Cinema St. Louis is delighted to again offer in-person screenings during the 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF), held Nov. 4-21, 2021.

Because the effects of the pandemic continue, this year’s fest will be a hybrid — with a significant number of virtual screenings also available — but in-person screenings will be held on all three screens of the Tivoli Theatre from Nov. 4-14 and Nov. 18-21. 

Other in-person screenings will take place at Washington University’s Brown Hall Auditorium (on the weekends of Nov. 5-6, 12-14, and 19-21) and Webster University’s Winifred Moore Auditorium (on the evenings of Nov. 5-14). 

In addition, the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library Auditorium will serve as the in-person venue for six Golden Anniversaries screenings of films from 1971. Those screenings will be held on the afternoons of Nov. 6-7, 13-14, and 20-21. 

Finally, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will partner with SLIFF on two in-person screenings on the evenings of Nov. 4 and 11.

For those who prefer to view from home, many (though not all) of the films that receive in-person screenings will be available virtually through our partner Eventive from Nov. 4-21. SLIFF will also feature a substantial number of films, shorts programs, and livestreams that can only be accessed virtually. 

To protect the safety and health of patrons, SLIFF will require masks and proof of vaccination at in-person screenings. No concessions will be available at any of the venues, including the Tivoli, to ensure audience members remain masked throughout films. Full information on the festival’s Covid-19 policies appear below.

Program Overview

The 30th Annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, a presentation of the nonprofit Cinema St. Louis (CSL), continues to provide the opportunity for St. Louis filmgoers to view the finest in world cinema — international films, documentaries, American indies, and shorts that can only be seen at the festival.

 This year, after an all-virtual festival in 2020, SLIFF is pleased to offer a large selection of in-person events, including at all three screens of the Tivoli Theatre, which has been shuttered since the onset of the pandemic. For those who prefer to watch at home, we’ll still provide plenty of options, with nearly 100 virtual programs and livestreams.

Robert Greene

            SLIFF begins on Nov. 4 with a powerful new Missouri-based documentary, “Procession,” which is directed by Robert Greene, the filmmaker-in-chief at the Murray Center for Documentary Journalism at the University of Missouri. In the film, six men from Kansas City, Mo. — all survivors of childhood sexual assault at the hands of Catholic priests and clergy — come together to direct a drama-therapy-inspired experiment designed to collectively work through their trauma. Greene, who will receive SLIFF’s Contemporary Cinema Award, and many of the film’s subjects will attend the screening to participate in a compelling post-film Q&A.

            On the festival’s final day, SLIFF offers a Tribute to Mary Strauss, which includes a screening of Mary’s favorite film, “Sunset Boulevard.” Mary has played an absolutely essential role in Cinema St. Louis’ evolution, and we’re delighted to honor her with a Lifetime Achievement Award during our 30th edition.

            We’ll also honor two other filmmakers: Documentarian and native St. Louis Nina Gilden Seavey, who will present a free special-event program called “My Fugitive” at the fest, will receive the Charles Guggenheim Cinema St. Louis Award; and documentarian Deborah Riley Draper, whose film “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority” screens at SLIFF, will receive the Women in Film Award.

The festival will screen more than 400 shorts and features, and the 2021 SLIFF offers an especially impressive array of the year’s most heralded films, including selections from such destination fests as Sundance, Berlin, SXSW, Hot Docs, Tribeca, Cannes, Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and New York. 

            Among the most enticing English-language studio films are Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” (winner of the People’s Choice Award at Toronto), Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” (with Joaquin Phoenix), Michael Pearce’s “Encounter” (with Riz Ahmed and Octavia Spencer), Stephen Karam’s “The Humans” (with Richard Jenkins, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen Yeun, and Amy Schumer), Clint Bentley’s “Jockey” (with Clifton Collins and Molly Parker), Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard” (with Will Smith), and Eva Husson’s “Mothering Sunday” (with Colin Firth and Olivia Colman). 

“Belfast”

Major international titles include “A Chiara” from Jonas Carpignano, “Ahed’s Knee” from Nadav Lapid, “France” from Bruno Dumont (“Slack Bay”), “A Hero” from Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”), “Hit the Road” from Panah Panahi, “Memoria” from Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Tropical Malady”), “One Second” from Zhang Yimou (“House of Flying Daggers”), “Paris, 13th District” from Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”), “Petite Maman” from Céline Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”), “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” from Ryūsuke Hamaguchi (“Happy Hour”), and “The Worst Person in the World” from Joachim Trier (“Oslo, August 31st”). SLIFF also offers a pair of films from Radu Jude (“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” and “Uppercase Print”) and a trio of works by Hong Sangsoo (“In Front of Your Face,” “Introduction,” and “The Woman Who Ran”).

Significant documentaries include Joshua Altman & Bing Liu’s “All These Sons,” John Maggio’s “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks,” Rex Miller & Sam Pollard’s “Citizen Ashe,” Andrea Arnold’s “Cow,” Mobolaji Olambiwonnu’s “Ferguson Rises,” Brandon Kramer’s “The First Step,” Matthew Heineman’s “The First Wave,” Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” Julie Cohen and Betty West’s “Julia,” Peggy Callahan & Louie Psihoyos’ “Mission: Joy,” Max Lowe’s “Torn,” Debbie Lum’s “Try Harder!,” and Emily and Sarah Kunstler’s “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America.”

And that’s just scratching the surface of the 2021 lineup, which includes nearly 20 American indies, 29 shorts programs, and eight free archival selections. Below are some of the other highlights of this year’s SLIFF:

The Divided City 

SLIFF’s The Divided City program focuses on the racial divide in St. Louis and other U.S. cities. The films are supported by The Divided City: An Urban Humanities Initiative, a program of Washington U.’s Center for the Humanities that addresses one of the most persistent and vexing issues in urban studies: segregation. 

Sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at Washington University

“The First Wave” documentary

Free and Discounted Programs

SLIFF continues our tradition of offering a large selection of free and discounted events to maximize the fest’s outreach into the community and to make the event affordable to all. In addition, for the 18th year, we present the Georgia Frontiere Cinema for Students Program, which provides free screenings to St. Louis-area schools. This year features 31 free in-person programs, including all screenings at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis Public Library, and Washington University. We’re also offering a pair of free screenings at the Tivoli, a free in-person master class, and six free livestreams. And the fest features 31 virtual programs at the special price of $5. 

Georgia Frontiere Cinema for Students Program

SLIFF offers free daytime screenings for children and teens from participating St. Louis-area schools. This year’s selections include shorts, documentary features, narrative features, and shorts programs. See the Cinema for Students section of the SLIFF website for full information.

Sponsored by Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rosenbloom (in honor of Georgia Frontiere) and the Hawkins Foundation, with support from the Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation 

Human Rights Spotlight

This selection of documentaries focuses on human-rights issues in the U.S. and the world. 

Sponsored by Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society for International and Area Studies at Washington University and the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute

Master Classes and Seminars

SLIFF provides four free master classes — one in-person event and three livestreams — and a seminar. See the Special Events section of the SLIFF website for full information.

Sponsored by the Chellappa-Vedavalli Foundation

New Filmmakers Forum

The New Filmmakers Forum (NFF), a juried competition of works by first-time feature filmmakers, is an annual highlight of SLIFF. The featured films this year are “Delicate State,” “Papaw Land,” “Shellfish,” “Walk with Me,” and “We Burn Like This,” and the filmmakers will participate in a free roundtable discussion. The screenings and roundtable are hosted by the Missouri Film Office’s Andrea Sporcic Klund. The NFF Emerging Filmmaker Award — nicknamed the Bobbie in honor of the late Bobbie Lautenschlager, NFF’s longtime curator — is presented at SLIFF’s Closing-Night Awards Presentation. 

Sponsored by Barry & Jackie Albrecht and Pat Scallet

Race in America: The Black Experience

Because the events in Ferguson continue to resonate in St. Louis and the country, SLIFF again offers a large number of programs organized under the title Race in America: The Black Experience.  To maximize accessibility and promote dialogue, 12 of the 26 programs in Race in America are free. 

Sponsored by William A. Kerr Foundation 

Show-Me Cinema

Films made in St. Louis and Missouri or by current and former St. Louisans and Missourians are an annual focus of SLIFF. This year’s lineup of Show-Me Cinema is typically strong, featuring 18 feature films, three shorts programs, and four special events.

Sponsored by the Missouri Division of Tourism and Missouri Film Office

SLIFF/Kids Family Films                                                         

Cinema St. Louis presents a selection of eight family programs, including two documentaries and two free collections of shorts. Because patrons younger than 12 are not able to attend in-person screenings this year, all SLIFF/Kids programs are offered virtually.

Tivoli Theatre in University City

COVID-19 POLICIES FOR SLIFF IN-PERSON ATTENDANCE

The safety of our patrons, filmmakers, and volunteers is Cinema St. Louis’ top priority. To ensure everyone is protected, SLIFF has instituted a number of policies for the duration of the festival. 

These policies will be strictly enforced for the protection of everyone. 

Guests must follow the instructions of SLIFF staff members and volunteers. SLIFF reserves the right to deny admission or dismiss any customer for noncompliance. 

The following policies will apply during SLIFF:

  • Proof of full vaccination (at least two weeks after the final dose) of any FDA-approved vaccine is required for all staff members, volunteers, audience members, and filmmakers at each in-person screening and event.
  • Methods of confirming proof of full vaccination are:
    • CDC Vaccine Card and valid photo ID.
    • A photo of a CDC Vaccine Card and valid photo ID.
  • Guests should arrive no earlier than 30 minutes before the scheduled screening time. Any guests arriving earlier will be asked to wait outside in line until the theaters are prepared for seating.
  • Only guests age 12 or older will be permitted to attend.
  • Masks are required for everyone at all times in indoor spaces, and the face coverings must be consistent with the current CDC guidelines.
    • Paper masks, scarves, neck gaiters, shirts pulled up, masks with holes/filters/breathing valves, and makeshift masks are not acceptable.
    • New disposable surgical masks are available to all audience members.
    • Masks must completely cover the mouth and nose and must be replaced if wet or soiled.
    • PPE may be inspected for compliance or issued as needed.
  • No concessions will be available at any venue, and no eating or drinking will be permitted in the theaters. Outside food or drink will also not be permitted.
  • Guests should stay home if not feeling well or exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 in the past 10 days.
  • Guests who have tested positive for Covid-19 within the past 10 days must stay home.
  • Guests are asked to wash hands as often as possible, use hand-sanitizing stations, and cover nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.

Gloria Swanson and William Holden in “Sunset Boulevard”

TICKET AND PASS INFORMATION

TICKET PRICES

Individual tickets, for either in-person or virtual screenings, are $15 for general admission, $11 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid and current photo IDs. Prices are all-inclusive; no additional fees will be added.

The Tribute to Mary Strauss (held on Nov. 21) is $25 and includes a screening of “Sunset Boulevard,” which follows the event.

SLIFF also offers 31 free in-person screenings, six free livestreams, and 31 virtual programs for a special $5 price. Complete information can be found in the Free Events and Discounted Events sections of the festival website.

Free in-person screenings do not require a ticket.

