Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Symphony Preview: Homecoming weekend

This weekend (October 29 and 30) the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) welcomes back a pair of artists who have appeared on the Powell Hall stage in the recent past to considerable acclaim: conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider and pianist Ingrid Fliter. That makes it a homecoming of sorts, which seems in synch with SLSO program annotator Caitlin Custer’s description of it as “a program about place, about home.”

[Preview the music with my commercial-free Spotify playlist.]

Karim Al-Zand

The concerts begin with “Luctus Profugis: Elegy for the Displaced,” a 2016 work by Canadian-American composer Karim Al-Zand. A faculty member in the Shepherd School of Music at my alma mater, Rice University, Al-Zand is described, in his official bio, as drawing on “sources such as graphic art, myths and fables, folk music of the world, film, spoken word, jazz, and his own Middle Eastern heritage.”

That heritage is the primary inspiration of “Luctus Profugis,” which Al-Zand describes as “a lament for string orchestra and percussion that reflects on the 2015–2019 European refugee crisis” in which refugees from war-torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan began flooding Europe and the United States—often meeting a hostile reception. “It is my hope,” he wrote, “that Luctus Profugis serves as not only an elegy, but also a call to action.”

Scored for string orchestra and vibraphone, “Luctus Profugis” is a short (under six minutes) but powerful work based on a three-note motif on the vibraphone that continues throughout the work. The strings pick up on it and weave a complex contrapuntal web of sound out of it, somewhat in the manner of a passacaglia, in which a repeated melody in the bass line serves as the basis for increasingly elaborate variations for the other instrumental voices. The mood is an intense mixture of yearning and lamentation that finally fades into an uneasy silence.

There’s no recording of the work available on Spotify, but there is a fine performance on YouTube by the Kölner Philharmonie (Cologne Philharmonic) under the baton of another conductor who is no stranger to our stage, Christian Macelaru.

Schumann in 1850
en.wikipedia.org

The concept of “home” behind the next work is more domestic.  When Robert Schumann wrote his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, he was happily ensconced in cozy domesticity with the love of his life, Clara. You can hear that love and contentment in every measure of this poetic work, which is far removed from the sort of virtuoso showpiece that Schumann and his fellow contributors to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik disdained. The piano is not set apart from the orchestra the way it is in the concerti of many of Schumann's contemporaries. From the very beginning, in which the soloist trades phrases with the winds, the piano is an integral part of the orchestra—a role it occupies until the very end. As Clara Schumann, who gave the work its 1845 premiere in Dresden, observed in her diary, "the piano is interwoven with the orchestra in the most delicate way—one can't imagine the one without the other."

The concerto was equally successful when Clara played it at a New Year’s concert in Leipzig the following year and again in London shortly before Schumann's death in 1856. Even the critic J. W. Davidson, who regarded the Concerto itself as "a labored and ambitious work," had to admit that "the praiseworthy efforts of the gifted lady make her husband's curious rhapsody pass for music."

In a 2016 video interview for Linn Records promoting her new recording of the Schumann concerto (which you can hear in the Spotify playlist), Ingrid Fliter describes Schumann as “a poet” who was “always seeking inside of himself…he seeks a perfect world, an ideal world that doesn’t exist and he cannot reach.” As you listen to his concerto, I think you can find him reaching that world in his music, even though he only achieved it briefly in his own tragic life.

Home is central to the works that take up the second half of the concert: the first four movements of Bedrich Smetana’s magnum opus “Má vlast” (usually translated as “My country” or “My fatherland”). A dedicated Czech nationalist and vocal advocate for his country’s independence from Austria, Smetana composed this collection of six tone poems celebrating the history and natural beauty of his homeland between 1874 and 1879. The first four, which you’ll hear this weekend, originally made up the entirety of “Má vlast” and were performed that way in 1875. The final six-movement version was not completed until 1878 and was performed for the first time in 1880, four years before the composer’s death. “Má vlast” was immediately popular. Smetana’s dream of an independent Czech state, alas, would not be fully realized until over a century after his death, with the founding of the Czech Republic in 1993.

The four movements of the original “Má vlast” are “Vyšehrad,” the massively admired “Vltava” (a.k.a. “The Moldau”), "Sárka,” and ”Z českých luhův a hájův” (usually translated as “From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields”). Let’s take a quick look at each one.

“Vyšehrad,” which opens the program, begins with a long introduction that depicts the song of the bard Lumir being played inside the great hall of the castle of Vyšehrad. A more dramatic central section suggests the strife that would characterize Czech history, after which the calmer voice of the bard returns. A few troubled final bars, though, suggest that the calm won't last. When you listen to “Vyšehrad,” notice how important the harp is as the voice of the bard. In the program notes for the SLSO’s 2013 performance of the work, Principal Harp Allegra Lilly (who will be playing this weekend, along with Megan Stout) described the "big, rolled chords which are interspersed with arpeggiated passages" in the introduction as helping to "create a magical sound, a mystical element appropriate to the piece."

The Vlatava from the Legions Bridge in Prague
Photo by Chuck Lavazzi

“Vltava” is straightforward scene painting, vividly illustrating the course of the river Vltava from placid mountain stream to raging torrent at the St. John rapids (which manifest themselves as big crashing chords towards the end). The bard's theme from “Vyšehrad” pops up again near the end, as well, to provide some artistic unity. When I was young, “The Moldau” (as it was then known) was very popular with teachers of "music appreciation" courses (do they still have those?) because it was short (around 12 minutes), and the structure was simple. It's very appealing stuff.

Things take a turn towards the dramatic in "Sárka," which is based on a fairly bloody bit of Czech history.

The story comes from the tale of the legendary "Maiden's War" which may (or may not) have taken place in the 6th or 7th century. First described in the twelfth-century "Chronica Boëmorum" and later in the fourteenth-century "Dalimil's Chronicle," this literal war between men and women was supposedly sparked by the death of Libuse, the last in a line of matriarchal rulers of Czech society. One of the fighters in that civil war was Sárka, a lieutenant of the fierce warrior woman Vlasata. In the legend, Sárka seduces the warrior Ctirad and then, with the help of her fellow Amazons, slaughters him and his men in their sleep.

