By CB Adams

“The past is never dead,” observed the novelist William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.” That sentiment was certainly on extravagant view at the Fox Theatre during the opening of “Six” the musical, running through Feb. 5.

“Six” is a music-forward revue – a glammy, poppy, hip-hoppy, “Schoolhouse Rock” treatment of King Henry VIII’s gaggle of significant others. Think of it as a “First Wives Club” with a killer soundtrack, sick beats, explosive light show, and a bevy of Queen Beys who put a ring, a stiletto and a defiant stomp on their heretofore musty-dusty place in the past. Or think of it as reimagined Tudor history for the TikTokkers.

If you’re expecting an historical costume drama, “Six” may surprise you because it’s heavy on the costumes and light, to the point of nonexistence, of the drama. But, oh those Tudor-inspired costumes. With all their studs, spikes, sequins, fishnets, bangles, baubles and bedazzlings, the black-pleathered costumes are enough to distract you from the history and entice you to just enjoy the swish, swagger and swirl of the performers.

This puts a new spin on the term historical “figures.” As bedecked, any of the queen-wives would have been Henry’s one and only – thanks to costume design by Gabriella Slade.

Historians, most of them of the male persuasion, have not been kind to the stories and legacies of Henry’s wives and lovers – rendering them with more histrionics than history.  That’s one of the main injustices that writers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss apparently hoped to rectify during this musical’s snappy 80 minutes.

Marlow and Moss, who have written for Australian drag queen, singer and television personality Courtney Act, reclaim the fates of Henry’s wives into a shiny, knives-out revenge fantasy. They relish poking fun at Henry’s rotundity, his miniscule man-parts and his peccadillos big and small.

Under the direction of Moss and Jamie Armitage, “Six” puts all its jewels (actors, band, Eurovision-inspired set with more flashes than a Princess Di press conference) on stage, all at once and for the duration of the musical. What you see is what you get – from the get go – crowned by a more-is-more aesthetic.

The premise of “Six” is simple and simply stated at the outset. In a sort of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” by way of “Zoolander”-style walk-off, the queens compete to see who was dealt the worst hand by history and Henry to “be the one to lead the band.” Each queen gets a song and a dance and a chance to garner the most support (applause, applause) from the audience. This pageant-like format is really just an audience-engagement device and succeeds as such – the audience opening night came primed to hoot, holler and clap after each queen’s signature song.

In between are chorus numbers by The Queens in toto. When performing as The Queens, Cecilia Snow (Catherine of Aragon), Zan Berube (Anne Boleyn), Amina Faye (Jane Seymour), Terica Marie (Anna of Cleves), Aline Mayagoitia (Katherine Howard) and Sydney Farra (Catherine Parr), are impressive in voice and coordinated dances. Of the show’s nine songs, the ones owned by The Queens – “Ex-Wives,” “Haus of Holbein” and “Six” – are the best in the show, perhaps because of the combination of tight harmonization and the flash-dance choreography that takes full advantage of the confined stage.

The six solo songs wear their song-diva influences proudly and deliver catchy, if repetitive, lyrics bolstered by sonic-boom baselines. Snow’s “No Way” is an anti-divorce anthem, Faye’s “Heart of Stone” is an edgy torch song, and Mayagoitia’s “All You Wanna Do” is fruity piece of bubble gum pop.

The other “character” on stage is the all-female band called The Ladies in Waiting – Katie Coleman (conductor/keyboard), Sterlyn Termine (bass),  Liz Faure (Guitars) and Caroline Moore (drums), as well as Paul Gatehouse (sound design). The band is bespoke for this musical theater’s young fanbase and ferociously spews forth the spunky score’s zesty, sometimes winkingly naughty fun – all with the tight fury of a Prince guitar solo.  

Enhancing the concert-like experience of “Six” is the lighting design by Tim Deiling. According to LiveDesign website, “Beyoncé’s narrative pop concerts, where she tells you parts of her story, is what inspired the authors of “Six,” said Deiling. “Each of our six Queens are actually influenced heavily from contemporary pop divas (Aragon = Beyoncé, Boleyn = Katy Perry, Seymour = Adele, Cleves = Rihanna, and Parr = Alicia Keys) and I needed to differentiate between each Queen, so we drew on reference material from each of them.” In Deiling’s stated goals, the lighting design checks all those boxes, although it sometimes with all the flashing lights it might have been prudent to provide seizure warning.

In the first scene in “Six,” the Queens are lined up and Mayagoitia as Katherine Howard states, “…we’ve got a serious score to settle.” And like a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down, they spend the next rollicking hour and half making their cases. “Six” is as brightly appealing as a Twinkie and about as nutritious (historically speaking), but it is a fulfilling bon-bon of pure escapism. Take that, Henry!

Performances of “Six” at the Fabulous Fox run January 24-February 5. Tickets on sale now at or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, visit

Six Photos by Joan Marcus

By CB Adams

In his recent review in New York magazine of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Fedora,” Justin Davidson snarked, “’Fedora is an opera about décor.” The headline read, “At Least the Sofa Looks Fabulous.” That’s the kind of pronouncement relished by critics and reviewers, myself included (I do love a good snark, when well-deserved.)

