Sunday, January 10, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 11, 2021

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.

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Zack Sloan and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The club is operating under a "COVID careful" arrangement with restricted indoor capacity, mask requirements, and other precautions. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." For more information, visit the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Look Into My Eyes
First Run Theatre presents an on-demand streaming version of Look Into My Eyes, a new play by Robb Willoughby, through the end of February 2021. The play can be viewed on First Run's YouTube channel as well as on the First Run Facebook page.

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.

Forgottonia
Fly North Theatricals will present Forgottonia, their new original musical about falling in love, coming of age, and seceding from the United States, streaming for free on YouTube through January 31. "Forgottonia is a 'historical half-truth' about the events surrounding a real life secessionist movement in rural Western Illinois beginning in 1968. While tempests like Nixon and Vietnam rage far from her hometown of Colchester, IL, on this island in the corn, Jane Horn, her peculiar brother Jack, and acting-school drop out Neal Gamm are stuck in the doldrums. However, life is up-ended when a train breaks down in the middle of town bringing the outside world to the middle of Colchester and teeing off a sequence of events that will lead Jane, Jack, and Neal far from home. Forgottonia will be shown exclusively on Fly North Theatricals’ YouTube channel via a series of ‘premiere videos’ set to mimic a normal theatre schedule: Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. All performances will feature an intermission as well as a 'stage door' via Zoom after the performance featuring actors from the show. For more information: flynorththeatricals.com.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Fistful of Hollers through January 15 - May 8. "Gun slingers, dance hall girls, cowboys, gold diggers, cowboy boots and ten-gallon-hats will abound. Rowdy cowboys will duel to the death as the crooked sheriff watches with glee. But none of these characters are as dangerous as Nasty Nate, he’s the orneriest gun in the west and word is that he’s going to be stirring up trouble at the Lemp Mansion." The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

And in This Corner: Cassius Clay
Metro Theatre Company presents the streaming version of their critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner: Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin for online classrooms, homeschools, learning pods, and other educational settings. "And In This Corner: Cassius Clay is the story of the young man who would become Muhammad Ali. From his relationship with a white police officer who introduced him to boxing as a kid in Jim Crow-era Louisville to his gold medal-winning performance in the 1960 Rome Olympics, Cassius holds onto the faith that his potential is unlimited. But it is the friends from his childhood who are becoming Freedom Riders who ultimately challenge him to understand that there is more to life than personal success: he must use his gifts to work for the good of his community." All tickets include a virtual lesson plan connected to Missouri curricular standards, along with additional resources to help address the topics of civil rights, racial equity, and social justice. For more information: www.metroplays.org/virtual-field-trips.

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Muny presents Attuned: Cast Me at the Muny, a nine-part podcast that "showcases audition tips and funny stories, while offering an inside look at what makes casting a Muny show so challenging." The series is available on demand at the Classic 107.3 web site. For more information: classic1073.org/podcasts

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Cooking, Carols and Cocktails, a four-episode web series combining cooking classes by local chefs, musical performances, and tours of local restaurants, running through the end of January. "Join us in the kitchens of some of St. Louis’ master chefs as they guide us in creating a delectable seasonal spread. While your meal simmers, enjoy exclusive holiday music performances and a special cocktail taught by a guest mixologist. From appetizer to digestif, each of the four episodes in this series brings the best of St. Louis’ culinary and music scenes into your home for a festive feast." Tickets are available for individual episodes as well as for the full series. For more information: repstl.org.

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.

Adena Varner and family
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a live video stream of the WiseWrite Digital Play Festival running until the end of the Rep's 2020-2021 season. “Step into the imagination of three young playwrights as The Rep presents professional readings of their new plays.” The production is directed by Adena Varner, the Rep's Director of Learning and Community Engagement. For more information: repstl.org.


Deal Orlandersmith in
After the Flood
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and All Arts present Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, via on-demand streaming. "On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting ignited weeks of social unrest, propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted a controversial investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Celebrated writer, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith traveled to St. Louis and conducted interviews with dozens of people who were grievously shaken by Brown’s shooting and the turbulent aftermath. From these intimate conversations, Orlandersmith created eight unforgettable characters who embody a community struggling to come to terms with the personal damage caused by these events." For more information: allarts.org

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

The St. Lou Fringe presents Matthew R. Kerna in original eight-minute solo performance adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, remastered for the virtual stage.  For more information: www.stlouisfringe.com/a-christmas-carol

Come Together
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 Joe Hanrahan's Come Together, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/STLShakesFest/videos

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

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.


Union Avenue Opera offers Sneak Peeks of its 2021 season operas Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) and The Cradle Will Rock on its YouTube channel.

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, January 03, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of January 4, 2021

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.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." For more information, visit the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Look Into My Eyes
First Run Theatre presents an on-demand streaming version of Look Into My Eyes, a new play by Robb Willoughby, through the end of February 2021. The play can be viewed on First Run's YouTube channel as well as on the First Run Facebook page.