Smetana's tone painting is fairly literal and concludes with a particularly violent orchestral outburst. "The music is vivid and suspenseful," wrote René Spencer Saller in her program notes for the SLSO’s most recent performance of the piece in 2018, "with sharply contrasting motives: churning tempests reminiscent of “The Flying Dutchman” reveal the heroine's rage, a sinuous clarinet suggests her seductive wiles, a march represents the advancing male army, and rumbling bassoons mimic the snores of the doomed men."

After that violent melodrama, ”Z českých luhův a hájův” serves as an ideal aural palette cleanser, with its sunny celebration of the Czech landscape and its inhabitants. It opens with a majestic evocation by the full orchestra of the country’s natural beauty that quickly transitions to a more small-scale vision of bucolic calm in the woodwinds. It’s like zooming from a widescreen panorama down to shots of a rustic village. The music eventually builds to an energetic polka that vividly suggests a village festival and makes for an appropriately exuberant finale.

I keep hoping the SLSO will perform all of "Má vlast" one of these days.  Meanwhile, this is two-thirds of it, which isn’t bad. In any case, the SLSO’s complete recording, under the baton of the late Walter Susskind, is part of my Spotify playlist this week. I decided to include the two dramatic final movements, “Tábor” and “Blanik,” which depict the Protestant Hussite rebellion of the 15th century and end with a quick recap of themes from “Vyšehrad” and “Vlatava.”

The Essentials: Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider conducts the SLSO along with pianist Ingrid Fliter in Karim Al-Zand ‘s “Luctus Profugis: Elegy for the Displaced,” Schumann’s Piano Concerto, and the original four-movement version of Smetana’s “Má vlast” Friday at 10:30 am and Saturday at 8 pm, October 29 and 30. Performances take place at Powell Hall in Grand Center.

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

Sunday, October 24, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 25, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. Your event information should be in text format (i.e. not part of a graphic), but feel free to include publicity stills. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Class Reunions Can Be Murder through October 31st at the Bissel Mansion, 4426 Randall Place. For more information: www.bissellmansiontheatre.com

L-R: Marty Fox and Ken Haller
The Blue Strawberry presents Ken Haller in When I'm 67 on Friday at 7:30 Saturday at 8 pm, October 29 and 30. "Ken Haller is another year older and perhaps even a little wiser! He returns to the Blue Strawberry with his updated annual  Halloween/Birthday Show. Looking back on his life and looking forward to what’s ahead through songs from Broadway and the Great American Songbook by Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Lerner and Loewe, Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, William Finn, and Stephen Sondheim among many others, Ken creates “…a varied and neatly balanced song list, just enough patter to let us know why the list made sense, and a perfect mix of the mirthful and the moving… ingenious [and] emotionally compelling [with] a heaping helping of humor!” (Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX)."   The Blue Strawberry at 356 North Boyle requires proof of vaccination and masking as part of its COVID careful environment.  or more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Flora presents The Trial of the Century through October 31. “Lawyers! Clerks! Procedural rules! Sounds like the perfect family entertainment? Maybe not. But, with Circus Flora assigned to the case, the Big Top becomes the courtroom, acrobats the evidence, and you yourself the jury.” Performances take place at The Big Top in Grand Center, next to Powell Hall. For more information, including show times: circusflora.org

The Trial of the Century
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.

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

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Haunted Hunter through through October 30th. "The rumors are true... this place is haunted!  And the word on the street is The Lemp Mansion’s most famous ghost is going to make an appearance tonight!  Lots of famous sleuths, detectives and ghost hunters from around the world will be here to catch a glimpse of our resident apparition.  But some seem to have more than just a passing interest in this paranormal investigation, could it be that they have something more sinister on their mind? Gee!  If someone gets whacked, we’ll have plenty of detectives to solve this Halloween whodunnit, won’t we? " The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.co

Digging Up Dessa
Metro Theater Company presents Digging Up Dessa through November 7. “Dessa is a modern-day, 12-year-old with no shortage of mysteries to solve and fossils to find. Her days are filled with buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. But when her family of three unexpectedly becomes a family of two, this smart, funny young scientist struggles to overcome her grief and anger at all the changes in her world. Dessa's unlikely comfort comes from a remarkable new friend, one only she can see and hear—Mary Anning, the 19th-century paleontologist who discovered a breakthrough dinosaur fossil at the age of 12 and became a pioneer in her field. But why is her portrait not on the museum wall alongside those of her male counterparts? Dessa decides that she’s going to fight to earn Mary the respect she deserves. With help from her new classmate and once-rival, Nilo, Dessa unearths secrets of the past and present—for Mary’s legacy and her own way forward.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theater in Grand Center and also via video stream. For more information: https://www.metroplays.org/dessa

The Midnight Company presents the St. Louis premiere of Mickle Maher’s It Is Magic Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through November 6. “It Is Magic is a sorrowful and hilarious meditation on the deep, ancient evil at the heart of the community theater audition process, and an investigation into the mysteries of theater-making itself. Two sisters, community theatre veterans who’ve never had the chance to contribute artistically, are holding auditions for their adult version of The Three Little Pigs in the theatre basement, while the group’s pretentious artistic director is attending, then avoiding, opening night of his MacBeth on the MainStage above. A third sister appears, and reality becomes really magical at the local playhouse.” Performances take place at the Black Box theatre at the Kranzberg Arts Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. The production will be following all Kranzberg Arts Foundations safety protocols, including proof of vaccination for entry, and masks at all times. For more information: www.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 John O’Brien, who currently serves as Director of Programming for The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, where he is responsible for programming the U.S. Bank Broadway Series.  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

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.

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, October 20, 2021

Cabaret Review: Ari Axelrod throws a party for Jewish Broadway

Ari Axelrod is, as I have noted in the past, tremendously talented. His singing voice, which comfortably occupies the middle ground between a tenor and a baritone, has a solid range along with a head voice and falsetto that are impressively clear and well-integrated. He’s a fine actor as well, so fully internalizing the lyrics of his songs that he sometimes seems to be making them up on the spot.

