Thursday, July 30, 2020

"Every Day a Little Death": Stray Dog's "Lobby Hero" movingly tells of small tragedies

The essence of tragedy is the fatal flaw in the protagonist’s noble character. It’s a crack in the foundation that eventually causes the entire edifice of their life to come crashing to the ground, usually with fatal consequences for all involved.

Gary F. Bell and the cast of Lobby Hero
This can be thrilling in the theatre, I think, at least partly because it so rarely happens in real life. Most people have very few great flaws, but very many minor failings. Little mistakes, tiny hurts, and small betrayals can inflict pain, but there’s no great, heaven-storming crash. “Every Day a Little Death,” as the song from A Little Night Music goes.

The four characters in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2001 drama Lobby Hero, live streaming in a compelling production by Stray Dog Theatre through Friday July 31st, are ordinary working stiffs rather than nobility, and their story isn’t so much tragic as it is ironic. All four do what they think is the right thing, but it inevitably turns out wrong. No empires fall, but feelings are hurt, careers damaged, and friendships crippled. Life goes on, but everyone dies a little.

Jeremy Goldmeier
Set in the lobby of a middle-income apartment building in New York City in the wee hours of several consecutive mornings, the story of Lobby Hero revolves around the hapless Jeff (Jeremy Goldmeier), whose aimless life has left him working the graveyard shift as the building security guard. His stern boss William (Abraham Shaw) tells him to shape up and pushes self-help books on him which, of course, Jeff never reads. Jeff yearns to impress rookie cop Dawn (Eileen Engel), but she’s smitten with her overbearing senior partner Bill (Stephen Peirick)—until she discovers that the purpose of his late-night visits to the building is a regular hookup with a woman on the 22nd floor.

William, meanwhile, has problems of his own. His brother has been implicated in the particularly heinous rape and murder of a nurse who had the misfortune to witness a gang of teenagers stealing drugs from a hospital. William’s brother claims he’s innocent, but he hasn’t got an alibi and asks William to cover for him by claiming they were at the movies together. For a man of William’s moral principles, it’s a serious conflict. He’s not completely convinced by his brother’s protestations of innocence, but he also knows the cops will assume a young black man with a troubled past and no alibi is guilty regardless of the truth.

Mr. Lonergan has drawn all four characters in such believable depth and detail that their trials are immediately moving. The more I think about the play, the more powerful it grows—a sure sign of great writing.

Director Gary F. Bell has assembled a very strong cast for his production. Mr. Peirick is completely convincing as the swaggering bully Bill—the sort of role he rarely gets to play, in my experience. Mr. Shaw shows the slow crumbling of William’s moral foundation in painful detail.

Ms. Engel all too clearly details the painful choices demanded of a woman taking on a man’s world in the pre-#metoo era and the personal cost of making them. And Mr. Goldmeier’s Jeff is a sad and touching combination of decency and ineptitude. The ultimate schlemiel, he means well but does a good thing badly, with unfortunate results for everyone.

The cast of Lobby Hero
Mr. Bell has given Lobby Hero a semi-staged production recorded live on the Stray Dog stage. All the characters are in costume and make limited use of props, but each one is enclosed in an acoustically dampened plexiglass booth to insure maximum protection from the coronavirus pandemic. They communicate via microphones and headsets, creating a kind of hybrid of stage production and radio play. Video edits allow actors to “fade to black” when they exit, but otherwise this has the immediacy of a real-time performance.

That said, the lack of blocking and a physical set tends to make the play a bit static at times and the actors can’t do much in the way of movement inside their individual booths. I couldn’t help wondering whether this might have worked better as an actual radio play, with liberal use of sound effects to make up for the lack of set and some props. It is, in any case, a creative approach to doing theatre during the plague years.

Lobby Hero is available for on-demand streaming through Friday the 31st, but you must reserve a ticket in advance online.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 27, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

Metro Theater Company presents digital streaming productions of Early Days — Stories of the Pandemic Digital Archive: A St. Louis COVID-19 Digital Play (live streamed Wednesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m.) and the virtual premiere of A Kids Play About Racism (available Saturday and Sunday, August 1-2). Written by MTC Producing Associate John Wolbers, Early Days, is part of Metro Theater Company's partnership with the Missouri Historical Society to document our region's experiences with the historic COVID-19 pandemic from the unique perspectives of submissions from people of all backgrounds. A Kids Play About Racism “utilizes theatre to offer young children and families a way to engage in meaningful conversation about race. As part of the production, educational materials developed by Seattle Children’s Theatre in collaboration with the Northwest African American Museum will extend the experience and enhance age-appropriate engagement. For more information: www.metroplays.org.

