Season-opening classical concerts at Stifel Theatre September 23-24, led by Denève, feature violinist Hilary Hahn in Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto; concerts also include Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, W.A. Mozart’s The Magic Flute Overture, and Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

In September 29-30 concerts at the UMSL Touhill Performing Arts Center, Denève conducts Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, and first SLSO performances of Unsuk Chin’s subito con forza; pianist Jonathan Biss performs Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto to begin the season’s complete cycle of Beethoven Piano Concertos

(August 24, 2023, St. Louis, MO) – Today, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra announced details of its September classical concerts to open its 144th season, led by Stéphane Denève in his fifth season as Music Director. Concerts feature superstar violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Jonathan Biss, both of whom return to the SLSO for the first time in more than a decade to perform monumental concertos by Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven. These opening concerts follow the SLSO’s ceremonial opening of the season, the free community concert in Forest Park on Thursday, September 21.

Tickets start at $15 and are on sale now. Tickets may be purchased at slso.org or by calling the Box Office at 314-534-1700. A full concert calendar is available at slso.org or on the SLSO’s mobile app available for iOS or Android.  The Saturday, September 30, concert will be broadcast live on 90.7 FM KWMU St. Louis Public Radio, Classic 107.3, and online. Audiences can attend a Pre-Concert Conversation, an engaging discussion about the music and artists on the program, one hour prior to each concert. 

While the expansion and renovation of Powell Hall continues, the SLSO will perform classical concerts at two landmark performance venues: Stifel Theatre in downtown St. Louis (September 23-24) and the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis (September 29-30). Shuttle service will be available for all classical concerts starting at $15/seat. There will be two shuttle pick-up locations for performances at Stifel Theatre: Plaza Frontenac and St. Louis Community College–Forest Park. Shuttles for performances at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at UMSL will depart from Plaza Frontenac and free parking is available on UMSL campus.

Conductor Stephane Deneve, now in his fifth year

Opening Weekend with Hilary Hahn

Saturday, September 23, 2022, 7:30pm CDT
Sunday, September 24, 2022, 3:00pm CDT
Stifel Theatre
1400 Market Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63103

Stéphane Denève, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin

Richard Strauss                                      Don Juan
Felix Mendelssohn                                Violin Concerto
W.A. Mozart                                           The Magic Flute Overture
Paul Dukas                                               The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Richard Strass                                         Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks

Presented by the Thomas A. Kooyumjian Family Foundation.

The SLSO’s season-opening concerts led by Denève meld grandeur, enchantment, and jollity. The program begins with Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem Don Juan, which tells the adventures of the legendary character Don Juan. Violinist Hilary Hahn delivers the heart of the concert with performances of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The concerto is famous for its lyrical melodies and is one of the most beloved concertos in the violin repertoire. Hahn’s most recent performance with the SLSO was 21 years ago. She is a three-time Grammy winner and one of the foremost violinists of our time, known for her exceptional musicianship and her commitment to expanding the accessibility of classical music through her educational partnerships and through her social media engagement.

The program continues with a trio of playful works including W.A. Mozart’s The Magic Flute Overture, Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. The Magic Flute, considered one of Mozart’s most famous works, overflows with dynamic and captivating melodies. Dukas’ piecetells the story of an enchanted broomstick, a piece made famous for its inclusion is Disney’s Fantasia. The excitement continues through to the final work, Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks which is based on a trickster from German folklore.

Beethoven’s Piano Cycle: Jonathan Biss Plays the First
Friday, September 29, 10:30am CDT*
Saturday, September 30, 7:30pm CDT
Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis 
1 Touhill Circle, St. Louis, Missouri, 63121 

Stéphane Denève, conductor
Jonathan Biss, piano

Ludwig van Beethoven                        Coriolan Overture
Unsuk Chin                                              subito con forza (First SLSO performances)
Ludwig van Beethoven                        Piano Concerto No. 1
Robert Schumann                                 Symphony No. 4

*Refreshments courtesy of Kaldi’s Coffee and Eddie’s Southtown Donuts.