In a backdoor sort of way, Davidson’s sentiment evoked an opposite reaction when assessing Winter Opera’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Kirkwood Community Center. One of the major strengths of this production, stage directed by John Stephens, is precisely due to the minimal “décor” and sets. This approach, which was definitely not stagy nonchalance, enabled the production to focus on the essential moments in Shakespeare’s tale of power and corruption, Verdi’s score and the performances of the fine cast. The storyline is the thing, and the result was a solidly satisfying experience that served as a potent post-holiday palate cleanser – we all need a little opera, not a little more Christmas.

Calling the setting simple is not to belittle the work of scenic designer Scott Loebl. It’s to  his credit, as well as lighting designer Michael Sullivan’s and technical director Jacob Cange’s, that the mood is so effectively set with appeared at times as a wall of blood, emphasizing the Macbeths’ descent into depravity. The cast members moved through the playing area as though a walk upon Shakespeare’s atmospheric heath.

Photo by Rebecca Haas

One of the risks of production of “Macbeth” in either its theatrical or opera forms, is overplaying the witchiness of the witches. This is not “Wicked” after all. Verdi makes this risk higher turning the play’s three witches into a chorus of witches. But this production makes great, prudent use of this gaggly coven, which sometimes offers comic relief and other times stirring up their portentous predictions. One of the witches contorted her face so dramatically it seemed like an effect that could only be achieve with a mask. Jim Carrey would have been jealous.

The leading roles were performed with uniform excellence by singing actors, several of whom have been in previous Winter Opera productions. The Macbeths, sung by Michael Nansel and Whitney Myers were convincing both singly and as a couple. Myers’ performance as Lady Macbeth offered many insightful moments, marred only by her line “Out, damned spot” through no fault of her own. The line elicited more than few chuckles because its meaning has been ruined after being reduced to an American advertising slogan. Pity.

Nansel as Macbeth also jelled with Nathan Whitson as Banquo. Both used their big, expressive voices to reveal the thoughts and tribulations of their characters. Equally impressive was Jonathan Kaufman as Macduff, especially when confronting (shall I say, laying on) Macbeth.

As with the chorus of witches, the supporting cast was seamless performed and put effective use. The supporting cast included  Willard Moseley as Duncan, Damian Ziarko as Fleanzio, Angel Azzarra as a lady in waiting and Kevin Thomas Smith as Malcolm.

Verdi’s score received a well-balanced, thoughtful and atmospheric performance by the orchestra, directed by Edward Benyas. This was noticeable from the start, during the brooding, foreboding overture.

In the play, Lady Macbeth says, “What’s done cannot be undone.” In the case of Winter Opera’s “Macbeth,” what can’t be undone is a fine production of this Verdi-Shakespeare classic.

Winter Opera presented Verdi’s “Macbeth” on January 20 and 22, at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

Photos by Rebecca Haas

Macbeth by Winter Opera. Photo by Rebecca Haas

By Lynn Venhaus

I had the pleasure to guest on Friday’s McGraw Millhaven Show with Jay Kanzler subbing as host. We talked movies, of course!

(My segment is the last hour, starting at 3:10, or after the 9 a.m. news.)

Allow me to list local professionals who have enriched my life greatly in recent years. Because this life is a journey where people you meet matter in many interesting and surprising ways.

Five years ago in November 2017, Jay asked me to be a guest on his nighttime show, talking movies, and the rest is history.

I am grateful for Jay’s support, the opportunity and being on with Jay and Jennifer, then Jay and Ray, then when Jay left, a solo Ray Hartmann through 2022. Ray has decided to end his show, and I can’t speak highly enough of Ray as an individual, colleague, and as a supportive host for several years (2019-2022).

Wendy Wiese and Jennifer E Blome

I’ve been fortunate to join Jennifer E. Blome and Wendy Wiese on their KTRS weekday mid-morning show about theater (mostly Muny and Fox) and entertainment since they joined forces, and we’re going to continue that into 2023.

Now I’ll be a regular contributor on Friday mornings, and that will start on Jan. 6, so I’m very excited and happy to be joining the sisterhood to talk movies and what’s happening in entertainment.

I’m very grateful to Mark Mueller, for sponsoring “Mueller Furniture Presents Lynn Venhaus Goes to the Movies,” what a great guy and a great business, and to all the board ops/producers along the way – Howard Morton, CJ Nasello, Greg Harvey, Luis, Austin and others. And to station boss Mark Dorsey for allowing me to grace the airwaves.

And of course, the listeners. I really enjoy the feedback and the fellowship!

It’s been a wonderful five years at KTRS, and I look forward to continuing this partnership!

Paul Cook

(And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank my pal Paul Cook for being the first to invite me on St Louis airwaves to review movies, back in February 2016 at Y98, when Paul hosted the drivetime, and he’d have me on Fridays. It was the start of a beautiful friendship, and the powers-at-be ended it after a year, but it was a year full of challenges for Paul — his triumphant but gut-wrenching cancer treatment, recovery — and I learned so much from him, such positive vibes, what strong people do in times of crises.

