Saturday, December 15, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of December 17, 2018

This week is your last chance to see shows at most local theatres. It's also your opportunity to celebrate the season at the Cabaret Project's open mic.

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Away in a Basement
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas running through January 6. " 'Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas' takes audiences back to 1959 on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. In the midst of holiday preparations and sprinklings of love in the air, the ladies in their witty, down-to-earth style are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who's going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them. Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Christmas Sleigh-Ing through December 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's Imaginary Theatre Company presents the children's musical The Christmas Skates running through December 22. "The true spirit of the holiday season shines brightly in this new musical adaptation of Mary Griggs Van Voorhis's short story, “The Boy with the Box.” It's nearly Christmas, and Tom Reynolds is excited to show off his brand new skates - that is, until someone shows up with a newer, better pair. Meanwhile, across town, Harvey McGinnis is thrilled with the meager gifts he's managed to gather for his little sisters. Inspired by Harvey's kindness and spirit, Tom hatches a plan to give his new friend a holiday surprise to remember." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall High School, 530 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. For more information: repstl.org.

A Christmas Story
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Story, based on the movie by Jean Shepherd, through December 23. "Ralphie Parker's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas returns to The Rep in all its heartwarming and hilarious glory. Filled with delightful holiday vignettes and endlessly quotable lines ("You'll shoot your eye out!"), this play is the perfect gift for the whole family to enjoy. See the classic movie brought to life on stage!" Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

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.

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents End of the Year Party and Monologue Event on Monday, December 17 at 6:30 pm. " No booking required. Just bring an original monologue that is 90 seconds to five minutes long. Audience members and actors are always welcome too. Prepare to read it yourself, have an actor friend read it for you or one of the regulars can read it. The only very loose guideline is that your monologue should somehow be related to the winter/holiday season. It can be serious, funny, dramatic, tragic or just plain weird. Following last year's successful event we're hoping for an equally enjoyable evening. The emphasis is on fun before the group breaks for the winter." The event takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information: www.stlwritersgroup.com.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Facing, a new play by Caitlin McCommis, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through December 23. "Wilda has modeled her life after that of her grandmother: to be fearless and adventure down the same dirt roads. When she's diagnosed with a debilitating illness, the vision of her future gets ripped away as she's welcomed to a club that she never asked to be a part of. But when another club member goes through a crisis, Wilda is forced to look her worst nightmare in the eye. " Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Harm for the Holidays through December 31. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

Next Generation Theatre Company presents It's a Wonderful Life, based on the classic film, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 pm, December 21 - 23. "George Bailey has spent his entire life giving of himself to the people of Bedford Falls. After a huge loss, George is forced to face his own humanity and what things would have been like if he had never been born. NGTC will bring this family favorite to life right in front of your eyes!" Performances take place at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre at Parker and Waterford in Florissant, MO. For more information, call 314-921-5678 or visit www.nextgenerationtheatre.company.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through December 22. There will also be a show at 8 pm on Wednesday, December 19. "First men on earth Adam and Steve and their lesbian friends Jane and Mabel decide to start civilization, despite the provocative challenges of procreation. They are led by the stage manager (who may be God) through the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, a visit with a highly rambunctious Pharaoh, and finally, the birth of the Messiah. This outlandish comedy is a perfect alternative holiday treat!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

Perfect Arrangement
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents Perfect Arrangement Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays a 7 pm through December 23. "Government employees Bob and Norma are given the job of rooting out 'sexual deviants' in the U.S. State Department during the Cold War. The only problem? Both are in sham marriages to hide their own homosexuality. Told in the style of a classic TV sitcom and set during the Lavender Scare that actually took place in the 1950's, Topher Payne's play asks how far you would go to protect yourself if it meant sacrificing others." Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the Musical Saturday at 11 am, 3 pm, and 7 pm and Sunday at 1 and 5 pm, December 22 and 23. "Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. " The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

Carol Schmidt
The Cabaret Project presents the gala holiday edition of its monthly Singers Open Mic Night on Wednesday, December 19, 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. Your MC is KDHX Senior Performing Arts Critic 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. Seasonal songs are strongly encouraged and there will be a Christmas carol sing-along. The event takes place at Sophie's Artist Lounge on the second floor of the .ZACK performing arts space at 3224 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure
Metro Theatre Company presents Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure through December 30th. "Part rock concert, part theater, all of your favorite characters as Metro Theater Company presents this new, wild and wondrous take on Lewis Carroll's beloved, poetic tale of self-actualization. A cast of actors/musicians plays an eclectic mix of everything from soul and rock to punk to ska as Alice chases through Wonderland in search of her own inner musical voice. A fun, hip, and refreshing fusion of music, theatre and poetry, Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure is the search for one's authentic self, asking how can you march to the beat of your own drummer when you're still writing the song? It places Alice in a strange, new world, where she conquers her fears and uses her musical skills to defeat the Jabberwock." The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

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, December 14, 2018

Review: Holiday storm

Storm Large
Tuesday night (December 11) there were two holiday concerts in Grand Center. In Powell Hall, the Bach Society presented their annual Christmas Candlelight Concert. A half block away, at the Sun, was "Storm Large's Holiday Ordeal."