PASS PRICES

Passes can be used for either in-person or virtual screenings and can be used to purchase multiple tickets for an in-person event. Three forms of passes are available:

Sponsors

Title Sponsor: Whitaker Foundation

Sustaining Sponsors: Albrecht Family Foundation, Chellappa-Vedavalli Foundation, Hawkins Foundation, Jane M. & Bruce P. Robert Charitable Foundation, Ward & Carol Klein, Nancy & Ken Kranzberg, Missouri Arts Council, Missouri Division of Tourism, National Endowment for the Arts, Regional Arts Commission, Chip Rosenbloom & Lucia Rosenbloom, Mary Strauss, Trio Foundation of St. Louis, TV5Monde, William A. Kerr Foundation

Presenting Partners: Center for the Humanities at Washington University, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, The Divided City, Eventive, Film & Media Archive at Washington University Libraries, Film & Media Studies Program at Washington University, Simple DCP, St. Louis Public Library, St. Louis Public Radio, Webster University Film Series

For more information, the public should visit cinemastlouis.org

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The daring rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand captured the headlines in 2018, and now in an enthralling and inspiring documentary, “The Rescue,” our hearts as well.

Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Oscar winners for “Free Solo” accessed never-before-seen material and included exclusive interviews to spotlight the risky world of cave diving and to convey the enormous outpouring of caring and compassion from the international community.

Even though we know the outcome, dubbed the “Miracle in the Cave” by the global news media, this documentary is a remarkable story of survival, determination, and ingenuity in the face of daunting odds and natural elements.

It’s a story we knew from the news, but not so much the harrowing details, which unfold like an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It’s a race against time that took two weeks to complete, and we feel the clock ticking and the mounting danger, especially as monsoon season nears.

To refresh, after a soccer practice, the boys went on an outing to explore a nearby elaborate system of caves and became trapped. While anxious parents awaited their rescue and fate, the Thai Navy, U.S. Navy Seals, and renowned cave divers combined their know-how for a daring rescue. Along with the Thai government and international leaders, we see the teamwork and plans in this life-or-death scenario.

Many people helped save the boys, and the courage they showed in such a perilous journey is astounding. But the two cave divers who first spotted the boys after 10 days, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, are true heroes, as they give first-hand accounts of what happened.

It’s a lump-in-your-throat moment when the gaunt-looking youngsters say heartfelt “Thank you” and attempt to keep their spirits up, even though they are hungry and scared.

The film recently won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

It’s certain to make an impact as a contender we near the annual awards season. But more importantly, it’s a rare success story and an extraordinary account of what humans are capable of in the face of overwhelming adversity.


The Rescue” is a 2021 documentary directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. It is rated PG for thematic material involving peril and some language, and the run time is 1 hour, 47 minutes. In select theaters Oct. 15 and will eventually be on the National Geographic Channel (Disney Plus).

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By Alex McPherson

An ambitious historical epic with powerful performances, hard-hitting action sequences, and an intelligent condemnation of systemic injustice, director Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” approaches glory, but falls slightly short of achieving it.

Based on actual events and taking place in 14th century France, the film, broken into three sections, begins with Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon, sporting an unfortunate hairdo), a valiant fighter serving under the cuckoo Count Pierre d’Alençon (Ben Affleck). De Carrouges, having lost his first wife and child from the plague, sees an opportunity to father an heir and inherit a large dowry, which includes a huge swathe of land. He weds Marguerite de Thibouville (Jodie Comer), the daughter of a wealthy-yet-disgraced nobleman. However, through a series of political maneuvers, longtime friend Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) ends up possessing a large portion of de Carrouges’ new land, gets promoted to captaincy over him, and rapes Marguerite when she’s alone at home. De Carrouges files lawsuit after lawsuit, eventually requesting a last duel to the death. Retribution for Marguerite’s rape isn’t de Carrouge’s primary motivation — it’s his own pride and “honor” that’s at stake.

We then see the same events from Le Gris’ point of view: he observes as the handsome, fun-loving squire who parties with the Count and helps him improve his fortunes (Le Gris can read and handle basic accountancy). He betters his own lot in life by currying favors. In this version, de Carrouges isn’t a brave warrior, but a bumbling fool. It’s all rather smooth sailing for Le Gris who, after the assault, is reassured from the Count and the clergy that there’s no way that Marguerite’s claims will be taken seriously. 

Jump to section three, the most resonant of them all, and we watch the happenings unfold from Marguerite’s vantage point, getting a more intimate look at the horrible situation she’s become stuck in. She’s left feeling dehumanized and at the mercy of arrogant men whose final battle risks not only their lives, but her own as well.

Suffice to say, there’s plenty of anxious tension headed into the climactic confrontation, a bloody brawl that’s undoubtedly one of the best scenes of 2021. Beforehand, “The Last Duel” takes a creative approach to storytelling that fully fleshes out its subjects — the courageous Marguerite in particular. While Scott’s film isn’t especially profound in revealing that 14th century France was, in fact, horrendously unjust towards women, it slyly demonstrates how shifts in perspective can alter how we perceive the world, and the self-serving ways in which we might perceive ourselves.

Indeed, “The Last Duel” invites viewers to compare and contrast each party’s accounts of what took place, illustrating pertinent differences between them. Alterations in music, camera angles, and dialogue reveal the truth layer by layer, depending on who’s telling it, both serving to fill in narrative gaps and make the film feel decidedly stretched-out by the sword-clashing finale. The costuming and production design are incredibly detailed and period accurate, to be expected. The screenplay — co-written by Damon, Affleck, and Nicole Holofcener — highlights the egomania of de Carrouges and Le Gris, while occasionally throwing subtlety to the wind.   

This episodic structure wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t in top form, and luckily, the whole cast delivers. Comer, bringing to life Marguerite’s kindness, trauma, and steadfast bravery in facing a system designed to subordinate her, is wholly deserving of accolades come awards season. Until the final act, she’s mostly relegated to the sidelines, but she conveys Marguerite’s weathered fearlessness through her facial expressions alone, infusing the film’s final stretch with true emotional gravitas. 

