Sunday, June 20, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 21, 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.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec 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.

Sister City Circus
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." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Circus Harmony
offers Summer Circus Camps for ages 7-17 through August 13.  "Registration is open for our summer camps and classes for ages three through adult in our circus ring at City Museum! You can also schedule private lessons or book us to come and teach where you are!"  For more information: circusharmony.org.

ERA Theatre presents the radio play SHE by Nancy Bell with music by Joe Taylor and Lyrics by Nancy Bell via on-demand streaming  "SHE controls the radio station of the fascist regime in power. SHE's also the star of the broadcast. Her recording studio abounds with music and oysters. But in the nearby government camps full of misfits and would-be revolutionaries, only torture and starvation is thick on the ground. Tonight, however, SHE's realm feels different. The bombs sound closer. Time moves faster. But SHE will finish her radio show, and it will be her finest. If executing every number in the broadcast means some people need to die, so be it; it is a small sacrifice. The citizens need her and she will not let them down." SHE is available for digital purchase via bandcamp at eratheatre.bandcamp.com. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

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 Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Clueless through August 28. "Welcome to the world of big business, old mansions and family politics. You’re invited To the birthday celebration of the oldest, (and richest), man in town. Lucky you! Some would kill for the opportunity to meet Barnabas Barnaby Baggs, the famous Pickle Baron. He sure has made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top! I hope none of his enemies tries to kill him tonight. But if they do, will you know who did it? Maybe his latest girlfriend? The angry ex-wife? the spoiled nephew? Perhaps the jealous competitor? …Or You? Regardless, you’ll have to figure it whodunnit because we’re Clueless!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in the one-man play Here Lies Henry by Daniel MacIvor Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through June 27. "Here Lies Henry is an innovative and truly off-the-wall look at a man on a mission to tell you something you don’t already know. He is also a liar. It can be described as an idyllic SORT OF miserable SORT OF storybook SORT OF nightmarish SORT OF remarkable SORT OF regular story." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre at 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features musical theatre composer and director Kevin Connors. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

Mlima's Tale
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the St. Louis premiere of Mlima's Tale by Lynn Nottage through July 11th. "Mlima, a majestic and powerful African elephant, is murdered for his tusks. From beyond the veil of death, Mlima’s spirit follows the path of his tusks on a moving, lyrical journey through the dark world of the international ivory trade. From Lynn Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Sweat and Ruined, Mlima’s Tale is a captivating and haunting fable come to life." Performances take place at the Berges Theatre at COCA, 6880 Washington Avenue in University City. For more information: repstl.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and St. Louis Black Repertory Company welcome two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage to St. Louis for a roundtable event, Telling the ‘Tale’ with Lynn Nottage on Friday, June 25, at 6 pm via Facebook Live and YouTube. Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep will spend 90 minutes in conversation with Nottage, moderated by Adena Varner, Director of Learning and Community Engagement for The Rep. Telling the ‘Tale’ with Lynn Nottage is a free online event with an RSVP required via Eventbrite.

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. Louis Black Rep rounds up its season of virtual programming with a final mainstage production of Do I Move You?, available via on-demand streaming at Vimeo through June 30. Do I Move You? is based on a collection of poetry by Dr. Jonathan Smith, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Saint Louis University and President of The Black Rep Board of Directors. "Smith’s collection of poetry, music, and dance pulls inspiration from Jazz, religion, love, family, and some of the greatest musicians of our time -  Donny Hathaway, Louis Jordan, and Marvin Gaye. Conceived by Producing Director Ron Himes, using devised theatre, Black Rep Director and Choreographer Heather Beal weaves a web of music, dance, and poetry. Themes of betrayal, identity, discovery, and love flow throughout the performance, culminating to answer one very important question, 'Do I Move You?'” For more information: theblackrep.org.

King Lear
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespeare's King Lear, starring André De Shields, running through June 27.  "Tony, Grammy, and Emmy award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: Hadestown, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin) stars in the titanic title role in William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Directed by Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem), King Lear is a brilliant return for Shakespeare in Forest Park." Audience members will be seated in individual pods which can accommodate up to six guests. Reservations are required in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Mrs. Winstead, a full-length screenplay by Mark Antieau on Monday, June 21, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. "A high school teacher stumbles upon a plot by a presidential candidate to activate his racist plans for America and how she and her students bring him to justice. " For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

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.

Stray Dog Theatre’s Silver Stage Program presents an on-demand streaming audio version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The production features a cast of actors exclusively over the age of 55. For more information: straydogtheatre.org.