[Watch my YouTube interview with Ari Axelrod]

Ari Axelrod

His “Celebrating Jewish Broadway” show—the opener for the New Jewish Theatre’s 24th season last Saturday and Sunday (October 16 and 17)— revealed that he’s also a theatre historian and political activist, plays both the congas and the recorder, and does a graceful hora. At this point, I would not be surprised if he could also leap tall buildings in a single bound.  

To anyone who loves musical theatre, of course, the phrase “Jewish Broadway” could justifiably be seen as redundant, given how many of America’s greatest songwriters and composers have been Jewish. Consider this partial list (all of whom were represented in the show): Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Stephen Schwartz, Leonard Bernstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Jason Robert Brown, and of course, the three generations of the Rodgers family: Richard, his daughter Mary Rodgers Guettel, and his grandson Adam Guettel. Axelrod sang them all and illustrated their ties to Jewish musical traditions.

“Celebrating Jewish Broadway” opened with an upbeat and welcoming pair of classics: “Something’s Coming” from Bernstein and Sondheim’s “West Side Story” and “Miracle of Miracles” from Bock and Harnick’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” These allowed Axelrod to deliver his first historical tidbit: “Fiddler” was not the first Broadway show to deal with explicitly Jewish themes. Said distinction goes to Jerry Herman’s 1961 “Milk and Honey”.

That bit of Broadway history then provided a natural segue to a very funny bit about the hoops Axelrod had to jump through to audition for a revival of Herman’s show (which is how we learned about the recorder and the hora). Which, in turn, led to a pair of songs from the show, neither of which I had heard before and which I loved: “Shalom” and “I Will Follow You.”

And so it went, with songs and stories tightly and logically integrated into a seamless dramatic whole that ran a bit over 90 minutes. Which is, perhaps, a bit long for a one-act cabaret evening, but Axelrod was so damn entertaining and the story he told so compelling that I, for one, am willing to give him a pass on that.

Ari Axelrod at the JCC

The selections from “Milk and Honey” and a couple of other rarities such as singer/songwriter Daniel Cainer’s moving “God Knows Where” not withstanding, most of the numbers in Axelrod’s set list were fairly familiar Broadway and off-Broadway standards. What made them special was the way he made each one his own, sometimes in ways that changed or transcended their original meanings.

Stephen Schwartz’s “Corner of the Sky” (from “Pippin”) is a good example. Within the context of the show, it reflects the title character’s need to find his place in the world as well as his inflated notion of his own potential. Axelrod’s performance emphasized the first meaning by preceding it with an anecdote about how the late Neal Richardson, one of his instructors at Webster Conservatory, advised him on how to deal with the sense of not belonging that stemmed from being a Jew in a largely non-Jewish institution. “Don’t hide the things that make you different,” he advised, “decorate them.”

This simple bit of wisdom not only transformed the song, but it also made the lyrics resonate with many of us who have, at one time or another, felt like outsiders.

Another example was Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” from “Company.” In the context of the show, it’s a love letter to NYC that nevertheless includes Sondheim’s characteristic ambiguity, describing the Big Apple as “a city of strangers”:

And they’ll find each other
In the crowded streets and the guarded park
Past the rusty fountains and the dusty trees
With the battered barks
And they' walk together
Past the postered walls with the crude remarks

Axelrod’s love for the place is unambiguous, though, and in his hands the ambiguity dissolves into unfettered joy. The result is Sondheim with the spirit of Cole Porter’s “I Happen to Like New York” or the late Rick Jensen’s “Miss Manhattan.”

Carrie Smith and Ari Axelrod in "Cool"
from West Side Story

Of course, a highly personalized show like this one requires highly personalized arrangements. It was, I think, cabaret legend Lina Koutrakos (the original director of the show) who once described the difference between mere sheet music and a custom arrangement as analogous the difference between off-the-rack clothing and custom tailoring. Axelrod’s arrangements fit perfectly, courtesy of his original Music Director Mike Stapleton, and were played with great skill by Carrie Smith at the piano. The communication between Smith and Axelrod was impressive, given that they were farther apart than is usually the case with cabaret shows and had had minimal rehearsal time.

I could go on, but you get the idea. “Celebrating Jewish Broadway” was, of course, clearly pitched at a Jewish audience, which meant that some of the cultural references had no real emotional resonance for me. It didn’t detract from my appreciation of the performance, but it did sometimes make me feel like an outsider.

Which, of course, I was. So perhaps that’s only fair.

Ari Axelrod’s “Celebrating Jewish Broadway” was both consistently entertaining and enlightening—a welcome beginning to NJTs new season. You can learn more about the latter at their web site and find out what Ari Axelrod is doing next at his. His career is only just beginning and promises to be a stellar one.

Symphony Review: Guest conductor John Storgårds shows his wide interpretive range in music spanning 250 years

This past weekend guest conductor John Storgårds and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) offered killer performances of a quartet of works that offered surprising and unorthodox sounds and rhythms. And there was another surprise: although separated by two and a half centuries, three of the four were receiving their SLSO premieres.

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

[But first, a quick note: for reasons with which I will not bore you, I saw this weekend’s concerts in two installments, with the first half on Friday night and the second half on Saturday. I now return you to your regularly scheduled review.]

The concerts opened with Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, composed sometime between 1773 and 1778. Its nickname (which, for a change, it got from the composer) is "Tempora mutantur,” which translates as “the times change”—the opening line of a Latin proverb that also provides the theme for this weekend’s concerts. The phrase refers mostly to the Largo second movement in which the composer, who was fond of confounding audience expectations, seriously messes with the listener’s sense of musical time.

Conducting without a baton Storgårds, who has been a frequent guest here over the years, gave it a robust and varied reading, including a slightly eerie second movement. There was great work by the band here, especially the horns (Roger Kaza and Julie Thayer).

