Sunday, July 25, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 26, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

The Alpha Players present The Mountaintop Friday through Sunday, July 30 - August 1. "The Mountaintop is a fictional retelling of how Martin Luther King Jr. spent the last night before his tragic assassination. After delivering his famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop speech” on behalf of the sanitation workers in Memphis, MLK returns to his hotel room at the Lorraine Motel to rest. His world is turned upside down when he meets Camae, a mysterious maid, who delivers a cup of coffee. At first, they only exchange flirtatious remarks, but soon they start a deep dialogue about Martin’s hopes and fears. The Mountaintop shows the audience a different side of Martin Luther King – a man who is tired, flawed, yet despite everything an inspiration." Performances take place in the James J. Eagen Center in Florissant. For more information: www.florissantmo.com

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

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

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

COCA presents the musical Billy Elliot Friday through Sunday, July 30 - August 1. "Our summer musical features some of the best talent in St. Louis with COCA’s leading performers, local apprentice actors, and regional professional performers all coming together under the direction of Nancy Bell for an uplifting and energetic theatre experience you don’t want to miss." Performances take place in the Berges Theatre at COCA in University City. For more information: www.cocastl.org.

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

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

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

Max and Louie Productions presents the St. Louis premiere of Tiny Beautiful Things based on the New York Times bestseller, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed and adapted for the stage by Oscar nominee, Nia Vardalos,  July 29 through August 8. "When life is hard, turn to Sugar. Tiny Beautiful Things follows Sugar, an online advice columnist who uses her personal experiences to help the real-life readers who pour their hearts out to her. Rich with humor, insight, compassion and absolute honesty, “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a play about reaching when you’re stuck, healing when you’re broken, and finding the courage to take on the questions that have no answers." Performances take place at the Grandel Theare in Grand Center. For more information: maxandlouie.com

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

The Muny opens its season with the musical revue Smokey Joe’s Café on Monday, July 26 at 8:15 pm.  “Ben E. King, The Coasters, Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee and The Drifters – what do they have in common? Besides being some of the most popular artists of the 50s and 60s, their hits, and over 35 others, are the bread and butter of Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Set in St. Louis’ historic Gaslight Square, Broadway’s longest-running musical revue includes Grammy Award-winning favorites such as “Yakety Yak,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “On Broadway” and “Love Potion No. 9.” With this generation-defining Muny premiere, audiences will be dancing in the aisles.” Performances continue through August 1st on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

King Lear
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents an on-demand streaming version of its 2021 production of King Lear beginning at 8 pm on Wednesday, July 28, and running through Sunday, August 1. "This is the first time in Festival history that a Shakespeare in the Park production was preserved for later distribution. Recorded over two nights in front of a live audience, this is Shakespeare at its best–raw, diverse and powerful." To sign up for the streaming link, fill out the on-line form.

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

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Symphony Digital Review: Hope, joy, and the change of the seasons in a Franco-American festival

Through August 14th, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is offering on-demand video of a program originally performed live on April 1st through 3rd, 2021. Consisting of music by Aaron Copland, Arthur Honegger, and Camille Saint-Saëns, it offers what SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève describes in his introductory comments as “music of rebirth, of sunrise, nature, expressing the hope of spring.”

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

Appalachian Spring

As COVID-19 infections soar along with the temperature and humidity, that hope seems a bit more distant than it once did, but even so it’s impossible not to come away from this inspiring and enchanting concert without a bit of hope and even joy.

The program opens with 1970 suite from Aaron Copland’s 1944 ballet “Appalachian Spring,” which sounds like it ought to be seasonal but actually isn’t. When Copland began the score, his working title was simply “Ballet for Martha” because all he knew was that he was writing a ballet for legendary dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. "I was really putting Martha Graham to music,” he would later recall. “I wasn't thinking about the Appalachians or even spring.”

This is, in any case, music that is direct and uncomplicated in its appeal, telling the simple story of a young couple in rural Pennsylvania starting their life together and building their home with the help of their neighbors and the local preacher. Originally scored for a 13-member chamber ensemble, the ballet was arranged for full orchestra by the composer in 1954. Copland returned to his original scoring for his 1970 suite, and that’s the version presented here.