September 29-30 concerts honor the composer Ludwig van Beethoven. The program opens with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, inspired by Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s play “Coriolan,” which tells the story of the Roman general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus who seeks revenge against Rome. Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s subito con forza was composed in 2020, the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Inspired by the Coriolan Overture, the piece references some of Beethoven’s most well-known music, his Symphony No. 5 and Piano Concerto No. 5, which the SLSO will perform later this season.

Pianist Jonathan Biss collaborates with the SLSO for the first time in 15 years in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the first of all five Beethoven piano concertos performed by the SLSO this season. One of today’s foremost Beethoven experts, Biss recorded an audio book, Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven, in 2020 where he details his complex relationship with the composer. Like Biss and Chin, the composer Robert Schumann took inspiration from Beethoven. In his Fourth Symphony, Schumann develops a motif throughout the four movements in a similar cyclic form to Beethoven’s works, and dramatic shifts in mood and dark orchestral textures reveal Beethoven’s influence.

SLSO at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 
Sunday, October 1, 3:00pm CDT
Krannert Center for Performing Arts at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 
500 S Goodwin Ave, Urbana, Illinois, 61801 

Denève, Biss, and the SLSO take the September 29-30 program to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Krannert Center for Performing Arts—the SLSO’s third visit to the university since Denève became Music Director.

The SLSO’s 144th season runs through May 2024. For more information, visit slso.org.

About the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Celebrated as one of today’s most exciting and enduring orchestras, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is the second-oldest orchestra in the country, marking its 144th year with the 2023/2024 season and its fifth with Music Director Stéphane Denève. Widely considered one of the leading American orchestras, the Grammy® Award-winning SLSO maintains its commitment to artistic excellence, educational impact, and community collaborations—all in service to its mission of enriching lives through the power of music. 

The transformational expansion and renovation of its historic home, Powell Hall, slated to be completed in 2025, builds on the institution’s momentum as a civic leader in convening individuals, creators, and ideas, while fostering a culture welcoming to all. Committed to building community through compelling and inclusive musical experiences, the SLSO continues its longstanding focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and access, embracing its strengths as a responsive, nimble organization, while investing in partnerships locally and elevating its presence globally. For more information, visit slso.org

About the University of Missouri–St. Louis Touhill Performing Arts Center

Designed by the renowned architectural firm I.M. Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners, the Touhill Performing Arts Center is a landmark performance facility on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). The Touhill at UMSL hosts an average of 120 events, 200 performances, and 90,000 visitors per year.

The Touhill at UMSL staff manages several collaborative relationships and programs that, along with campus and community partners, to bring together a diverse season of dance, theatre, music, festivals, and special events.

Stifel Theatre interior

About Stifel Theatre

Stifel Theatre is a historic, 3,100 seat theatre in the heart of downtown St. Louis. Originally opened in 1934, Stifel Theatre’s stage has welcomed some of entertainment’s greatest performers and was the primary venue for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra from 1934-1968. Following a $78.7 million restoration, this historical gem has been restored to its original splendor and undergone state-of-the-art upgrades.

Stifel Theatre plays host to a wide variety of events, including concerts, comedies, theatricals, family shows, holiday productions and more.

Emmy Award-winning US Air Force Band of Mid-America to Perform “Spirit of the Season” at Touhill December 2

The US Air Force Band of Mid-America will present its annual “Spirit of the Season” holiday concert at the Touhill Performing Arts Center’s Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall (1 University Blvd, St Louis, MO) on Friday, December 2nd at 7:00pm.

Admission to this holiday performance is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Please go to https://usafboma.eventbrite.com for ticket and show information.

