Sunday, July 03, 2022

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of July 4, 2022

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.

Meghan Kirk
The Blue Strawberry presents a Singers Open Mic Night on Tuesday at 7:00 pm, July 5th. Meghan Kirk  hosts with Ron McGowan at the piano.  Singers should bring music in their key. The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

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 on most major platforms including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, and BandCamp. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

Fly North Theatricals presents Sondheim’s Assassins through July 23. “A multiple Tony Award-winning theatrical tour-de-force, Assassins combines Sondheim's signature blend of intelligently stunning lyrics and beautiful music with a panoramic story of our nation's culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it, embodied by America's four successful and five would-be presidential assassins. Bold, original, disturbing and alarmingly funny, Assassins is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written. Assassins lays bare the lives of nine individuals who assassinated or tried to assassinate the President of the United States, in a one-act historical "revusical" that explores the dark side of the American experience. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, writers, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish roller coaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and inspire each other to harrowing acts in the name of the American Dream.” Performances take place at .ZACK on Locust in Grand Center. For more information: https://www.flynorthmusic.com

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Comic Book Killer through August 27. "Calling all superheros and villains! There’s trouble afoot for you both! Evil Doctor Weevil is back and he’s trying to erase your very existence! The time has come to join forces against true evil and restore balance to the comic universe. But who will be the hero or heroes and rid this plain of Evil Dr. Weevil forever? Could it be you? Quick…to the Prius! Dawn your cape and spandex and meet us the famously haunted Lemp Mansion for a mystery like no other! Here I come to save the daaaaaay!!!!"  The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

The Midnight Company presents the St. Louis premiere of Rodney’s Wife by Richard Nelson Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays (July 10 and 17) at 2pm, July 7-23. “Rodney’s Wife is set during a steamy summer in Rome, 1962.  It takes place over a day and a half in an Italian Villa full of an extended family and scorching secrets.  Rodney, whose Hollywood stardom is beginning to dim, has arrived to star in one of the first, pre-Eastwood, Spaghetti Westerns.  With him is his second wife, Fay, who, as she arrives, isn’t sure if she can last another day as just “Rodney’s wife.”  And Eva, his sister, once married to Rodney’s agent, but since his death, hanging on to her brother and her lifestyle any way she can. And Lee, his daughter by his first wife, who, after ten years at girls’ schools and college, is now back in the heart of the family.  And Ted, Lee’s fiancee, a surprise to the family and, somewhat, to Lee.  And Henry, his new agent, with a pregnant wife back in the States, and a movie star to care for in Rome.” at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: midnightcompany.com

The Muny presents the musical Mary Poppins July 5-13 at 8:15 pm.  “Based on one of the most popular films in history, Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way. Transporting audiences by umbrella to London at the turn of the last century, this Tony Award-winning stage adaptation features a carpet bag full of classics, including “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” “Step in Time,” “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”” Performances take place 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

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio presents the eighth annual LaBute New Theater Festival July 8 through 31. “STLAS received hundreds of submissions worldwide and selected eight to be produced on the stage at The Gaslight Theater. This year's festival features productions by winners of the 2020 Festival, which, due to the pandemic, were postponed. There will be two artists receptions held in the adjacent West End Grill space on Fridays July 15 and 29. Patrons are encouraged to stay and meet the playwrights, actors and crew.” Performances take place at The Gaslight Theater on North Boyle in the Central West End. For more information: https://www.stlas.org/

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company opens its 46th Anniversary Season with Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea on Wednesday, July 6, at 7 pm. “When 18-year-old Dontrell Jones decides to voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in search of an ancestor lost during the Middle Passage, his family struggles with the thought of losing its prized son to the waters of a mysterious and haunting past. Blending poetry, humor, wordplay and ritual, this rhythmic journey is a present-day hero’s quest to explore the lengths and depths we must go to rewrite history’s wrongs.” Performances continue through July 23 at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information: www.theblackrep.org

The Length of a Pop Song
The Tesseract Theatre Company presents The Length of a Pop Song by by Taylor Gruenloh Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 4 pm, July 8-17. “Lex has no choice but to move back into her parent’s house after another incident of self-harm. Her mother wants to help prepare her for an upcoming trial against an adult website hosting non-consensual videos of Lex, but Lex can’t find a reason to look forward to tomorrow.” Performances take place at The Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. For more information: www.tesseracttheatre.com

Union Avenue Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, July 8-16. “Tatyana, a lovesick girl from the countryside, declares her love for Onegin and finds herself spurned by the disenchanted aristocrat. Onegin, indifferent to the feelings of others, disregards Tatyana’s advances to pursue Olga, his friend Lensky’s betrothed. A duel commences and Onegin finds himself victorious albeit deeply tormented. He returns years later to find Tatyana happily married to Prince Gremin. Struck by her beauty, Onegin declares his love for her only to find himself face to face with the folly of his naïveté. Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and melancholy masterpiece by one of classical music’s most universally beloved composers. Tchaikovsky’s lush melodies are enhanced by the opera’s uniquely Russian folk tunes, infectious waltzes, and passion-soaked arias bringing to life Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel like never before.” Performances are sung in Russian with projected English supertitles and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information: unionavenueopera.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, June 27, 2022

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 27, 2022

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.

