Thursday, December 08, 2016

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of December 9, 2016

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

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The University of Missouri at St. Louis presents 1984, adapted from the George Orwell novel by by Michael Gene Sullivan, Friday and Saturday a 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9 - 11. "1984 brings us the story of Winston Smith, a cog in the giant machine state of Oceania. Physically and mentally under the omnipresent eye of Big Brother, Winston has been caught struggling for scraps of love and freedom in a world awash with distrust and violence. With the brutal "help" of four Party Members, Winston is forced to confess his Thoughtcrimes before an unseen inquisitor, and the audience -- which acts as a silent witness to his torture. A ferocious and provocative adaptation of one of the most prescient works of literature of the last century." The performances take place at the Kranzberg Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. For more information,

My take: In his review for KDHX, Steve Callahan calls this "a stunningly fine stage adaptation" of Orwell's apparently prophetic novel. "Director Matthew Kerns", he writes, "has done beautiful work in his staging of this difficult but very important piece." At a time when local theatre is running heavily towards vision of sugarplums, here's a dystopian nightmare that serves as a warning.

Will Bonfiglio in Buyer and Cellar
Photo: John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre presents the one-man comedy Buyer and Cellar through December 17. “Underemployed Los Angeles actor, Alex More, is hired to work in a faux shopping mall created by superstar, Barbra Streisand in the basement of her Malibu home. One day, the Lady Herself comes below to play. It soon feels like real bonding downstairs, but will their relationship ever make it upstairs? Buyer & Cellar is a comedic tour-de-force, fictionally drawn from fact, which explores the price of fame, the cost of things, and the oddest of odd jobs." Performances take place at The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee. For more information, visit or call 314-865-1995.

My take: A one-actor show can be great fun if the script is worthwhile and the actor is up to the task. The script for Buyer and Cellar got plenty of praise from local critics when the Rep did it last spring and Will Bonfiglio has gotten good marks for his work (Judy Newmark calls it a "knockout performance"), so this looks like a safe bet for your weekend.

The Gateway Men's Chorus presents A Celebration of the Season on Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, at 8 p.m. GMC unwraps their 30th anniversary season with a night of beautiful music, campy carols, and holiday favorites, including John Rutter's "Gloria" with a full brass and percussion ensemble and pipe organ. The concert takes place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information:

My take: The GMC is a local musical treasure, so I always include them in this list. 'Nuff said.

A Christmas Carol
Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.
Through December 24, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents A Christmas Carol, adapted by David H. Bell from the novel by Charles Dickens. "On Christmas Eve, the miser Ebenezer Scrooge is given a chance at redemption as he's visited by four ghosts - his old partner Jacob Marley and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future - who teach him it's never too late to change." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information:

My take: Some of my friends turn into Scrooges at this time of year. I turn into Scrooge's nephew, cheerfully singing along with every carol and enjoying the hell out of holiday gatherings. That means I'd probably recommend this even if the reviews weren't so good, but as it happens my fellow critics are in danger of running out of verbal laurel wreaths to bestow on this production. Harry Hamm calls it "a polished, warm and large-scale production". "The redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge is among the most beloved of holiday stories," writes Tina Farmer at KDHX, "and The Rep's production delivers the spectacle of the story in a standout revival that's a welcome theatrical treat." I'll be there this weekend; join me.

Driving Miss Daisy
Photo: Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theater presents Driving Miss Daisy through December 18. "In 1948 Atlanta, Daisy Werthan, a rich, sharp-tongued, Jewish, 72-year-old widow has just demolished another car. Her son Boolie informs her that he will from this point on be hiring a chauffeur for her. Thus begins the 25-year relationship between Daisy and Hoke Colburn, her driver. She regards him with disdain and he is not impressed with her patronizing tone and latent prejudice. But despite their differences, they grow closer and more dependent on each other over time. The once contentious relationship blossoms into a profound, life-altering friendship that transcends all the societal boundaries placed between them. An iconic tale of pride, changing times and the transformative power of friendship." 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: or call 314-442-3283.

My take: I've had a great deal of affection for this show since I played the role of Boolie many years ago at West End Players. NJT appears to be doing a good job with this very funny and moving script, and its message could not be more timely. As Robert Cohn writes at the Jewish LIght, the play "is not only good theater: It is a reminder that even in the darkest days, people of good will can improve human relations and substitute the power of love for the corrosive effects of hate."