42nd Street at the Muny, 2016
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, July 27 and 30, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. “The show will include never-before-aired clips from past Muny summer productions, cast reunion sing-alongs, songs and dances created via video by Muny artists from across the U.S., Munywood Squares and so much more.” This week's episode includes clips from Aida, 42nd Street, Spamalot and Oklahoma!, as well as St. Louis native Chloe O. Davis performing My Tribute to Black Broadway and Black Choreographers: I Thrive Now Because You Dared Then. For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free, but time slots must be reserved in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

Lobby Hero
Stray Dog Theatre streams a new production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero  on demand from 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 27, to 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 31. Participation is limited to the first 750 reservations, and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. "Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly." Reservations and viewings for Lobby Hero are free, and available beginning at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18 at www.straydogtheatre.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently This Property in Condemned is streaming until August 7, when A Perfect Analysis Given By A Parrot will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

Union Avenue Opera presents an online sneak preview of their 2021 production of Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) on Friday, July 31, at 7 pm. “We've invited director Jon Truitt to share his vision for the show along with musical contributions from Janara Kellerman (Rosina) and Andy Papas (Dr. Bartolo).” For more information or to view the video, visit the UAO Facebook page at www.facebook.com/UnionAvenueOpera.

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.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 20, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

MUTE: A Play for Zoom
St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Gaslight Theater presents Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm, July 24-26. “Limited seating is available.” The Gaslight Theater is at 358 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: gaslighttheater.net.

Metro Theater Company presents a digital streaming version of the critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner... Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin through July 26. The production, which was directed by MTC Artistic Director Julia Flood, is available in a pay-what-you-can pay-per-view environment at www.metroplays.org/watchnow.

The Little Mermaid (2017) at the Muny
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday and Thursday, July 20 and 23, at 8:15 pm at youtube.com/themunytv. “The show will include never-before-aired clips from past Muny summer productions, cast reunion sing-alongs, songs and dances created via video by Muny artists from across the U.S., Munywood Squares and so much more.” For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is now taking reservations for A Late Summer Night’s Stroll, which will take place in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park Tuesday through Sunday evenings, August 12 – September 6. “See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 'A Late Summer Night’s Stroll' puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.” The event is free, but time slots must be reserved in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org/production/stroll

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

Lobby Hero
Stray Dog Theatre streams a new production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero  on demand from 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 27, to 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 31. Participation is limited to the first 750 reservations, and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. "Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly." Reservations and viewings for Lobby Hero are free, and available beginning at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18 at www.straydogtheatre.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Saturdays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently Our Lady of Larkspur Lotion is streaming until July 25, when This Property is Condemned will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Review: Of thee they sing

Like so many other performing arts organizations, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) has been obliged to increase its online presence to keep its work visible during the pandemic.  One of the most impressive of efforts in this area is the “Songs of America” project.

Malena Smith
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
“Songs of America” is a YouTube playlist featuring a solid half hour of performances that, according to SLSO press materials, “celebrate the breadth of voices in American music, framed against a backdrop of St. Louis landmarks.”

Having had the chance to watch the entire playlist, I have to say that that description is completely on target.  This is a tremendous collection of stellar performances of American tunes by SLSO musicians and area singers.

The SLSO Wind Quintet
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
“Songs of America” opens with an arrangement for voice and string quartet of “America the Beautiful” by Adam Maness of the crossover string ensemble the 442s. Sung with tremendous heart by Malena Smith of the SLSO IN UNISON chorus, the performance starts on the Powell Hall stage then then shifts to Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis, with a panoramic view of downtown and the arch in the background, finally returning to Powell for the last few moments.

Up next is an irrepressibly jolly version of Scott Joplin’s “The Easy Winners,” performed on the brick patio of the Scott Joplin House. The arrangement by Kenneth Abeling for wind quintet and percussion is reminiscent of the famous “Red Back Book” orchestral versions of Joplin’s rags published here in 1912, but with a dash of chamber music delicacy.