Kirill Gerstein
Photo by Marco Borggreve

The first half concluded with the 2019 Piano Concerto by contemporary (b. 1971) English composer Thomas Adès. With an abrupt beginning, in which the piano immediately launches into the jazzy main theme after a single thump on the bass drum, the concerto seems to begin in mid-thought. The overall mood alternates between dramatic and playful, with the piano sometimes contending with dense, complex orchestral textures.

Even though I had listened to the world premiere 2019 recording by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Adès at the podium and his frequent collaborator Kirill Gerstein (also a familiar face here) as the soloist, it still took a minute or two to adjust to the composer’s complex orchestration, but once my ears got past that point the music proved to be a fascinating and wildly eclectic mix of ideas. Adès wrote this with Gerstein in mind, and Gerstein’s performance was pretty spectacular. The wide-ranging piano part uses nearly every key on the instrument and every musical color it can produce. Its technical requirements look substantial, including everything from intricate cross-hand playing to slamming the keyboard with a flat palm. Gerstein fearlessly delivered it all with deceptive ease.

There was impressive work from Storgårds and the orchestra as well, resulting in a rewarding reading of a demanding new work.

After intermission (which in my case, lasted 24 hours), the musical focus moved far to the north, with the local premiere of “Midnight Sun Variations” by contemporary (b. 1985) Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen. In an interview during the broadcast of the world premiere performance at the 2019 BBC Proms (conducted, as it happens, by Storgårds), Tarkiainen revealed that the work is influenced by the fact that she is a synesthetic—someone who literally sees music as colors. It’s a form of perception that puts her in the company of Scriabin and Rimski-Korsakov, which ain’t shabby.

You don’t need Tarkiainen’s ability to actually see sound to visualize the colors of the “Midnight Sun Variations,” though. In Saturday’s performance the spare, woodwind-heavy opening readily conjured up visions of an eerie, dreamlike landscape lit by cool, quasi dawn. The writing for the clarinets, flutes, and piccolo sounded particularly demanding (although none of the woodwind parts sounded easy, either), so congratulations are due to the entire section.

The orchestra tunes up for Tarkiainen

Then the strings entered, and as the colors became warmer and brighter, the orchestra built to a massive explosion of sound, requiring heroic playing by the strings and brasses. The four members of the percussion section were kept exceptionally busy here, playing over a dozen different instruments from the tympani (Shannon Wood) to exotic items like the waterphone, wind chimes, and thunder sheet (Will James, Edouard Beyens, and Kimberly Shelley). Keyboardist Peter Henderson was kept hopping as well, moving between the celesta and piano.

The light then slowly died as the music faded ever so gradually and into total silence, led by a brief solo from Cally Banham’s English horn.

At this point, Storgårds and his forces had already handled two brand new and very demanding “big band” pieces. For the finale, that band got bigger still for Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”). Written during the early years of World War I, the symphony expresses the composer’s despair at the violence of the conflict. The final moments are jubilant, but there’s a lot of darkness and dissonance along the way.

Like the Adès concerto, Nielsen's symphony jumps out at you from the first notes with a leaping, aggressive theme that quickly dissolves into sad descending figures in the flutes and the first statement of a theme that will eventually morph into a triumphant declaration by the end of the final movement. There's a headlong rush in the music of this symphony that reminds us of the fact that Nielsen, like G. B. Shaw, believed in a kind of pantheistic "life force" that pervaded all of nature. It's that force that Nielsen saw as "inextinguishable," even in the face of war and death. As he wrote in his program notes for the piece, "music is life, and like it inextinguishable."

Storgårds is a physically imposing conductor who radiates vitality and power both on the podium and in his interpretations, especially in big, expansive works like this one. This was a Nielsen Fourth that began with an explosion of energy in the horns and brasses and maintained a sense of dramatic urgency all the way through, even in the gentler second movement with a flawless performance of the dance-like tunes woodwinds. The tension between the anguished strings and Shannon Woods’s angry tympani interjections in the third movement was palpable.

Curtain call with Nielsen's very big band

Storgårds and the band pulled out all the stops, though, with an electrifying fourth movement. Here the symphony truly lives up to its nickname with a triumphant finale preceded by the famous "tympani battle", in which tympani players placed on opposite sides of the orchestra fire volleys of sound at each other. Wood and Beyens proved to be highly effective combatants.

This was a long and physically demanding program for all the participants, and while I was happy that the applause was enthusiastic both nights, I was also disappointed that the audience was smaller than it had been in previous weeks. Presumably the combination of contemporary music and a lack of “big name” composers other than Haydn were factors in that. But when the band works this hard and delivers this impressively, they really deserve to be seen and heard by more of us.

Next at Powel Hall: the regular season takes a one-week break as Stephanie Childress leads the orchestra and soloists in “Revolution: The Music of the Beatles: A Symphonic Experience” on Friday, October 22, at 7:30 pm. Only Standing Room and limited view tickets are available at this time, FYI.

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

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

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. Your event information should be in text format (i.e. not part of a graphic), but feel free to include publicity stills. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Class Reunions Can Be Murder through October 31st at the Bissel Mansion, 4426 Randall Place. For more information: www.bissellmansiontheatre.com

The Blue Strawberry presents Steven Brinberg is Simply Barbra Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 4 pm, October 22-24. “STEVEN BRINBERG has been doing his live vocal and comic impression of Barbra Streisand for two decades around the world. The first SIMPLY BARBRA show began in his native New York where it ran for three years and has since played across the US, in London's West End, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Sydney, Melbourne, Barcelona, Bangkok, Puerto Vallarta and Toronto - more cities than the real Barbra.”  The Blue Strawberry at 356 North Boyle requires proof of vaccination and masking as part of its COVID careful environment.  or more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Trial of the Century
Circus Flora presents The Trial of the Century through October 31. “Lawyers! Clerks! Procedural rules! Sounds like the perfect family entertainment? Maybe not. But, with Circus Flora assigned to the case, the Big Top becomes the courtroom, acrobats the evidence, and you yourself the jury.” Performances take place at The Big Top in Grand Center, next to Powell Hall. For more information, including show times: circusflora.org

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.

