Sunday, May 19, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 20, 2019

This week is your last chance for a hit musical at the Fox and Tesseract's new play festival, as well as the opening night for Opera Theatre's season.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

Come From Away
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Come From Away through May 26. "The New York Times Critics' Pick takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Dates by Elizabeth Breed Penny, running through May 26 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Dates is a play about Caroline, a recently "unmarried" woman who has been finding it hard to live in the outside world: literally. Unable to leave her house, she attempts to reconnect with her friends, her therapist, and potential romantic interests through online dating, emails, and text messages. The reality is, her self-imposed isolation is merely a ploy to prevent herself from coming to terms with the abusive relationship she has just come out of." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Earworm by Shaulee Cook running through May 26 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Earworm tells the story of Candles Out, a decade-old punk rock break up song seeking closure with five people whose lives she's entwined with in very different ways - Sasha and Jory, the two band members that wrote her; Trevor, the guy they wrote her about; Elise, Trevor's sister; and Kess, Trevor's new girlfriend … who also happens to be the song's biggest fan. A strange trip involving music and memory and how each affects the other." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

Alpha Players present the comedy Exit Laughing through May 26. Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Flaming Saddles through July 28 The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Hoist by Erin Lane running through May 25 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Sometimes you don't get to be the hero of the story... even when you sign up for it. In 2008, the war rages on in a basement bar in Chicago. Skyler, the bartender and an Afghanistan veteran, has left everything she knows behind in an attempt to survive. She struggles to gain control over her present life, but, day in and day out, discovers it lifeless at the bottom of a rocks glass. As she battles with violent demons, she finds there is no escape when someone from her past walks into the bar." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

I Now Pronounce
Photo by John Gitchoff
New Jewish Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of the comedy I Now Pronounce Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through June 2. "A play that mines disconnections. After Adam and Nicole's wedding culminates in an awkwardly timed fatality, the reception spins into an increasingly strange evening that leaves the bride and groom questioning just what it is they're celebrating. But there's no stopping the festivities: the flower girls are running amuck, the bridal party members are preoccupied with their own flailing relationships, and everyone needs to stop ordering the blue drinks. Comedies end in marriage. Tragedies end in death. This play begins with both." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mozart's comedy The Marriage of Figaro opening on Saturday, May 25, and running through June 29. " Life at court is about to get complicated. The maid Susanna is determined to wed her fiancé, Figaro, while the Count is equally determined to add her to his list of conquests. But Susanna and Figaro won't allow one self-entitled nobleman to ruin their happy ending! They each hatch their own plots to teach their master a lesson. What follows is a whirlwind day of romantic intrigue, cunning schemes, and uproarious fun. One of Mozart's most beloved masterpieces, The Marriage of Figaro reminds us all that love will always prevail, and forgiveness is always within reach." The opera runs three hours and ten minutes with one intermission and is sung in English with English supertitles. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center at 135 Edgar Road on the Webster University campus.  For more information: opera-stl.org call 314-961-0644.

The HIlton St. Louis Frontenac presents The Dinner Detective Murder Mystery Dinner Show through July 27. "Solve a hilarious crime while you feast on a fantastic dinner. Just beware! The culprit is hiding in plain sight somewhere in the room, and you may find yourself as a Prime Suspect before you know it!" For more information: https://www.thedinnerdetective.com/st-louis

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muurder in Maaaybury! through July 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Black Rep presents Nina Simone: Four Women running through June 2. "Nina Simone's velvet voice was unafraid to sing lyrics that cut right to the truth. Her music and her life were a personal exploration branded in the kiln of the civil rights movement; so, in the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the tragic loss of the four little girls her powerful anthems, MISSIPPIPPI GODDAM, SINNERMAN, AND OLD JIM CROW, fueled the Civil Rights movement and changed her public persona from songstress to activist. From the iconic 'I PUT A SPELL ON YOU” to FOUR WOMEN, of the title, Simone's lyrics weave a story of four women alienated from themselves and one another due to the color of their skin." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

Lion's Paw Theatre Company presents Plays on the Menu, a reading of the plays Change of Venue by Judd Lear Silverman; Turtles and Bulldogs by Scott C Sickles; and Man. Kind. by Don X Nguyen on Monday and Tuesday, March 21 and 22, at noon at The Hearth Room at The Hawken House, 1155 South Rock Hill Road. The readings include lunch. For more information: lionspawtheatre.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents the final round of its Playwright Slam on Monday, May 20 at 6:30 pm. "Get ready for a night of fun impromptu theater. The order of scripts to be read will be chosen at random. Actors to read will be chosen at random. Each script will be given a five minute read, and rated by a panel of judges based upon audience reaction. The judges will then select a winner." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

KTK Productions presents the musical Smoke on the Mountain Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through May 26. "Smoke on the Mountain tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family, a traveling group making its return to performing after a five-year hiatus. Between songs, each family member “witnesses” - telling a story about an important event in their life. Though they try to appear perfect in the eyes of a congregation who wants to be inspired by their songs, one thing after another goes awry and they reveal their true - and hilariously imperfect - natures. By the evening's end, the Sanders family has endeared themselves to us by revealing their weaknesses and allowing us to share in their triumphs." Performances take place at St. John the Baptist Church, 4200 Delor. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

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, May 18, 2019

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 20, 2019

This week, the St. Louis Chamber Chorus gives us Hope, New Music Circle gives us a season finale, and the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra closes its season with a concert classic.