The smaller ensemble loses none of the poetic appeal of the original, but it does put a lot more pressure on the individual players to be at their best. This is especially true of the wind section, consisting of only one bassoon (Principal Andrew Cuneo), one clarinet (Principal Scott Andrews), and one flute (Jennifer Nitchman). The three of them are frequently featured, both individually and as a trio, and Nitchman has an especially moving solo at the end. The last thing you hear is the sound of her flute, hanging in the air like a small bird before it glides off into silence; it’s a transcendent moment, and Denève allows that silence to linger just long enough to keep it that way.

Pastorale d'été

Add in the flawless playing of the small string section and pianist Peter Henderson, and you have a pristine rendition of what Maestro Denève describes as “a poetic vision of an America of additions, open to all with humility and grace.” We’re a long way from ever achieving that, but at least a performance of the “Appalachian Spring” suite of this quality reminds us that we once had that dream, and not really all that long ago.

Up next is Arthur Honegger’s “Pastorale d’été” (“Summer pastoral”). Composed in and inspired by a 1920 summer vacation in the Swiss Alps, it powerfully evokes the misty languor of a mountain sunrise, complete with shimmering strings, avian twittering from the flute, and a long, sensuous melodic line from the horn and oboe. Maestro Denève’s description of it as “an undeservingly rarely performed piece” is right on the money; it is, to quote the old Robert Palmer song, “simply irresistible.”

Principal Horn Roger Kaza brings a balmy warmth to his opening solo, segueing neatly to Xiomara Mass’s limpid oboe line. The strings are radiant, and the entire performance radiates the kind of grace and subtlety that characterizes so much of Maestro Denève’s work.

The concert concludes with a bit of pure fun in the form of Saint-Saëns's witty 1886 suite “La Carnaval des animaux” (“The Carnival of the Animals”). Maestro Denève calls it a “party piece,” and it was, in fact, written primarily for the private amusement of the composer’s musical friends. He explicitly banned its public performance during his lifetime, afraid that it might eclipse his more serious work in popularity—which, to some extent, it has.

Saint-Saëns has no one but himself to blame for that. What else could he have expected from a work that packs so much pure entertainment into 14 brief movements? The serene beauty of “The Swan” has made that movement a Greatest Hit of its own, but there are so many flashes of wit, elegance, and even outright music hall slapstick in “Carnaval” that no audience could be expected to defy its charms.

Alessio Max and Lucille Chung in
La Carnaval des animaux

Scored for two pianos with orchestra, “Carnaval” has proven popular with many keyboard duos over the years. The soloists here are Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, and I’d put the sophistication and sense of fun of their performance up there with the best of them. Bax even joins Denève for some physical comedy in “Pianists,” who Saint-Saëns portrays as a form of wildlife that practices the C major scale endlessly and with no great skill. At one point Denève, in a fit of mock exasperation, switches places with Bax, who then takes over for him at the podium. Much hilarity ensues.

The work is also brimming with nifty solos, all delivered with serious and/or playful virtuosity (as the music warrants) by members of the band. Principal Cello Daniel Lee’s “Swan” glides with sweet serenity, Jennifer Nichtman’s flute flutters acrobatically around the “Aviary,” percussionists Tom Stubbs and Alan Stewart enhance the watery ambience of the “Aquarium” and the satirical creepiness of “Fossils.” Alec Belcher’s double bass lumbers along cheerfully as the waltzing “Elephant,” and Scott Andrews gets an astonishing amount of variety out of the simple two-note motif in the “Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods.”

There are many other delightful moments as well, but that should give you some idea of how much fun this performance is. Maestro Denève’s direction brings out both the comedy and poetry in this musical candy box that’s both a suite and a sweet at the same time.

Available through August 14th, this Franco-American fun fest runs around an hour and is available on demand through August 14th. If you missed it live, this is a golden opportunity to see it in the comfort of your own home. For information on this and other live and digital SLSO concerts, visit the orchestra's web site.