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

The Goshen Theatre Project presents the musical Nunsense Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 2 and 7 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm, October 22-24.  “The Little Sisters of Hoboken discover that their cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, has accidentally poisoned 52 of the sisters, and they are in dire need of funds for the burials. The sisters decide that the best way to raise the money is to put on a variety show, so they take over the school auditorium, which is currently set up for the eighth grade production of “Grease.” Here we meet Reverend Mother Regina, a former circus performer; Sister Mary Hubert, the Mistress of Novices; a streetwise nun from Brooklyn named Sister Robert Anne; Sister Mary Leo, a novice who is a wannabe ballerina; and the delightfully wacky Sister Mary Amnesia, the nun who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head. Featuring star turns,tap and ballet dancing, an audience quiz, and comic surprises, this show has become an international phenomenon. With more than 5000 productions worldwide, it has been translated into 21 languages.” Performances take place at Nazarene Community Theater, Roxana IL. For more information: goshentheatreproject.org.

KTK Productions presents Grumpy Old Men the Musical Fridays through Sundays through October 24. “It’s the story of aging men, Max and John, neighbors who have been feuding for most of their lives. Invigorated by their shared affection for their new neighbor across the street, the beautiful, eccentric, and charming Ariel, they face-off as romantic rivals until their hilarious shenanigans finally bring about a resolution to their long-standing differences. Based on the 1993 film, which starred Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret, this stage adaptation captures the lovably crotchety characters through twinkling humor, great songs, and the affectionate depiction of a small town that feels like home to everyone.” Performances take place at the Saint John The Baptist Gymnasium, 4200 Delor Street in south St. Louis. For more information: kurtainkall.org

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Haunted Hunter through through October 30th. "The rumors are true... this place is haunted!  And the word on the street is The Lemp Mansion’s most famous ghost is going to make an appearance tonight!  Lots of famous sleuths, detectives and ghost hunters from around the world will be here to catch a glimpse of our resident apparition.  But some seem to have more than just a passing interest in this paranormal investigation, could it be that they have something more sinister on their mind? Gee!  If someone gets whacked, we’ll have plenty of detectives to solve this Halloween whodunnit, won’t we? " The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.co

Digging Up Dessa
Metro Theater Company presents Digging Up Dessa through November 7. “Dessa is a modern-day, 12-year-old with no shortage of mysteries to solve and fossils to find. Her days are filled with buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. But when her family of three unexpectedly becomes a family of two, this smart, funny young scientist struggles to overcome her grief and anger at all the changes in her world. Dessa's unlikely comfort comes from a remarkable new friend, one only she can see and hear—Mary Anning, the 19th-century paleontologist who discovered a breakthrough dinosaur fossil at the age of 12 and became a pioneer in her field. But why is her portrait not on the museum wall alongside those of her male counterparts? Dessa decides that she’s going to fight to earn Mary the respect she deserves. With help from her new classmate and once-rival, Nilo, Dessa unearths secrets of the past and present—for Mary’s legacy and her own way forward.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theater in Grand Center and also via video stream. For more information: https://www.metroplays.org/dessa

The Midnight Company presents the St. Louis premiere of Mickle Maher’s It Is Magic Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, October 21 through November 6. “It Is Magic is a sorrowful and hilarious meditation on the deep, ancient evil at the heart of the community theater audition process, and an investigation into the mysteries of theater-making itself. Two sisters, community theatre veterans who’ve never had the chance to contribute artistically, are holding auditions for their adult version of The Three Little Pigs in the theatre basement, while the group’s pretentious artistic director is attending, then avoiding, opening night of his MacBeth on the MainStage above. A third sister appears, and reality becomes really magical at the local playhouse.” Performances take place at the Black Box theatre at the Kranzberg Arts Center at Grand and Olive in Grand Center. The production will be following all Kranzberg Arts Foundations safety protocols, including proof of vaccination for entry, and masks at all times. For more information: www.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 John O’Brien, who currently serves as Director of Programming for The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, where he is responsible for programming the U.S. Bank Broadway Series.  New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

The Story of My Life
Photo: Jill Ritter
New Line Theatre presents the musical The Story of My Life through October 23. “Just two New Line actors, Chris Kernan and Jeffrey M. Wright, along with artistic director Scott Miller on keyboard, in one of the most intimate evenings of musical theatre in the company’s 30 year history, telling a story all about stories, and the effect we have on other lives, usually without realizing it. Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's THE STORY OF MY LIFE follows the friendship of Alvin and Thomas, two lifelong friends from a small town who are reunited after Alvin's mysterious death. Thomas struggles to write Alvin's eulogy, so Alvin shows up to help the two of them take an amazing journey back through the story of their friendship, as Alvin searches through the manuscripts and stories in Thomas' mind. And though Thomas is trying to write about his best friend, he ends up finding his own story in the process and coming to terms with the past.” Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. For more information: newlinetheatre.com

O’Fallon TheatreWorks presents Little Women Fridays through Sundays through October 24. “Louisa May Alcott’s immortal 19th century novel takes a spirited leap onto the OTW stage, telling the story of a family struggling to make their way in a time when opportunities for women are few and a civil war is raging across the land.” Performances take place at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre (City Hall) in O’Fallon, MO. For more information: www.ofallon.mo.us/ofallontheatreworks

The Gradient
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents St. Louis premiere of The Gradient through October 24. “In this world premiere satire set in the not-so-distant future, a new facility promises to take men accused of sexual misconduct and rehabilitate them into responsible citizens. Steph Del Rosso’s bold new play asks: Can we mass-produce forgiveness?” Performances take place on the Berges Mainstage Theatre at COCA in University City. For more information: www.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

R-S Theatrics presents Jennifer Haley’s Breadcrumbs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through October 24. “A reclusive fiction writer diagnosed with dementia must depend upon a troubled young caretaker to complete her autobiography. In a symbiotic battle of wills, they delve into the dark woods of the past, unearthing a tragedy that shatters their notions of language, loneliness, and essential self.” Performances take place at the . ZACK, 3224 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: www.r-stheatrics.com

The St. Louis Writers' Group continues the final round of its annual Playwright Slam on Tuesday, October 19, at 6:30 pm. “The order of scripts to be read will be chosen at random. Actors to read will be chosen at [sic] Random. Each script will be given a five minute read, and rated by a panel of judges based upon audience reaction. The judges will select several plays to move on to round two which will be ten minutes of the same script, from which a winner will be chosen.” The events 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.

