Spring Arts Guide

Apr 17, 2014 at 4:00 am
Spring Arts Guide


Friday, April 25

Wild Blue Yonder
Blue Man Group is a pretty tight musical group, an adroit team of silent comedians and a more-than-capable gang of technologically enhanced magicians. Combine all of that with the group's love of pop art and surprises, and you have one of the more unpredictable theatrical experiences you'll ever see. The blue men's ability to switch from making a spontaneous piece of art via projectile paint vomiting to catching marshmallows in their mouths to running a small camera down a throat, all while projecting that footage on a massive overhead video screen, keeps you on your seat. It's a peculiar skill set, and it produces a singularly memorable night. The Blue Man Group performs at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (April 25 through 27) at Peabody Opera House (1400 Market Street; 314-499-7600 or www.peabodyoperahouse.org). Tickets are $27 to $92. — Paul Friswold

Talking at Windmills
What do we modern Americans know about our country's original inhabitants? All in all, not much, really — Native Americans seem to exist in a nebulous realm of half-understanding for most of us. There's perhaps an analogous situation half a world away: It pertains to Australians and the Aboriginals among them. Long before Britain began colonizing the Australian mainland in the eighteenth century, Aboriginals were indigenous to this vast territory. David Milroy's play Windmill Baby, which has already been hailed as an Australian classic in its homeland, offers a glimpse into this little-known (to Americans, anyway) world of the Aboriginal experience Down Under. Maymay is an elderly Aboriginal woman who returns to the pastoral cattle station she worked on as a domestic 50 years ago. Her vivid memories carry a story of love, violence and sudden ruin, told within the larger historical context of the Aboriginal people in servitude to white Australians. Upstream Theater Company presents Windmill Baby at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 7 p.m. Sunday (April 25 through May 10) at the Kranzberg Arts Center (501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-863-4999 or www.upstreamtheater.org); there is a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 11. Tickets are $20 to $30. — Alex Weir

The Great American Symphony
Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3 swung for the bleachers and hit them. During the 1940s, American composers — seeking a vehicle with which to rival the monolithic European tradition, whose shadow they labored under — strove for the distinctly native voice, the Great American Symphony. In his Symphony No. 3, Copland realized this ambition fully. Now, who better to interpret Copland's grand vision than Leonard Slatkin? The former Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra conductor was nominated for a Grammy for his work leading the SLSO in its 1992 rendition of Copland's Third; this weekend he makes his return to St. Louis to pick up the baton again. "Slatkin Conducts Copland 3" commences at 10:30 a.m. Friday, April 25, at Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-1700 or www.slso.org), with additional performances at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday (April 26 and 27). Included in the program are works by Sierra and Saint-Saëns. Tickets are $28 to $119. — Alex Weir

Saturday, April 26

Closing Time Overruled
Fail! That one word sums up Prohibition just fine. What began in Kansas as a grassroots temperance movement to curb Americans' raging alcoholism led eventually to the passage of the 18th Amendment, outlawing the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. But Prohibition surely didn't stanch Americans' thirst, not by a country mile. A new exhibit at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org) examines — through a beer glass, brightly — this pivotal experiment in our social history. American Spirits: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition comprises more 100 rare artifacts, an actual re-created speakeasy, films, music, photographs, multimedia exhibits and more. A flask won't do for this volume of boozy information and materials; best bring a barrel or two. The exhibit opens Saturday, April 26, and is open every day through Sunday, August 17. Tickets are $5 to $10, and children younger than eighteen are free. — Alex Weir

Sunday, April 27

Roosevelt Revived
Imagine the intense pressure and the colossally high risk of failure in the conception and execution of the one-man play. It's just you, the lone actor, out there, facing the terrifying vision — the vertiginous free fall — of a large audience with nothing to distract it from focusing on anything but you and your potential flubs. Yikes. The entire prospect demands nothing less than an actor of rare nerve and ability, one such as Ed Asner. In his drama FDR, Asner has perfected his long tenure in his art and earned a berth for himself in the same solo-actor pantheon that includes Hal Holbrook's classic portrayal of Mark Twain. Witness the veteran actor's acclaimed turn as Franklin Delano Roosevelt at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus (6445 Forsyth Boulevard). The performance is a benefit for the New Jewish Theatre, and tickets are $50 to $150. For more information call 314-442-3283 or visit www.newjewishtheatre.org. — Alex Weir


