By Lynn VenhausManaging EditorThree metro-east community theater groups and a veteran youth program won multiple awards at the 20th annual Best Performance Awards sponsored by Arts For Life on June 9. 

The awards recognize excellence in community and youth
musical theater, with 27 groups participating from St. Charles County to
Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois as part of the St Louis
Metropolitan area. It is the oldest and longest continually running theater
awards in St. Louis.

“Into the Woods” Curtain’s Up Theater CompanyCurtain’s Up Theater Company won six awards for its production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” including Best Large Ensemble Musical, Directors Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, Music Director Liz Murphy White, Costume Design Donna Saltamachia, Comedic Actress Miranda Mobley as Little Red and Supporting Actor Dennis Folwarczny as Cinderella’s Prince. It had received 16 nominations, the most for any show. The 1986 musical is a twist on Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of wishes and quests.

“Dames at Sea” Alfresco Productions“Dames at Sea” at Alfresco Productions won four,
for Best Small Ensemble Musical, Best Leading Actress Morgan Ladyman,
Supporting Actress Elizabeth Semko and Best Choreography Ashley Pavlige. It had
received 12 nominations. The 1966 musical romantic comedy is an homage to
nostalgic 1930s movie musicals.

Bryce Miller won Best Youth Actor for “Big Fish” from Shooting Star Productions“Big Fish” at Shooting Star Productions won six
awards in the youth categories: Best Youth Production, Best Choreography Ellen
Isom, Best Music Director Ross Bell, Best Actor Bryce Miller as Edward Bloom,
Best Supporting Actress Carolyn Karutz as The Witch and Best Set Design Marty
Strohmeyer and Christopher Phillips. It had received 14 nominations. Based on
the 2003 movie by Tim Burton, adapted from David Wallace’s 1998 book, “Big
Fish” tells the larger-than-life tale of traveling salesman Edward Bloom, a man
who leads an extraordinary life according to the stories he shares.

Mia Williams won Best Youth Actress as Rafiki in “The Lion King Jr.” from Goshen Theatre ProjectThe Goshen Theatre Project in Madison County won three
awards — for leading actress, Mia Williams, as Rafiki, and costume design
Terry Pattison, for “The Lion King Jr.” (the crowd gasped when the
walking giraffe came out and the kids came down the aisles in their animal
costumes), and another one for Terry Pattison for set design for “Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang.”

Glenn Guillermo in “Bells Are Ringing”

Winning two awards were Alpha Players of Florissant’s “Bells Are Ringing” for Cameo and Non-Singing Actor, while Christ Memorial Productions’ “The Wizard of Oz” won for Juvenile Performance and Non-Singing Actress, and Looking Glass Playhouse won lighting design for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and best actor for “Newsies.”.

Another first occurred – both the youth supporting actor
and adult featured actor won for playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and
Dolls” at Riverbend Theatre and Kirkwood Theatre Guild respectively, Spencer
Domer and Christopher Strawhun.

“Guys and Dolls” Riverbend TheatreThis year, 48 shows – 21 large, 7 small and 20 youth —
were eligible for BPA awards consideration, with 1,302 artists judged for
nominations. Trophies were awarded in 33 categories.

 “Theater is alive
and kicking in 2019 and local theaters in metro St. Louis and Illinois are to
be commended for a job well done,” McCreight said. “The awards are a wonderful way
for all actors and tech crews to celebrate and enjoy each other’s successes and
be recognized and rewarded.”

Since it began in 1998, AFL’s goal has been “Making a
Dramatic Difference” and is proud to salute, support and serve the theater
groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area. The non-profit organization
continues to be passionate about the healing power of the performing arts.

Morgan Ladyman, Best Actress as Ruby in “Dames at Sea”AFL President Mary McCreight said the group is dedicated to
promoting public awareness of local community theater, encouraging excellence
in the arts and acknowledging the incredible people who take part.

“St. Louis is an amazing city, especially for the arts.
There are over sixty theatre companies at home here, a third of which are
community theatre. As we watch music education and theatre programs rapidly die
in our schools, the need to keep community theatre alive is more important now
than ever,” McCreight said.

The best musical award was the first for Curtain’s Up
Theater Company, and with his win, director Glenn Saltamachia made AFL history.
He is the first person to win both Best Director Awards at the Best Performance
Awards and at the Theatre Mask Awards in April, which honors dramas and
comedies. He won the TMA for directing “Frost/Nixon” at Looking Glass Playhouse,
and that drama was tied with Actors’ Attic, for “The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-time,” as Best Play – Drama.

He shared the director’s award with Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, who
started as assistant director but made such an impact on set design, staging
and concept that he was billed as a co-director.

“It has been an incredible year! To win the TMA and BPA for
Directing in the same year is an honor I could never have dreamed of.  I have worked with two outstanding companies-
– LGP and CUTC, and I have been blessed and extremely lucky to have had
outstanding, talented, wonderful casts, production crews, technicians, and
musicians to work with,” Saltamachia said.

 “The honor is more a
reflection of their talent, hard work and determination than anything I have
brought to the table. I have always said my greatest talent as a director is
that I surround myself with extremely talented, capable people who share my
passion for good theatre. The fact that both my shows also won for Best
Ensemble in their respective categories proves my point,” he said.

Saltamachia said he was bit by the theater bug when as a
brand new second lieutenant in the Air Force, he auditioned for the Kessler Air
Force Base Little Theatre production of “Charley’s Aunt.”
“Throughout my Air Force career, I would participate in productions wherever we
were stationed when I had the time and circumstances allowed,” he said. “After
retiring from the Air Force in 1997 in Belleville, I began to hear of all the
great local community theaters, and in 1999, I got up the nerve to audition for
the Looking Glass Playhouse production of “Oliver!” and I’ve never stopped.”

Saltamachia has directed 10 shows for LGP since 2001, his
first being “The Odd Couple.” Then, he worked with some Edwardsville people who
were starting a theater company, Curtain’s Up. He appeared in “The Curious
Savage” and has directed six shows for them, the first was “Fiddler on the
Roof” in 2008.

Over the years, he has directed shows for Clinton County
Showcase in Breese, Hard Road Productions in Highland, and in Belleville, Brass
Rail Players, Downtown Players and Cathedral Players. 

“The thing I love most about directing is the process. I
love everything about it!  From script
analysis, planning conferences for concept development, set design and staging
months before production. Then the fun starts with auditions and rehearsals,”
he said. “But the absolute best part is watching as a group of diverse people;
who may not have known each other before, come together, work hard and share
their talents to produce something we are all are proud of. And on the way we
become a family who love each other and develop friendships for life.”

“Thanks to AFL. I am honored and humbled, but I am smart
enough to know I didn’t win these awards by myself,” Saltamachia said. 

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” Goshen Theatre ProjectTerry Pattison, who won awards for costume design and set
design for Goshen Theatre Project, said the group is in its fifth season.

“The Lion King had 46 kids in it, all under the age of 15.
There were well over 160 costumes, all hand-created. Most of the masks and
animals were constructed from a high-density foam so they stayed light weight,”
she said.

The animal costumes included: Lions, lioness, hornbills,
ostrich, zebra, gazelle, egrets, giraffes, wildebeasts, rhino, meerkat, warthog
and various birds.

 “I am honored to
have received two BPA’s this year, one for costuming and the other for scenic
design. I am always creating something in one way or another and it is a
humbling experience to have been recognized against all the other talent in the
St. Louis community theater circuit,” Pattison said.

Lucinda Gyurci, who founded Arts for Life in 1998, said she
continues to be inspired by community theater productions.

“Big Fish” Shooting Star Productions“I feel fortunate to have watched many young people, who
grew up in community theatre, become wonderfully talented adults; some making
their way to Broadway; some establishing their art in local professional
theatre; and some bringing up their next generation in their own footsteps on
the stage,” she said.

Joe Paule Sr. received the Lifetime Achievement Award for
his work as a musician in numerous pit bands, orchestras and as a music
director. Kim Klick and Glenn Guillermo were honored with two special awards,
“TRG Recognition 20th Anniversary Exceptional Volunteer Award,” citing
extraordinary above and beyond service.

Sean Harvey “Crazy for You”

Two special youth awards were given to Caroline Santiago
Turner, who received Best Youth Musical Performance for “Violet,” and
Sean Harvey, named Best Youth Featured Dancer, as Bobby in “Crazy for
You,” both produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

Allison McDonald of Timberland High School and Kira Averett
of Mascoutah received the 2019 AFL Youth Scholarships.

The ceremony was directed by Ken Clark, with music
direction by Diane Hanisch. Ryan Cooper served as master of ceremonies for the
fifth time.

