Sunday, November 28, 2010

The St. Louis Theatre Calendar for the week of 29 November, 2010

Updated Thursday, December 2

[Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.]

The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University presents the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, December 1 through 12. Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium on the Webster University campus. Fore more information, call 314-968-7128.
"As Bees in Honey Drown";
photo by Johh Lamb

Stray Dog Theatre presents the satirical As Bees In Honey Drown Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, December 2 through 18. There will be a matinee on the closing Saturday at 2 PM in addition to the evening show. Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, call 314-865-1995.

Barb Jungr
Cabaret St. Louis presents Barb Jungr in The Men I Love: The New American Songbook Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, December 1 through 4. “With rave reviews internationally and two New York awards (2008 Nightlife Award for Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist and Best International Artist 2003 Backstage Award), Barb Jungr is renowned for her unique vocal style, approach to arrangements and interpretation of song.” Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-1111 or visit

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves presents their holiday fundraiser The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 2 through 5. Performances take place at 517 Theatre Lane, at Newport and Summit in Webster Groves. For more information, call 314-962-0876.

Lindenwood University's J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts presents A Christmas Carol Thursday through Saturday, December 2 through 4, at 7:30 PM in the Bezemes Family Theater. The Scheidegger Center is on the Lindenwood campus in St Charles MO. For more information, visit

Echo Theatre Company presents the St. Louis premiere of the comedy Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM, December 3 through December 19. Performances take place in Theatre 134 in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court, 134 Crestwood Plaza. For more information, call 314-225-4329.

Everydaycircus Inc. performs shows hourly from 11 AM to 4 PM each weekend at City Museum, 701 N. 15th St. Shows are FREE with regular museum admission. (645-4445 or 231-CITY).

The Crestwood/Kirkwood Youth Theatre presents the musical Hairspray Thursday through Saturday at 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 2 through 5. Performances take place at the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood Community Center. Call 314-822-5855 for more information.

The Brass Rail Players present the holiday comedy Inspecting Carol. Performances take place December 2 through 12 at the Lindenwood University Premier Center For The Arts In Belleville, Il. For more information, visit

"Last of the Red Hot Mamas";
photo by John Lamb
New Jewish Theatre presents The Last Of The Red Hot Mamas, based on the life of Sophie Tucker, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 8 PM, and Sundays at 2 and 7:30 PM, December 1 through 26. Performances take place at the Marvin and Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCCA, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information, call 314-442-3283.

Dance St. Louis presents The Joffrey Ballet production of the holiday classic The Nutcracker Thursday and Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2 and 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 1 and 6 PM, December 2 through 5. Performances take place at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314-534-6622.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the comedy Over the Tavern Tuesdays through Sundays, December 1 through 26. Performances take place at the Loretto-Hlton Center, 130 Edgar Road in Webster Groves, MO. For more information, call 314-968-4925.

The Washington Avenue Players Project and Black Cat Theatre present David Lindasy-Abaire's drama Rabbit Hole Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, December 2 through 11. Performances take place at the Black Cat Theatre, 2810 Sutton in Maplewood. For more information call 314-781-8300.

The NonProphet Theater Company presents Reckless by Craig Lucas Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 5 PM, December 3 through 12. Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar. For more information, call 636-236-4831 or email nonprophetshows at

HotCity Theatre presents the satirical comedy Slasher Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 and 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM, December 3 through18. Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, call 314.289.4060 or visit

Tim Schall
Cabaret artist and director Tim Schall presents Songbook Sundays: Gershwin, the first in a series of cabaret programs celebrating the composers and lyricists of the Great American Songbook, on December 5 at 7 PM. Joe Dreyer is pianist and music director for the show, which takes place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, visit

The St. Louis Actors' Studio presents the Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys December 3 through 19 at the Gaslight Theatre, 358 North Boyle. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit

Dramatic License Productions presents This Wonderful Life, the one-man show based on the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, starring Alan Knoll. Performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, December 2 through 19. For more information, call 636-220-7012

Windsor Theatre Group presents Vaudeville Christmas, featuring magic, comedy, juggling and seasonal music, Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 2 PM through December 10. Performances take place in the ArtSpace at Crestwood Court. For more information, call 314-632-2114 or visit

Isn't it romantic?

