Thursday, 05 April 2018 20:36

Chuck's Choices for the weekend of April 6, 2018

Written by 
"Hamilton" at the Fox "Hamilton" at the Fox

The local premiere of powerful drama joins the hit list this week, along with a couple of cabaret shows.


New This Week:


Cardboard Piano
Photo by John Lamb

The West End Players Guild concludes its 107th season with the St. Louis premiere of Hansol Jung's drama Cardboard Piano Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM, April 6 - 15. "In civil war-torn northern Uganda a missionary's daughter and a local teenaged girl exchange secret wedding vows and plan their escape, but they cannot evade the reach of the encroaching civil war. The play explores the deep but tragic relationship between the two young women and a troubled child soldier they try to save. The cardboard piano is their symbol of the hope and courage needed to carry on in a hopeless world. But can anyone have the courage to forgive the unforgiveable?" There will also be a show on Thursday, April 12, at 8 pm. Performances take place at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union at Enright in the Central West End. For more information, call 314-367-0025 or visit www.westendplayers.org.

My take: I'm on the play reading committee as well as the board of WEPG, and was a strong supporter of this play from the beginning. I first saw it at the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2016, where I was very impressed with the writing. In my review, I wrote that Cardboard Piano manages to balance the immediacy of it's "ripped from the headlines" story with a contemplation of deeper issues. As our own domestic political process plays out the conflict between a version of Christianity based on mercy and compassion vs. one based on anger and judgment, the issues in Cardboard Piano feel both immediate and timeless.


Hamilton

The Fox Theatre presents the musical Hamilton running through April 22. "HAMILTON is the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation's first Treasury Secretary. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R and B, and Broadway, HAMILTON is the story of America then, as told by America now." The Fox is at 527 North Grand in Grand Center. For more information: fabulousfox.com.

My take: Yeah, like you need my encouragement to see this massive hit. Reviewing the Chicago production in 2016, I wrote that Hamilton is a flat-out brilliant piece of musical theatre that manages to be both educational and entertaining at the same time. In nations, as in nature, diversity is a source of strength. Hamilton is a reminder of that strength. We are, as JFK wrote in his book of the same name, "a nation of immigrants," so it's encouraging to note that, when we saw Hamilton, spontaneous applause burst out when Jefferson and Hamilton sang "immigrants: we get the job done."


The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents a staged reading of the play Nonsense and Beauty on Saturday, April 7, at 7:30 pm as part of the Ignite! New Play Festival. "In 1930, the writer E.M. Forster met and fell in love with a policeman 23 years his junior. Their relationship, very risky for its time, evolved into a 40-year love triangle that was both turbulent and unique. Based on a true story, Nonsense and Beauty captures the wit and wisdom of one of the last century's great writers." The reading takes place in the Studio Theatre of the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: Want to see how new plays are born? The Rep's Ignite! festival is here for you.


Norm Lewis

The Cabaret Project presents Norm Lewis: Up Close and Personal on Saturday, April 7, at 8 pm. "Tony nominated star of Phantom of the Opera, NBC's Jesus Christ Superstar, Porgy and Bess and Les Miserables takes the night off of his current starring role in Broadway's Once On This Island to perform for St. Louis audiences." The performance takes place at the Sheldon Concert Hall on Washington in Grand Center. For more information: thecabaretproject.org.

My take: The New York Times has called Mr. Lewis "one of the most reliably impressive voices on Broadway." Reviewing his performance in the title role in Phantom, the Times noted that his "supple phrasing and power combined to gorgeous effect." Here's your chance to find out what they meant in the excellent acoustics of the Sheldon Concert Hall.


Ken Haller

The Presenters Dolan presents Ken Haller in Song by Song by Sondheim on Friday and Saturday, April 6 and 7, at 8 pm. "This will be the Year of Stephen Sondheim in St. Louis, as he is honored with the prestigious 2018 Saint Louis Literary Award. To salute the master lyricist and composer, Ken Haller is thrilled to reprise his critically-acclaimed debut cabaret show, "Song by Song by Sondheim." In songs as sentimental, witty, lacerating, sweet, and rollicking as Not a Day Goes By, Everybody Says Don't, Losing My Mind, Not While I'm Around, Marry Me a Little, and his own unique take in Send in the Clowns, Ken displays the gifts that led the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to name him Best St. Louis Cabaret Performer 2015." The performances take place at The Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand in Grand Center. For more information: metrotix.com

My take: "Haller is a charming and talented performer with a voice as smooth as a brandy Alexander," wrote Robert Mitchell in a KDHX review of this show back in 2011. I couldn't agree more. Ken is an immensely talented gent with impressive credentials in both the theatrical and cabaret worlds and he has been producing top-notch cabaret here in town as well as in Chicago and New York for several years now. This love letter to Sondheim is not to be missed.


Held Over:


Born Yesterday
Photo by Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents the classic comedy Born Yesterday through April 8. "Junkyard tycoon Harry Brock swaggers into Washington, D.C., determined to buy a senator or two. The monkey wrench in his schemes is Billie Dawn, his seemingly dim-witted ex-showgirl girlfriend. But when Brock hires a reporter to tutor Billie, she rapidly comes into her own as a force to be reckoned with. This sharp and snappy comedy hilariously skewers Beltway corruption." Performances take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information: repstl.org.

My take: A boorish bully who knows the price of everything and the value of noting blows into our nation's capital, corrupting everything he touches. No, it's not today's headlines, but rather the 1946 stage hit by Garson Kanin. The Rep's excellent production doesn't make any effort to draw the parallel with the current circus in our nation's capitol because it doesn't need to; the quality of the acting, direction, and tech all speak for themselves and the issues addressed in the script are, sadly, timeless. If I have a complaint, it's that Kanin seems to have had a bit too much faith in the average citizen's ability to avoid being bamboozled. But maybe that makes it that much more important to see this play now.

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