The St. Louis Chamber Chorus
The St. Louis Chamber Chorus presents Hope on Sunday, May 26, at 3 pm. "Romantic literature from Beethoven and Hugo Wolf are contrasted with more contemporary expressions of joy and triumph by Benjamin Britten and Darius Milhaud, while American composer William Schuman offers some humorous versions of advertisements originally placed in the Sears & Roebuck catalog! A highlight will be the world premiere of “Hope” written specially for the occasion by poet Charles Anthony Silvestri and our new Composer-In-Residence Mårten Jansson." The concert takes place at Congregation Shaare Emeth, 11645 Ladue Road. For more information: www.chamberchorus.org.

The New Music Circle presents Natural Information Society and Bitchin Bajas on Saturday, May 25, at 8 pm. "Natural Information Society is a shifting collective led by bassist, composer, and improviser Joshua Abrams. A long-time presence in the Chicago jazz and experimental music community, he's spent the past five years releasing albums-including Natural Information, Represencing, and the recent double LP Magnetoception-that have concentrated on meditative, pulse-driven music. Lead by Cooper Crain -of Chicago-based krautrock revivalists, Cave- Bitchin Bajas' music draws inspiration from the minimalist and new age records of the late '60s and '70s. Their group crafts patient and serene zone-out music that made heavy use of vintage synthesizers and tape loops." The performance takes place at Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp. For more information: www.brownpapertickets.com.

Gemma New
Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra on Sunday, May 26, at 3 pm. The program includes Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, featuring concerto competition winner Theo Bockhorst, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Review: Forever and a day

Kim Furlow and Jeanitte Perkins
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
At the beginning of Lucas Hnath's troubling drama Death Tax at Mustard Seed Theatre, we meet Maxine. She's rich, dying and convinced Nurse Tina is trying to kill her. When she confronts Tina, her accusations have unforeseen and irrevocable consequences.

When I first saw Death Tax at the 2012 Humana Festival, I thought it could benefit from a bit of trimming. I still think so, but I also think it has undeniable dramatic punch, demonstrating forcibly the corrupting effects of money and power-and, for that matter, of want and powerlessness. It also raises disturbing questions: as medical science advances, will we become a race divided between those who can purchase virtual immortality and those who can't? And what will that mean? Death Tax suggests the answers might not be pleasant.

Death Tax unfolds mostly as a series of monologues with a few duet scenes, and provides one of the great monstrous characters of the stage in the character of Maxine. She ruthlessly manipulates everyone around her: Nurse Tina (who is not, in fact, trying to kill her), Tina's boss Todd, Maxine's daughter, and even, in a chilling final scene, a social worker and Maxine's grandson. She uses money and later guilt as weapons to prolong her life, destroying many others in the process. Like Sunset Boulevard, this is an American horror story without the supernatural.

In Mustard Seed's production, Kim Furlow gives Maxine an unexpected vulnerability, which makes the character less awful and the moral ambiguity of Hanth's script even more pronounced. Jeanitta Perkins's performance in dual roles of Nurse Tina and Candice is a tour de force, creating two characters so radically different that her on-stage transformation at the start of the last scene is almost a conjuring trick. Reginald Pierre creates less strongly but no less effectively contrasting characters as Tina and Maxine's grandson Charley. Kirsten Strom conveys the confused anger of Maxine's unnamed daughter perfectly.

Bess Moynihan's direction is clear and focused. The cumbersome wall units of Jamie Perkins's set impede the fast scene changes Hnath calls for in his script, but even so the show moves at a good clip, coming in at around 90 minutes with no intermission.

Death Tax continues through May 19th at Mustard Seed Theatre on the Fonbonne University campus. It's an important show and deserves to be seen.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review: Long layover

The cast of Come From Away
Some musicals are hits despite their books. Come From Away, the national tour of which opened a two-week run at The Fabulous Fox on May 14th, is a hit largely because of its tightly constructed and emotionally powerful book. In some ways, it's not a traditional musical at all so much as a great play that just happens to tell its tale with music.

Based on the true story of what happened when the citizens of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, suddenly found themselves playing host to the 7,000 passengers (and 19 companion animals) of 38 airplanes grounded because of the 9/11 attacks, Come From Away is an uplifting story of how disaster can bring out the best in humanity rather than the worst. Faced with the need to suddenly find food, clothing, and shelter for strangers from all over the world, the Newfoundlanders rose to the occasion with the stalwart resilience described in the energetic opening number "Welcome to the Rock."