Thursday, May 1

Fortune Favors the Bold
Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is as much a harbinger of spring as the budding of the trees and the return of songbirds. Orff's masterpiece takes its content and form from the medieval poems satirizing the then-current rules for Catholic priests and the coeval idea of the wheel of fortune. This wheel has nothing to do with Pat Sajak and everything to do with the concept of what goes around comes around. All things were cyclical to the medieval mind, and so you fell from king to pauper as the wheel of your life turned. Thanks to Orff's driving rhythms and the text's imagery of joyous carousing, new love and lands of plenty, Carmina Burana is a thrilling experience. But a little introspection yields a better understanding of Fortune's machinations. Consider Olim lacus colueram, the exact middle piece in the cantata; this song is sung from the point of view of a swan that's being slow roasted in the tavern where everyone is having such a jolly time. As the swan laments its lost freedom and beauty, the crowd roars its delight — and soon the crowd shall roast while someone else cavorts. Carlos Izcaray conducts the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, accompanied by the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and the St. Louis Children's Choirs, through Carmina Burana at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (May 1 through 4) at Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-1700 or www.slso.org). Tickets are $30 to $109. — Paul Friswold

Friday, May 2

Movin' Around the World
For a decade and a half, Dances of India has organized and presented the St. Louis Dance Festival Showcase. Every year, more companies join and more styles of dance are represented. How much bigger the showcase can get remains to be seen, but at this point it requires three consecutive nights to give every group its moment in the spotlight. The 2014 installment features the modern dance of the Slaughter Project, the modern ballet of Patzius Performing Arts and Tozan-ryu's traditional folk dances of Japan. Also unique to this year is Gerard Charles of the Joffrey Ballet, who choreographs the finale piece for the festival. The St. Louis Dance Festival Showcase takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (May 2 through 4) at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus (6445 Forsyth Boulevard; 314-534-1111 or www.dancesofindiastlouis.org). Tickets are $20 to $25. — Paul Friswold

Thursday, May 8

Borscht Belt Flashback
Thank God for comedy. What's more, thank God in a heaping extra measure for the Jewish variation on humanity's blessed (and necessary — don't even try to think how crazy a species we'd be without humor's safety valve) instinct: the one for cracking jokes. While every culture has its native sense of humor, it's the Jewish people who've refined the trait into a beautiful and sturdy art form. And now, to augment a priceless comedic lineage that encompasses the Marx Brothers, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Madeline Kahn, Woody Allen and Myron Cohen, right on up to Sasha Baron Cohen, we have Daniel Okrent and Peter Gethers' Old Jews Telling Jokes, a play with subject matter that's made evident by its title. But there are also staged gags, musical numbers, and character-driven monologues and scenes. It's good medicine, laughter; get yourself some here. The New Jewish Theatre presents Old Jews Telling Jokes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday (May 8 through June 1) in the Wool Studio Theatre at the Jewish Community Center (2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur; 314-442-3283 or www.newjewishtheatre.org). Tickets are $35 to $39. — Alex Weir

