Monday, October 14, 2019

Symphony Review: Leonard Slatkin returns with an entertaining evening of music old and new

The evening air was crisp and so was the playing of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO last night (Saturday, October 12) as Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin led the band in an entertaining and expertly played program of music that spanned nearly 250 years.

Leonard Slatkin
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The concert opened with a new version of a piece that Mr. Slatkin originally commissioned in 1996, his final year with the orchestra. As a kind of farewell present, he asked four composers who had been in residence at the SLSO during his tenure--Joseph Schwantner, Joan Tower, Donald Erb, and Claude Baker--to each create a different variation of the "Caprice No. 24" by Niccolò Paganini. Slatkin wrote one of his own as well and titled the result "Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini)."

As Mr. Slatkin approached his 75th birthday he thought a revision might be in order. The new version has the same title as the original but it now has thirteen short movements by a dozen composers (including Mr. Slatkin) that's just under 20 tremendously entertaining minutes in length. The wide emotional range of the suite runs from the solemnity of Truman Harris's "Sarabande" (featuring the bassoon, Mr. Harris's instrument) and the drama of John Corigliano's "Apotheosis (:90)" (referring to the fact that each variation was supposed to run between 60 and 90 seconds) to the Spike Jones-ish comedy of Mr. Slatkin's "Introduction, Theme, and Variant (with apologies to S.R.)."

The latter makes fun of the most famous set of Paganini variations--the "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" by Sergei Rachmaninoff (i.e. "S.R") as does Mr. Slatkin's "Quodlibet and Finale," which references all the other composers involved and includes Kelly Karamanov playing the Rachmaninoff's famous 18th variation offstage from what sounded like on old upright piano.

Mostly, the work was about colorful orchestration, musical in-jokes, and a general sense of fun. Donald Erb's "Ave Atque Vale L.S." sounds like an intoxicated after-party. Film and television composer Daniel Slatkin (son of Leonard) covered an impressive number of musical movie memes in his "Paganini Goes to the Movies." And William Bolcom's "Presto scherzando" sounds like a soundtrack for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

"Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini)" also sounds like a wild ride for the musicians, who are inundated with what were clearly virtuoso passages. Needless to say, the members of the SLSO pulled it off with their customary assurance.

Jelena Dirks
Photo courtesy of SLSO
Speaking of assurance, SLSO Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks displayed plenty of that in a graceful rendition of Mozart's one and only Oboe Concerto that honored what program annotator David Garrett accurately calls the "galant manner" of the piece. And she did it with sparkling precision and a good sense of what Donald Francis Tovey (as cited by Mr. Garrett) saw as the operatic underpinnings of the concerto. The "Adagio non troppo" second movement, for example, could easily be a little love song from one of Mozart's comic operas, and the "Rondo: Allegretto" finale actually quotes a tune from "The Abduction from the Seraglio." Ms. Dirks's oboe sweetly sang the former and skipped cheerfully through the latter.

As a bonus (and something of a reference to the work that opened the concert), Ms. Dirks finished each movement with a cadenza written by a different composer. So we had John de Lancie (long-time Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra) for the first movement, English oboist Melinda Maxwell for the second, and John Mack (also a former Principal Oboe with the Philadelphians) for the third.

The concert concluded with a glorious, wide-screen, hi-def performance of Richard Strauss's colorful and rousing tribute to himself, "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life"). Maestro Slatkin gave it a sweepingly romantic interpretation that did not neglect the fine details of Strauss's inventive use of the orchestra. Richard Freed once observed that "Ein Heldenleben" "represented in its time a new level in the exploitation of the resources of the modern orchestra, and it remains an outstanding landmark in that respect," and you could certainly hear all of that in this utterly compelling performance.

Richard Strauss in 1898
By Fritz Erler (died 1940)
Private collection, Public Domain
commons.wikimedia.org
And the SLSO musicians played flawlessly. Big laurel wreathes are especially due to the horns and the massive brass section as a whole, which sounded great, even in the softest passages. It helped that Mr. Slatkin had the brass section spread out across the entire width of the stage, just in front of the percussion, which made it easier to hear the individual sections, even during the rock concert--level din of the "Hero's Battlefield" section.

Concertmaster David Halen had what is essentially the star turn in "The Hero's Companion" section. It's a loving tribute to Strauss's wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna, in which the violin plays the role of Ms. de Ahna, and an emotionally varied one it surely is. In a letter to Romain Rolland (cited by Mr. Freed), the composer described her musical character as "very complex, a trifle perverse, a trifle coquettish, never the same, changing from minute to minute." Mr. Halen neatly captured the character's many moods.

Principal English Horn Cally Banham also had a lovely moment in the transition to the final section, "The Hero's Retreat from the World and Fulfillment," but ultimately the entire orchestra performed heroically under Mr. Slatkin's skilled direction. I'm a sucker for Strauss, granted, but this was nevertheless a well-balanced and unfailingly arresting performance.

Next at Powell Hall: Stéphane Denève returns to lead the orchestra and violin soloist Karen Gomyo in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1. The program also includes a suite from Poulenc's ballet "Les Biches," and Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances." Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm October 18-20 at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of October 14, 2019

This week: chamber music, the return of Denève, and a classical cabaret.

The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis
at the Sheldon
The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents No Place Like Home on Monday and Tuesday, October 14 and 15, at 7:30 pm. "Exploring music by American composers which includes works by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, William Bolcom plus the "American" string quartet by Antonin Dvorák. Performances take place at the Sheldon, 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

Karen Gomyo
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
Stéphane Denève conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with violin soloist Karen Gomyo in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, a suite from Poulenc's ballet Les Biches, and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm October 18-20. "Stéphane Denève leads a concert of "desert island" music. Rachmaninoff's final orchestral work celebrates a life well-lived with joyful dances, heartbreaking melodies and orchestral brilliance. Poulenc's ballet fizzes like popped champagne, while Karen Gomyo, an 'artist of rare command, brilliance and intensity,' (Chicago Tribune) breathes pure musical sunlight into Prokofiev's concerto." Performances take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Women's HOPE Chorale of St. Louis (WHCSTL) presents A Classical Cabaret on Saturday, October 19 at 7:30 pm. Professional singers from the Chorale will perform a variety of selections from opera arias to Broadway show tunes. The performance takes place at the Kranzberg Arts Center Studio, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. Tickets to the event, which is a fundraiser for the organization, are available online at Metrotix in advance as well as at the box office beginning at 6:30 pm the night of the event. For more information: www.womenshopechoralestl.org.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 14, 2019

Another big week for opening nights, including The Rep, The Fabulous Fox, a COCA/Black Rep co-production, and Encore Theatre Group. Plus cabaret at JazzSTL and Sophie's.