Damon and Driver are similarly effective, albeit portraying more straightforward characters. There’s little redeeming either of them, no matter if we’re seeing through their eyes or not, but “The Last Duel” takes great lengths to show the patriarchal structures that inform their worldviews. Affleck almost seems like he’s in a different film, but it’s entertaining watching him embrace a demented frat boy persona as the Count, drunk on power along with alcohol.

Where the film stumbles involves Scott’s lack of restraint. Witnessing Marguerite’s assault — twice — comes across as exploitative rather than necessary. On one hand, “The Last Duel” paints similarities of Le Gris’ monstrous actions to the “playful” nights he enjoys with women in the Count’s chambers. On the other hand, when shown again through Marguerite’s frame of reference, it serves little purpose beyond shock value, fueling our anger leading into the titular showdown. In this case,“The Last Duel” uses her violation to artificially amplify dramatic stakes.

Although the film is ultimately uneven in execution, there’s still enough compelling characters to carry it through to its squirm-inducing conclusion. “The Last Duel” succeeds in demonstrating how the past informs the present, and the importance of recognizing how a core issue of the time — viewing women as property rather than human beings — continues in various insidious forms today. It’s also just a bone-crushing, suspenseful medieval thriller that prizes at least some brains over pure brawn.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel”

“The Last Duel” is a 2021 drama directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The run time is 2 hours, 32 minutes, and it is Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language. Alex’s Grade: B+

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By Lynn Venhaus
An enticing sense of wonder and palpable joy in nature can be felt in “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience,” now available in St. Louis.

Irresistible and imaginative, it is: “magnificent.”

Art lovers will swoon looking at the walls with a 22-foot ceiling, technology enthusiasts will marvel at the cutting-edge three-dimensional world, and all will be exhilarated by the moving digital light show that breathes new life into Vincent van Gogh’s life work.

One must experience this unique multimedia presentation first-hand to understand just what the ‘immersive’ aspect truly means.

The limited engagement which opened Oct. 1, runs through Nov. 21 and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Four entry times are available each hour and tickets are sold online at www.vangoghstlouis.com

The installation is in the Starry Night Pavilion on the grounds of the Saint Louis Galleria, near the Macy’s side. Upon entry of the gigantic white tent, you will be educated about the legendary Dutch painter – his thoughts recorded in letters to his brother Theo, his dreams and own words about his life and work.

 After the introduction, a second room, referred to as a “portal,” prepares visitors for the visuals by having them get used to the moving images – comparing it a dreamlike experience.

The work comes alive in the ‘immersion’ room, the third – and largest – space. then we become acclimated to the visuals of his works, through wall projections and finally, able to partake in stunning colors that swirl, dance and refocus into flowers, cafes and landscapes that operate on a 30-minute loop.

Overall, there are about 300 paintings representing his vast body of work. He had a fondness for portraits of peasants and still life of nature settings, and is known for a multitude of self-portraits.

His instantly recognizable masterpieces “The Starry Night,” “Sunflowers” and “Café Terrace at Night” come to life, no longer in frames, and you can see the details. The numerous shades of blue he used to depict night skies is remarkable – and vibrant.

The music score is symphonic and cinematic, and yes, you can hear snippets of Don McLean, along with Paul Simon, Miles Davis and other modern composers.

Whether you are familiar about the tortured artist or not, you can’t help but have a new appreciation for his work and understanding of the 19th century world he attempted to cope with in his all-too-brief, difficult life.

Sadly, he was more famous in death than in life. He was born in 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. He didn’t take up painting until he was 28 years old. After bouts with depression, cutting off nearly his entire ear, confined to an asylum for a year – he painted nearly a work a day – he shot himself in the chest in 1890 and died two years later of infection in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. He was 37 years old.

His brother, Theo, an art dealer, died of syphilis six months later, and his widow, Jo, is credited for getting the word out about Vincent, and his paintings into the public eye.

In later years, medical experts have concluded that he likely had depression, bipolar disorder and a borderline personality disorder. Because of his poverty, poor diet, sleeping habits, drinking and smoking, he did not help his health either.

Immersion Room. Provided Photo.

For those interested in exploring more about Van Gogh, four of his paintings are on display at the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park, including “Stairway at Auvers” and “Head of a Peasant Woman,” seen in the immersive projections.

For those wondering where others are, “Arles Sunflowers” and “Wheat Fields with Cypresses” are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, “The Starry Night” is at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and “Starry Night Over the Rhone” is in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris.

“Café Terrace at Night” is at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. For that work, he set up an easel in the Place du Forum, a public square in Arles, and painted it en plein air.

“Irises” is at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and “Haystacks” is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, you will find “Bedroom in Arles,” “The Yellow House,” and “The Potato Eaters.”

The Normal Studio, which has accomplished these shows with other artists, too, is known for pushing the boundaries of performing arts, entertainment, and public installations. Founded in 2009, they fuse physical and technological elements to transform spaces into multimedia magic, telling stories in new and different ways.

It is indeed a one-of-a-kind triumph in the St. Louis region, an experience not to be missed.

The St. Louis exhibit also has a gift shop. For a special, Schlafly has introduced a beer, Swirling Sky IPA, at its various locations. 

Provided photo.

The exhibition is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in the Starry Night Pavilion on the grounds of the Saint Louis Galleria, Richmond Heights. Four entry times will be available each hour.  They recommend that the exhibit takes one hour to view.

Prices start at $36.99 for adults, with VIP and premium passes available up to $93, and $24.99 for children ages 5 to 15, with children under 5 are free. Tickets are sold online at www.vangoghstlouis.com

Beyond Van Gogh is following all St. Louis County Health Department guidelines in place during the exhibition’s run. Parking is free at the Saint Louis Galleria. Group tickets are available for eight or more.