Circus Flora's Flying Wallendas
Circus Flora presents The Quest For The Innkeeper’s Cask through July 3. “Circus Flora is going underground! The caves beneath St Louis have fascinated the city’s residents for generations. Each cave has its own story, its own mystery, its own secrets. In “The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask,” Circus Flora’s troupe seeks an ancient relic, rumored to have mystical powers, and believed to be somewhere beneath the city’s streets. But it seems that someone does not want the Cask to be found—the closer it is, the more obstacles and boobytraps seem to be in the way. Acrobats, daredevils, aerialists, comedians and more tell this wondrous story in a way that only Circus Flora can. Remind your family that adventure and excitement are everywhere, even underneath our city’s streets!” Performances take place at The Big Top on Washington next to Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: circusflora.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 on most major platforms including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, and BandCamp. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

Fly North Theatricals presents Sondheim’s Assassins July 1-23. “A multiple Tony Award-winning theatrical tour-de-force, Assassins combines Sondheim's signature blend of intelligently stunning lyrics and beautiful music with a panoramic story of our nation's culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it, embodied by America's four successful and five would-be presidential assassins. Bold, original, disturbing and alarmingly funny, Assassins is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written. Assassins lays bare the lives of nine individuals who assassinated or tried to assassinate the President of the United States, in a one-act historical "revusical" that explores the dark side of the American experience. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, writers, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a nightmarish roller coaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact and inspire each other to harrowing acts in the name of the American Dream.” Performances take place at .ZACK on Locust in Grand Center. For more information: https://www.flynorthmusic.com

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Comic Book Killer through August 27. "Calling all superheros and villains! There’s trouble afoot for you both! Evil Doctor Weevil is back and he’s trying to erase your very existence! The time has come to join forces against true evil and restore balance to the comic universe. But who will be the hero or heroes and rid this plain of Evil Dr. Weevil forever? Could it be you? Quick…to the Prius! Dawn your cape and spandex and meet us the famously haunted Lemp Mansion for a mystery like no other! Here I come to save the daaaaaay!!!!"  The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

Camelot
Photo: Phillip Hamer
The Muny presents the musical Camelot through June 28 at 8:15 pm.  “The Broadway legend returns for its first Muny production in 13 years! Come re-discover this powerful, moving and enchanting tale of romance and political intrigue, as we all live for “one brief shining moment.” Based upon T.H. White’s novel, Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot features a lush and Excalibur-sharp score, including “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and of course, “Camelot.” With this enchanting classic tale, you are guaranteed an unforgettable (k)night at King Arthur’s Round Table.” Performances take place 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

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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Opera Review: Out of the closet and on to the stage, the re-imagination of "Harvey Milk"

To quote Walt Kelly’s Howland Owl paraphrasing Kipling, “the tumult and shouting has died.” After being postponed for two years due to the pandemic the third and leanest version of Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie’s 1995 opera “Harvey Milk” (now titled “Harvey Milk Reimagined” according to the libretto) has, at long last, had its world premiere at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. And my fellow critics could not be happier.

Above: Kyle Sanchez Tingzon
Below: Thomas Glass
Photo: Phillip Hamer

Widely praised both far and near, there’s little doubt that “Harvey Milk” will soon be showing up at opera companies everywhere. And while I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as everyone else seems to be, I’m in complete agreement with my fellow St. Louis Theater circle member Gerry Kowarsky’s assessment of “Harvey Milk” as “a piece that deserves to be heard.” The Opera Theatre production runs through June 25th and really demands to be seen.

Librettist Korie—whose many credits include the stunning “Grapes of Wrath” seen at Opera Theatre in 2017—was a working journalist when San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay member of the Board of Supervisors, were shot to death by fellow board member Dan White. Although he had already abandoned that career when he began working on “Harvey Milk” in 1995, Korie writes that he was “excited to be able to bring together journalism with the power of opera.” Not surprisingly, then, his libretto combines the hard-hitting intensity of a documentary with poetic imagery and a fluid story line that moves back and forth in time.

Repeated shifts in perspective between the hard reality of San Francisco politics and Milk’s memories add a dream-like feel to many scenes, an effect enhanced by the frequent appearances of the character of “The Messenger.” Decked out in a white drum major outfit and sung by a countertenor, the Messenger serves as a kind of Greek chorus/narrator/prophet

Thomas Glass (C) in "Harvey's Walk-In Closet"
Photo: Phillip Hamer

Korie’s inventive combination of comedy, drama, and Blitzstein-style agitprop combines with Wallace’s eclectic mix of musical styles to create a fast moving and hard hitting opera/musical theatre hybrid. A fanciful “Walk-In Closet” filled with gay stereotypes, for example, is used to depict Milk’s early years playing it straight on Wall Street. The Stonewall Uprising scene includes a Drag Queen kick line and triumphant chants of “out of the closets and into the streets”¬ to powerful dramatic effect. Dan White gives voice to his resentment over the gay gentrification of the Castro Street neighborhood in an aria that obliquely mocks Irish-American vaudeville songs like “Mother Machree.”

And so it goes, hitting the highlights of Milk’s impressive and tragically brief life. Milk is presented as a heroic figure, certainly, but also a very human and flawed one. This is tragedy, not hagiography, and Milk emerges as a victim of not only the sexually neurotic resentment embodied in Dan White, but also of his own hubris.

