin running through November 25. "From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless story of ALADDIN, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It's an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 16. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Away in a Basement
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas running through January 6. " 'Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas' takes audiences back to 1959 on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. In the midst of holiday preparations and sprinklings of love in the air, the ladies in their witty, down-to-earth style are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who's going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them. Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Christmas Sleigh-Ing through December 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

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.

R-S Theatrics presents Every Brilliant Thing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays a 7 pm through December 2. "When a six-year-old starts a list of every brilliant thing in life to encourage her despondent mother, little does she know that the list will take on a life of its own and thread its way throughout the girl's life. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this one-woman show reminds us to celebrate the beauty in our lives and in those we love." Performances take place at black box theatre at The Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Harm for the Holidays through December 31. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness, a new play for young audiences by Nancy Bell inspired by The Comedy of Errors, Saturdays at 4 pm through November 24 Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the new play The Pleasure Birds by Nina Orechwa on Monday, November 19 at 6:30 pm. "In the South of Wales, 1951, Dylan Thomas hastens toward the end of his life, ravaged by alcoholism and consumed with a final effort to salvage his marriage before fleeing to America to promote his last book. Forty years later, an Irish scholar and an American graduate student arrive in Wales, seeking a deeper understanding of the events leading up to Thomas's death while grappling with the uncertainties of their own relationship rooted in sex and academics. Through an exploration of human frailty and literature spanning 3 countries, *The Pleasure Birds* offers an investigation into metaphor, magic, the poetics of desire, and the illusory nature of time." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Recipes for Ice, their monthly improv show, on Friday, November 23, at 8 and 10:30 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.

Chuck Lavazzi
The Cabaret Project presents its weekly Singers Open Mic Night on Wednesday, November 21, 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 hosted by 88.1 KDHX's Chuck Lavazzi. 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.

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 15, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of November 16, 2018

New items include a Disney musical at the Fox, the return of a holiday favorite at Mustard Seed, and the closing shows in the fall Gaslight Cabaret Festival season.

Share on Google+:


New This Week:

Disney's Aladdin
The Fabulous Fox presents Disney's Aladdin running through November 25. "From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless story of ALADDIN, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It's an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: The Disney organization has had a remarkably good track record when it comes to turning their hit animated films into his stage musicals, and judging from the reviews this is yet another colorful feather in the company's cap. "The national touring production of Aladdin," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "pulls out all the stops in a brightly festooned, lavish spectacle of a show filled with entertaining music, lots of laughs and an eye-popping array of razzle-dazzle special effects and glittering costumes." Sounds like a good time to me.


All is Calm
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the acappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays, November 15 - December 16. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: All is Calm has become an annual winter tradition at Mustard Seed. With a script by Peter Rothstein and musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, this story of the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914—a spontaneous outbreak of peace that occurred at multiple points along the trenches in France—combines splendid and often quite complex acappella singing with readings of letters from soldiers and other historical documents. At a time when opportunistic politicians are pushing an agenda of hate, fear, and eternal war, this is a play that everyone needs to see. As we used to ask back in the 1960s, "what if they gave a war and nobody came?


Christina Bianco
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Christina Bianco in Diva Moments on Friday and Saturday, November 16 and 17, at 8 pm. "So Shonda Rhimes tweets a link to this Celebrity Impression Video, and 24 million youtube views later, Christina Bianco makes her St. Louis debut. She takes us on a musical comedy journey through the iconic songs that made divas out of the women who sang them. And we also get to hear that which makes Christina a diva in her own right." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: No, I haven't seen this show yet—I'm going on Friday— and I haven't seen Ms. Bianco on stage in the past, but I'm putting this on the list just because it looks like great fun. And she comes to us with a raft of rave reviews from such diverse sources at the New York Times, Playbill, Huffington Post, and Broadwayworld.com, so I suspect I'm on safe ground here.


Doctor Faustus
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus by Marlowe as adapted by John Wolbers. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through November 17. "Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus is a modern day retelling of the age-old bargain for limitless control over ones own fate. The brilliant Doctor Faustus grows weary of those in charge abusing their power; so, with the noblest of intentions, sells her soul to save the world. Thus begins an epic journey of seduction and love, justice and mercy, despair and hope, and ultimately damnation and redemption. Along the way Faustus must choose between good, evil and the compromise known as humanity. Playwright, John Wolbers, retains much of Christopher Marlowes original poetry, but reframes the story to examine: How does one effect change in an increasingly complex world? What is the value of a soul in todays modern age? And what holds us back from transcending our baser instincts to become our best selves?" Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

My take: On the one hand, a contemporary reboot of Marlowe's original is a provocative idea, especially when it flips gender roles by making Dr. Faustus female. On the other hand, if you're going to tinker with an established classic, you had better come up with something that works as well as the original, lest you be accused of hubris. The critical verdict on Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus looks a bit mixed but is generally pretty positive. Ann Lemmons Pollack, for example, writes that she found it "curiously refreshing" and "a surprisingly satisfying two hours." Paul Friswold at the RFT is even more enthusiastic. "Driven by smart writing and quality performances from star Ashley Bauman and the cast," he writes, "director Ellie Schwetye's production is a thought-provoking, engrossing play that examines modern problems through the lens of the seventeenth century's cosmology." SATE has an enviable track record when it comes to innovative work, so I'm going to recommend this for those of you looking for something out of the ordinary this weekend.

Held Over:

The Great Seduction
Photo by John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 108th season with the St. Louis premiere of the comedy The Great Seduction by Vladimir Zelevinsky Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 9 - 18. "In the mid-19th century, the prolific French playwright and author Alexandre Dumas penned a five-act bedroom farce Mademoiselle de Belle Isle. It was a tasteful telling of the story of an arrogant Duke, a randy Countess, a young stud of a chevalier and an innocent maiden freshly arrived from the provinces, seasoned with generous dollops of low humor and decolletage. Well, okay. It wasn't exactly tasteful. But it was a rollicking and bawdy smash hit.A century and a half later, playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky decided it was time for the Madmoiselle to return to the stage. His new play, The Great Seduction, retains all the wit and charm of Dumas's original work in a tighter two-act format and with a different and surprising climax that adds a clever twist to one of the most important moments in French history." There will also be a show on Thursday, November 15, 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: Vladimir Zelevinsky surely has one of the most unusual resumes of any playwright. A native of Siberia who emigrated to the USA with his family, Zelevinsky has degrees in nuclear physics from MIT and a number of software patents to his credit along with this theatre credits. His Manifest Destiny (which had its St. Louis premiere by West End, where I'm a board member, back in 2016) was a brilliant distillation of the American immigrant experience. The Great Seduction goes off in a totally different direction with a sly take on the classic costume sex farce that turns out to be about much more than that. In a 2016 interview for STLToday with Judy Newmark, the playwright said that he liked working with small companies because "that's where the interesting work is done." He has certainly provided some provocative pieces for those small companies to produce. Reviews have been very positive.