The complete list of awards is as follows:
Best Large Ensemble Musical: “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Small Ensemble Musical: “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions

Best Youth Musical: “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Direction: Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Direction- Youth Production: Paul Pagano, “Violet,”
Gateway Center for the Performing Arts
Best Music Direction: Liz Murphy White, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater
Company

Best Music Direction – Youth Production: Ross Bell, ‘Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Choreography: Ashley Pavlige, “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions

Best Choreography – Youth Production: Ellen Isom, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Austin Turnbull, Jack Kelly,
“Newsies,” Looking Glass Playhouse

Best Leading Actor – Youth Production: Bryce Miller, Edward
Bloom, “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Morgan Ladyman, Ruby,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Producifion

Best Leading Actress – Youth Production: Mia Williams,
Rafiki, “The Lion King Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Actor in a Featured Role: Christopher Strawhun,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Best Actress in a Featured Role: Elizabeth Breed Penny, Paulette, “Legally
Blonde,” Hawthorne Players

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Dennis Folwarczny,
Cinderella’s Prince, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Supporting Actor – Youth Production: Spencer Domer,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Elizabeth Semko, Joan,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions
Best Supporting Actress – Youth Production: Carolyn Karutz, The Witch, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actor in a Comedic Role: Matthew Hansen, Franz, “Rock
of Ages,” Take Two Productions
Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Miranda Mobley, Little Red Riding Hood, “Into
the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theatre Company

Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Kevin Michael Hester, Dr.
Kitchell, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Nicky Collett, Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch,
“The Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Duo or Group Performance: Abby Cockerham, Laura Megan
Deveney and Theresa Peters Nigus as Donna, Linolium and Betty in “The Great
American Trailer Park Musical,” Act Two Theatre
Best Actor in a Cameo Role: Glenn Guillermo, Carl, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha
Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Cameo Role: Julia Gilbert, Babette, Disney’s “Beauty and the
Beast,” Alfresco Productions

Best Youth Performer: Victor Landon, Munchkin Mayor, “The
Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Costume Design: Donna Saltamachia, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “The Lion King
Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Set Design: Terry Pattison, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,”
Goshen Theatre Project

Best Set Design – Youth Production: Marty Strohmeyer and
Christopher Phillips, ‘Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Lighting Design: Jason Koonce, “Bloody Bloody Andrew
Jackson,” Looking Glass Playhouse
Best Lighting Design – Youth Production: Jonathan Hartley, “Disney’s Beauty and
the Beast,” DaySpring School of Arts

For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org

“Dames at Sea” Alfresco ProductionsFor a PDF of the BPA nominations for 2018, here is the
link:

http://nebula.wsimg.com/b255dc30a55d222d652ab689930da965?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

BPAs honor excellence in community musical theatre; Theatre Mask Awards recognize excellence in plays

Arts For Life will celebrate its 20th
anniversary June 9 at the annual Best Performance Awards, which honors
excellence in community theater and youth musicals. It is the oldest and
longest continually running theater awards in St. Louis.

Since it began in 1998, AFL’s goal has been “Making a Dramatic
Difference” and is proud to salute, support and serve the theater groups in the
metropolitan St. Louis area. The non-profit organization continues to be
passionate about the healing power of the performing arts.

AFL President Mary McCreight said the group is dedicated to
promoting public awareness of local community theater, encouraging excellence
in the arts and acknowledging the incredible people who take part.

“St. Louis is an amazing city, especially for the arts.
There are over sixty theatre companies at home here, a third of which are
community theatre. As we watch music education and theatre programs rapidly die
in our schools, the need to keep community theatre alive is more important now
than ever,” McCreight said.
Admission is $25 in advance on the www.artsforlife.org
website, or $26 with credit card at the door. All tickets are reserved seating.
Formal attire is requested.

The special event starts at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh
Center for the Performing Arts on the Chaminade College Preparatory School campus,
425 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Ryan Cooper, a local professional actor, will return as
master of ceremonies for the fifth time.

When Lucinda Gyurci founded AFL, the first awards were
handed out in 1999, with 14 musicals from 11 groups nominated through the group’s
judging panel, the Theatre Recognition Guild.

“I wasn’t sure the Best Performance Awards would go beyond
one year. The first year was extremely difficult, being met with (sometimes
hostile) negativity, trepidation of being judged, a tremendous amount of work
and no funds,” Gyurci said. “However, barring past the nay-sayers, the event
happened by sheer will. One could feel the electricity in the air at the event
and for the first time the participants realized this was an opportunity to
recognize excellent work and celebrate each other within the theatre community.”

Gyurci said it was the first theater event in St. Louis
that was like the Tony Awards, which makes it the area’s oldest and longest
continually running theatre awards.

This year, 48 shows – 21 large, 7 small and 20 youth — produced
by 26 community theater groups in St. Louis, St. Charles County and metro-east
Illinois were eligible for BPA awards consideration, with 1,302 artists judged
for nominations.

Trophies will be awarded in 33 categories. Performances
from the 13 nominated musicals for best productions – small (3) and large (5) ensembles
and youth (5) – will be included.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is being given to Joe Paule
Sr., a longtime musician and musical director. He was one of the orchestra
nominees in 1999.

“Theater is alive and kicking in 2019 and local theaters in
metro St. Louis and Illinois are to be commended for a job well done,”
McCreight said.
“The awards are a wonderful way for all actors and tech crews to celebrate and
enjoy each other’s successes and be recognized and rewarded,” McCreight said.

For the first time ever, metro-east theater groups
dominated the Best Musical – Large and Small Ensemble categories, with 5 of the
8 nods: Alfresco Productions, Curtain’s Up Theater, Goshen Theatre Project,
Looking Glass Playhouse and Riverbend Youth Theatre

Nominations were announced at the 10th annual AFL Trivia
Night Feb. 2, with 43 percent of nominees recognized for the first time. Goshen
Theatre Project in Madison County led the BPA nominations, with 23 – 12 for
“The Lion King Jr.” and 11 for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Curtain’s Up Theater Company in Edwardsville earned 19 – 16
for “Into the Woods,” and 3 for “Little Miss Sunshine” – and tied with Alfresco
Productions in Granite City with 19 – 12 for ‘Dames at Sea” and 7 for “Beauty
and the Beast.”

The Alpha Players of Florissant received 11 nominations,
with 7 for “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and 4 for “Bells Are Ringing.”

Among youth productions, Shooting Star led the way with 14
for “Big Fish.”
Two special youth awards will be given to Caroline Santiago Turner, who will
receive Best Youth Musical Performance for “Violet,” and Sean Harvey,
named Best Youth Featured Dancer, as Bobby in “Crazy for You,” both
produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

The Looking Glass Playhouse in Lebanon, Ill., lead all AFL
nominations, with a total of 31, which included 22 BPA nods and 9 Theatre Mask
Awards nominations.

Their musical, “Newsies,” garnered 14 nominations, while
musicals “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “The Wizard of Oz” each scored 4.
On the TMA side, their production of the drama, “Frost/Nixon” received 9 and
won 4.

Five years ago, AFL started the Theatre Mask Awards, which
recognizes work in straight plays produced by community theater. Ten groups
currently participate, and a judging panel evaluated 25 shows – 12 dramas and
13 comedies — for the 2018 calendar year.

The fourth annual event took place on April 6 at a brunch celebration
at The Atrium banquet center on the campus of Christian Northeast Hospital,
with a sold-out crowd of 256 in attendance. Longtime radio personality Vic
Porcelli was the host.

Kevin Frakes of Alton Little Theater received the Lifetime
Achievement Award for his 40 years as a performer, director, producer and set
designer. He is currently president of the ALT board of directors.

Awards were presented in 18 categories, with LGP’s
“Frost/Nixon” tying with Actors’ Attic’s local premiere of “The Curious
Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” for Outstanding Drama Production.

Clayton Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” won three awards, including outstanding comedy
production and for actor Patrick Blanner as Eugene and director Sam Hack.

“Frost/Nixon” also won for director Glenn Saltamachia,
supporting actor Mike Russell (as Reston) and large ensemble.
The two leading performers in “The Curious Incident,” Dan Haller and Emily
Brutton, won acting honors.

Other multiple winners included O’Fallon TheatreWorks’ play
version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which won two — supporting
actress for Tori Stukins and costume design for Carole Lanham.

The drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” received awards
for two different theater groups’ productions. Alton Little Theater’s show won
lighting design for Lee Cox and Dennis R. Stephenson and the O’Fallon Theatre
Works’ play won set design for Chris and Ellie Lanham.

Alton Little Theater also won outstanding actress in a
comedy – Alison Beach as three different ‘heiresses’ in “Who’s in Bed with the
Butler?”

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves was honored with three
acting awards. Kaylee Ryan won outstanding juvenile performance in “The
Children’s Hour” while Will Shaw won supporting actor in a comedy in Steve
Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”” and Sarah Hirshfield won supporting
actress in a comedy in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Clayton’s “Bus Stop” won Best Large Ensemble.

“I am proud of the dedication of the TMA Steering Committee
and Director Glenn Guillermo,” McCreight said. “The AFL Board of Directors
congratulates all participants/nominees in last year’s shows. I am happy to see
the TMAs thriving and creating a niche for yourselves in the theater
community.”

Visit the website for more information:
www.artsforlife.org. For a PDF of the BPA nominations for 2018, here is the
link:

http://nebula.wsimg.com/b255dc30a55d222d652ab689930da965?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

By Lynn VenhausManaging EditorLooking Glass Playhouse’s “Frost/Nixon,” a political drama based on a series of televised interviews between a disgraced president and a British journalist, was the big winner at the fourth annual Theatre Mask Awards.

The 43-year-old theater in Lebanon, Ill., earned four awards for Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, including outstanding drama production (tie), and for director Glenn Saltamachia, supporting actor Mike Russell (as Reston) and large ensemble.

A sold-out crowd of 265 attended the Arts For Life event on April 6, a brunch celebration in the Atrium Banquet Center at Christian Northeast Hospital. Awards were presented in 18 categories and Kevin Frakes of the Alton Little Theater received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

AFL honored plays produced by St. Louis area community theaters during the 2018 calendar year. The non-profit organization has sponsored awards for musical theater in community and youth productions for 20 years. AFL organized the TMAs in 2015 to recognize dramas and comedies.

Sharing in Outstanding Drama Production was the local premiere of “The Curious Incident with the Dog in the Night-time” by Actors’ Attic in Columbia, Ill. The play is about a gifted math genius with Asperger’s syndrome who begins a journey of self-discovery when he starts investigating the neighbor’s dog’s death. Simon Stephen’s acclaimed 2012 adaptation of Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel earned seven Olivier Awards and the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play.

Cast of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” at the TMAs. Photo by Kim KlickActors’ Attic’s two leading performers, Dan Haller and Emily Brutton, won outstanding actor and actress. Haller said it was a privilege to play Christopher, who is also the narrator, while Brutton played his primary school teacher Siobhan. Actors’ Attic, lead by MaryBeth Babcock, has produced plays for 10 years and joined the TMAs last year.