The Tesseract Theatre Company presents the new play Feast by Megan Gogerty Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm, through June 27. The St. Louis premiere of Feast stars Donna Parrone and is directed by Shane Signorino. "A brave new work, navigating the intersection of politics and myth. Highly theatrical and timely, this dinner party is both thrillingly ancient and fiercely present. This is an immersive, visceral theatre experience where mythology crashes into pop culture. Feast reimagines an ancient myth as a cautionary tale against the rising forces of authoritarianism. There will be group seating as well as social distanced seating available in the space. There will be a limited number of tickets on sale for each performance. As of now, audience members will be asked to wear masks in the space for the duration of the performance for the safety and comfort of all other audience members." Performances take place at the .Zack Theatre at 3224 Locust Street. Tickets are available at MetroTix.com

Upstream Theater presents Refuge and Reconciliation: A Retrospective on their YouTube channel June 24-27 and July 1-4. "Once again we reached out to a number of actors, directors, designers and even a critic (!) -- and we hope this foray behind the scenes conveys how grateful we are to have so many talented professionals in our collective." For more information, visit their 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, June 18, 2021

Opera Review: Opera Theatre's "New Works, Bold Voices Lab" fully lives up to its name with a timely and diverse trio of one-acts

The pandemic wiped out the 2020 season of Opera Theatre of St. Louis (OSTSL), but they’re back in business this year. There are fewer performances, fewer seats, none of the operas run over 75 minutes, and it all happens on a newly constructed stage taking up what is usually the company’s main parking lot. They’re not down and out, just downsized and outdoors.

Over the Edge
Photo by Eric Woolsey
With highly successful productions of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, William Grant Still’s Highway 1, U.S.A, and Poulenc’s La voix humaine already up and running, OTSL seems to have saved the best for last with the New Works, Bold Voices Lab. It’s a varied and consistently entertaining evening of three world premiere one-act operas which, as OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen said in an interview last month, were “actually designed with very small orchestral forces in mind…so they could be performed during the pandemic.”

Running around 20 minutes each, the three operas are all radically different in style, and yet they complement each other quite neatly. As Stage Director James Robinson writes in his program note in the OTSL app, each creative team was asked to think about the question, “what is on your mind and how are you feeling about the world right now?”. He describes their answers as “incredibly rich and varied”—a statement with which I heartily concur.

The evening opens with On the Edge, with music by Laura Karpman and a libretto by Taura Stinson, both of whom have extensive credits outside of the opera house/concert hall orbit. A five-time Emmy Award winner, Karpman has written extensively for television, film, theatre, and various newer media platforms. Stinson is described by OTSL as a “multi-hyphenated visionary,” which seems appropriate for someone who works as a vocalist, producer, composer, songwriter and author. Together, they have created a seriocomic reflection on the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic from the points of view of a single mom (in April 2020), a mother working from home (May) and, finally, a classic nuclear family in June trying to find hope amidst the worsening pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the increasing miasma of violence and aggressive authoritarianism unfolding on their TV.

Moon Tea
Photo by Eric Woolsey

The first two scenes are fast-paced and witty, echoing (but never imitating) influences as diverse as Stephen Sondheim and Phillip Glass. You can hear the former in Stinson’s clever lyrics and the latter at the end of the first scene, in which Single Mom’s growing frustration, the demands of children Kadin and Kyra, and homework reminders from their teacher explode in a chorus of wildly overlapping vocal lines that coalesce in the refrain “We are stuck / in the muck / WHAT THE…”.

No, the last word isn’t actually sung. It’s funnier that way.

The second scene opens with a simple canon on the word “Zoom” sung by Mama, Mommy, and Son 1 to express the daily routine of lockdown and a life lived online. Other phrases are added in (“Getting fat, fat,” “It goes on and on”) and the vocal polyphony becomes more complex as Grandma starts to chime in with a confused mix of fact and fancy about the pandemic. The scene slowly winds down with a return to the original canon, suggesting that nothing will change anytime soon. Which, of course, it didn’t for most of us.

The shift in tone that comes with the more anguished and borderline-preachy final scene seems odd at first, but only until one reflects on the fact that the outrage at Floyd’s murder was amplified by, “[a] pandemic, and a captive audience, / For the world to catch a glimpse of our pain.” And the combination of pain, hope, and determination expressed in the closing quartet is both moving and inspiring. “Hold on!” they sing. “And all the fallen stars, / We will speak your names.”

Moon Tea
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The 13 named roles in the three scenes are played by the impressively versatile quartet of soprano Monica Dewey, mezzo Mack Wolz, mezzo Melody Wilson, and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin (who is also making his OTSL debut). Wilson is a particularly familiar face on the local scene, having appeared with both OTSL and Union Avenue Opera over the years.

The mood shifts towards Monty Pyton-esque surrealism in the second opera, Moon Tea, with music by Steven Mackey and a libretto by Rinde Eckert. Mackey’s eclectic compositional style—often heard at St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) concerts during the tenure of former Music Director David Robertson— meshes quite well with the imaginative and whimsical words of the multi-talented Eckert (a composer, singer, actor, and director as well as a writer).

Moon Tea is a fanciful and slightly loopy imaginary version of a real-world event: an awkward 1969 meeting with Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip. and Apollo 13 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, along with their wives. The Queen was unenthusiastic about the project, Armstrong was suffering from a terrible cold, and Collins (as Aldrin would reveal many years later on Twitter) “almost fell down the stairs trying not to turn his back” on the Queen.

It was not a great moment for the Anglo-American alliance, and the farcical nature of the simple facts of the event appealed greatly to Mackey. “I’m a sucker for fish-out-of-water stories,” he confesses in comments on the OTSL YouTube channel. “The music just flowed out.”