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

Sunday, July 18, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 19, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

Alton Little Theater presents the musical The Full Monty through July 25 at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL.  "Based on the cult hit film of the same name, the Tony Award Nominee is filled with honest affection, engaging melodies, and the most highly anticipated closing number of any show!." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

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

The Blue Strawberry presents a singers open mic hosted by Meghan Kirk with Ron Bowman at the piano Tuesday, July 20, from 7 to 9:30 pm. Singers are asked to bring music in their key. The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Meghan Kirk
The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

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

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

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

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

Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in his one-man play Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, July 22-25. "Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond concerns  a teen-age boy in 1964.  JFK’s assassination still casts a pall on the nation.  The Beatles’ emergence in February of ’64 starts to lighten the mood.  The Cardinals continue the good times in St. Louis with a mad dash toward the pennant.  And when a new movie hero hits the screens that summer, a bunch of boys on a baseball field have their first theatre experience, when one of their gang offers a spirited one-man show of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  Throughout, the playwright draws links between what’s happened and happening -  from JFK to James Bond; from segregation in St. Louis to segregation in baseball’s Southern Leagues and at Florida stadiums where The Beatles played; WWII veterans from hardcore British film production crews to JFK hit squads; from the first cave man who stood up by the fire to the theatre musings of Peter Brook…most of it swirling in front of the eyes of a young boy, most of it sharp memories of the time it was." Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

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

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the new play The Huddled Masses: Part 2, The Kike by Bradford Slavik on Tuesday, July 20 at 6:30 pm via live in person and via  Zoom. "The Huddled Masses is a cycle of four one-act plays telling the story of three families, the McFeeneys, the Rosensteins, the Tanakas, and the Bukharis through 160 years of American immigration and history. In Part 1 – The Kike Chiam Rosenstein arrives as an Ellis Island Immigrant in 1896. His experience as a Jew, knowing only the Ghettos of Polish Russia, is severely stressed by the bewildering assortment of races, ethnicities, and a written language he can’t read, that he encounters in his new home. The only thing familiar is the anti-Semitism of some Americans.In the end, America to him becomes the help and friendship from an unlikely source in the form of a young political Boss, Ian McFeeney." The reading takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

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

West End Players Guild holds auditions for the four plays in its upcoming 2021-2022 season on Saturday, July 24thh at the theatre in the Union Avenue Christian Church in the Central West End.  As a public health precaution, the auditions will be held in four separate sessions, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending at 6:00 p.m. For more information: westendplayers.org/auditions/

Looking for auditions and other artistic opportunities? Check out the St. Louis Auditions site.
For information on events beyond this week, check out the searchable database at the Regional Arts Commission's Events Calendar.
Would you like to be on the radio? KDHX, 88.1 FM needs theatre reviewers. If you're 18 years or older, knowledgeable in this area, have practical theatre experience (acting, directing, writing, technical design, etc.), have good oral and written communications skills and would like to become one of our volunteer reviewers, send an email describing your experience and interests to chuck at kdhx.org. Please include a sample review of something you've seen recently.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Symphony Digital Preview: Re-sprung

July 15 though August 14, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) continues their digital video concert series with a program originally recorded April 1-3 with a live audience at Powell Hall. The emphasis was on the coming of spring with music by Copland, Honegger, and Saint-Saëns—although only one of the three works on the program explicitly refers to anything meteorological.

L-R: Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber,
Gian-Carol Menotti, 1945
Photo by Victor Kraft

The title notwithstanding, that work is not the one that opens the program: the 1970 suite from Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet “Appalachian Spring.” Copland composed the score in response to a commission from legendary dancer/choreographer Martha Graham and the talented amateur pianist-turned-arts patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for an as as-yet unnamed ballet. Indeed, his original working title was simply “Ballet for Martha” because, at the time, all he knew was that he was writing a ballet for Ms. Graham.

"I was really putting Martha Graham to music,” he would later recall. “I had seen her dancing so many times, and I had a sense of her personality as a creative office. I had—really in front of my mind I wasn't thinking about the Appalachians or even spring. So that I had no title for it. It was a ballet for Martha, was actually the subtitle that I had. "

The ballet didn't get its official title until shortly before the premiere, when Ms. Graham suggested “Appalachian Spring” based on lines from the Hart Crane poem "The Dance":

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends And northward reaches in that violet wedge Of Adirondacks!