Talk about your contrast.

Don't get me wrong: the Bach Society's event is magical, but for sheer Benzedrine-in-your-Ovaltine energy, you can't beat Storm Large and her band. Sure, most of the songs had only a tangential relationship to Christmas, but they were, as usual, delivered with that irresistible mix of rock attitude and cabaret honesty that is the hallmark of Storm Large's performances.

Ms. Large and her band have become familiar faces here in St. Louis. This was her sixth visit to town since she made her debut here in 2014 and her second appearance this year (the last one was at the Sheldon in January). She has clearly accumulated a good-sized fan base, all of which was apparently present to cheer her on Tuesday night. She gave it a hell of a great show, and probably picked up some new fans in the process.

If you have never seen Storm Large and her merry band, I'll just say (as I did when I first saw her in 2014) that she is a hypnotic, compelling, and energetic performer. Statuesque, slinky (in a glittery green gown that looked like holiday wrapping paper), and blessed with a powerful, seamless voice, she can deliver a sultry ballad or a raucous rock number with equal aplomb.

The song list this time around included some numbers that will be familiar to her fans, like Alphaville's "Forever Young" and "La Seine," by the contemporary French singer/songwriter -M- (real name Matthieu Chedid), both of which got the high-energy treatment for which Ms. Large is justifiably famous. Holiday tunes included Red West's "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" (recorded by Elvis Presley in 1966) as well as ballads in which Christmas plays only a bit part, like Chrissie Hynde's "2000 Miles" and Joni Mitchell's "River."

Some of the biggest emotional moments, though, came from Ms. Large's own compositions. That includes the lovely slice-of-romantic-life poem "Angels in Gas Stations" ("God is every damn where tonight," runs the refrain) and the encore number "Stand Up For Me," which takes a nicely poetic idea--what would Love ask of us, if it could speak?--and makes it the basis for a deeply felt anthem.

And, yes, we all stood up.

The fact that "Storm Large's Holiday Ordeal" was presented at the Sun was given a bit of additional resonance by the fact that the audience included a celebrity guest who spent a fair amount of time a half block east on the stage of Powell Hall: former St. Louis Symphony Music Director Leonard Slatkin, who was in town for a special tribute concert by the Chamber Music Society of St. Louis. Ms. Large talked about how Mr. Slatkin, in his capacity as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, invited her to sing with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall. It was a major turning point in her life--and yet another reason for St. Louisians to love Mr. Slatkin (as though we needed one).

Accompanying Ms. Large were, as usual, pianist and music director James Beaton, guitarist Matt Brown, bass guitarist Scott Weddle, and drummer Greg Eklund. Collectively known as "Le Bonheur," they've been playing with Ms. Large for years and, as I observed when they played here in January, they appear to have developed an almost telepathic rapport with her that allows them to easily adapt to her freewheeling performance style. These guys really know how to rock, but they can also sing in gorgeous four-part harmony when the song calls for it.

"Storm Large's Holiday Ordeal" was a one night only event, but the indefatigable singer moves on to Chicago for an extended engagement at the Chicago Symphony Center December 14-23, after which she's off to Bend, Oregon, and then her home turf of Seattle, Washington. You can keep up with her peregrinations at her web site. If you missed her this time, never fear; her remarkable energy and her popularity with local audiences will no doubt bring her back our way again.

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of December 17, 2018

It's all ho-ho-holiday music all the time this week on the classical concert scene.


The St. Louis Low Brass Collective presents a Holiday Low Brass Play Along on Saturday, December 22, at 10 am. "Every year the STLLBC welcomes all low brass musicians to the Missouri Botanical Garden to ring in the holiday season the best way we know how, on low brass instruments. This event is free and open to everyone. There is a rehearsal for all performers starting at 10 and we will perform at noon." The event takes place at Missouri Botanical Garden in the Shaw Neighborhood For more information: www.stllbc.org.

Kevin McBeth and the IN UNISON® Chorus
The St. Louis Symphony presents A Gospel Christmas with the St. Louis Symphony IN UNISON® Chorus conducted by Kevin McBeth, on Thursday, December 20, at 7:30 p.m. "Ten-time Grammy Award-winning a cappella group TAKE 6 joins the SLSO and IN UNISON Chorus led by Kevin McBeth to ring in the holiday season like no other! Hear TAKE 6 perform unforgettable contemporary gospel renditions of favorite holiday classics and more. Heralded by Quincy Jones as the “baddest vocal cats on the planet,” don't miss this soulful celebration sure to warm your heart with holiday cheer." The concert takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. The concert is currently sold out, but some standing room tickets are still available. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Gemma New conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with the Holiday Festival Chorus and soloist Camille Zamora in the Mercy Holiday Celebration Friday and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 21-23. "Glad tidings we bring this holiday season at the fantastically decorated Powell Hall! Join the St. Louis Symphony and Holiday Festival Chorus for a concert full of timeless holiday classics and, of course, a special visit with jolly ol' St. Nick! See why over 11,000 St. Louisans make this their annual holiday tradition." The concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The 442s
The Washington University Department of Music presents The 442s Holiday Spectacular with special guests Christine Brewer, Peter Martin, Erin Bode, Brian Owens, Montez Coleman, plus other surprise special guests, on Monday and Tuesday, December 17 and 18, at 7:30 pm. "Back by popular demand, The 442s are joined by some of the brightest stars of the local and national music scene in presenting a not-to-be-missed holiday spectacular. Performing traditional and original favorites that break down boundaries between jazz, soul, pop and classical music, this concert will get you in the perfect holiday spirit!" The concert takes place in the Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity in University City. For more information, music.wustl.edu or call 314-935-5566.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 14, 2018