Mackey’s musical toolbox is as eclectic as Karpman’s, although in his case that eclecticism stems from a background in rock and pop. He and his long-time collaborator Eckert were members of the band Big Farm and have teamed up on many projects in the past. As a result, both the music and words of Moon Tea seamlessly unite to create a whimsical sonic world that combines unorthodox elements such as microtonality and oddball percussion instruments like the flexatone with more conventional techniques without any hint of a conflict.

Ingenious touches include the ragged sneeze rhythms that repeatedly interrupt Neil Armstrong’s vocal line, the slightly demented, not-quite-a-waltz theme that serves as the basis for the dreamlike scene in which Queen Elizabeth imagines herself Queen of the Moon, and the elaborate, rapid-fire patter song that illustrates Michael Collins’ awkwardness. If Gilbert and Sullivan were still with us, they would have loved it.

That said, I found Moon Tea to be amusing, but not particularly involving. Moon Tea is facile and often brilliant, with plenty of playful stage business and clever use of digital animation by designer Craig Emetaz), but at around 20 minutes it’s as long as it needs to be.

Still, congratulations are due the performers, all of whom fully inhabit their roles. Monica Dewey is properly regal Queen Elizabeth, Melody Wilson a cheerfully celebrity-obsessed Janet Armstrong, and tenor Jonathan Johnson a pleasantly fatuous Prince Philip. Tenor Michael Day rattles off his tricky patter song with the assurance of a latter-day John Reed and Jarrett Porter’s weighty baritone lends dignity to the afflicted Neil Armstrong.

The Tongue and the Lash
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The program ends with the most emotionally powerful opera of the trio, The Tongue and the Lash, with music by Damien Sneed and libretto by Karen Chilton. A singer, instrumentalist, and conductor as well as a composer, Sneed’s background is wide-ranging, spanning the worlds of jazz, pop, and R&B along with the classics, while Chilton is an actor and writer as well as a classical pianist. The result of their collaboration packs a serious punch.

Like Moon Tea, The Tongue and the Lash is inspired by a real event: the 1965 debate between author and activist James Baldwin and conservative intellectual gadfly William F. Buckley, Jr. on the premise that “the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that the vote declaring Baldwin the winner was 544 to 164 instead of, say, 708 to zero.

The opera, which takes place in the Cambridge University Union after the verdict has been rendered, imagines what a post-debate conversation between Baldwin and Buckley might have been.  Baldwin is portrayed with vocal power and gravitas by baritone Markel Reed. In long vocal lines that carry the weight of authority and conviction, he declares that “I have made plain my case” but then asks, “what victory is there / When all our suffering and injustice is laid bare?” When, at one point, Baldwin’s music turns into a passionate gospel hymn on the words “Time is all we’ve got,” the effect is electrifying.

The Tongue and the Lash
Photo by Eric Woolsey
The contrast with Buckley’s music could hardly be stronger. Where Baldwin glides, Buckley skitters. His vocal line dances around to a rapid, slightly discordant accompaniment in a strikingly effective musical equivalent of what the New York Times obit called the real Buckley’s “use of ten-dollar words and a darting tongue writers loved to compare to an anteater’s.” Jonathan Johnson perfectly captures Buckley’s trademark supercilious attitude and deftly negotiates the character’s sometimes florid passages.

All three operas share the same eight-piece ensemble of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra members: first violinist Xiaoxiao Qiang, second violinist Janet Carpenter, violist Leonid Plashinov-Johnson, cellist Elizabeth Chung, and double bass Erik Harris. The sizeable percussion battery consists of Shannon Wood on timpani with Alan Stewart and Thomas Stubbs on everything else. Composer/conductor Daniela Candillari, who leads a special SLSO concert on June 24th, is on the podium. Their performance of this varied assortment of new and challenging music was a joy to witness.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s exceptional 2021 season continues through Sunday, June 20th on the Webster University campus. For more information, visit the company’s web site.

A shorter version of this article originally appeared at Classical Voice North America.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 14, 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.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec 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.

The Blue Strawberry presents Remembering Rick, a cabaret honoring the late singer/songwriter Rick Jensen, on Saaturday, June 19, at 2 pm. "Over the past dozen years, Rick Jensen has become an essential part of the lives of so many of us here in Saint Louis, and he left this life way too soon on Tuesday, March 24th, 2021, at the age of 62." The program, which will feature 18 St. Louis singers with songs and stories about Jensen, will be performed live at the Blue Strawberry on North Boyle in the Central West End, and will also be broadcast live at the Blue Strawberry Facebook page. For more information, visit the Remembering Rick event page on Facebook.

Sister City Circus
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." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Circus Harmony
offers Summer Circus Camps for ages 7-17 through August 13.  "Registration is open for our summer camps and classes for ages three through adult in our circus ring at City Museum! You can also schedule private lessons or book us to come and teach where you are!"  For more information: circusharmony.org.

