By CB Adams

It’s been a bit of a “Sondheim Summer” here in St. Louis, bookended by Far North Theatricals’ “Assassins,” The Muny’s “Sweeney Todd” and Union Avenue Opera’s festival-ending “A Little Night Music,” with performances remaining Aug. 26-27. Extending that bookend will be Stray Dog Theatre’s production of  “A Little Night Music” this October.

There seems to be more Sondheim in the air since his death last November, and these local stagings have provided an interesting juxtaposition considering that “Sweeney Todd” is generally considered the more operatic and “Night Music” as more operatta-ish.

No matter. As soon as the off-stage chorus, the Quintet, projected their voices onto the sumptuous Union Avenue Act I set, such nomenclatures were rendered unnecessary…and perhaps irrelevant. Afterall, the first three revivals of “Night Music” in New York were all operatic rather than theatrical, so this production is a good fit for Union Avenue’s strengths and direction.

James Stevens, Leann Scheuring, Eric J. McConnell, Jordan Wolk, Teresa Doggett. Photo by Dan Donovan

Isn’t It Bliss?

If there are still tickets left for the final performances of “A Little Night Music,” reserve your seats. That’s the quick review of this production. Don’t miss it. It is indeed bliss.

Hal Prince, producer of this musical’s debut in 1973, called it “whipped cream with knives.” If Prince meant knives as in sharp knives out, then Annamaria Pileggi’s direction has softened it to butter knives out.  It’s a pleasure and perhaps a much-needed respite to engage so fully into this nuanced romantic farce based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 film “Smiles of a Summer Night.”

Debby Lennon as Desiree. Photo by Dan Donovan

Isn’t It Rich?

Of Union Avenue’s three productions in this year’s festival, the sets of “Night Music” by C. Otis Sweezey are the best, especially in Act I. The back set consisted of three columnar structures that conveyed the frets of a stringed instrument entwined with swan-like figures and backed with the richest of burgundies.

These elements avoid flaunting their presence and instead provide the right sense of place and privilege of the genteel characters.

During the intermission, as Act II’s back set of trees were moved onto the stage, their colors seemed out of place for the “Weekend In the Country,” presaged by that song at the end of Act I.

But those colors were transformed by the lighting choices of Patrick Huber. Thanks to lighting, fluorescent outlines became comfortable, dusky accents for the rest of the musical.

Peter Kendall Clark and Brooklyn Snow. Photo by Dan Donovan.

Are We A Pair?

 At the risk of being unfair to a overall strong cast from the leads to the Quintet, the center of this rueful, bittersweet, Ibsenish tale from Sondheim and playwright Hugh Wheeler is the pair of Fredrik Egerman, sung powerfully by Peter Kendall Clark and Desirée Armfeldt, sung by Debby Lennon. There are multiple, circuitous story lines, but they all dodge and weave around and toward the ultimate (re)union of Fredrik and Desirée.

And at the center of their relationship is (a now-standard) “Send in the Clowns.” As a hit song by Judy Collins back in the day and as rendered into near-Muzak ubiquity, “Send in the Clowns” needs the context of the surrounding story in the musical itself to reach its fullest, layered, exquisitely painful sense of yearning. It also needs the skills and talents of Lennon to ensure it is the show-stopper it was composed to be. Lennon gave the song its due – and more. You couldn’t hear a pin drop during her performance – to use a cliché.

The other extra-noteworthy “pair” in Union Avenue’s production was Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm and grande dame Madame Armfeldt. Both are broad characters that require a careful interpretation to avoid becoming cartoonish foils. Teresa Doggett performed the wheelchair-bound Madame with a delicious – and sometimes hilarious – imperiousness that evolves into a touching sagacity. As sung by Eric J. McConnell, the peacocky Count Carl-Magus fared less well and often crossed into buffoonery.

James Stevens, Arielle Pedersen. Photo by Dan Donovan.

But Where Are the Clowns?

To borrow a line attributed to the showman’s showman P. T. Barnum, Union Avenue’s choice of “Night Music” to conclude their 2022 festival, was the perfect choice to “always leave ‘em wanting more.” Given the rich experience provided by this production, “Night Music” will leave us wanting more…well, maybe next year? The only clowns therefore are those who didn’t reserve a ticket this year.