New this week: the return of a classic musical at the Fox, an outrageous Biblical satire at Stray Dog, a darkly comic tale of 1950s repression from R-S, and the Gateway Men's Chorus annual holiday show.

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New This Week:

Les Misérables
The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the Broadway musical Les Misérables Tuesday through Sunday, December 11 - 16. "Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. " The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: To quote my review of the 2012 visit of this 25th-anniversary production: From the opening prisoners' chorus through the sublime finale three hours later, the show's canny combination of a conventional but memorable score, compelling characters and situations (the source is, after all, a literary classic), and fluid staging (made even more so by the projected video) grabs and holds your attention and emotions. It remains, in my view, one of the most effective pieces of musical theatre of the late 20th century. It's also a powerful refutation of smug self-righteousness and laissez-faire ruthlessness, both of which have been poisoning domestic political discourse for many years. Go see it.


The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through December 22. There will also be a show at 8 pm on Wednesday, December 19. "First men on earth Adam and Steve and their lesbian friends Jane and Mabel decide to start civilization, despite the provocative challenges of procreation. They are led by the stage manager (who may be God) through the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, a visit with a highly rambunctious Pharaoh, and finally, the birth of the Messiah. This outlandish comedy is a perfect alternative holiday treat!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Looking for something a bit more adult in the way of holiday theatre? Stray Dog has your ticket. It's an audacious, bright comedy that recasts the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve with Adam and Steve," writes Paul Friswold at The Riverfront Times, "but it's more than a cheeky romp through the Bible. Director Justin Been's vision for the show emphasizes the humanity of Rudnick's script, ensuring that this is a Christmas story with love and faith at the heart of it."


Perfect Arrangement
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents Perfect Arrangement Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays a 7 pm through December 23. "Government employees Bob and Norma are given the job of rooting out 'sexual deviants' in the U.S. State Department during the Cold War. The only problem? Both are in sham marriages to hide their own homosexuality. Told in the style of a classic TV sitcom and set during the Lavender Scare that actually took place in the 1950's, Topher Payne's play asks how far you would go to protect yourself if it meant sacrificing others." Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

My take: In his review at STL Today, Calvin Wilson calls this "a smart, engaging and provocative comedy-drama that sheds light on just how different things were in America not so long ago." "Perfect Arrangement," writes Richard Green at Talkin' Broadway, "unfolds in a very tidy, logical manner—with government personnel files that go missing, and incriminating love letters that resurface from long ago. It's an irresistible glimpse into a chapter of American history we might otherwise be tempted to forget." I have come to the conclusion that anybody who thinks the 1950s were great either didn't live through them, or did so with blinders on. Topher Payne's play is a reminder that nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: it thinks the present tense and the past perfect.


The Gateway Men's Chorus presents 'Twas the Night on Friday and Saturday, December 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. "GMC's holiday program this year promises a great mix of traditional classics, family favorites, and timeless music of reflection and joy at this special season. Your evening will include popular standards you know by heart, but we also have performances that will pique your interest such as the hilarious Hanukkah in Santa Monica, and of course, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: gmcstl.org.

My take: The Gateway Men's Chorus has been a local cultural treasure for three decades now, and deserves our support. And with darkness seemingly pressing in on us from all sides these days, we can certainly use a celebration of light and life. Besides, they're going to perform a Tom Lehrer song.

Held Over:

All is Calm
Photo by Ann K. Aurbach
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the acappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 16. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." 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: All is Calm has become an annual winter tradition at Mustard Seed. With a script by Peter Rothstein and musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, this story of the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914—a spontaneous outbreak of peace that occurred at multiple points along the trenches in France—combines splendid and often quite complex acappella singing with readings of letters from soldiers and other historical documents. At a time when opportunistic politicians are pushing an agenda of hate, fear, and eternal war, this is a play that everyone needs to see. As we used to ask back in the 1960s, "what if they gave a war and nobody came?


A Christmas Story
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Story, based on the movie by Jean Shepherd, through December 23. "Ralphie Parker's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas returns to The Rep in all its heartwarming and hilarious glory. Filled with delightful holiday vignettes and endlessly quotable lines ("You'll shoot your eye out!"), this play is the perfect gift for the whole family to enjoy. See the classic movie brought to life on stage!" Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

My take: The film on which this show is based has always been a favorite of mine, as is the autobiographical Jean Shepherd novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, that was the basis for the movie. The Rep last produced this fine stage adaptation back in 2009, so this revival is welcome. The acting is quite good, produciton values are first rate, and the changes in the script since 2009 have tightened and improved it, in my view. Give yourself a Major Award and see the show.