The 442s
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The mood changes again with the transcendently beautiful “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker (one of the first black graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music), performed at the Soldier’s Memorial downtown. Former SLSO resident conductor Gemma New leads nine members of the symphony strings in a powerfully moving rendition. At one point the music rises to elegiac heights while the camera pans over a stone tablet engraved with the legend “those who made the supreme sacrifice.” It’s one of those “lump in the throat” moments that reminds me why I attend classical concerts.

Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is next, and while it’s a huge contrast musically, it’s every bit as gripping. Brian Owens, a familiar figure on the local music scene, shows his wide vocal and emotional range here, accompanied by the 442s with arranger Adam Maness on guitar. The performance at Kiener Plaza includes the arch and the Old Courthouse in the background.

Brian Owens
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
The mood becomes jaunty again as Music Director Stéphane Denève plays Brian Holland’s arrangement of W.C. Handy’s “The St. Louis Blues” on the piano at his home. His swinging, good-humored take on this classic is a reminder of how popular American jazz has always been in France. The video includes shots of a number of local landmarks, including the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Wall of Fame mural with its images of local jazz and blues legends.

Kennedy Holmes wraps it up with a lovely, soaring “Amazing Grace” at First Baptist Church. She’s accompanied by a quartet of SLSO string players in yet another elegant Maness arrangement.

Kennedy Holmes and SLSO string players
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
In all of the “Songs of America” performances, the musicians are clearly working at a safe distance from each other, and those who aren’t playing wind instruments or singing are masked. Kudos to the SLSO for setting such a good example.

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s “Songs of America” concert is available at the orchestra’s YouTube channel, along with a choice assortment of other music videos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes features.  Information on this and other SLSO projects is available at their web site.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 13, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

Sir Stryker
The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Gaslight Theater presents Freud’s Last Session by Mark St. Germain Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm, July 17-26. “Limited seating is available.” The Gaslight Theater is at 358 N. Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: gaslighttheater.net.

Metro Theater Company presents a digital streaming version of the critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner... Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin through July 26. The production, which was directed by MTC Artistic Director Julia Flood, is available in a pay-what-you-can pay-per-view environment at www.metroplays.org/watchnow.

Mikaele Bennett and Alex Prakken
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents Muny Magic in Your Home, on-line videos of previous editions of the Muny Magic at the Sheldon cabaret evenings, Mondays and Thursdays at 8:15 pm through July 16. The series concludes July 13 and 16 with Mikaela Bennett and Alex Prakken.  For more information: muny.org/munymagic. The video will be available at: youtube.com/TheMunyTV.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. “Through the incredible work of our education department, we've posted an online curriculum at repstl.org/wisewrite that teaches students how to construct plays and characters. We’re accepting submissions from students grades 4 through 12 from throughout the nation for inclusion in the festival, which will feature performances by professional actors.” Submissions will be accepted through August 31st. For more information:  repstl.org/wisewrite.

Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents streaming videos from the SHAKE20 festival, including re-imagined, condensed versions of classic Shakespeare plays and new takes on old favorites like the mock trial Hamlet vs. The State of Denmark, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.com.

Lobby Hero
Stray Dog Theatre streams a new production of Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero  on demand from 12:01 a.m. on Monday, July 27, to 11:59 p.m. on Friday, July 31. Participation is limited to the first 750 reservations, and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. "Loyalties are strained to the breaking point when a hapless security guard is drawn into a local murder investigation; a conscience-stricken supervisor is called to bear witness against his troubled brother; and a naive rookie cop must stand up to her formidable male partner. Truth becomes elusive and justice proves costly." Reservations and viewings for Lobby Hero are free, and available beginning at 12 noon on Saturday, July 18 at www.straydogtheatre.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Something Spoken: Tennessee Williams On the Air alternating Sundays at 5 pm on Classic 107.3 FM. Each episode will air live and then be available for streaming at classic1073.org until the day before the next episode is broadcast. Episodes include a production of a Williams one-act play, followed by commentary from Williams scholar Thomas Mitchell.  Currently Our Lady of Larkspur Lotion is streaming until July 25, when This Property is Condemned will air. For more information: www.twstl.org/something-spoken

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, July 11, 2020

Where's the St. Louis Symphony during the pandemic? Almost everywhere.

