New This Week:
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
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."
Photo by John Lamb
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.
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.
|Angels in America, Part 2|
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
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
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.