Thomas Glass and Company
Photo: Phillip Hamer

More importantly, though, the opera is a testament to the ability of one person to be a catalyst  for change. “I am just one person,” Milk asserts, “but I have power. I remember who I am. My name. My people. Our histories. I remember.” At a point in our nation’s history when authoritarian voices try to convince us that we are helpless pawns whose only salvation lies in blind obedience to a Fearless Leader, Milk’s story reminds us that each of us can, in fact, make a difference.

“If a bullet should enter my brain,” Milk declares just before his murder, “let it shatter every closet door.”

OTSL has once again put a strong cast on stage. Baritone Thomas Glass captures every one of the title character’s many facets and does so with great vocal authority. Jonathan Johnson’s lyrical tenor enhances the role of Scott Smith, the activist who becomes Milk’s lover and helps bring him out of his walk-in closet. He and Glass conclude the first act with a touching love duet in which we see Milk emerging from his political closet as well.

L-R: Jonathan Johnson, Thomas Glass
Photo: Phillip Hamer

Tenor Alek Shrader’s Dan White has an intensity that is unnerving, especially when contrasted with the sweet, John McCormack-esque sound he uncorks in his lament for the Good Old Days in the first act. There was a time when I would have seen the character’s combination of bullying arrogance and insight-free self-pity as overdone, but these days it looks almost restrained.

Bass-baritone Nathan Stark’s back-slapping flamboyance is perfect for George Moscone, but he shows impressive range as both Horst, the cartoonish German inhabitant of the Walk-In Closet, and a tough-talking Teamster backing Milk’s election. Countertenor Kyle Sanchez Tingzon brings an appropriately unearthly quality to the role of the Messenger.

The strong supporting cast includes Soprano Raquel González as politically savvy (and ethically flexible) Dianne Feinstein, soprano Xiao as Milk’s friend and political ally Henrietta Wong, and mezzo Elizabeth Sarian as Milk’s mother, constantly warning of “Golems everywhere” and invoking memories of the Holocaust while gay men are being beaten by police in Central Park.

Nathan Stark, Alek Shrader
Poto: Phillip Hamer

Unusually for opera, the performers all wear wireless body mics, but my impression was that they were only turned on when special electronic effects such as reverb were employed. For much of the evening, the singers’ voices sounded entirely unplugged.

The OTSL chorus has to work especially hard here, taking on a wide variety of small but important roles, from cops to teamsters to protestors to drag queens. That they do it all so convincingly is a testament to their skill as both singers and actors.

A special laurel wreath is in order for conductor Carolyn Kuan and the members of the members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Composer Wallace’s mix of musical styles, spoken word segments, and various electronic elements sounds like a challenge for both the conductor and the musicians, but it all came together perfectly on opening night.

Co-directors James Robinson and Seán Curran have done a splendid job of choreographing the cinematic shifts of mood and scene in this fast-moving work, assisted by Christopher Akerlind’s lighting and the documentary feel of Greg Emetaz’s videos.

Allen Moyer’s set includes a bit of subtle visual subtext in the form of a rank of grey closet doors stretched across the back of the set. At the beginning of the opera, they’re closed. Later they’re open but filled with clothes. By the end they’re both open and empty, echoing the triumphant chants of “out of the closets and into the streets”¬ that conclude the stirring Stonewall Uprising scene in Act I.

Back: Thomas Glass
Front: Mishael Eusebio as
Young Harvey
Photo: Phillip Hamer

The only real fly in the operatic ointment here is Wallace’s score. Yes, it’s inventive and generally supports the story, but like far too many recent opera scores it often feels disconnected from the text. Korie’s libretto contains a mix of prose and poetry, but the music makes no distinction between them. The result is a kind of generic “contemporary opera” sound with no distinctive character of its own.

It made me think—and not for the first time—that contemporary composers should seriously consider studying the scores of Sondheim before taking on an opera.

That said, “Harvey Milk Reimagined” is a worthwhile addition to the opera stage and a reminder of not only how far we have come over the last four decades in this country, but how precarious that progress is as well. The importance of the message overcomes any minor complaints I might have about the medium.  

“Harvey Milk Reimagined” continues through June 25th at the Loretto Hilton Center on the Webster University campus in rotating repertory with the rest of the Opera Theatre season. To get the full festival experience, come early and have a picnic supper on the lawn or under the refreshment tent. You can bring your own food or purchase a gourmet supper in advance from the OTSL web site. Drinks are available on site as well, or you can bring your own.  For more information, visit the web site.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 20, 2022

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 Cabaret Project and The Blue Strawberry present a Singers Open Mic on Tuesday, June 21st, from 7 to 9:30 pm. “Ken Haller is your host, with pianist and music director Carol Schmidt. If you plan to sing bring sheet music or a chart in your own key, and perform your favorite Broadway, pop, or jazz tunes. Or you can just relax, have a drink and dinner or a snack, and enjoy the music. No admission or cover, but there is always a tip jar! All proceeds go to The Cabaret Project, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to promoting, developing, and sustaining the art of cabaret in St. Louis."  The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

A Call to Conscience
presents Live at the Club Riviera, an original script written by local playwright Freeman Word, Thursday and Friday at 7:30,  June 23 and 24. Directed by Thomasina Clarke, Live At The Club Riviera features The Point of View Jazz Ensemble & The North County Big Band under the direction of Harvey Lockhart, with Choreography by Vivian Watt. “Live at the Club Riviera is a landmark portrait of one of the most significant yet little-noted entertainment venue in St. Louis history. Rivaling the Cotton Club in Harlem; Club Riviera was the largest Black-owned nightclub in Missouri. It is reflective of a time in black history when professional entertainers who were snubbed in the white clubs would come over to Club Riviera to perform as a way of protesting the white establishment.” Performances take place at The Grandel Theatre in Grand Center. For more information: www.metrotix.com.