Tribes
Photo by Johh Lamb
St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Tribes Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm through December 16. "Billy was born deaf into a hearing family. He was raised inside its fiercely idiosyncratic and politically incorrect cocoon. He has adapted brilliantly to his family's unconventional ways, but they've never bothered to return the favor. It's not until he meets Sylvia, a young woman on the brink of deafness, that he finally understands what it means to be understood." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

My take: At Ladue News, Mark Bretz writes that this is "a sizzling presentation of Nina Raine’s searing drama about a bruising family where impulses are acted out and thoughts of any kind are expressed with nary a concern for hurt feelings. Tribes is an extraordinary play brilliantly interpreted by director Annamaria Pileggi and her first-rate cast." At lot of theatre at this time of year is all about the holidays. Kudos to STLAS for choosing to present something more weighty.


Wonderland
Metro Theatre Company presents Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure through December 30th. "Part rock concert, part theater, all of your favorite characters as Metro Theater Company presents this new, wild and wondrous take on Lewis Carroll's beloved, poetic tale of self-actualization. A cast of actors/musicians plays an eclectic mix of everything from soul and rock to punk to ska as Alice chases through Wonderland in search of her own inner musical voice. A fun, hip, and refreshing fusion of music, theatre and poetry, Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure is the search for one's authentic self, asking how can you march to the beat of your own drummer when you're still writing the song? It places Alice in a strange, new world, where she conquers her fears and uses her musical skills to defeat the Jabberwock." The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

My take: Lewis Carroll's characters have been through so many revisions and re-interpretations over the years that this new rock musical version hardly seems unusual at all. At Ladue News, Mark Bretz calls it a "festive, musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories, updated with a modern message and ‘happening’ music which makes for a frolic-filled production." The cast includes KDHX theatre critic Shannon Cothran as well as the exceptionally talented Omega Jones. And as an added bonus, it has nothing to do with Christmas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: Going for Baroque, with with a Romantic sensibility

Matthew Halls
Photo by Christopher Meyers,
Oregon Bach Festival
Even though it was originally written for an Easter season performance, Handel's 1741 oratorio "Messiah" has become a Christmas tradition. That tradition was upheld in fine style last weekend (December 7-9) as guest conductor Matthew Halls and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus presented a performance of Handel's Greatest Hit that combined Baroque orchestration with a Romantic sensibility.

[Find out more about the music with my symphony preview articles: Part 1 and Part 2.]

There was a time not so very long ago when the philosophy behind presentations of "Messiah" was "bigger is better." Throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th, massive orchestras and gigantic choirs were the rule. George Bernard Shaw, in his role of music critic, want to far as to lament the "multitudinous dullness" of the big band "Messiah" that had become the rule in Britain. That began to change in the late 1960s, especially after the success of recordings by Colin Davis and Charles Mackerras that used the smaller orchestras and choruses of Handel's own day.

Krisztina Szabó
Photo by Bo Huang
Conducting without a score or baton, Mr. Halls gave us a "Messiah" Sunday afternoon that was very much in that more historically informed tradition. The chorus was, perhaps, a bit on the large side, but with fewer than 30 musicians the orchestra was one that would have been familiar to late 18th-century audiences, right down to the use of harpsichord and positif organ (a small portable organ that went out of fashion after the 18th century) as continuo instruments. The balance between singers and orchestra could hardly have been better.

Working from the 1965 Bärenreiter edition of the score (there are around a dozen editions available), Mr. Halls assembled his own version of "Messiah," as many conductors do. I'm no "Messiah" expert, but the changes and cuts he made felt relatively minor to me. In any case, the performance worked very well, both as drama and music, and that's ultimately the real test.

Karina Gauvin
Photo by Julien Faugère
The four soloists were very well matched in terms of vocal power and style. Making her SLSO debut, mezzo Krisztina Szabó sang the alto role with authority and impressive precision. Her "But who may abide" conveyed the stern authority of the text very well, while there was real joy in "Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion." Her "He was despised" conveyed apparent grief at the sufferings of Christ.

With a light, clear voice, soprano Karina Gauvin convincingly conveyed the good cheer of "Rejoice greatly" and the simple grace of "How beautiful are the feet of them." Tenor Nicholas Phan, who did such a remarkable job with Britten's "Les Illuminations" back in 2014, brought great tenderness to "Comfort ye," followed by a bracing "Ev'ry valley."

Nicholas Phan
Baritone William Berger, also making his local debut, was an imposing "voice of God" in "Thus saith the Lord" and displayed both impressive virtuosity and dramatic commitment to "The trumpet shall sound." It's Handel's oddly celebratory invocation of judgment day, featuring a spectacular duet for the solo singer and trumpet. Associate Principal trumpet Tom Drake executed that solo line flawlessly. Indeed, the whole orchestra was in fine form.