Presented in partnership with the Touhill Performing Arts Center, this is a family-friendly, all-ages event. This year’s event features a special guest reading of “Hababy’s Christmas Eve” by Santa himself. This is the first year this particular story has been featured in one of their concerts. It is based on the book by Jamie Farr (Klinger from MASH) with music written by Band of Mid-America’s Staff Composer & Arranger, Master Sgt. Jeremy Martin.

After the performance, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available to meet with young guests.

A recorded version of a previous “Spirit of the Season” concert that has aired on over a dozen TV stations across the Midwest recently won the NATAS Mid-America Regional Emmy for Arts & Entertainment Long Form Content.

The United States Air Force Band of Mid-America represents the professionalism and excellence found every day throughout the United States Air Force. During this concert you will hear many of your holiday favorites played by groups ranging in size and genre from our smaller quintets to our jazz band and concert band. All musicians are stationed at Scott AFB in Illinois.

Small ensembles and Air Force representatives are available for interview related performances to promote the holiday concert. Please contact marla@marqueemediastl.com to make arrangements.

USAF Band of Mid-America

Organizer of Spirit of the Season

The United States Air Force Band of Mid-America is the principal musical ambassador of Headquarters Air Mobility Command. These talented Air Force musicians have had the distinction of performing for Pope John Paul II, Presidents George W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter, the Queen of the Netherlands, and hundreds of other US and foreign leaders. The band performs free civic outreach and recruiting concerts for audiences throughout the Midwest, playing more than 400 engagements each year. In its broader travels, the band has performed in New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, the Gulf Coast, Germany, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Barbados, Grenada, Guatemala, Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Azores.  Whether recording or performing for live, radio, and television audiences, band members reflect Air Force excellence to millions of people each year.

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.

At the Touhill Performing Arts Center, Saturday, November 5

Popular “game-changing” New York City-based company performs blockbuster hit STAR DUST, an “utterly transfixing” tribute
to the life and music 
of David Bowie

Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater virtuosos
Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson

Dance St. Louis, one of the country’s oldest and remaining nonprofit dance presenters, kicks off its 57th season on Saturday, November 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Touhill Performing Arts Center with the presentation of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the award-winning, “game-changing” New York City-based company that has been lauded for reinventing dance and contemporary ballet. Complexions is set to perform its blockbuster hit STAR DUST, an “utterly transfixing” (Billboard) tribute to the life and music of David Bowie, full of glitter and glam. Tickets are $45-$69 and available through MetroTix.com. 2022/23 season subscription packages—2-show, 3-show, 4-show—are also still available through the Dance St. Louis Box Office at 314.534.6622 or dancestlouis.org


Critics hail STAR DUST as “spellbinding” (Billboard) and “simply one of the most exciting performances… a rock concert” (Washington Post). Featuring some of David Bowie’s best-loved music, including “Let’s Dance,” “Space Oddity,” “Heroes,” “Young Americans,” “Life on Mars,” and more, STAR DUST takes on an array of Bowie’s greatest hits to create a rock-inspired ballet in his honor

STAR DUST is choreographed by Complexions’ co-founder and artistic director Dwight Rhoden who says, “there is a little Bowie in all of us” (Los Angeles Times, 2018) and notes in the same article that Bowie was “so courageous and unafraid to reinvent himself over and over and over again” and “his music is timeless.”  STAR DUST’s glam-rock costumes are designed by Christine Darch, with makeup inspired by Bowie’s alternating personas of Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke. Lighting design is by Michael Korsch. With Bowie’s 40+ year career and 25 albums that stretch across musical borders, STAR DUST pays homage to the iconic and chameleonic spirit and genre-bending innovation of David Bowie


Complexions Contemporary Ballet was founded in 1994 by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater virtuosos Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson— “two of the greatest virtuosos to ever emerge from Ailey land” (The New York Times). In its 28-year history, the company has come to represent one of the most recognized and respected performing arts brands in the world.  