Haller said the awards event was inspiring and thanked everyone for working in theater because they love it.

“You do theater for the love of doing theater, and that’s the best reason to do it,” Haller said.

Brutton thanked director Babcock for “always knowing how a story needs to be told.”“People follow their dreams because of her,” she said. 

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” cast at TMAs. Photo by Kim Klick.Clayton Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” won three awards, including outstanding comedy production and for actor Patrick Blanner as Eugene and director Sam Hack. CCT, founded in 1998, plans to produce Simon’s entire Eugene trilogy, is working on “Biloxi Blues” now and will present “Broadway Bound” next year.

Clayton’s production of William Inge’s ‘Bus Stop” won for outstanding large ensemble.

Both Outstanding Lead Actors in a Drama and a Comedy were under 20 years old — Haller is 19 and Blanner is 18.

Other multiple winners included O’Fallon TheatreWorks’ play version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” which won two — supporting actress for Tori Stukins, who played Daisy’s society friend Jordan Baker, and costume design for Carole Lanham.

The drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” received awards for two different theater groups’ productions. Alton Little Theater’s show won lighting design for Lee Cox and Dennis R. Stephenson and the O’Fallon Theatre Works’ play won set design for Chris and Ellie Lanham.

Chris Lanham said working behind-the-scenes is a “labor of love,” quipping it’s really “mostly labor.”

Alton Little Theater also won outstanding actress in a comedy – Alison Beach as the frustrated daughter dealing with other people in line for her late billionaire father’s fortune in “Who’s in Bed with the Butler?” 

Beach said the year before, she had auditioned for many shows and had been turned down. After one tryout at Alton, director Lee Cox took the time to explain to her why she didn’t get a part.“I assured her it mattered. She gave me the strength to keep auditioning,” she said.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves was honored with three acting awards. Kaylee Ryan won outstanding juvenile performance in “The Children’s Hour” while Will Shaw won supporting actor in a comedy as bar patron Gaston in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile”” and Sarah Hirshfield won supporting actress in a comedy as Carol, the only female writer, in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

Cast of “Frost/Nixon with directors at TMAs. Photo by Kim Klick.Mike Russell, a past AFL nominee, won Outstanding Supporting Actor for his portrayal of James Reston Jr., an American author and government official who served as David Frost’s Watergate advisor for the Nixon interview. In “Frost/Nixon,” he also served as narrator. In his speech, he thanked LGP for taking a risk on the show “in today’s political climate.”

Kevin Frakes, current president of Alton Little Theater and longtime actor, director, set designer and mentor, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

He joined the group, founded in 1933, 40 years ago. With his vision and hard work, the theater has grown into a creative center for the performing arts, presenter Lee Cox said.

“(Theater) changed my life and made me face my weaknesses. It made me a stronger, better person because of it,” he said.

Best friends Lee Cox and Lifetime Achievement Award winner Kevin Frakes, who have been doing theater together since she was 17 and he was 19. Photo by Kim Klick.Frakes told how he got into theater, and one of the reasons was to be accepted, for he was from a poor and abusive family.KLOU (103.3 FM) radio personality Vic Porcelli, who also acts in local productions, again served as the master of ceremonies, returning for the fourth time. Grace Boyer and Kailynn Stiff were the trophy presenters.

The TMAs include participation by 10 area theater companies. A judges panel scored 12 dramas and 13 comedies to determine the nominations, which are announced at the annual AFL trivia night, and the eventual winners. A large ensemble is nine or more people in the cast. TMA Chair is Glenn Guillermo and the Steering Committee is 26 people affiliated with the participating theater companies. The Judges Panel includes 42 volunteers. 

“I am proud of the dedication of the TMA Steering Committee and Director Glenn Guillermo,” said AFL President Mary McCreight. “The AFL Board of Directors congratulates all participants/nominees in last year’s shows. I am happy to see the TMAs thriving and creating a niche for yourselves in the theater community.”

The AFL’s 20th annual Best Performance Awards will take place on Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Chaminade College Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd. 

The musical theater awards reflect the work of 25 companies who produced 48 musicals – 21 large ensemble, 7 small ensemble and 20 youth productions. Two special youth awards will be presented to Caroline Santiago Turner for “Violet” (Best Youth Musical Performance) and Sean Harvey as Bobby in “Crazy For You” (Best Youth Featured Dancer), both works by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Joe Paule Sr. Local professional actor Ryan Cooper is the returning master of ceremonies.Reserved tickets will be available for $20 until May 10, then tickets are $25. Formal attire is requested.

For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org

By Lynn Venhaus Managing EditorGreetings! Spring has sprung after a miserable, dreary winter of 24 inches of snow and long stretches of gray days. We bring to you a long catch-up column, a winter wrap-up with lots o’ news about our wonderful theater talents in our metro area. It’s always sunny when we’re talking bright lights.

AWARDS SEASON: Spring means theater awards in St. Louis! For regional professional theater, the seventh annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards will be presented on Monday, March 25, at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University.

For general admission tickets ($15), visit: www.brownpapertickets.com You
can purchase tickets the night of the ceremony by cash or check. Our Circle
Facebook page is updated with information. We are not having pre-festivities
food, but Llewyn’s Catering will have drinks, desserts and snack boxes
available throughout the night.

If you missed who’s nominated, here is our Limelight link: https://stllimelight.com/2019/01/25/evita-streetcar-lead-st-louis-theater-circle-nominations/

See you at Theater Prom Monday!

For local community theater, Arts For Life will present the fourth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring comedies and dramas, on Saturday, April 6, at a.m. at The Atrium Banquet Center, Paul F. Detrick Building, on the campus of Christian Hospital, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Doors open at 10 a.m. Radio personality Vic Porcelli is the host.

A brunch buffet is served and awards in 18 categories are given out. Tables of 8 are available, and you can select what theater group or person you want to sit with – just tell [email protected] or mark it at checkout. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased by March 22. Visit www.artsforlife.org.

For a Power Point Presentation of the TMA Nominations, here
is the link: http://nebula.wsimg.com/60b66319ddb8e5ebbac7b8ba7019e6dd?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

AFL will present the 20th annual Best Performance Awards, for musicals, on Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts, 425 Lindbergh Blvd. (Chaminade). Actor Ryan Cooper is the emcee.

From a pool of 1,302 community theater artists, 48 shows
produced by 26 community theater groups in the Metro-St. Louis area have been
reviewed for consideration for this year’s Best Performance Awards. Trophies
will be awarded in 33 categories.

The event will include performances from the 13 musicals
nominated in the three Best Musical Production categories and a special
presentation to Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Formal attire is
requested. 

All tickets are reserved seating. Group seating will not be
guaranteed on orders received after May 10. All ticket orders will be held at
the box office unless a self-addressed stamped envelope is included with ticket
order. Please let us know if you require any special needs.

Early Bird Tickets are $20 and available until May 10, and
regular tickets are $25 ($26/credit card at the door).
A special rate of $40 for a combined BPA/TMA ticket for both, which is $10 off,
is available until March 22.  Visit the
website for more information, www.artsforlife.org.

For a PDF of the BPA Nominations, here is the link: http://nebula.wsimg.com/b255dc30a55d222d652ab689930da965?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1 *** ARTS LIVES: This year’s AFL Lifetime Achievements Awards are being bestowed on Joseph Paule Sr. at the Best Performance Awards June and Alton Little Theatre’s Kevin Frakes at the Theatre Mask Awards April 6.

Kevin Frakes

Frakes, current president of the Alton Little Theatre, will
be honored for his lifelong devotion and involvement in community theater, and
for helping with ALT’s growth and expansion. He began 40 years ago and has
directed and/or acted in more than 100 shows.

Joseph Paule Sr. has been involved with several community theater groups over the years, including Christ Memorial Productions and Hawthorne Players.

Caroline Santiago Turner

*** YOUTH PHENOMS: Special Awards recognition is going to two talented teens this year at AFL’s Best Performance Awards. Sean Harvey will receive Best Youth Featured Dancer for his fleet footwork as Bobby in “Crazy for You” produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts and Caroline Santiago Turner will receive Best Youth Musical Performance for her exquisite vocals as Violet in “Violet,” also produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

These awards are not giving annually, only when the Theatre
Recognition Guild judges deem performances so outstanding that they deserve
special recognition.

Sean Harvey in “Crazy for You”

Sean, who graduated from high school in Wentzville last
year, studies musical theatre at Chicago College of Performing Arts. Caroline,
who graduated from Visitation Academy in 2018, is working on her BFA in musical
theater at Indiana University.

They will be in good company. Past youth winners Zach Erhardt, Troyer Coultas and Yvette Lu toured nationally in ‘The Book of Mormon,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Hamilton” respectively last year.

***BROADWAY BUZZ: The Tony Awards are Sunday, June, at 7 p.m. on CBS, and nominations will be announced on April 30. The local folks involved in producing the original musical “The Prom” are hoping for good news that day. The original musical comedy was among the best reviewed shows in 2018, after opening Nov. 15 on Broadway.  

The PromThe show has multiple local connections – Centralia, Ill., native Chad Beguelin is the co-book writer, with Bob Martin (co-creator of “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and lyricist, with music by Matthew Sklar. A number of cast members have performed at The Muny: St. Louisans Drew Reddington and Jack Sippel, and stars Beth Leavel and Christopher Sieber.

Some local producers include Jack Lane, executive director of Stages St. Louis; Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, Patty Gregory of Belleville, Terry Schnuck, Andrew S. Kuhlman of St. Louis and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy.

Casey Nicholaw, Tony winner for “The Book of Mormon,”
directed and choreographed the show.

“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance – a
student is barred from bringing her girlfriend to the prom — and four fading
Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of
the spotlight.

