Thursday, October 22, 2015

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of October 23, 2015

As always, the choices are purely my personal opinion. Take with a grain (or a shaker) of salt.

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New This Week:

Jeffrey M. Wright
The Presenters Dolan present Jeffrey M. Wright in The 40's: Theirs...And Mine on Saturday, October 24, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Songs from the 40's through today from a singer in his 40's. Songs made famous by artists as diverse as Comden/Green, Cole Porter, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Webb, U2, and Rodgers and Hammerstein - all with the magic touch of Rick Jensen's amazing arrangements. Back in town from his gig at 54 Below in NYC with Alex Rybeck, Jeff also guested at the Metropolitan Room." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information:

My take: Jeff, as I have noted in the past, has classic “leading man” charisma, an equally classic crooner’s voice and substantial musical theatre credentials. We have appeared on stage together and he's a regular at the Cabaret Project open mic night, which I host, so I have some first-hand knowledge here. Expect solid entertainment.

Angel Street
Photo: Eric Woolsey
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the drama Angel Street through November 8. Mrs. Bella Manningham is going mad. Confined to an old and dark London home, her suave husband and caretaker, Jack, accuses her of playing wicked pranks and tricks that she can't recall, tormenting Bella and making her question her own sanity. Frightened, Bella believes everyone is against her, until one evening when a keen police inspector pays her a visit, shedding light on information that could save her life. Equal parts mystery, psychology and sin, Angel Street is one of Broadway's longest running plays. " 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

My take: Sometimes a play's film adaptation will completely eclipse the original—just ask Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, whose 1940 drama Everybody Comes to Rick's would achieve fame as Casablanca. In the case of the 1938 thriller Angel Street, the 1944 film adaptation Gaslight (as the play was originally name in Britain) has become so familiar that the Rep adding it to the title. In any case, the original seems to have retained its suspense, despite the fact that pretty much everybody on the planet now knows the plot twists. "This is expertly crafted entertainment that will surely get you in the mood for the Halloween season," writes Chris Gibson at, "and I highly recommend it!" At KDHX, Sarah Richardson says it's "an enjoyable, diverting show with a delightful cast and fantastic design."

Dean Christopher
The Presenters Dolan present Dean Christopher in Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, A Tribute to Dean Martin on Thursday, October 22, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Dean Christopher has opened for Frank Sinatra, Jr. and several times for Don Rickles. He is thrilled to have the opportunity to pay tribute to one of his show business idols, Dean Martin. Dean just regrets that he is not and never could be as cool." The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information:

My take: Mr. Christopher has made a name for himself locally with his Rat Pack tribute shows, so this looks right up his alley. I agree that Deano was probably the coolest of the original pack.

Ken Haller
The Presenters Dolan present Ken Haller in an encore performance of Mama's Boy on Friday, October 23, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Ken got love of music from his Irish-Catholic mom who would sing standards while keeping house and raising five kids. You won't want to miss this heartwarming, hilarious, moving show from one of St. Louis's foremost cabaret artists!" The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information:

My take: Yes, I have worked on stage with Mr. Haller in the past and we've known each other personally for several years now, but that doesn't change the fact that he's an immensely talented gent with impressive credentials in both the theatrical and cabaret worlds. I described his last show "The TV Show," as "a tremendously entertaining and often extremely funny romp through TV land" in my review for KDHX back in 2012, and having seen this one last year I can say without reservation that it's definitely in the same league. But don't just take my word for it. "Haller is a charming and talented performer with a voice as smooth as a brandy Alexander," wrote Robert Mitchell in a KDHX review of Mr. Haller's "Song by Song by Sondheim" show back in 2011.

Meghan Kirk
The Emerald Room at The Monocle presents Meghan Kirk and Friends on Thursday, October 22, at 7:30 p.m. Guest performers for this cabaret evening include Tim Schall, Colleeen Sheeley, Jeff Wright, and Angela Moore. Carol Schmidt is pianist and music director. The monocle is at 4510 Manchester in The Grove neighborhood. For more information:

My take: OK, here I go quoting myself again. As I wrote in my KDHX review of Ms. Kirk's The Story Goes On this past spring, she is a tremendously talented and charismatic performer—a classic singing actress with solid vocal technique and the acting chops necessary to inhabit a lyric. The Emerald Room at The Monocle (the former Meyer's Grove, with the bar all spruced up and looking very Parisian Art Deco) is small, seating around fifty, which makes it a good size for the intimacy of cabaret. The other performers on the bill are also well known on the local cabaret scene, so I don't see how you can go wrong.

The Piano Lesson
Photo: John Lamb
Clayton Community Theatre presents August Wilson's The Piano Lesson through October 25. Set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression, this Pulitzer Prize-winning 1990 play by American playwright August Wilson follows the lives of the Charles family and an heirloom, the family piano. The play focuses on the tension between family members who treasure the piano as a link to the family history, and those who want to sell the piano to improve the family's economic status. What The Piano Lesson finally seems to ask is: "What do you do with your legacy, and how do you best put it to use?" Performances take place at the Washington University South Campus Theatre. For more information, call 314-721-9228 or visit

My take: August Wilson's play is ambitious for any company, much less a community theatre, but CCT has apparently nailed it. "Clayton Community Theatre shows just how successful community theater can be", writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "with a stirring production that demonstrates an appreciation of Wilson's exceptional script and an emotional connection to its themes...The story is compelling when simply presented, and the talented cast in this show digs much deeper with a good deal of success."