So the "spring" is more a reference to the aquatic feature than to the season, although since the poem overall is about the coming of spring it would not be too much of a stretch to see it as a reference to both.

Dating from a time in Copland's career when he was trying to write in a more popular and accessible style, the score for “Appalachian Spring” is direct and uncomplicated in its appeal. That is only fitting, since the ballet scenario is equally straightforward, telling the simple story of a young couple in rural Pennsylvania starting their life together and building their home with the help of their neighbors and the local preacher.

Although the ballet was originally scored for a small ensemble of 13 players, Copland created a suite scored for full orchestra in 1945, followed by a full orchestra version of the complete score in 1954. The suite you’ll hear this weekend, prepared and premiered by Copland in 1970, brings us full circle by returning to the 13 instruments of the original

Arthur Honegger in 1928
By Agence de presse Meurisse -
Bibliothèque nationale de France,
Public Domain, Link

The next work on the program is the one that’s explicitly seasonal: Arthur Honegger’s “Pastorale d’été” (“Summer pastoral”). Composed in and inspired by a 1920 summer vacation in the Swiss Alps, it powerfully evokes the misty languor of a mountain sunrise, complete with shimmering strings, avian twittering from the flute, and a long, sensuous melodic line from the horn and oboe. Things become more lively about halfway through in a section marked "vif et gai" (lively and cheerful), with a woodwind tune that could be a kind of Swiss version of the traditional Morris Dance, and finally the sun breaks through in full orchestral glory. Apparently you can only dance for so long at that altitude, though, as the iridescent atmosphere of the opening soon returns and the work ends with a contented sigh in the strings.

The first page of the score for “Pastorale d’été” bears a quote from “Aube” by the surrealist poet Arthur Rimbaud: “J'ai embrassé l'aube d’été” (“I kissed the summer’s dawn”). As capsule descriptions go, it’s not half bad. In his comments in the program notes, SLSO Music Director Stéphane Denève describes the work as “tender, charming, and impressionistic… If you close your eyes, Honegger’s sun delicately warms you.” Listen to this performance by the Lusanne Chamber Orchestra and see if you don't agree.

The concerts conclude with a work that needs little introduction: Saint-Saëns's witty 1886 suite “La Carnaval des animaux” (“The Carnival of the Animals”). The composer wrote the piece primarily for the private amusement of his musical friends and explicitly banned its public performance during his lifetime, afraid that it might eclipse his more serious work in popularity.  

Glass armonica at The Franklin Institute

Subsequent history has apparently proved him correct. Ogden Nash wrote comic verses to accompany each of its fourteen movements for a 1949 recording by Andre Kostelanetz, a tradition that has become popular during the intervening decades, especially at “family friendly” concerts. His rhymes also show up in an abridged (ten movements) and rearranged 1976 cartoon version of the work, “Bugs and Daffy’s Carnival of the Animals,” with an orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas.

Originally scored for an eleven-player ensemble that included two pianos, xylophone, and glass harmonica  (a once-trendy instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin), “Carnival of the Animals” is usually heard in a full orchestra arrangement, so it should be fun to see it done live with the original instrumentation.

Players of the glass harmonica are rare these days, so I expect a glockenspiel or other more mainstream instrument will stand in for it (I have a recording where a regular harmonica was used, which is almost as odd). That said, you can hear a bit of “Aquarium,” the movement for which the glass harmonica was intended, performed on what looks like a historical reproduction of an original instrument on (where else?) YouTube.

The Essentials: Stéphane Denève conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, with pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung, in music by Copland, Honegger, and Saint-Saëns, in an on-demand digital video recording of a concert performed liveat Powell Symphony Hall April 1-3. The concert is available from July 15 through August 14 at the SLSO web site.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Steve Woolf, a personal remembrance

Steve Woolf accepts the award for The Comedy of Errors
at the St. LouisTheatre Circle, 2013
Photo by Sid Hastings
There was very sad news today about July 12th  passing of Steve Woolf, a man who was one of the true luminaries of the St. Louis theatre scene. I have known Steve for many years now, but our association was almost entirely professional and mostly related to my position as Senior Performing Arts Critic at KDHX. As an actor, I auditioned for him several times and was actually cast once (in Witness for the Prosecution, 2006).