A quick run through the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) concert calendar reveals a depressing truth: everything, including the official 20-21 season is marked “currently unavailable.” Some have been cancelled outright while others have been postponed.

Powell Hall
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
Which, frankly, is as it should be. Because, no matter what some politicians and pundits would have you believe, putting hundreds of people together in an enclosed space for a couple of hours is guaranteed to be a free buffet for the coronavirus. That’s why the performing arts are, practically speaking, shut down for the foreseeable future.

As a music critic, I especially miss our evenings at Powell Hall. Fortunately, there are still many ways to see and hear members of the SLSO perform, if only from your living room.

Let’s start with the obvious one: the rebroadcasts by St. Louis Public Radio of prior SLSO concerts. Every Saturday at 8 pm, you can revisit a great musical moment from the past by tuning your analog radio to 90.7 FM, tuning your HD radio (yes, some of us still have them) to 90.7 HD-1, or listening to the station’s main Internet stream either at the SLPR web site or via the St. Louis Public Radio app. My experience has been that you’ll get the best sound from either the web site or the app, but no matter how you get there you’ll be happy with what you hear.

Stéphane Denève conducts
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
If the concerts I’ve heard so far are any indication, SLPR has assembled a carefully curated list of the orchestra’s “greatest hits” for these broadcasts. Every one has been a winner. Over the last couple of months, for example, we’ve had Stéphane Denève’s riveting Beethoven 9th and Mahler 2nd, as well as former Resident Conductor Gemma New’s glowing account of music by Elgar, Sibelius, and Grieg, along with a wonderful new work by Aaron Jay Kernis. Upcoming concerts include an all-American program on July 11 under guest conductor Cristian Macelaru, Richard Strauss’s monumental “Alpine Symphony” on July 18, and works by Shostakovich, Britten, and Thomas Adès on July 25.

I was out of town for the Strauss and am really looking forward to it. I was here for the others, and they were all tremendous successes.

But the SLSO’s presence isn’t just auditory. Take a look at their YouTube channel for a veritable cornucopia of music videos.

Lyric for Strings at the Soldiers Memorial
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
Start out with the orchestra’s most recent project, “Songs of America”. It’s a solid half-hour of American classics ranging from “America the Beautiful” to Sam Cook’s “A Change is Gonna Come” performed by members of the orchestra both in Powell Hall and at local landmark sites. You can see an irrepressibly jolly version of Scott Joplin’s “The Easy Winners” at the Scott Joplin House, a moving version of “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker (one of the first black graduates of the Curtis Institute of Music) at the Soldiers Memorial downtown, and a rollicking “St. Louis Blues” by our own Music Director Stéphane Denève on the piano at his home. St. Louis’s Brian Owens delivers a powerful “Change is Gonna Come” at Kiener Plaza, Malena Smith sings a heartfelt “America the Beautiful,” and Kennedy Holmes wraps it up with a lovely “Amazing Grace,” accompanied by a quartet of SLSO string players. Video and sound quality are beyond reproach, and it’s all yours with the click of a mouse or a tap of your phone.

But wait—there’s more! The #SLSOatHome series features SLSO musicians playing from (of course!) their homes. You can hear SLSO Chorus member Susan Patterson sing an English translation of Dvorak’s “God is My Shepherd,” violist Michael Casimir play the “Star Wars” theme while wearing a Storm Trooper helmet and using a light saber for a bow (it’s a hoot, trust me), and SLSO horns Thomas Jöstlein, Tod Bowermaster, and Tricia Jöstlein play a brief trio for alphorns. Given the size of those instruments, physical distancing isn’t just a good idea, it’s inevitable.

Shannon Wood
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
My cabaret buddy and chorus member Mark Saunders sings Stephen Schwartz’s wonderful “Meadowlark” (a song that always leaves me a bit weepy). Principal Horn Roger Kaza plays Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom” (“On the River”) while kayaking on (yes) a river. There’s even a solo tympani version of the main theme from the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 arranged and performed by Shannon Wood.

He has a lot of drums at his house.

There’s more—quite a lot more, really—at the orchestra’s YouTube site. I have barely scratched the surface here. You’ll want to surf over yourself and check it out, which you can do not only on your phone and computer but also on your smart TV at the YouTube channel.