Mr. Halls's interpretation, while not neglecting the festive aspects of Handel's score, included moments of compelling drama as well. You could see that in, to pick just one example, the progression from darkness to light that starts with "The people that walked in darkness" and ends with "For unto us a Child is born." His decision to have the chorus close their books and sing the famous "Hallelujah" chorus from memory was a neat theatrical touch, as was the placement of trumpeters Tom Drake and Mike Walk on the chorus platform for "Glory to God" in Part I. It allowed their bright, clear tones to project that much more effectively.

William Berger
Photo by Paul Foster Williams
Amy Kaiser's chorus never fails to elicit admiration on my part. They invariably sing with a gratifying power and precision. Every bit of the text came through clearly Sunday afternoon, as did the many polyphonic passages.

There have been some fine performances of Handel's "Messiah" at Powell Hall over the years, and while Bernard Labadie's 2015 version is still my favorite, this latest entry was a strong one and I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it.

The regular SLSO season pauses for the rest of December as Powell Hall fills with special holiday programming. This weekend (December 14-16) Joshua Gersen conducts the orchestra and Webster University Chorale in a showing of the film comedy Home Alone, with the score played live by the orchestra and chorus; only limited view tickets are available. Next week brings the sold-out "Gospel Christmas" with the IN UNISON chorus conducted by Kevin McBeth and special guests Take 6 on Thursday, December 20, followed by the annual Mercy Holiday Celebration Friday through Sunday with Gemma New on the podium.

The month concludes with "Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert" Friday and Saturday, December 28 and 29, followed by the popular "BMO Private Bank New Year's Eve Celebration" on Monday, December 31, with former Resident Conductor Ward Stare conducting. All concerts take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of December 10, 2018

Holiday theatre and cabaret are everywhere this week, ranging from children's theatre at the Rep to a decidedly adult show by Storm Large at the Sun.

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An Act of God
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents the comedy An Act of God Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, through December 16. "A divine comedy! Delivering a new and improved set of Commandments, God's introduction of the revised laws is refreshingly positive, insisting on the separation of church and state and encouraging us to believe in ourselves, not some elderly white guy in the sky. The play is sinfully funny delivering new meaning to the phrase divine intervention and where God and his devoted angels answer some of the deepest questions that have plagued mankind since Creation. He's finally arrived to set the record straight…and He's not holding back! In God we trust." 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.

All is Calm
Photo by Ann K. Aurbach
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 16. "Join us in celebrating the power of peace in this acapella musical based on the true story of soldiers during World War I who for one night, put down their arms and played soccer instead of exchanging bullets." 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.

Clinton County Showcase presents the musical Annie Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through December 16. "With equal measures of pluck and positivity, little orphan Annie charms everyone's hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. She is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage that is run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan. With the help of the other girls in the Orphanage, Annie escapes to the wondrous world of NYC. In adventure after fun-filled adventure, Annie foils Miss Hannigan's evil machinations… and even befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt! She finds a new home and family in billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary, Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy." Performances take place at the Avon Theater, 525 North 2nd Street Breese IL. For more information, visit ccshowcase.com.

Away in a Basement
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presents the musical Away in a Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas running through January 6. " 'Away in the Basement: A Church Basement Ladies Christmas' takes audiences back to 1959 on the day of the Sunday School Christmas Program. In the midst of holiday preparations and sprinklings of love in the air, the ladies in their witty, down-to-earth style are creating their own memories from Christmases past and present. Content to do things the way they have always been done, yet pondering new ideas, the reality of everyday life hits home as they plan the Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse in the sanctuary, several of the ladies are in the kitchen finishing up the treat bags filled with apples, peanuts and ribbon candy while the others put the final touches on the nativity pieces. As they mend old bathrobe costumes, discuss the politics of who's going to play the various roles, little do the ladies know what surprises are in store for them. Known for their hilarious antics and subtle charm, they are once again called upon to step in and save the day!" The Playhouse at Westport Plaza is at 635 West Port Plaza. For more information: www.playhouseatwestport.com.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents A Christmas Sleigh-Ing through December 29. The Bissell Mansion is at 4426 Randall Place. For more information: bissellmansiontheatre.com.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis's Imaginary Theatre Company presents the children's musical The Christmas Skates, opening on December 15, with performances at 11 am and 3 pm, and running through December 22. "The true spirit of the holiday season shines brightly in this new musical adaptation of Mary Griggs Van Voorhis's short story, “The Boy with the Box.” It's nearly Christmas, and Tom Reynolds is excited to show off his brand new skates - that is, until someone shows up with a newer, better pair. Meanwhile, across town, Harvey McGinnis is thrilled with the meager gifts he's managed to gather for his little sisters. Inspired by Harvey's kindness and spirit, Tom hatches a plan to give his new friend a holiday surprise to remember." Performances take place in the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall High School, 530 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. For more information: repstl.org.

A Christmas Story
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Story, based on the movie by Jean Shepherd, through December 23. "Ralphie Parker's quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas returns to The Rep in all its heartwarming and hilarious glory. Filled with delightful holiday vignettes and endlessly quotable lines ("You'll shoot your eye out!"), this play is the perfect gift for the whole family to enjoy. See the classic movie brought to life on stage!" Performances take place on the mainstage at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925 or visit repstl.org.