Ken Haller
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Ken Haller in Happy Haller Days on Saturday, November 18, 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!" Marty Fox is pianist and music director for the show. 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.


Into the Breeches!
Photo by Philip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Into the Breeches! through Sunday, November 18. "Written by the award-winning playwright of Grounded, which starred Anne Hathaway in its New York run, Into the Breeches! is a hilarious and heartwarming look at the WWII home front and a group of ladies who band together to keep the local theater going with their very own production of Henry V." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

My take: The idea of Into the Breeches! idea sounds like great fun and the Shakespeare Festival has had a rather good track record for many years now. Reviewing the play's world premiere earlier this year, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal called it "a gem of a play, one of the sweetest nights of theater you're likely to see". Locally, Ann Lemmons Pollack calls it an "absolutely delightful piece of work" while Calvin Wilson at the Post-Dispatch says it's "a delightful and thoroughly engaging comedy-drama about persevering in the face of unfair obstacles and overcoming cultural prejudices that undercut the promise of the American dream."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Symphony Preview: 'Man does not live by dread alone'

Christopher Rouse
Photo by Jeffrey Herman
Share on Google+:

This weekend (Friday and Saturday, November 16 and 17), guest conductor Cristian Macelaru conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in an all-American program of music by Copland and Barber, along with the world premiere of the Bassoon Concerto by contemporary composer Christopher Rouse (b. 1949).

I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Rouse this past weekend. Here's our conversation, with a few nips and tucks for the sake of clarity.

Chuck Lavazzi (CL): I see that your bio talks about an early interest in both classical and popular music. Who are the rock performers that you admired?

Christopher Rouse (CR): I listened to quite a bit in the mid 50s-Little Richard and Elvis Presley, for example-but then I sort of lost interest when Frankie Avalon and so on came along. But then I got interested again when the Beatles happened, so really the period for me was the mid and late 60s into the 70s.

There are so many bands that I really loved. Obviously the Beatles, they're in a special class, but also the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, a lot of the West Coast bands-Spirit, Love, Moby Grape. And then continuing on into the 70s, I loved Led Zepplin, for example, and Steeleye Span (laughs). Most people will think it's a misprint for Steely Dan.

CL: Yeah, I know Steeleye Span; one of the great British folk rock groups.

CR: And they're still going. So a lot of that-I began to lose interest in the mid-80s; I think maybe that corresponds with when my own career began. So I haven't followed it terribly much the last few decades. What I hear for the most part doesn't appeal to me.

CL: To what extent do you think your early interest in rock influenced your composing style?

CR: Not too much. There are a few pieces that do pay a kind of overt or direct homage to that repertoire, but for the most part I think one would struggle in vain to hear very specific references to that. The fact that I got to be known for writing loud, fast music is perhaps a more general kind of connection to rock. But for me for the most part they're kind of distinct and discrete entities.

CL: Speaking of things you have written, I see that you have multiple symphonies but only one concerto per instrument so far. I was wondering why that is.

CR: I pretty much respond to what I'm asked to write. If someone wants a concerto and I think I can do a good job I'll take it on. But apparently nobody has ever thought to ask twice (laughs). I have been approached about writing another flute concerto, but I really kind of feel that I put everything I had to say into the one that I already wrote. I'm pretty content to have written just one for each instrument. And of course there are a lot I still haven't written for. I don't have a horn concerto or a viola concerto. That may or may not happen in the future, who knows?

CL: Composers have often used performers as consultants when preparing concertos. Did you do that with this one?


CR: No. Usually I feel comfortable enough with an instrument so that I can write on my own. And in some cases I can't even get hold of my soloist. If you write a concerto for, you know, Yo-Yo Ma, he's hard to track down. So basically what I do is write the piece and then have the soloist tell me if there are things that I should change or simplify or whatnot.


SLSO Principal Bassoon Andrew Cuneo
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The one exception to that was my guitar concerto where I was dealing with an instrument I really did not understand at all, so my soloist (Sharon Isbin) and I got together every six weeks or so and she would play through what I had written and see if it was at all practical or not. But that's the only time I have really worked with a soloist before actually finishing the piece.

CL: On a different subject, it seems to me that in the last century a gulf has been opening between the musical vocabulary of many composers and that of most audiences. Do you see that as an issue and if so how to you deal with it in your work?

CR: There's no question that it happened back in the 20th century. Adventurousness kind of put some composers in a place rather far beyond what most listeners were really ready to grapple with. And the 20th century was also a kind of very "objective" time; some composers were kind of anti-Romantic, so the idea of expressivity in music was demoted, and I think that was equally to blame.

The so-called "new Romanticism" that started in the late 1960s, which was about re-asserting expressiveness as the paramount reason to compose music was, I think, a very healthy development. Some of that involved going back to tonality, but not always. I think there's a lot of music that is not definably tonal but still is clearly meant to be expressive, and I guess that would apply to more than a little of my music. And the most important thing, I find, is the expressive content rather than how chromatic or diatonic it is.

You know, there are some listeners who just see that a piece is written after 1900 or 1910 and just kind of shut down automatically. I like to write for what I refer to as the open-minded lay listener. I'm not writing just for other professionals-other musicians and composers-I'm writing for that more general audience but I do need them to be open minded enough to meet me half way. (laughs) So that's who I'm trying to address when I write music.

CL: Yes, very different from Milton Babbitt's famous question "Who cares if you listen?"

CR: Right. Of course, he always said that wasn't his title, that was one the magazine imposed on the article.

CL: High Fidelity Magazine, yes.

CR: But, true, there is that period in which music as a kind of form of scientific research reached its zenith and that was the time of the broadest gulf between the composer and the listener.

CL: So the pendulum is obviously swinging back the other way.

CR: Very much so. And now particularly younger composers-you asked about pop music influences, for example-composers of the generation following me are much more open to really using anything and everything, a real amalgamation or fusion of all kinds of music, so I think that potentially can increase the accessibility of the music even more.