Also on your TV: Nine Network’s monthly “Night at the Symphony” broadcasts. On the first Sunday of every month at 5 pm you can enjoy selections from a previously recorded SLSO performance. Sound and video quality are quite good, but you will need a digital antenna to watch it. As far as I can tell, it’s not available on the PBS smart TV app, but you can watch earlier episodes at the Nine Network web site.

So while it’s anybody’s guess as to when we’ll all be together in Powell Hall again, we can at least stay in touch with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from the comfort of our homes. Pour some prosecco into your SLSO “keep it cup” and enjoy.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week July 6, 2020

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

St. Louis playwright Nancy Bell's MUTE: A Play for Zoom, which was performed live via Facebook on April 5, 2020, is available as a live stream at vimeo.com. "In a world much like ours, there exists a video conference call. And in this call, there are academics, confusion, fire and...one hamster. An experimental theatre piece that steals rabidly from Ionesco, Beckett, real life and Chekhov. The play was for performance on Zoom by Nancy Bell and directed by Lucy Cashion."

Sir Stryker
The Blue Strawberry presents a Pop-Up Piano Bar with Sir Stryker, "Piano Bar Star of the Holland America Cruise Line," Tuesdays through Sundays from 6 to 10 pm. There is no cover or minimum and sidewalk seating is available. The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com/

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

Metro Theater Company presents a digital streaming version of the critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner... Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin through July 26. The production, which was directed by MTC Artistic Director Julia Flood, is available in a pay-what-you-can pay-per-view environment at www.metroplays.org/watchnow.

Our Leading Men
Photo courtesy of The Muny
The Muny presents Muny Magic in Your Home, on-line videos of previous editions of the Muny Magic at the Sheldon cabaret evenings, Mondays and Thursdays at 8:15 pm through July 16. The series continues July 6 and 9 with Our Leading Men. "Ben Davis (John Dickinson in 1776, 2019; Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, 2019; Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017; Curly in Oklahoma!, 2015; Emile de Becque in South Pacific, 2013; Galahad in Spamalot, 2013), Davis Gaines (Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, 2017), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Jack Kelly in Newsies, 2017, Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, 2016; Barnaby Tucker in Hello, Dolly!, 2014) and Mykal Kilgore (Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017) celebrate iconic men from past Muny seasons." For more information and to view the video: youtube.com/TheMunyTV.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents its 2020 Digital Festival with a variety of streaming content, including Opening Night Spotlights and the Spring Artists in Training Recital, available at www.opera-stl.org/season-and-events/thisisotsl-digital-festival as well as on its YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/OperaTheatreSTL.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, in collaboration with Baltimore Center Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, The Public Theater and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, present Play at Home, a series of micro-commissioned short plays from some of the American theatre's most exciting and prominent playwrights. These new plays – which all run 10 minutes or less – are available for the public to download, read and perform at home for free at playathome.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis invites budding young writers throughout the nation to develop and submit plays to for inclusion in its all-new WiseWrite Digital Play Festival. Open to all students grades 4 through 12, this online celebration of storytelling will culminate in June when professional actors perform selected student submissions over Zoom. To help students develop the skills to write their first plays, The Rep will release a six-part online learning curriculum - one part each week through the end of May. For more information: repstl.org/wisewrite.

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents the streaming video Come Together, written for the Zoom videoconferencing app by St. Louis actor/playwright Joe Hanrahan. The video, along with other streaming events from the SHAKE20 festival, is available at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/STLShakesFest/

The St. Louis Writers Group streams live recordings of previous play reading sessions at their Facebook page. For more information: facebook.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.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Starved for opera? A feast awaits online.

For lovers of live music and theatre, this has been a lean year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.  Theatres and concert halls are high-risk areas for airborne transmission of the virus for audiences and performers alike. That means they are likely to remain shuttered for some time.

This year has been especially tough for local opera lovers, with both Opera Theatre and Union Avenue Opera cancelling their seasons.  Fortunately, some major companies are making video recordings of past performances available for free. This list isn’t exhaustive—it barely scratches the surface, in fact—but it at least should give you some idea of what’s available.