For more information, visit www.vangoghstlouis.com.

Provided photos.

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By Lynn Venhaus

“No Time to Die” is everything you want in a Bond movie, a super-spy thrill ride elevated by director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s flair for assembling dynamic action sequences and his attention to details.

And in a welcome surprise – assertive women show up in an impressive triumvirate of Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch and Lea Seydoux.

For the fifth and final entry in the Daniel Craig era as the suave James Bond, our very human hero has left active service at M16 and is enjoying a tranquil life of retirement in Jamaica. However, his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA asks for help in rescuing a kidnapped scientist. The mission turns out to be far more treacherous than expected and leads Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) armed with dangerous new technology.

Fukunaga’s keen eye is well-documented in his unflinching 2015 film “Beasts of No Nation,” in which he was also cinematographer, and his masterful first season of the dark, hypnotic “True Detective” in 2014, for which he won an Emmy Award for directing.

He excels at moving this intriguing spy story along and the globe-trotting camerawork by Linus Sandgren, Oscar winner for “La La Land,” is dazzling. Even at 2 hours and 43 minutes, this slick yet gritty adventure keeps our attention, and satisfyingly wraps up Craig’s story arc as the British icon.

While most other Bond films can stand on their own, some 25 and counting over six decades, the five in the Daniel Craig era are connected. “No Time to Die” relies on viewers knowing that Vesper Lind was Bond’s first wife in the 2006 “Casino Royale” reboot and that tragic backstory, as well as familiarity with what happened in the last one, “Spectre” in 2015 – especially about his girlfriend Dr. Madeleine Swann, daughter of nemesis Mr. White, and sinister mastermind Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Swann’s dad’s boss.

The script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Fukunaga, is noticeably impacted by the contributions of screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge (heralded creator of “Fleabag”), who brings a refreshing female perspective to the well-documented male patriarchy of the Bond franchise.

This entry is far more female-forward than previous Bond installments – and there is a new 007, Nomi, and she is a feisty, ferocious machine, with Lashana Lynch in a dandy performance, the first black British agent in the film’s 58-year history. No, he may be legendary, but they did not retire Bond’s number, 007.

The iconic ID has been around since Ian Fleming’s first novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1953, and he went on to write 11 novels and two short story collections. Other authors have carried on Bond’s missions.

What direction the Bond franchise goes after Craig’s swan song is anyone’s guess – but post-credits, producers are emphatic: Bond will return in 2022. Debate rages over the possibility of Idris Elba or Rege-Jean Page, or even a female agent. Hmmm…anticipation grows.

In the meantime, Craig fans will enjoy his final emotionally charged performance. He’s been a fine Bond, one of the best, displaying an intensity about dedication to duty, a wily intelligence and a tiny chink in his reserved demeanor about feelings, which is endearing. His orphan roots and lovers’ betrayals have exposed his internal wounds.

While he might not be as memorable as some previous villains, Rami Malek is an interesting adversary as mad genius Lyutsifer Safin, warped by his father’s zeal for using chemicals as weapons.

As the other Bond villain, Blofeld, Christoph Waltz is far better here in one confrontation than he was in the entire “Spectre,” which was a disappointing film after the extraordinary “Skyfall” in 2012.

Not everyone is sold about French actress Lea Seydoux playing the love interest, a rare second appearance for a girlfriend, but it deepened the Craig finale.

This foray features a solid cast, with the always-exceptional Ralph Fiennes returning as a conflicted M, Ben Whishaw as tech whiz Q, Naomie Harris as loyal assistant Eve Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as government wonk Tanner and this time around, Jeffrey Wright compelling as CIA pal Felix.

Besides a take-notice turn by Lynch, Ana de Armas is sensational as a rookie CIA operative helping Bond in Cuba. She is not given as much screen time as she deserved, and her captivating sequence had viewers wanting more, ushering in a new type of “Bond girl” in a changing era.

Bond may be a relic from a distant past, but the fact that filmmakers acknowledge that change is necessary, makes for a fascinating future.

The franchise, known for stylish escapism, may be forced to adapt to keep relevant in a brave new world, but viewers will always want engaging stories of right triumphing over might – no matter if it’s good girls AND guys.

And wow, are those car chases fun to watch.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in “No Time to Die”

No Time to Die” is an action-adventure directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and stars Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, BIlly Magnussen and Ana de Armas. It is Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language, and some suggestive material. Its run time is 2 hours, 43 minutes. It is in theaters on Oct. 8. Lynn’s Grade: A


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By Alex McPherson

Nothing can prepare you for director Julia Ducournau’s “Titane” — a profane, sentimental, horrific work of art. It’s also a film that benefits from viewers knowing as little as possible about going in. Rest assured, this gem is A+ quality, but if you don’t mind some mild spoilers, feel free to continue reading.

Set in Southern France, “Titane” focuses on Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an erotic dancer with some peculiar kinks and murderous inclinations. As a child, she was in a car accident that required surgery and the doctors implanting a slab of titanium in her skull. This presumably explains her love for automobiles and all things metallic, as well as her aversion to fellow humans. The movie starts with an elaborate sequence leading to Alexia writhing passionately upon the hood of a flame-streaked Cadillac to the sound of “Doing It To Death” by The Kills. Later on, she’s summoned by the vehicle to, well, have unprotected sex. Alexia finds out she’s pregnant, and it’s only a matter of time before the police put her behind bars for some vicious killings.

She impulsively decides to assume the identity of a boy, named Adrien, who has been missing for a decade. She’s unexpectedly picked up by Adrien’s father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a fire chief willing to overlook glaring implausibilities to achieve a sense of long-lost comfort. Alexia/Adrien, straining to conceal her identity, finds a purpose missing from her former way of life.