CL: Is there anything more you'd like the audience to know about the Bassoon Concerto?

CR: You know, it's what I call one of my "genial" works. I realize I have a reputation for writing a certain kind of very intense music but every once in a while I do enjoy writing a piece that really is meant to be appealing and not some dark exploration of the night of the soul. And this is one of those pieces. I don't want to say it's light hearted-the middle movement, the slow movement, gets a bit more serious-but I think for the most part it's music that's really meant to be enjoyed.

And, again, I ask the audience to meet me half way because the language of the piece is not always reassuringly tonal. As in a lot of my music, it kind of swings back and forth between very consonant elements and more dissonant ones. But it's music that's meant to, I hope, engage the ears of the listener and provide some pleasure. I know that's not something that one hears so much there days, perhaps.

One of my little quotes I use once in a while is "man does not live by dread alone." So I don't want to write music that is always dark and probing. I have certainly written plenty of those pieces, but sometimes it's just nice to-I won't say "take a holiday" because there's never a point at which composing in a holiday-but I hope that the music sounds as though we're on holiday a bit.

CL: And there's already quite a bit of darkness in the world today.

CR: Well, the thing is, you'll be accused of being in denial if you don't acknowledge it somehow, but a composer just generally has to be open to doing all sorts of things. One piece may be very light hearted and fun and the next piece may be much more serious and probing. A composer who only does one thing for his or her whole life I think is really limiting him or herself, and I think a composer needs to be a little more broad in their expression, anyway.

CL: Because if you just do the same thing over and over there's no growth.

CR: Well, yeah, because otherwise at a certain point you're just kind of rubber-stamping things. People hear you new piece and they say "oh, he's done the same thing again; we've been there, we've done that." And that means you're getting stale as a composer. So it's important to always keep looking at what you're doing and trying to come up with new ways of doing what you what you want to do.

The Essentials: Christian Macelaru conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and SLSO Principal Bassoonist Andrew Cuneo Friday at 10:30 am and Saturday at 8 pm, November 16 and 17. The program consists of Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3, and the world premiere of the Bassoon Concerto by Christopher Rouse. On Sunday, November 18, at 3 pm, Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra in Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Sibelius's Finlandia, and the Brahms Symphony No. 1. All performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 12, 2018

New shows this week include the return of a holiday favorite at Mustard Seed, a one-woman show at R-S Theatrics, a Ray Bradbury dramatization at Webster Conservatory, and some final entries in the Gaslight Cabaret Festival.

Share on Google+:

St. Louis Community College at Meramec presents the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 pm, November 14 - 18. 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.

Disney's Aladdin
The Fabulous Fox presents Disney's Aladdin running through November 25. "From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless story of ALADDIN, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It's an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays, November 15 - December 16. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Away in a Basement
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas running through January 6. " 'Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas' takes audiences back to 1959 on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. In the midst of holiday preparations and sprinklings of love in the air, the ladies in their witty, down-to-earth style are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who's going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them. Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

The Missouri History Museum presents Celebrating the Power of Dreams Friday and Saturday at 2 pm, November 17 and 18. "Celebrate the life of Annie M. Turnbo Pope Malone! November 2018 will mark the 100th anniversary of the Poro College complex, once located in the historic Ville Neighborhood. Poro College was Annie Malone's fourth business expansion and the cornerstone of her international empire. This play tells the story of its key role in the community and the woman who built it." Performances take place in the Lee Auditorium at the History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: mohistory.org/events

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Christmas Sleigh-Ing through December 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

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.

Christina Bianco
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Christina Bianco in Diva Moments on Friday and Saturday, November 16 and 17, at 8 pm. "So Shonda Rhimes tweets a link to this Celebrity Impression Video, and 24 million youtube views later, Christina Bianco makes her St. Louis debut. She takes us on a musical comedy journey through the iconic songs that made divas out of the women who sang them. And we also get to hear that which makes Christina a diva in her own right." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus by Marlowe as adapted by John Wolbers. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through November 17. "Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus is a modern day retelling of the age-old bargain for limitless control over ones own fate. The brilliant Doctor Faustus grows weary of those in charge abusing their power; so, with the noblest of intentions, sells her soul to save the world. Thus begins an epic journey of seduction and love, justice and mercy, despair and hope, and ultimately damnation and redemption. Along the way Faustus must choose between good, evil and the compromise known as humanity. Playwright, John Wolbers, retains much of Christopher Marlowes original poetry, but reframes the story to examine: How does one effect change in an increasingly complex world? What is the value of a soul in todays modern age? And what holds us back from transcending our baser instincts to become our best selves?" Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

St. Charles Community College presents the comedy Don't Talk to the Actors Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, November 14 - 18. "The best-laid plans go awry when the cast and crew of a Broadway-bound play resort to manipulation, diva-like behavior, and chaotic abandon to get what they want. Fledgling playwright Jerry Przpezniak and his fiancée are a couple of Buffalo greenhorns suddenly swept up in the whirlwind of New York's theatre scene when Jerry's play is optioned for the big money, ego-driven world of Broadway. It's a young playwright's dream, but the crazy characters and dilemmas they encounter are the things that spawn theatrical nightmares! " 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.

R-S Theatrics presents Every Brilliant Thing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays a 7 pm, November 16 - December 2. "When a six-year-old starts a list of every brilliant thing in life to encourage her despondent mother, little does she know that the list will take on a life of its own and thread its way throughout the girl's life. Hilarious and heartbreaking, this one-woman show reminds us to celebrate the beauty in our lives and in those we love." Performances take place at black box theatre at The Kranzberg Arts Center in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., November 14 - 18. "Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper ignites. Ray Bradbury's classic drama is about the inner struggle of Guy Montag, a fireman. Montag has worked as a civil servant for ten years burning books, in a society that views reading as a threat to peace. But Montag becomes increasingly unsure about what he is doing and about his vegetable-like existence. It is not until he meets Clarisse, who is filled with strange ideas, that he is led into a dangerous and highly combustible situation. Now he must choose between continuing his nonexistent existence and risking everything for the right to think. A timely and suspenseful journey, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian tale about the importance of reading and thinking for oneself." Performances take place on the Browning Minstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu/conservatory/season or call 314-968-7128.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the drama Frost/Nixon Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through November 18. "British talk-show host David Frost has become a lowbrow laughingstock. Richard M. Nixon has just resigned the United States presidency in total disgrace over Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Determined to resurrect his career, Frost risks everything on a series of in-depth interviews in order to extract an apology from Nixon. The cagey Nixon, however, is equally bent on redeeming himself in his nation's eyes. In the television age, image is king, and both men are desperate to out-talk and upstage each other as the cameras roll. The result is the interview that sealed a president's legacy." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