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.

Stages St. Louis presents the musical Jersey Boys running through October 24. ‘Take an exhilarating journey into the music of the cultural phenomenon’s Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, with JERSEY BOYS, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical! Featuring 30 show stopping performances of the 60s hits that took the group all the way to the top of the charts, including: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Dawn,” and “My Eyes Adored You,” JERSEY BOYS will have you dancing in the aisles and shouting for more!’ Performances take place at The Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Blue/Orange
Stray Dog Theatre presents Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through October 23, with an additional performance on Sunday, October 17, at 8 pm. “The day before Christopher is due to be discharged from a psychiatric ward, his doctor has reservations and raises his concerns with a senior colleague. Blue/Orange is an incendiary tale of race, madness, and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of a dying National Health Service.” Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tenessee in Tower Grove East. Tickets are only offered in physically distanced groups of two or four. For more information: www.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.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Symphony Preview: The times, they are a-changin'

This weekend (Friday and Saturday, October 15 and 16) John Storgårds, Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic and a frequent guest here, conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) in a program entitled “Changing Times.” Like last week’s concerts, it takes its title from the opening work.

[Preview the music with my commercial-free Spotify playlist.]

Last weekend the curtain-raiser was Joan Tower’s “Made in America.” This weekend it’s Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, "Tempora mutantur,” which translates as “the times change.” Although composed between 1773 and 1778, this symphony, like Tower’s tone poem, is getting its first SLSO performance this weekend.

I hadn’t listened to Haydn’s symphony in quite some time and had forgotten that the nickname, unlike that affixed to so many of Haydn’s symphonies, was actually chosen by the composer himself. I had also forgotten that it refers mostly to the Largo second movement in which the composer, who was fond of confounding audience expectations, seriously messes with the listener’s sense of musical time.

Although entirely in three-quarter time (three beats per measure, each beat is a quarter note), the movement often sounds like the time signature has changed or that the music has stopped altogether. On top of that, musical phrases often don’t resolve as you would expect them to, or they just stop before heading off in another direction.

Composer Thomas Adès
Photo by Brian Voce

Late 18th-century audiences would have been either baffled or just amused. Given Haydn’s penchant for musical pranks (e.g. the “Surprise” Symphony or the “Joke” Quartet), I imagine the latter would be more common. The relative brevity (together they run about as long as the Largo all by itself) and abrupt endings of the third and fourth movements might also be seen as messing with one’s sense of time.

“Tempora mutantur,” by the way, is the first part of the old Latin adage “Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis” (“Times are changed; we also are changed with them") erroneously attributed to Ovid. Whether we are changed in positive or negative ways, of course, is another question.

Time also feels a bit out of joint at the start of the next work: the 2019 Piano Concerto by contemporary (b. 1971) English composer Thomas Adès. With an abrupt beginning, in which the piano immediately launches into the jazzy main theme after a single thump on the bass drum, the concerto seems to begin in mid-thought. The overall mood alternates between dramatic and playful, with the piano sometimes contending with thick, complex orchestral textures.

In the Andante gravemente second movement the mood darkens, with the piano playing heavily ornamented, Chopinesque figures up at the right end of the keyboard over an ominous orchestral dirge. Alas, the piano is eventually dragged down into the lower musical depths, and the movement ends (to quote T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”) “not with a bang but with a whimper.” The mood turns light (if somewhat frenzied) in the final Allegro giocoso movement, as the piano explicitly rejects the gloom that has gone before in what the composer describes as a “call to arms” that presages all-out war with the orchestra. “There is here a good deal of argument,” writes Adès, “with frequent differences of opinion as regards key.”

The piano part in all three movements is as demanding as hell but given that the soloist this weekend is the composer’s frequent collaborator Kirill Gerstein (who premiered the piece in 2019 with the Boston Symphony) it’s reasonable to presume it will be in good hands. That world premiere performance, in fact, is the one you can hear in my Spotify playlist.

Outi Tarkiainen
Photo by Saara Salmi

The second half of the concert opens with another work that was first performed in 2019, the “Midnight Sun Variations” by contemporary (b. 1985) Finnish composer Outi Tarkiainen.

In the interview during the broadcast of the world premiere performance at the 2019 BBC Proms, Tarkiainen talked about how she composed the work during the birth of her first child and how this influenced the music.  The work, she noted, is “about the colors of the northern sky during the summer when the light is always there, when the sun never sets…shades of the light are very special, and the colors of the landscape because of that. It’s about that opening of light but also about the opening of a woman’s body to accommodate a new life.”

She also revealed that she is synesthetic—someone who literally sees music as colors—and that this also influenced the composition process. In this respect, she’s in some august company, including Scriabin, Rimski-Korsakov, and Gully Foyle in Alfred Bester’s science fiction classic “The Stars My Destination.”

You don’t need Tarkiainen’s ability to actually see sound to visualize the colors of the “Midnight Sun Variations,” though. The spare, woodwind-heavy opening readily conjures up visions of an eerie, dreamlike landscape lit by cool, quasi dawn. Then the strings enter and, as the composer notes in her interview, the colors become warmer and brighter, and the orchestra builds to a massive explosion of sound. The light then slowly dies as the music fades ever so gradually into total silence. Like her fellow countryman Sibelius, Tarkiainen is strongly influenced by nature in general and particularly by her native Lapland, the northernmost third of Finland, with its seven-month winter and, of course, the Aurora Borealis. All of that is vividly present in this music.

The performance in the YouTube link I provided starts at 31:44 but I’d recommend joining a few minutes before that to see the full interview with Tarkiainen. This is the only performance of the work available online (hence its absence from the Spotify playlist), but fortunately the BBC channel is commercial-free and, better yet, the conductor at that world premiere was none other than John Storgårds.