Indeed, “Titane” takes the cake as the boldest, most unforgettable film I’ve watched this year. When you wade through all the blood, guts, and body horror, the central plot winds up strangely wholesome and life-affirming. Just like with “Raw,” Ducournau’s previous masterpiece, shock value is paired with fascinating characters that yield layer upon layer of complexities, even as viewers avert their eyes in disgust.

And there are graphic images aplenty, particularly during the first 30 minutes or so. The film’s relentless introduction immerses viewers into Alexia’s no-holds-barred approach to living with visceral, at times stomach-churning impact. Bathed in vivid neon light and captured with smooth, mesmerizing long takes forcing us to view the brutality up-close-and-personal, “Titane” throws viewers into the muck with zero time to breathe. We don’t completely understand what’s motivating Alexia’s decisions, but Rousselle’s performance is so magnetic — forgive the pun — that she commands viewers’ undivided attention whenever she’s on screen. Her inhumane actions, to put it lightly, are based in a deep sense of discontent with the world at large, as well as with her own body, which the pregnancy impacts day by day.

When she encounters Vincent, though, “Titane” becomes a wholly different beast. We go from observing an abhorrent character in Alexia to spending time with a broken, haunted man. Leading a crew of hyper-masculine men, Vincent puts on the appearance of strength, but remains deeply vulnerable. He will grasp at anything to appease his grief-stricken psyche and is able to suspend his disbelief to feel whole once again. Lindon’s performance is soulful, earning our sympathy from the outset. As they grow closer, and as Alexia/Adrien navigates intense scrutiny from Vincent’s crew and beyond, “Titane” provides some surprisingly warm-hearted, tear-jerking moments — finding humor, beauty, and compassion in the grotesque and uncertain.  

Ducournau’s film is anything but static, gliding between genres and tones with such confidence that it’s practically impossible to predict what will happen next. In a sense, this refusal to be categorized extends into the themes Ducournau explores — largely revolving around agency of one’s body, the rigidity of societal norms, the fluidity of gender, and the messy, chaotic lengths some will go to feel love and belonging. The trials Alexia/Adren and Vincent endure strip them down to their base drive for connection, struggling against man-made machinations and preconceptions that seek to control their ways of being.

Add to this a perfect soundtrack and original score on par with “Raw,” along with minimalist dialogue that sparkles with darkly comic wit, and “Titane” emerges as a film that deserves to be cherished by anyone brave enough to weather the storm. Sure, some more insight into Alexia’s backstory could have fostered a greater emotional attachment early on, but by the conclusion, we’ve witnessed something special — brought to life by talented actors and a director in absolute command of her craft.

“Titane” is a drama-sci-fi-thriller in French with English subtitles, directed by Julia Ducournau It stars Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Mariller and is rated R for strong violence and disturbing material, graphic nudity, sexual content, and language. Its runtime is 1 hour, 48 minutes. It was released in the United States on Oct. 1 in theaters. Alex’s Grade:: A+.  

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By Alex McPherson  

Director Valdimar Jóhannsson’s offbeat, poetic, and emotionally complex “Lamb” stands in a league of its own, adding yet another gem to A24’s ever-expanding oeuvre.

This bleakly twisted fairy tale unfolds within a secluded Icelandic mountain range bathed in thick fog that reflects the quiet gloom of our main characters, sheep farmers María (Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (Hilmir Snær Guðnason). One night, an unseen, heavily breathing presence startles nearby horses and farm animals, targeting one sheep in particular. Meanwhile, María and Ingvar go about their days, which involve maintaining crops and caring for their animals, with subtle detachment. Even though they enjoy each other’s company, an unspoken rift exists between them. Something’s missing in their relationship, casting a dark shadow over their household. 

When one of their sheep gives birth to an odd hybrid that has to be seen to be believed, María creates a motherly bond with this creature, whom she names Ada. Ingvar, initially shocked but determined to ensure his wife’s happiness, gradually slips into his new role as a father. Much to the dismay of Ada’s birth mother, who bleats outside their bedroom window every night, Ada has rendered both María’s and Ingvar’s lives more fulfilling. However, as Ada grows up and the film progresses through three distinct chapters in her life, a sense of dreadful anticipation looms — reaching a boiling point when Ingvar’s rowdy and unpredictable brother, Pétur () shows up on their doorstep.

A cinematic morality tale confronting humankind’s flawed connection to nature and the perils of motherhood, “Lamb” is difficult to describe, but an absolute treat to witness. The film takes viewers on a mesmeric trip through valleys of sadness, joyfulness, and fear. It’s utterly impressive that the plot’s crazier elements don’t hijack its dead-serious heart.

“Lamb” exudes patience, nearly to its detriment — in shot compositions, pacing, and vague nuances in character interactions — to set a disquieting mood. For the first 20 minutes or so, dialogue is kept to a bare minimum, letting us observe María’s and Ingvar’s ennui along with them. Jóhannsson forces us to sit in their melancholy, surrounded by their sheep and pets who seemingly question their decision to adopt Ada, providing some of the best animal acting I’ve ever seen. 

Neither María nor Ingvar question the creature’s origins — they have a new purpose in life and a chance to rekindle what they lost in the past. Guðnason beautifully conveys Ingvar’s transformation into a loving father, but this is truly Rapace’s film, and we can see through her eyes that she will not, under any circumstances, lose this opportunity to be a mother. As a result, her uncompromising love for Ada seems wholly believable, and even heartbreaking, for Ada’s arguably not hers to begin with. 

This dichotomy between nature vs. nurture fuels the drama, as we want this family to thrive, but recognize the moral ambiguity of rearing Ada away from her kin and robbing her of agency. Indeed, “Lamb” explores the humans’ connection to Ada more than Ada herself, but perhaps that’s intentional. She’s inhabiting two different, opposing worlds, and Jóhannsson emphasizes her inability to truly fit in.

