Best Of 2005

Best New Play
Born and reared in St. Louis, Willy Holtzman came to playwriting late. But once he did, he wrote from the heart. In the late 1990s, he set to work on a play about his father, a University City High School grad who shipped off to Europe in World War II and lived to tell the tale. Countless writers have dealt with that war. But Hearts is unique in its unsparing portrayal of a young Jewish soldier whose initial reaction upon liberating the concentration camp at Buchenwald was to blame the Jews -- not the Nazis -- for the Holocaust. The play received a stunningly eerie production from New Jewish, highlighted by Christopher Limber's wonderfully humane performance in the lead role. Like The Glass Menagerie (that other memory play), Hearts is rooted in St. Louis. But its tapestry of 60 years of American life roams far beyond the city limits.
Best Lounge Act
If you go to Failoni's around 9 p.m. on a Friday, you'll arrive on the cusp of a transformation. It's crowded but worth it. Hey, if wedging yourself in up at the bar doesn't sound appealing, then you should have planned on coming for dinner and staying for when the music kicks up, smart guy. At this point you are probably gazing wistfully at diners savoring the last bites of their meals as Tom Kelly's smooth vocals of Rat Pack standards serve as a seductive dessert. Sate your gut with a drink from the bar (whose amiable staff has a habit of lighting patrons' cigarettes for them) and wait for Alex Failoni. Without making a big show of it, he comes from seemingly out of nowhere, takes over the mic and for a few songs at a time meets Sinatra's timbre note for note. His style is so effortless, it seems as easy for him to do as wiping down a wine glass behind the bar. Which, because he's working as he sings, isn't unusual. The music, once in the background, has sauntered its way into being the two-room restaurant's main attraction. Failoni's first-timers whisper in disbelief, "Is that really him singing?" and the regular patrons sit full, smug and content, letting a new group in on their little secret.
Best Hair on a Local TV Personality (Female)
No matter the forecast -- be it rain, hail, sleet or snow -- meteorologist Cindy Preszler's hairdo is Santa Barbara in the summertime: golden sunlight, cloudless skies, a hint of lavender on a gentle breeze. It is her silky smoove coiffure that provides the rest of us with the wherewithal to endure each horseshit weather forecast she throws our way. We tell ourselves: "If Cindy and her amazing hair can look this fabulous, then maybe, just maybe, I can open the door and go outside." Ever modest, Preszler credits her brilliant coif to hairdresser Bob Garner of the chic Stonewater Spa at Plaza Frontenac. "I've been going to Bob for a couple years," Preszler dishes. "He's great." We're sure he is. But just as no man controls the weather, Preszler's honeyed highlights must owe their beauty to a higher power. Hair that gorgeous is a gift from above.
Best Noise Band
To paraphrase -- well, to paraphrase somebody, "Noise is in the ear of the beholder." Ringtones, the sound of forced laughter and the entire recorded oeuvre of Creed all qualify as noise to certain listeners. To these discerning ears, the sounds of electronic waves compressed and extruded as pure streams of tone, the distant roar of amplified night sounds and the high-end scree electronic effects utter when strangled slowly by competent hands -- these are the sounds of joy made palpable. Raglani, acting alone or in concert with frequent contributors (Dave Stone or Gho$t Ice, as examples), never fails to stagger the assiduous listener with his deft handling of grating power and delicate beauty. Like an analog fist wrapped in a digital gauntlet, the music of Raglani punches holes in the conception of what music qualifies as noise and what noise qualifies as music. Kindly keep your racket of Top 40 pabulum to yourself -- Raglani comforts those who crave a more beautiful noise.
Best Metal Band
A Sunday evening at 6:30 is not the coveted slot on a bill for a metal band, especially at the Duck Room. No offense to the Duck, but cheerful mallard decoys and tasteful lithographs don't provide the optimum ambiance for blasphemous war metal. Factor in that Lael Clark, guitarist and founding member of Harkonin, is no longer in the band and that the RFT Music Awards Showcase crowd skews a little too good-timey and ironic for Harkonin's style of sincere, soul-crushing hate and you have the makings of a very bad scene. Harkonin specializes in bad scenes. Vokillist Jason Baron eyed the crowd sullenly, grunted a pint of blood down the front of his shirt and strafed the room with croaking invocations of fury. Bassist Tom Quach and drummer Clayton Gore strapped on hobnail boots and crushed rib cages with triple-time thuds. Matt Coyle throttled a maelstrom out of sixsixsix strings, summoning excoriating howls that flayed faces and charred souls. Two diehards created the nucleus of a pit while half the crowd headed aboveground. The half that remained was baptized in the blackest fires of Hell, courtesy of our masters, our tormentors, our warlords. Hail Harkonin!
Best Art Cinema
Everyone loves going to work, but aside from all that joy we feel about the daily grind, er, the daily funfest, the most dedicated among us still reflect upon the possibilities a life of leisure could offer. So why not pretend you have nothing productive you should be doing on a Tuesday afternoon? Why not skip work? Live for the moment, and begin your make-believe life at Plaza Frontenac Cinema. Once you're there, you'll notice that the other half enjoys nice flavored Italian sodas while watching their afternoon films. You should follow suit. As you wait for the (typically highbrow) film to begin, you'll overhear your fellow moviegoers worrying to one another about whether there'll be enough cookies at some event, or whether so-and-so gets enough sleep. Again, take their lead and ponder whether eating popcorn straight out of the bag without using your fingers is truly wrong. Then settle back in your comfy seat in front of one of the cinema's six screens and enjoy the show. Because when the credits roll, it's back to real life for you.
Best Casino
Remember when you first walked into a casino? Weaned on images of Robert De Niro playing high stakes games in bespoke suits, you were crushed to discover that in reality today's casinos are populated by blue-hairs who alternate breaths between an oxygen tank and a Misty cigarette as they deposit their pensions, one credit at a time, into video slot machines. But take heart, gamblers and Scorsese devotees. The suits at Harrah's are trying to make the pastime sexy again. Exhibit A: the i-Bar. With its illuminated amber counter and massive stock of booze, this oval island bar nestled within the casino bids to lure young gamers away from their on-line Texas Hold 'Em tourneys and back to the mother ship. The strategy seems to be working: On any given night, the i-Bar boasts a respectable throng of fresh young things sipping sidecars as they sidle up to the card tables. Friendly as it is, the i-Bar won't up your chances of winning. But scoring? The odds are decidedly in your favor.