In January 2016, I also started reviewing for Webster-Kirkwood Times, which I am very grateful for, especially after McClatchy ended local reviews in BND in 2017, and I still had a print outlet.

The business is ever-changing, ever-evolving, multiple re-inventions, revisions, and I am just happy to be part of the conversation on current film, regional theater, and what’s happening in the world of entertainment and local events. I love being able to interview people for features, and I continue to meet the most fascinating people (will discuss this more in a column on my website, about the people of the year that was).

I’m still writing print (news, features in BND) and online at my website,, but as a mass communication major who has dabbled in radio (even worked in small market radio news), it’s nice to develop other skills. I am eager to improve. And I’m fortunate to still be working in the biz I love — and doing the things I yearned to do in my early years — now 47 years after college graduation.

Summer 1979 working in radio news at WILY-WRXX in Centralia IL

Now I’ve aged out of certain roles, it’s that time of life, and I am an independent contractor. This gives me more opportunities to write for other outlets, and since the electric bill won’t wait, yippee.

One of the biggest thrills this year was being added as a contributor to St Louis magazine by dining editor George Mahe, one of our town’s (and nation’s) finest. Talk about learning from someone so good at their craft! What a joy. I’m meeting the wonderful foodies and movers and shakers of this region through this outlet, and it’s been a terrific experience. More to come as I’m just getting my ‘feet wet,’ so to say. (Longer story about my December is coming). I am so very appreciative of George’s tutelage.

(Fun fact: Yes, I was the last food editor at the late, great St. Louis Globe-Democrat — where I got to interview Martha Stewart before she was a mega-brand and Wolfgang Puck at the height of his celebrated chef days at Spago’s — and I’ve written dining/chef articles for Belleville News-Democrat for many years, and recently, for Marketplace Magazine (Old Herald, Goshen Coffee, Soulcial Kitchen).

I think of where I’d be if the Globe hadn’t folded in ’86, a topic my colleague Chas Adams and I talk about regularly, as he and I have reconnected (so many times over the years, but now, he writes reviews for my website).

Of course, they would have separated us by now back in Living section because we were quite the pop culture enthusiasts back then, writing our column “DIshing It Out” and chatting about what we should include.

I digress…

I started the website so I’d have a home for my theater reviews, because I am in the St Louis Theater Circle, and it’s a great joy/responsibility to support the arts, and ‘keep it real.’ It’s a challenge to keep up a grueling production schedule, in light of sometimes real-life things happening at the same time, but it’s one that is an honor and a privilege to do. So many talented people and creatives in this region, and I am grateful to see their work. (More on that in another post). Special thanks to the patient PR people and artistic directors for their assistance and their understanding when there are scheduling conflicts.

In this up-and-down rollercoaster of a career, and a life, I do not take anything for granted — especially after the pandemic, now in our third winter. I know life holds no promises, and to be respected as a professional is an ongoing process, one I work hard at because it’s important to be relevant and trusted. Gaining people’s trust is never something one can take lightly.

We can’t slack on the skills we were taught so long ago “in j-school” about ethics, integrity and ‘getting it right.’ The leg work, the fact-checking — yes, it matters. (My pet peeves, for another time). I tried to instill this when I taught journalism/media at Kaskaskia College, St Louis Community College-Forest Park and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville).

Me at NYFF 2022

I guess the only way to sum it up any kind of work these days is to “keep on, keeping on.”

Thanks to you for reading and listening all these years. It’s truly a wonderful life being able to contribute in a meaningful way, and to be able to do what you love, learning and growing every day.

We get to carry each other, and no one does anything well alone — collaboration is always the key, and that’s how we’ll get better. Always. The ‘new normal’ has taught us that we aren’t islands (at least I hope so).

At this later stage in life, I’m afforded opportunities because of such great chances, like being vetted for Rotten Tomatoes, Critics Choice Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists. It’s a responsibility to live up to, and I continually strive to be better at communicating critical knowledge.

Here’s to a productive 2023, full of new challenges and adventures. And hopefully, some good things to watch and see in the year ahead. And wonderful people to meet.

By C.B. Adams

Unlike Uncle Ebeneezer, I don’t think of the holiday season as “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” In fact, as I have metaphorically buttoned my great-coat to the chin and headed out into the St. Louis holiday entertainment marketplace, I have been amazed at the plenteous plenitude of choices, from sacred to secular. I have willingly reached into my pocket and supported as many of these offerings as my wallet – and attention span – allowed.

In the final week of the frantic Big Day Fun Run came the fluffy flutternutter confection known as “Elf the Musical” for performances at the Fabulous Fox. There’s much proclaimed about Christmas being for children, but there’s a small dearth of holiday entertainment specifically for the tykes and tots (“Violent Night” and “Bad Santa” anyone?) And, that list gets even grinchier when you also want something that has meaning, depth and resonance for young and old alike.