The Great Seduction
Photo by John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 108th season with the St. Louis premiere of the comedy The Great Seduction by Vladimir Zelevinsky Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 PM, November 15 - 18. "In the mid-19th century, the prolific French playwright and author Alexandre Dumas penned a five-act bedroom farce Mademoiselle de Belle Isle. It was a tasteful telling of the story of an arrogant Duke, a randy Countess, a young stud of a chevalier and an innocent maiden freshly arrived from the provinces, seasoned with generous dollops of low humor and decolletage. Well, okay. It wasn't exactly tasteful. But it was a rollicking and bawdy smash hit.A century and a half later, playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky decided it was time for the Madmoiselle to return to the stage. His new play, The Great Seduction, retains all the wit and charm of Dumas's original work in a tighter two-act format and with a different and surprising climax that adds a clever twist to one of the most important moments in French history." 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.

Ken Haller
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Ken Haller in Happy Haller Days on Saturday, November 18, 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!" Marty Fox is pianist and music director for the show. The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Harm for the Holidays through December 31. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Into the Breeches!
Photo by Philip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Into the Breeches! through Sunday, November 18. "Written by the award-winning playwright of Grounded, which starred Anne Hathaway in its New York run, Into the Breeches! is a hilarious and heartwarming look at the WWII home front and a group of ladies who band together to keep the local theater going with their very own production of Henry V." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

Bob Gerchen
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Bob Gerchen in Joe Cocker: Never Forget on Thursday, November 15, at 8 p.m. "Bob Gerchen finds the beauty, the grit, the soul and the pathos in the work of Joe Cocker, with a little help from a St. Louis Grown Blues Band. Bob sings Joe's hits, but also some songs you might not know. He tells the story of Joe's improbable rise and influence on American blues and soul (he got inside a lot of our souls), as well as on the life of the show's creator. A Joe Cocker cabaret, in the big tent of cabaret at The Gaslight." The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Performing Arts Department at Washington University presents Kentucky by Leah Nanako Winkler Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm, November 15 - 18. "Big sister Hiro has come back home to Kentucky to rescue her sister Sophie from an abusive father and from marrying a born again Christian she only just met! Here's a "dramedy" with music and talking cats and ethnic and cultural divides as old as the hills. The New York Times asserts that Kentucky ". . . marks the full length debut of a distinctive new voice - mouthy, sly and bourbon sweet, with the expected kick." 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.

Solid Lines Productions presents a staged reading of Aishah Rahman's The Mojo and the Sayso on Wednesday, November 14, at 7:30 pm. "Inspired by the 1973 killing of a ten-year-old boy by New York City police, THE MOJO AND THE SAYSO is both a comic and dramatic study of the ways that people cope with the aftermath of terrible tragedy." The reading takes place at The Stage at KDHX, 3524 Washington in Grand Cente. For more information: solidlinesproductions.com.

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness, a new play for young audiences by Nancy Bell inspired by The Comedy of Errors, Saturdays at 4 pm through November 24 Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

The St. Louis Family Theatre Series presents the TheatworksUSA production of Pete the Cat Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, November 17 and 18. "When Pete the Cat gets caught rocking out after bedtime, the cat-catcher sends him to live with the Biddle family to learn his manners - and boy are they square! But for the groovy blue cat, life is an adventure no matter where you wind up, so the minute Pete walks in the door, he gets the whole family rocking. The whole family, that is, except for young Jimmy Biddle, the most organized second grader on planet earth. As the end of second grade approaches, Jimmy has a lot of tests, and the last thing he needs is some groovy cat in his life, changing his family and turning everything upside down. But when Jimmy draws a blank in art class during the last week of school, it turns out Pete is the perfect friend to help him out. Together, they set out on a mission to help Jimmy conquer second grade art, and along the way, they both learn a little something new about inspiration. Join Jimmy and Pete on an adventure of friendship, all the way to Paris and back in a VW Bus." 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 Monroe Actors Stage presents Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 pm through November 18. " Leonard Vole stands accused of murdering a rich widow. The stakes are high with shocking witness testimony, impassioned outbursts from the dock and a young man's fight to escape the hangman's noose. Generally regarded as one of Agatha Christie's most accomplished plays, this suspenseful thriller keeps audiences guessing until the very end." Performances take place in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

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, November 10, 2018

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of November 12, 2018

This week there's new music from the St. Louis Symphony and the Chamber Project, along with more familiar works, and a program featuring pieces for winds by composers of African descent by African Musical Arts.

Titus Underwood
Share on Google+:

African Musical Arts presents African Descent Composers for Winds on Sunday, November 18 at 3 pm. The concert features guest artist Titus Underwood, Principal Oboe of the Nashville Symphony, along with St. Louis's own IMI Chamber Players. The program consists of music primarily by African American composers Ulysses Kay, William Grant Still, Fred Onovwerosuoke, as well as standard repertoire by Poulenc and C.P.E Bach. The event takes place at the Parkway UCC Auditorium, 2841 N. Ballas Road. For more information: www.africarts.org.

The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Rediscovery on Friday, November 16, at 7:30 pm. The program consists of the Clarinet Quintet by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the Nonet by Louise Farrenc, and a world premiere by Darwin Aquino. The concert takes place in the Pillsbury Theatre at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org.

Andrew Cuneo
Christian Macelaru conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and SLSO Principal Bassoonist Andrew Cuneo Friday at 10:30 am and Saturday at 8 pm, November 16 and 17. The program consists of Medea's Meditation and Dance of Vengeance by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3, and the world premiere of the Bassoon Concerto by Christopher Rouse. Performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org. 

Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra on Sunday, November 18, at 3 pm. The program consists of Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Sibelius's Finlandia, and the Brahms Symphony No. 1. The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a faculty recital by pianist Amanda Kirkpatrick on Saturday, November 17, at 7:30 p.m. The concert includes music by Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, and Granados and takes place in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

The Washington University Department of Music presents Breath-Spirit, featuring the university Wind Ensemble and Choirs, on Sunday, November 18, at 7 p.m. The concert includes music Brahms, Andrea Gabrielli, and Leonard Bernstein, and takes place in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu.  