The final work on the program takes us slightly to the south for the Symphony No. 4 (subtitled "The Inextinguishable") by twentieth-century Danish composer Carl Nielsen. Like the “Midnight Sun Variations,” it’s also a celebration of life and light. Unlike Tarkiainen’s work, Nielsen’s was inspired not by personal joy but by a public tragedy.

Written between 1914 and 1916, the fourth and the subsequent fifth symphony (from 1920) both bear the scars of The War to End All Wars. "Although Denmark was not drawn into the First World War," writes British musicologist and broadcaster Robert Layton in his notes for the 1988 Paavo Berglund/Royal Danish Orchestra recording, "the unremitting slaughter and senseless destruction haunted Nielsen's imagination. It was quite evident that the war presented the great divide in the affairs of mankind and that life could never be the same again. Nielsen's music assumed a new mantle; its harmonies are less rich, its textures denser and darker, and with the greater complexity of dissonance."

Carl Nielsen in 1910
en.wikipedia.org

Nielsen's personal life was in disorder as well at the time—his infidelity was causing his marriage to unravel—but there's little doubt that, even as a citizen of neutral Denmark, he viewed the cataclysm engulfing most of Europe with horror. "It's as if the world is disintegrating," he wrote in an often-quoted letter to a friend. "National feeling, that until now was distinguished as something lofty and beautiful, has become a spiritual syphilis." Sadly, little seems to have changed in the intervening century.

Like the Adès concerto, Nielsen's symphony jumps out at you from the first notes with a leaping, aggressive theme that quickly dissolves into sad descending figures in the flutes and the first statement of a theme that will eventually morph into a triumphant declaration by the end of the final movement. There's a headlong rush in the music of this symphony that reminds us of the fact that Nielsen, like G. B. Shaw, believed in a kind of pantheistic "life force" that pervaded all of nature. It's that force that Nielsen saw as "inextinguishable," even in the face of war and death. As he wrote in his program notes for the piece, "music is life, and like it inextinguishable."

That force is demonstrated most dramatically in the famous "tympani battle" in the final movement, in which tympani players placed on opposite sides of the orchestra fire volleys of sound at each other. "It's as if we are answering each other," said timpanist Shannon Wood in program notes for the SLSO’s last performance of the symphony in 2014. "One timpani goes at it, then the other timpani goes at it. You can think of it like guitar duels in rock concerts. Maybe I'll toss my stick out to the audience at the end. Or I'll kick the drums Keith Moon style.” Wood will be there again this weekend, slugging it out with Edouard Beyens, so we'll see if anything gets tossed this time around.

The Essentials: John Storgårds conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra along with soloist Kirill Gerstein in Haydn’s Symphony No. 64, Thomas Adès’s Piano Concerto, Outi Tarkiainen’s “Midnight Sun Variations,” and Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4. Performances are Friday at 7:30 pm and Saturday at 8 pm, October 15 and 16.

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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of October 11, 2021

Now including both on-line and live events during the pandemic. Your event information should be in text format (i.e. not part of a graphic), but feel free to include publicity stills. To get your event listed here, send an email to calendar [at] stageleft.org.

The Bissell Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre presents Class Reunions Can Be Murder through October 31st at the Bissel Mansion, 4426 Randall Place. For more information: www.bissellmansiontheatre.com

Ken Haller
The Blue Strawberry presents a singers open mic hosted by Ken Haller with Ron McGowan at the piano Tuesday, October  12, from 7 to 9:30 pm. "Musicals, Standards new and established, Cabaret and Pop. First Tuesday of every month (unless we change a date here and there!). Bring music in your key." The Blue Strawberry at 356 North Boyle requires proof of vaccination and masking as part of its COVID careful environment.  or more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Blue Strawberry presents singer/songwriter Susan Werner Thursday, October  14, at 7:30 pm. "Susan Werner is in the rung of contemporary songwriters closest to heaven. As a performer, she is vastly entertaining - funny, fun, dryly witty, very hard working and endlessly charming. Her songs have been recorded by Tom Jones and Michael Feinstein, Betty Buckley and Christine Ebersole. Emily Skinner ended her recent Blue Strawberry show with a Susan Werner song, 'May I Suggest To You?'" The Blue Strawberry at 356 North Boyle requires proof of vaccination and masking as part of its COVID careful environment.  or more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

The Trial of the Century
Circus Flora presents The Trial of the Century through October 31. “Lawyers! Clerks! Procedural rules! Sounds like the perfect family entertainment? Maybe not. But, with Circus Flora assigned to the case, the Big Top becomes the courtroom, acrobats the evidence, and you yourself the jury.” Performances take place at The Big Top in Grand Center, next to Powell Hall. For more information, including show times: circusflora.org

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.

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

KTK Productions presents Grumpy Old Men the Musical Fridays through Sundays, October 15-24. “It’s the story of aging men, Max and John, neighbors who have been feuding for most of their lives. Invigorated by their shared affection for their new neighbor across the street, the beautiful, eccentric, and charming Ariel, they face-off as romantic rivals until their hilarious shenanigans finally bring about a resolution to their long-standing differences. Based on the 1993 film, which starred Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret, this stage adaptation captures the lovably crotchety characters through twinkling humor, great songs, and the affectionate depiction of a small town that feels like home to everyone.” Performances take place at the Saint John The Baptist Gymnasium, 4200 Delor Street in south St. Louis. For more information: kurtainkall.org

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Haunted Hunter through through October 30th. "The rumors are true... this place is haunted!  And the word on the street is The Lemp Mansion’s most famous ghost is going to make an appearance tonight!  Lots of famous sleuths, detectives and ghost hunters from around the world will be here to catch a glimpse of our resident apparition.  But some seem to have more than just a passing interest in this paranormal investigation, could it be that they have something more sinister on their mind? Gee!  If someone gets whacked, we’ll have plenty of detectives to solve this Halloween whodunnit, won’t we? " The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.co