Union Avenue Opera Union presents “A Little Night Music” August 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8 p.m. at Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information, visit www.unionavenueopera.org

Leann Scheuring, Kay Love, Eric J. McConnell. Photo by Dan Donovan.
Joel Rogier, Sarah Price, Phil Touchette, Gracy Yukiko Fisher and Gina Malone. Photo by Dan Donovan

By CB Adams

There’s a moment in the “classic” 1989 movie “Fletch Lives” when Chevy Chase as Fletch says it takes a big man to admit when he is wrong. To which he adds, “I am NOT a big man.” It takes the comedic instincts and delivery of Chase to get laughs from that line, and it takes baritone Robert Mellon as the title character in Union Avenue Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” to elicit that reaction for 2 ½ hours of witty, plus-sized, boozy merriment.

Mellon has big shoes to fill as Falstaff, a beloved barfly who appears in four plays by William Shakespeare (if you count the one in which he is eulogized). Plumped up in a hunchbacked fat suit, Mellon fills his Falstaff as a big man (literally) who gets big laughs while working his wiles with the merry wives of Windsor and their various and sundry significant others. As one of the “holy trinity” of comic operas, “Falstaff” may reside with the likes of “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Master-Singers of Nuremberg,” but it’s Mellon and the rest of the cast who make this production flat-out fun.

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

This may be Falstaff’s show, but he, like Mellon, needs comedic foils who provide equal helpings of wit and charm, and this production has them. “Falstaff” is a concentrated opera without long arias, but with melodies that practically fly by. That’s well-suited to the talents of Marc Schapman and Mark Freiman as Falstaff’s scheming henchmen, Bardolfo and Pistola, respectively, who bounce off each other amusingly. As does Anthony Heinemann as Dr. Caius and Jacob Lassetter as Ford.

Also up to Falstaff’s formidable foibles is the trifecta of Karen Kanakis, who sings Mrs. Alice Ford, Melody Wilson as Mrs. Meg Page and Janara Kellerman as Dame Mistress Quickly. This triumvirate were delightful – individually and collectively – as they work to counter Falstaff’s schemes with a refreshing equality of the sexes. A subplot involves the young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton, and their best scene concludes Act I. As sung by soprano Brooklyn Snow and tenor Jesse Darden, it’s one of the opera’s best moments.   

Under the baton of conductor Stephen Hargreaves, the music of Verdi’s final opera and only second comedy is frothy, splendid and connects deeply with the performers. Teresa Doggett’s costumes were not only tailored for the overall period of the opera, they also elevated the visual presence of each character.

The stage at Union Avenue Christian Church poses certain creative challenges, but its modest size is well-suited to this opera. Scenic designer Lex Van Blommestein makes maximum use of the stage by going “old school” and using cloth panels to set the scenes, including Falstaff’s favorite haunt, the Garter Inn. Under the direction of stage manager Megan-Marie Cahill, the crew openly raise and lower the panels, replete with squeaky pulleys. As the crew elevated the panels for the final act (during the July 30th  performance), set in a forest, they created the impressive spread of a massive oak tree. It’s not often that a scene change elicits ooo’s, ahh’s and applause.  

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

So, loosen your belt – or sash or waistline – and prepare to be served an effervescent treat ala Verdi, Shakespeare and Union Avenue Opera.

Union Avenue Opera Union presents “Falstaff” July 29 and 30 and August 5, 6 at 8 p.m. at Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information, visit www.unionavenueopera.org

Union Avenue Opera’s production of Falstaff on July 27, 2022.

.Union Avenue Opera announces three new garden concerts taking place this spring.

This summer, Union Avenue Opera will make its highly anticipated return to its home stage within the historic Union Avenue Christian Church at 733 N. Union Blvd, just north of the intersection of Union and Delmar Boulevards.

Known for its commitment to presenting operas in their original language, Union Avenue Opera will offer a three opera festival season opening with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Eugene Onegin (July 8, 9, 15, 16) which last appeared on the UAO stage in 2003 to great critical acclaim. The season will also see the return of Verdi’s riotous Italian romp Falstaff (July 29, 30, August 5, 6) which the company last produced in 2005. Rounding out the 2022 season will be the UAO debut of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s charming A Little Night Music (August 19, 20, 26, 27).

“Moving back to our home stage after these harrowing two years away is a joyful outcome to the uncertainty we have faced during this pandemic” said UAO Founder and Artistic Director Scott Schoonover. “Our first two productions are personal and audience favorites from our 28 years of producing opera – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Verdi’s Falstaff. These new, vivacious productions welcome back to our stage many returning artists and several debut singers. Director Octavio Cardenas will make his UAO debut with Eugene Onegin bringing his own special brand of visceral, physical directing to the UAO stage. Jon Truitt returns to direct Falstaff (Jon’s favorite
opera) with his proven comedic style, and Maestro Stephen Hargreaves will return to the UAO pit.”