As one of four musical acts in the 92nd annual Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade, they made parade history with the first same-sex kiss
televised live.

Here is that performance: https://youtu.be/VDZDLJjzJBI

And the cast also performed live on “Late Night with Seth
Meyers.”

***VIVE LA VISIONARIES: More local arts awards for women! The St. Louis Visionary Awards will honor established working arts professionals, arts educators, emerging artists and community impact artists on Monday, April 22, at 6 p.m. at the Sun Theatre.

The Saint Louis Visionary Awards celebrates the numerous
contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in the
greater St. Louis region. The awards are presented by an independent committee
of women dedicated to promoting the arts here.

Brava! To the 2019 Saint Louis Visionary Awards honorees, who  are, from left: Standing: Carmen Dence; Susan Barrett; Kathie Winter; and Kari Ely. Seated: Brea McAnally; Jacqueline Thompson. Photo by Diane Anderson ***COMMUNITY RECOGNITION: Congratulations to the Alton Little Theater will receive a prestigious national award for excellence in innovation, dedication to community and organizational development ensuring the future of live theater. The Twink Lynch Organizational Development Award will be presented to Kevin Frakes and Lee Cox at the AACT  (American Association of Community Theaters) National Convention in Gettysburg, Pa.,  in June.

A Raisin in the Sun

The Hawthorne Players give out “Duckies” at the year’s end, as voted on by the members and season ticket holders. The awards are named after the late veteran Hawthorne actress and director, Duckie DeMere. “A Raisin in the Sun” was the most lauded production, with , including Best Show, Best Director (Nancy Crouse), Best Actor (Erick Lindsey), Best Actress (Kimmie Kidd-Booker), Best Supporting Actor (Moses Weathers), Best Cameo Actress (Rhonda Cropp), Best Set Design (Nancy Crouse) and a Special Award (Archie Coleman).Elizabeth Breed Penny won Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Pauline in “Legally Blonde” and John Robertson won Best Cameo Actor in “The Fantasticks.” Eric Wennlund won two — Best Lighting and Best Sound for “The Fantasticks” Special Awards went to Connie Mulch of “The Fantasticks” and Michele Paladin, “Legally Blonde.”

*** NAME-DROPPING: Did you know the musical “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” has a local connection? Producers are Paul Blake, former executive director at the Muny for 22 seasons, and Mike Bosner, Burroughs grad and Muny front office alum. The second national tour recently stopped at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis for a limited 5-day engagement. The musical celebrated its fifth season on Broadway in January. They tell me a movie is in the works! Here is my article ICYMI: https://stllimelight.com/2019/03/12/local-producers-found-beautiful-success-with-carole-king-musical/

There is another big-news local connection. Perhaps you’ve
heard about the college admissions scandal. Well, turns out Joe Buck’s daughter
is the roommate of Lori Laughlin’s daughter, the clueless and vapid video blogger
Olivia Jade, at University of Southern California. Ms. Buck is attending the
prestigious USC Film School. (Thanks, J.C. Corcoran for this tidbit).

Meadow Nguy

Meadow Nguy of O’Fallon, Ill., appeared in a new musical “Arrowhead” in concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. The new Jackson Teeley and Sarah Galante work takes you inside the cozy and tuneful world of Arrowhead Café — from the heartache of love unrequited to the bliss of love that’s true, uncover all the ups, downs, and inevitable complications of modern love over a simple cup of coffee. The concert was directed by Dan Barron and music directed by Michael Pacifico, and featured a cast of 14.

Lisa Ramey, who performed at The Muny, Stages St. Louis and The Black Rep, was picked by John Legend for his team on Season 16 of “The Voice,” now finished with the Blind Auditions. Ramey currently lives in New York City and fronts a band called Superbad. She auditioned last year but did not get a chair turn, talked to the coaches about what she should do to improve, and returned this year.

Beau Willimon, third from left, speaks to the cast, while one of his mentors, director Wayne Salomon stands next to him. (Photo provided)Playwright Beau Willimon attended the preview night of his first Broadway play, “Farragut North,” which was produced at St. Louis Actors’ Studio last month. Willimon grew up in St. Louis and is a graduate of John Burroughs. He is most known for developing the American version of “House of Cards” for Netflix and was show runner for four years. His recent screenplay was the 2018 film “Mary, Queen of Scots.”

St. Louis’ sunny Jenna Fischer can now be seen with Ted Danson in a commercial for Smirnoff Vodka.

***

AND THEN THERE WERE 15: A harpist, juggler, dancers, acrobats, musicians and singers will be competing in Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation’s 9th Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition, which takes place Saturday, April 13, at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. The public is invited to attend for free, but general admission tickets must be reserved at Metrotix.com or 314-534-1111. You can vote for the Audience Award.

The youths will have an opportunity to win scholarships and prizes. They were selected from a process that began with 140 acts auditioning in the preliminary round, and a semifinal round on March 9 that featured 45 acts who were then whittled down to the 15 finalists. More than 50 high schools, homeschoolers and performing arts schools were represented.

Congratulations to those who advanced — quite a lot of variety: Modern Dancers: Arielle Adams, Senior DessaRae Lampkins, Senior Brooke Reese, Senior De’Jai Walker, Senior Hazelwood Central High School. Musical Theatre Act: Kaley Bender, Sophomore, Nerinx Hall Nathaniel Mahone, Sophomore, Lafayette High School. Consecrated: pianist and drummer Emmanuel Morgan, Junior Thaddaeus Morgan, Sophomore Kirkwood High School.Expressions Academy of Dance: Emma Bilzing, Sophomore; Mackenzie Branson, Freshman; Kaele Kidwell, Senior; Ja’la Stancil, Sophomore Belleville East High School Ukulele/Vocalist/Sonwriter Afiya Faatuono, Sophomore McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Pop Vocalist Jameson Falconer, Sophomore Ladue Horton Watkins High School Modern Dancer Ashley Gardner, Junior Trinity Catholic High School Pop Vocalist Madelynn Gartland, Sophomore Kirkwood High School Partner Acrobatics K.O. Duo, Oliver Layher, Senior, Vianney High School Kyran Walton, Senior, Metro Academic and Classical High School Bharatnatyam Dancer Samanvita Kasthuri, Junior Parkway South High School Ballet Dancer Anne Oberman, Junior Cor Jesu Academy Juggler Sean Petric, Sophomore Oakville High School Harpist Mereya Riopedre, Junior MICDS Guitarist and Vocalist Joanna Serenko, Senior Kirkwood High School Musical Theatre Vocalist Troy Staten, Sophomore McCluer High School These talented teens are the entertainers of tomorrow.

For more information about the competition, visit: http://www.foxpacf.org/programs/teen-talent-competition/ for more information. ***SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITY:  Since 2012, Arts For Life has awarded a scholarship to a student who is pursuing an education in the arts. The deadline for applicants is April 12. Applicant must be enrolled in an arts undergraduate program at an accredited college or university. Arts programs include, but are not exclusive to: performing arts (music, dance, theatre) and visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, film,photography, etc). Arts programs not defined as Fine Arts but related to the arts may be considered if superior work has been demonstrated in this area. Applicant must have participated in a Metro St. Louis community theater production or event in the past two years (1/1/2016-12/31/2018). Metro St. Louis defined as any location within 35 miles from Clayton. Here is the link: http://www.artsforlife.org/scholarship.html***

Taylor Louderman

THE POWER OF THEATRE: Tony Award nominee Taylor Louderman will host a one-night-only cabaret to celebrate performing arts education and support rural Missouri’s Ozark Actors Theatre.

It’s set for May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Louderman, proud native of Bourbon, Mo., will take part in “The Power of Theatre,” bringing together the voices of some of St. Louis’s best performers as they share the power of theater education.

Currently starring on Broadway as Regina George in “Mean
Girls,” she is well-known on local stages. Her career began at Ozark Actors
Theater in 2001, when she played the title role of ‘Annie.”

Since then, she appeared on Broadway in “Bring It On: The
Musical” and “Kinky Boots,” as well as NBC’s “Peter Pan Live.” She spent
summers performing at the Muny, last seen in “Aida.” She voices the character
Blair on Nickelodeon’s “Sunny Day” and can be seen in “The Good Fight” and HBO’s
“High Maintenance.”

She likes to give back to the community where she started
and grateful to be a part of the OAT board.

Evening also includes silent and live auctions, and a special introduction by News 4’s Paige Hulsey.

All proceeds from this event will benefit Ozark Actors
Theatre’s education programming.

Tickets are available in person at the Fox Theatre box office without a handling fee. For more information: https://www.thesheldon.org/concert-detail.php?id=768

***

Wendy Renee Greenwood as war photographer in “Time Stands Still”GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Modern relationships are certainly complicated, aren’t they? But they sure make compelling dramas. We’re giving away two tickets to New Jewish Theatre’s upcoming production of “Time Stands Still” that runs March 28 – April 15. All you have to do is enter our drawing and select your favorite play on modern relationships for our poll (see below).

“Time Stands Still” revolves around Sarah, a photojournalist who has returned from covering the Iraq war after being injured by a roadside bomb, and her reporter boyfriend James who is swamped by guilt after having left Sarah alone in Iraq. The two are trying to find happiness in a world that seems to have gone crazy. Theirs is a partnership based on telling the toughest stories, and together, making a difference. But when their own story takes a sudden turn, the adventurous couple confronts the prospect of a more conventional life. Can they stay together amidst unspoken betrayals and conflicting ideals? Playwright Donald Margulies answers these questions, while leaving unanswered qualms regarding the way America deals with war and tragedy coverage.

Directed by Doug Finlayson, the cast includes Wendy Renee Greenwood as Sarah, Ben Nordstrom as James, Jerry Vogel as Robin and Eileen Engel as Mandy.