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.

Fly North Theatricals will present Forgottonia, their new original musical about falling in love, coming of age, and seceding from the United States, streaming for free on YouTube from January 8 - 31, 2021. "Forgottonia is a 'historical half-truth' about the events surrounding a real life secessionist movement in rural Western Illinois beginning in 1968. While tempests like Nixon and Vietnam rage far from her hometown of Colchester, IL, on this island in the corn, Jane Horn, her peculiar brother Jack, and acting-school drop out Neal Gamm are stuck in the doldrums. However, life is up-ended when a train breaks down in the middle of town bringing the outside world to the middle of Colchester and teeing off a sequence of events that will lead Jane, Jack, and Neal far from home. Forgottonia will be shown exclusively on Fly North Theatricals’ YouTube channel via a series of ‘premiere videos’ set to mimic a normal theatre schedule: Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. All performances will feature an intermission as well as a 'stage door' via Zoom after the performance featuring actors from the show. For more information: flynorththeatricals.com.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents The Anti-Clause through January 9, 2021. "Ever wanted to be on a TV Christmas Special? Well, hold onto that dream because we’re just pretending. Welcome to the Judy St Judy television talk show! It’s the only daytime show that really gives Jerry Springer a run for his money. All kinds of non-functioning family skeletons will be brought to light tonight but the big news is that Judy St Judy has scored a huge guest for this year's Christmas Special. Spoiler alert, it's Santa Claus! And not everyone is happy to see him. Gee, hope nothing bad happens!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

And in This Corner: Cassius Clay
Metro Theatre Company presents the streaming version of their critically acclaimed 2016 production of And In This Corner: Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin for online classrooms, homeschools, learning pods, and other educational settings. "And In This Corner: Cassius Clay is the story of the young man who would become Muhammad Ali. From his relationship with a white police officer who introduced him to boxing as a kid in Jim Crow-era Louisville to his gold medal-winning performance in the 1960 Rome Olympics, Cassius holds onto the faith that his potential is unlimited. But it is the friends from his childhood who are becoming Freedom Riders who ultimately challenge him to understand that there is more to life than personal success: he must use his gifts to work for the good of his community." All tickets include a virtual lesson plan connected to Missouri curricular standards, along with additional resources to help address the topics of civil rights, racial equity, and social justice. For more information: www.metroplays.org/virtual-field-trips.

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Muny presents Attuned: Cast Me at the Muny, a nine-part podcast that "showcases audition tips and funny stories, while offering an inside look at what makes casting a Muny show so challenging." The series is available on demand at the Classic 107.3 web site. For more information: classic1073.org/podcasts

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents Cooking, Carols and Cocktails, a four-episode web series combining cooking classes by local chefs, musical performances, and tours of local restaurants, running through the end of January. "Join us in the kitchens of some of St. Louis’ master chefs as they guide us in creating a delectable seasonal spread. While your meal simmers, enjoy exclusive holiday music performances and a special cocktail taught by a guest mixologist. From appetizer to digestif, each of the four episodes in this series brings the best of St. Louis’ culinary and music scenes into your home for a festive feast." Tickets are available for individual episodes as well as for the full series. For more information: repstl.org.

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.

Adena Varner and family
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a live video stream of the WiseWrite Digital Play Festival running until the end of the Rep's 2020-2021 season. “Step into the imagination of three young playwrights as The Rep presents professional readings of their new plays.” The production is directed by Adena Varner, the Rep's Director of Learning and Community Engagement. For more information: repstl.org.


Deal Orlandersmith in
After the Flood
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and All Arts present Until the Flood, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, via on-demand streaming. "On August 9, 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an African American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting ignited weeks of social unrest, propelled the Black Lives Matter movement and prompted a controversial investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Celebrated writer, performer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith traveled to St. Louis and conducted interviews with dozens of people who were grievously shaken by Brown’s shooting and the turbulent aftermath. From these intimate conversations, Orlandersmith created eight unforgettable characters who embody a community struggling to come to terms with the personal damage caused by these events." For more information: allarts.org

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

The St. Lou Fringe presents Matthew R. Kerna in original eight-minute solo performance adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, remastered for the virtual stage.  For more information: www.stlouisfringe.com/a-christmas-carol

Come Together
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 Joe Hanrahan's Come Together, at the Shakespeare Festival Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pg/STLShakesFest/videos

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

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.


Union Avenue Opera offers Sneak Peeks of its 2021 season operas Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) and The Cradle Will Rock on its YouTube channel.

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, January 01, 2021

Review: Katie McGrath's latest show combines country heart with urban smarts

Since she moved to the Big Apple and became a cabaret star, our own “trusty and well-beloved” Katie McGrath has been making regular pilgrimages back home to perform for local friends and fans. The pandemic cancelled plans to bring “Friends in Low Places,” her latest show, to Jim Dolan’s Blue Strawberry club, but it takes more than a virus to stop the intrepid Ms. McGrath. And so the Strawberry made the show available as a live webcast on the day after Christmas.