“Our third production is a company and composer debut with Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I’ve wanted to bring this show to UAO for many years and am so thrilled it is finally happening!” said Schoonover. “Annamaria Pileggi will return to direct this stellar cast headlined by St. Louis’ own Debby Lennon as Desirée. It is a wonderful story with so much memorable music which finishes up a season that certainly offers something for everyone! I know we say often, but this one is truly a season not to be missed – it is chock-full of amazing voices, actors, orchestra and stage technicians eager to get back to great storytelling on the intimate UAO stage.”
Single tickets range from $35 to $55 and are available at unionavenueopera.org or by calling 314-361-2881. Discounts are available for Seniors (65+), Military/Educator, and Young Audiences (under 18). All performances start at 8:00PM and free parking is available in the lots behind the venue and overflow parking is available on the street. 

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s: EUGENE ONEGIN

July 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8:00PM
Presented in Russian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Octavio Cardenas
Libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky


A cautionary tale of what was, what was not, and what could have been.
Tatyana, a lovesick girl from the countryside, declares her love for Onegin and finds herself spurned by the disenchanted aristocrat. Onegin, indifferent to the feelings of others, disregards Tatyana’s advances to pursue Olga, his friend Lensky’s betrothed. A duel commences and Onegin finds himself victorious albeit deeply tormented. He returns years later to find Tatyana happily married to Prince Gremin. Struck by her beauty, Onegin declares his love
for her only to find himself face to face with the folly of his naïveté. Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and melancholy masterpiece by one of classical music’s most universally beloved composers. Tchaikovsky’s lush melodies are enhanced by the opera’s unique folk tunes, infectious waltzes, and passion-soaked arias bringing to
life Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel like never before.

Under the baton of Artistic Director Scott Schoonover, Robert Garner (Nabucco, Nabucco) and William Davenport (Hoffmann, Les contes d’Hoffmann) will return to UAO in their role debuts as Onegin and Lensky respectively. No stranger to the role of Tatyana, Zoya Gramagin will make her UAO debut alongside Andrew W. Potter as Prince Gremin. Melody Wilson (Fenena, Nabucco and Mrs. Miller, Doubt) will return as Olga along with local artists Debbie Stinson as Madama Larina, Victoria Carmichael as Filippyevna, Marc Schapman as Triquet, and Benjamin Worley as Zaretsky. This will be acclaimed stage director Octavio Carendas’ UAO directorial debut. Patrick Huber will provide scenic and lighting design with costume design by Teresa Doggett.

Eugene Onegin – Robert Garner
Tatyana – Zoya Gramagin*
Lensky – William Davenport
Olga – Melody Wilson
Filippyevna – Victoria Carmichael
Madame Larina – Debbie Stinson
Prince Gremin – Andrew W. Potter*
Monsieur Triquet – Marc Schapman
Zaretsky – Benjamin Worley

Giuseppe Verdi’s: FALSTAFF

July 29, 30, August 5, 6 at 8:00PM
Presented in Italian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Stephen Hargreaves
Directed by Jon Truitt
Libretto by Arrigo Boito


Drink. Cheat. Scheme. Repeat. Just don’t get caught unaware
Old, lecherous, and down on his luck, Sir John Falstaff can’t resist the ladies. The fool hatches a plan to reverse his ill-fortune and sets his sights on not one, but two married women. Sharper than they look, Alice and Meg discover the odious Falstaff’s plan to unceremoniously seduce them and trick them out of their fortunes. The women band together and with the help of Nannetta and Dame Quickly, they concoct a scheme to teach him a lesson he’ll never forget and to put him in his place once and for all. Add in a jealous husband, a pair of young lovers, and a touch of the supernatural and what ensues is a sophisticated comedy filled with failed plans and botched disguises. Verdi’s riotous romp Falstaff bubbles with irrepressible wit and charm in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On the heels of last summer’s company debut, Robert Mellon (Figaro, Il barbiere di Siviglia) will lead the cast of returning artists as Sir John Falstaff. No stranger to the UAO stage Brooklyn Snow (the Heroines, Les contes d’Hoffmann, and Cunegonde, Candide) will be reunited with her Candide co-star, Jesse Darden (Candide) as the two young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton. St. Louis-based husband and wife duo Jacob Lassetter and Karen Kanakis will portray Ford and his wife Alice for the production as Janara Kellerman (Rosina, Il barbiere di Siviglia) returns as Dame Quickly, and Melody Wilson will again be seen on the UAO stage, this time in her role debut as Meg Page. A trio of St. Louis based artists round out the cast with Clark Sturdevant as Bardolfo, Mark Freiman as Pistola, and Anthony Heinemann as Dr. Caius. Stephen Hargreaves conducts while Jon Truitt directs. Lex Van Bloomestein’s set designs and Teresa Doggett’s costume designs will be enhanced by Patrick Huber’s lighting design.