To enter our drawing, please send your email address and
phone number to Lynn Venhaus, [email protected], by Friday,
March 22, before 5 p.m., with your choice for your favorite contemporary play
on modern relationships.

What would yours be? Here’s our list from which to select:August: Osage County God of Carnage The Humans Proof Rabbit Hole Stop Kiss Venus in Fur

Thanks for entering. Our last drawing for tickets to “Avenue Q” at the Playhouse @Westport Playhouse was won by Jennelle Gilreath. *** BEST WISHES: Kelly Hummert, founder and artistic director of Rebel and Misfits Productions, has decided to move on to other projects, and will no longer be producing shows in St. Louis.

Kelly Hummert

We will miss seeing what innovative and immersive plays she
put her heart and soul into, and the outstanding ensembles she brought together
during the past three years.

Rebel and Misfits’ “The Realistic Joneses” and “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” have been nominated for Best Ensemble in this year’s St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, and last year, both Andrew Michael Niemann and Jim Butz won acting awards for “Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony.”

Break a leg, Kelly! The best is yet to come!

*** AUTHOR! AUTHOR!: Don Miller, an expert on media literacy and a local playwright, actor and professor, wrote a reference book, “Coming of Age in Popular Culture: Teenagers, Adolescence, and the Art of Growing Up,” that is getting good reviews. He is being lauded for his thoughtful work and providing insight into popular culture.

“And the beat goes on! What a wonderful tribute to the
decades. A entertaining explanation of our influences of the decades that
brought back so many memories,” said bestselling author Wade Rouse.

“This text is a tremendous boost to the media literacy
education field at a time when both the media communicator as well as the media
consumer hold great sway on many platforms in our digital communications
environment and understanding these processes can help both be better. And, the
timing couldn’t be better to have this definitive, well researched and
well-documented textbook regarding an age-old relationship about teens and
their media,” said Jessica Z. Brown, founder of Gateway Media Literacy
Partners.

Miller documented the evolution of teens and media from the
1950s through 2010, this book examines the films, books, television shows, and
musical artists that impacted American culture and shaped the “coming of
age” experience for each generation.

He will speak to the Mid Rivers Ethical Society in July.

***

“The Lusty Month of May” from the movie “Camelot” 1967TRIVIA TIME-OUT: We flip seasons to spring! Yay! Happy Dance. What a cold, dreary, gray winter. Here are some questions about productions focused on a spring.

In “The Producers,” what is the name of the musical
that Max Bialistock and Leo Bloom are mounting?Who sings “The Lusty Month of May” on the
original cast recording of “Camelot”? In the movie?What original cast member won a Tony Award in
the musical “Spring Awakening”?What musical features the song “Younger Than
Springtime”?ANSWERS 1. “Springtime for Hitler” 2. Julie Andrews; Vanessa Redgrave (Guinnevere)3. John Gallagher Jr.4. “South Pacific”

***

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”MOVIE MUSICAL MAKEOVER: “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner is writing the script for Steven Spielberg’s new version of “West Side Story,” which is expected to be released in 2020. The announced movie cast includes Ansel Elgort as Tony, Rachel Zegler as Maria, Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose (Donna Summer) as Anita, Tony Award winner David Alvarez (Billy Elliot) as Bernardo, Josh Andres Rivera as Chino, Brian d’Arcy James as Sergeant Krupke and Corey Stoll as Lieutenant Schrank.

The sole returning cast member of the original is EGOT
winner Rita Moreno, who will play a new character, Valentina. She won an Oscar playing
Anita.

This will be Spielberg’s first musical. He had a casting
call for Latinx performers and received 30,000 submissions. Seventeen-year-old
high school newcomer Rachel Zegler won the part of Maria.

The 1961 landmark film is the most-award winning movie musical
of all-time, nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning 10. With choreography
by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,
the movie adaptation was directed by Robert Wise (“The Sound of Music”) and
Robbins.

Fun Fact: Natalie Wood played Maria but her singing was
dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also subbed for Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.”

***

Jared Sanz-Agero

IN MEMORIAM: Friends, family and colleague are remembering the wonderful talent that Jared Sanz-Agero was. The actor died Feb. 19, from injuries suffered in a horrific automobile accident two weeks earlier, on Feb 5.

Twice-nominated for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for “Stones
in My Pocket” and “The Liar,” he was a passionate presence on many regional
group’s stages. You might have chatted with him at the .Zack, working at the
bar and concessions. He attended Southwest Missouri State University.

Jared, 47, was traveling to Kansas City for a commercial
shoot when his 2004 Toyota Matrix slid off the ice-covered roadway. He was
taken to the Centerpoint Hospital ICU in Independence, Mo., according to the
police report.
Official cause of death was internal bleeding and loss of blood, and is being
investigated by his family, from what’s on the Go Fund Me page.

A memorial service is being planned for a later date. If
you would like to contribute to a Go Fund Me account set up by his brother
Gentry after the accident to help with his medical expenses, and now, costs
related to his death investigation, and services, here is the link to the Jared
Sanz-Agero Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/help-jared-heal-fund

***WORD: To quote Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent” and died on opening day from an aneurysm:

“It’s not how many years you live, but how you fulfill the time you spend here.”

Dear Readers,
I must take a moment to thank the St. Louis Theater Community for their outpouring of love and kindness regarding the loss of my first-born son, Tim Venhaus, who died on Dec. 9.
He had just turned 34 and was on trimester break from DePaul University in Chicago, where he was working on an MFA in Screenwriting.
While this is a tremendous and painful loss, my youngest son Charlie and I are comforted by all the condolences, notes, cards, calls, attendance at visitation and/or funeral Mass, the flowers sent, the food dropped off and all the hugs.
The heartfelt support has been gratifying — and we are touched by your caring and concern. My fellow critics in the St. Louis Theater Circle, Arts For Life board of directors and Theater Recognition Guild judges, writing pals (including my review team here), and many actors, directors and producers in professional regional theater and community theater have expressed themselves so beautifully and eloquently.

So have my colleagues in St. Louis Film Critics Association, friends in Cinema St. Louis, radio folks, past and present staffers at Belleville News-Democrat, and SIUE faculty, staff and students in the mass communication department (I teach “Writing for the Media”). You always remember who reaches out because it means so much.
The grief has been overwhelming, and his sudden and unexpected passing has shocked us to our core. My year was already like a bad Lifetime movie, as I have a terminally ill brother, helping out an 86-year-old uncle with a myriad of things, like cancer treatments, and a super-crazy-busy schedule that I juggle with some percentage of success.
I appreciate your understanding and patience. I am slowly going to ease back into working. I must re-learn how to be normal again, and return to a regular routine. Please bear with me while I get a whole bunch of reviews and articles, like Take Ten, up — there is a backlog that I will be posting in the next two weeks, plus Go See a Play and Bright Lights. Some of it might not be so timely, but I want to get it all up.
I’ll be publishing my year-end “LOTTIES” (Lynn’s Love of Theater Awards), plus a special twist. Our Theater Circle ballots are due first week of January, and save the date for our awards, Monday, March 25, at the Loretto-Hilton Center. So much good theater this year! Our AFL Nominations will be announced at the annual Trivia Night on Friday, Feb, 1, with emcee Ryan Cooper, at St.Joseph’s Parish Center in Manchester.
Tim was a one-of-a-kind creative, talented writer, hilarious human, adventurous soul, and fiercely devoted to his family and friends. He had a big heart, loved to laugh — and make people laugh — and, according to his vast circles, was an “influencer,” a thought leader. He was the guiding light for his friends regarding movies, music and TV.
Tim as a game show host in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”While he was a natural onstage, he was most at home in front of or behind a camera. From the time he was a little kid, he was making movies with his friends and relatives. He earned a B.A. in Cinema Production at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a minor in theater, and interned at “Sesame Street.” He previously received an Associate’s degree from Southwestern Illinois College, thriving in Dan Cross’s film program. It changed his life.
His comedy shorts were selected three times for the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, and he won the screenwriting contest at “Alt.News 26:46” at SIUC back-to-back, the first student to do that — and his films were shown on the PBS station, WSIU — “My Dad Lives in a Trunk” and “Watermelon Falls.” His film “Lunchbreak” won the Audience Award at a SWIC Film Fest.
He was in a few community theater productions — “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Guys and Dolls,” “South Pacific” and “West Side Story” – plus the lead in a youth show — at Clinton County Showcase; Chance in “Ghost of a Chance” and Slovitch the butcher in Neil Simon’s “Fools,” both at Monroe Actors Stage Company; and two small roles in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” for Brass Rail Players at Lindenwood.
He mostly did the early musicals because he and his little brother loved to tag along to my rehearsals when I was involved in youth theater for the Breese Junior Women’s Club, and then community theater at CCShowcase. My boys did not get the musical comedy gene, nor could they sing a lick. But I could twist an arm if I needed some help.
He taught film-making to youths for two seasons at Summer Fenn in Concord, Mass., and at Nature’s Classroom, an outdoor environmental education program at 13 sites in New England, where he worked for spring and fall periods from 2005 to 2017. He was hired by a school district in Naperville to start a film-making program in January 2019.
Tim as an extra on “Everyday Magic” – he wound up on cutting room floorWhen he was interning at “Sesame Street,” he worked in the talent department and was in charge of taking care of the parents whose children were guest performers, and taking the kids to the stage, and sometimes, the guest stars. For his first cousin Nick’s two young children, Tim enlisted Abby Cadabby to record a Christmas greeting. It is posted below.
Tim sure made his mark in his 34 years. People came from near and far — all over the country — to pay their respects. The love was overflowing. So were the stories.
Hope you are able to enjoy a merry Christmas and best wishes for a happy new year. Covering theater has enriched my life, and reminded me that sharing our humanity through art is a wonderful connection to encourage.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” — Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
I am going to miss my goofball every day of the rest of my life. He was a wonderful son. It does not seem real that I have to talk about him in the past tense. Like so many other relationships he cultivated, we had a special bond. He will never be forgotten, and I am so blessed to have so many people in my corner. I can’t thank you enough.
Regards,
Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor 2018
[email protected]
618-917-8175

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorGREEN DAY: We have been changed for good by the cultural phenomenon “Wicked,” which has broken records in St. Louis and is still “Popular” around the world after opening on Oct. 30, 2003 on Broadway.
To commemorate the musical’s 15th anniversary, NBC will air a tribute concert on Monday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m. (CST).
“A Very Wicked Halloween” was recorded live Oct. 16 at the Marquis Theatre, hosted by the original Elphaba and Glinda, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth.
The celebration will feature Pentatonix, Ariana Grande and Ledisi. Adam Lambert will join them, and he is certainly not mourning the wicked. He left the Los Angeles cast after making “American Idol,” and from 2005 to 2008, had been in the ensemble and understudy for Fiyero, and on a national tour.
The current Broadway cast will also make an appearance.