If  “Elf” had a wish list, it’s the latter niche that the musical adaptation of the 2003 movie would like to hold. It would like to be the Big Gift but turns out to be only a stocking stuffer. Ah, if only Buddy’s proclamation, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear,” weren’t so childishly naïve.

In the spirit of the holiday and transparency, I’ll admit that “Elf” has never been one of my top holiday entertainments. I endured repeated viewings as my sons were growing up, and I have always found the first half of “Elf” to offer the promise of a fulfilling, satisfying holiday movie that desperately wants to live up to the old Rankin/Bass animated specials that inspired screenwriter David Berenbaum.

But it’s merely derivative and adds up to a modest movie experience — that great snowball fight sequence notwithstanding (sadly not included in the musical). To borrow a phrase from that old Bentsen/Quayle vice presidential debate, I know Rankin/Bass and you, “Elf,” are no Rankin/Bass.

All the promise set up in the first half of the plot becomes mired in yet another holiday plot involving daddy issues Think about it: “Rudolph,” “Christmas Story,” “The Gathering,” and, I can even make the case for, “Meet Me In St. Louis.” What saved the movie was the stellar cast, and not just the man-child goofiness of Will Ferrell. “Elf the Musical” poses the same challenge with its clunky plot, wooden dialogue, generically forgettable songs and spotty, non-potty humor.

Throughout the Dec. 20th opening night, I repeatedly found myself rooting for the cast to save the show from itself – “C’mon, you can do it!” Much of that expectation unavoidably falls onto the lead character, Buddy. Cody Garcia’s Buddy is tall, gangly in a fun Jack Skellington sort of way and charmingly, smartly innocent. Their performance was not at all haunted by the Spirit of Buddy Past – Will Ferrell. With clownishly curled shoes and wrinkled tights, Garcia makes Buddy the character that connects with the young and young at heart. They were fun to watch, and it was a shame that their performance stood out even more just because of the lesser performances of their fellow performers.

Mark Fishback portrayed a flat Santa who lacked good joke timing and who couldn’t decide whether to be a grouchy Ed Asner, bumbling John Ratzenberger or rockin’ Kurt Russell type of not-so-jolly ole St. Nick. Christopher Robert Smith as Buddy’s biological father figure was bland and banal rather than a sharp, cynical foil to his son’s sugary sparkle. He definitely needed to channel some James Caan. Additionally, his dance moves were too much Mr. Roboto and not enough Christopher Walken. There was no authentic chemistry among most of the other characters, including between Caitlin Lester-Sams as Buddy’s stepmother and Jaxon James as his half-brother.

Other than Garcia, the other glittering performance was provided by Tieisha Thomas as Buddy’s love interest and a fellow Macy’s employee, Jovie. In addition to her nuanced, sassy-but-lonesome performance, her “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf)” was one of the best – and best-delivered – songs of the evening.

As a musical, the show’s tunes (Matthew Sklar, composer, Chad Beguelin, lyricist) aren’t bad, but they suffer from too-few moments of sustained wit and froth. Again, they disappoint by not living up to their potential. The exceptions were the opening “Happy All the Time,” “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” and the aforementioned  “Never Fall in Love (with an Elf).” Another was “Nobody Cares About Santa” with its chorus line of kvetching department store Santas.

My mixed-bag reaction to “Elf the Musical” may, similar to Scrooge’s “undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato,” be caused by my expectation. As author Anne Lamott has said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

I wanted to enjoy it more and I hoped it would improve upon the movie’s weaknesses. Perhaps my expectations were too high or off mark. Why did I think cold spaghetti with maple syrup had to be both delicious and nutritious? I may be, to borrow a line from Buddy, “a cotton-headed ninny muggings.”

But I’ll leave it to a youngster sitting behind me to have the last word. As Santa concluded his narration of Buddy’s life, he ends with “And they lived happily ever after.” To which the youngster (definitely under five) replied (in his outside voice), “I knew he was gonna to say that.”

Performances of “Elf the Musical” at the Fabulous Fox run Dec. 20-24. Show times are Tuesday through Friday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons at 1 p.m. Tickets on sale now at or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, visit

By CB Adams

On the same first weekend of December 2022, the New Yorker magazine published a cartoon depicting a couple in a theater, clutching programs as others around them departed. The husband says to the wife, “Whose idea is it to start with the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus?” This coincided with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus’s performances of one of George Frideric Handel’s masterworks, his oratorio “Messiah.”

I generally do not “review” an audience’s engagement with a performance, but with the New Yorker cartoon in mind, I’m safe stating that the respectful and enthusiastic audience would have stayed for all of score’s 57 numbers, even if rearranged with an opening “Hallelujah.”

Although originally intended for the Christian season of Lent, “Messiah” has morphed into a staple of high culture Christmas entertainments, along with Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” and Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”

But seasonal ubiquity shouldn’t diminish the sheer beauty of this music experience, which Handel feverishly composed in just 24 days in 1742. I have no proof, but I am convinced that the compressed composition process contributes to the cohesive, “of a piece” nature of “Messiah.” Artistic constraint often enhances creativity.