KTK Productions presents the comedy/drama Amateurs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through 20. "Following the opening night of the Timberly Troupers' musical about undertakers, Dorothy and her slightly daft husband, Charlie, host a gathering of actors and friends. The chic opening night party is in another part of town, but into Dorothy's living room comes a guest list that includes Nathan (a recently divorced high school teacher who is also a very bad ventriloquist), Wayne (better at loving than acting), Jennifer (who has a sure shot at Hollywood stardom), Ernie (one of the Troupers' actors filled with ham and spite), Irene (his out of patience wife), Mona (who was in love with Wayne but has since moved on to someone else) and Paul (a well-known drama critic and friend of Dorothy's who has just broken his rule of never reviewing community theater). When Paul has a heart attack he drops his not-yet-published review before being taken to the hospital. The actors read it and confront the harsh reality of a pan. Dorothy's sweetness and patience rise above Ernie's bitter tirade, and the others trade barbs and insults as they try to control their emotions. The party becomes the setting where the dreams, loves, failures and successes of this group are explored with bittersweet humor and the relationship between risk and need is touchingly depicted." Performances take place at St. John the Baptist Church, 4200 Delor. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Brighton Beach Memoirs
Photo: Greg Lazerwtz
New Jewish Theater presents Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through October 27. "Brighton Beach, September 1937. Eugene Jerome is dreaming of baseball and girls. Over the course of a few short days amid family harmony and disharmony, young Eugene will come to understand life a little deeper. This award-winning play is a bittersweet memoir that captures the life of a struggling Jewish household where, as his father states 'if you didn't have a problem, you wouldn't be living here.'" 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.

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 Q Collective presents The Coming Out Play Festival Thursday and Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 4 and 7 pm, and Sunday at 4 pm, October 18-20. "We all come out, in way or another. Eights plays explore the coming out experience. " Performances take place at The Monocle, 4510 Manchester in The Grove. For more information: www.eventbrite.com.

Cry-Baby
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Cry-Baby Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through October 19. "It's 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He's a bad boy with a good cause -- truth, justice, and the pursuit of rock and roll." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents December '63: The Original Jersey Boys Tribute, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 4 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 and 6 pm, October 18-20. "DECEMBER '63 recreates all your favorite songs from a Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons concert including the most popular singles from the Broadway blockbuster, Jersey Boys. They will have you reaching for the high notes as they take you on a musical journey with stops at every phase of their careers!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

Variety Theatre presents Disney's Mary Poppins Fridays through Sundays, October 18 - 20. "Based on the timeless Disney film that introduced the world to the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Mary Poppins brings a surplus of joy and wonder to the Variety Theatre stage, boasting a cast of St. Louis' top theatrical talents and a children's ensemble featuring kids of all ability levels." Performances take place at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri - St. Louis campus. For more information: varietytheatre.org.

Escape to Margaritaville
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Escape to Margaritaville Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 1 and 6 pm, October 18-20. "Welcome to Margaritaville, where people come to get away from it all-and stay to find something they never expected. With a book by Emmy Award® winner Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl, Raising Hope) and Emmy Award® nominee Mike O'Malley (Survivors Remorse, Shameless) ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE is the musical comedy featuring both original songs and your most-loved Jimmy Buffett classics, including “Fins,” “Volcano,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and many more. USA Today calls it "A little slice of paradise!" and Entertainment Weekly raves, "It will knock your flip-flops off!" So don't let the party start without you." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

COCA and The Black Rep present Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 5 and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm, October 18-27. Note that the Sunday, October 20, performance is sold out at this time. " Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia D. Morris Wesley, and Addie Mae Collins. This production imagines these four young girls before the terrible event on September 15, 1963- the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Through story and song, the play shines a light on their dreams, their times with family and friends, and the trials and tribulations they faced as children living in a divided and segregationist city. A full chorus sets the tone with spirituals and anthems of the Civil Rights Movement such as “Amazing Grace,” “Oh, Freedom,” and “Woke Up This Morning.” Performances take place at the Staenberg Performance Lab at COCA in University City. For more information: cocastl.org.

Encore Theatre Group presents The Haunted Pool - A New Musical Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm, October 18 - November 3. "Umi, a spirited young woman preparing to become Queen of Mephaire. All her life Umi has lived under one strict command from her father Rejas, the King: DO NOT GO to the HAUNTED POOL! Umi wants to obey her fathers wish but given her rebellious nature, her curiosity gets the best of her and she defies the King. What is it that she finds at The Haunted Pool? Secrets, the truth, or will she come face to face with the dreaded figure who resides there? Don't be trapped by fear! Join Umi on her adventure! This production, full of surprise and wonder, is one that you DON'T WANT TO MISS! Performances take place at the Thomas Dunn Learning Center, 3113 Gasconade Street. For more information: www.eventbrite.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents The Lifespan of a Fact, opening on Wednesday, October 16, and running through November 10. "Celebrated author John D'Agata has just written a sublime and shattering magazine essay. But is the story true? When the world's most neurotically precise fact checker starts dissecting the author's work, it begins to split at the seams. As the final deadline looms, hard facts square off against emotional truths in a funny and searing high-stakes showdown." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

Clinton County Showcase presents the drama Mama's Boy Fridays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through October 20 "The riveting story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his complex relationship with his overbearing mother Marguerite, "Mama's Boy" follows Marguerite's reckless attempts to reunite her family, from Lee's return to the U.S. from Russia, through the assassination of Kennedy, to her son's own murder and her defense of his innocence in the months that follow. A fascinating examination of family dynamics and obsessive maternal devotion played out in the shadow of history. The Kennedy assassination serves as a framework for "Mama's Boy," but the play isn't overtly political, or intended to change public opinion." Performances take place outdoors at the Avon Theatre, 535 N. 2nd St. in Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents the second round of its Playwright Slam on Monday, October 7, 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

Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville presents She Kills Monsters opening on Wednesday, October 16, at 7:30 pm and running through Sunday, October 20. "A comedic romp into the world of fantasy role-playing games, She Kills Monsters tells the story of Agnes Evans as she leaves her childhood home in Ohio following the death of her teenage sister, Tilly. When Agnes finds Tilly's Dungeons & Dragons notebook, however, she stumbles into a journey of discovery and action-packed adventure in the imaginary world that was Tilly's refuge. In this high-octane dramatic comedy laden with homicidal fairies, nasty ogres, and 90s pop culture, acclaimed young playwright Qui Nguyen offers a heart-pounding homage to the geek and warrior within us all. " Performances take place in the Dunham Hall Theater on the campus in Edwardsvile, IL. For more information, call 618-650-2774 or visit www.siue.edu.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes in "The Case Without a Clue" running through October 27 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Chuck Lavazzi
The Cabaret Project presents its weekly Singers Open Mic Night on Tuesday, October 15, 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.