Sir John Falstaff – Robert Mellon
Alice Ford – Karen Kanakis
Ford – Jacob Lassetter
Nanetta – Brooklyn Snow
Fenton – Jesse Darden
Dame Quickly – Janara Kellerman
Meg Page – Melody Wilson
Bardolfo – Clark Sturdevant
Pistola – Mark Freiman
Dr. Caius – Anthony Heinemann

Stephen Sondheim’s: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

August 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8:00PM
Presented in English with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Suggested by a Film by Ingmar Bergman
Originally Produced and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince


Lovers reunite, passions reignite, and new romance blossoms in the magic of music on a mid-summer’s night.


A Little Night Music explores the tangled web of affairs centered around the glamorous actress Desirée Armfeldt and the two married men who love her: a lawyer by the name of Frederik Egerman and Count Carl-Magnus Malcom.

Both men—as well as their jealous wives—agree to join Desirée at her family’s estate for a scandalous “Weekend in the Country” under the watchful eyes of the wry family matriarch and harmonizing Greek chorus. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, it is no wonder A Little Night Music won the Tony Award for Best Musical. From the romance of the night waltzes to the hauntingly beautiful “Send in the Clowns,” Sondheim’s sweeping score is infused with humor and warmth weaving together musical theatre and operetta seamlessly in this tantalizing tale.

Debby Lennon (Mrs. Mullin, Carousel) returns to the UAO stage to lead this stunning cast as Desirée Armfeldt under the direction of Annamaria Pileggi, and Scott Schoonover conducts. Also returning to the UAO stage are Peter Kendall Clark (Older Thompson, Glory Denied) and Brooklyn Snow, who makes her second appearances of the season, as the newly married Frederick and Anne Egerman. Eric J. McConnell makes his UAO stage debut as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm and Leann Schuering (Josephine, H.M.S. Pinafore) as his wife Charlotte. Local actor Teresa Doggett, best known for her work as UAO’s costume designer for the past fifteen seasons, makes her UAO stage debut as the matriarch Madame Armfeldt alongside Amy Maude Helfer as the restless maid Petra and Arielle Pedersen as the young Fredrika. A bevy of St. Louis talent round out the cast including James Stevens as Henrik Egerman, Jordan Wolk as the butler Frid, and Grace Yukiko Fisher, Gina Malone, Sarah Price, Joel Rogier, and Philip Touchette as the “Liebeslieders”. C. Otis Sweezey will provide scenic design for A Little Night Music along with costume design by Teresa Doggett and lighting design by Patrick Huber.

Desirée Armfeldt – Debby Lennon
Frederick Egerman – Peter Kendall Clark
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm – Eric J. McConnell*
Charlotte Malcolm – Leann Schuering
Madame Armfeldt – Teresa Doggett*
Anne Egerman – Brooklyn Snow
Henrik Egerman – James Stevens
Petra – Amy Maude Helfer*
Fredrika – Arielle Pedersen*
Mrs. Nordstrom – Gina Malone
Mrs. Anderssen – Grace Yukiko Fisher
Mrs. Segstrom – Sarah Price*
Mr. Erlanson – Philip Touchette
Mr. Lindquist – Joel Rogier
Frid – Jordan Wolk

A Little Night Music is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized
performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.mtishows.com
*UAO stage debut

Opera in the Garden
In anticipation of the season, UAO will bring classic opera front and center in its 2022 Opera in the Garden – Garden Concert Series Fundraiser this spring. Launched in 2018, as a House Concert Series, UAO moved the concerts outdoor in the fall of 2020 for the safety of its artists and patrons and were some of the first, live, operatic performances held in St. Louis during the pandemic. Each concert will feature two UAO artists from the upcoming season performing an eclectic and entertaining selection of arias, art songs and musical theatre favorites, and will showcase a scholarship winner from UAO’s 2022 CRESCENDO! program along with a guest instrumentalist from UAO’s talented opera orchestra.

Sunday, May 8 at 5:00PM
Our opening concert will take place on Mother’s Day and headlined by two singing moms – Gina Malone and Danielle Yilmaz – celebrating the day with us with some wonderful music and fun. Guest artists Raven Brooks, soprano, from Blackburn College and UAO principal flutist, Ann Dolan will join pianist Sandra Geary for this perfect Mother’s Day afternoon. The backdrop for our first concert is the beautiful lawn of the 1959 home of CK Siu and Shannon Hart which sits on what used to be the Krause farm in Ladue.