Circus Flora
presents The Quest For The Innkeeper’s Cask through July 3. “Circus Flora is going underground! The caves beneath St Louis have fascinated the city’s residents for generations. Each cave has its own story, its own mystery, its own secrets. In “The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask,” Circus Flora’s troupe seeks an ancient relic, rumored to have mystical powers, and believed to be somewhere beneath the city’s streets. But it seems that someone does not want the Cask to be found—the closer it is, the more obstacles and boobytraps seem to be in the way. Acrobats, daredevils, aerialists, comedians and more tell this wondrous story in a way that only Circus Flora can. Remind your family that adventure and excitement are everywhere, even underneath our city’s streets!” Performances take place at The Big Top on Washington next to Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: circusflora.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 on most major platforms including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, and BandCamp. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Comic Book Killer through August 27. "Calling all superheros and villains! There’s trouble afoot for you both! Evil Doctor Weevil is back and he’s trying to erase your very existence! The time has come to join forces against true evil and restore balance to the comic universe. But who will be the hero or heroes and rid this plain of Evil Dr. Weevil forever? Could it be you? Quick…to the Prius! Dawn your cape and spandex and meet us the famously haunted Lemp Mansion for a mystery like no other! Here I come to save the daaaaaay!!!!"  The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

In My Granny's Garden
Photo: Jennifer A. Lynn
Metro Theater Company presents In My Granny’s Garden live at multiple locations in the bi-state area and streaming on demand through June 26. “Inspired by the children’s book by acclaimed playwright and New York Times bestselling author Pearl Cleage and her husband, writer and director Zaron W. Burnett Jr., In My Granny’s Garden invites the youngest audiences to explore the glory of growing your own food. Watch a tiny seed become a field of corn, green beans, collard greens, and bright red tomatoes. Step into a visual feast inspired by world renowned artist Radcliffe Bailey’s original paintings, and discover the one superpower that fuels Granny’s garden. The play promises to leave the very young nourished in body and soul. In My Granny's Garden was commissioned by the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information: www.metroplays.org

The Muny presents the musical Camelot June 22-28 at 8:15 pm.  “The Broadway legend returns for its first Muny production in 13 years! Come re-discover this powerful, moving and enchanting tale of romance and political intrigue, as we all live for “one brief shining moment.” Based upon T.H. White’s novel, Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot features a lush and Excalibur-sharp score, including “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” and of course, “Camelot.” With this enchanting classic tale, you are guaranteed an unforgettable (k)night at King Arthur’s Round Table.” Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

The Muny presents the musical Chicago June 19 at 8:15 pm.  “Start the car and head to a “whoopee spot” where crime and corruption are hot! Kander and Ebb’s internationally-acclaimed musical about fame, fortune and justice features a headline-worthy story of how two icon-victs become Jazz Age celebrities. Set during the Prohibition era, this six-time Tony Award-winner, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, includes showstopping standards such as “Cell Block Tango,” “Mister Cellophane” and the notorious “All That Jazz.”” Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

New Jewish Theatre presents Ken Ludwig’s romantic comedy Dear Jack, Dear Louise Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through June 26. “Dear Jack, Dear Louise is inspired by the playwright’s parents romance as pen pals during World War II. The play chronicles the romance that spans the duration of World War II between a young military doctor, stationed in Medford, Oregon, and other places, and a budding young actress whose career hopes have taken her all the way from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Given the distance between them, the only way they can conduct, let alone evolve, their relationship is through letters, exchanged at times at breakneck pace and at other times with frustrating, worrisome slowness.” Performances take place at the SFC Performing Arts Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information: jccstl.com/arts-ideas/new-jewish-theatre

Awakenings
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of Awakenings by Tobias Picker, with a libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollmann based on the book by Oliver Sacks, running through June 24. “Awakenings is a moving story of memories, loss, and life rediscovered. For more than forty years, thousands succumbed to a mysterious sleeping sickness, rendering them as immobile and voiceless as living statues. Decades later, a brilliant young doctor discovered a revolutionary treatment to bring his patients back to life…but with the challenge of finding their place in a now-unfamiliar world” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Carmen
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Bizet’s Carmen through June 25. “Free, rebellious, and beautiful, Carmen is the most desired woman in town. Every man wants her, and every woman envies her. Sparks fly when Carmen meets the young soldier Don José, and they quickly begin a passionate affair. José is ready to sacrifice everything for Carmen: his reputation, his career, even his family. But when Carmen leaves José for the handsome bullfighter Escamillo, a tangled web of lust, obsession, and jealousy play out to fatal effect.” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Center Stage on Tuesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm. “This electric event shines a spotlight on Opera Theatre’s Richard Gaddes Festival Artist and Gerdine Young Artist Programs. A cadre of rising opera stars will perform iconic melodies from opera’s greatest hits and cherished rarities. Center Stage is curated by Patricia Racette, Artistic Director of Young Artist Programs, and James Robinson, Artistic Director of Opera Theatre. Be the first to discover the next stars of opera at this showcase concert!” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. The performance is sung in English with projected English supertitles and takes place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: https://opera-stl.org/
Harvey Milk
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Opera Theatre of St. Louis
presents the world premiere of the new performing version of Harvey Milk by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie, through June 24. “Based on the true story of Harvey Milk, this opera delves into the tumultuous era of the 1970s to trace one young man’s rise to lead a movement. During his time as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” Harvey Milk fought for the rights of the disenfranchised…and paid the ultimate price for his work to advance those freedoms. Through Milk’s legacy, we are reminded that we are more united than divided, regardless of our background.” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information:  opera-stl.org.