Rachel Bay Jones
Jazz St. Louis and The Cabaret Project present Rachel Bay Jones in Something Beautiful on Wednesday and Thursday, October 16 and 17, at 7:30 p.m. "In her new solo show, Rachel Bay Jones, 2017 Tony Award winner for Best Featured Actress in the Broadway smash hit musical Dear Evan Hansen, explores the music and stories that have shaped her life and career. Sharing adventures that have taken her from multiple Broadway successes to motherhood, Jones' intimate yet soaring voice creates an incredibly compelling evening featuring music from Richard Rodgers, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joni Mitchell and more. A great singer, storyteller and actress, Rachel was recently featured opposite Julia Roberts in the film Ben is Back and will be seen opposite John Leguizamo in the upcoming film Critical Thinking. Rachel shares the Grammy Award with her Dear Evan Hansen co-stars for the shows Original Cast Recording." Performances take place at the Ferring Jazz Bistro on Washington just east of the Fox in Grand Center. For more information: www.thecabaretproject.org.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Recipes for Ice, their monthly improv show, on Friday, October 18, 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.

Carolbeth True and Kim Fuller
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents Kim Fuller and Carolbeth True in Songs We Can't Forget on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 15 and 16, at 10 am. "Jazz vocalist Kim Fuller and pianist Carolbeth True perform great songs from the 1950s, '60s and '70s, including well-known songs made famous by Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson and Stevie Wonder, and some lesser-known gems that didn't top the charts but should have! Enjoy complimentary coffee and pastries at 9 a.m. in the beautiful Louis Spiering Room, just before these one-hour concerts at 10 a.m. in the historic Sheldon Concert Hall. The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: sheldonconcerthall.org.

Fontbonne University Theatre presents The Spitfire Grill opening on Thursday, October 17, and running through October 27. Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, www.fontbonne.edu

Kevn Corpuz as Tommy
Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical The Who's Tommy through October 26. "Back by popular demand! Based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album, The Who's TOMMY is an exhilarating tale of hope, healing, and the human spirit. The story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb, and blind boy who triumphs over his adversities has inspired and amazed audiences for 50 years." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Alfresco Productions presents the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through October 20. Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love (No Biting) running through November 2. "Calling all Zombies! Tired of being judged for munching on the occasional brain? So you're not really "alive" anymore but you can still enjoy socializing with the living and enjoying a hilarious show together! Well, we've got the perfect show for you! Drama! Comedy! Looove! ...And, of course, Zombies! Don your best Living Dead Costume and choose to be a Zombie, or not (its up to you), but we do promise lots of fun for both the living and the undead! hey, Hey, HEY! No Biting!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.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.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 11, 2019

New this week: a revival of a regional premiere at New Line.

New This Week:
Cry-Baby
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Cry-Baby Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through October 19. "It's 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He's a bad boy with a good cause -- truth, justice, and the pursuit of rock and roll." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

My take: Critical opinion seems to be pretty much unanimously positive on this one. Judy Newmark calls it "keen-witted...a youthful cast that sparkles with energy as they sing and dance their way through one hilarious song after another." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz says it's a "bright, energized rock musical, which dabbles creatively in several genres, including rockabilly, barbershop quartets and old-fashioned rock ‘n' roll." And over at KDHX, Tina Farmer writes that Cry-Baby "bristles with energy and hormonal frenzy that's played for laughs, but delivers plenty of commentary on everything from classism to our definition of beauty." I could go on, but you get the idea. New Line originally did this show back in 2012. Mark Bretz points out that this revival, by New Line's artistic director Scott Miller "was approved by the show's creators with a reduced cast and fresh orchestrations by original orchestrator Chris Jahnke." Sounds like a bit of a coup for New Line.


Held Over:

The Agitators
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents The Agitators running through October 13. "Upstream Theater is excited to present Mat Smart's compelling play The Agitators, which takes us straight into the thunder and lightning of the 45-year friendship between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. After meeting in Rochester in the 1840's, these two social activists became great allies and, at times, great adversaries. They agitated the nation, they agitated (and sometimes aggravated) each other and, in so doing they helped change the Constitution and the course of American history." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: This is a somewhat qualified recommendation, based mostly on the rave reviews about the work of the two actors in the show, J. Samuel Douglas and Erin Kelley. In her KDHX review, for example, Tina Farmer writes that "J. Samuel Davis returns to the Upstream stage in the role of Frederick Douglass. Once again he gives a superb performance...Erin Kelley does fine work in her portrayal of Susan B. Anthony, convincing us of this woman's utter, tireless commitment to the cause." But she goes on to note tha the script is "rather weak" and that the characters themselves are a bit one-dimensional. At Limelight, Andrea Braun strikes a similar note, observing that "much of the play seems rather like a lecture" but adds "if there are better actors than Kelley and Davis to play these parts, I don't know who they are." All the other aspects of the production have gotten plenty of praise as well and the play tells a story that is probably not well known, so (to quote The Bard), "'tis enough, 'twill suffice."


Hello, Dolly!
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Hello Dolly! running through October 13. "Winner of four Tony® Awards including Best Musical Revival, HELLO, DOLLY! is the universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls "the best show of the year!" and the Los Angeles Times says "distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best." Director Jerry Zaks' "gorgeous" new production (Vogue) is "making people crazy happy!" (The Washington Post). After breaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway, this HELLO, DOLLY! is now touring America, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion - hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: How can anyone not like this show? The original Hello, Dolly opened on Broadway in January of 1964 after some rocky out-of-town previews and several revisions. It ran for 2,844 performances, considerably raising the bar for the definition of "blockbuster." It's not hard to see why. Herman's score is one of his best (not that he every wrote a bad song anyway) and the book retains all the humanitarian humor of the Thornton Wilder play on which it's based. Go and enjoy.