Sunday, May 22 at 5:00PM
Our second concert takes us to the grounds of the former Rand Mansion, now the home of University City mayor, Terry Crow. Artists Sarah Price, Mark Freiman and Nancy Mayo will lead this concert, along with guest soprano, Erica Ancell from Webster University and UAO principal horn player, Nancy Schick, who will team up with Ms. Price and Ms. Mayo for a not-to-be-missed special performance of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom D. 943.

Sunday, June 5 at 5:00PM
The 2022 Garden Concert Series concludes with a return to the beautiful flower-filled garden of the University City home of Richard and Mary Ann Shaw. Grace Yukiko Fisher, Philip Touchette and Nancy Mayo will entertain us with opera and musical theatre fun, and guest artists Madalyn Tomkins, soprano, from Webster University, and Carolina Neves, violinist will round out this beautiful afternoon.

Fundraiser tickets are $50 for individuals or $100 for Patron Seating which includes the best reserved seats and a $50 tax-deductible donation to UAO. Tickets are on sale now at www.unionavenueopera.org and must be ordered in advance (no door sales).

About Union Avenue Opera

UAO was founded in 1994 to bring affordable, professional, original-language opera t St. Louis, a mission the company continues to pursue to this day. UAO is committed to hiring the most talented artists, directors, designers and technicians both locally and from across the United States. UAO provides promising singers the first steppingstone of their professional career. The company celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season in 2019 and offers vibrant and affordable opera experiences in original languages to audiences who reflect the breadth and diversity of the St. Louis region. UAO is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in
Missouri.

Financial assistance for the 2022 Festival Season has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and with support from the Regional Arts Commission

By Lynn Venhaus

Jacqueline Kennedy once famously said: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.”

The cold-hearted Iris Banks (Kari Ely) apparently did not agree. She made a choice, to pursue a literary career first, leaving her husband and child. Now grown, her bitter and resentful son Cal (Spencer Sickmann) unexpectedly returns home, but he is not exactly welcomed like the Prodigal Son. And she is closer to “Mommy Dearest” than Mother Earth.

In an intense psychologically complex drama, “Comfort,” a fierce new work by renowned playwright Neil LaBute that is premiering at St. Louis Actors’ Studio (Dec. 3-19), two of our finest stage artists fearlessly tango.

There is much baggage to unpack as mother, now a literary titan – three Pulitzers! — and child, who is still finding his way, reveal their past and present relationship.

These fully dimensional roles are demanding and exhaustive, but brave Ely and Sickmann exhibit their stamina and superior skills at delivering such emotionally layered performances.

Awkward exchanges and pleasantries give way to an uneasy détente (short-lived), stunning disclosures (the hits just keep on coming) and blistering confrontations. They are two people on opposite sides of a great divide, a rift that has grown over time and still an open wound, for no healing was attempted.

At times, the icy Mom, who admitted she had no maternal instinct but attempted the wife-and-motherhood roles set forth in society, seems to thaw.  And son appears to soften his hostility, but those are brief respites from some harsh exchanges as Iris declares she is all about the “truth,” but son reveals he has evidence to the contrary.

The two performers wear their characters’ bravado like a badge of honor – until they don’t. Mom is unapologetic about her distain for literary rivals or for ‘normal’ trappings of family life – but occasionally, her steely demeanor will crack, showing us an inkling of regret.

It’s such a masterful portrayal by Ely, who has tackled her share of uncommon, tough females – including Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Violet in “August Osage County” and Regina in “The Little Foxes,” all on the Gaslight stage.

And a never-better Sickmann plays Cal like a wounded animal, cornered but ready to pounce. Since bursting on the local theater scene about five years ago, he has capably delved into guys with an edge but also showing vulnerability – Mitch in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Hal in “Picnic,” press secretary Stephen in “Farragut North” and artist Matt in “The Feast,” among them.

LaBute’s rhythmic dialogue has bite, and the pair show their verbal dexterity in meaty exchanges. Do not underestimate their ruthlessness.

LaBute, a prolific playwright and screenwriter who has made waves since the early 1990s, often writes characters that are schemers or callous, calculating ones who use people for their own advantage. They may not be likable, but they are survivors – and they are fascinating

One of LaBute’s hallmarks is that he will divulge character flaws in such a chilling way as to take a jarring and dramatic turn that changes the temperature in the room. He’s all about the gray area, never specifically black-and-white – and that’s what makes his plays so compelling.