Laurence Cummings

The SLSO’s performance on Dec. 4, under the baton of guest conductor Laurence Cummings proved that “Messiah” when well-performed continues to deserve its place as one of the most famous, canonical and widely shared pieces of  music – classical or otherwise. Cummings is a British conductor and specialist in historical performance, especially the Baroque era. At Powell Hall, he led the orchestra and chorus from one of two center stage harpsichords. The other was played by Mark Shuldiner. The excellent-as-always chorus was led by the also-excellent guest choral director, Patrick Dupré Quigley.

There’s room in Handel’s score for plenty of interpretation and emphasis. Cummings chose to elevate the score’s reverential Passion theme, which proved a welcome antidote to the holiday season’s usual predilection for exuberant celebrations. There was still plenty of that celebratory spirit during the stand up for the “Hallelujah” chorus and the robust final ovations.

The reverential was also evident in the way the four soloists, seated two to a side, approached the front of the stage with deliberate gravitas. The cadre of soloists were soprano Amanda Forsythe, countertenor Key’mon Murrah, tenor John Matthew Myers and baritone Jonathon Adams. All were well-matched and well-attenuated with the orchestra and chorus. Of the four, Forsythe and Murrah were the most stylish and powerful, though this might partly be because of their respective parts. The voice of baritone Adams’s voice was muddled and lost a couple of times during his solos, especially at their beginnings, but this was not off-putting.

 The SLSO’s 2022 interpretation of “Messiah” was the total package for a fulfilling performance that bundled the sheer beauty of the music, Handel’s incredible skill as a c composer, a well-aligned symphony and chorus and confident soloists. To borrow a phrase from another, Grinchier annual holiday treat, “Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer.”

Another year, another Handel’s Messiah at Powell Hall

By CB Adams

Remember that commercial from the late 80s with the tagline, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile?” The Repertory Theatre of St Louis’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is kinda like that. This is not your father’s, or grandmother’s (or your crazy Aunt Millie’s) adaptation of this Dickensian tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s war on Christmas. As you survey St. Louis’s rich assortment of holiday offerings (and there truly is a cornucopia that runneth over), this production entices with a shiny, progressive reboot of this Christmas chestnut.  

It’s a new spin on “A Christmas Carol” that’s perfect for those with short attention spans. This adaptation treats the story of Scrooge’s transformation as the plain evergreen upon which the shiny baubles of scenic design (Tim Mackabee), lighting and projections (Seth Reiser and Hana S. Kim), costumes (Dede Ayite), choreography (Kirven Douthit-Boyd) and hip hop choreography (Robert Crenshaw) are hung. Bringing youthful energy to the production are the Webster University conservatory cast, the Big Muddy Dance Company dancers, whose ghost dancers add much to certain key scenes, and a youth ensemble from the Center of Creative Arts.

By flattening the well-known story line whose lead character has been represented by everyone and everything from Alastair Sim and Michael Caine to Bill Murray and Mr. Magoo, this adaptation by Michael Wilson (the same as last year’s) embellishes the story of Scrooge’s transformation with new characters and scenes not in the Dickens novel.

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Upon each of the story’s key moments – Marley’s appearance, visits by the three Spirits, the Cratchit family’s penury, etc. – director Hana S. Sharif hangs contemporary dance numbers, special effects and humorous asides among all the dark, dank Victoriana. The dance is an especially effective component of this adaptation; the inconsistent use of modern colloquialisms – not so much.

The result is a Whitman’s Sampler of a production that tries too hard to provide a little something for every taste.  And like that holiday box, there’s all sorts of chocolates, including a rap-infused “O Come All Ye Faithful,” a Marley who flies up from beneath the stage like a spectral Peter Pan, a dance number that includes The Worm, and a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that’s part-Mad Max, part-Blade and part-Gimp from “Pulp Fiction.”

The latter makes his NFL-inspired entrance complete with hoverboard and ravers glasses. This ghost’s entrance is certainly impressive but calls too much attention to itself and pulls you out of the story. It also undercuts the emotional impact of Scrooge recognizing his tombstone – the climax of the story.

The same holds true for the final scene (not in Dickens’s original) with Scrooge hosting a party. This is a well-intentioned addition that hopes to highlight the new, improved Scrooge, but which borrows too much from the final scene in the “White Christmas” movie. It also weakens the intent of Dickens to use this story to examine the plight of the disadvantaged. As Scrooge promises the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Sharif adds another complexity to this production  by double casting of most of the key roles. It was fun (and impressive) to see the way Laakan McHardy played both a doll seller and the Ghost of Christmas Past (the best of the portrayals of the spirits) and Paul Aguirre went from a refreshments vendor to a vampy, over-the-top Christmas Present. Michael James Reed also played double duty as Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge’s housekeeper with shades of “Mrs. Doubtfire”) and the spectral Jacob Marley – how’s that for range!

The roles of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are played by Guiesseppe Jones and Armando McClain, respectively. McClain provides one of this production’s best and most consistent and balanced portrayals as the long-suffering Cratchit. Ultimately, “A Christmas Carol” hinges on the portrayal of Scrooge. Jones displays an impressive range, which he definitely needs in this adaptation that pivots (sometimes to distraction) from lightheartedly humorous to full-on King Lear-level theatricality. As impressive as Jones was in all his scenes, his performance was often too self-contained and lacked chemistry with the other actors.