Katie McGrath
Broadcast from Ms. McGrath’s Manhattan apartment with music director (and well-known singer/songwriter) Rick Jensen at the piano, “Friends in Low Places” was a tribute to the many country artists from whom Ms. McGrath has drawn inspiration and consolation during her life. It’s not a genre that has ever held much interest for me, but her complete investment in every lyric and her magnetic stage presence and vocal polish made even the occasionally banal sentiments of some of these songs compelling. She’s a performer who can spin anything into gold and invariably does.

“Who I Am,” the title track from a 2000 album by Jessica Andrews, opened the show with a strong assertion of self-awareness and connection with friends and family: “My momma's still my biggest fan / Sometimes I'm clueless and I'm clumsy / But I've got friends who love me / And they know just where I stand.” In Ms. McGrath’s skilled hands, it became a powerful personal anthem and set the intimate, warm, and often witty tone for the evening.

It was also a reminder that Ms. McGrath is a master of the sub-genre I have come to think of as "This is My Life" cabaret, in which the song choices and the patter linking them draw heavily on details of the performer's personal history. Unlike some who dip so deeply into that well that they risk drowning the audience, Ms. McGrath and her director, cabaret legend Lina Koutrakos, are far too good at what they do to commit such an error. However intimate and revealing some of her stories were, they always served as perfect introductions to the songs that followed, often giving them a depth they might not have in other hands.

So, for example, Garth Brooks and Kent Blazy’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes” radiated a moving mix of sincerity and heartbreak, while the 1969 Elvis Presley hit “Suspicious Minds” (originally recorded by its author Mark James the previous year), sung as a duet with Mr. Jensen, had a dramatic force that transcended its origins.

There were genuinely funny moments as well, such as Brad Paisley’s “Me Neither,” with its droll description of fumbling attempts at bar pickup lines. It was the opening song in a set inspired by first-hand experience with what Ms. McGrath, recalling her years living in Dallas, described as “natives in their traditional ensembles practicing their mating rituals in Ft. Worth.” From that comic start, the music moved on to more serious emotional engagement with Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon’s “The Chair” (recorded by George Strait in 1985) before finally bringing us to a genuine cri de coeur with Billy Joel’s “Shameless,” which became a No. 1 hit for Garth Brooks.

Comedy, romance, and something approaching self-abasement in one three-song set. That, my friends, is cabaret.

Mr. Jensen’s elegant and well-tailored arrangements contributed greatly to the success of the evening, as did Ms. Koutrakos’s sure direction and Chet Whye Jr.’s sharp videography.

Unfortunately, the sound was not up to the level of either the video or the performances. Tinny, bass-shy, and sometimes distorted, it did real injustice to the rich lower register of Ms. McGrath’s voice and the power of Mr. Jensen’s pianism. It rendered the show nearly unlistenable at times, which is a pity, to say the least. Technology, alas, is not foolproof.

Indeed, the negative impact of factors beyond the control of the show’s creators highlighted the kinds of issues cabaret faces during an uncontrolled pandemic. On the one hand, it’s an intimate form of performance that can easily be broadcast from one’s own home. On the other hand, that intimacy is at its most effective when the performer and the audience are in close proximity and the connection between them is palpable.

Cabaret’s ideal venue is a small club like The Blue Strawberry. Unfortunately, a small space is also the ideal venue for the spread of the coronavirus. There are measures clubs can take to sharply reduce the risk of that spread (and the Strawberry has apparently taken all of them), but even so, many artists and audience members see the game as not being worth the candle.

All of which may explain why, for me, the most effective moment in the entire evening came at the end, with a song written by Ms. McGrath and Mr. Jensen. “George and Greta” is inspired by a famous Life Magazine photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt during a V-J Day celebration in Times Square. In it, according to the original caption, “a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers." George Mendoza and Greta Zimmer Friedman later claimed to be the couple in question, and while both claims have been disputed, it’s plenty good enough for a song title.

Today, of course, such a display of spontaneous intimacy between strangers would be insane. The song is a nostalgic and moving look back at a time when we could shake hands instead of touching elbows, when we could embrace those whom we loved but with whom we didn’t live, and when, to quote one of Ms. McGrath’s lyrics, we could “hold hands and sway / In a packed cabaret.” It’s a reminder of what (and whom) we lost this past year due to the spread of a virus that was enabled by a combination of incompetent (if not outright malicious) government and social media that actively encouraged the denial of reality and the spread of misinformation.

It made me sad and angry at the same time. I loved it.

Writing this review required some reflection on my part (another point in the show’s favor), which is why it’s being published on New Year’s Eve. As we put 2020 behind us, let us hope 2021 starts us on a path towards a world in which “George and Greta,” like the photo that inspired it, can become a valuable historical artifact. And in which we can see artists like Katie McGrath, Rick Jensen, and Lina Koutrakos in person once again. Meanwhile, virtual hugs and a happy 2021 to all.

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