ERA Theatre presents the radio play SHE by Nancy Bell with music by Joe Taylor and Lyrics by Nancy Bell via on-demand streaming  "SHE controls the radio station of the fascist regime in power. SHE's also the star of the broadcast. Her recording studio abounds with music and oysters. But in the nearby government camps full of misfits and would-be revolutionaries, only torture and starvation is thick on the ground. Tonight, however, SHE's realm feels different. The bombs sound closer. Time moves faster. But SHE will finish her radio show, and it will be her finest. If executing every number in the broadcast means some people need to die, so be it; it is a small sacrifice. The citizens need her and she will not let them down." SHE is available for digital purchase via bandcamp at eratheatre.bandcamp.com. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

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 Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Clueless through August 28. "Welcome to the world of big business, old mansions and family politics. You’re invited To the birthday celebration of the oldest, (and richest), man in town. Lucky you! Some would kill for the opportunity to meet Barnabas Barnaby Baggs, the famous Pickle Baron. He sure has made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top! I hope none of his enemies tries to kill him tonight. But if they do, will you know who did it? Maybe his latest girlfriend? The angry ex-wife? the spoiled nephew? Perhaps the jealous competitor? …Or You? Regardless, you’ll have to figure it whodunnit because we’re Clueless!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in the one-man play Here Lies Henry by Daniel MacIvor Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday, June 27, at 2 pm through June 27. "Here Lies Henry is an innovative and truly off-the-wall look at a man on a mission to tell you something you don’t already know. He is also a liar. It can be described as an idyllic SORT OF miserable SORT OF storybook SORT OF nightmarish SORT OF remarkable SORT OF regular story." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre at 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features musical theatre composer and director Kevin Connors. New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

Highway 1, U.S.A.
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of William Grant Still's Highway 1, U.S.A., running through June 17. "Bob and Mary have worked hard and sacrificed much to put Bob’s brother Nate through school. Meanwhile, Mary dreams of the day when she and Bob can put their hard-earned money towards their own future. When Nate shows no inclination to strike out on his own, tensions slowly build to a breaking point. This intimate opera by the “Dean of African-American Composers” features a sweeping score that brilliantly blends elements of Romanticism, blues, and musical theater — and proves itself more than worthy of being restored to the operatic canon." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Patricia Racette in La voix humaine
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents Francis Poulenc's one-character opera La voix humaine through June 20. "Alone and desperate for connection, Elle frantically awaits her ex-lover’s call. The tense conversation is further jeopardized by a terrible phone connection, driving Elle into a dangerously fragile state as she grapples with grief, denial, and anger. This explosive one-woman opera features a self-directed tour-de-force performance by soprano Patricia Racette." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Moon Tea from New Works, Bold Voices
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents the New Works, Bold Voices Lab, opening through June 18. "Critically acclaimed composers Laura Karpman (HBO’s Lovecraft Country), Steven Mackey (Orpheus Unsung), and Damien Sneed (We Shall Overcome) create new 20-minute operas featuring a small ensemble of singers and musicians. These commissions are an expansion of OTSL’s existing “New Works, Bold Voices” cycle, which supports contemporary storytelling by American composers and librettists." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre and the Missouri Historical Society present I Dream a World, a celebration of Juneteenth, on Tuesday, June 15, at 6 pm. The evening features music, song, and spoken word performances by members of the 2021 Festival Season Ensemble and other local artists. Registration is required for the event, which takes place on the North Lawn of the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre presents the annual Center Stage Young Artists Showcase Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 1 pm, June 19 and 20. "This electric event shines a spotlight on Opera Theatre’s Richard Gaddes Festival Artist and Gerdine Young Artist Programs. A cadre of rising opera stars will perform iconic melodies from opera’s greatest hits and cherished rarities. Center Stage is curated by Patricia Racette, Artistic Director of Young Artist Programs, and James Robinson, Artistic Director of Opera Theatre." For more information: opera-stl.org.

Mlima's Tale
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the St. Louis premiere of Mlima's Tale by Lynn Nottage through July 11th. "Mlima, a majestic and powerful African elephant, is murdered for his tusks. From beyond the veil of death, Mlima’s spirit follows the path of his tusks on a moving, lyrical journey through the dark world of the international ivory trade. From Lynn Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Sweat and Ruined, Mlima’s Tale is a captivating and haunting fable come to life." Performances take place at the Berges Theatre at COCA, 6880 Washington Avenue in University City. For more information: repstl.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. Louis Black Rep rounds up its season of virtual programming with a final mainstage production of Do I Move You?, available via on-demand streaming at Vimeo June 15-30. Do I Move You? is based on a collection of poetry by Dr. Jonathan Smith, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Saint Louis University and President of The Black Rep Board of Directors. "Smith’s collection of poetry, music, and dance pulls inspiration from Jazz, religion, love, family, and some of the greatest musicians of our time -  Donny Hathaway, Louis Jordan, and Marvin Gaye. Conceived by Producing Director Ron Himes, using devised theatre, Black Rep Director and Choreographer Heather Beal weaves a web of music, dance, and poetry. Themes of betrayal, identity, discovery, and love flow throughout the performance, culminating to answer one very important question, 'Do I Move You?'” For more information: theblackrep.org.