Who: Steve Ross
What: Rhythm and Romance
Where: The Kranzberg Center, St. Louis
When: November 26 and 27, 2010

Renowned cabaret artist Steve Ross has a long and happy relationship with St. Louis, going back to the early days of the Grandel Cabaret Series. He was one of the first performers to be featured by Jim Dolan's Presenters Dolan organization when it got off the ground several years ago, and he even made a special trip to Mound City this past February to participate in a tribute cabaret for the late Chris Jackson. It's only appropriate, then, that he chose our fair city for a trial run of his latest show, Rhythm and Romance, which opens a three-week run at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room in January. Judging from the audience response, it was a good choice.

If you've seen Mr. Ross before, you already know that he's the very personification of savoir faire: a graceful, elegant, and charming performer in the mold of Noel Coward, whose green velvet smoking jacket (or, as he refers to it, his "non-smoking jacket") he now wears, courtesy of the Noel Coward society. Even when Mr. Ross made the occasional musical misstep (perhaps inevitable with a new show), his love of the material and his ability to connect with the audience carried him through and earned him a standing ovation at the end.

The evening opened with a lively medley combining the title song with Jimmy McHugh and Ted Koehler's "Spreadin' Rhythm Around" (both introduced in 1935 by Ella Fitzgerald and "Fats" Waller, respectively) and bits of Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" and "Fascinatin' Rhythm". Mr. Ross followed that up with a set about seduction (Flanders and Swann's droll "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear") and marriage both sentimental (Kander and Ebb's "Married" and Kern and Hammerstein's "The Folks Who Live on the Hill") and sarcastic (Rodgers and Sondheim's "We're Gonna Be All Right", from Do I Hear a Waltz?).

The rest of the show continued in a similar vein, examining the varieties of romance, both comic and tragic. There was, as you might expect, plenty of Porter and Coward, but there was also Jacques Brel's dark "Fanette and I" and Ivor Novello's "And Her Mother Came Too", a comic look at a true "helicopter parent". There was even a set on the romance of travel, with Bob Merrill's rarely-heard "Mira" (from Carnival!) and a pair of Coward gems: "Sail Away" (from the 1960 flop of the same name) and, from 1955, the rudely hilarious "A Bar on the Piccola Marina", about the sexual awakening of the formerly staid Mrs. Wentworth Brewster.

As always, Mr. Ross intertwined the music with erudite and amusing commentary on the songs and their creators. Did you know, for example, that Noel Coward's wistful waltz ballad "Some Day I'll Find You" was the theme song for the long-running radio and early TV detective show Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons?* Or that Mr. Coward (who was a close friend of Cole Porter) responded to questions about a 1962 trip to a clinic for "rejuvenation shots" of sheep hormones by quipping "I've got ewe under my skin"?

Well, now you do.

If there's one lyricist who understood both the rhapsody and rue of romance, that would surely be the late Lorenz Hart, so it's only appropriate that Mr. Ross's show featured a generous helping of Rodgers and Hart numbers, including "My Romance" (from Jumbo, 1935) and "Glad to Be Unhappy" (On Your Toes, 1936). The set was punctuated by some dry-eyed looks at romance form Dorothy Parker – also very appropriate in a show destined for the Algonquin, where Ms. Parker was a regular guest at the fabled literary Round Table.

The show concluded with Mr. Ross's trademark Edith Piaf instrumental medley, followed by an encore that briefly recapped "Rhythm and Romance" and then segued into an affecting rendition of the 1934 classic "For All We Know". And a splendid time was had by all.

For more information on the peripatetic Mr. Ross, visit his web site at For more information on upcoming cabaret shows at the Kranzberg Center, visit The Presenters Dolan at and the Cabaret St. Louis site at

*Or, for you Bob and Ray fans, Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Homecoming

Leonard Slatkin
Who: The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
What: Olga Kern plays Rachmaninov; Leonard Slatkin Conducts Arvo Pärt and Prokofiev
Where: Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis
When: November 26 - 28, 2010

Former Music Director Leonard Slatkin, who led the St. Louis Symphony during what was possibly its period of highest international visibility, made a triumphant return visit to Powell Hall this weekend. He led the band he referred to as "my family" and glamorous virtuoso pianist Olga Kern in a highly satisfying program. There was a sublime Fratres by Arvo Pärt, starring the symphony strings; rapid-fire Rachmaninov with the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; and a highly charged reading of Prokofiev's powerful Symphony No. 5. There was even a quirky encore at the end.