The Calyx Piano Trio
The Washington University Department of Music DUC Chamber Music Series presents the Calyx Piano Trio on Monday, November 12, at 7:30 p.m. The free event takes place in the Goldberg Formal Lounge in the Danforth Center on the Washington University campus. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of November 9, 2018

New items include cabaret shows from the Gaslight Cabaret Festival, a classic operetta at Winter Opera, and a local premiere at West End Players.

Share on Google+:


New This Week:

Katie McGrath
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Katie McGrath in Aunt of the Year on Friday, November 9 at 8 p.m. "2018 Bistro Award Winner for Best New York Debut, Katie McGrath explores what it takes to win the coveted Aunt-of-the-Year award, using pop, jazz and soul songs to tell her story. Along the way, Katie shares the secrets of world class "aunting", discusses the great aunts of literature and history, and muses about a tribe of nieces and nephews who stole the heart of a happily childless woman." Rick Jensen is pianist and music director for the show, which is directed by Lina Koutrakos. The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

My take: When I reviewed Ms. McGrath's Signficant Others show last November at the Gaslight, I said that anyone wanting to write a textbook on how to do cabaret could start with Significant Others, so there's reason to expect great stuff from her latest show. 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 Significant Others, wrote that Ms. McGrath has now "pursued, captured, and pretty much perfected cabaret performance."


Winter Opera St. Louis presents Strauss's comic operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, October 9 and 11. 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: It's easy to forget that Opera Theatre of St. Louis is not the only opera company in town. Union Avenue Opera and Winter Opera don't have OTSL's budget, but Winter Opera does have the advantage of an auditorium designed for musical theatre, complete with a respectable orchestra pit, and their shows generally feature fine singers and a decent orchestra. The company has a pretty good track record with operetta as well, with a charming Student Prince last November and a truly delightful Merry Widow in 2016.


The Great Seduction
Photo by John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 108th season with the St. Louis premiere of the comedy The Great Seduction by Vladimir Zelevinsky Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 9 - 18. "In the mid-19th century, the prolific French playwright and author Alexandre Dumas penned a five-act bedroom farce Mademoiselle de Belle Isle. It was a tasteful telling of the story of an arrogant Duke, a randy Countess, a young stud of a chevalier and an innocent maiden freshly arrived from the provinces, seasoned with generous dollops of low humor and decolletage. Well, okay. It wasn't exactly tasteful. But it was a rollicking and bawdy smash hit.A century and a half later, playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky decided it was time for the Madmoiselle to return to the stage. His new play, The Great Seduction, retains all the wit and charm of Dumas's original work in a tighter two-act format and with a different and surprising climax that adds a clever twist to one of the most important moments in French history." There will also be a show on Thursday, November 15, 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: Vladimir Zelivinsky surely has one of the most unusual resumes of any playwright. A native of Siberia who emigrated to the USA with his family, Zelevinsky has degrees in nuclear physics from MIT and a number of software patents to his credit along with this theatre credits. His Manifest Destiny (which had its St. Louis premiere by West End, where I"m a board member, back in 2016) was a brilliant distillation of the American immigrant experience. The Great Seduction goes off in a totally different direction with a sly take on the classic costume sex farce that turns out to be about much more than that. In a 2016 interview for STLToday with Judy Newmark, the playwright said that he liked working with small companies because "that's where the interesting work is done." He has certainly provided some provocative pieces for those small companies to produce,


Ken Haller
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Ken Haller in Happy Haller Days on Saturdays, November 10 and 18, 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!" Marty Fox is pianist and music director for the show. 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.


Held Over:

Into the Breeches!
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents In the Works, a festival of contemporary American plays inspired by Shakespeare, featuring the regional premiere of Into the Breeches!, through November 24. "Building on its beloved summer productions in Forest Park and the acclaimed Shakespeare in the Streets program, the Festival now presents its very first season of contemporary American plays by writers in dialogue with Shakespeare, headlined by the regional premiere of Into the Breeches! Written by the award-winning playwright of Grounded, which starred Anne Hathaway in its New York run, Into the Breeches! is a hilarious and heartwarming look at the WWII home front and a group of ladies who band together to keep the local theater going with their very own production of Henry V. "In the Works" will also feature family matinees of A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness, a delightful new play for young audiences by Festival favorite Nancy Bell, inspired by the mistaken identity hijinks of The Comedy of Errors, as well as staged readings of the Festival-commissioned The Thousand Natural Shocks, a moving coming-of-age story about a teenage boy who finds strength and resilience through a high school production of Hamlet. (The Thousand Natural Shocks is appropriate for ages 13 and over.)" Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

My take: The idea of Into the Breeches! idea sounds like great fun and the Shakespeare Festival has had a rather good track record for many years now. Reviewing the play's world premiere earlier this year, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal called it "a gem of a play, one of the sweetest nights of theater you're likely to see". Locally, Ann Lemmons Pollack calls it an "absolutely delightful piece of work" while Calvin Wilson at the Post-Dispatch says it's "a delightful and thoroughly engaging comedy-drama about persevering in the face of unfair obstacles and overcoming cultural prejudices that undercut the promise of the American dream."

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Symphony Preview: Love in bloom

Stéphane Denève
Share on Google+:

This weekend (November 10 and 11) the French conductor Stéphane Denève makes his first appearance with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra since being named Music Director Designate earlier this year (he takes over officially as Music Director next season). He considers this his "engagement season" with the orchestra, so I guess it's appropriate that he sees this weekend's concerts as (according a recent interview for Playbill by René Spencer Saller) "all about love at first sight."

Three of the four works on the program will be familiar to local audiences, but the piece that concludes the first half--the 2005 "Neruda Songs" by contemporary American composer Peter Lieberson (1946-2011)--is getting its St. Louis premiere. So let's talk about that first.

Co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, the "Neruda Songs" were written with the composer's wife, the noted mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, in mind. Before her untimely death at the age of 52 in 2006 of breast cancer, Ms. Lieberson was highly regarded for the breadth of her repertoire, which ranged from the Baroque to the contemporary, and included roles as diverse as Carmen, Ottavia (Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea"), and Myrtle Wilson (John Harbison's "The Great Gatsby"). Quoted in her Los Angeles Times obituary, Opera Theatre of St. Louis co-founder Richard Gaddes described Hunt Lieberson as "a deep, serious musician [who] had a great sense of theater," so it's not surprising that the music her husband wrote for her is passionate and dramatic.