Becky Gulsvig and the company
With book, music, and lyrics by the team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein--whose charming but far less substantial My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding got such a fine production at New Jewish Theatre four years ago--Come From Away never fails to entertain, delight, and move. There's not a false note or cliché to be seen. The energetic score, performed by a terrific seven-piece onstage band, prominently features traditional instruments such as Uilleann pipes, Irish flute, Bodhran, and harmonium--a reminder of Newfoundland's strong roots in Irish and English culture. If you go, be sure to stick around for the band's short, high-energy set after the curtain calls.

Everyone in the versatile twelve-member cast (plus six standbys) takes on a variety of roles in addition to those described below, creating the illusion of a much larger ensemble.

Becky Gulsvig is a powerful presence as pilot Beverly Bass (the first female captain of an American Airlines plane), describing how her optimistic view of the world was changed by the attacks in "Me and the Sky." Danielle K. Thomas and Julie Johnson have many wonderful moments as passenger Hannah, worried about her first responder son back in New York, and sympathetic islander Beulah. Chamblee Ferguson is utterly charming as the geeky Brit Nick who finds unexpected romance with divorcée Diane, winningly played by Christina Toy Johnson.

Kevin Carolan, center, and the company
James Earl Jones II has great comic moments as Bob, who finds his hosts' friendliness disconcerting. Kevin Carolan is a big, affable delight as Mayor Claude, as is Harter Clingman as police constable Oz. Other members of this wonderful cast are Megan McGinnis (SPCA worker Bonnie), Emily Walton (local TV reporter Janice, suddenly in the spotlight), and Andrew Samonsky and Nick Duckart as Kevin T. and Kevin J., a gay couple whose relationship is damaged by the crisis. There's not a less than sterling performance in the bunch.

Beowulf Boritt's stark and simple scenic design of bare trees and a plank wall conjures up the rugged beauty of the island and makes scene changes lightning-fast. Wooden tables and chairs are the only set pieces, and they're quickly rearranged to create buses, airplanes, homes, and the local bar. At one point the chairs become the scenic overlook where Nick and Diane acknowledge their affection for each other. Kelly Devine's musical staging and Christopher Ahsley's direction capture the power and vigor of Newfoundland life.

Would a small town in America respond in the generous and openhearted way that Gander did? I don't know, but this is the kind of show that makes you think they might.

Performances of Come From Away continue through May 26th at The Fabulous Fox in Grand Center. If you're looking for a respite from the relentless torrent of bigotry and small-minded spite spewing from our nation's capitol (and no small number of state legislatures), this is surely the show for you.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of May 17, 2019

This week, two productions at the Tennessee Williams Festival join the list along with a hit musical at the Fox.

New This Week:

Come From Away
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Come From Away opening on Tuesday, May 14, at 7:30 pm and running through May 26. "The New York Times Critics' Pick takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Some musicals are hits despite their books. Come From Away is a hit largely because of its tightly constructed and emotionally powerful book. With book, music, and lyrics by the team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein--whose charming My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding got such a wonderful production at New Jewish Theatre four years ago--Come From Away never fails to entertain, delight, and move.

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur
Photo by Peter Wochniak
The Tennessee Williams Festival presents A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 5 pm through May 19. "Four eccentric and unforgettable women fry chicken, plan a picnic to Creve Coeur Lake, and cope with loneliness and lost dreams in an efficiency apartment on Enright Avenue in the Central West End circa the mid-1930s. Williams gives us more laughs than usual, but no less poetry or poignancy. Williams believed that growing up in St. Louis was essential to the shape of his work. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of his few plays set here, and was the inspiration behind TV's "The Golden Girls." Featuring an all-female cast, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur will be directed by Kari Ely." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

My take: The Tennessee Williams Festival has had an admirable history of imaginative productions, and this one appears to be in keeping with that history. In her review for KDHX calls this "a funny, well-acted comedy that will likely leave you in good spirits." At Ladue News, Mark Bretz agree. "Delightful performances by a quartet of actresses under the loving direction of Kari Ely," he writes, "make this seldom-performed little gem by Tennessee Williams a rewarding encounter at the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis".


Night of the Iguana
Photo by Peter Wochniak
The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Night of the Iguana Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm through May 19. "The steamy and startling Iguana is one of the most richly textured and dramatically satisfying plays written by Williams. At its center is Shannon, a pastor who has lost his flock, has lost his religion, and has-at the very least- misplaced his sanity and sense of decency. He takes refuge at a rundown resort owned by the lusty and busty Maxine, where they are soon joined by the beautifully refined but repressed Hannah, in the company of Nonno, her nonagenarian grandfather. These two may be scam artists, but they are artists all the same; as such, they offer some brief hope of redemption." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

My take: Speaking of the festival, Steve Callahan at KDHX calls this an "outstanding production...led by a stellar performance by James Butz as Shannon." It's a show packed with great work," writes Ann Lemmons Pollack. "Tim Ocel directed, clearly using a clear vision of what this ought to be, and he's delivered in spades." Night of the Iguana is one of Williams's stronger scripts, and it looks like the festival is doing it up right.