Originally composed in 1977 and revised several times since, Pärt's Fratres exists in 15 different orchestrations, the most popular of which – for claves, bass drum and strings – opened the concert. The piece unfolds in a series of nine iterations of a chant-like theme, rising in a slow crescendo, peaking at the seventh section, and then dying away to the drone maintained by the basses throughout.

Although supposedly based on a simple mathematical formula, the music suggested (to me, anyway) the Canonical prayer hours of a medieval monastery. Your mileage may vary, of course, but there's no denying that the overall effect is an uplifting and welcome cleansing of the aural detritus of the modern world. Mr. Slatkin conducted this deceptively simple-sounding music with great precision and sympathy.

At the other end of the musical spectrum from the contemplative Fratres is Rachmaninov's flashy Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini from 1934. The Russian expatriate was one of the previous century's great virtuoso pianists and the Rhapsody served him well as he toured America and Europe. The piece is a sort of mini-concerto, consisting of 24 variations on (appropriately) the twenty-fourth and last of Niccolò Paganini's Caprices for solo violin – a tune that has proved irresistible for composers from Liszt to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Displaying formidable technique, a deep understanding of Russian romantic style and no small measure of what the production team on the old Avengers TV series called "M. appeal", Olga Kern is perhaps the ideal performer for the Rhapsody, with its irresistible mix of keyboard pyrotechnics and unabashed sentimentality, particularly in the famous 18th variation. She and Mr. Slatkin made the slow variations dreamy and took the fast ones at such a breakneck pace that the entire structure seemed ready collapse at times. It never did, of course, so the overall effect was rather like watching the Flying Wallendas' seven-person pyramid. It was, in short, breathtaking – so much so that the audience brought Ms. Kern back for a short bravura encore.

The evening concluded with Prokofiev's 1944 Symphony No. 5. Composed at the artists' colony of Ivanovo east of Moscow just as the war with Germany was turning in Russia's favor, the symphony was described by Prokofiev as "a hymn to free and happy Man, to his mighty powers, his pure and noble spirit" and while there is certainly an air of triumph, especially in the majestic opening theme, it has always seemed to me that the war was never far from the composer's mind. You can hear it in (among other places) the militant percussion of the first movement and the anguished climax of the third.

The aura of triumph is also leavened by Prokofiev's characteristic irony. The composer of the Sarcasms for piano always seems to have a raised eyebrow or cynical smile behind his most demonstrative music. In the 5th symphony sarcasm takes various forms, including caustic comments from the brass and percussion and the deliberate interruption of the boisterous Allegro giocoso finale by a short, dissonant passage for string quartet and trumpet.

Conducting without a score (as he had for the entire evening), Mr. Slatkin pulled these disparate elements together into a compelling whole that did full justice to Prokofiev's many moods. The big gestures where huge and the small details perfect. The ensemble sounded wonderful, in short. The 1985 recording Mr. Slatkin and the SLSO did for RCA is still available at I'll confess that I haven't heard it, but if it's anything like Friday's performance, it's worth having.

As with the Rachmaninov, audience response was wildly enthusiastic, obliging Mr. Slatkin to perform an unexpected encore: "Carmen's Hoedown", an exuberantly silly arrangement by Mr. Slatkin's noted father Felix of "Votre toast, je peux vous le render" (a.k.a. "The Toreador Song") from Carmen. It was great fun and, I suppose, the logical conclusion to an evening marked by dramatic contrasts.