James Morris in Die Walküre
The Metropolitan Opera offers a massive library of Met performance videos, some dating back many decades, both on its web site and via its Met Opera on Demand app for devices and smart TVs.  Full access requires a subscription, but every day they offer a free preview of a selected opera. It’s a complete performance rather than a collection of excerpts, but it’s only available for 24 hours. The Met's web site says the streams start at 7:30 pm EDT but but I have seen them start as early as 6 pm EDT, so tuning in a bit in advance couldn't hurt.

Tonight (July 3), for example, it’s a 2011 production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” with baritone Mariusz Kwiecien in the title role.  Previous freebies have included a stunning “Die Walküre” from 1989 with Jessye Norman, James Morris, Hidegard Behrens, Kurt Moll, and Christa Ludwig; a delightful “La fille du regiment” with soprano Pretty Yende and tenor Javier Camarena as the comic lovers; and a wonderfully whimsical production of Massenet’s “Cendrillon” (“Cinderella”) that I saw at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2018.

Upcoming previews include Donizetti’s comedy “Don Pasquale” on July 4. Filmed in 1979, it stars the late superstar Beverly Sills in her farewell Met performance. July 5 brings us Rossini’s “La donna del lago” (“The Lady of the Lake”), based on the 1810 narrative poem by Sir Walter Scott.  Check out the Met’s Nightly Opera Streams web site for future schedules. It’s updated weekly.

Patricia Racette in SusannahPhoto by Cory Weaver
San Francisco Opera is also offering free on-demand streams, but only on weekends.  A new opera goes online every Saturday at 10 am PDT and stays there until midnight on Sunday (which is 2 am Monday morning here in the Midwest).  This weekend, July 4-5, it’s Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah.” This rarely seen American classic tale of innocence lost to hypocrisy and violence stars soprano Patricia Racette, whom St. Louis audiences will remember from her impressive Violetta in Opera Theatre’s 2018 “La Bohème.”

Previous videos have included a killer production of Busoni’s powerful “Mefistofele” with Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role and Ms. Racette as the tragic Gretchen as well as a downright disturbing "Salome" with Nadja Michael oozing deranged sexuality in the title role. It's the same production Opera Theatre gave us in 2009 with Kelly Kaduce as Salome.

Upcoming entries in the series are Rossini’s “La cenerentola” (“Cinderella”), which plays the whole story for laughs and has no supernatural elements on July 18-19, and a genuine rara avis, Janáček’s “Věc Makropulos” (“The Markopoulos Case”) on July 25-26. Based on a play by Karel Capek (author of the science fiction play “R.U.R.”) involving a complex legal case and a singer who is apparently immortal, “The Markopoulos Case” is one of those operas many of us have read about but never actually seen, so this is a great opportunity to find out what all the fuss is about.

SFO doesn’t have an app, so you’ll have to watch via their “Opera is ON” web site.  That said, if your smart TV supports a webcasting app (I use Mirror for Roku myself; it’s available for both computers and devices) you can watch on your big screen with ease.

Sara Gartland in Rusalka
Photo by Duane Tinkey
Des Moines Opera offers perhaps the most flexible arrangement I have seen so far, with its “2020 Virtual Festival” of six operas and a series of concerts featuring its 2020 Apprentice Artists (the equivalent of the Gerdine Young Artists at OTSL).  The operas are Massenet’s tragic “Manon”; Lee Hoiby’s one-act “Bon Appétit,” which celebrates the life of the late Julia Child; Dvorak’s rarely seen “Rusalka”; Britten’s “Billy Budd”; and Rossini’s comedy “Le Comte Ory.”  Availability dates of the videos vary; check out the company’s web site for details. They're streaming via the Iowa PBS YouTube channel, so if you have the YouTube app on your smart TV, you’re good to go.

Lest you think I’m forgetting the home team, Opera Theatre of St. Louis offers an assortment of interviews, behind-the-scenes features, and other goodies on their YouTube channel.  No complete opera, alas.

There are many other digital delights available for the opera lover right now.  Opera America has a complete list, which is updated on a regular basis. Check it out, but be prepared to be a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size and variety of it all.

So even though it may be a while before opera houses once again open for business, you can still turn your living room into a virtual theatre. You won’t have to pay for the drinks and you also won’t have to wait for intermission to use the toilet—a useful thing if you’re watching a marathon like “Die Walküre.”


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