Held Over:

Death Tax
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Death Tax by Lucas Hnath Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through May 19. "As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: When I saw the world premiere of this play at the Humana Festival back in 2012, I wrote that it had a dramatic power that couldn't be denied, demonstrating forcibly the corrupting effects of money and power—and, for that matter, of want and powerlessness. Lucas Hnath's play raises disturbing questions: as medical science advances, will we become a race divided between those who can purchase virtual immortality and those who can't? And what will that mean? Death Tax suggests the answers might not be pleasant. I won't get to see this production until next week, but I'm going to recommend it anyway based on my admiration for Hnath's work as a playwright and on the quality Mustard Seed's work in general.

Review: Lucky charms

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

Bob Wetzel and the band
Bob Wetzel has been a lucky guy, a fact that cropped up as a recurring theme in his solo cabaret debut "Facing the Music," which had its first public performance last Saturday (May 12, 2019) at the Kranzberg Center.

The "wild winds of fortune" blew him a prosperous career in banking and then, late in life, a chance to follow the dream of public performance that he had pursued in college but was obliged to abandon for more quotidian concerns. It led to a dissolved marriage, the sheer terror of dating late in life, and finally the emergence of his inner cabaret star.

All this was described not so much in Mr. Wetzel's patter, which was minimal, as in his set list. It was a smart choice. He and his director Tim Schall--a cabaret performer and teacher with an impressive resume of his own--put together a perfectly paced show that told Mr. Wetzel's story in song rather than words, with the patter providing just the bare minimum of background to link everything together.

The evening started out with a medley of two songs closely associated with Fred Astaire, "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "Change Partners." It was the first of a series of jazzy arrangements by music director/pianist Carol Schmidt, impeccably played by Ms. Schmidt and her fellow musicians Ric Vice (bass), Kevin Gianino (drums), and Steve Schenkel (guitar).

Taken together, the lyrics reflected on the inevitability of change and the importance of taking joy in the here and now--an idea reinforced by the following medley of "Luck Be a Lady" (from "Guys and Dolls"), "It's Today" (from "Mame"), and the Cole Porter standard "Just One of Those Things." That last song changed meaning in this context, making it more of a reflection on life's randomness than a wistful rumination on lost love.

Carol Schmidt
And so it went for the next hour or so, with a succession of individual songs and insightfully arranged sets taking us through Mr. Wetzel's transformation from straight-laced banker to unbuttoned cabaret singer. Dave Frishberg's "I'm Hip," for example, got additional parody lyrics added at the beginning ("I'm stiff") to reflect the decision to take that leap of faith. The changes in Mr. Wetzel's romantic life were illustrated in a long set beginning with the 1960 Sinatra's "Nice and Easy" and ending with a lovely mix of Simon and Garfunkel's "For Emily" and "Like a Lover," the English-language version of "O Cantador," first recorded by Sergio Mendes in 1968.

Probably the most unexpected set was a combination of Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give" and James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues." Taylor wrote the song as a parody, and Mr. Wetzel gave it just the right touch of ironic detachment, balanced by Mr. Schenkel's solidly rock and roll guitar solo. It was a delightful surprise, and much appreciated by the packed house.

Mr. Wetzel sang all of this with that same combination of suave assurance and personal charm that he displayed in his first cabaret outing "A Fine Bromance," a duet show with his long-time friend Craig Becker. It's never too late to deal yourself into the cabaret game, and Mr. Wetzel is a welcome addition at the table.

I should note, for the record, that Mr. Wetzel and I both sit on the board of The Cabaret Project, a local non-profit. I know Carol Schmidt and Tim Schall professionally as well.

"Facing the Music" was presented by Robert Breig's Mariposa Artists. A solid singer in his own right, Mr. Breig has been instrumental in recent years in bringing many local and national singers to the St. Louis scene. Check out the Mariposa Facebook page for information on upcoming shows.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of May 13, 2019

There's a lot of new theatre this week, including local premieres at New Jewish Theatre and the Black Rep, a new Play Festival at Tesseract, and cabaret shows at the Sheldon and Jazz St. Louis, along with the monthly singers open mic.

CSZ St. Louis presents The ComedySportz Show on Saturday nights at 7:30 pm. The show is "action-packed, interactive and hilarious comedy played as a sport. Two teams battle it out for points and your laughs! You choose the winners the teams provide the funny!" Performances take place on the second floor of the Sugar Cubed, 917 S Main St. in St Charles, Mo. For more information: www.cszstlouis.com.