Finding Neverland
Photo: Carol Rosegg
The Fox Theatre presents the musical Finding Neverland running through December 18. "Directed by visionary Tony®-winner Diane Paulus and based on the critically-acclaimed Academy Award®-nominated film starring Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland tells the incredible story behind one of the world's most beloved characters: Peter Pan. Playwright J.M. Barrie struggles to find inspiration until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys' enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes this monumental leap, leaving his old world behind for Neverland, where nothing is impossible and the wonder of childhood lasts forever. The magic of Barrie's classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this heartwarming theatrical event." The Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: Looking for a family friendly show that isn't A Christmas Carol? This might be a good bet. "The story behind the story of Peter Pan" writes Mark Bretz at Ladue News, "is a refreshing and delightful concoction of high-stepping choreography, intelligent lyrics and a lush, beautifully written score that make for an evening of engaging entertainment for children and adults alike. Handsomely mounted and energetically performed, Finding Neverland makes for an ideal holiday treat at the Fox Theatre." In a review soon to be published at KDHX, Amy Burger calls it an "inspiring story of life, death, love and the power of imagination."

The Glorious Ones
Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents the musical The Glorious Ones Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 9-11. “In sixteenth-century Italy, a new form of comedic theatre is forming at the hands of Flaminio Scala: Commedia Dell'arte. Flaminio gathers a group of lowlifes together to create an acting troupe that specializes in improvisational comedy with masked characters. From the creators of Seussical and Ragtime comes a beautiful tribute to an important moment in theatre history and to the highs and lows of being an actor, then and now. Prepare yourselves for jokes that are as bawdy as they are old and as silly as they are sweet.” Performances take place in the Stage III Auditorium in Webster Hall on the Webster University campus. For more information, or call 314-968-7128.

My take: Anything by the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty is worth seeing, in my view. Writing for KDHX, Steve Callahan describes this as "a fond, loving, bawdy musical bouquet" and goes on to say that the production "is a small but rich one, under the caring direction of Quin Gresham. High praise must go to him as well as to music director Larry Pry and movement coach Jamie McKittrick. All the others in the production team--designers, actors and staff--are very gifted students at the Conservatory." The Webster students do consistently good work, in my experience, and this is a nice contrast with the various holiday sugarplums on stage right now.

The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special
St. Louis Shakespeare's Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre presents The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special Friday and Saturdas at 8 and 10:30 p.m. December 9 and 10. "Hop aboard the Millennium Falcon and help Luke, Leia, Han, Artoo, and Threepio get Chewbacca home in time to celebrate Life Day with his Wookie family! Originally airing just once in 1978, Magic Smoking Monkey brings this galactic and cosmically bizarre spectacular back to life, and takes you behind the curtain to witness its creation. Featuring a kitschy cavalcade of 70s superstars like Bea Arthur, Art Carney, Charles Bronson, and other surprises - your holiday season will never be the same! Costume contest nightly - come as your favorite member of the Rebel Alliance or Wookie or Droid or Representative of the Galactic Empire or 1970's TV personality and win! (braggin' rights and a cheap prize!)" Performances take place at the Regional Arts Commission in University City. For more information:

My take: Speaking of contrasts, here's a loopy tribute to one of the oddest things ever to hit the boob tube. Broadcast for the first (and only) time in 1978, the original show was greeted with a mix of incredulity and, by those watching it under the influence of the right chemicals, dangerous hilarity. It was perhaps best summed up by Nathan Rabin at AV Club, who wrote: ""I'm not convinced the special wasn’t ultimately written and directed by a sentient bag of cocaine." Reviewing this production for KDHX, Tina Farmer describes it as "a great choice for light, laughter filled entertainment with plenty of fresh references and skewering wit." Honestly, I'm surprised MSM hasn't decided to roast this particular turkey before.

Santa's Helpers Inc. presents Songs of Peace and Joy: The Music of Christmas on Sunday, December 11, at 3 p.m. "Merry Keller and her singing friends, Bob Becherer, Brian Derton, Paul MacFarlane, Katie McGrath, Angie Nicholson, and Dionna Raedeke will delight and entertain you with all your favorite holiday music! Ron Bryant is at the piano and Paul McFarlane will be on guitar. This concert will donate net proceeds to Santa's Helpers, Inc. providing the spirit of Santa to thousands of St. Louis families for over 48 years." The performance takes place at the Sun Theatre, 3625 Grandel Square in Grand Center. For more information:

My take: Rounding out the new entries in this week's very long hit list, here's a show of holiday favorites by some of our finest cabaret artists, and all for a good cause. I've seen and worked with nearly all of these folks in the past and, trust me, you can't go wrong with this lineup of talent.

Held Over:

The 2015 cast of All is Calm
Photo: John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre presents the a cappella musical All is Calm Thursdays through Sundays through December 11. “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

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 a cappella 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?

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