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.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents Facing, a new play by Caitlin McCommis, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, December 14 - 23. "Wilda has modeled her life after that of her grandmother: to be fearless and adventure down the same dirt roads. When she's diagnosed with a debilitating illness, the vision of her future gets ripped away as she's welcomed to a club that she never asked to be a part of. But when another club member goes through a crisis, Wilda is forced to look her worst nightmare in the eye. " Performances take place at The .ZACK, 3224 Locust in Midtown. For more information: tesseracttheatre.org.

The Lemp Mansion Comedy-Mystery Dinner Theater presents Harm for the Holidays through December 31. The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place. For more information: lempmansion.com.

The Stifel Theatre presents How the Grinch Stole Christmas Thursday through Sunday, December 13 - 16. "THE GRINCH broke box office records for two consecutive years on Broadway during its holiday engagements at the St. James and Hilton theatres in New York. Since then, more than 1.5 million theatre-goers across America have been delighted by this heart-warming holiday musical, which The New York Times praised as '100 times better than any bedtime story' and the Gannett papers hailed as 'A genius of a show! A total delight for both kids and adults.'" The Stifel Theatre is at 14th and Market downtown. For more information: stifeltheatre.com.

COCA presents The Little Dancer Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 1 and 5 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm, December 14-16. " The COCA holiday tradition returns for the 13th year! COCA's Ballet Eclectica presents Little Dancer, the tale of the famous sculpture, The Little Dancer of 14 Years, as it comes to life and discovers the world in magical ways." Performances take place in the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: edison.wustl.edu.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre presents the Broadway musical Les Misèrables through Sunday, December 16. "Winner of over 100 international awards and seen by over 65 million people worldwide, Les Misérables is an epic and uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit. " The Fabulous Fox Theatre in on N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through December 22. There will also be a show at 8 pm on Wednesday, December 19. "First men on earth Adam and Steve and their lesbian friends Jane and Mabel decide to start civilization, despite the provocative challenges of procreation. They are led by the stage manager (who may be God) through the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, a visit with a highly rambunctious Pharaoh, and finally, the birth of the Messiah. This outlandish comedy is a perfect alternative holiday treat!" Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.

The Monocle presents the MoSTLyTap Holiday Revue on Friday, December 14, at 7:30 and 10 pm. "St. Louis Holiday Review, Presented By moSTLy TAP! Join moSTLy TAP, moSTLy JAZZ, and other St. Louis performers for a variety of holiday-themed song, dance, and theater!" The performances take place in the Emerald Room at The Monocle in the Grove Neighborhood. For more information: themonoclestl.com.

The Black Mirror Theatre presents Of Human Kindness - An Evening of Short Plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through December 16. "Disregarded lives. All true stories, true enough. A homeless man seeking meaning in life. Letters from Mom and Dad - advice on growing up Black in America. The unshakeable power of small acts of kindness in Ravensbruck, the Nazi concentration camp for women. Isabella 'Bomefree', Sojourner Truth, a Northern slave first sold at 9-years-old, destined to become one of America's strongest voices for equal treatment of all. People, the same as us, every breath, the same as our own. Lives shaped by simple acts of kindness, both given and received, each a link in a chain 'Of Human Kindness'." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com.

Perfect Arrangement
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics presents Perfect Arrangement Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays a 7 pm through December 23. "Government employees Bob and Norma are given the job of rooting out 'sexual deviants' in the U.S. State Department during the Cold War. The only problem? Both are in sham marriages to hide their own homosexuality. Told in the style of a classic TV sitcom and set during the Lavender Scare that actually took place in the 1950's, Topher Payne's play asks how far you would go to protect yourself if it meant sacrificing others." Performances take place at black box theatre at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr. in Grand Center. For more information: r-stheatrics.com.

Alton Little Theater presents the musical Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through December 16. "The Sanders Family are roles models of inspiration, humor and hope and the production energizes the audience to see a golden opportunity for growth with songs created from southern gospel, hymns, country and bluegrass favorites from the end/era of World War II." Performances take place at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL. For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

St. Louis Actors' Studio presents Tribes Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm through December 16. "Billy was born deaf into a hearing family. He was raised inside its fiercely idiosyncratic and politically incorrect cocoon. He has adapted brilliantly to his family's unconventional ways, but they've never bothered to return the favor. It's not until he meets Sylvia, a young woman on the brink of deafness, that he finally understands what it means to be understood." Performances take place at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

The Gateway Men's Chorus presents 'Twas the Night on Friday and Saturday, December 14 and 15, at 8 p.m. "GMC's holiday program this year promises a great mix of traditional classics, family favorites, and timeless music of reflection and joy at this special season. Your evening will include popular standards you know by heart, but we also have performances that will pique your interest such as the hilarious Hanukkah in Santa Monica, and of course, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: gmcstl.org.

Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure
Metro Theatre Company presents Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure through December 30th. "Part rock concert, part theater, all of your favorite characters as Metro Theater Company presents this new, wild and wondrous take on Lewis Carroll's beloved, poetic tale of self-actualization. A cast of actors/musicians plays an eclectic mix of everything from soul and rock to punk to ska as Alice chases through Wonderland in search of her own inner musical voice. A fun, hip, and refreshing fusion of music, theatre and poetry, Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure is the search for one's authentic self, asking how can you march to the beat of your own drummer when you're still writing the song? It places Alice in a strange, new world, where she conquers her fears and uses her musical skills to defeat the Jabberwock." The performance takes place at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information: metroplays.org.