This spellbinding untold story about the Witches of Oz is now the sixth longest-running musical in Broadway history, having surpassed “A Chorus Line” on July 12 with its 6,128th performance.
Since its debut, “Wicked” has broken box office records around the world. St. Louis is one of the cities where “Wicked” currently holds the weekly-gross-takings records, along with Los Angeles, Chicago and London.
It has played the Fox Theatre five times since 2005, selling out and each week broke box office records. The national tours stopped here in 2005, 2007, June 2010, for four weeks Dec. 12, 2012 – Jan. 6, 2013, and for four weeks in Dec. 9, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016. Another tour is under way but St. Louis isn’t listed – as yet.
St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz originated Fiyero in “Wicked.”The original Broadway cast featured St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero. The Bishop DuBourg and Webster U. Conservatory grad played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero twice, from Oct. 8 to Nov. 23, 2003, and from Jan. 20 to July 18, 2004. He met his second wife, Michelle Federer, during the production – she played Nessarose, and they were married in 2007.
Norbie, the seventh of 11 children born to Elaine and Norbert A. Butz, went on to win two Tony Awards, for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me If You Can.” He is planning to leave his Tony-nominated role as Alfred P. Doolittle in the Lincoln Center revival of “My Fair Lady” on Jan. 6, 2019.
Composer Stephen Schwartz told Playbill why he cast him.
“I’ve wanted to work with Norbert since I saw him in ‘Thou Shalt Not’ and particularly in ‘The Last Five Years.’ He’s a lyricist’s dream. In ‘Wicked,’ I wrote ‘Dancing Through Life’ especially for him to take advantage of both his voice and charisma.”
In July 2017, “Wicked” surpassed “The Phantom of the Opera” as Broadway’s second-highest grossing show, trailing only “The Lion King.”
Based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked” has won more than 100 international awards, including three Tony Awards and a Grammy.
The TV special isn’t the only way “Wicked” is celebrating its milestone – Ben and Jerry’s locations in Times Square and Rockefeller Center will sell special ice cream sand-Witches beginning Oct. 26. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the National School Climate Center’s BullyBust campaign.
The NBC Studios Store has an Ozmopolitan apparel display. And a special “Wicked” cupcake, baked by Melissa, is available online and at all 14 store locations through the rest of October. A portion of the cupcake proceeds with benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and A BroaderWay.
***GET REEL: Native sons and daughters can bask in the klieg lights in the ‘Lou during the 27th annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which will screen a record 414 films from 63 countries Nov. 1 through Nov. 11 at nine venues.
John GoodmanJohn Goodman, one of St. Louis’ favorite sons, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. That program and a screening of “The Big Lebowski” on Nov. 2 are already sold out. Goodman, who grew up in Affton, has enjoyed a long career – in movies, on TV and on stage. He is part of the “Roseanne” reboot called “The Conners,” along with former Edwardsville resident Laurie Metcalf, who plays his sister-in-law Jackie. The TV   sitcom began Oct. 16 on ABC and can be seen at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Yours truly is hosting a special event film. The fest is celebrating the Golden Anniversaries of several influential films that came out in 1968: “Bullitt,” “Medium Cool,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Pretty Poison.”
Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld in “Pretty Poison”I will introduce “Pretty Poison” and lead the post-show discussion after the free screening on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 11 a.m. at the St. Louis Public Library central headquarters downtown on Olive. The film is sponsored by the St. Louis Film Critics Association.
This underrated film noir-like thriller starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, and has gained new appreciation as a cult gem, its influence noted in Terence Malick’s “Badlands” and Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade.” Think “Gun Crazy” meets “Lolita.” Mix in conspiracy theories, passion, greed and fantasy. With its inspired casting, it’s a strange and wonderful film about a teenage arsonist who is paroled, becomes smitten with a young femme fatale, and dangerous plans are put into play.
For a complete schedule or for more information, www.cinemastlouis.org For the trailer by Sleepy Kitty Arts (you rock Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult), watch this: https://youtu.be/UTm2PZJng_0
I was fortunate to be the moderator of a Q&A session after a sold-out screening of “Beautiful Boy” Sunday at the Hi-Pointe, with writer Nic Sheff, whose story is the film, and star Timothee Chalamet, whose fans started lining up at 8 a.m. for the 11 a.m. screening. St, Louis was one of four stops the Oscar-nominated Chalamet did over the weekend; Nic Sheff is appearing at over 10 locations.
Lynn Venhaus, Timothee Chalamet, Nic Sheff at “Beautiful Boy” Q&A. Photo by Kevin Brackett.***
APPLAUSE FOR: Congratulations to Kathleen Sitzer on her honor from the Alliance for Jewish Theatre, an International organization dedicated to promoting the creation, presentation, and preservation of theatrical endeavors by, for, and about the Jewish experience.
She is seen here with honoree Tovah Feldshuh at the recent Alliance for Jewish Theatre annual conference in Philadelphia. Feldshuh’s one-woman show, “Golda’s Balcony,” is the longest running in Broadway history. She received the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre.
Kathleen, the recently retired Founding Artistic Director of New Jewish Theatre, was recognized for her years of service and dedication to the concept of Jewish Theatre.
In addition to Sitzer, the conference will honor actress Tovah Feldshuh with the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre. Her one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” was the longest running in Broadway history.
The conference provides an opportunity for theatre artists and organizations to network and learn from each other through a variety of workshops, panel discussions and performances. It is hosted annually by a member theatre. This year’s conference in Philadelphia is hosted by Theatre Ariel. New Jewish Theatre hosted the conference two years ago in 2016 and also in 2002.
For more information, visit: www.alljewishtheatre.org.
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AROUND TOWN: Sarajane Alverson, who played Chef Rossi in the autobiographical “The Raging Skillet” at the New Jewish Theatre, was able to meet the real-life inspiration when she came to St. Louis for the play’s premiere.
Sarajane Alverson, Chef RossiHere is a photo of the two from their appearance on a Fox 2 news segment. Photo courtesy of Aemi Tucker. Sarajane made it through three weeks of performances without a knife injury!
Country singer Alexandra Kay of Waterloo, Ill.Let’s hear it for country singer Alexandra Kay, aka Lexi Krekorian from Waterloo, Ill., who is among the nine people on Netflix’s new “Westside” that premieres Nov. 9. (I have an in-depth feature article that will be published in the Belleville News-Democrat soon).
Mark Saunders isn’t trying out his Halloween costume — he began the national tour of “Something Rotten!” last month and revealed his character Brother Jeremiah’s look.
His show will be in Champaign, Ill., on Monday, Oct. 29, for a one-night performance at 7:30 p.m. at the State Farm Center (University of Illinois). It’s a 2-hour, 43-minute drive from St. Louis. For more information, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.
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AMERICAN IDOL: Interesting in auditioning for the next season of “American Idol” on ABC? Online audition videos are being accepted now through Nov. 5. You must be at least 15 years old to submit a video for consideration. You’ll be notified by Nov. 19 if you made the cut.
More information can be found here: https://fmna.etribez.com/ag/fmna/ai2abc/welcome.html
***BOOK SHELF: St. Louis native Ellie Kemper, a John Burroughs graduate, has published a collection of uplifting essays called “My Squirrel Days.” Her Oct. 13 book signing at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters was sold out.
The comic actress, known for “The Office” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has written about her journey from Midwestern naif to Hollywood.
Can’t get enough of Tony winner “Dear Evan Hansen”? The smash-hit has been turned into a young adult novel by Val Emmich and published on Oct. 9 by Little Brown. T
o promote the book, show composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul went on a 10-city bus tour with musical book writer Steven Levenson and author Emmich. Fellow Michigan alumnus Darren Criss joined them in Ann Arbor, and Tony winner and late-night host James Corden sang “Waving through the Window” at an L.A. bookstore.
A new deluxe album, including cut songs along with the original Broadway cast recording, is now available through Atlantic Records.
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LIFE IS ART – SAVE THE DATE: Who will be nominated for their work in 2018 St. Louis metropolitan area community theater – in musicals (Best Performance Awards) and plays (Theatre Mask Awards)?
Winners will be revealed at the annual Arts For Life Trivia Night, now set for Saturday, Feb. 1 at St. Joseph’s parish hall in Manchester. Ryan Cooper returns as the emcee.
Our theme this year is “That ‘70s Trivia” – you can decorate your table and dress accordingly (costumes optional) – but questions are a variety related to the category titles (announcing the show nominees).
AFL awards excellence in large and small ensemble musicals, dramas and comedies, and youth musical productions. The TMAs will take place on Saturday, April 6, at and the BPAs on Sunday, June 9, at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade.
Boogie the night away with AFL! Enjoy 10 rounds featuring a variety of trivia, silent auction, raffles, table decoration contest, “STL Theatre Sampler” ticket raffle, attendance prizes, and more.
New this year – VIP Tables – $200/8 people. VIP Tables include snacks, soda/water, prime seating, and a dedicated runner.  Reserve your table today! $160/8 people
For more information, visit AFL’s Facebook page or website, www.artsforlife.org.
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THEATRE RECOGNITION GUILD: Interested in scoring community theater and youth production musicals during the calendar year 2019? From now through Nov. 15, you can apply to be an AFL judge in what’s called the Theatre Recognition Guild. It’s the branch of AFL that judges musical theater for the Best Performance Awards given in 33 categories every June.
This is the only time during the year that you can apply. The online application is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2019trgapplication
You will be notified in December if you have been selected. Between 50 and 60 volunteers are judges, and 10-12 judges are assigned to score each eligible show for about 25 groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area.
Judges are required to attend shows throughout the bi-state region. There is no monetary compensation – it is all volunteer. If you judge 8 shows, you receive a free ticket to the BPAs. In 2018, TRG will have judged a total 48 shows (21 large ensemble, 7 small ensemble and 20 youth).
If you have any questions, please contact me, the TRG Chairman on the AFL Board of Directors since 2010, at [email protected]
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Artistic Director Kelly Hummert whipped us into a frenzy for months trying to figure out clues as to what Shakespeare play would be the next Immersive Theatre Project by her Rebel and Misfits Productions.
She recently revealed it’s “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” which opened Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 10, Wednesday through Saturday.
Sean Michael Higgins, Kelly Hummert in “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows”You can be there, too. Rebel and Misfits is offering 2 tickets to a performance for our current giveaway. All you do is answer our poll below – we’re asking about your favorite mystery play because Kelly was so mysterious about her show.
Send your pick, along with your name and phone number, to [email protected] by noon on Tuesday, Oct. 30. A winner will be selected from the entries, we’ll announce the name, and get the lucky pair set up for this yet-to-b-revealed enticing fall premiere.
FAVORITE MYSTERY PLAY (make selection to enter the drawing):
Deathtrap
Dial M for Murder
The Mousetrap
Night Must Fall
Sleuth
Wait Until Dark
Send your choice by noon Tuesday, Oct. 30, to enter the drawing to: [email protected]