Come From Away
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the musical Come From Away opening on Tuesday, May 14, at 7:30 pm and running through May 26. "The New York Times Critics' Pick takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships." The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Dates by Elizabeth Breed Penny, opening on Friday, May 17, at 8 pm and running through May 26 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Dates is a play about Caroline, a recently "unmarried" woman who has been finding it hard to live in the outside world: literally. Unable to leave her house, she attempts to reconnect with her friends, her therapist, and potential romantic interests through online dating, emails, and text messages. The reality is, her self-imposed isolation is merely a ploy to prevent herself from coming to terms with the abusive relationship she has just come out of." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

Death Tax
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Death Tax by Lucas Hnath Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through May 19. "As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Earworm by Shaulee Cook, opening on Wednesday, May 15, at 7 pm and running through May 26 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Earworm tells the story of Candles Out, a decade-old punk rock break up song seeking closure with five people whose lives she's entwined with in very different ways - Sasha and Jory, the two band members that wrote her; Trevor, the guy they wrote her about; Elise, Trevor's sister; and Kess, Trevor's new girlfriend … who also happens to be the song's biggest fan. A strange trip involving music and memory and how each affects the other." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

Alpha Players present the comedy Exit Laughing May 17 - 26. Performances take place at The Florissant Civic Center Theater, Parker Rd. at Waterford Dr. in Florissant, MO. For more information: alphaplayers.org, call 314-921-5678.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Hoist by Erin Lane, opening on Thursday, May 16, at 7 pm and running through May 25 as part of the 2019 Festival of New Plays. "Sometimes you don't get to be the hero of the story... even when you sign up for it. In 2008, the war rages on in a basement bar in Chicago. Skyler, the bartender and an Afghanistan veteran, has left everything she knows behind in an attempt to survive. She struggles to gain control over her present life, but, day in and day out, discovers it lifeless at the bottom of a rocks glass. As she battles with violent demons, she finds there is no escape when someone from her past walks into the bar." Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.com.

I Now PronouncePhoto: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of the comedy I Now Pronounce Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, May 16 - June 2. "A play that mines disconnections. After Adam and Nicole's wedding culminates in an awkwardly timed fatality, the reception spins into an increasingly strange evening that leaves the bride and groom questioning just what it is they're celebrating. But there's no stopping the festivities: the flower girls are running amuck, the bridal party members are preoccupied with their own flailing relationships, and everyone needs to stop ordering the blue drinks. Comedies end in marriage. Tragedies end in death. This play begins with both." Performances take place in the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theater at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur. For more information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or call 314-442-3283.

Tim Schall
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents singer Tim Schall and pianist Carol Schmidt in Let's Go to the Movies Tuesday and Wednesday, May 14 and 15 at 10 am. "Vocalist Tim Schall takes listeners back to those magic moments, sitting in a darkened theatre, hearing these cinematic masterpieces for the first time! Enjoy some of the greatest songs from Hollywood's most beloved films of all time by songwriters such as Henry Mancini, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lerner & Lowe, Rodgers & Hammerstein and Irving Berlin.” The Sheldon Concert Hall is on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

The Tennessee Williams Festival presents A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 5 pm through May 19. "Four eccentric and unforgettable women fry chicken, plan a picnic to Creve Coeur Lake, and cope with loneliness and lost dreams in an efficiency apartment on Enright Avenue in the Central West End circa the mid-1930s. Williams gives us more laughs than usual, but no less poetry or poignancy. Williams believed that growing up in St. Louis was essential to the shape of his work. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of his few plays set here, and was the inspiration behind TV's "The Golden Girls." Featuring an all-female cast, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur will be directed by Kari Ely." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

Alton Little Theater presents the musical Mamma Mia! Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through May 19. "The most romantic musical comedy comes to the ALT stage just as the popular movie sequel hits the screens summer 2018. Love, mishaps, and music by ABBA will have audiences dancing in the aisles again as they feel transported to the Greek Island of Kalokairi on the eve of a wedding!" Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Muurder in Maaaybury! through July 27. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus Live Friday at 8 pm and Saturday at 4 and 8 pm, May 17 and 18. "The Off-Broadway hit comedy Men Are From Mars - Women Are From Venus LIVE!, is a one-man fusion of theatre and stand-up, and is a light-hearted theatrical comedy based on the New York Times #1 best-selling book of the last decade by John Gray. Moving swiftly through a series of vignettes, the show covers everything from dating and marriage to the bedroom. This hysterical show will have couples elbowing each other all evening as they see themselves on stage. Sexy and fast paced, this show is definitely for adults, but will leave audiences laughing and giggling like little kids! " The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: playhouseatwestport.com.