Through its evocative style and groundbreaking mix of methods, styles and cultures, Complexions has awakened audiences to a new, exciting genre with its singular approach of reinventing dance and contemporary ballet. Complexions’ high-octane movement astonishes audiences by pairing its fierce evocative style with musical ranges from Lenny Kravitz and David Bowie to Johann Bach. With stunning, gifted dancers and powerful choreography, Complexions has been hailed as a “matchless American dance company” (Philadelphia Inquirer). 

Complexions has received numerous awards including The New York Times Critics’ Choice Award. It has performed on major stages throughout the United States and Europe and toured extensively throughout the Baltic Regions, Korea, Brazil, Japan, Egypt, Israel, Russia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Serbia, Jamaica, and Australia. In total, the company has presented on five continents, more than 20 countries, to more than 20 million television viewers and to well over 300,000 people in live audiences. The company is poised to continue its mission of bringing unity to the world one dance at a time

More information about Complexions Contemporary Ballet can be found on Dance St. Louis’ website or Complexion’s website at complexionsdance.org


Tickets are $45-$69 and available via MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/dsl-complexions.

2022/23 season subscriptions (2-show, 3-show and 4-show packages) are also still available for ticket buyers interested in attending more of Dance St. Louis’ season presentations. Season ticket packages start at $80 and are available directly through the Dance St. Louis Box Office at 314.534.6622. More details at dancestlouis.org/22-23-season-subscription


“Companies like Complexions are game-changing: they’re forging a path for what ballet can be instead of what it historically has been.” — The Guardian

“…sensationally, jaw-droppingly clear that we live in the age of the super-dancer, at a time when technical virtuosity is being redefined as an expressive state…” — Dance Magazine

“…one expects to see magnificent athletic endeavors, intriguing movement invention, and perfectly contoured bodies—and the company always delivers.”  — Theater Jones

“Rhoden’s work is post-Balanchinean choreography, a new aesthetic in movement, stage picture, and performance concepts reflecting a post-modern, techno-savvy worldview.” — Dance Magazine


Dance St. Louis is grateful for sponsor support to continue its nearly six decades-long mission to bring world-class dance to St. Louis. Major sponsors of the 2022-23 season include Ameren, Edward Jones, Emerson, Kranzberg Arts Foundation, Drs. Susan and Dan Luedke, Missouri Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Regional Arts Commission, The Shubert Foundation, Mary Strauss and Whitaker Foundation. Bayer Fund is the education outreach title sponsor. 


Dance St. Louis continues to be recognized as the leading dance presenter in St. Louis and the Midwest. The remaining 2022-23 season presentations:  Giordano Dance ChicagoSaturday, February 25, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. | Touhill Performing Arts Center
Dorrance DanceSaturday, March 25, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. | Touhill Performing Arts Center
15th Annual Emerson SPRING TO DANCE® Festival 2023 Presented by Whitaker FoundationFriday and Saturday, May 26 & 27, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. | Touhill Performing Arts Center 

For tickets or more information on the Dance St. Louis 2022-23 season, please visit https://www.dancestlouis.org


About Dance St. LouisFounded in 1966, Dance St. Louis has been bringing the greatest dance of the world to St. Louis audiences for more than 56 years. Dance St. Louis is dedicated to the enrichment of the cultural landscape and artistic reputation of St. Louis by presenting world-class dance and educational opportunities that make dance accessible to everyone. Dance St. Louis also conducts a broad range of education programs for the St. Louis community. Each year, the Bayer Fund Education Outreach Program introduces schoolchildren to the magic of dance through in-school residencies and mainstage performances. For more information, please visit https://www.dancestlouis.org

Based on the timeless Disney film that introduced the world to the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” Mary Poppins brings a surplus of joy and wonder to the Variety Theatre stage. Boasting a cast of St. Louis’ top theatrical talents and a children’s ensemble featuring kids of all ability levels, Mary Poppins runs Oct. 18-27 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

Every year, Variety Theatre selects a musical that provides wonderful entertainment alongside a powerful message for families to take home. For all its rollicking adventures and musical numbers, Mary Poppinsis the story of a father learning to love his children as they are and see the world through their eyes. 