Director Annamaria Pileggi keeps the unsettling narrative moving at a brisk clip, and Patrick Huber’s impressive set design efficiently uses the space to move the action forward. Fine work by Huber as lighting designer, sound designer Robin Weatherall, costume designer Teresa Doggett and fight choreographer Shaun Sheley.

Even with a lengthy run time, you still want to hear what Iris and Cal have to say to each other – and you’ll still be caught off-guard.

STLAS has collaborated with LaBute since 2012, mainly as part of the LaBute New Theater Festival, in which international one-act entries are selected to be part of two line-ups. He is a co-producer and often an active participant.

The previously unproduced plays must be 45 minutes or less, and not have more than four characters. They must be able to be presented in The Gaslight Theatre’s intimate space.The selected works are usually marked by sharp writing and smart acting.

And LaBute writes an original work to premiere every summer, which is included in both slates. A few of them have been dark and disturbing or acerbic, or both.

One of the festival’s components that LaBute is most proud of is the High School Play Competition, encouraging teenage writers to pursue playwrighting. The winning plays are presented as readings.

But this is the first time that LaBute is premiering a new two-act play separate from the annual summer fest.

The fest will return the summer of 2022. In the meantime, theatergoers can marvel at the riveting work by Ely and Sickmann, who bob and weave like pro athletes.

The ironically titled play, “Comfort,” may still be a work in progress, but it provides a bracing vehicle in which to show a delicate balance in a mother-son dynamic.

Spencer Sickmann and Kari Ely

“Comfort” is presented by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio at The Gaslight Theatre, 358 N. Boyle Avenue, St. Louis, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Dec. 3-19. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 314-458-2978 or visit www.stlas.org.

Proof of Vaccination Must Be Presented and a Mask Must Be Worn While in the Theater.

With the climate crisis evincing ever more  concerns this summer, our Climate Change Theatre Action event on Saturday Oct 16 could not be more timely. 

Our free afternoon event will offer eight short internationally  commissioned plays in four art galleries, a theatrical adaptation of Greta Thuneberg’s address to the UN, a dance performance, outdoor resource tables by environmental organizations, voter registration, and more. 

That Uppity Theatre Company, Artistic director Joan Lipkin, in collaboration with Climate Change Theatre Action (CCTA), a project of the Arctic Cycle will present a theatre and arts crawl on Saturday, Oct 16 from 1-4 pm at area art galleries in the Central West End.

The galleries include Duane Reed, Houska, Philip Slein, and Projects +, all located on McPherson Avenue in the historic CWE district.

“We are living in a time of increasing urgency to address critical climate change. It is no longer something that can be avoided or ignored. Regardless of our business, our occupations or personal situation, we are all in it together. Through our participation in the Climate Change Theatre Action, the gallery hopes to take part in a larger effort that is all about increasing our awareness of this crisis,” said Duane Reed, of the Duane Reed Gallery.

Viewers will be able to see a short play or two of under ten minutes before proceeding to the next gallery to see others. The event will feature 4-8 short pieces. Most performances will be repeated 6-8 times or approximately every twenty minutes, starting at 1 pm. Some work may also be performed outside.

Indoor performances will be limited to ten audience members at a time and masking will be required.

Many St Louis theatre artists are involved in presenting this project including Anna Blair, Donna Weinsting, Dan Kelly, Teresa Doggett, Susan Volkan, Michael Paplanus, Don McClendon, Carrie Hegdahl, Alice Kinsella, and Rachel Mitchell, among others.

The Central Visual & Performing Arts High School will also present a theatrical adaptation of Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations called” How Dare You”. Ashleyliane Dance Company will offer selections from their critically acclaimed “Environmental
Intelligence” dance piece.

Additionally, there will be outdoors tabling by environmental groups including Great Rivers Greenway, US Green Building Council – Missouri Gateway Chapter, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Project Animal Freedom, World Bird Sanctuary, Metropolitan Congregations United, Earth Dance Organic Farm School, St Louis Voter Registration Group and more. Street parking is available as well as a paid lot on Euclid Ave between Washington and McPherson Ave.

“The issues facing us are real but so are the opportunities to change the direction of this global crisis,” said Joan Lipkin. “The arts are a pathway to illuminate the issues in an engaging way and also to promote hope, joy and engagement. It is both meaningful and important that St Louis take part in this international arts and ecology movement.”