The Magic Flute
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mozart’s The Magic Flute  running through June 26. “No trial or challenge is too great for true love. Prince Tamino is on a high-paced adventure to save the princess Pamina from the clutches of the evil Sarastro. But he’s not alone — his loyal bird-catching friend Papageno, two magical instruments, and three benevolent spirits are ready to help him overcome every obstacle. A whimsical and timeless story that features some of Mozart’s most beloved music, The Magic Flute is a favorite for all ages!” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.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

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Duncan MacMillan's Every Brilliant Thing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, through June 26 “You're 7-years old. Mom's in the hospital. Dad says she's "done something stupid." She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that's brilliant about the world. Everything that's worth living for.  1. Ice cream.  2. Kung Fu movies.  3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.  4. The color yellow. You leave it on her pillow. You know she read it because she's corrected your spelling. Soon the list will take on a life of its own. A play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love.” Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: https://www.stlshakespeare.org.

Much Ado About Nothing
Photo: Phillip Hamer
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents the comedy Much Ado About Nothing through June 26. “Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring comedies. The central characters, Beatrice and Benedick, are thorny, intelligent, witty and hopelessly bad at love. A battle royale ensues in a hilarious attempt to resist their overpowering mutual attraction that makes Much Ado such a timeless story of romance, suspicion and restoration.” Performances take place nightly at 8 pm except for Mondays at Shakespeare Glenn next to the Art Museum in Forest Park. For more information: stlshakes.org.

The Karate Kid
Stages St. Louis presents The Karate Kid: The Musical through June 26. “For generations, audiences have cheered the 1984 blockbuster, THE KARATE KID. Now this iconic story comes to the stage as a thrilling and inventive new musical. Inspired by the real-life story of screenwriter Robert Kamen, creator of the original franchise, THE KARATE KID tells the story of Daniel LaRusso, who finds trouble with a group of cruel and harassing classmates. To defend himself, Daniel begins training with a reclusive handyman – who just happens to be an expert martial artist. What he learns, though, is that fighting is done with the head and the heart, not the fists. THE KARATE KID features music and lyrics by Drew Gasparini (“Smash”) and choreography from award-winning duo Keone and Mari Madrid with direction by Amon Miyamoto (Pacific Overtures).” Performances take place at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center in Kirkwood, MO. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Stray Dog Theatre presents The Normal Heart Thursdays through Saturdays through June 25. “A powerful, stirring drama based on the harrowing true story of the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York City, and the gay men who fought with an entire political system to take their plight seriously. The Normal Heart follows Ned Weeks, a reluctant leader but furious activist, as he campaigns for awareness, and tends to his own friends and lovers who are dying all around him.” Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee 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.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

St. Louis theatre calendar for the week of June 13, 2022

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 Blue Strawberry presents It’s Magic with Terry Richison on Monday at 7:30 pm, June 13th. “Prepare to be amazed, mystified and entertained as you witness illusions that defy explanation and stretch the limits of your imagination!  Here is your chance to see America’s Premier Magician and Illusionist perform his special blend of comedy and magic.  It’s Magic! is a fast-paced magic and Illusion show that has been performed for hundreds of thousands all across America. Terry Richison will involve several volunteers throughout the show to help him perform his award-winning, spectacular feats of magic.  You will enjoy loads of hilarious comedy throughout the show.  Terry will close the show with a very special illusion from his Grand Illusion show.” The Blue Strawberry is at 364 N. Boyle. For more information: bluestrawberrystl.com.

Circus Flora
presents The Quest For The Innkeeper’s Cask through July 3. “Circus Flora is going underground! The caves beneath St Louis have fascinated the city’s residents for generations. Each cave has its own story, its own mystery, its own secrets. In “The Quest for the Innkeeper’s Cask,” Circus Flora’s troupe seeks an ancient relic, rumored to have mystical powers, and believed to be somewhere beneath the city’s streets. But it seems that someone does not want the Cask to be found—the closer it is, the more obstacles and boobytraps seem to be in the way. Acrobats, daredevils, aerialists, comedians and more tell this wondrous story in a way that only Circus Flora can. Remind your family that adventure and excitement are everywhere, even underneath our city’s streets!” Performances take place at The Big Top on Washington next to Powell Hall in Grand Center. For more information: circusflora.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 on most major platforms including Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube, and BandCamp. For more information: www.eratheatre.org

The Lion King
The Fabulous Fox presents the musical The Lion King through June 18. “Giraffes strut. Birds swoop. Gazelles leap. The entire Serengeti comes to life as never before.  And as the music soars, Pride Rock slowly emerges from the mist. This is Disney’s THE LION KING, making its triumphant return to the Fabulous Fox Theatre. More than 100 million people around the world have experienced the awe-inspiring visual artistry, the unforgettable music, and the uniquely theatrical storytelling of this Broadway spectacular – one of the most breathtaking and beloved productions ever to grace the stage.” The Fabulous Fox is on North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: www.fabulousfox.com.

