Marvelous Marvin

Get her a pianist for Valentine's Day

SAT 2/14

Marvin Hamlisch is planning a Valentine's Day surprise for his audiences at the Touhill Performing Arts Center (8001 Natural Bridge Road, 314-516-4949; 8 p.m.; $25 to $40). Or, to be more precise, he's planning to not plan.

"I don't normally do this," he confides, "but because it'll be Valentine's Day, I'll probably take requests from the audience and put together a medley of songs that people really want to hear."

Valentine's Day or not, audiences should also expect to hear Hamlisch's rueful "The Way We Were," which 30 years ago this April earned him two of his three Academy Awards and the kind of instant fame that never fades. The song offers a clear example of how Hamlisch composes romantic music.

"This might sound perverse," he says, "but when I sit down to write a romantic song, I don't reminisce about the walks in the park, the holding hands. That part doesn't usually get me going. I tend rather to think about romances that did not work in my life. What gets me going is all the wondering: Should I have left? Where did I go wrong? Why didn't she like me? Out of that cauldron of bad memories comes the song."

Despite an impressively varied career that has included scoring movies, conducting orchestras and making public appearances, Hamlisch's heart has belonged to Broadway ever since the day he saw his first musical, The Pajama Game, at age ten. "I've always wanted to be a part of it," he says. "When theater works -- and it's been rare that it works lately -- but when it really works, it is so astounding and riveting that I float to the sky."

Twenty years after Hamlisch's first taste of Broadway, his debut theater score, for A Chorus Line, earned him a Pulitzer Prize. "That show allowed me to make up music about something that I really knew," Hamlisch says with justified pride. "I had been a Broadway rehearsal pianist forever, so I knew what dancers were like and what made them tick."

Touhill audience members should expect to be entertained by a rehearsal pianist made good. Expect a lot of music, more than a few laughs -- and a sense of theater, too. Marvin Hamlisch wouldn't know how to do it any other way. -- Dennis Brown

The Pain in Spain
Falls mainly on the Jews

If you took that famous courtroom drama Inherit the Wind, threw it 700 years back in time and changed the "evolutionists" to Jews, you'd pretty much have Hyam Maccoby's The Disputation.

This reimagining of a 1263 debate between an overzealous Catholic and a quick-witted rabbi during the reign of Spain's King James has all the intensity of the dramatized version of the Scopes "Monkey Trial."

It seems the Catholics are fixin' to turn all of the Hebrews in the land into Christians -- or kill them in the process -- but the sporting James decides to stage a public, intellectual battle rather than convert the Jews by force, at least for the time being. The action of the debate is like a good boxing match, but history tells us that the rabbi's liturgical beat-down of his Catholic opponent meant nothing to the religious crazies bent on killing those who would dare to disagree with them -- sound familiar?

The New Jewish Theatre performs the provocative The Disputation from February 12 through 29 (2 Millstone Campus Drive, $16 to $20; call 314-442-3175 for times). -- Byron Kerman

But Where Are the Wings?
Little Angels dance divinely

TUES 2/17

In the cinematic classic Better Off Dead, Ricky's mom claims that "love is the international language," but she is so wrong. Try to order a pizza by making goo-goo eyes and pitching copious amounts of woo, and you'll go hungry. Now imagine attempting to tell the complex story of ancient Korean heroine Choon-Hyang, who must contend with a corrupt government official endeavoring to steal her away from her true love, using only Ricky's mom's "international language." This minor experiment in futility proves that the real universal tongue is dance. The human body's many points of articulation, coupled with the dancer's grace and the viewer's imagination, make a storytelling art that conveys ideas and stories far better than any spoken language.

And the Little Angels of Korea speak this language fluently, despite their diminutive size. The dancers range in age from eight to fourteen (like Menudo, but Korean!), and the troupe performs folk dances that charm and delight, thanks to dramatic music, spectacular costumes and the kids' own inherent cuteness. The Little Angels bring their culture to the Touhill Performing Arts Center (8001 Natural Bridge Road, 314-516-4949) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $50. -- Paul Friswold

The Hero Game

TUES 2/17

Brad Meltzer is not like most guys who write comic books. That's because he also writes New York Times best-selling political thrillers, such as the recently published Zero Game. So when he sits down to write a comic, he adds a novelist's flair for realistic character arcs, closure and catharsis.

He's not above throwing in the occasional big-ass fight, though. In The Archer's Quest, a six-issue Green Arrow adventure recently compiled into a hardback book by DC Comics, Meltzer has the storied Green Arrow take on Solomon Grundy, the immortal villain from an eerie swamp. Their bone-smashing fistfight lasts for one entire issue of the adventure -- a ridiculously long tiff, even for a comic book.

"I wanted to see if I could do 22 pages of [nothing but] a fight," explains Meltzer. "I said to DC, 'I'll give you your fight,' but for the next three issues, 66 pages, not a single arrow is fired. I said, 'I'm going to do it all at once, and then I'm going to do something far more cerebral with this book that will leave readers just as excited as a giant, knock-'em-down fight.'"

The Archer's Quest is cerebral. It's also sarcastic and sentimental, and it packs a shocking climax for serious comics readers. Meltzer signs The Archer's Quest and The Zero Game at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731, free). -- Byron Kerman

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