Overall, this production is designed with lots of wow-factors to defy you to call it anything but bah-humbug. The success of this approach depends on how you like your Scrooge served up. If you’re seeking the more traditional, ye merry ole England version (I remember one from my youth that included real basset hounds on stage), this isn’t that. To its credit, this adaptation avoids the saccharin Timmy-fell-down-the-well savior sub-narrative of so many other productions. And, it brings a modern sensibility to this timeless, still all-too-relevant story.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “A Christmas Carol” November 19–December 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis. For tickets or more information, visit:

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

By C.B. Adams

I have an acquaintance for whom the terms Puccini and opera are synonymous. For him, opera and the Italians define the artform. Although I don’t agree with his limited definition, I can’t deny that the Italians in general and Giacomo Puccini in particular occupy a special space within the opera canon. That’s why Winter Opera’s production of La Rondine, (music by Puccini with librettists Alfred Maria and Heinz Reichert) was a such a solid, comfortable pleasure.

For reasons not worth reiterating, La Rondine (The Swallow) is not considered one of Puccini’s “greatest hits” but, as my acquaintance might say, “Who cares?! It’s Puccini!” I would duly note his fandom and add that we would all be the poorer if La Rondine weren’t performed periodically, despite its modestness. It’s a good Puccini primer, filled with waltzes, melodies, two arias (one perhaps more famous than the entire rest of the opera) and a duet. It further makes Puccini’s higher-profile operas even more impressive by comparison.

The creative team at Winter Opera chose well with La Rondine because it benefits from a tighter production and the stage at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. Smaller is better for this opera, something that scenic designer Scott Loebl and stage director Erica Gibson understood, even as swapped Puccini’s original setting from France’s Second Empire era to the “roaring” 1920s. Amy Hopkins’ costume designs were perfectly matched to the updated era, as well.

The updated setting, replete with a raised chessboard-like black and white floor, allowed Gibson to move the characters move like pawns throughout the action. Although the motivation’s of Magda, especially her decision to return to her “old life” in the conclusion of the third act, aren’t understandable or compelling by modern sensibilities, this doesn’t detract from this production. “Who cares?! It’s Puccini,” is latent throughout.

Photo by Rebecca Haas

Puccini placed the La Rondine’s famous aria, “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta,” early in Act One. The piece’s soaring phrases offer sopranos the opportunity to impress an audience. In Winter Opera’s production, soprano Karen Kanakis as Magda compellingly sang the aria with her lilting, floating top notes. The piece ends with the “What do riches matter if true happiness blossoms?” Kanakis delivers this question with  such truth and honesty that it sets up the tragedy of the finale, which turns this line from rhetorically hopeful into sadly ironic.

Matching Kanakis’ performance was tenor Nathan Schafer as Ruggero. Schafer overcame some of the weaknesses of the character through his performance’s clarity and warmth. His duets with Magda were some of the best, even as he had to animate Ruggero’s one-dimensionality (as written). Equally strong were Nicholas Huff as Prunier, Lauren Nash Silberstein as Lisette and baritone Jacob Lassetter as Rambaldo – as well as the chorus.

Bubbling beneath the Winter Opera singer was the orchestra, conducted by Scott Schoonover, artistic director of Union Avenue Opera. The modest size of the orchestra was enlarged by the restrained size and good acoustics of the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center. 

Winter Opera is off to a terrific start with La Rondine, leaving only the question of how they will meet or exceed this accomplishment with the rest of the season’s offerings – Verdi’s MacBeth in January and Sigmund Romberg’s The Desert Song in March.

Photo by Rebecca Haas

By C.B. Adams
While waiting for the curtain to rise on Dance St. Louis’ 57th-season opener on Friday, Nov. 4, I Googled whether David Bowie had ever opined about dance. I was interested because this evening’s performance at the Touhill Performing Arts Center was “Stardust: From Bach to Bowie” by the NYC-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

And sure enough, the Google gods provided something Bowie once tossed out to Conan O’Brien: “I don’t know how many times someone has come up to me and said, ‘Hey, Let’s dance!’ I hate dancing. God, it’s stupid.”

That’s a funny, quotable line, and one that I’m sure he didn’t really mean. It’s hard to imagine a rock icon whose recommended reading list ranged from Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson” to “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess and from “Passing” by Nella Larson to Julian Jaynes’ “The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind” would have really found dance at Complexion’s high level stupid.

Bowie was no dancer, but his innovative, chameleon-like stage presence revealed a theatricality and an understanding of rhythm, movement, lighting, clothing and presentation. His personas, from glam to glum, revealed an awareness of a certain sort of dance language, much like David Byrne of the Talking Heads (think of the way he moved in that Big Suit, or more recently, his “American Utopia” dance-adjacent performance). If dance (classical ballet to contemporary) works in sentences and paragraphs, then Bowie worked in specific words. In this regard, think Michael Jackson and that single, sequined raised glove.

