Million Dollar Quartet

Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all met and played together in an impromptu jam session, which Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet.” Sam had rolled tape that afternoon, from which several albums have ensued. The quartet had primarily played old gospel songs, because those were the ones that they all knew. Last night, we enjoyed the musical version of this story at the Rep. In this version of Million Dollar Quartet gospel is paid its due, with songs like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace in the Valley”, but the main event is all rock and roll. With twenty-two tunes in the show, there are way too many to enumerate here.

It is the intervals that make this play much more than an Elvis impersonation. The spaces between the songs, where we are given a glimpse at how these legends worked and interacted. That Christmas was a turbulent time for Phillips and Sun. Cash’s contract was up for renewal and RCA was trying to acquire Phillips’ services to help manage Presley. Sam had only a year before sold the rights to Elvis for $40,000, to keep Sun afloat. RCA’s initial response to that offer had been, “We can buy the World Series for less than that.” Acting as MC, Phillips rises above this squabbling sea of virtuosos and rides the rising tide to historical vindication, but not before a host of some mighty fine tunes are performed. At the end of the second act, each member of the quartet ‘solos’ with one of their signature songs: “Hound Dog” for Elvis, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” for Cash, “See you Later Alligator” for Perkins and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” for Lewis. The last two are played out as encores, hyping the rock concert feel of the show. The crowd was on its feet well before the lights came up and it was announced that Elvis had left the building.

To Kill A Mockingbird

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. In Harper Lee’s seminal work, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch has two children, Jem and Scout and neither of them would ever believe that he was once a child. The measured patience that Atticus routinely demonstrates only serves to reinforce this belief. They would be quick to tell you that this is because he is old, “He never does anything except read.” This is a young child’s view of their parent. In Mockingbird, Lee tells us, through the eyes of a child, a story of racism and rape, set in 1930s small town Alabama. Much of the story is not very child appropriate, but Ms. Lee has imbued her wonderful characters with such grace that to hear a child tell this story makes the perfect sense.

Anne and I saw To Kill a Mockingbird performed last night on the stage of the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Unusually for us, we saw this play that is based upon the book, performed at the beginning of its run, instead of as is more usual for us, at its end. Jem (Ronan Ryan) and Scout (Kaylee Ryan) are played by twins, giving these two young actors a natural bond to work from. Jonathan Gillard Daly ably performs the role of Atticus and the rest of the cast is also well turned out. An interesting difference between this play and the more famous film is that in the courtroom scenes the jury was not cast. Instead, here the actors address the audience as if we are the ones sitting in the jury box.

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

In 2012, I was a juror on a Saint Louis County rape trial. Save for his accuser, the defendant who was a black man, he was the only other African-American in the courtroom. Through the jury selection process, the prosecutor introduced us to the tenants of his case. The female arresting officer reinforced these points and the accuser, the defendant’s niece, confirmed them. The as advertised on TV defense attorney was certainly no Atticus Finch, but he ably got his job done. Only in retrospect and upon reflection can I now see how he did it.

The state’s most damning evidence was a video recording of the defendant’s confession, which was the result of a four-and-a-half hour interrogation. I bet that the prosecution only wanted to show the last half-hour of that recording. The part that showed the confession and not the preceding four hours that showed the coercion that he had endured. Remember, that this trial occurred before Ferguson. I was shocked at the behavior of the police. As drawn-out as most court proceedings are, it took us all day to watch that recording.

I didn’t sleep well that night. The next day, the fourth day, the last day, the jury was given the case. Our one and only vote was unanimously for not guilty. We then proceeded to pick apart the prosecutors case. Then we called for the bailiff. We had punctiliously followed our instructions, but while we were idly waiting to be called to render our verdict, one of our number started a game of hangman. The prosecutor received our verdict with both anger and petulance. Outside the courtroom, the defendant and his team thanked us individually. I felt only relief.

Until the Flood

[White] Mask, David Moore, 1971

[White] Mask, David Moore, 1971

Ferguson, Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, two years after these names were first in the news, they still sting the ears. Until the Flood just finished its run at the Saint Louis Repertory Theater. Written by and starring Dael Orlandersmith, this one-woman, one-act play is both short and intense. Ms. Orlandersmith portrays a host of Saint Louisans, black and white, young and old, male and female. Each new voice adds another viewpoint to the events of two summers ago, when long simmering problems came to a boil and thrust Saint Louis into the unwanted glare of the national spotlight. In the intervening two years some good has come out of that summer’s tragedy, the Black Lives Matter movement was born and has gone national, federally mandated local municipal reform has corrected some of the most egregious inequities that helped to precipitate the troubles in  Ferguson and this play that reminds us once again, less we forget, of our community’s feelings of both outrage and shame about the events in Ferguson.