Valhalla Cemetery and The Hawthorne Players present Voices Of Valhalla: A Hayride Through History through October 12. Hayrides through Valhalla Cemetery depart every fifteen minutes beginning at 6:30 each evening as members of the Hawthorne Players portray some of the noted locals buried in Valhalla. Valhalla Cemetery is located at 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information, visit hawthorneplayers.com.

My take: I had a chance to both see and appear in this annual event in 2014 and again in 2016, and I must say that I was impressed by the professionalism of both the script (assembled by director Larry Marsh from historical sources) and the quality of the performances. Here's how it works: you pile on a hay wagon and are driven through historic Valhalla Cemetery. At various points during the ride, the wagon stops and an actor portraying a historical figure buried at Valhalla steps out of the darkness and delivers a monologue on his or her life. They can be comic, tragic, or a combination of the two, but they're always well researched and informative.

Symphony Preview: Tales of the unexpected

Former Music Director Leonard Slatkin, who led the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) during what was possibly its period of highest international visibility (and who is now a resident of Our Fair City once again) returns to lead the SLSO this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, October 12 and 13) in an evening of works which all have intriguing histories.

The concert opens with a new version of a piece that Mr. Slatkin originally commissioned in 1996, his final year with the orchestra. As a kind of farewell present, he asked four composers who had been in residence at the SLSO during his tenure--Joseph Schwantner, Joan Tower, Donald Erb, and Claude Baker--to each create a different variation on the "Caprice No. 24" by Niccoló Paganini. Slatkin wrote one of his own as well and titled the result "Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini)."

Leonard Slatkin
As Mr. Slatkin approached his 75th birthday (which, interestingly, falls on the same date as mine...) he thought a revision might be in order. Here's what he did, from his program notes for this weekend:
:
I invited five orchestras where I have held a position of artistic leadership to commission five composers with whom I have shared a close collaboration over the course of my career. Specifically, the SLSO invited John Corigliano to contribute a new variation, as it was with that orchestra that I first conducted and recorded John's music. Composer Truman Harris served as assistant principal bassoon in the National Symphony and assisted me in orchestrating several works I wrote for that ensemble. Guillaume Connesson was resident composer with the Orchestre National de Lyon during my tenure. Cindy McTee, aka Mrs. Slatkin, was closely associated with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Daniel Slatkin is my son and a composer for motion pictures and television. His variation was commissioned by the Nashville Symphony, one of the most active recording orchestras in the country.
Mr. Slatkin revised his earlier variation and wrote additional material to tie everything together, and we'll hear this result this weekend.

It's worth noting that Paganini's original caprice includes some pretty fancy variations of its own, as you can both see and hear in a YouTube video featuring violinist Salvatore Accardo and including images of the sheet music synched with his performance. The 24th caprice has proved to be irresistible as the basis for more variations by a wide variety of composers from Brahms to Eugène Ysaÿe. Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" is probably the most well known of the lot, even producing a romantic tune (in variation 18) that has had a life of its own, including a brief run as the accompaniment for (if my memory is correct) a Folger's coffee commercial.

Pop and jazz songwriters have gotten into the act as well. Most notably, Andrew Lloyd Webber made Paganini's tune the basis of his 1977 "Variations," recorded in 1978 with his brother Julian Lloyd Webber as the soloist. That set of variations, like Rachmaninoff's, also produced a little earworm of a melody that eventually grew lyrics courtesy of Don Black and got the title "Unexpected Song."

Mozart, as drawn by Doris Stock, 1789
Speaking of things unexpected, for nearly 150 years, nobody expected to hear Mozart's K. 314 Oboe Concerto for the simple reason that it had simply dropped out of sight after Anton Meyer, an oboist in Prince Esterhàzy's orchestra, requested a copy for his own use in 1883. It was chalked up as a lost work until 1920. In notes for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Phillip Huscher describes what happened then:
In 1920, Mozart scholar and conductor Bernhard Paumgartner, who was director of the Salzburg Mozarteum archives, discovered a package of old orchestral parts. The bass part was marked "Concerto in C/Oboe Principale" followed by Mozart's name. When Paumgartner recognized the music, however, as the familiar flute concerto in D major--the one flutists had long counted as the second of Mozart's two concertos--a 137-year-old mystery began to unravel. Apparently, sometime during the winter of 1777-78, Mozart had made an arrangement of the oboe concerto in order to make fast work of a commission for the amateur flutist Ferdinand de Jean, probably passing the recycled work off as brand new. By exposing Mozart's fraud, Paumgartner's find simultaneously cut Mozart's flute concerto output in two and handed oboists a concerto they had never expected to play.
This weekend will be the first time the concerto has been played by the SLSO (although the SLSO Youth Orchestra did it in 1987, with Mr. Slatkin conducting). The soloist will be SLSO Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks. In a brief email interview, I asked her if playing a piece written for the somewhat simpler oboe of Mozart's day posed any challenges. Her answer was surprising and educational:
Interestingly enough, the Classical period oboe is much more closely related to the modern oboe than the Baroque oboe. Much of the progress that has been made since Mozart's era lies simply in the addition of keys. While keys are meant to make things easier (especially in the complicated, more adventurous compositions of the Romantic and Contemporary eras) they also have some intriguing consequences. One of the biggest changes which resulted is that they even out the colors of different notes. However, the fact is, even to this day, no two notes sound alike on the oboe. That is one of the best and also one of the trickiest things about the oboe! I learned to revel in the differences of sound, to use it when I think it's effective and to hide it when I don't want it.
So what does that all mean in the context of this particular Mozart concerto? Ms. Dirks elaborated:
[T]he opening phrase is a trill, a scale, and then a high c (a brilliant note on the oboe). It is fun to exercise this note and to explore the open nature of the c- as in allegro aperto (open) from the first movement tempo marking. In the vocal second movement, I try for as close to singing an opera aria as I can get. In the third movement, the writing is such that it portrays the bright joyfulness of C major on the oboe. So, to answer your question the long way around, it is more about embracing the qualities of the oboe than anything else!
Jelena Dirks
Photo courtesy of SLSO
The qualities of the oboe, in fact, are what attracted Ms. Dirks to the instrument in the first place. "I come from a family of professional string players," she notes, "and when my mom hosted a baby shower for one of her friends (yes, an oboist!) I was eager to try something no one else in my family played."
Sometime during the party I remember a conversation in which my mom's friend asked me to try making the embouchure for an oboe, and then told me that "I would make a perfect oboist." I don't remember knowing what an oboe was, my ten year old self simply thought 'wow, can I please play that?'...I think it's safe to say that I continued playing oboe because I do thrive on a challenge and I also fell in love with the sound and the expressive nature of the instrument and repertoire.
"Expressive" is certainly a word you might use to describe the final work on the program, Richard Strauss's 1899 "Ein Heldenleben" ("A Hero's Life"). It's one of the more impressive examples of musical egotism, right up there with Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique". Despite the composer's disclaimer that the work was only party autobiographical and that it was intended to be "a more general and free ideal of great and manly heroism," there's not much doubt that Strauss' hero was Strauss. The work is chock full of quotes from Strauss' music and its portrayal of music critics by a gaggle of chattering woodwinds provoked the expected outrage from the composer's detractors.