The Sunshine Boys
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre presents Neil Simon's comedy The Sunshine Boys through November 1. "Al Lewis and Willie Clark, as 'Lewis and Clark' were top-billed vaudevillians for over forty years. But they haven't spoken in over a decade. Now CBS is inviting the team to reunite for a 'History of Comedy' retrospective. A grudging reunion brings them back together, along with a flood of memories, miseries and laughs. Classic Neil Simon, a lot of it is epically funny and all of it is cheerful." 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 or visit

My take: As a local actor remarked to me the other night, this production has been "snake bit," with both of the original actors replaced for health reasons. Which makes it that much more impressive that the result is, in the words of KDHX reviewer Tina Farmer, "a sweet tribute to the era of vaudeville that's also an honest look at aging in an American culture increasingly focused on youth. Engaging performances and a pleasantly amusing script ensure this show is entertaining even for audiences with no recollection of the uniquely American variety of entertainment known as vaudeville." Chris Gibson at agrees, saying that "this version of the show has a certain poignancy and emotional affectation that provides the play with additional depth...Go see this wonderfully fresh take on THE SUNSHINE boys, you'll certainly be glad you did."

Dom Thomas
The Tavern of Fine Arts presents vocalist Dom Thomas and pianist Michael Harvey in Sweet Dreams, the Official Album Listening Party on Thursday, October 22, at 8 p.m. "Sweet Dreams the album listening party will be an event promoting the digital release of Dom Thomas's first studio album. Dom Thomas will sing a couple of songs and guest will get a preview of the entire album through the night. Guest will be able to purchase the album via email and Tips and donations will be accepted." The Tavern of Fine Arts is at 313 Belt in the Debaliviere Place neighborhood. For more information:

My take: By now you are probably tired of hearing about The Cabaret Project open mic, but the fact is that this is where I first saw Mr. Thomas shortly after he arrived in St. Louis last year. He impressed me (and everyone else who has seen him) with his smooth, charming song delivery, with its echoes of the great Nat "King" Cole and other classic crooners. And the Tavern (which, yes, is where we hold the open mic night...) is a nice, casual space with a solid wine list and menu of flatbreads, sandwiches, and the like.

Lina Koutrakos
The Presenters Dolan present singer Lina Koutrakos and pianist/composer Rick Jensen in Two for the Road on Sunday, October 25, at 8 PM as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival. "Mainstays on the NY cabaret performance circuit, and both accomplished songwriters, Lina and Rick have mentored and taught many of our town's best cabaret performers. They team up here to practice on Sunday what they preach during the week. " The performance takes place at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle. For more information:

My take: Line and Rick have become familiar figures on the local cabaret scene over the years, first as regular faculty members in the St. Louis Cabaret Conference, and then as directors and advisers for many local performers. "Rick Jensen is a coveted music director and arranger for many local singers and performs his solo shows," wrote Katie McGrath in her KDHX review of Rick and Lina's appearance here last year. "He’s here often enough to have his favorite flavor of gooey butter cake. Then there’s Lina Koutrakos. She calls St. Louis her second home, her favorite U.S. city after NYC. She loves our town and our citizens with an unusual passion, although this really shouldn’t be considered unusual. There’s very little this woman doesn’t do with passion, bridled or otherwise." As someone who has learned from them at the Conference on multiple occasions, I couldn't agree more.

Held Over:

Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical Dogfight Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM through October 24. "A contemporary musical with timeless themes of love and compassion woven into 1960's America as our boys stand at the brink of service in Vietnam." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: Based on the 1991 movie of the same name, Dogfight juxtaposes the personal cruelty of a contest in which three Marines each try to find the ugliest girl to take to a dance in hopes of winning the prize for having the biggest "dog" of a date with the impersonal cruelty of the Vietnam war. Writing for the Ladue News, Mark Bretz notes that the "youthful cast expertly conveys all the emotions of the time. Seeing that bravado so genuinely portrayed on stage makes the memories of history all that more painful and powerful". I'll admit to being a bit biased in Stray Dog's favor, having done a number of shows with them over the years, but my experience has been that you can usually count on them for professional work and innovative programming.

Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre presents the regional premiere of the musical Heathers, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, through October 24. "New Line opens its 25th season with the regional premiere of the pitch-black musical comedy HEATHERS, written by the award-winning team of Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O'Keefe (Bat Boy, Legally Blonde). This hilarious, big--hearted, and homicidal new musical is based on the 1989 cult film, truly one of the darkest teen comedies of all time. The original screenwriter Daniel Waters called it, 'a Carson McCullers-style novel of a girl who meets the Antichrist as a teenager.'" Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Center. For more information, visit or call 314-534-1111.

My take: New Line is in a new space and judging from the reviews it's a big improvement over their old digs at the Washington University South Campus Theatre on Clayton. "The company's new space is comfortable," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "and offers good views from every seat in the house, a bonus when watching a show with such a strong ensemble." The show is just the kind of edgy material that Scott Miller and New Line have made a speciality for many years now.

De Kus
Upstream Theater presents De Kus (The Kiss) by Dutch author Ger Thijs, translated by Paul Evans through October 25. "When a lonely stand-up comic and an anxious housewife meet on a country path, they embark on a journey toward an unknown and surprising fate...where one kiss could change the entire world." Performances take place at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information, including show times:

My take: The program for this show includes the following quote from the playwright: "Sometimes people discover heir purpose, their dignity, not in happiness, but in a twist of fate". As someone who found happiness as an indirect result of what most people would probably consider to be an unpleasant twist of fate, I could not agree more. Notices for the local premiere of this two-character play have been good, demonstrating that Upstream has once again demonstrated that taking on risky material can be very rewarding.

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