Night of the Iguana
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis presents Night of the Iguana Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm through May 19. "The steamy and startling Iguana is one of the most richly textured and dramatically satisfying plays written by Williams. At its center is Shannon, a pastor who has lost his flock, has lost his religion, and has-at the very least- misplaced his sanity and sense of decency. He takes refuge at a rundown resort owned by the lusty and busty Maxine, where they are soon joined by the beautifully refined but repressed Hannah, in the company of Nonno, her nonagenarian grandfather. These two may be scam artists, but they are artists all the same; as such, they offer some brief hope of redemption." Performances take place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: twstl.org.

The Black Rep presents Nina Simone: Four Women opening on Wednesday, May 15, and running through June 2. "Nina Simone's velvet voice was unafraid to sing lyrics that cut right to the truth. Her music and her life were a personal exploration branded in the kiln of the civil rights movement; so, in the aftermath of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the tragic loss of the four little girls her powerful anthems, MISSIPPIPPI GODDAM, SINNERMAN, AND OLD JIM CROW, fueled the Civil Rights movement and changed her public persona from songstress to activist. From the iconic 'I PUT A SPELL ON YOU” to FOUR WOMEN, of the title, Simone's lyrics weave a story of four women alienated from themselves and one another due to the color of their skin." Performances take place at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: theblackrep.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents the second round of its Playwright Slam on Monday, May 6 at 6:30 pm. "Get ready for a night of fun impromptu theater. The order of scripts to be read will be chosen at three, held on May 20" The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents Recipes for Ice, their monthly improv show, on Friday, May 17, at 8 and 10:30 pm at The Steamboat Room, 314 S. Clay in Kirkwood, MO. "Join Adam and his crew for an interactive night of fun and laughter. Beer, wine and food available from Kirkwood Station Brewery." For more information: ktg-onstage.org.

Jazz St. Louis and The Cabaret Project present Shoshana Bean on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 and 9:30 pm, May 15 and 16. "Shoshana Bean's three independent solo releases have all topped the iTunes R&B and Blues charts in the US and UK, with her fourth, and most recent project, SPECTRUM, debuting at #1 on the Billboard Jazz charts. Bean has sold out solo concerts around the globe, lent her voice to countless films and TV shows, amassed millions of YouTube views, and performed with artists like Ariana Grande and Michael Jackson. Shoshana is a veteran of the Broadway stage having made her debut in the original cast of Hairspray and starring as the very first replacement for Elphaba in Wicked. She won a IRNE Award forher performance as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and earned a Jeff Award nomination for her portrayal of CeeCee Bloom in the pre-Broadway musical production of Beaches." Performances take place at the Ferring Jazz Bistro on Washington just east of the Fox in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Chuck Lavazzi
The Cabaret Project presents its weekly Singers Open Mic Night on Wednesday, May 15, from 7 to 10 pm. Drop by and enjoy a night of great music from St. Louis cabaret artists, backed up by pianist and music director Carol Schmidt and hosted by 88.1 KDHX's Chuck Lavazzi. If you're planning to sing, be prepared to do one or two songs and bring music, preferably in your key. It's also recommend that you have your song memorized. The event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge on the second floor of the .ZACK performing arts space at 3226 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

KTK Productions presents the musical Smoke on the Mountain Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, May 17-26. "Smoke on the Mountain tells the story of a Saturday Night Gospel Sing at a country church in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains in 1938. The show features two dozen rousing bluegrass songs played and sung by the Sanders Family, a traveling group making its return to performing after a five-year hiatus. Between songs, each family member “witnesses” - telling a story about an important event in their life. Though they try to appear perfect in the eyes of a congregation who wants to be inspired by their songs, one thing after another goes awry and they reveal their true - and hilariously imperfect - natures. By the evening's end, the Sanders family has endeared themselves to us by revealing their weaknesses and allowing us to share in their triumphs." Performances take place at St. John the Baptist Church, 4200 Delor. For more information: kurtainkall.org or call 314-351-8984.

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.

Review: Fantastic symphony, fastastic night

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

Stéphane Denève
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
In remarks from the podium before the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert Friday night (May 10, 2019) Stéphane Denève, who takes over as Music Director in the fall, promised "a fantastic night together." I'm happy to say that he made good on that promise.

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview.]

The concerts opened with the local premiere of the tone poem "Nyx," written in 2011 by composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. The title refers to the Greek goddess of the night, a powerful figure in mythology and the mother of all the other gods, and the music undoubtedly has a kind of dark, elemental power that's extremely appealing. A joint commission by Radio France, the Barbican Centre, the Atlanta Symphony, Carnegie Hall, and the Finnish Broadcasting Company, the work is a kind of concerto for orchestra, clearly written with a virtuoso ensemble in mind. The SLSO is just that kind of ensemble, and it made the piece positively sparkle.

Salonen is a horn player, so it's not surprising that the horn section had some of the most elaborate writing, although there are also long, complex passages for clarinet. Thomas Jöstlein and the other five members of the horn section played their part brilliantly, and Principal Clarinet Scott Andrews deserves a medal of some sort for his impressive solos. Rapid, whirling passages for the high woodwinds were delivered with panache and precision, and a fanciful duet for celesta and harp was nicely done by Peter Henderson and Allegra Lilly, respectively.