As Richard Freed observes in program notes for The Kennedy Center, Strauss eventually had to admit the hero in "Ein Heldenleben" was, in fact, himself:
Strauss did concede, after all, in a remark to the writer Romain Rolland, that he found himself "no less interesting than Napoleon," and his gesture of conducting the premiere himself instead of leaving that honor to the respected dedicatee may well be viewed as further confirmation of the work's self-congratulatory character.
That said, "Ein Heldenleben" is such a lavish and dramatic work that it ultimately doesn't matter whether Strauss meant it as a symphonic selfie or not. "A Hero's Life," writes Mr. Freed, "represented in its time a new level in the exploitation of the resources of the modern orchestra, and it remains an outstanding landmark in that respect." It uses a massive orchestra of over 100 players (some of whom will be offstage for the big "battle" sequence, in which The Hero vanquishes his enemies) and includes infrequently heard instruments like the B-flat and E bass clarinets, the tenor tuba, and the contrabassoon. The sheer volume and variety of sound is impressive.

The Essentials: Leonard Slatkin conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks in Mozart's Oboe Concerto, K. 314; Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben"; and "Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini)." Performances are Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm October 12 and 13 at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of October 7, 2019

It's a big weekend for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, as well as our local community orchestras.

The St. Louis Low Brass Collective presents Octubafest on Saturday, October 12, at 3 pm. "Low Brass Polkas and Marches to Celebrate Octoberfest in the Soulard, come and play trombone, euphonium, and or tuba. Light, fun, and easy going, short optional rehearsal before we play to the revelers out at Soulard Market." The event takes place at the Soulard Market, 720 Carroll in Soulard. For more information: stllbc.org.

The St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra
The St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra presents a concert of music by Beethoven, Verdi, Rossini, Sinigaglia, and Dvorak on Thursday, November 11, at 8 p.m. The program includes Dvorak's Symphony No. 7, "From the New World", and Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture. The concert takes place in Purser Auditorium on the campus of Logan University, 1851 Shoettler Road in Chesterfield, MO. For more information: stlphilharmonic.org.com.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra presents a Pulitzer Series concert on Tuesday and Wednesday October 8 and 9, at 7:30 PM. The concert features Memory Place by Christopher Cerrone and Songbirdsongs by John Luther Adams, performed by members of the woodwind and percussion sections of the SLSO. The performance takes place at the Pultzer Center for the Arts, 3716 Washington. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Lucas Waldin conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and IN UNISON Chorus, along with vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Ryan Shaw, in A Tribute to Aretha Franklin on Friday, October 11, at 7:30 pm. The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Leonard Slatkin
Leonard Slatkin conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks in Mozart's Oboe Concerto, K. 314; Richard Strauss's Ein Heldenleben; and Yet Another Set of Variations (on a Theme of Paganini) by various composers. Performances are Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm October 12 and 13. "As Conductor Laureate, Leonard Slatkin is part of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra family. To celebrate his 75th birthday, the orchestra performs a new set of variations on Paganini's most popular melody. SLSO Principal Oboe Jelena Dirks makes her first major concerto appearance with Mozart's Concerto, while Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben displays the skill of every section of the SLSO." Performances take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The University City Symphony Orchestra presents its season premiere concert on Sunday, October 13, at 3 pm, with a pre-concert talk at 2:15 pm. "Be Our Guest! You are cordially invited to the UCSO's opening concert of the 2019-2020 Season. The concert will feature violinist Manuel Ramos in a stunning performance of the Rodolfo Halffter Violin Concerto - a rare gem. Come see what makes the UCSO 'The World's Most Adventurous Community Orchestra!'.”The performance takes place at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information: ucso.org.

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 7, 2019

Another big explosion of theatre this week, including shows from New Jewish, KTK, and Stray Dog.

The Agitators
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents The Agitators running through October 13. "Upstream Theater is excited to present Mat Smart's compelling play The Agitators, which takes us straight into the thunder and lightning of the 45-year friendship between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. After meeting in Rochester in the 1840's, these two social activists became great allies and, at times, great adversaries. They agitated the nation, they agitated (and sometimes aggravated) each other and, in so doing they helped change the Constitution and the course of American history." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

KTK Productions presents the comedy/drama Amateurs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, October 11-20. "Following the opening night of the Timberly Troupers' musical about undertakers, Dorothy and her slightly daft husband, Charlie, host a gathering of actors and friends. The chic opening night party is in another part of town, but into Dorothy's living room comes a guest list that includes Nathan (a recently divorced high school teacher who is also a very bad ventriloquist), Wayne (better at loving than acting), Jennifer (who has a sure shot at Hollywood stardom), Ernie (one of the Troupers' actors filled with ham and spite), Irene (his out of patience wife), Mona (who was in love with Wayne but has since moved on to someone else) and Paul (a well-known drama critic and friend of Dorothy's who has just broken his rule of never reviewing community theater). When Paul has a heart attack he drops his not-yet-published review before being taken to the hospital. The actors read it and confront the harsh reality of a pan. Dorothy's sweetness and patience rise above Ernie's bitter tirade, and the others trade barbs and insults as they try to control their emotions. The party becomes the setting where the dreams, loves, failures and successes of this group are explored with bittersweet humor and the relationship between risk and need is touchingly depicted." Performances take place at St. John the Baptist Church, 4200 Delor. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

Brighton Beach MemoirsPhoto: Greg Lazerwtz
New Jewish Theater presents Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, October 10-27. "Brighton Beach, September 1937. Eugene Jerome is dreaming of baseball and girls. Over the course of a few short days amid family harmony and disharmony, young Eugene will come to understand life a little deeper. This award-winning play is a bittersweet memoir that captures the life of a struggling Jewish household where, as his father states 'if you didn't have a problem, you wouldn't be living here.'" 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.