WORD: “Movies will make you famous, television will make you rich, but theatre will make you good.” – Terrence Mann
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By Ken Brostow
Contributing Writer
Do nice guys always finish last?
Not in Jeffrey M. Wright’s case.  The cliché doesn’t apply to him. A very popular entertainer here in St. Louis, his stellar reputation as an actor, singer, cabaret performer and emcee has spread to other cities as well.
By day, Jeff works as a physical therapist and in business development. But when dusk falls, he’s singing or acting, or both.
Jason Graae, an LA-based singer/actor, hears in Jeff  “…the voice of an Angel.” But adds that Jeff also has “the smile of a Devil.”
On the other coast, NYC-based singer-songwriter Lina Koutrakos described Jeff as “music’s contemporary ‘matinee idol,’ …He is heart, voice, looks and very much his own man…”

Jeff as Nathan Detroit in KTG’s “Guys and Dolls.”For the past 20 years, Jeff has worked with Stray Dog Theatre, New Line Theatre, Kirkwood Theatre Guild and others in St. Louis. His musical roles have included the famous gamblers Nathan Detroit and Nicky Arnstein, and run the gamut between comical, from Elijah Whitney in “Anything Goes,” to dramatic, as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant father, in “Ragtime.”
He’s amassed more than 50 theatrical credits, and about 30 cabaret appearances.
His cabaret performances have branched out to New York City.
“My New York debut was in May of 2015 at 54 Below in ‘The Music of Alex Rybeck.’  Since then, I’ve been fortunate to return several times to appear in concerts at other venues including The Metropolitan Room, the Iridium on Broadway and the Laurie Beechman Theatre,” he said.
A recent autobiographical cabaret, “The 40s – Theirs and Mine,” included anecdotes about turning the big 40 milestone and songs from the 1940s, reflecting his broad musical interests.
In September, he is headed back to be featured in The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence at a well-known jazz/cabaret club called Don’t Tell Mama.
“I’ve attended shows there, but it will be a new performance venue for me, so I’m especially excited about that,” he said.
Tina Farmer of KDHX noted that his voice “wavers between silky smooth and slightly gritty.” That’s why he can cover both American Songbook standards and rock ‘n roll anthems – moving effortlessly between “Sentimental Journey” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
As the quintessential “people person,” his art, his job, his recreational time—all revolve around people.  He works to heal people through physical therapy, and then entertains them socially through his devotion to theater.
This summer, he has been playing a colorful character in the musical comedy “The Robber Bridegroom,” which is ending its three-week run at Stray Dog Theatre. The play has been a joyful homecoming for Jeff.
“This is a hilarious, rowdy, Southern farce.  It’s full of fantastic bluegrass music, and Stray Dog’s production is a rare opportunity to see this lesser-known, but very fun show.  The cast and production team are awesome, and I really think the audience is going to have a great time!” he said.
“Since I grew up in the South and I love country/bluegrass music — my first album, besides Sesame Street and other kids’ stuff, was Kenny Rogers’s ‘The Gambler.’ I’m having lots of fun with it!” he said.
For more information, visit his website, www.jeffreymwright.com

Kimi Short, Jeffrey M. Wright and Ryan Scott Foizey in “Next to Normal” at New Line Theatre
Here are Jeff’s answers to our Take Ten Q&A:
1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?“I was always fascinated with the idea of being an actor/entertainer, even from a very young age, but there were not a lot of opportunities to explore this in my schools or hometown (Little Rock, Ark.).In high school, I remember attending the annual school play as a freshman and thinking I would like to do that as an upperclassman. I volunteered for stage crew of ‘The Sting’ as a sophomore, with the idea that I would get to know some of the theatre crowd better, as preparation to audition the following year. Unfortunately, after that show, the drama department folded for my junior and senior year because the volunteer director for the program retired, so I did not get that chance.”

 
“I was heavily involved in athletics throughout grade school and high school, and many different organizations in college, so my plate was pretty full of extra-curricular activities that did not include performing.  Once I graduated from college and got into the work force, I decided I really did want to pursue the arts in my spare time.
“I didn’t know the first thing about how to do this, but a friend took me under his wing in 1998 and encouraged me to audition for a summer musical with Studio J Productions. He told me that ‘they always need guys’ and if I could sing, there was a good chance I would be cast. I had never attended an audition before, or ever sung in front of people, outside of occasional karaoke, so I had no idea what or how to prepare. I sang ‘Edelweiss’ acapella from “The Sound of Music,” which was a horrible choice for the raucous comedy I was auditioning for, but somehow I was cast in a small ensemble role. I was instantly hooked after that first experience, and I’ve never looked back!”
2. How would your friends describe you?
“I believe most people think of me as a nice guy, which hopefully is true.  I’d like to think that people would also describe me as fun, caring, loyal, driven, and a good listener.”
3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
“Much of my spare time is spent around performing in some way.  For big chunks of the last 20 years, I have spent many evenings either rehearsing or performing, thanks to the many opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to receive.  When I do find myself with free time, I enjoy seeing friends perform, spending time with my dog, sleeping in, traveling to visit friends and family, and going to the movies.”
4. What is your current obsession?
“I’ve recently discovered the world of podcasts and have subscribed to several.  I really enjoy having them on in the background if I’m doing office work, driving, etc. I think my favorite thus far is “Awards Chatter,”in which the Hollywood Reporter interviews various celebrities. Many are actors, who frequently describe how they got into show business, which I find fascinating.”
5, What would people be surprised to find out about you?
“Probably that I have a moderate case of ‘road rage,’ and I love to honk my car horn.  It’s unexpected because I am usually fairly low-key in most aspects of my life, but that’s not always the case when I’m driving.”
6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
“Becoming an uncle has been incredibly rewarding and special for me.  I don’t have children of my own, but in the past five years, I’ve been blessed with two adorable nephews and one beautiful niece.
“In the performance world, I think discovering cabaret has been very defining for me. The people that I’ve met and learned from have certainly shaped me as a singer and actor, and several of those relationships have led to performance opportunities in New York that I never would have imagined.”
7. Who do you admire most?
“I have a great deal of admiration for my parents. They’ve been married for almost 45 years and are extremely caring and kind-hearted people. I also think a great deal of many people I know who quietly do amazing things for people and never expect anything in return.  Selflessness is such a rare and special attribute.”
8. What is at the top of your bucket list?
“There are a lot of international destinations that I’d like to see. I’ve been to parts of Italy and France, but otherwise I have not traveled outside of the US. I’d love to see Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand for sure.”
9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
“Outside of seeing all of the amazing performances that we have available, I love exploring our awesome restaurant and bar scene with good friends.”
10. What’s next?
“After ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ is over, on Sept. 23, I’ll be in NYC to perform in a concert at Don’t Tell Mama. Soon after that, I’ll begin rehearsals for my fourth run of “All Is Calm” with Mustard Seed Theatre, which will run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 16.”
Jeff as Tateh in “Ragtime” at Stray Dog TheatreMORE ON JEFFREY M. WRIGHTBirthplace:  North Little Rock, ArkansasCurrent location: Southampton neighborhood of south St. LouisFamily: Both parents, two brothers, two nephews, one niece.  Single with no children and one dog.Education:  Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from Saint Louis UniversityDay job: Outreach Services Executive with SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.  This is a business development role in which I visit other hospitals and physicians to teach them about our services, ensure that patient transfers to our facility go smoothly, etc.First role: Mayor Dan’l Dawgmeat and other small roles – “Lil Abner” with Studio J Productions, 1998.Favorite roles/dream roles: I have been extremely fortunate to play several dream roles already – including Pippin in “Pippin” with Stray Dog Theatre, Jamie in “The Last Five Years” with New Jewish Theatre, and Dan in “Next to Normal” with New Line Theatre. Other favorite roles include Rob Gordon in “High Fidelity,” Bobby in “Company,” Jimmy in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (twice), Finch in “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying,” Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” and more.
The one dream role that I’ve yet to play is Billy Flynn in “Chicago,” and I’m truly hopeful to perhaps someday get that chance.Awards/honors: I share St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for Best Ensemble in a Musical with the cast of Stray Dog Theatre’s “Ragtime,” and the original company of “All is Calm” with Mustard Seed Theatre.
I also received Arts for Life’s Best Performance Awards for Best Actor in a Musical (Finch in “How to Succeed” with Kirkwood Theatre Guild) and Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role (Harry the Horse in “Guys and Dolls” with Alpha Players)Favorite words to live by: Work hard, play hard.A song that makes you happy:  From popular music, “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars.  From musical theatre, many come to mind, but in recent years I’d choose “Alexander Hamilton” from “Hamilton.”