In short, congratulations are in order for the entire band.

Mezzo Rinat Shaham
Photo courtesy of the SLSO
Up next was Ravel's 1903 song cycle "Shéhérazade," inspired by the protagonist of the "1001 Nights." The lyrics by Symbolist poet Tristan Klingsor (real name: Arthur Justin Léon Leclère) are a bit heavy on the kind of pulp fiction Orientalism that I associate with Sax Rohmer, but combined with Ravel's colorful and sensuous music it can be irresistible in the hands of a skilled singer.

This weekend's soloist, mezzo Rinat Shaham, is exactly that sort of singer. In a strapless pale gown, Ms. Shaham cut a striking figure on stage, but it was her complete emotional investment in the lyrics, in combination with her supple voice, that made this such a memorable performance. Ms. Shaham's extensive operatic background was evident in the way she started and remained completely in character for each of the three songs, from the wide-eyed wonder of "Asie" ("Asia"), to the longing of "La flûte enchantée," to the regret of "L'indifférent" ("The Indifferent One"). Mr. Denève led the orchestra in backing her up with some exquisite playing, including a fine solo by Principal Flute Mark Sparks in "La flûte enchantée."

The final concert of the season usually features a popular blockbuster of some sort. This year it was Hector Berlioz's 1830 "Symphonie Fantastique," a wildly imaginative piece that Leonard Bernstein once famously described as "the first psychedelic symphony in history." Inspired by the composer's own obsessive (to put it mildly) pursuit of the Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, the work tells the tale a young musician who dreams about his ideal woman (first movement), pursues her at a ball (second), and then flees to the country to escape his longing (third). Overdosing on opium, he dreams he is being beheaded for her murder (fourth movement) and then literally goes to Hell (fifth), where he encounters his love for the last time, now transformed into a demon and presiding over a witches' Sabbath.

Like "Nyx," it's a genuine orchestral showpiece, with a large orchestra that includes instruments rarely heard in concerts, from the little E-flat clarinet to the coarse-sounding ophicleide (now usually replaced by the tuba) and tuned iron bells. Berlioz also asks the players to employ uncommon techniques, such as having the strings play col legno (with the wood of their bows instead of the strings) in the finale.

The musicians of the SLSO have demonstrated in the past that this music holds no terrors for them, so it's no surprise that they covered themselves with glory Friday night. Up on the podium, Mr. Denève delivered a consistently engrossing reading filled with interesting details and concluding with a downright hair raising final two movements, played attacca (in quick succession, without pause) for maximum dramatic effect. It clocked in at close to an hour--a bit long for this work--but felt much shorter.

This was the final concert of the regular St. Louis Symphony Orchestra season. Post-season activity continues at Powell Hall through June, though; check the SLSO web site for details.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of May 13, 2019

Post-season concerts continue at the St. Louis Symphony and The Chamber Project presents its annual audience choice concert.

Sherezade Panthaki
The Bach Society of St. Louis presents A Bach and Baroque Family Concert on Thursday, May 16 at 6:30 pm. "The Bach Society of Saint Louis is proud to offer a free education concert tailored to families, which will focus on Bach and Baroque performance practice. Bach specialist David Gordon will serve as a narrator and teacher, and India-born soprano, Sherezade Panthaki, will sing several musical examples in this style, accompanied by Sandra Geary and Bach Society Concertmaster, Lenora Marya-Anop. Ms. Panthaki will also discuss her Indian heritage and how it impacted her chosen career path, giving some insight into Indian culture while also displaying how music continues to break barriers and can overcome societal differences." The event takes place at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in Clayton. For more information: www.bachsociety.org.

The Bach Society of St. Louis presents a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor on Sunday, May 19 at 3 pm. "Bach's most monumental work is the cornerstone and grand finale of the 2019 St. Louis Bach Festival. Composed over a span of 35 years, the Mass in B minor reveals the depth and breadth of the master's creativity and spiritual conviction. Guest soloists include soprano Sherezade Panthaki, sponsored by Greg and Alayne Smith, mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle, tenor Lawrence Jones and baritone Tyler Duncan. " The concert takes place at First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, 100 E. Adams in Kirkwood. For more information: www.bachsociety.org.

The Chamber Project St. Louis presents Choice on Friday, May 17, at 8 p.m. "Always fun, this program is chosen by you, our audience. All of the favorites it one giant concert, determined by YOUR votes throughout the season. The program is a secret, so find out what won!" The concerts take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: www.chamberprojectstl.org.