King Lear
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespeare's King Lear, starring André De Shields, running through June 27.  "Tony, Grammy, and Emmy award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: Hadestown, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin) stars in the titanic title role in William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Directed by Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem), King Lear is a brilliant return for Shakespeare in Forest Park." Audience members will be seated in individual pods which can accommodate up to six guests. Reservations are required in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents a Behind the Scenes Shakespeare Camp for ages 11-18, with full sessions beginning on Friday, May 28 and running through June 4. Half sessions run from June 7 through 25.  "This summer, Camp Shakespeare will include an all-new hands-on experience in Shakespeare Glen during rehearsal and performances for King Lear. In addition to daily classes led by experienced Festival Teaching Artists in voice, movement, acting technique, and textual analysis–the campers will get a behind-the-scenes look at how our mainstage production comes together AND a preview of the professional masterclass with Tony award-winner André De Shields!" For more information: stlshakes.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Subtitles, A TV series pilot by Thomas Rechenberg on Monday, June 7, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. "Subtitles is the story of 23 year-old Jack Goetz- a down on his luck stand-up comedian who realizes his dream of playing at renowned New York comedy clubs might be just that- a dream. Hoping his Wall Street roommates with real careers don’t kick him out of their Upper East side bachelor pad, Jack gets a tedious office job transcribing subtitles for trashy British reality tv shows.The work is mind-numbing, the boss is unyielding and the hot girl he can’t stop fantasizing about is actually the girl he’s taking over for. As Jack struggles to settle into his new life of daily memos and fluorescent lights, his co-workers help him realize his dream of becoming a legendary stand-up comedian shouldn’t be written off just yet." For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

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.

Stray Dog Theatre’s Silver Stage Program presents an on-demand streaming audio version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The production features a cast of actors exclusively over the age of 55. For more information: straydogtheatre.org.

The Tesseract Theatre Company presents the new play Feast by Megan Gogerty Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm, through June 27. The St. Louis premiere of Feast will star Donna Parrone and be directed by Shane Signorino. "A brave new work, navigating the intersection of politics and myth. Highly theatrical and timely, this dinner party is both thrillingly ancient and fiercely present. This is an immersive, visceral theatre experience where mythology crashes into pop culture. Feast reimagines an ancient myth as a cautionary tale against the rising forces of authoritarianism. There will be group seating as well as social distanced seating available in the space. There will be a limited number of tickets on sale for each performance. As of now, audience members will be asked to wear masks in the space for the duration of the performance for the safety and comfort of all other audience members." Performances take place at the .Zack Theatre at 3224 Locust Street. Tickets are available at MetroTix.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.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Opera Review: At Opera Theatre, Poulenc's "La voix humaine" is a personal triumph for Patricia Racette

The best reason to see Opera Theatre’s production of Francis Poulenc’s 1959 one-act opera “La voix humaine” (“The Human Voice”) is soprano Patricia Racette’s bravura performance in the one and only role of Elle (French for either “she” or “her” depending on context). The libretto, adapted by Poulenc and Jean Cocteau from the latter’s 1928 play, consists of Elle’s side of a telephone conversation with her lover, who has left her for another. We’re left to infer that other side of the conversation both from Elle’s reaction to it and from Poulenc’s score, which reinforces and comments on Elle’s emotional state

Patricia Racette
Photo by Eric Woolsey

That asks a lot of a performer’s range, both as an actor and a singer, so it’s not surprising that many noted sopranos have taken it on. It is to Ms. Racette’s considerable credit that she so completely and clearly communicates the many shades of Elle’s grief and sense of abandonment along with some notion of her ex-lover’s character, even if it does come through the distorted lens of her self-deception and painful neediness. As both star and director, Ms. Racette is utterly compelling and believable whether she’s raging at the unpredictability of the telephone network, quietly remembering happier times, or engaging in shamelessly passive-aggressive manipulation of the man who has discarded her. She does not shirk from showing us Elle’s dishonesty, nor does she spare us the sometimes embarrassing depth of her desperation.

Congratulations are also due Ms. Racette’s artistic partners, Collaborative Pianist Sun Ha (Sunny) Yoon and Creative Consultant Beth Clayton

As her title implies, Ms. Yoon takes on the role of the orchestra here, playing a full-size weighted electronic keyboard and working closely with Ms. Racette. Although Poulenc completed a version of “La voix humaine” for voice and piano first, it was the full orchestral version that was first performed in 1959. It wasn’t until 2013 that his niece finally allowed the piano original to be used, and since then many performers, including Ms. Racette, have decided that they prefer the more intimate sound of that earlier version. She and Ms. Yoon certainly make a good case for it here

Ms. Clayton worked with Ms. Racette on some revisions of the English-language version of the libretto and, I expect, served as an extra pair of eyes when it came to the staging. She has, in any case, great insight into the work as her preview video on OTSL’s YouTube channel clearly demonstrates. It’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the internal plumbing of Poulenc’s score.