All of this highlights the successful blending of Bowie and ballet achieved by Complexions’ co-founder and choreographer Dwight Rhoden in the piece “Stardust.” In a recent interview with the “Los Angeles Times” about “Stardust,” Rhoden says, “…there’s a little Bowie in all of us… There’s so much imagery in the lyrics, there’s so many personas and characters and colors to his personality that it just lends itself to a performance of some kind.”

Complexions is masterful at this type of pop culture and contemporary dance mash-ups that have included the music of Marvin Gaye, Lenny Kravitz and Metallica. Beyond the novelty of these collaborations, it’s the versatility, athleticism and adeptness of the company that elevates the approach from performance to art while incorporating a wide range of elements from hip-hop to modern and classical ballet.

“Stardust” consists of nine Bowie songs, each with its own choreography and each lip synced by one or more of the dancers. The sequence begins with “Lazarus,” a song from Bowie’s last studio album (“Blackstar”) and his last single released before his death. This is followed by a “best of” sequence of songs spanning Bowie’s career, including “Changes,” “Modern Love” and “Young Americans.”

Each of the dancers had their own Bowie identity that drew from his iconic array of hairstyles, face paints and costumes. It was a nice reminder of how innovative the gender- and genre-bending Bowie was, especially in his glam-rock era. With no sets and minimal staging (and spot-on lighting by Michael Korsch), the emphasis was clearly on the choreography and execution by the dancers.

The program lists the dancers only as “The Company,” so instead of individual names, it’s best to refer to songs. Collectively, The Company is an exceptionally – and exceptionally equally talented – group of dancers that delivered an impressive range of strength, intensity, athleticism, expressiveness and technical prowess.

Of the nine choreographies, one of the standouts was certainly “Space Oddity,” during which the lead dancer confidently strode across the stage on pointe, then held a very Bowie-esque position for an extended, intense moment. Another standout was “Heroes,” danced to Peter Gabriel’s slow, extended cover of the song from his “Scratch My Back” album. Fans of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” might recognize this version of the song, which benefits from the slow treatment, reminiscent of Michael Andrews’ “Donnie Darko” soundtrack cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” The Company’s ensemble work on “Heroes” was exceptionally fluid and evocative.

The weakest of the series was “1984.” The choreography was not as interpretive, robust or visually interesting as the others. The dancer, clad in a leotard that was more Mary Lou Retton than Thin White Duke, wasn’t given movements as challenging or wowie “Zowie” as the others.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

“Stardust” may have attracted the most attention, but it comprised only the second half of the Complexion’s program. The evening began with “Hissy Fits” after a rousing, pre-show “Happy Birthday” to Michael Uthoff, Dance St. Louis’ Artistic Director. “Hissy Fits” applies a frenetic, slinky, edgy choreography to some traditional melodies of J.S. Bach (heavy on the Glenn Gould interpretations).

Perhaps because “Hissy Fits” was more finely integrated from one Bach piece to the next, rather than discrete Bowie songs, it felt stronger and more “of a piece.” It was tempting to take it more seriously. Not better, per se, but certainly different. It was a strong piece and good choice to introduce the Complexions company.

As “Hissy Fits” opened with a fogged stage and the dancers beautifully illuminated (Michael Korsch’s lighting design for the entire show as stellar). Clad in nude-colored shorts and leotards, the dancers were statuesque in contrast to the lively, sinuous, complicated choreography that lived up to its name. “Hissy Fits” was more lyrical than “Stardust” and it is tempting to describe it as more balletic and classical, but not at the expense of its contemporary street dance elements. It’s a complicated piece about complicated feelings of frustration, bordering on hysteria.

The performance ended with a long-lasting, well-deserved standing ovation. As Bowie once observed, “Gentleness clears the soul, love cleans the mind and makes it free.” Gentleness, love and freedom shone through the dancers and the passionate choreography linked the two halves of the soulful program.

By CB Adams

It goes against form to start a symphony review (or any review for that matter) by pointing out the limits of words to describe a performance. Even the inestimable writer Virginia Woolf, when attempting to describe paintings in a 1920s essay, wrote, “But words, words! How inadequate you are! How weary one gets of you.” If words can fail the masterful Woolf, there’s not much hope for the rest of us – though she more than adequately spent the rest of the essay brilliantly describing the art, anyway.

Still, words are our medium. Thus, perhaps the best that can be said for the Friday, Oct. 21 performance of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, directed by Stéphane Denève, is: You had to be there. The same could no doubt be said for the Oct. 22 performance, too.

If you were there, you know how the orchestra, along with the SLSO Chorus, performed a powerfully emotional quadtych of complementary compositions (two by Francis Poulenc, and one each by Florent Schmitt and Reena Esmail). Denève has an avowed passion for Poulenc, a sentiment he reinforced in his introduction to the evening’s performance. “I looooove Poulenc!” he proclaimed from the podium.