Saturday, May 17

When Henry Met Henry
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has staged comedies and tragedies in equal measure in Forest Park for the past decade. This year the group takes an ambitious tack, choosing not one but two of Shakespeare's histories — did we say ambitious? We meant Olympic. Henry IV and Henry V are on the bill, and they tell nothing less than the development of a boy becoming a man and the man becoming a king. The younger Henry is known as Hal when we first meet him, and he's something of a rake. He pals around with heavyweight carouser Falstaff, who practices casual brigandage when short of funds — and the big man is always short of funds. The older Henry is Hal's father, and he's about to pit the future of his newly won kingdom on the successful quelling of a baronial revolt, but the old man is riven by doubt about the nature of his boy. When will his son take life seriously? Hal needs a push, but he gets there in the end. He has to, because by the start of Henry V he's the King of England, and he's ready to invade France and claim the throne there as part of his inheritance. Now a much more serious and commanding figure, as befits a king, Hal delivers one of the great "go out and give 'em hell" speeches in the English language. The boy who would be king is a choice role, and our town's Jim Butz is a great fit for the part. He's joined by a host of top local talent — look for Kari Ely, Joneal Joplin, Reginald Pierre, Antonio Rodriguez, Chauncy Thomas and Jerry Vogel in this big two-parter. The schedule this year is a little different. Henry IV is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 17. Henry V then begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, at which point the shows alternate nights through Sunday, June 15. There are no performances on Tuesday. Admission is free, and all shows are in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park, just off Art Hill. Call 314-531-9800 or visit www.sfstl.com for more information. — Paul Friswold

Thursday, May 22

Dance, Dance, Dance
The performing arts are a subjective human endeavor; the individual performance matters more than the quantity of performances. The Emerson Spring to Dance Festival challenges that belief, however. Thirty companies from across the country assemble at the Touhill Performing Arts Center (1 University Boulevard at Natural Bridge Road; 314-516-4949 or www.dancestlouis.org) for three nights of dance. Participants include Aerial Dance Chicago, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Grand Rapids Ballet, as well as local favorites the Big Muddy Dance Company and Saint Louis Ballet. There's something for everyone here, whether you're into the latest hip-hop (check out COCA's Hip-Hop Crew) or traditional West African folk dancing (courtesy of Afriky Lolo). The only thing that's small about Spring to Dance is the price: Tickets are just $15 per night. Main stage performances begin at 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (May 22 through 24), but get there early enough to see the 5:30 p.m. performances that take place in the lobby. — Paul Friswold

Dick's Big Outburst
It's almost unfathomable now, but in 1977 Richard Pryor had his own weekly TV show on NBC. It was a doomed effort from the beginning. Pryor believed he would have the freedom to do and say what he wanted (within reason) with the show, but he hadn't counted on the fear and humorlessness of a network Standards and Practices office. He was ordered to remove skits and change his language and ideas before the show could get to air, and even then they censored him. The first episode had the opening removed without Pryor's knowledge just before it aired. For the final episode, Pryor himself censored the show. He instead performed a 40-minute routine solely for the in-house audience, a routine that featured the comic adopting and dropping the persona of Mudbone, an old man who speaks his mind — profanely and profoundly — about racist bosses and the tawdry business of TV while network functionaries tried to cut him off. Performance artist Donelle Woolford re-creates that historic routine in her new piece, Dick's Last Stand. Woolford's current work documents the role played by the phallus in art and politics, particularly in the oral tradition. Dick's Last Stand is part and parcel of that tradition, as well as being a pointed examination of identity. Donelle Woolford presents Dick's Last Stand at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 22, at White Flag Projects (4568 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-3442). Admission is free, but tickets are required; they're available via a link at www.whiteflagprojects.org. — Paul Friswold

Friday, May 23

You Shouldn't Go Home Again
Teddy is a philosopher from a hardscrabble North London family who has made a new life in America. Part of that new life is his wife, Ruth, also a working-class Londoner who is now the mother of three sons. The couple returns to Teddy's family home so that his surviving relations — his father, uncle and two brothers — can meet Ruth for the first time. What follows is a series of misunderstandings, arguments, reconciliations and the cryptic reshuffling of family dynamics. Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is a dark and unsettling drama that offers no concrete answers. Instead, as in all of Pinter's best plays, multiple truths and possibilities are to be found in the long pauses of terse speeches, the physical actions of the players and the way a character lights a cigar. St. Louis Actors' Studio presents The Homecoming at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (May 23 through June 8) at the Gaslight Theater (358 North Boyle Avenue; 314-458-2978 or www.stlas.org). Tickets are $30 to $35. — Paul Friswold