The Lemp Mansion Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre and Jest Mysteries present The Comic Book Killer through August 27. "Calling all superheros and villains! There’s trouble afoot for you both! Evil Doctor Weevil is back and he’s trying to erase your very existence! The time has come to join forces against true evil and restore balance to the comic universe. But who will be the hero or heroes and rid this plain of Evil Dr. Weevil forever? Could it be you? Quick…to the Prius! Dawn your cape and spandex and meet us the famously haunted Lemp Mansion for a mystery like no other! Here I come to save the daaaaaay!!!!"  The Lemp Mansion is at 3322 DeMenil Place in south city. For more information: www.lempmansion.com

In My Granny's Garden
Photo: Jennifer A. Lynn
Metro Theater Company presents In My Granny’s Garden live at multiple locations in the bi-state area and streaming on demand through June 26. “Inspired by the children’s book by acclaimed playwright and New York Times bestselling author Pearl Cleage and her husband, writer and director Zaron W. Burnett Jr., In My Granny’s Garden invites the youngest audiences to explore the glory of growing your own food. Watch a tiny seed become a field of corn, green beans, collard greens, and bright red tomatoes. Step into a visual feast inspired by world renowned artist Radcliffe Bailey’s original paintings, and discover the one superpower that fuels Granny’s garden. The play promises to leave the very young nourished in body and soul. In My Granny's Garden was commissioned by the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information: www.metroplays.org

The Muny presents the musical Chicago June 13-19 at 8:15 pm.  “Start the car and head to a “whoopee spot” where crime and corruption are hot! Kander and Ebb’s internationally-acclaimed musical about fame, fortune and justice features a headline-worthy story of how two icon-victs become Jazz Age celebrities. Set during the Prohibition era, this six-time Tony Award-winner, the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, includes showstopping standards such as “Cell Block Tango,” “Mister Cellophane” and the notorious “All That Jazz.”” Performances take place on the Muny's outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information: muny.org.

New Jewish Theatre presents Ken Ludwig’s romantic comedy Dear Jack, Dear Louise Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm through June 26. “Dear Jack, Dear Louise is inspired by the playwright’s parents romance as pen pals during World War II. The play chronicles the romance that spans the duration of World War II between a young military doctor, stationed in Medford, Oregon, and other places, and a budding young actress whose career hopes have taken her all the way from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Given the distance between them, the only way they can conduct, let alone evolve, their relationship is through letters, exchanged at times at breakneck pace and at other times with frustrating, worrisome slowness.” Performances take place at the SFC Performing Arts Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. For more information: jccstl.com/arts-ideas/new-jewish-theatre

Urinetown
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre
presents the musical Urinetown Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm through June 25.  Performances take place at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. “Set in 2027, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis' URINETOWN is an hilariously subversive fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, in a time when water is worth its weight in gold and there's no such thing as a free pee. Set in a near-future dystopian Gotham, a severe 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens are forced to use public "amenities" now, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity's most basic needs. In this nightmare world, the punishment for an unauthorized pee is a trip to the dreaded URINETOWN. But from the ruins of Democracy and courtesy flushes, there rises an unlikely hero who decides he's held it long enough, and he launches a People's Revolution to lead them all to urinary freedom!” For more information: http://www.newlinetheatre.com/utownpage.html

Awakenings
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of Awakenings by Tobias Picker, with a libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollmann based on the book by Oliver Sacks, running through June 24. “Awakenings is a moving story of memories, loss, and life rediscovered. For more than forty years, thousands succumbed to a mysterious sleeping sickness, rendering them as immobile and voiceless as living statues. Decades later, a brilliant young doctor discovered a revolutionary treatment to bring his patients back to life…but with the challenge of finding their place in a now-unfamiliar world” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Carmen
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Bizet’s Carmen through June 25. “Free, rebellious, and beautiful, Carmen is the most desired woman in town. Every man wants her, and every woman envies her. Sparks fly when Carmen meets the young soldier Don José, and they quickly begin a passionate affair. José is ready to sacrifice everything for Carmen: his reputation, his career, even his family. But when Carmen leaves José for the handsome bullfighter Escamillo, a tangled web of lust, obsession, and jealousy play out to fatal effect.” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.org.

Harvey Milk
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Opera Theatre of St. Louis
presents the world premiere of the new performing version of Harvey Milk by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie, through June 24. “Based on the true story of Harvey Milk, this opera delves into the tumultuous era of the 1970s to trace one young man’s rise to lead a movement. During his time as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” Harvey Milk fought for the rights of the disenfranchised…and paid the ultimate price for his work to advance those freedoms. Through Milk’s legacy, we are reminded that we are more united than divided, regardless of our background.” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information:  opera-stl.org.

The Magic Flute
Photo: Eric Woolsey
Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents Mozart’s The Magic Flute  running through June 26. “No trial or challenge is too great for true love. Prince Tamino is on a high-paced adventure to save the princess Pamina from the clutches of the evil Sarastro. But he’s not alone — his loyal bird-catching friend Papageno, two magical instruments, and three benevolent spirits are ready to help him overcome every obstacle. A whimsical and timeless story that features some of Mozart’s most beloved music, The Magic Flute is a favorite for all ages!” Opera Theatre requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends that guests wear a mask during indoor events. Performances are sung in English with projected English supertitles and take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University Campus. For more information: opera-stl.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

St. Louis Shakespeare presents Duncan MacMillan's Every Brilliant Thing Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm, June 16-26 “You're 7-years old. Mom's in the hospital. Dad says she's "done something stupid." She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that's brilliant about the world. Everything that's worth living for.  1. Ice cream.  2. Kung Fu movies.  3. Staying up past your bedtime and being allowed to watch TV.  4. The color yellow. You leave it on her pillow. You know she read it because she's corrected your spelling. Soon the list will take on a life of its own. A play about depression and the lengths we go to for those we love.” Performances take place at The Chapel Venue, 6238 Alexander Drive. For more information: https://www.stlshakespeare.org.