Pétur’s arrival brings with it some welcome comedic relief, but “Lamb” soon slips back into a slow-burn dread leading into its inevitable but nevertheless shocking conclusion. In keeping with Jóhannsson’s folkloric inspirations, the film resembles a potent mix of the fantastical and the grounded, basking its absurdism in a cautionary reminder of nature’s colossal power and the extreme lengths some take to assuage grief, no matter the repercussions.

“Lamb” would have benefited from tighter editing here and there, particularly surrounding a somewhat unnecessary love triangle that Pétur initiates, shifting focus away from Ada, but this is a wild and wooly debut feature. If viewers give themselves over to the film’s unorthodox premise, they’ll find one of the most memorably unnerving stories of the year. 

“Lamb” is a horror-mystery-drama from Iceland, directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson and starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Rated R for some bloody violent images and sexuality/nuditym its runtime is 1 hour, 46 minutes. In theaters Oct. 8. Alex’s Grade: A-

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By Lynn Venhaus

Friendship is indeed one of life’s blessings, especially those lasting ones through the ebb and flows of the years. The French novelist Francois Mauriac once wrote that “No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.” And this little musical theater gem, “The Story of My Life,” illustrates that theme beautifully.

New Line Theatre kicks off its 30th season with this deceptively simple yet poignant and profound work, an intimate and thoughtful reflection on the special people who change our lives. It runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 23, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater.

It particularly strikes a chord after what we’ve been through during the past 18 months, dealing with a coronavirus pandemic and periods of lockdown and quarantine during the public health crisis. The appreciation of and craving for connection has become an exclamation point.

“The Story of My Life” opened on Broadway in 2009 after earlier productions in Toronto and the Goodspeed Opera House. It was nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, including best musical.

With a keenly observed book written by Brian Hill and heartfelt music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, “The Story of My Life” follows the friendship of Alvin Kelby and Thomas Weaver, two lifelong friends since age 6 who grew up in a small town. Once inseparable, they are reunited after Alvin’s mysterious death.

Jeffrey M Wright as Thomas, Chris Kernan as Alvin. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

While Thomas, a successful author, struggles to write Alvin’s eulogy, his deceased pal appears from the afterlife, and they take a sentimental journey, revealing moments big and small from their intertwined lives.

Alvin goes through the manuscripts and short stories in Thomas’ mind, some which found their way to being published and receiving acclaim.

The adage “write what you know” is what guides Thomas as he sums up his best friend. During the process, he finds his own story and comes to terms with his past.

New Line veterans Chris Kernan as Alvin and Jeffrey M. Wright as Thomas make for an appealing pair, ardently portraying the lifetime friends who chronicle their journey in vignettes – their story is told through stories.

And the two actors punctuate each other’s remembrances. Pouring their hearts and souls into the demanding roles, Kernan and Wright are passionate about making these two guys memorable.

With a deft touch, Scott Miller accompanies the pair on keyboard. He also directed the show with a smart no-frills approach that never feels static.

The score finds the magic in special moments that friends share during lengthy relationships – and addresses rough patches, too. There are four parts to “Saying Goodbye,” and each one is real.

Kernan and Wright meet the challenge of being on stage the entire 70 minutes, without an intermission, breathing life into these roles with insight and charm  

Tom’s book report, “1876” and a song after something Alvin said, “The Butterfly,” are just two highlights.

These parts are unlike anything else they have ever done, with Wright known for classic leading men roles like Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” and Nicky Arnstein in “Funny Girl,” and Kernan often supporting and humorous roles, like one of the dads in “Heathers” and St. Jimmy in “American Idiot,” and his award-winning Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

As the likable kids, who bond over their annual Christmas movie tradition “It’s a Wonderful Life,” they resonate at every turn in their lives.

Alvin, a cheerful sort despite being dealt a few George Bailey-like blows during his life, lost his mom at an early age. When his father begins ailing, he takes over running the bookstore instead of going off to college and adventures.

Thomas, a driven guy who communicates better on paper, is the one who grabs the opportunities afforded him and leaves town, rarely returning.

Alvin stays rooted in their town, running the treasure trove that is his father’s bookstore, “The Writers Block,” and misses his buddy, who is off to other crossroads. Nobody “gets” him like Thomas did. “You’re Amazing, Tom” Alvin sings.

As Thomas is off living a life he imagined, does he feel the same about how special their friendship has been?

Redolent with tender and touching moments, “The Story of My Life” includes many warm humorous bits too – starting with Alvin’s reminisce about their teacher, “Mrs. Remington.”

The show’s rich emotional depth effectively builds to a heart-tugging conclusion, ending with “Angels in the Snow.” Moist-eye alert – bring a tissue.

Scenic designer Rob Lippert’s minimalist set – full of books and the written word – and Kenneth Zinkl’s modest lighting design are impressive accents for a show that stands out without any bells and whistles.

An outstanding collaboration by all involved, “The Story of My Life” has a lot to say, and you’ll be glad you spent time getting to know Alvin and Thomas. Maybe you will recognize your own friends and your experiences along the way, like I did.

After all, George Bailey wisely learned: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

Holiday time or not, this show is a gift to theatergoers eager to feel “the feels” that only live theater can provide. And a reminder about humanity in a time of great uncertainty and division. It could not be more timely – and timeless.

Jeffrey M Wright, Chris Kernan. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

“The Story of My Life” runs through Oct. 23, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in the Grand Center Arts District. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $30 for adults and $25 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the MetroTix website.