TLT Productions presents Chasing Waterfalls through October 12. "Chasing Waterfalls, a R&B musical revue strolls down musical memory lanes. Featuring music from the 90's Era and the early 00's - 'Chasing Waterfalls' explores pop culture and the glorified life of the music industry." Performances take place at the .ZACK Theatre in Grand Center. For more information: www.metrotix.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.

Cry-Baby
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the musical Cry-Baby Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through October 19. "It's 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade 'Cry-Baby' Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He's a bad boy with a good cause -- truth, justice, and the pursuit of rock and roll." Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call 314-534-1111.

Metro Theatre Company presents The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, October 12 and 13. "When school is out, there's nothing to do and the desert sun beats down hot. Sheila and her friends find themselves in search of something-anything-interesting to explore. So when a walking, talking, and surprisingly well-dressed coyote shows up, the kids find themselves on the adventure of a lifetime!" The performances take place at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: metroplays.org.

Hello, Dolly!
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Hello Dolly! through October 13. "Winner of four Tony® Awards including Best Musical Revival, HELLO, DOLLY! is the universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls "the best show of the year!" and the Los Angeles Times says "distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best." Director Jerry Zaks' "gorgeous" new production (Vogue) is "making people crazy happy!" (The Washington Post). After breaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway, this HELLO, DOLLY! is now touring America, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion - hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents Ismene by Sato Makoto Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 pm Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through October 13. "Ismene is a modern take on Sophocles' Antigone told through the eyes of Antigone's younger sister. Her beloved brothers have killed each other in battle; the king has declared one a hero and the other a traitor. When the body of her traitorous brother is delivered to her door, Ismene must decide what to do. This poignant, absurdist play explores the role of family, loyalty, and coca cola in one of the great Greek tragedies." Performances take place in the Emerson Studio Theater of the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, www.webster.edu/conservatory/season or call 314-968-7128.

Lindenwood University presents the musical Little Shop of Horrors Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm, October 9-13. "The meek floral assistant Seymour Krelborn stumbles across a new breed of plant he names "Audrey II" - after his coworker crush. This foul-mouthed, R&B-singing carnivore promises unending fame and fortune to the down and out Krelborn as long as he keeps feeding it, blood. Over time, though, Seymour discovers Audrey II's out-of-this-world origins and intent towards global domination!" Performances take place at the Scheiegger Center for the Arts on the Lindenwood campus in St. Charles, MO. For more information: http://www.lindenwood.edu/j-scheidegger-center-for-the-arts.

Clinton County Showcase presents the drama Mama's Boy Fridays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, October 11-20 "The riveting story of Lee Harvey Oswald and his complex relationship with his overbearing mother Marguerite, "Mama's Boy" follows Marguerite's reckless attempts to reunite her family, from Lee's return to the U.S. from Russia, through the assassination of Kennedy, to her son's own murder and her defense of his innocence in the months that follow. A fascinating examination of family dynamics and obsessive maternal devotion played out in the shadow of history. The Kennedy assassination serves as a framework for "Mama's Boy," but the play isn't overtly political, or intended to change public opinion." Performances take place outdoors at the Avon Theatre, 535 N. 2nd St. in Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

A Night With Janis Joplin
The Stifel Theatre presents A Night With Janis Joplin on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 8 and 9, at 7:30 pm."Fueled by these amazing songs, A Night With Janis Joplin is a sensational show featuring a musical journey celebrating Joplin and her biggest musical influences like Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith. These are the women who inspired one of rock and roll’s greatest legends." The Stifel Theatre is at 14th and Market downtown. For more information: stifeltheatre.com.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents the first round of its Playwright Slam on Monday, October 7, 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 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.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Sherlock Holmes in "The Case Without a Clue" running through October 27 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

A Call to Conscience presents The Three Not-So-Little Pigs on Wednesday, October 9, at 10 am. "A St. Louis play about bullying set in various neighborhoods in the St. Louis area. "The Three Not-So-Little Pigs" shows the damaging effects of physical, verbal, and social bullying. The play encourages students to explore the importance of standing up for each other, learning to get along with one another, and being good friends." The performance takes place at the Emerson Theatre at Harris Stowe University, 3046 Laclede. For more information: https://acalltoconscience.org/

The University Theatre at Saint Louis University presents Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, October 10-13. "Separated in a shipwreck, twins Viola and Sebastian each believe the other is dead. The stranded Viola disguises herself as a man leading to an unlikely and comical love triangle. Trickery, confusion and romantic hijinks abound in this most beloved of Shakespeare's comedies. Directed by Nancy Bell." Performances take place at The Grandel, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com or at the venue one hour prior to performance.

Valhalla Cemetery and The Hawthorne Players present Voices Of Valhalla: A Hayride Through History through October 12. Hayrides through Valhalla Cemetery depart every fifteen minutes beginning at 6:30 each evening as members of the Hawthorne Players portray some of the noted locals buried in Valhalla. Valhalla Cemetery is located at 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information, visit hawthorneplayers.com.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the rock musical The Who's Tommy opening on Thursday, October 10, at 8 pm and running through October 26. "Back by popular demand! Based on the iconic 1969 rock concept album, The Who's TOMMY is an exhilarating tale of hope, healing, and the human spirit. The story of the pinball-playing, deaf, dumb, and blind boy who triumphs over his adversities has inspired and amazed audiences for 50 years." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Alfresco Productions presents the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, October 11-20. Performances take place at the Alfresco Art Center, 2401 Delmar in Granite City, IL. For more information: (618) 560-1947 or www.alfrescoproductions.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Zombie Love (No Biting) running through November 2. "Calling all Zombies! Tired of being judged for munching on the occasional brain? So you're not really "alive" anymore but you can still enjoy socializing with the living and enjoying a hilarious show together! Well, we've got the perfect show for you! Drama! Comedy! Looove! ...And, of course, Zombies! Don your best Living Dead Costume and choose to be a Zombie, or not (its up to you), but we do promise lots of fun for both the living and the undead! hey, Hey, HEY! No Biting!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.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, October 04, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 4, 2019

Lots of new stuff this week, including a unique theatre/dance hybrid.