Follies

[Blue] Mask, David Moore, 1971

[Blue] Mask, David Moore, 1971

Another day, another play, well really another evening, this time it was at the Rep and the evening’s show was the Stephen Sondheim musical, Follies. This offering is the Rep’s season opener in what is director Steve Woolf and his company’s 50th anniversary season. A hearty job well done is in order for everyone involved. Anne and I have been going to the Rep through most this fifty year run and have enjoyed almost all of their offerings. This particular play is quite the extravaganza, befitting its rather prestigious role. It boasts a large cast, a beautiful set and many stunning costumes. Another special shoutout is in order for Joneal Joplin, the hardest working actor in Saint Louis. The play’s story is:

Follies Poster

Follies Poster

The story concerns a reunion in a crumbling Broadway theatre, scheduled for demolition, of the past performers of the “Weismann’s Follies”, a musical revue (based on the Ziegfeld Follies), that played in that theatre between the world wars. It focuses on two couples, Buddy & Sally and Benjamin & Phyllis, who are attending the reunion. Sally and Phyllis were showgirls in the Follies. Both couples are deeply unhappy with their marriages. Buddy, a traveling salesman, is having an affair with a girl on the road; Sally is still as much in love with Ben as she was years ago; and Ben is so self-absorbed that Phyllis feels emotionally abandoned. Several of the former showgirls perform their old numbers, sometimes accompanied by the ghosts of their former selves.

Peter the Star Catcher

Moonlight Coastal Scene, Robert Salmon, 1836

Moonlight Coastal Scene, Robert Salmon, 1836

After viewing the “Saint Louis Modern” show, I started to wander around the rest of the museum, just to see what new elements of the collection were now on display. I found this painting and was attracted to it by its nautical theme. While I was viewing it and taking its photo, one of the museum’s guards approached me and asked, “Do you like it?” I assented and she began to regale me with her history with the painting. She first found it downstairs in the decorative arts part of the museum, it was part of a period room display, but it had been so poorly situated that no one could really see it. She had asked an electrician to at least throw a spot on it, but was evidently surprised and pleased with herself to find it now on display in one of the museum’s main halls. She just wanted me to know. I call it an art education.

This painting also serves well for discussion of the Rep’s Christmas show, “Peter the Star Catcher”, which we saw yesterday afternoon. “Star Catcher” is a “Peter Pan” prequel that was co-written by the humorist Dave Barry. Barry offers us part “Pirates of Penances” and part “Pirates of the Caribbean”. It was funny, the jokes were good — no they weren’t, they were bloody awful, but let’s not split rabbits. All of the characters were there by the end of the play, Peter, the lost boys, the mermaids, the Indians, the pirates, the croc, Nana, Smee, Captain Hook and even Tinkerbell, all except Wendy. In her place we have Molly, played by the only female actor in the company. The play is the story of how these characters came to become themselves, in “Peter Pan”.

I and You

Leigh Gerdine of Webster's College of Fine Arts

Leigh Gerdine of Webster’s College of Fine Arts

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fiber your blood.
Next to last verse from Song of Myself

I and You Program

I and You Program

Anne and I went out last night to celebrate my not being let go. We did dinner and a show. Dinner was at Big Sky, my favorite Webster restaurant, where I had my favorite Big Sky dish, the pot roast. Big Sky is all about American comfort food. The show, “I and You”,  was in the Studio Theater, which is a nice way of saying the basement of the Loretto-Hilton. Here is the Rep’s synopsis of the play: 

Anthony is an effortlessly popular “A” student; Caroline is a prickly cynic, homebound with a serious illness. This unlikely duo sits in Caroline’s room, trying to cobble together a homework report on Walt Whitman’s epic poem, “Song of Myself” in one night. As they work and procrastinate, argue and compromise, the teens begin to uncover each other’s hidden depths. Full of surprising humor and emotion, “I and You” explores bravery in the face of an uncertain future and the unique, mysterious connections that bind us.

“Prickly cynic” is one way to describe Caroline. I might have gone stronger there. Anthony motivations are less clear and his selfless persona aside, this unknown engendered suspicion in both Caroline and me. Lauren Gunderson has convincingly captured modern American teen speech with her writing. I can hardly wait to begin invoking some of the lexicon. The play’s title is derived from the homework assignment, they are supposed to report on Walt Whitman’s use of pronouns, which is eventually explained with such extemporaneous flair that I wish that I could have been an English major. This one-act, two person, 90 minute play can at times seem like a slog, but its ending makes it all worthwhile.