Patricia Racette
Photo by Eric Woolsey

That said, I’m not persuaded that the opera’s libretto, brilliantly reinforced as it is by Poulenc’s minimalist score, is worthy of the amount of talent that has been lavished on it. The composer, the librettist, and the singer for whom the opera was written (Denise Duval, who had played a major role in Poulenc’s earlier opera “Dialogues des Carmélites”) all felt deeply connected to the work’s subject matter because of unhappiness in their own romantic lives, but I’m not sure how many audience members will feel the same connection. Critical reception of the opera has been mixed from the start as well

The central issue, for me, is that the character of Elle is ultimately too shallow, too dishonest, and too manipulative to be interesting. Poulenc and Cocteau give us a 45-minute slice of her life in real time when she is seen at her absolute emotional worst. It’s impossible to know whether the cringe-worthy self-abasement on display is acute or chronic. As it is, “La voix humaine” feels rather like an extended version of the 1967 Vicki Carr hit “It Must Be Him” (surely one of the most irritating torch songs every written)

To finish on a more positive note, let me acknowledge Allen Moyer’s evocative, “fifty shades of grey” set. It’s more upscale than Cocteau envisioned, but it does strongly reinforce the sense that Elle’s world has been drained of color. Costume Designer James Schuette’s black nightgown adds to the sense of mourning

OTSL’s “La voix humaine” is impeccably staged and performed and is a personal triumph for Patricia Racette, right up there with her creative direction of “La Traviata” for OTSL in 2018 and her compelling Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” in 1993. I’m not convinced that the material is worthy of her talent but that, as they say, is another story. Performances continue through June 20th on Opera Theatre’s new outdoor stage, in rotation with the season’s three other operas. “La voix humaine” is sung in English (and a soupçon of French) with projected English text. For more information, visit the Opera Theatre web site.

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

Sunday, June 06, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 7, 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.

Arts for Life presents an on-demand video stream of their fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions during 2020, on their YouTube channel. Act Two Theatre’s production of the farce “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” leads this year’s Theatre Mask Awards nominations with nine. Alton Little Theater, with its two productions of “Inherit the Wind” and “The Miracle Worker,” earned 12 nominations in total – six for each. Two classic comedies by Clayton Community Theatre, “The Philadelphia Story,” and Monroe Actors Stage Company, “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” both received eight nominations apiece. Arts For Life announced the TMA nominations on March 12, during the nonprofit organization’s first-ever virtual trivia night. For more information: www.artsforlife.org

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec 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.

Sister City Circus
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." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

Circus Harmony
offers Summer Circus Camps for ages 7-17 June 7 through August 13.  "Registration is open for our summer camps and classes for ages three through adult in our circus ring at City Museum! You can also schedule private lessons or book us to come and teach where you are!"  For more information: circusharmony.org.

ERA Theatre presents the radio play SHE by Nancy Bell with music by Joe Taylor and Lyrics by Nancy Bell via on-demand streaming  "SHE controls the radio station of the fascist regime in power. SHE's also the star of the broadcast. Her recording studio abounds with music and oysters. But in the nearby government camps full of misfits and would-be revolutionaries, only torture and starvation is thick on the ground. Tonight, however, SHE's realm feels different. The bombs sound closer. Time moves faster. But SHE will finish her radio show, and it will be her finest. If executing every number in the broadcast means some people need to die, so be it; it is a small sacrifice. The citizens need her and she will not let them down." SHE is available for digital purchase via bandcamp at eratheatre.bandcamp.com. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

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 Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Clueless through August 28. "Welcome to the world of big business, old mansions and family politics. You’re invited To the birthday celebration of the oldest, (and richest), man in town. Lucky you! Some would kill for the opportunity to meet Barnabas Barnaby Baggs, the famous Pickle Baron. He sure has made a lot of enemies on his rise to the top! I hope none of his enemies tries to kill him tonight. But if they do, will you know who did it? Maybe his latest girlfriend? The angry ex-wife? the spoiled nephew? Perhaps the jealous competitor? …Or You? Regardless, you’ll have to figure it whodunnit because we’re Clueless!" The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features Teresa Eyring, who has served as executive director of the Theatre Communications Group in NYC since 2007. 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