Performances of this program continue Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3, November 27 and 28, 2010. Tickets are available at or by calling 314-534-1700. Next at Powell Hall, music of Albéniz, Falla and Brahms conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos December 3 and 4, after which the regular concert series breaks for a collection of holiday programs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

St. Louis Symphony update, 26 November 2010

Olga Kern
Leonard Slatkin makes a triumphant return visit to Powell Hall this weekend, leading the St. Louis Symphony and glamorous virtuoso pianist Olga Kern in a highly satisfying program. The evening opens with a sublime Fratres by Arvo Pärt starring the symphony strings, moves on to rapid-fire Rachmaninov with Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and closes with a highly charged reading of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5. There are a couple of surprises along the way as well. Performances continue Saturday at 8 and Sunday at 3, November 27 and 28.  Get your tickets now at Full review to follow here and at the KDHX site.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Darkness Visible

What: South Pacific
Where: The Fox Theatre, St. Louis
When: November 9 through 21, 2010

[David Pittsinger as Emile de Becque and Carmen Cusack as Nellie Forbush – photo by Craig Schwartz]

There's literal and literary darkness at the heart of the nearly flawless revival of South Pacific at the Fox. The former derives from Donald Holder's lighting design, which relies heavily on follow spots combined with dim general illumination. The latter derives from the Joshua Logan/Oscar Hammerstein book and the James Mitchener short stories on which it's based. Together, they remind us that this theatrical classic is not just a musical, but a drama as well. In South Pacific, boy gets girl, boy abandons girl, boy dies and everybody else goes off to war.

For audiences that know South Pacific largely as a high-gloss widescreen musical from 1958, the show's occasionally trenchant commentary on the folly and futility of war, issues of racism, and what Emile De Becque, in a moment of despair, refers to as "a mean little world / Of mean little men" might come as a surprise. We need to remember that when the show opened in 1949, the aftermath of the horror that was the war in the Pacific was still very much on everyone's minds.

We need to remember, as well, that less than a year before that opening, President Truman had issued Executive Order 9981 desegregating the armed forces – provoking a violent backlash that continues to this day. "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught", Lt. Cable's bitter commentary on racism, provoked anger and accusations of indecency and Communism when South Pacific arrived in the southern USA. Rodgers and Hammerstein, to their credit, refused to cut the song.

Based on the much-praised 2008 Lincoln Center revival, this tour of South Pacific is about as good as it gets, boasting a great cast, eye-catching period costumes by Catherine Zuber, intelligently designed sets by Michael Yeargan that make scene changes a breeze, and – a real rarity for a touring show – a 25-piece orchestra of mostly local musicians under the baton of Lawrence Goldberg doing full justice to the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Trude Rittmann.

Director Bartlett Sher has put it all together with great respect for the original, even going to far as to open and close the evening with Mitchener's own words, projected on a scrim. A couple of lines and one song – "My Girl Back Home" – that were cut from the 1949 production have been restored, but otherwise this is about as close as we can get today to the excitement that galvanized audiences and critics alike so many decades ago.

Carmen Cusak and David Pittsinger head this great cast as the "cockeyed optimist" Nellie Forbush and the world-weary Emile De Becque. Mr. Pittsinger, who took over the role of De Becque on Broadway from Paulo Szot, is an operatic bass-baritone in the mold of Ezio Pinza (who created the part), so his big numbers have all the power you'd expect. He is, perhaps, a few years older than the character's stated age of 44 but given the strength of his performance it hardly matters. Ms. Cusak, who matches him in vocal and dramatic power, cuts a striking figure as Nellie. She doesn't have the cutie pie look that often seems associated with the role which, of course, only makes her that much more watchable.

In the supporting roles, pride of place goes to Anderson Davis's doomed Lt. Cable. He is, perhaps, not quite as haunted as I'd like in the second act, but he has a sardonic edge that makes it work, so I can't complain. Jodi Kimura is a classically raucous Bloody Mary. It's a fine performance, marred only by a tendency to play too often at the top of the voice. Timothy Gulan's Luther Billis has all the conniving street smarts you could wish for.

Let me also not fail to praise Sumie Maeda as Liat, the island girl whom Cable beds but can't bring himself to wed until it's too late. Her graceful dance turn in "Happy Talk" speaks volumes, although her character hardly speaks at all.

There are many other fine performances in this 34-person cast. I can't list them all here, but you can find head shots and bios of every one of them at None of them are less than good, and most are outstanding.

The fact that, sixty years after its birth, South Pacific is still such a winning combination of compelling drama and uplifting entertainment that audiences will sit mesmerized by it for nearly three hours shows the genius of Rodgers, Hammerstein and Logan. The fact that the script's political commentary is still relevant shows how little progress we've made as a nation and as a species.