COVID-19 POLICY

All patrons will be required to wear masks in the lobby and theatre. The stage area will be safely distanced from the audience. In addition, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation now requires all patrons 12 years or older to show proof of their full COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test upon entry for all ticketed events at all KAF indoor performance venues, including the Marcelle Theater.  

Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

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Tickets are on sale for The Midnight Company’s St. Louis premiere production of Mickle Maher’s It Is Magic at MetroTix.com.  Performances, at Kranzberg’s Black Box Theatre, are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays October 21 through November 6, with all shows at 8pm.  Tickets are $15 for Thursdays and $20 for Fridays and Saturdays.  The production will be following all Kranzberg Arts Foundation safety protocols, including proof of vaccination for entry, and masks at all times.

It Is Magic is a sorrowful and hilarious meditation on the deep, ancient evil at the heart of the community theatre audition process, and an investigation into the mysteries of theatre-making itself.  Two sisters, community theatre veterans who’ve never had the chance to contribute artistically, are holding auditions for their adult version of The Three Little Pigs in the theatre basement, while the group’s pretentious artistic director is attending, then avoiding, opening night of his MacBeth on the MainStage above.  A third sister appears, and reality becomes really magical at the local playhouse.

It Is Magic premiered in Chicago in May, 2019, and Third Coast Review called it “…one of those love letters to theatre…delightfully wacky,” while New City Stage said “Any show that juggles loving critics and tearing their throats out is good in my book.”  Midnight has previously presented two Mickle Maher plays, The Hunchback Variations and An Apology For The Course And Outcome of Certain Events As Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening.  

Mickle Maher plays have Off-Broadway and around the world, and have been supported by grants from the NEA, the Rockefeller MAP fund, and Creative Capital. They include There is a Happiness That Morning Is; Song About Himself; The Strangerer; Spirits to Enforce; Cyrano (translator), The Cabinet; Lady Madeline; The Pine; and An Actor Prepares (an adaptation of Stanislavsky’s seminal book). He is a cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, and has taught playwriting and related subjects at the University of Chicago, Columbia College, and Northwestern University. He recently wrote the book and lyrics for a new musical about basketball, commissioned by the Catastrophic Theatre of Houston and Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. And he’s currently adapting the graphic novel Berlin by Jason Lutes for the Court Theatre.

Suki Peters will direct It Is Magic.  In Spring, 2022, Suki will play the bride in Cherokee Street Theatre’s adaptation of Kill Bill, and she will direct Once for R-S Theatrics.  The cast for It Is Magic includes Nicole Angeli as Sandy, desperate to get a part in a play, the part being the lead role of the Wolf in her sister’s play.  Nicole was most recently seen in Metro Theater’s It’s A Wonderful Life, in West End’s Photograph 51, and in Stray Dog’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House.  Michelle Hand portrays her sister, the first-time, aspiring playwright, Deb.  This past year Michelle was in Max & Louie’s Tiny Beautiful Things and SATE’s Zoom show Tonya And The Totes In Subterrstrata.  Carl Overly Jr. is Tim in the play, another actor vying for that coveted Big Bad Wolf role.  Carl was in recent productions of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear and COCA’s Billy Elliott, and upcoming will direct Rimers Of Eldritch at St Louis University.  Chrissie Watkins will be Elizabeth, arriving from seemingly nowhere to land smackdab in the middle of the audition process.  Chrissie was seen in Alpha Players’ The Mountaintop this summer.   And Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan is in the role of Mortier Civic Playhouse Artistic Director Ken Mason, as arrogant, self-absorbed and sporadically brilliant as any Artistic Director comes.  This year Joe has acted in Midnight productions of Here Lies Henry, and in his own scripts of Now Playing Third Base For The St. Louis Cardinals Bond James Bond, My Violin My Voice at the St. Louis Fringe Festival, and Tonight’s Special at the St. Louis Theatre Showcase.  He will next be seen in his new script, Midnight’s Tinsel Town in December.

Linda Menard will be the Stage Manager for the show, Elizabeth Henning is designing costumes, Kevin Bowman is designing the set and lights, and Ted Drury will design sound.

For more information, visit MidnightCompany.com  

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Lucas Pfeiffenberger and Lucy Haskell will welcome guests to the 20th annual Vintage Voices, held in the Alton Cemetery on October 2, 3, 9, 10, 2021. Vintage Voices has become an important cultural event in our community, where actors in period costumes tell the story of Altonians who have shaped our history. Alton Cemetery is located at 5th and Vine Streets, Alton IL 62002.
 
Many anniversaries are being celebrated in 2021 in addition to Vintage Voices’ 20th year. The Star-Spangled Banner has been in existence for 90 years, while Rotary Club of Alton-Godfrey is celebrating 100 years. You’ll hear from the first Black student to graduate from Alton High School who went on to be a professor.  And you might even get to enjoy the Dominant Ninth Choral Society rehearsing.  Nine stops are on the tour this year.
 
Vintage Voices is produced by a volunteer committee. Proceeds from the event support the continuation of the event, upkeep of the Alton Cemetery and various community organizations.
 
Sharlene Meyer, one of the original founders says, “Watching the growth of Vintage Voices has been such a joy. Vintage Voices is entertaining, educational and keeps history alive in Alton. Congratulations to the committee for a great job well done.”
 
To commemorate the 20th annual presentation, paid guests will receive a special souvenir gift, while supplies last.
 
Walking tour tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students aged 6-18. Tickets can be purchased online at https://vintagevoices.eventbrite.com or with cash at the event.
 
The non-walking performance returns this year on Sunday, October 10, 2021. The one-hour performance begins at 5:00 pm at Jacoby Arts Center, 627 East Broadway in Alton IL. Seating is limited to 60 people. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at Jacoby Arts Center and online at https://vintagevoices.eventbrite.com.
 
Like the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/vintagevoicestours, for further information.
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