Gianni Schicchi
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents Puccini’s comedy Gianni Schicchi, running through June 11. "Wealthy Buoso Donati has passed away, and his family is in mourning…but only for appearance’s sake. These money-grasping relatives are horrified when they learn that Donati left his entire fortune to a local monastery, so they hire the wily Gianni Schicchi to help them get the money back. What ensues is a hilarious mess of legal hijinks and family dysfunction in Puccini’s comic masterpiece." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Highway 1, U.S.A.
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents the St. Louis premiere of William Grant Still's Highway 1, U.S.A., running through June 17. "Bob and Mary have worked hard and sacrificed much to put Bob’s brother Nate through school. Meanwhile, Mary dreams of the day when she and Bob can put their hard-earned money towards their own future. When Nate shows no inclination to strike out on his own, tensions slowly build to a breaking point. This intimate opera by the “Dean of African-American Composers” features a sweeping score that brilliantly blends elements of Romanticism, blues, and musical theater — and proves itself more than worthy of being restored to the operatic canon." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Patricia Racette in La voix humaine
Photo by Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre presents Francis Poulenc's one-character opera La voix humaine, opening on Saturday, June 5 at 8 pm and running through June 20. "Alone and desperate for connection, Elle frantically awaits her ex-lover’s call. The tense conversation is further jeopardized by a terrible phone connection, driving Elle into a dangerously fragile state as she grapples with grief, denial, and anger. This explosive one-woman opera features a self-directed tour-de-force performance by soprano Patricia Racette." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre presents the New Works/Bold Voices Lab, opening on Thursday, June 10 at 8 pm and running through June 18. "Critically acclaimed composers Laura Karpman (HBO’s Lovecraft Country), Steven Mackey (Orpheus Unsung), and Damien Sneed (We Shall Overcome) create new 20-minute operas featuring a small ensemble of singers and musicians. These commissions are an expansion of OTSL’s existing “New Works, Bold Voices” cycle, which supports contemporary storytelling by American composers and librettists." Performances are sung in English with English supertitles and take place on the company's new outdoor stage on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre presents a Spotlight on Opera panel discussion about their upcoming production of the New Works/Bold Voices Lab on Monday, June 7, at 5;30 pm. The producdtion will present three world premiere 20-minute operas by young composers. During the livestream, audience members will be able to ask questions of conductor Daniela Candillari, stage director James Robinson, composer Damien Sneed. For more information: opera-stl.org. .

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the St. Louis premiere of Mlima's Tale by Lynn Nottage through July 11th. "Mlima, a majestic and powerful African elephant, is murdered for his tusks. From beyond the veil of death, Mlima’s spirit follows the path of his tusks on a moving, lyrical journey through the dark world of the international ivory trade. From Lynn Nottage, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of Sweat and Ruined, Mlima’s Tale is a captivating and haunting fable come to life." Performances take place at the Berges Theatre at COCA, 6880 Washington Avenue in University City. For more information: repstl.org.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL) and Blackboard Plays present Thirty by Melda Beaty as part of The Black Motherhood and Parenting New Play Festival, running through Monday, June 7. "Thirty is an explosive look at a family generation of Black women caregivers grappling with family secrets." 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. Louis Black Rep rounds up its season of virtual programming with a final mainstage production of Do I Move You?, available via on-demand streaming at Vimeo June 15-30. Do I Move You? is based on a collection of poetry by Dr. Jonathan Smith, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Saint Louis University and President of The Black Rep Board of Directors. "Smith’s collection of poetry, music, and dance pulls inspiration from Jazz, religion, love, family, and some of the greatest musicians of our time -  Donny Hathaway, Louis Jordan, and Marvin Gaye. Conceived by Producing Director Ron Himes, using devised theatre, Black Rep Director and Choreographer Heather Beal weaves a web of music, dance, and poetry. Themes of betrayal, identity, discovery, and love flow throughout the performance, culminating to answer one very important question, 'Do I Move You?'” For more information: theblackrep.org.

King Lear
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespeare's King Lear, starring André De Shields, running through June 27.  "Tony, Grammy, and Emmy award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: Hadestown, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin) stars in the titanic title role in William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy. Directed by Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem), King Lear is a brilliant return for Shakespeare in Forest Park." Audience members will be seated in individual pods which can accommodate up to six guests. Reservations are required in advance. For more information: stlshakes.org

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents a Behind the Scenes Shakespeare Camp for ages 11-18, with full sessions beginning on Friday, May 28 and running through June 4. Half sessions run from June 7 through 25.  "This summer, Camp Shakespeare will include an all-new hands-on experience in Shakespeare Glen during rehearsal and performances for King Lear. In addition to daily classes led by experienced Festival Teaching Artists in voice, movement, acting technique, and textual analysis–the campers will get a behind-the-scenes look at how our mainstage production comes together AND a preview of the professional masterclass with Tony award-winner André De Shields!" For more information: stlshakes.org.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of Subtitles, A TV series pilot by Thomas Rechenberg on Monday, June 7, at 6:30 pm via Zoom. "Subtitles is the story of 23 year-old Jack Goetz- a down on his luck stand-up comedian who realizes his dream of playing at renowned New York comedy clubs might be just that- a dream. Hoping his Wall Street roommates with real careers don’t kick him out of their Upper East side bachelor pad, Jack gets a tedious office job transcribing subtitles for trashy British reality tv shows.The work is mind-numbing, the boss is unyielding and the hot girl he can’t stop fantasizing about is actually the girl he’s taking over for. As Jack struggles to settle into his new life of daily memos and fluorescent lights, his co-workers help him realize his dream of becoming a legendary stand-up comedian shouldn’t be written off just yet." For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

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.

Stray Dog Theatre’s Silver Stage Program presents an on-demand streaming audio version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The production features a cast of actors exclusively over the age of 55. For more information: straydogtheatre.org.