Who ya gonna call?
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Peter Bernstein, presents a showing of the 1984 film Ghostbusters, with the score played live by the orchestra, Friday and Saturday at 7 pm, May 17 and 18. The performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The wind, brass, and percussion players of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra team up with military musicians from the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America and the 399th Army Band for a free Joining Forces On Stage at Powell concert on Sunday, May 19, at 3 pm. "The afternoon of rousing musical performances features patriotic anthems, military medleys, and an unforgettable performance commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing that includes narration and video. IN UNISON Chorus director Kevin McBeth shares the podium with military band directors in this epic joint performance with some of the best musicians in uniform." The performance takes place at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a faculty recital by Timothy Myers, trombone, on Monday, May 13, at 7:30 pm. The concert takes place in the Pillsbury Theatre at the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of May 10, 2019

New on the list: a pair of cabaret shows and a chilling look the downside of advances in medical science from the author of A Doll's House Part 2 and The Christians.

New This Week:

Death Tax
Photo by Jill Ritter Photography
Mustard Seed Theatre presents Death Tax by Lucas Hnath Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, May 9-19. "As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness." Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

My take: When I saw the world premiere of this play at the Humana Festival back in 2012, I wrote that it had a dramatic power that couldn't be denied, demonstrating forcibly the corrupting effects of money and power—and, for that matter, of want and powerlessness. Lucas Hnath's play raises disturbing questions: as medical science advances, will we become a race divided between those who can purchase virtual immortality and those who can't? And what will that mean? Death Tax suggests the answers might not be pleasant. I won't get to see this production until next week, but I'm going to recommend it anyway based on my admiration for Hnath's work as a playwright and on the quality Mustard Seed's work in general.


Bob Wetzel
The Kranzberg Center presents Bob Wetzel in Facing the Music on Saturday, May 11, at 8 pm. "This show will feature the music of songwriters as diverse as Irving Berlin, Jimmy Van Husen, Stephen Sondheim, Paul Simon, Jerome Kern and Don Henley; Bob and the band will spin some of them in ways you have likely not heard before." Carol Schmidt is pianist and music director for the show, which also features Rick Vice on bass and Kevin Gianino on drums. Tim Schall directs. The performance takes place at the Kranzberg Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.metrotix.com

My take: I should preface my comments by acknowledging that Bob is a member of the board of The Cabaret Project St. Louis, on which I also sit. That said, I have had the opportunity to see Bob perform many times, both at The Cabaret Project's monthly open mic night and last summer in his debut show A Fine Bromance, a duet cabaret with Craig Becker. Reviewing that show for KDHX, I described it as an unfailingly charming evening, with Mr. Wetzel delivering cabaret and jazz standards with suave assurance. He has a great band working with him in his solo debut here, and St. Louis cabaret legend Tim Schall can be relied upon to provide expert direction. Last time I checked, tickets are selling fast, so an advance purchase is recommended.


Ben Nordstrom
The Sheldon Concert Hall presents Ben Nordstrom and Steve Neale in The Music of Billy Joel and Elton John on Saturday, May 11, at 11 am. "Two of St. Louis' favorite musical theater performers come together to celebrate music icons Billy Joel and Elton John. Enjoy hits such as "New York State of Mind," "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me," "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" and "Your Song," performed with Ben and Steve's trademark wit and charm." The Sheldon is at 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thesheldon.org.

My take: Here's a duet show by a pair of well known and highly regarded local theatre and cabaret artists. Mr. Nordstrom has a long resume that includes dramatic and comic roles, along with extensive musical theatre work, while Mr. Neale is a composer, conductor, pianist, and vocalist who is much in demand here in town. It looks like an unbeatable combination to me.


Held Over:

Salt, Root, and Roe
Photo by ProPhotoSTL
Upstream Theater presents the St. Louis premiere of Salt, Root and Roe running through May 12. "Tim Price's Salt, Root and Roe is a poetic masterwork about the nature of change, the comfort of home, and the eternal bond of love, set against the mythical backdrop of the Pembrokeshire coast in western Wales. The play centers on identical twins Iola and Anest, who are very devoted to each other. Ageing fast, and with the time they have together more fragile by the day, they arrive at a desperate decision. Word of this reaches Anest's daughter Menna, who rushes to her long-abandoned childhood home where her own ideas of love and compromise are tested to the limit. In spite of its somber themes, the play is light, textured and at times very funny-and in the words of one reviewer "like a pebble picked from a Pembrokeshire beach… something to take home and reflect over, something that evokes a smell of the sea..."Another US premiere from Upstream Theater, in co-production with Stages Repertory Theatre of Houston." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times: upstreamtheater.org.

My take: I'm getting to the age at which plays about Alzheimer's tend to make me more than a little uncomfortable, but there's no doubt that reviews for Upstream's production have been good. "Tim Price's affecting, absorbing drama is given a top-notch presentation in its American premiere production," writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News. "It's a one-act wonder that ideally fits Upstream's goal "to move you and move you to think." At KDHX, Steve Callahan praises the "superb cast," which consists of some of our finest local actors: Donna Weinsting, Amy Loui, Sally Edmundson, and Eric Dean White.