Produced by Joan Lipkin and Pamela Reckamp, the St Louis event is part of a worldwide series of readings and performances of short plays about the climate crisis and environmental justice. CCTA 2021 will take place from September 19 to December 18 to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26).

The last iteration of CCTA, in 2019, included over 220 events in nearly 25 countries. For more details, the list of participating playwrights, and previous collaborators, see www.climatechangetheatreaction.com.

By Andrea BraunContributing WriterIndecent (2017) by Paula Vogel tells the story of a play written by the young Sholem Asch entitled God of Vengeance, first performed in 1907. It is presented as his first play, but it is actually his second; however, this and other departures from fact are described by Vogel as “emotional truth,” rather than absolute historical accuracy.

“Vengeance” ran in Germany in the original Yiddish and
was translated and traveled to several other countries, but then came America. At
first, Asch’s play ran off Broadway and stayed more or less under the radar.
But when it moved uptown to the Apollo and the general public was going to be
courted to buy tickets, as Vogel tells it, the script was changed without
Asch’s knowledge or permission because it contained “unacceptable” material.

Photo by Dan DonovanFor example, a Jewish man makes his living owning a
house of prostitution while he and his wife and “virginal” daughter occupy an
apartment upstairs. This was considered by American Jews to be anti-Semitic,
since the Jewish procurer was a stereotype and would be reinforced in the
general public’s mind. So would the focus on making money any way possible. At
one point, he becomes so furious he destroys a holy Torah, a great sin in
Judaism. But most controversial of all was what became known as “the rain
scene,” in which the daughter kisses one of the prostitutes and they proclaim
their love. To middle-class Americans, this is pornographic filth.

Photo by Dan DonovanAsch is so depressed he can’t leave his house.
Finally, his loving and patient wife talks him into attending a rehearsal, but
to him, the play is dead. The longtime stage manager, Lemml (Lou) also
considers this is a disaster, and it’s something they just cannot understand.
Even stranger, the play is closed down by the police and the actors are
arrested and tried, but the playwright and Lemml are not. Lemml tells Asch that
he is going to take the play back to Poland and translate it back into Yiddish.
He tells Asch, “I am tired of being in a country that laughs at the way I
speak. They say America is free? What [sic] do you know here is free?”

And so he does and his troupe performs the play in
cafes, attics, basements—anywhere that will have them until the Holocaust
decimated the European Jewish community of artists and patrons.  Asch himself returns after he’s received an
“invitation” from the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s to
live in London and write prolifically until he literally dies in the saddle, at
his desk, writing. Before he leaves, he meets a young scholar from Yale whom he
tells that he, Asch, “lost six million [who] have left the theater.”

Photo by Dan DonovanThat’s the plot, but now comes the hard part: telling you about the production, which is indescribably beautiful (but I’ll try to describe it anyway). I haven’t listed the names of actors who play the characters because they are all played by seven extraordinary performers who not only tell the story through words but also through song and dance.

They are accompanied on stage by a group of three Klezmer musicians, who play a violin, bass clarinet, and accordion to help express both the sadness and joy the audience and characters are experiencing. I’ve only seen four of the actors listed below (Judi Mann, Tim Schall, John Flack, and Paul Cereghino) but I’ve never witnessed any of them stronger or more sure of the material which makes them turn into other people on a dime.

Photo by Dan Donovan

The evocative music is directed by Ron McGowan, Ellen
Isom choregraphs, Phillip Evans gets credit for sound, and Menachem Szus is the
Yiddish dialect coach.It is a clever conceit to have titles on the rear wall to
help us know where we are, and to have the actors use perfect English to speak
their native languages and accented English when they are speaking a second or
third language. The action spans Warsaw from 1906 to Bridgeport, Connecticut in
the 1950s, and as the program notes, “everywhere in between.”

It’s difficult to write about Indecent without gushing, and I don’t think I managed it. But you
know what? It’s brilliant in every way, so a little gushing is justified. It is
both timely and timeless, and I hope you’ll go see for yourself.