Much Ado About Nothing
Photo: Phillip Hamer
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents the comedy Much Ado About Nothing through June 26. “Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring comedies. The central characters, Beatrice and Benedick, are thorny, intelligent, witty and hopelessly bad at love. A battle royale ensues in a hilarious attempt to resist their overpowering mutual attraction that makes Much Ado such a timeless story of romance, suspicion and restoration.” Performances take place nightly at 8 pm except for Mondays at Shakespeare Glenn next to the Art Museum in Forest Park. For more information: stlshakes.org.

The Karate Kid
Stages St. Louis presents The Karate Kid: The Musical through June 26. “For generations, audiences have cheered the 1984 blockbuster, THE KARATE KID. Now this iconic story comes to the stage as a thrilling and inventive new musical. Inspired by the real-life story of screenwriter Robert Kamen, creator of the original franchise, THE KARATE KID tells the story of Daniel LaRusso, who finds trouble with a group of cruel and harassing classmates. To defend himself, Daniel begins training with a reclusive handyman – who just happens to be an expert martial artist. What he learns, though, is that fighting is done with the head and the heart, not the fists. THE KARATE KID features music and lyrics by Drew Gasparini (“Smash”) and choreography from award-winning duo Keone and Mari Madrid with direction by Amon Miyamoto (Pacific Overtures).” Performances take place at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center in Kirkwood, MO. For more information: stagesstlouis.org.

Stray Dog Theatre presents The Normal Heart Thursdays through Saturdays through June 25. “A powerful, stirring drama based on the harrowing true story of the beginning of the AIDS crisis in New York City, and the gay men who fought with an entire political system to take their plight seriously. The Normal Heart follows Ned Weeks, a reluctant leader but furious activist, as he campaigns for awareness, and tends to his own friends and lovers who are dying all around him.” Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee 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.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Opera Review: Perchance to dream: Opera Theatre's 'Awakenings' puts a human face on a mysterious pandemic

Through June 24th, Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents the world premiere of “Awakenings,” based on the book of the same name by Oliver Sacks. With music by Tobias Picker and a libretto by Picker’s husband, neuroradiologist Dr. Aryeh Lev Stollman, “Awakenings” takes on the difficult task of turning a plot-free nonfiction work into a dramatically coherent piece of musical theatre—and a few missteps aside, it succeeds splendidly.

Sacks’s book is the story of the famed neurologist’s heroic but ultimately unsuccessful attempts in the late 1960s to treat patients at New York’s Beth Abraham Hospital who were suffering from encephalitis lethargica. A mysterious disease that infected at least a million people (and killed at least half of them) during a worldwide pandemic between 1915 and 1926, encephalitis lethargica left many of its survivors in a kind of netherworld—awake and apparently aware, but largely nonresponsive to everything and everyone. “They neither conveyed nor felt the feeling of life,” wrote Sacks; “they were as insubstantial as ghosts, and as passive as zombies.”

L-R: Katherine Goeldner, Andres Acosta,
Marc Molomot, Jarrett Porter
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Sacks tried to treat them with L-DOPA—a drug used primarily to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, many of which are shared with encephalitis lethargica. At first it appeared to be a miracle cure and was described that way in the press. Unfortunately, the reprieve didn’t last, and the patients eventually slipped back into their former half-lives after experiencing a painfully brief return to full ones. The pandemic stopped as mysteriously as it started, and to this day there is no real cure.

The opera tells this complex story by focusing primarily on three patients: Miriam H., Rose, and Leonard Lev. Miriam and Rose are composites of real people from the book, as are most of the other characters, but Lev is, as Joshua Barone writes in The New York Times, “largely intact and is even intensified.” Sacks himself is also present, both as narrator and as a character struggling with his own awakening to his identity as a gay man—something disclosed publicly only a few months before his death in 2015.

That multi-layered approach has both its strengths and weaknesses. Leonard, Rose, and Miriam are all fully realized and immensely sympathetic characters whose stories are both beautiful and heartbreaking.  Their scenes are, far and away, the most compelling aspects of the opera. So much so that Sacks’s own story, while tragic in its own way, feels almost trivial by comparison.

L-R:Adrienne Danrich, Susanna Phillips
Photo: Eric Woolsey 

A subplot involving the unrequited love of the nurse Mr. Rodriguez for Sacks and Leonard’s equally futile love for Rodriguez feels imposed and unnecessary. And a flashback in which the young Sacks is suddenly and harshly rejected by his mother because of his sexual orientation comes across as implausible and clumsy. It does, however, set up one of the stronger moments in the opera, a long monologue in which Sacks realizes there are some things that “can’t be changed by me. Not with medicine or love.” He laments that “there is a border I can never cross”—echoing the same words sung by Rose as she describes the experience of falling ill decades before.