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.

Opera Review: Lyric's "Trovatore" embraces darkness

L-R: Russell Thomas, Tamara Wilson, Artur Rucinski
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
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The story line may not make much sense and the principal male characters are studies in testosterone poisoning and bad judgment, but nevertheless Verdi's 1853 tragedy "Il Trovatore" ("The Troubadour") has proved to be one of the most enduring hits produced during his "Middle Period" in the 1850s. I have some complaints about the staging of Lyric Opera of Chicago's production, which I saw in its final week, but overall I found it very compelling.

"Il Trovatore" is classic romantic Italian opera, with doomed lovers, a witch's curse, babies switched at birth, jealousy, violence, and death--everything you might want at this festive time of year. You can find a complete plot synopsis on Wikipedia, but let's just say that if "Il Trovatore" has a message, it might be "don't mess with the Gypsies."

Jamie Barton
Photo by Lyric Opera of Chicago
According to opera and theatre critic Charles Osborne the great Enrico Caruso is said to have once observed that all it takes to perform "Il Trovatore" is the four greatest singers in the world. Happily, all of the singers in Lyric's cast are vocal powerhouses as well as respectable actors--a good thing, given the emotional hell to which librettist Salvadore Cammarano subjects them.

Tenor Russell Thomas, who sang so beautifully in Lyric's "Norma" in 2016, scores again as Manrico, the titular troubadour who has won the heart of Leonora and, as a result, the enmity of the brutal Count di Luna. Soprano Tamara Wilson makes an excellent Lyric debut as Leonora, easily launching notes into the stratosphere and tugging at the heartstrings, most notably in the agonizing Act IV.

L-R: Artur Rucinski, Russell Thomas
Photo by Lyric Opera of Chicago
In his Lyric debut, baritone Artur Rucinski is the arrogant and lustful Count di Luna. His powerful voice and committed acting combine to produce a gripping portrayal of a man whose hormones have entirely destroyed any principles he might have once had.

The role of Azucena, Manrico's retribution-obsessed mother, is one that invites some scenery chewing, and mezzo Jamie Barton gives it her all without ever tipping over into parody. I have seen her do admirable work previously, not only at Lyric at also at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Glimmerglass, and her superbly sung performance here does not disappoint. Bass Roberto Tagliavini is a strong Fernando, making the expository "Di due figli vivea padre beato" at the top of Act I a riveting story.

The "Anvil chorus"
Photo by Lyric Opera of Chicago
The chorus is very important for Verdi, and chorus master Michael Black's singers are consistently powerful, precise, and varied in their performances, filling the stage with interesting individual characters. Conductor Marco Armiliato and the orchestra deliver a virtuoso reading of the dramatic score. And, yes, they deliver an impressive "Anvil chorus," complete with the requisite hardware.

Originally presented at Lyric in the 2006-2007 season, when it was directed by Sir David McVicar (Roy Rallo is the revival director), this "Trovatore" is, according to Lyric's press release, "set in the smoldering atmosphere of darkly mysterious 15th-century Spain, inspired by the evocative paintings of the Spanish artist [Francisco] Goya." Both Charles Edwards's relentlessly bleak set, with its massive, ruined walls, and Chris Maravich's generally dim lighting certainly add to that atmosphere. They create a pervasive sense of doom, but they also can make it hard to see the faces of the performers. The sheer size of the set also means that the turntable used for scene changes moves rather slowly, which can be awkward at times.

Roberto Tagliavini
Photo by Lyric Opera of Chicago
The violence implied in the libretto is also demonstrated a bit too graphically at times on stage, as in Act III when de Luna's men physically abuse the captured Azucena before dragging her off.

Still, this is a worthwhile staging of Verdi's drama, and if you're a fan of the opera you certainly will not be disappointed. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, it runs through December 9th at Lyric Opera of Chicago; visit their web site for information on their season, which runs through May 2019.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

St. Louis classical calendar for the week of December 10, 2018

Christmas music dominates the listings this week, but there's also contemporary chamber music at the Pulitzer and a celebration of Hollywood at the Sheldon.

The Bach Society Christmas Candlelight Concert
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The Bach Society of St. Louis presents the annual Christmas Candlelight Concert on Tuesday, December 11, at 7:30 PM. “Special guests include The St. Louis Children's Choirs directed by Barbara Berner, and legendary jazz singer Denise Thimes. Soprano Emily Birsan and baritone Ian Greenlaw open the concert with Mendelssohn's anglelic cantata 'Vom Himmel hoch', followed by familiar carols and the enchanting, beloved candlelight processional." The performance takes place at Powell Symphony Hall, 718 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.bachsociety.org.

The Chamber Music Society of St. Louis presents its 10th Anniversary Gala, Notes from Hollywood - The Sequel on Monday, December 10, at 7 pm. The event, which honors Leonard Slatkin, features music by Hollywood film composers. The concert takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington in Grand Center. For more information: chambermusicstl.org.