Max and Louie Productions presents “Indecent” at the Grandel Theatre through June 30. Tickets are available through Metrotix and more information is available at www.maxandlouie.com

Photo by Patrick HuberThe
Troupe

TJ
Lancaster:  Lemml, The
Stage Manager; Paul Cereghino: The
Ingenue: Avram/Ensemble; Zoe Farmingdale:
The Ingenue: Chana/ Ensemble; John Flack:
The Elder: Otto/Ensemble;  Katie Karel: The Middle:
Halina/Ensemble; Judi Mann: The
Elder: Vera/Ensemble; Tim Schall: The
Middle: Mendel/Ensemble

The
Musicians

Alyssa Avery: Nelly Friedman/Violin/Ensemble; Kris Pineda: Moritz Godowsky/Accordion/Ensemble; Jack Theiling: Mayer Balsam/ Clarinet & Mandolin/Ensemble

Photo by Patrick Huber

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
A compelling plea for compassion and understanding, Kurt Weill’s mighty “Lost in the Stars” will break your heart and uplift your spirit in Union Avenue Opera’s stirring production.
This ambitious vibrant opera features more than 50 performers, many new to the art form, and that provides some of St. Louis’ finest dramatic artists with an opportunity to stretch their acting muscles. Under Shaun Patrick Tubbs’ fluid direction, they seamlessly blend into Weill’s powerful operatic retelling of “Cry, the Beloved Country.”
Alan Paton’s 1948 novel is set in South Africa during the 1940s era of apartheid, a time of great racial and economic divide. Adapted the following year into the opera “Lost in the Stars,” Weill wrote his last score, and famed historical playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote both the book and lyrics.

This hard-hitting work resonates today, demonstrating a need for humanity in a time of intolerance, misunderstanding and prejudice.
Rev. Stephen Kumalo (Kenneth Overton) travels to Johannesburg, and hopes to locate his son, Absalom (Myke Andrews), whom he hasn’t seen for a year. At the railroad station, he talks to Arthur Jarvis (Stephen Peirick), a white lawyer who is a benefactor of the church and believes in treating all people the same. He is with his disapproving father, wealthy plantation owner James Jarvis (Tim Schall), whose bigotry runs deep.
While Absalom is out on parole for a crime and is living with Irina (Krysty Swann), pregnant with their child, he is convinced to be part of a burglary with two others. It’s at the Jarvis plantation, but Arthur walks in and is shot by Absalom, who got flustered and scared. A legal scheme is hatched for acquittal but Absalom will have none of it, he confesses and while honorable, will be sentenced to death.
The Reverend can’t save his son, and the elder Jarvis has lost a son too. Eventually some common ground can be achieved. But it’s a hard road, and old ways must be forgotten to forge a new understanding.
In an emotional powder-keg of a role, Kenneth Overton soars with his potent baritone and poignant renditions of every number.  He pulls everyone’s heartstrings tight and has the ability to take your breath away and reduce you to tears. His showstopping “Lost in the Stars” delivery to close Act I is haunting and will remain one of my favorite and best moments of Union Avenue Opera’s 24th season.
He anchored an outstanding youthful ensemble displaying a notable energy and passion. Speaking roles included Jeanitta Perkins as Grace Kumalo, Stephen’s wife and Absalom’s mother; Reginald Pierre as Stephen’s lawyer brother John; Carl Overly Jr. as burglar Matthew Kumalo, Abraham Shaw as burglar Johannes Pafuri and Chuck Lavazzi as parole officer Mark Eland. Their mastery of their Afrikaner accents and their projection was noteworthy.
Tim Schall and Stephen Peirick excelled in their roles as the Jarvis father and son on opposite ends of their beliefs.
Myke Andrews, who was impressive in The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” and Metro Theatre Company’s “Bud, Not Buddy,” turned in his best work yet as Absalom. He is stunning, maneuvering a wide range of emotions with conviction. His ‘goodbye’ scene will rip your heart and have you reaching for tissues, along with soprano Kristy Swann as Irina, showcasing a warm rich voice.
Rising star Melody Wilson has a fetching turn as Linda and Roderick George sang the Leader role with authority.
Young Charlie Mathis, so impressive as Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Rep, was at home here as Arthur Jarvis’ young son, Edward, as was Sherrod Murff as Alex, Stephen Kumalo’s nephew. Sherrod delivers a sweet solo song at a time where a break from all the intense melodrama was welcome.
Artistic Director Scott Schoonover conducted the orchestra with crisp precision, emphasizing the cultural context in a meaningful way. And the orchestra was quite robust.
The creative team also contributed key elements to the overall period feel of the production. James W. Clapper’s lighting design was eloquent, and his “stars” lighting a few at a time was just beautiful. Teresa Doggett’s costume design nailed the time and place, as did Roger Speidel’s minimal set design that doubled as multiple interiors with ease.
“Lost in the Stars” delivers a forceful message with not only an urgency but with kindness. It remains a timeless work of historical significance that needs to be seen now.
“Lost in the Stars” is presented by Union Avenue Opera for four performances Aug. 17, 18, 24 and 25 at the Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information, visit ww.unionavenueopera.org.

Photos by John Lamb