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:

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
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

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:

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:

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

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:

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:

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.

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