In his notes for the premiere performance (quoted in the SLSO program), Mr. Lieberson wrote that each of the five poems "seemed to me to reflect a different face in love's mirror," ranging from the "pure appreciation of the beloved" in the first song to the "joyful and also mysterious...evocation of nature's elements" of the second to (finally) the sober contemplation in the final song (“My love, if I die and you don't”) of the fact that "no matter how blessed one is with love, there will be a time when we must part from those whom we cherish so much."

But even that consideration of death is simultaneously "sad and peaceful," Mr. Lieberson notes: "Neruda reminds one that love has not ended. In truth there is no real death to love nor even a birth: 'It is like a long river, only changing lands, and changing lips.'" Ms. Hunt Lieberson died a little over a year after she first performed the songs her husband wrote for her, and Mr. Lieberson himself succumbed to cancer a few years later. Listening to her recording of that last song with the Boston Symphony from the fall of 2005 would be moving enough in any case, but the realization that she would be gone eight months later makes it that much more poignant.

The soloist for the "Neruda Songs" this weekend is mezzo Kelly O'Connor, who was so compelling in John Adams' "The Gospel According to the Other Mary" with the SLSO last March. Her 2010 performance of the "Neruda Songs" with the Colorado Symphony garnered considerable praise at the Denver Post. "With singing that managed to be at once seductive and haunting," wrote critic Kyle Macmillan, "O'Connor was equal to this smoldering music in every way. She possesses an amazing, dark-hued lower register but can agilely soar into her upper range as needed... This was the kind of transporting, transformative singing that is deeply moving, life-affirming and all too rare." That bodes well for this weekend.

The concerts will open with instrumental selections from one of the greatest works of music ever to emerge from a stalking incident, Hector Berlioz's 1839 "Roméo et Juliette." As I wrote in my preview of the SLSO's performance of the complete "Roméo et Juliette" in 2016, the incident began in 1827 when Berlioz saw the Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia in a highly edited production of "Hamlet" by the actor Charles Kemble (who also played Hamlet) at the Odéon in Paris. Although considered a somewhat mediocre performer in Britain, she bowled the French over with her sensitive "mad" scene and completely transfixed poor Berlioz, even though he didn't understand a word of English.

The composer's pursuit of Ms. Smithson did not end well-their marriage was a disaster-but his infatuation at least led to the composition of a work which would prove to be a grand mashup of opera, oratorio, and symphony that both looked backward to Beethoven's monumental Symphony No. 9 and forward to the integrated music dramas of Wagner. This weekend, we'll hear Part 2 of "Roméo et Juliette" which, as Peter Gutmann writes at Classical Notes, depicts "the Romantic soul of the work...Here, Romeo at first is adrift in thoughts that coalesce into yearning, surges with anticipation as he approaches the Capulet ball, and finally explodes with the splendor and thrill of the dance where he will meet the fulfillment of his dreams."

The concerts will conclude with two very different works with erotic subtexts: the Prelude of Richard Wagner's 1875 opera "Tristan und Isolde" and the "Poem of Ecstasy" from three decades later by composer, pianist, and mystical loony Alexander Scriabin. The two will be played attacca (i.e., one after the other with now pause), resulting in around a half hour of music that can, without stretching a point too far, be seen as the equivalent of intense foreplay followed by a massive orgasm.

It all begins with the famous chord that opens the "Tristan" Prelude. Dissonant-sounding even to modern ears, the famous "Tristan chord" anticipated (as I noted in a 2014 symphony preview article) the expanded harmonic palette of post-Wagnerian composers like Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and (for that matter) Scriabin. But its significance goes beyond that. What's really revolutionary about it is that it never really resolves. The tension it creates isn't fully released, in fact, until nearly four hours later when Isolde, in the rapturous "liebestod," wills herself to join her lover Tristan in death.

This weekend, the tension will be released by the work that comes next. A mystic who came to see himself as divine, Alexander Scriabin created for himself what Paul Schiavo, in this weekend's program notes, calls “an elaborate personal philosophy that combined art, religion and eroticism in a quest for enlightenment”--a philosophy expressed most vividly in his music.

Composed between 1905 and 1907, when (as I wrote in my 2007 review of the SLSO's last performance of the work) the composer was actively involved with the Theosophical Society (and, not incidentally, pursuing one of his many extramarital affairs), the "Poem of Ecstasy" is accompanied by a long series of verses by Scriabin, ending with: “I am a moment illuminating eternity....I am affirmation...I am ecstasy." Although scored for an orchestra of (Richard) Straussian proportions, including a massive brass section, two harps and an organ, the "Poem" has sections of great lyricism and transparency that are reminiscent of the French impressionists. They contrast nicely with the rock concert-level sound of the more (ahem) climactic moments.

Some commentators have been a bit coy about the exact kind of ecstasy the composer had in mind, but Scriabin biographer Faubion Bowers, referring to the 300+ lines of verse that accompany the score, concludes that “behind this distillation of Scriabin's world-view there was something blunt - sex.” Indeed. With ebb and flow between states of languor and near-hallucinatory excess and its rather orgasmic coda (the piece was, after all, originally titled "Orgiastic Poem"), Scriabin's Poem is probably one of the more R-rated pieces in the repertory. And a fitting finish to a downright lubricious evening of music.

The Essentials: Stéphane Denève conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, November 10 and 11. Performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of November 5, 2018

The pre-Thanksgiving flood of theatre and cabaret continues with new shows by (among others) Slightly Askew, West End Players, and Winter Opera, along with a vast wealth of performances from the Gaslight Cabaret Festival.

Admissions
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Share on Google+:

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the St. Louis premiere of Admissions by Joshua Harmon through November 11. "Prep school admissions director Sherri Rosen-Mason lives according to staunchly progressive values. Her daily battles include diversifying both the school's student body and the photos in its brochures. But when her teenage son claims those same values have denied him opportunities as a white student, it creates an explosive conflict that exposes their family's hypocrisies and privileges. This biting play's acidic humor goes straight for the throat." Performances take place in the studio theatre at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Disney's Aladdin
The Fabulous Fox presents Disney's Aladdin opening on Wednesday, November 7, at 7:30 pm and running through November 25. "From the producer of The Lion King comes the timeless story of ALADDIN, a thrilling new production filled with unforgettable beauty, magic, comedy and breathtaking spectacle. It's an extraordinary theatrical event where one lamp and three wishes make the possibilities infinite." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Act Two Theatre presents the musical Annie Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through November 11. "With equal measures of pluck and positivity, little orphan Annie charms everyone's hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. She is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago at an Orphanage that is run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. When she escapes into NYC, Annie foils Miss Hannigan's evil machinations and even befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt! She finds a new family in billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy." 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 Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents the classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace Fridays through Sundays through November 11. "We meet the charming and innocent ladies who populate their cellar with the remains of socially and religiously "acceptable" roomers; the antics of their nephew who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. We also meet the other nephew, Mortimer and his girlfriend Elaine and her father, a minister. Everything is running smoothly until Jonathan, another nephew, shows up." 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.