So, unlike many of the tributes to him you will see on (anti)social media and other sources over the coming days, this is less about his many fine personal qualities (which he had in abundance) and more about his intelligence and wisdom as a director and the artistic head of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis for many years.

It is, in short, a remembrance by a critic, actor, and appreciative audience member.

As someone who has been a subscriber to the Repertory Theatre for something like four decades, I had to opportunity to see and admire the changes he made in company’s fortunes and repertory choices. If there was anyone who knew how to assemble a balanced season guaranteed to please both established customers while still attracting new ones, that man was surely Steve Woolf.  When he took the company over its record had been, in my recollection, spotty, with some fine productions alternating with far too many stinkers, either because of weak scripts or misbegotten artistic concepts. Steve changed that for the better, and IMO the local theatre community is very much in his debt as a result.

I am also grateful, as a member of the St. Louis Theater Circle, for his support of our organization and his willingness to host the annual awards gala.

Ave atque vale, Steve. Your journey beyond the Galactic Rim is a sad one for the local arts community and it is safe to say you will be sorely missed.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 12, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

Alton Little Theater presents the musical The Full Monty July 16-25, at 2450 North Henry in Alton, IL.  "Based on the cult hit film of the same name, the Tony Award Nominee is filled with honest affection, engaging melodies, and the most highly anticipated closing number of any show!." For more information, call 618.462.6562 or visit altonlittletheater.org.

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

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Espero: A Drive-In Circus Show
Christ Memorial Productions presents Espero: A Drive-In Circus Show Saturday and Sunday at 3 and 6 pm, July 18 and 18.  " Espero is a one-hour stage circus show featuring juggling, trapeze, aerial silks, clown comedy and acrobatics by Kinetic Tapestry, the Barnstormers Youth Circus Troupe, Zoe and Benji of STL Acro Duo, and Too-Me the clown Performances will take place in the back area of the church parking lot at 5252 S. Lindbergh Blvd next door to America’s Incredible Pizza Company.  For more information, visit CMPShows.org or call 314-631-0304.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

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

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

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild presents On Golden Pond Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, July 15-18. "This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the forty-eighth year. He is a retired professor, nearing eighty, with heart palpitations and a failing memory—but still as tart-tongued, observant and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the "grandchild" the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness—and slang—in return. In the end, as the summer wanes, so does their brief idyll, and in the final, deeply moving moments of the play, Norman and Ethel are brought even closer together by the incidence of a mild heart attack. Time, they know, is now against them, but the years have been good and, perhaps, another summer on Golden Pond still awaits." Performances take place in the Reim Theater at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road. For more information: www.ktg-onstage.org.

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

Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in his one-man play Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday, July 25, at 2 pm, through July 25. "Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond concerns  a teen-age boy in 1964.  JFK’s assassination still casts a pall on the nation.  The Beatles’ emergence in February of ’64 starts to lighten the mood.  The Cardinals continue the good times in St. Louis with a mad dash toward the pennant.  And when a new movie hero hits the screens that summer, a bunch of boys on a baseball field have their first theatre experience, when one of their gang offers a spirited one-man show of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  Throughout, the playwright draws links between what’s happened and happening -  from JFK to James Bond; from segregation in St. Louis to segregation in baseball’s Southern Leagues and at Florida stadiums where The Beatles played; WWII veterans from hardcore British film production crews to JFK hit squads; from the first cave man who stood up by the fire to the theatre musings of Peter Brook…most of it swirling in front of the eyes of a young boy, most of it sharp memories of the time it was." Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

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

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the new play The Huddled Masses: Part 1, The Mick by Bradford Slavik on Tuesday, July 13 at 6:30 pm via live in person and via  Zoom. "The Huddled Masses is a cycle of four one-act plays telling the story of three families, the McFeeneys, the Rosensteins, the Tanakas, and the Bukharis through 160 years of American immigration and history. In Part 1 – The Mick Sheamus McFeeney a new immigrant arrives in Boston in 1860 where he encounters prejudice against the Irish and America’s racial divide. He fights in the Civil War befriending a Confederate prisoner after Appomattox. He goes on to help build the Trans-Continental railroad and meet betrayal by that same friend." The reading takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

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

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.