Saturday, May 24

Mozart 'n' Mizrahi
Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the start of blockbuster-film season, but in St. Louis the blockbusters come in the form of opera. Opera Theatre of St. Louis opens its new season at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 24, with a new production of The Magic Flute by the king of the blockbusters, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This fairy tale about a prince and a bird catcher questing to rescue a beautiful princess is both directed and designed by Isaac Mizrahi — take that, CGI malarkey. But Mozart 'n' Mizrahi is just the tip of the iceberg this year. The season continues with Gaetano Donizetti's comic love story, The Elixir of Love (opening Saturday, May 31). After that, it's time for a trip to Paris in June with the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek's Twenty-Seven (Saturday, June 14). This new opera focuses on Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas' legendary salon for the artistic elite. The season closes with one of the great double acts — Christine Brewer and Kelly Kaduce star in Francis Poulenc's haunting Dialogues of the Carmelites (Wednesday, June 18). Poulenc's luminous score underlines the stark horror of the French Revolution as the Reign of Terror threatens to consume even a convent. All shows are performed in repertory through Sunday, June 29, at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus (130 Edgar Road; 314-961-0644 or www.opera-stl.org). Tickets are $25 to $125. — Paul Friswold

Thursday, May 29

Who Doesn't Want a Hardbody?
When you think of more or less typical Broadway musical fare, your mind most likely doesn't light on "pickup truck." But Hands on a Hardbody is just that: a Broadway musical about a truck — or more exactly, the people who covet it. The plot is derived from a true story that first came to national attention via S.R. Bindler's 1997 documentary film of the same name. In Longview, Texas, a local car dealership staged an endurance competition, the winner of which would drive home a brand-new pickup truck (the titular "hardbody"). Twenty-four contestants vie to keep one hand on the truck for the longest amount of time without leaning on the vehicle or squatting down for relief; there's your ready-made material for drama and comedy right there. Hands on a Hardbody's music was composed by Phish's Trey Anastasio with assistance from Amanda Green, who wrote the lyrics for the stage version of High Fidelity. New Line Theatre starts the contest at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (May 29 through June 21) at the Washington University South Campus Theatre (6501 Clayton Road, Richmond Heights; 314-534-111 or www.newlinetheatre.com). Tickets are $10 to $20. — Alex Weir

Check It Out, Mate
Chess has existed in one form or another for 1,500 years — that's quite a run for a board game. The key to its success is its complex simplicity. Each of the pieces has limitations on their movements, but there are sixteen pieces per side making those moves on only 64 squares. Those limitations spark endless creativity in attack and defense, depending on who is playing and whether they're making the first or second move. That locus of complex simplicity and endless creativity will be exploited — for good, only for good — in Circus Flora's 2014 show, The Pawn. Inspired by the game's origins in India and Persia, The Pawn is set in an exotic dreamworld of myth and magic. The hero, the titular Pawn, must journey through this realm of knights and kings, which is represented by moving chess pieces played by the performers. The stars include equestrian rider S. Caleb Carinci Asch, Finland's juggling sensation Duo Kate & Pasi, and Andriy Bilobrov and his quintet of Jack Russell terriers. The Pawn is performed at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 1 and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday (May 29 through June 22) at Circus Flora's Big Top in Grand Center (Samuel Shepard Drive and North Grand Boulevard; 314-289-4040 or www.circusflora .org). Tickets are $12 to $48. — Paul Friswold