Katie McGrath
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Katie McGrath in Aunt of the Year on Friday, November 9 at 8 p.m. "2018 Bistro Award Winner for Best New York Debut, Katie McGrath explores what it takes to win the coveted Aunt-of-the-Year award, using pop, jazz and soul songs to tell her story. Along the way, Katie shares the secrets of world class "aunting", discusses the great aunts of literature and history, and muses about a tribe of nieces and nephews who stole the heart of a happily childless woman." Rick Jensen is pianist and music director for the show, which is directed by Lina Koutrakos. The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Away in a Basement
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas opening on Thursday, November 8, and running through January 6. " 'Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas' takes audiences back to 1959 on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. In the midst of holiday preparations and sprinklings of love in the air, the ladies in their witty, down-to-earth style are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who's going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them. Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

Over Due Theatre presents musical La Cage aux Folles Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through November 11. "Georges is the owner of the La Cage Aux Folles nightclub, which features a drag show starring his partner and the love of his life, Albin. After twenty years of un-wedded bliss, Georges and his partner Albin face the hardest challenge of their relationship, yet: meeting their son, Jean-Michel's fiance's parents. Albin has always raised Jean-Michel, Georges' biological son, as his own. But when Jean-Michel falls in love and becomes engaged to the daughter of an ultra-conservative, anti-gay politician, Georges feels compelled to try to present a more "traditional" family to Jean-Michel's potential in-laws. When Albin tries and fails to take on a masculine persona in the role of Uncle Al, he gets more creative in order to find a way to be part of the "meet the parents" experience. Based on Jean Poiret's 1973 French play of the same name, the multi-Tony award-winning La Cage Aux Folles is a musical filled with delightful spectacle and great heart." 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 Stifel Theatre presents Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection on Thursday, November 8, at 7:30 pm. "During"An Evening of Laughter and Reflection,” Burnett will take questions from the audience, show video clips from her shows in a format that harkens back to the legendary openings of The Carol Burnett Show where her studio audience had an unfiltered opportunity to engage Carol with questions and receive spontaneous answers. "I love the spontaneity of these evenings,” said Carol."I never know what anyone is going to ask, or say, or do, so it keeps me on my toes!”” The Stifel Theatre is at 14th and Market downtown. For more information: stifeltheatre.com.

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents the musical Chicago Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, November 7 - 11. " In roaring twenties Chicago, chorine Roxie Hart murders a faithless lover and convinces her hapless husband, Amos, to take the rap... until he finds out he's been duped and turns on Roxie. Convicted and sent to death row, Roxie and another "Merry Murderess," Velma Kelly, vie for the spotlight and the headlines, ultimately joining forces in search of the "American Dream": fame, fortune and acquittal. This sharp-edged satire features a dazzling score that sparked immortal staging by Bob Fosse." Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsville, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit siue.edu.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Christmas Sleigh-Ing November 2 through December 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

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 Dead Like Me through November 3. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble presents Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus by Marlowe as adapted by John Wolbers. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, November 7 - November 17. "Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus is a modern day retelling of the age-old bargain for limitless control over ones own fate. The brilliant Doctor Faustus grows weary of those in charge abusing their power; so, with the noblest of intentions, sells her soul to save the world. Thus begins an epic journey of seduction and love, justice and mercy, despair and hope, and ultimately damnation and redemption. Along the way Faustus must choose between good, evil and the compromise known as humanity. Playwright, John Wolbers, retains much of Christopher Marlowes original poetry, but reframes the story to examine: How does one effect change in an increasingly complex world? What is the value of a soul in todays modern age? And what holds us back from transcending our baser instincts to become our best selves?" Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Winter Opera St. Louis presents Strauss's comic operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) Friday at 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM, October 9 and 11. 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.

The Looking Glass Playhouse presents the drama Frost/Nixon Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, November 8 - 18. "British talk-show host David Frost has become a lowbrow laughingstock. Richard M. Nixon has just resigned the United States presidency in total disgrace over Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. Determined to resurrect his career, Frost risks everything on a series of in-depth interviews in order to extract an apology from Nixon. The cagey Nixon, however, is equally bent on redeeming himself in his nation's eyes. In the television age, image is king, and both men are desperate to out-talk and upstage each other as the cameras roll. The result is the interview that sealed a president's legacy." Performances take place at 301 West St. Louis Street in Lebanon, Ill. For more information, visit www.lookingglassplayhouse.com.

The Great Seduction
Photo by John Lamb
The West End Players Guild continues its 108th season with the St. Louis premiere of the comedy The Great Seduction by Vladimir Zelevinsky Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, November 9 - 18. "In the mid-19th century, the prolific French playwright and author Alexandre Dumas penned a five-act bedroom farce Mademoiselle de Belle Isle. It was a tasteful telling of the story of an arrogant Duke, a randy Countess, a young stud of a chevalier and an innocent maiden freshly arrived from the provinces, seasoned with generous dollops of low humor and decolletage. Well, okay. It wasn't exactly tasteful. But it was a rollicking and bawdy smash hit.A century and a half later, playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky decided it was time for the Madmoiselle to return to the stage. His new play, The Great Seduction, retains all the wit and charm of Dumas's original work in a tighter two-act format and with a different and surprising climax that adds a clever twist to one of the most important moments in French history." There will also be a show on Thursday, November 15, 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.