The magic of Mary Poppins opens his eyes and rescues a family in distress.  There is no doubt about this as she brings on the fun and flies over the audience to the top of the opera house.  Even her friend Bert captivates everyone with his “proscenium walk” during the famous “Step in Time” number.  He will tap dance up the side of the stage, upside down over the top of the stage and back down the other side – while singing about how the chimney sweeps always come to the rescue when needed.

For Variety, this is an incredibly touching narrative that supports our mission of helping kids with disabilities, who often see the world in different ways. Instead of dismissing them, we all learn and grow more by meeting these children on their terms. It shouldn’t take a magical nanny to teach us that.

This is Variety Theatre’s eleventh annual Broadway musical production under the direction of Tony award nominee Lara Teeter.  The cast of professional actors along with a live orchestra under the direction of Dr. Mark Schapman embraces an inclusive children’s ensemble.  The dazzling  production includes sets by Dunsi Dai, costumes by Kansas City Costume Company, lighting designed by Nathan Scheuer, and sound design by Rusty Wandall – all award winners.  Each year they lend their talents to mentor Variety Theatre teens of all abilities who learn backstage production from the best.

The story of Mary Poppins’ as presented by Variety Theatre will bring an unforgettable experience to theatergoers, cast and crew alike. The objective of VT is to help children with disabilities achieve their full potential, opening up to them what is possible with the nurturing encouragement of others who share their passion for creative expression and the arts.  This special effort to bring together children of all abilities, under the direction and tutelage of seasoned performing arts professionals, creates a production that will not soon be forgotten.

WHO:   Mary Poppins, The Broadway MusicalWHAT: Variety TheatreWHERE: Touhill Performing Arts Center WHEN: October 18       10 am & 7:00 pm

            October 19       1:30 pm & 7:00 pm

            October 20       1:30 pm

October 25       10 am 

            October 26       1:30 pm & 7:00 pm

            October 27       1:30 pm

TICKETS: $18-$50 at www.touhill.org

About Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis

Variety empowers children with physical and developmental disabilities, also referred to as children with special needs, and improves their quality of life. Our programs highlight ability rather than disability. This holistic approach gives access to critical medical equipment and therapies, along with innovative Camp and Performing Arts programs, which provide opportunities for recreation, socialization, and artistic expression. Children gain or maintain independence, boost socialization among their friends and family, demonstrate belief in themselves, and increase skills they need to engage their world as fully as possible. www.varietystl.org

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Radiant performers in a shimmering production of “The Little Mermaid” chased the gloom away on a chilly, gray day, as their contagious joy on the Touhill stage was a sight to behold.
The 10th anniversary musical by Variety – the Children’s Charity of St. Louis — Theatre celebrated their special achievement as the only production of this kind in the U.S. in royal fashion Friday evening, their third of six performances Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 18 – 21.
What Variety Theatre has done in the past decade is truly remarkable – involving an inclusive children’s ensemble who learns theater mechanics, confidence and performing skills alongside a professional adult cast – in a first-rate production. The good cheer that emanates from everyone involved is something special – and it’s one of the high points of my theater-going every year.