Conductor Joshua Gersen
Joshua Gersen conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Webster University Chorale in a showing of the film comedy Home Alone, with the score played live by the orchestra and chorus, Friday at 7 pm, and Saturday at 2 and 7 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, December 14 - 16. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

Members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra perform In the Light of Air by Anna Thorvaldsdottir Wednesday, December 12, at 7:30 pm. The piece "conjures the natural drama of the composer's native Iceland. This piece will physically glow in the Pulitzer with a lighting design created specifically for the music." The performance takes place at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: stlsymphony.org.

The Town and Country Symphony Orchestra presents a special Holiday Concert on Sunday, December 16, at 2:30 pm. "The guest soloist is St Louis native Lola Toben, a singer, pianist, songwriter based in Los Angeles, California. Known as “the little girl with the big voice,” Lola has been staggering audiences her whole life with the depth of soul she possesses in both her timeless songwriting and penetrating singing." The performance takes place in Ridgway Auditorium at The Principia, 13201 Clayton Road. For more information: tcsomo.org.

The Washington University Department of Music presents a Holiday Concert by the University Chamber Choir on Friday, December 14, at 7 pm. The performance takes place in the Holmes Lounge in Ridgley Hall on the Washington University campus. For more information, music.wustl.edu.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Opera Review: Some enchanted evening

The ball scene, Act II
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
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The production of Jules Massenet's 1899 opera "Cendrillon" ("Cinderella") that opened at Lyric Opera of Chicago on December 1st, while new to Chicago, originated back in 2006 at Santa Fe Opera. It has accumulated some good reviews over the years, and it's not hard to see why.

Let's start with Massenet's score. Some critics have turned up their noses at it, but I found it to be a good match for librettist Henri Cain's expansion of Charles Perrault's fairy tale--colorful, often witty, sometimes touching, and unfailingly tuneful. In his program note, Lyric Opera dramaturg Roger Pines calls the score "wonderfully varied," and I have to agree.

Siobhan Stagg
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Then there's the fanciful visual design from director and costume designer Laurent Pelly and set designer Barbara De Limburg. They have set the opera literally in Charles Perrault's book, with the text of the opening pages (in French) painted on all the set pieces. When Lucette (a.k.a. Cendrillon) gets in her enchanted carriage, she is literally sitting on the word "carrosse" (French for a horse-drawn carriage), and the two-legged horses that pull her have Perrault's text painted on their coats. And, yes, they're tail coats.

The silly outfits for Mme. de la Haltière (Cendrillon's stepmother) and her two airhead daughters perfectly match their cartoonish characters which, in Cain's version of the story, are much more foolish than wicked. And the wildly whimsical costumes for the princesses vying for Prince Charming's hand provoked plenty of laughter when we saw the show.

L-R: Amy Pogorelc, Elizabeth Bishop,
Kayleigh Decker
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
The visual design concept is, in short, perfectly suited to the material. It goes astray only in Act III, scene 2, when it departs from that material by moving the action from an enchanted forest to the far more prosaic rooftops of Paris. It felt out of synch with both the words and music, and led to some awkward staging in the sequence in which Cendrillon and Prince Charming can hear each other but can't see each other because of a magical flower barrier. Here they just crossed back and forth without looking at each other, which felt clumsy.

As is so often the case at Lyric Opera, the cast is a fine one, headed by Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg as Lucette/Cendrillon. The Act III aria in which she bids farewell to the modest joys of her home was truly touching, and she positively beamed in the ball sequence. Bass-baritone Derek Welton was equally impressive as her henpecked father Pandolfe, hilarious in the comic moments and credibly earnest in the dramatic scenes with Lucette.

Marie-Eve Munger
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Mezzo Elizabeth Bishop is a real scene stealer as the hilariously awful Mme. de la Haltière. The Act III aria in which the character pompously boasts of her supposedly noble lineage is a bit of deluded self-admiration that could have come from a Trump tweet, and she delivers it with flawless comic precision.

Soprano Emily Pogorelc and mezzo Kayleigh Decker unfailingly hit the comic target as Noémie and Dorothée, Lucette's brainless stepsisters, and mezzo Alice Coote has some very moving scenes in the pants role of Prince Charming, as well as a wonderful duet with Ms. Stagg in the forest/rooftop scene.

Derek Welton
Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Marie-Eve Munger brings a lightness and grace to the coloratura role of the Fairy Godmother, with a voice that seems to float over the role's long, elaborate lines with ease.

Lyric's Music Director, Sir Andrew Davis, conducts an assured and nicely paced performance of the score, with some wonderful solo work by members of the Lyric Opera orchestra. Original choreographer Laura Scozzi and revival choreographer Karine Girard provide inventive and often brilliantly silly movement for the ballet scenes.

The Lyric production of "Cendrillon" may not be perfect, but it is certainly great fun, and might make a good introduction to opera for children or others new to the art form. Sung in French with English supertitles, it runs through January 20th at Lyric Opera of Chicago; visit their web site for information on their season, which runs through May 2019.