Metro Theater Company presents Digging Up Dessa October 17-November 7. “Dessa is a modern-day, 12-year-old with no shortage of mysteries to solve and fossils to find. Her days are filled with buried treasures just waiting to be uncovered. But when her family of three unexpectedly becomes a family of two, this smart, funny young scientist struggles to overcome her grief and anger at all the changes in her world. Dessa's unlikely comfort comes from a remarkable new friend, one only she can see and hear—Mary Anning, the 19th-century paleontologist who discovered a breakthrough dinosaur fossil at the age of 12 and became a pioneer in her field. But why is her portrait not on the museum wall alongside those of her male counterparts? Dessa decides that she’s going to fight to earn Mary the respect she deserves. With help from her new classmate and once-rival, Nilo, Dessa unearths secrets of the past and present—for Mary’s legacy and her own way forward.” Performances take place at the Grandel Theater in Grand Center and also via video stream. For more information: https://www.metroplays.org/dessa

Moonstone Theatre Company presents Moonstone Connections, a series of in-depth interviews with arts leaders by company founder Sharon Hunter. The latest episode features John O’Brien, who currently serves as Director of Programming for The Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, where he is responsible for programming the U.S. Bank Broadway Series.  New episodes air the third Tuesday of each month; see linktr.ee/moonstoneconnections for more information.

Ari Axelrod
New Jewish Theatre presents Ari Axelrod’s Jewish Broadway, featuring former St. Louisan and Broadway star Ari Axelrod Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2 pm, October 16 and 17. “The New Jewish Theatre presents New York Cabaret Star Ari Axelrod in Ari Axelrod’s Jewish Broadway, honoring the songs and stories of Jewish composers and their contributions to the American musical. Beloved melodies and lyrics by the likes of Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Schwartz, and Carole King will transport the audience back to the streets of the theatre district, your bubbie’s Shabbos table or the places of your dreams.” Performances take place at the SFC Performing Arts Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information www.showpass.com or see my interview with Ari on YouTube.

The Story of My Life
Photo: Jill Ritter
New Line Theatre presents the musical The Story of My Life through October 23. “Just two New Line actors, Chris Kernan and Jeffrey M. Wright, along with artistic director Scott Miller on keyboard, in one of the most intimate evenings of musical theatre in the company’s 30 year history, telling a story all about stories, and the effect we have on other lives, usually without realizing it. Neil Bartram and Brian Hill's THE STORY OF MY LIFE follows the friendship of Alvin and Thomas, two lifelong friends from a small town who are reunited after Alvin's mysterious death. Thomas struggles to write Alvin's eulogy, so Alvin shows up to help the two of them take an amazing journey back through the story of their friendship, as Alvin searches through the manuscripts and stories in Thomas' mind. And though Thomas is trying to write about his best friend, he ends up finding his own story in the process and coming to terms with the past.” Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. For more information: newlinetheatre.com

O’Fallon TheatreWorks presents Little Women Fridays through Sundays, October 15-24. “Louisa May Alcott’s immortal 19th century novel takes a spirited leap onto the OTW stage, telling the story of a family struggling to make their way in a time when opportunities for women are few and a civil war is raging across the land.” Performances take place at the O'Fallon Municipal Centre (City Hall) in O’Fallon, MO. For more information: www.ofallon.mo.us/ofallontheatreworks

The Gradient
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents St. Louis premiere of The Gradient through October 24. “In this world premiere satire set in the not-so-distant future, a new facility promises to take men accused of sexual misconduct and rehabilitate them into responsible citizens. Steph Del Rosso’s bold new play asks: Can we mass-produce forgiveness?” Performances take place on the Berges Mainstage Theatre at COCA in University City. For more information: www.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

R-S Theatrics presents Jennifer Haley’s Breadcrumbs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm through October 24. “A reclusive fiction writer diagnosed with dementia must depend upon a troubled young caretaker to complete her autobiography. In a symbiotic battle of wills, they delve into the dark woods of the past, unearthing a tragedy that shatters their notions of language, loneliness, and essential self.” Performances take place at the . ZACK, 3224 Locust in Grand Center. For more information: www.r-stheatrics.com

The St. Louis Writers' Group continues the second round of its annual Playwright Slam on Tuesday, October 12, at 6:30 pm. Submitted scripts will be given a five minute read, and rated by a panel of judges based upon audience reaction. The judges will select several plays to move on to the next round.  The events 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.

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.

Stages St. Louis presents the musical Jersey Boys running through October 24. ‘Take an exhilarating journey into the music of the cultural phenomenon’s Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, with JERSEY BOYS, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical! Featuring 30 show stopping performances of the 60s hits that took the group all the way to the top of the charts, including: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” Dawn,” and “My Eyes Adored You,” JERSEY BOYS will have you dancing in the aisles and shouting for more!’ Performances take place at The Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Blue/Orange
Stray Dog Theatre presents Joe Penhall's Blue/Orange Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through October 23, with an additional performance on Sunday, October 17, at 8 pm. “The day before Christopher is due to be discharged from a psychiatric ward, his doctor has reservations and raises his concerns with a senior colleague. Blue/Orange is an incendiary tale of race, madness, and a Darwinian power struggle at the heart of a dying National Health Service.” Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tenessee in Tower Grove East. Tickets are only offered in physically distanced groups of two or four. For more information: www.straydogtheatre.org

That Uppity Theatre Company presents Climate Change Theatre Action St. Louis 2021 on Saturday, October 16, from 1 to 4 pm. “Reflecting an age span of performers of over 50 years, the event will include performers from the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in ‘How Dare You?’, an adaptation of teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN, theatre students from the Webster University Conservatory, well known local theatre artists and performances by two dance companies, Ashleyliane Dance Company and Karlovsky and Company Dance.  The galleries include Duane Reed, Houska, Philip Slein, and Projects +. Viewers will be able to see a short play or two of under ten minutes in a gallery before proceeding to the next gallery to see others. The event will feature approximately 8-10 short pieces that were commissioned internationally and have been published. Most performances will be repeated 4-5 times, in rotation, or approximately every twenty minutes, starting at 1 pm. Some work may also be performed outside.  Indoor performances will be limited to ten audience members at a time and masking will be required.” The event takes place on McPherson between Euclid and Walton in the Central West End. For more information visit the event Facebook page

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.
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