The Tesseract Theatre Company presents the new play Feast by Megan Gogerty Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm, June 11-27. The St. Louis premiere of Feast will star Donna Parrone and be directed by Shane Signorino. "A brave new work, navigating the intersection of politics and myth. Highly theatrical and timely, this dinner party is both thrillingly ancient and fiercely present. This is an immersive, visceral theatre experience where mythology crashes into pop culture. Feast reimagines an ancient myth as a cautionary tale against the rising forces of authoritarianism. There will be group seating as well as social distanced seating available in the space. There will be a limited number of tickets on sale for each performance. As of now, audience members will be asked to wear masks in the space for the duration of the performance for the safety and comfort of all other audience members." Performances take place at the .Zack Theatre at 3224 Locust Street. Tickets are available at MetroTix.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, June 05, 2021

Symphony Digital Review: Scenes from childhood

“Spring work,” wrote famed naturalist John Muir, “is going on with joyful enthusiasm.” By that standard, there is over an hour of spring work on display in the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) digital concert that’s available for on-demand streaming through July 24th, 2021.

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

Recorded at Powell Hall April 9-11 and originally reviewed by me back then, the concert features the SLSO’s newly appointed Assistant Conductor Stephanie Childress leading the SLSO strings in a cheerfully blooming program of music by Britten, Dvořák, and contemporary British composer Sally Beamish.

Stephanie Childress conducts Britten

As Ms. Childress notes in her introductory comments, the common thread among the three works is childhood. Britten used tunes recycled from his youthful compositions (he began writing at the age of 5) in his “Simple Symphony”; Dvořák’s “Serenade for Strings” was inspired, in part, by the birth of his first child; and Beamish dedicated “The Day Dawn” to her friend Christine McKemmie, whose daughter Zoe had just died. “[T]he piece symbolizes new beginnings,” she wrote, “recalling the sense of calm Chris felt on the day of the funeral, dawning bright after a week of rain.”

Originally written with student ensembles in mind (and when the composer himself was only 20), Britten’s symphony is, in indeed, simple enough for both young audiences and performers, but it’s also sophisticated enough to appeal to adults. And in the hands of a polished professional ensemble like the SLSO strings, it yields delightful details of wit and nuance that might escape less experienced players.

This is very apparent in Ms. Childress’s interpretation, which brings out the rambunctious fun of the “Boisterous Bourrée” first movement, delivers delicate and cheerful precision in the “Playful Pizzicato” second, and is sweetly nostalgic in the “Sentimental Sarabande.” A lively romp through he “Frolicsome Finale” brings the entire business to a most successful conclusion. Indeed, the echoes of that last movement continued to frolic in my memory for days afterwards.

Celeste Golden Boyer and Eric Schreiber

Beamish’s “The Day Dawn” is a more serious affair for a larger ensemble (around 40 players, twice the size of the Britten symphony) and with a degree of musical detail that can be both heard and seen clearly in the HD video. Opening with an early spring sunrise in the low strings followed by a pop-up thunderstorm and a return to sylvan tranquility, it’s a richly evocative piece that conjures up images of the Scottish highlands and the Shetland islands that provided the work’s titular folk tune.

That tune is heard most clearly in the dramatic central section and again at the very end, played simply and sweetly by violinists Celeste Golden Boyer and Erin Schreiber in a close-up shot that makes it easy to admire their concentration. But it seems to me that the tune lies at the heart of the sonically layered and richly contrapuntal body of the work as well. The orchestra plays it with heart and polish under Ms. Childress’s sympathetic direction.

Dvořák’s Op. 22 “Serenade,” which dates from May 1875, concludes the program. It’s a work that has always been a favorite of mine and, based on her video comments, a favorite of Ms. Childress’s as well. Certainly her reading of it was loving and finely shaded—clearly the product of someone attuned to the sunny springtime mood that permeates the serenade’s five melody-saturated movements.

That said, there are times when I find her approach perhaps a bit too loving and lyrical. I would have preferred a brisker tempo in the Moderato opening movement, for example, and a bit less lingering over the poetic trio section of the Tempo di valse second movement. There is, on the other hand, a bracing energy to both the Scherzo and the final Allegro vivace as well as real beauty in the sentimental Larghetto, so on the whole I can’t complain. It’s a fine performance, and perfectly played by all concerned.

Stephanie Childress

This was Stephanie Childress’s debut as a conductor (she appeared as a violin soloist with the orchestra March 26-28), and it was intriguing to watch her at work when I saw the original concert of April 9. Her podium style was elegant and precise, neither flamboyant nor overly reserved. I had the sense that she felt great confidence in the expertise of her orchestra and was content to simply keep them moving in the direction they had already carefully rehearsed. The video close-ups of her strongly reinforce those initial impressions.

London Symphony violinist Hugh Bean once opined that conducting “is the strongest evidence I’ve yet seen that telepathy, in one form or another, exists.” Seeing Ms. Childress in action, I’m inclined to agree.

Available through July 24, this is the first in a summer series of digital recordings of concerts by the SLSO from this past spring. If you missed them live, this is a golden opportunity to see them in the comfort of your own home. For more information, visit the SLSO web site.

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