Wait Till This Year: What 2011 might bring to St. Louis theater

Jan 6, 2011 at 4:00 am
Wait Till This Year: What 2011 might bring to St. Louis theater
Lon Brauer
Last week theater reviewers Dennis Brown and Paul Friswold began a conversation about theater in St. Louis. This week the discourse continues...

Dennis Brown: Last week we talked about the year just ended. Today let's chat about the year to come. Perhaps the big event — at least the most costly — will be the expected reopening this fall of the old Kiel Opera House. Although renovated at enormous taxpayer expense, nevertheless it should wonderfully fill the city's desperate need for yet another theater that is too large.

Paul Friswold: I'm on the fence about the new Peabody. The city put up quite a bit more dough for a football stadium and a baseball stadium, and I've never been to either. And yet I paid for them, at least in part. So I suppose I should be thrilled that this time my money is going to something I'll visit every now and again. I do wonder what will play here — will the Peabody attract more Broadway tours? I'd rather see the city splash out some cash for any of the local gypsy companies than for a big barn for touring productions, but at least the money's not being spent on a basketball team. In short, I'll take it and like it.

Brown: I think it's indisputable that cities need the arts if their downtown areas are to thrive. Look at Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis. Color me old-fashioned, but I've always believed that downtown St. Louis begins east of 12th Street, so I don't see the Peabody having an impact on downtown. Meanwhile, the Roberts Orpheum Theater is downtown and plays no theater role whatsoever.

Friswold: And that puzzles me. Two Decembers ago Stages St. Louis presented a Little Women at the Roberts that worked well from an audience point of view, and it felt like an event. Why doesn't the Orpheum house more theater?

Brown: Why indeed? I'll try to keep an open mind about the opera house, but the cynic in me is certainly stirring.

Another transition — one that makes much more sense — is the changing of the guard at the Muny. Granted, Mike Isaacson won't take over as executive producer until after this summer. I'm hoping Paul Blake's swan-song season might include something exceptional. And if it doesn't, I'll patiently await 2012.

Friswold: Is it too much to ask for a 21-year moratorium on productions by Andrew Lloyd Webber as a sign of good faith?

Brown: No, no, no. I'm looking forward to a Starlight Express that will transform those wide Muny aisles into one vast roller rink. Meanwhile, and much more immediately, I think the new year offers the prospect for lots of intriguing new theater — beginning right now. This weekend's collaboration between Circus Flora and the Saint Louis Symphony sounds like a potentially inspired idea. This weekend is also crammed with choices of what we might deem more traditional, if not conventional, theater. The Black Rep starts a new season, the ever-provocative Upstream Theater has a new show, and Metro Theater and the Edison are combining yet again, this time for the area premiere of a stage adaptation of Lois Lowry's phenomenally successful novel The Giver.

Friswold: You know I have a soft spot for Shakespeare (it's on my head), so the Black Rep's Pericles and its hybrid authorship is intriguing. If I see more than one play this year that begins with an incest riddle and ends with a father being thrilled his daughter works in a brothel, I suspect Pericles will still stand out.

Brown: And as an admirer of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels, I'm eager to see Mosley's first play, The Fall of Heaven, at the Rep.

Friswold: Not to keep beating the Rep's drum, but Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) is already on my schedule for March.

Brown: Mine too.

Friswold: Further down the line I await New Line Theatre's production of the "pop opera" bare, and I must admit some curiosity about St. Louis Shakespeare's new season, which has yet to be announced. And that always reminds me to get excited about what pop-culture treasure Magic Smoking Monkey will mount (and hump) this time out.

Brown: One caveat. Though it's fun to anticipate specific shows, it's also worth remembering that great expectations often lead to great disappointments. Certainly two of the most hyped shows last year were the Isaac Mizrahi-designed A Little Night Music at Opera Theatre and High at the Rep. Neither production provided particularly vivid memories. On the other hand, student-acted productions of On the Razzle, The Insect Play and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Webster University remain indelible in my mind. What's the moral there? To try to arrive at every production with an open mind.

Friswold: I would also request that open-minded theatergoers leave the house ten minutes earlier for every show than they did in 2010. I'm tired of ineffectively glaring at people as they fumble toward their seats in the dark after the play has started. This year I'm bringing a small bag of throwing batteries to every show — and I only buy nine-volts. They work just as well on cell-phone cretins, and my aim is true.

Brown: I stand warned.