Thursday, June 12

A Man's Summer
Terrence McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion! earned a Tony Award for Best Play in 1994 and three years later was adapted for film. Especially in its original theatrical form, McNally's comedy proved a durable success, but perhaps that Tony wasn't won for any groundbreaking innovation with respect to the particulars of plot mechanics. The play's three acts describe a simple arc: a group of friends, all gay men, meet in June for a weekend retreat in a country house; come midsummer, they meet again at the same home; and at the close of summer they convene there a third time. Characters are introduced, problems arise, conflict ensues and in the end we see revelation and resolution. However bare-bones-basic it is in narrative design, McNally's play moved audiences and has established itself as a modern classic. You can enjoy Stray Dog Theatre's take on Love! Valour! Compassion! at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (June 12 through 28) at Tower Grove Abbey (2336 Tennessee Avenue; 314-865-1995 or www.straydogtheatre.org). Tickets are $18 to $20. — Alex Weir

Friday, June 13

The Symphony Sells Out
The Who blew out of the gate already larger than life. Ostensibly just another beat group from the congested early-'60s London scene, the Who was in fact a kinetic singularity, boasting a trio of virtuoso lead instrumentalists unlike anything else ever heard; no one in this band, certainly not the rhythm section of John Entwistle and Keith Moon, consented to play conventional accompaniment. Sonic combat ensued. It was left to the hapless singer to try, somehow, to keep up, but Roger Daltrey was "man enough for two," to nick a line from the Drive-By Truckers. By 1967 the Who was beginning to burst the straps of the three-minute pop straitjacket and ease into more liberating attire, in the form of longer songs and trickier arrangements. On 1969's Tommy the foursome ascended to truly Olympian glory — then proceeded to surpass themselves with Who's Next, and did it again on Quadrophenia. These three titanic masterpieces were ready-made for the enlarging, drama-heightening capability of the symphony orchestra, which counts us straight in to Music of the Who. The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra interprets the great band's oeuvre at at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 13, at Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-1700 or www.slso.org). Tickets are $35 to $65. — Alex Weir

Saturday, June 14

Like a Rolling Orchestra
Over its long recording career the Rolling Stones have deviated from its musical norm occasionally (1967's Their Satanic Majesties Request, for instance), but most of the time the band has stuck to the surefire template: two guitars, bass, drums, some piano or organ. Sure, saxophones are honked aplenty, too. As to string arrangements or anything approximating classical music, they're not often heard in the Stones canon — the beautiful flute and strings on "Ruby Tuesday" being one notable exception. So how could this thoroughly R&B-steeped band's music possibly work on an orchestral stage? When it's the Saint Louis Symphony providing the leverage, most everything works. Hear for yourself at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-1700 or www.slso.org) as the SLSO plays Music of the Rolling Stones. Brent Havens conducts, and tickets are $35 to $65. Can we yell out a request? "Moonlight Mile," the languorous, haunting slow burn from Sticky Fingers; it's just begging for that long symphonic kiss. — Alex Weir


Friday, July 11

The Travails of Love
Union Avenue Opera celebrates its nineteenth year of presenting fully staged operas in their original languages this summer, and like most nineteen-year-olds, this season is all about the exquisite agonies wrought by love. The trouble begins with Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 11 through 19), a tale of star-crossed lovers. Violetta is the original party girl, but she consents to settling down with Alfredo, a true romantic. Unfortunately, Violetta's past threatens Alfredo's family, and she consents to break his heart for the greater good. She's secretly dying of consumption, however, which requires one of the great deathbed reconciliations. The St. Louis premiere of André Previn's adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire follows (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, August 1 through 9). Blanche DuBois needs love even more than she needs the kindness of strangers, but is her animalistic brother-in-law Stanley the best match? UAO closes its season with part three of its Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner's Siegfried (8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, August 22 through 30). Siegfried is young and brave enough to reforge his father's sword, kill a dragon and win the hand of the now-mortal valkyrie Brünnhilde. That's a pretty happy ending, but this is Wagner — the other shoe drops in next summer's Götterdämmerung, which features the death of everyone involved, plus the whole world. Ain't love grand? All performances take place in the Union Avenue Christian Church (733 North Union Boulevard; 314-361-2881 or www.unionavenueopera.org). Tickets are $30 to $52. — Paul Friswold