So, yes, “Awakenings” is a mixed bag, dramatically speaking. But the mix is heavily positive. And, given that this is a world premiere by a librettist who has never attempted an opera before, it’s really quite admirable. Better yet, Picker’s music has a strong emotional connection with Stollman’s words—something I have not always heard in some other contemporary operas. Surprisingly for someone who studied with composers like Elliott Carter and Milton Babbitt (who treated music more as a mathematical exercise than a form of communication), Picker has written a score that often embraces melody and is perfectly matched to the natural flow of the text.

Part of this is likely due to the fact that Picker and Stollman worked as a team in creating “Awakenings,” writing music and lyrics together. In that sense, the work hearkens back to the musical theatre pieces of legendary teams like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, or Flaherty and Ahrens. I often come away from newer operas with the feeling that the composer and librettist inhabited different worlds. Not so with “Awakenings,” which feels like the true partnership that it is.

David Pittsinger and the cast
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Every member of this large cast (15 named roles) does a splendid job, making even the smallest character well-rounded and credible. Tenor Marc Molomot’s deeply troubled Leonard is a beautiful piece of work, and the character’s tragic fall into madness is deeply moving. Mezzo Katharine Goeldner offers sympathetic counterpoint as his long-suffering mother Iris.

Sopranos Adrienne Danrich and Susanna Phillips are (to quote Mr. Sondheim) a “practically perfect pair” as Miriam and Rose. The fast friendship that develops between the two is both heartwarming and, ultimately, heartbreaking as their illness snatches them back into the Twilight Zone. Two other patients, Frank and Lucy, are brought to vivid life by tenor Jared V. Esguerra and mezzo Daniela Maguara. Tenor Andres Acosta powerfully communicates Mr. Rodriguez’s frustrated yearning.

Bass-baritone David Pittsinger, whose stentorian tones have graced both operatic and musical theatre stages, is Dr. Podsnap, the hospital’s Medical Director. The character’s Dickensian name is a good match for his snobbishness and refusal to even consider the research behind Sacks’s proposal. “Who does this Englishman think he is,” he snarls. “Another fancy paper / It will be disproven before you know it.” It’s not until the final scene that we get to see the emotional conflict that lurks behind that arrogant front. “Have I broken my oath,” he muses. “Can it be wrong to have tried? I don’t know. Though in the end I did not protect them.” Pittsinger’s multi-leveled performance captures both sides of Podsnap’s persona.

LR: Andres Acosta, Jarrett Porter
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Much of the opera, of course, rests on the highly capable shoulders of baritone Jarrett Porter as Sacks. Picker and Sacks were close friends, and the fictionalized version of him in the opera has the ring of truth and compassion. A complex mix of crusader, healer, and a conflicted man who (in the composer’s words), “finds himself locked in by outside social and familial forces,” the character of Sacks requires not just a compelling singer but also an actor capable of showing us his many facets. Porter is just the man for the job. It’s a bravura performance.

The OTSL chorus has all of its usual power, although Picker’s thick choral lines are difficult to hear, requiring frequent glances at the English supertitles. Even so, I was especially impressed by the clarity with which the singers handled the short, sharp phrases lobbied back and forth in the contentious clinic scenes. Lines like “Hyoscamine! Stinking nightshade! Anticholinergics! Belladonna!” are not often heard on the opera stage and don’t fly trippingly off the tongue.

Under Roberto Kalb’s direction, the orchestra gives what certainly sounds like an authoritative reading of the score. Judging by the hugs and smiles when both Picker and Stollman came on stage afterwards, the creators of “Awakenings” would appear to agree.

OTSL Artistic Director James Robinson, who directed Picker’s “Emmeline” in 2015, repeats that role here, imparting a sense of momentum and even urgency to a work that could, in lesser hands, become static.  Robinson has brought most of his production team from “Emmeline” along as well, with satisfying results.

Allen Moyer’s set is simple and flexible, consisting of a series of transparent panels that are easily rolled around the hospital ward set to create different playing areas. Christopher Akerlind’s lights and Greg Emetaz’s video projections allow the scene to shift easily from the hospital interior to the botanical garden outside, where the recovering patients, in a touching scene, make their first contact in decades with the natural world. James Schuette’s costumes subtly reflect the personality of each character. The brown British tweeds Sacks wears in his first appearance, for example, clearly mark him as on outlier among the American hospital staff.

Jarrett Porter in the final scene
Photo: Eric Woolsey

Opera Theatre’s “Awakenings” is not, of course, the first attempt to dramatize the Sacks book. The 1990 film version is perhaps the best known of those attempts, but in 1980 Harold Pinter made it into a one-act play titled “A Kind of Alaska” and Picker himself composed a ballet version in 2010. There was even a 1974 documentary for British television. But this world premiere is the first try at a full-length work for the stage, and despite its flaws it’s well worth your time.

“Who knows if the world out there will ever truly know us,” wonders Miriam in the final scene. “Who in the world could ever truly know us?” “Awakenings” is another step towards that level of understanding.

“Awakenings” continues through June 24th at the Loretto Hilton Center on the Webster University campus in rotating repertory with the rest of the Opera Theatre season. To get the full festival experience, come early and have a picnic supper on the lawn or under the refreshment tent. You can bring your own food or purchase a gourmet supper in advance from the OTSL web site. Drinks are available on site as well, or you can bring your own.  For more information, visit the web site.

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