New This Week:

The Agitators
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents The Agitators running through October 13. "Upstream Theater is excited to present Mat Smart's compelling play The Agitators, which takes us straight into the thunder and lightning of the 45-year friendship between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. After meeting in Rochester in the 1840's, these two social activists became great allies and, at times, great adversaries. They agitated the nation, they agitated (and sometimes aggravated) each other and, in so doing they helped change the Constitution and the course of American history." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: This is a somewhat qualified recommendation, based mostly on the rave reviews about the work of the two actors in the show, J. Samuel Douglas and Erin Kelley. In her KDHX review, for example, Tina Farmer writes that "J. Samuel Davis returns to the Upstream stage in the role of Frederick Douglass. Once again he gives a superb performance...Erin Kelley does fine work in her portrayal of Susan B. Anthony, convincing us of this woman's utter, tireless commitment to the cause." But she goes on to note tha the script is "rather weak" and that the characters themselves are a bit one-dimensional. At Limelight, Andrea Braun strikes a similar note, observing that "much of the play seems rather like a lecture" but adds "if there are better actors than Kelley and Davis to play these parts, I don’t know who they are." All the other aspects of the production have gotten plenty of praise as well and the play tells a story that is probably not well known, so (to quote The Bard), "'tis enough, 'twill suffice."


Equivocation
Photo by John Lamb
The West End Players Guild opens its 109th season with Bill Cain's Equivocation Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, October 3-6. "Equivocation is a Shakespearean tale of intrigue starring the Bard himself. The King offers Shakespeare a commission he can't refuse, to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament. Shakespeare discovers it is a perilous assignment, as he learns that the King's version of the story does not quite square with the facts. Shakespeare is torn between the truth and the Crown. Can he walk this tightrope without losing his head (literally)?" There will also be a show on Thursday, October 3, 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: Speaking of The Bard, This freewheeling mix of fact and fiction has gotten good notices. "West End Players Guild begins its 109th season," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "with an absorbing production of this provocative, fascinating and richly rewarding play by Jesuit priest Bill Cain." At STLToday, Calvin Wilson is less enthused about the script but praises the "imaginative direction and a terrific acting ensemble" and ends by calling it "a witty and wonderfully insightful play and a must-see for fans of all things Shakespearean." Sounds like a plan.


Hello, Dolly!
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Hello Dolly! running through October 13. "Winner of four Tony® Awards including Best Musical Revival, HELLO, DOLLY! is the universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls "the best show of the year!" and the Los Angeles Times says "distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best." Director Jerry Zaks' "gorgeous" new production (Vogue) is "making people crazy happy!" (The Washington Post). After breaking box office records week after week and receiving unanimous raves on Broadway, this HELLO, DOLLY! is now touring America, paying tribute to the original work of legendary director/choreographer Gower Champion - hailed both then and now as one of the greatest stagings in musical theater history." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: How can anyone not like this show? The original Hello, Dolly opened on Broadway in January of 1964 after some rocky out-of-town previews and several revisions. It ran for 2,844 performances, considerably raising the bar for the definition of "blockbuster." It's not hard to see why. Herman's score is one of his best (not that he every wrote a bad song anyway) and the book retains all the humanitarian humor of the Thornton Wilder play on which it's based. Go and enjoy.


Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis and the Nine Network of Public Media present an adaptation of Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder Friday and Saturday, October 4-5 at 8:00 pm. "The collaboration between Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media, Jazz St. Louis, and The Big Muddy Dance Company brings to life Such Sweet Thunder, a 12-part jazz suite from Duke Ellington, in a multi-disciplinary performance to portray a tempestuous love story set in the 1950s. Bruce Longworth will adapt the script and direct the ensembles which include two actors Rayme Cornelle (Kate) and Ron Himes (Henry), 18 dancers in original choreography by Dexandro Montalvo and a 15-piece band playing Ellington's timeless score." Free performances take place in the Public Media Commons in Grand Center. Reservations are recommended. For more information: www.sfstl.com

My take: Honestly, I think this just speaks for itself. It's a jazz suite by Duke Ellington based on Shakespeare and adapted by Opera Theatre's Bruce Longworth. What more do you want? Well, how about this: it runs about an hour, it's free, and although it's outdoors, evening temperatures are finally seasonal. Case closed.


Valhalla Cemetery and The Hawthorne Players present Voices Of Valhalla: A Hayride Through History October 4 - 12. Hayrides through Valhalla Cemetery depart every fifteen minutes beginning at 6:30 each evening as members of the Hawthorne Players portray some of the noted locals buried in Valhalla. Valhalla Cemetery is located at 7600 St. Charles Rock Road. For more information, visit hawthorneplayers.com.

My take: I had a chance to both see and appear in this annual event in 2014 and again in 2016, and I must say that I was impressed by the professionalism of both the script (assembled by director Larry Marsh from historical sources) and the quality of the performances. Here's how it works: you pile on a hay wagon and are driven through historic Valhalla Cemetery. At various points during the ride, the wagon stops and an actor portraying a historical figure buried at Valhalla steps out of the darkness and delivers a monologue on his or her life. They can be comic, tragic, or a combination of the two, but they're always well researched and informative.


Held Over:

Angels in America, Part 2
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches and Angels in America, Part 2: Perestroika running in alternating repertory with through October 4. "A towering epic that unveils new depths with each passing year, Tony Kushner's Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece arrives on The Rep's stage for the first time. The AIDS epidemic is the flashpoint in Kushner's swirling tapestry of American culture, myths and spirituality. Navigating this maelstrom are Prior Walter, whose prophetic visions lead him toward an uncertain destiny, Joe Pitt, a devout and painfully closeted Mormon, and Roy Cohn, a lawyer whose AIDS diagnosis forces him to face a lifetime of misdeeds. These twin plays' vision of a wounded and chaotic nation struggling toward redemption is more urgent than ever." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org

My take: Angels in America: Gay Fantasia on National Themes (to quote its full title) is, effectively, an opera with no singing. It's a sweeping, unapologetically theatrical examination of some of the most basic of human ideas: love, death, loyalty, commitment, community and lots of other things that are usually capitalized when we discuss them. It's an epic tale told, as the best epics are, through the lives of a collection of flawed and fascinating characters. I saw Part 1 last weekend was sufficiently blown away by the quality of the Rep's production to recommend both parts without reservation. Yes, they're very long shows--Part 1 clocks in at around 3:15 with two intermissions and Part 2 (in the current revision, which dates from 2013) at around 3:30. Trust me, you'll never notice the length. Kushner's writing is so deft and this production so brilliantly acted and directed that the time flies like, well, an angel. I'd put this version of Angels right up there with the stunning production Stray Dog did in 2012, and that's high praise indeed.