Monday, July 05, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 5, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

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

The Blue Strawberry presents Open Mic Night with Sean Skrbec and Patrick White Sundays at 7 pm. "Come on down and sing, come on down to play, or come on down to listen and enjoy." The Blue Strawberry is on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Harmony in St. Louis and Circus Circuli in Stuttgart, St. Louis's German sister city, present Sister City Circus, on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page.  "Through a series of online meetings, workshops, and classes the two troupes created 6 different circus acts and then filmed them at iconic architectural locations in each of their cities." This and many other Circus Harmony videos are available at the Circus Harmony YouTube channel.

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

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

Fly North Theatricals presents three new free digital series. Their new digital line up includes The Spotlight Series, the Grown-Up Theatre Kids Podcast, and Gin and the Tonic. The Spotlight Series highlights the Fly North family of students and actors performing songs from previous FNT shows. In the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast you can join Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf every other Friday as they explore life after drama club and what it means to make a living in theatre far from the lights of broadway. Gin and the Tonic is a "reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories hosted by Colin Healy.” The Spotlight Series and Gin and the Tonic are available at the Fly North Theatricals YouTube channel and the Grown-Up Theatre Kids podcast can also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Sticher, other podcast platforms. All three are updated on a bi-weekly (every other week) basis.

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

Joe Hanrahan
The Midnight Company presents Joe Hanrahan in his one-man play Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday, July 25, at 2 pm, July 8-25. "Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals...Bond, James Bond concerns  a teen-age boy in 1964.  JFK’s assassination still casts a pall on the nation.  The Beatles’ emergence in February of ’64 starts to lighten the mood.  The Cardinals continue the good times in St. Louis with a mad dash toward the pennant.  And when a new movie hero hits the screens that summer, a bunch of boys on a baseball field have their first theatre experience, when one of their gang offers a spirited one-man show of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.  Throughout, the playwright draws links between what’s happened and happening -  from JFK to James Bond; from segregation in St. Louis to segregation in baseball’s Southern Leagues and at Florida stadiums where The Beatles played; WWII veterans from hardcore British film production crews to JFK hit squads; from the first cave man who stood up by the fire to the theatre musings of Peter Brook…most of it swirling in front of the eyes of a young boy, most of it sharp memories of the time it was." Performances take place at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander. For more information: midnightcompany.com.

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

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

R-S Theatrics presents While the Ghostlight Burns, a virtual discussion series featuring R-S Artistic Director Sarah Lynne Holt in conversation with St. Louis theatre artists, Mondays at 7 pm.  Conversations will be archived at the R-S Theatrics YouTube channel. For more information: r-stheatrics.com/while-the-ghostlight-burns.html

The St. Louis Writers' Group presents a reading of the new play Kings of the Revolution by Joe Link on Tuesday, July 6 at 6:30 pm via live in person and via  Zoom. "Three men in search of meaning, bound together by the arrival of a star in the night sky. An adventure that brings them together promising to bring about change.  For them and everyone." The reading takes place upstairs at Big Daddy's, 1000 Sidney in Soulard. For more information, visit the St. Louis Writers' Group Facebook page.

SATE, in collaboration with COCA and Prison Performing Arts, presents Project Verse: Creativity in the Time of Quarantine. Project Verse presents two new plays: Quatrains in Quarantine by e.k. doolin and Dream On, Black Girl: Reflections in Quarantine by Maxine du Maine. The performances are streamed free of charge on SATE’s website and Facebook page. For more information: slightlyoff.org.

Classic Mystery Game
SATE also offers streaming performances of the shows originally scheduled for live 2020 productions: The Mary Shelley Monster Show, As You Like It (produced for SHAKE20, Project Verse, and Classic Mystery Game. The shows are available on their YouTube channel.

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

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.