Poulenc comprised the second half of the evening’s bill, and Denève avoided giving the Schmitt and Esmail compositions short shrift by describing the interconnected themes of love, faith, dedication and sacrifice. The well-considered choices to explore these themes added up to an entirely fulfilling and engaging experience while locally premiering Esmail’s “Testament” (From “Vishwas”) and the 12-movement “Stabat Mater” by Poulenc.

Jeanine De Bique

The strength of this concert was, at a macro level, the focus on love, faith, dedication and sacrifice. That focus was often filtered through a religious perspective. “Testament,” the final movement of a three-part composition for classical Indian dancer and orchestra, illuminates the fervent belief and hunger strike of a 15th-century poet.

Schmitt’s “The Tragedy of Salome,” is a symphonic suite that presents the sacrifice of virginal innocence, exemplified by its femme fatale protagonist, Salome of Biblical fame. The piece climaxes with a Stravinskian crash in the “Dance of Fear” movement.

Poulenc’s “Stabat Mater” uses the setting of a 13th-century hymn in Latin to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus. The final scene from his opera “Dialogues of the Carmelites” presents a cast of nuns conversing about “anguish, fear, and the human condition.” It ends with their systematic beheadings, complete with guillotine sound effect.

Heavy stuff – indeed. But words fall short of the ultimately cathartic and uplifting nature of the SLSO’s performance. It was akin to attending a Greek tragedy. As Friedrich Nietzsche has observed: experiencing tragedy through art can lead to a meaningful affirmation of our own existence.

The success of this slate of compositions relies on the pieces themselves, the interplay of styles, themes and influences, and the performance by the SLSO and chorus. The sequence of pieces began with a religious person’s hunger strike, continued with the decapitation of John the Baptist, focused on the intense loss of Jesus’ crucifixion and concluded with the execution of 16 nuns. Although this description might sound unappealingly grisly, it was anything but. In sum, it was a satisfying, cerebral experience.

The orchestra, under Denève’s direction, was clean, confident and balanced – as usual. The “exotic” elements in the Esmail and Schmitt compositions were not exaggerated. Neither were the 16 uses of the guillotine sound effect during the “Dialogues of the Carmelites.” The effect was quite similar to the one used during The Muny’s production of “Sweeney Todd” this past summer.  

The addition of the chorus, guest directed by Scott Allen Jarrett, for the Poulenc pieces was a welcome addition and filled the stage with an aural presence that only a large choir can bring.

Reena Esmail

The highlight of the performance was certainly the SLSO debut of soprano Jeanine De Bique. Clad in blood red gown among the more soberly black dress of the rest of the musicians, De Bique delivered a beautiful and commanding performance, especially during the “Stabat Mater.”

The choice of works was innovative and balanced, and it certainly fits within this season’s overarching goal of journeying the world through music – compositions and musicians.

Through the fervency expressed in the works individually stood on their own, it was the cohesive ways the fit together to create a whole experience that proved most successful.

By Lynn Venhaus

Music: Yacht Rock Classics

“Baby Come Back,” “Still the One,” “You Are the Woman,” “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight,” “Every Time I Think of You,” “Magnet and Steel,” and more hits will be coming on Saturday night.

The Family Arena hosts an evening of Yacht Rock Classics as the Sail On tour docks on Saturday, Oct. 15, starting at 7 p.m.

So what is Yacht Rock exactly? Mostly soft-rock music popular from the mid-70s to the mid-80s.

The line-up includes Firefall, The Babys, Orleans, John Ford Coley (England Dan has passed), Walter Egan, and Peter Beckett from Player share the stage.

Good seats still available. For tickets:

Movie: “Into the Woods” Sing-along

The 2014 film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s classic “Into the Woods” gets a sing-along version, now streaming on Disney+.

The Rob Marshall-directed musical starred Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick and more in the fairy tale fantasy featuring Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack – each one on a quest to fulfill wishes.

Personal Note: I saw the acclaimed Broadway revival that’s been extended twice, now through Jan. 8 at the St. James. Such glorious voices and enchanting adaptation. The 2022 OBC soundtrack is out now, so search for it.
The cast was on the Today Show on Oct. 6. Here they are:

If you’d like to see a local production of “Into the Woods,” the Washington University Performing Arts Department is presenting the Sondheim musical starting Friday, Oct. 21 through Oct. 23 and then Oct. 28-30, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Edison Theatre on the Washington University campus. For more information,

Local Stage: Greek Mythology + 31 Songs

Planning to see “Hadestown” at the Fox?

Here is the review by Chas Adams, one of our wonderful website writers:

I talked about it on KTRS Wednesday morning.

Carl the Intern and I talked about it on the podcast today/

TV: “I Love You, You Hate Me”

This 3-part docuseries on Peacock Premium explores the rise and eventually violent response to Barney the Dinosaur.

As a mom of a preschooler who loved that purple dinosaur (and we stood in line at St Clair Square for several hours to see ‘him’), this is a fascinating dive into the ‘real’ story, using interviews and archival footage.

Five things we learned, according to Variety:

Word: #MeToo

On this date in 2017, Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too.’” It prompted a flood of replies across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

More than a viral hashtag, #MeToo is a social movement against sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape culture, in which people publicize their experiences of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.