Man of La Mancha
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
Stages St. Louis presents the musical Man of La Mancha through October 6. "A romantic and inspiring musical adventure, MAN OF LA MANCHA tells the epic story of seventeenth-century author Miguel de Cervantes and his immortal literary creation Don Quixote." Performances take place in the Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

My take: Winner of five Tony awards and four Variety Poll of Drama Critics awards and with an impressive track record of 2,329 performances on Broadway, Man of La Mancha has remained enduringly popular since its first performance on the Great White Way in 1965. The Stages production demonstrates forcefully what that is the case. The drama, comedy, and (above all) the inspiring message about the importance of "achieving the impossible" by "attempting the absurd" (to cite the Miguel Unamuno quote that inspired Dale Wasserman to write the show in the first place) come through loud and clear. If you're a fan of this play, you won't want to miss this one. It's a polished and moving way to close their current season. And it's even performed in its original one act format, running right at two hours and feeling much shorter.

Symphony Preview: Insecurity complex

This weekend (Friday and Saturday, October 4 and 5) the noted Dutch conductor Edo de Waart leads the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Elgar's Symphony No. 1. They're big works by composers who were, at various points in their lives, beset by crippling writer's block.

Rachmaninoff in 1900
en.wikipedia.org
Probably the most famous case is that of Rachmaninoff. When his Symphony No. 1 had its St. Petersburg premiere in 1897, the twenty something composer seemed destined for greatness. His Piano Concerto No. 1, his opera "Aleko," and numerous other works had met with great success. The performance, alas, was a disaster that plunged the composer into a depression so deep that it took months of hypnotherapy to release his composer's block.

I went into the gory details in an earlier symphony preview article so I won't repeat them here, but suffice it to say that by the time Rachmaninoff got around to writing his "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor," Op. 30, in 1909, he had his mojo fully working. The work was a hit, but so difficult to perform that for many years the composer himself was its only advocate.

It wasn't until the great Vladimir Horowitz recorded it in 1930 and began to actively promote it that it started to rise in popularity. These days it's so much a part of the standard repertoire that two of the finalists in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition,Fei-Fei Dong and Sean Chen, picked it for their final-round concerts.

This week's soloist, Joyce Yang (herself a silver medalist in the 2005 Cliburn Competition), is no stranger to the concerto, having garnered rave reviews for previous performances. "She played with a polished, pearly evenness that was remarkable for its ease up and down the keyboard," wrote Charles Pasles in the Los Angeles Times. That bodes well.

Interesting local note: Horowitz gave the Rach 3 its St. Louis premiere on January 27, 1928. The pianist had arrived in the USA just two weeks previously and had already created a sensation with the New York Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham. Post-Dispatch music critic Thomas B. Sherman loved Horowitz ("a powerful tone and a sparkling and expertly controlled technique") but hated the concerto, calling it "as dull a thing as the noted Muscovite expatriate has ever done". History has rather overruled him that one.

Like Rachmaninoff, Edward Elgar had his share of insecurities, many of them stemming from his humble origins in rural Worcester from the fact that, unlike Rachmaninoff, he was largely self-taught as a composer, without the usual conservatory training. As Calvin Dotsey writes in notes for the Houston Symphony, the composer "struggled in obscurity for many years before finding fame in 1899 with his 'Enigma Variations,' a musical tribute to his wife and the close friends that had believed in him. Even after he had become a national figure and received a knighthood, money continued to be scarce for years to come, and Elgar suffered from periods of self-doubt and composer's block."

Edward Elgar, circa 1900
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Too, many 19th century composers felt intimidated by the long shadow cast by Beethoven, so they didn't even attempt to write symphonies until they felt very sure of their craft. Brahms, for one, didn't feel confident enough to write a symphony until he was 43, and Elgar didn't finish his until he was 51.

Elgar's situation was further complicated, as Mr. Dotsey points out, because of the way Britain's musical landscape at the time was largely under foreign occupation:
In addition to the "giants" behind him, Elgar faced pressure as the first British composer of orchestral music to ever win widespread international acclaim. Despite Britain's poets, novelists, painters, scientists, playwrights and sprawling empire, for nearly two centuries British musical life had been dominated by foreigners: Handel and J. C. Bach took up residence in London, and Haydn, Mendelssohn and Dvorák had all made significant visits (a young Elgar actually played violin in an orchestra conducted by Dvorák at a choral festival in 1884). The reception of Elgar's First Symphony reflected not merely on himself, but on his nation, which had long been mocked by Germans as "das Land ohne Musik" ("the land without music").
Happily, the December 3, 1908, premiere of Elgar's first symphony was a massive hit. As recounted in Meirion Hughes's "The English Musical Renaissance and the Press 1850-1914: Watchmen of Music," The Daily Telegraph called it "a masterwork to our national musical literature." The Morning Post dubbed it "a work of the future [that] will stand as a legacy for coming generations."

Better yet, it was a hit with the public. "The symphony was an immediate success," notes the elgar.com web site, "with Elgar being recalled to the platform several times both during and after the symphony's first performance and the first London performance four days later. The symphony received around 100 performances during its first year and remains a standard of the classical repertoire, still performed regularly today." That said, the work isn't heard all that often here in the USA, so this weekend is a rare chance to experience it.

Mr. Dotsey has an excellent description of what you can expect to hear in Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in the program notes I cited earlier, as does Paul Horsley in program notes for the Kennedy Center. So I'll just add that, like most of Elgar's music, the symphony strongly reflects the inner life of the man who composed it. As David Cox writes in his chapter on Elgar in "The Symphony" (Penguin Books, 1967, edited by Robert Simpson):
Elgar's personality presented many contrasts, which are reflected in his music. Exuberance and joyous acceptance were offset by nightmarish self-doubt. Crude patriotic feelings contrast with the sensitive, poetic, near-mystic side of him... Now emotional, generous, warm-hearted; now withdrawn, irritable, discontented. At times aggressive and abrupt, hiding a shy, extremely sensitive nature.
Personally, I can hear many of those facets of his persona in this piece. There's quiet British confidence in the opening theme of the first movement, but it quickly gives way to an agitated sense of drama. The second movement scherzo is bustling and a bit anxious, and its middle section is a positively bellicose march. The Adagio third movement is surely "generous" and "warm-hearted," conjuring up images of a quiet English country fireside, and the dramatic final movement concludes with a powerful, confident restatement of the opening theme of the first movement that Elgar said expressed his "massive hope for the future."

Thank God he never lived to see Boris Johnson and Brexit.

The essentials: Edo de Waart conducts The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with pianist Joyce Yang in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Elgar's Symphony No. 1 on Friday at 10:30 am and Saturday at 8 pm, October 4 and 5. Performances take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center.