Director and Choreographer Lara Teeter’s vision for this anniversary revival was inspired, especially emulating ocean movement and boosting minor roles.  He kept everything bright and breezy.
This year’s production designs are of highest quality, with a breathtaking fantasy seascape set by Dunsi Dai that incorporated ethereal views from the scrim. Nathan Scheuer’s lighting design enhanced the warm, wonderful make-believe world under the sea – and simulated storms and the dangers down below as well.  Rusty Wandall’s sound design astutely captured sounds of sea, sand and sky.
With superb aerial work, Berklea Going, as spunky Ariel, appeared to be swimming, and her realistic rescue of a sinking Prince Eric (David Bryant Johnson) was a stunner.
The 18-piece orchestra, expertly led by musical director Mark Schapman, pulled us into Menken and Ashman’s lush musical score, and the peppy calypso beat ramped up the fun.
That island vacation sound is personified by the lively Sebastian, the red-suited crab who tries to keep headstrong Ariel out of trouble. In a star-making performance, newcomer Michael Hawkins was a delight in song, dance and showmanship – and very funny.
With his lead on the show-stopping number, “Under the Sea,” the vibrant characters swirling in action were so splendid that they received an enthusiastic – and lengthy – standing ovation.
This year’s high-spirited cast portrayed Disney’s enchanting animated characters with great verve, from the vivid sea creatures, chefs and maids to the principals in familiar roles they made their own. Their glistening outfits from Kansas City Costume burst with color and imagination.
When Disney transformed the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a young mermaid who wants to live as a human into a full-length animated musical film in 1989, it was the start of a new era.
Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, who died in 1991, wrote Broadway-caliber songs for their original movie score of “The Little Mermaid,” so adapting it for the stage seemed like a logical step. However, it didn’t make it to Broadway until 2008, with additional songs by Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, and book by Doug Wright.
Ashman and Menken’s 1991 Oscar-nominated “Beauty and the Beast” came first to Broadway, in 1994 and enjoyed a 13-year run. As a special treat, Variety is fortunate to have the original “Beast,” three-time Tony nominee Terrence Mann, anchoring this production as King Triton.
With his glorious rich voice and commanding stage presence, the six-foot-tall Mann is sensational as the passionate and powerful ruler of the underwater kingdom, helping to make this show unforgettable.
His robust and regal performance is captivating, and even though he’s the marquee draw, Mann doesn’t allow himself to be center of attention, becoming an intrinsic part of the large ensemble as if it were his family.
A tip of the hat to the man who first became a star as Rum Tum Tugger in “Cats,” originated Javert in “Les Miserables,” and earned his third Tony nomination as Charlemagne in the Tony-winning 2013 revival of “Pippin.”
Along with the seamless integration of disabled youth in a children’s ensemble, as well as top-notch teens and adults, and dazzling production values, this is the best Variety musical yet. They feel like a family, for there is such warmth and affection expressed throughout the show.
From the adorable Ian Nolting as Flounder to the comical Alan Knoll as loyal Grimsby, the characters fit in both worlds.
The innovative flourishes to stand-out characters made them particularly memorable here. The agile Drew Humphrey, dandy as Scarecrow last year, charmed everyone as the wacky sidekick seagull Scuttle, and the nimble dance number “Positoovity” was a highlight in a show filled with them.
Joy Boland is a formidable villainess as wicked octopus Ursula, and her impressive sidekicks, Brandon Fink and Mason Kelso as evil electric eels Flotsam and Jetsam, were nimble foes.
Ariel’s lively Mer-Sisters were particularly strong, in songs and their comical family bickering – I looked forward to their appearance every time they sashayed out in their sequined outfits. complete with moving tails, and big-haired wigs.  The six spry siblings Chandler Ford as Aquata, Larissa White as Andrina, Corbyn Sprayberry as Arista, Dena DiGiancinto as Atina, Caitlyn Witty as Adella and Allison Newman as Allana were a hoot.
John Kinney as Chef Louis is another crowd-pleaser in madcap dinner number, “Les Poissons.”
Berklea Going was a likable Ariel, sweet-voiced and sincere, and she paired well with David Bryant Johnson as equally likable Prince Eric.
With its bright tempo, romantic story and charming characters, “The Little Mermaid” is a bubbly confection for children and adults alike. Variety’s production, infused with heart and humor, sparkled and shined.
Variety Theatre presents “The Little Mermaid” at 7 p.m. Oct. 18, 19 and 20, and also at 10 a.m. Oct. 19, 1:30 p.m. Oct. 20 and 1:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Touhill Center for the Performing Arts on the UMSL campus. For tickets or more information, visit www.touhill.org and www.varietystl.org.