Todd Schaefer and Jeffrey M. Wright in “Hands on a Hardbody” at New Line Theatre.
Photos by Gerry Love, Jill Ritter Lindbergh, Peter Wochniak
 
 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
It might be July, but actor Ryan Cooper is thinking Christmas. And Halloween. Well, he’s an accomplished performer at any time of year, but it’s during those holiday seasons where he really shines.
For the upcoming season of St. Charles Christmas Traditions, he will return to his blue-lipped, blue-clad jester-like character Jack Frost for the 13th year.
He auditioned for the first four or so years, but now is contracted for the part.

“One of the perks of longevity is that many of the old-timers that have been the same role for a number of seasons get to return to our holiday alter-egos without the audition process,” he said. “But I’m just a baby in the whole scheme of things. We have cast members that have been involved in the festival for 20 years.”

St. Charles Christmas Traditions involves 80 characters who make the season bright, along with many special activities, along the town’s historic Main Street. Hours are Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, Nov. 23 – Dec. 24.
Two years ago, Ryan created the sister festival for the Halloween season called Legends and Lanterns.
“It celebrates Halloween by looking at the origins of the customs associated with the holiday. We have interactive villains from history and folklore — Lizzie Borden, the Big Bad Wolf, Medusa, and so forth, a Victorian mourning museum, and many other fun attractions and activities,” he said.
He also participates in the annual Voices of Valhalla event at Valhalla Cemetery in north St. Louis County, where narrated hayrides travel the grounds and actors portray some of the noteworthy individuals who reside there.
“It is a really wonderful event. Larry Marsh does all of the research and writes the scripts, and has such a talent for finding the most fascinating characters to portray,” he said. “We recently did ‘Echoes of Valhalla,’ a one-night ‘greatest hits’ of some of the most memorable characters from over the years, onstage at the Florissant Civic Center theatre.”
Ryan is truly a man of many hats.
This summer, Ryan starred in “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” for Stages’ Theatre for Young Audiences. He played Zeke, King Julien, Mason and Foosa. It’s his third year in the children’s musical, having played the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland” and the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical.”
“I absolutely adore working with Stages. I pinch myself every time I get to do a show with them, because I have been such a big fan of the company since I saw my first Stages’ show in 2005 – “Man of La Mancha.” It is incredible the amount of love and dedication the staff puts into their theatre for young audience shows, just as they would for any of their mainstage productions. It is a joy to be a part of,” he said.
He particularly likes performing theater for youngsters.
“There is just something so special about doing shows for families and young audiences. There is always an electric energy. And knowing that there are people in the audience who are experiencing live theatre for the first time, and that I get to be a part of it is the cherry on top of the cake,” he said.
Another summer activity he enjoys is hosting the annual Best Performance Awards on the second Sunday in June, which is produced by non-profit organization Arts for Life. Awards for excellence in community and youth musical theater are presented.

In addition to an opening monologue and introducing presenters, Ryan inserts comic bits that are often sight gags and involving theater or familiar characters. He returned as master of ceremonies June 10 after taking a break last year. He had emceed in 2014 – 2016. Because he is so popular with the crowd, AFL has locked him in for the 20th awards in 2019.
As a teenager, Ryan began getting noticed in community musical theater, especially for being funny. He won three BPA awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedic Role — as Bud Frump in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Carmen Ghia in “The Producers” and Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“Hosting is such a sincere honor for me. This year before the show started, while I was getting ready, I thought back to how my first BPA ceremony I attended was in 2006, where I volunteered as an usher,” he said.
“So, to get to act as master of ceremonies was a surreal moment where I realized how lucky I am to get to be a part of this community. I don’t get the chance to be as directly involved with the wonderful community theatre scene like I once was, so to have Arts for Life as an opportunity to be with old and new friends that make up the vibrant and talented St. Louis theatre family is such a privilege.”
He had moved away in 2013, hired to work in the long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and the short-lived Storybook Circle Giggle Gang shows at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Upon his return, he was hired as a tour guide for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
“It’s where I get to take on my biggest acting challenge — acting like I know anything at all about sports,” he said.
“Seriously, it’s great. I’ve been giving tours there for four and a half years, and even though I am not a sports guy, as a native St. Louisan, you grow up with at least a great admiration and appreciation for the history of the St. Louis Cardinals,” he said. “I am happy to share their stories and hear the stories of the people from around the world that I get to interact with every day. Plus, as a performer, I get to have a captive audience for an hour at a time while on tour — what’s not to love?”
In addition, he is a docent at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.
“So, between that, and getting ready for the third season of Legends & Lanterns, and my 13th season with Christmas Traditions, that’s what the rest of my 2018 looks like, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love it!” he said.

Here are Ryan Cooper’s answers to our questions:
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I feel that it’s something that happened organically over time. I had done shows at school when I was younger and had always enjoyed them, but I think the real formative moment was when ‘The Producers’ came through the Fox on its first national tour. I was hooked, and said to myself, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ My poor mother had to put up with me marching around the house singing tunes from the show for months after that.
How would your friends describe you?
Ha! I think my friends would definitely describe me as quirky — though they assure me they mean it in an endearing way.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I am crazy about going to museums. I love history and I love learning, so I try to go to every exhibit I can. History museums, science museums, art museums — I can’t get enough. A few years ago, I was vacationing in St. Petersburg, Fla., and my first stop was not to their beautiful beaches, but to the Florida Holocaust Museum. That about sums it up.
What is your current obsession? 
My current-yet-long-running obsession is all things Titanic. I’m a total nerd. When I traveled Ireland in 2009, I visited the final port where the ship was docked at, and did a one-man re-enactment of James Cameron’s epic three-hour film in 30 seconds — video proof of which I post on Facebook every April 10 for “Titanic anniversary week.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
Every spring, I travel over to the nation’s capital, where I give multi-day tours of Washington D.C. to school groups from around the country. A fascinating town — not to mention the abundance of excellent museums!
Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
That would hands down have to be working for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I am a huge Disney fan, and used to go to the parks every year with my mom. I have wanted to work there since I was four, and in 2013, I was lucky to see that dream realized as I joined the casts of the long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and short-lived Storybook Circus Giggle Gang shows. While I didn’t get to stick around for as long as I had hoped, it was a phenomenal experience, both personally and professionally. I got my Actors Equity card with “Hoop,” and for the first time, really experienced up-close the “business” side of show business — both the good and not-so-pretty parts. It’s an experience I treasure.
Who do you admire most?
Since I was in second grade, I have had an enormous admiration for Anne Frank. She has been an inspiration to me for my entire adult life, and her words have provided countless moments of peace and hope in times of need. I have a well-worn photo of her in my wallet that goes with me everywhere.
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
Speaking of Anne, the tippy-top of my bucket list is visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I will for sure be there June 12, 2029 for her 100th birthday — but hope to get a visit in well before then.
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Oh gosh! That is a tough one. I am crazy about this town and feel that there is still so much I’ve got to explore. With that being said, every time I go to Shaw’s Garden (Missouri Botanical), and it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of times I’ve gone, I am in awe. Now if only I could get my backyard to look that good!
What’s next?
I’ve recently dipped my toes in the water of being on the director/producer side of things. In 2016, I created “Legends & Lanterns: A ‘Spirited’ Journey Through Halloween History,” a festival that takes place along Historic Main Street in St. Charles and delves into the origins of our most beloved All Hallow’s Eve traditions, while allowing visitors to rub elbows with some of the most infamous villains in history and folklore. So, I’ll be back directing that this October, then on to my 13th season as Jack Frost for the “St. Charles Christmas Traditions” festival.
All About Ryan Cooper
Age: 28Birthplace: St. LouisCurrent Location: Unincorporated North St. Louis CountyFamily: Only child to my awesome “Mommie Dearest,” Cindy CooperEducation: Trinity Catholic High School, Fontbonne University (B.A. Performing Arts)Day Job: Tour Guide for the St. Louis Cardinals (among many other jobs)First Job: Jack Frost at St. Charles Christmas Traditions when I was 17.First Role: Royal Child #4 in Riverview Gardens High School’s “The King and I” in 1998Favorite Roles: So many! Including: Man in Chair (The Drowsy Chaperone), Bud Frump (How to Succeed…), and Thenardier (Les Miserables).Dream Role: This is a total cop-out answer, but I truly don’t have one — yet. I’m working on it.Awards: Three-time Arts for Life Best Performance Award winner for Bud Frump (How to Succeed), Hysterium (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and Carmen Ghia (The Producers)Words to live by: “No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without having left behind distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” –George Washington CarverA song that makes you happy: “It Had to be You”

Photo Credits: AFL BPAs Gerry Love, Stages St. Louis, The Producers and St. Charles Christmas Traditions provided by Ryan Cooper, and featured image by Lynn Venhaus.