Ken Haller
The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Ken Haller in Happy Haller Days on Saturdays, November 10 and 18, 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!" Marty Fox is pianist and music director for the show. The performances take place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Caroline Zarinelli in In Pursuit of Magic on Sunday, November 11 at 7 pm. "Everyone has moments that stop time... those moments of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary...moments of celebration, loss, longing, and discovery... moments of "Holy cow, I'm doing this!" At theheart of it, we are all in the pursuit of magic. Here with Broadway, jazz, and original songs. Caroline Zarinelli is a vocal coach, performing arts educator, writer, composer, director, producer, and singer. A champion of the power of the arts, she has steeped herself in arts integration at Harvard's Project Zero, Boston Arts Academy, Opening Minds Through the Arts, and Arts Integration Solutions. Caroline has performed at the St. Louis Muny Opera, Goldenrod Showboat, Standing Room Only, Silver Dollar City, Moosletoe, Mannequins in Motion, and aboard the Queen Elizabeth II." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Into the Breeches!
Photo by Philip Hamer
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents In the Works, a festival of contemporary American plays inspired by Shakespeare, featuring the regional premiere of Into the Breeches!, through November 24. "Building on its beloved summer productions in Forest Park and the acclaimed Shakespeare in the Streets program, the Festival now presents its very first season of contemporary American plays by writers in dialogue with Shakespeare, headlined by the regional premiere of Into the Breeches! Written by the award-winning playwright of Grounded, which starred Anne Hathaway in its New York run, Into the Breeches! is a hilarious and heartwarming look at the WWII home front and a group of ladies who band together to keep the local theater going with their very own production of Henry V. "In the Works" will also feature family matinees of A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness, a delightful new play for young audiences by Festival favorite Nancy Bell, inspired by the mistaken identity hijinks of The Comedy of Errors, as well as staged readings of the Festival-commissioned The Thousand Natural Shocks, a moving coming-of-age story about a teenage boy who finds strength and resilience through a high school production of Hamlet. (The Thousand Natural Shocks is appropriate for ages 13 and over.)" Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including dates and times: sfstl.com.

The Gaslight Cabaret Festival presents Lonnie McFadden with the Ptah Williams Trio on Thursday, November 8 at 8 p.m. "He sings, he tap dances, he plays the trumpet, he brings everything he's got. Hard working, pure show biz, an entertainer. A lifetime of making people happy. Just a superb show from a truly gifted showman. Kansas City's own, on loan for one night." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information: gaslightcabaretfestival.com.

Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Lord Arthur Saville's Crimes through November 11. "Based on a story by Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile is engaged to the lovely Sybil Merton, but his chiromantist, Podgers, has read Lord Arthur's palm and foretold he would commit a murder. Desiring a blissful married life, Arthur feels duty bound to get the murder over with first. Despite help from his butler and the bomb-making anarchist, Winkelkopf, attempt after attempt fails. As the dust settles, hilarity and love abound in this witty and sweet comedy. " 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.

Macbeth: Come Like Shadows
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Rebel and Misfits Productions presents Macbeth: Come Like Shadows Wednesdays through through November 10, as part of its Immersive Theatre Project. "Rebel and Misfits Productions is thrilled to present the third installment of the Immersive Theatre Project October 24-10. Dive into a shocking world and discover the heart and dark underbelly of a story that you have undoubtedly come in contact with before, but never allowed full access to the dripping heat and intimacy pulled along by its characters. This is one of Shakespeare's boldest and most passionate plays deeply imagined. Who are the inhabitants? Why do their souls choose the courses they embark upon? What is behind the door? Immerse yourself in a world of direct interaction, walk into this complexly-woven tale, wade into its unlocked depths. We invite you to meet these characters as you never have before. Drink with them. Dance with them. Share your secrets with them. They will, in turn, weave you into the fabric of the action. Come and experience this high-octane, dangerous, and sexy world, where nothing is ever quite what it seems." Audiences will board buses at 1615 South Broadway, St Louis, MO 63104 between 7:20 pm and 7:30 pm to be driven to the performance destination For more information: theimmersivetheatreproject.com.

O'Fallon TheatreWorks presents the drama One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre auditorium Fridays through Sundays through November 11. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a chilling, cautionary tale of a charming rogue, Randle Patrick McMurphy, who contrives to serve a short sentence in an airy mental institution rather than prison. This, he learns, was a mistake. He clashes with the head nurse, Nurse Ratched, a fierce martinet. He quickly takes over the yard and accomplishes what the medical profession was unable to do for 12 years, prompt a presumably deaf and dumb Native American patient to speak. Leading the other patients out of their introversion, McMurphy stages a revolt so that they can watch the World Series on television, and arranges a rollicking midnight party. The party is too horrid for Nurse Ratched, who forces a final "correction" on McMurphy, a frontal lobotomy. The play is a 2001 winner of a Tony® Award, for "Outstanding Revival of a Play." Parental discretion is advised." 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 Hawthorne Players present the drama A Raisin in the Sun through November 11. "Set on Chicago's South Side, the plot revolves around the divergent dreams and conflicts within three generations of the Younger family: son Walter Lee, his wife Ruth, his sister Beneatha, his son Travis, and matriarch Lena. When her deceased husband's insurance money comes through, Mama Lena dreams of moving to a new home and a better neighborhood in Chicago. Walter Lee, a chauffeur, has other plans: buying a liquor store and being his own man. Beneatha dreams of medical school. The tensions and prejudice they face form this seminal American drama. The Younger family's heroic struggle to retain dignity in a harsh and changing world is a searing and timeless document of hope and inspiration." 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 St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the new play Shamhat by Brad Slavik on Monday, November 5 at 6:30 pm. "Shamhat is based on the oldest story in the human record, at least 6000 years old, the epic of Gilgamesh. This play however, does not take the view point of its great hero, Gilgamesh, but of Shamhat, the prostitute. This is her point of view. How a prostitute turns from lowly to remarkable, and deals with great events and great personalities." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley presents Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night November 8 - 11. Performances take place in the Fisher Theatre on the campus at 3400 Pershall Road. For more information, www.stlcc.edu/fv/ or call 314-644-5522.

Whither Should I Fly?
Theatre Nuevo and Equally Represented Arts presents Whither Should I Fly through November 10. It's " a devised exploration of prescriptive women's behavior through witchcraft and multilevel marketing presented as part of the 2018 FAUSTival. Performances take place at The Centene Center, 3547 Olive in Grand Center. For more information: https://www.artful.ly/theatre-nuevo/store/events/16020.

The Monroe Actors Stage presents Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:30 pm, November 9 - 18. " Leonard Vole stands accused of murdering a rich widow. The stakes are high with shocking witness testimony, impassioned outbursts from the dock and a young man's fight to escape the hangman's noose. Generally regarded as one of Agatha Christie's most accomplished plays, this suspenseful thriller keeps audiences guessing until the very end." Performances take place in the Historic Capitol Theatre in downtown Waterloo, Illinois. For more information, visit www.masctheatre.org or call 618-939-7469.

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.