The Muny has announced that it will offer 10 weeks of free online Muny entertainment for the summer of 2020. For 10 consecutive Monday nights, with a single repeat stream on the subsequent Thursday, audiences and fans can experience the magic of their Muny summer online at muny.org with both curated and newly created entertainment. The Muny’s free online season is proudly sponsored by World Wide Technology.

Beginning Monday, June 15 through Monday, July 13 fans can enjoy five weeks of Muny Magic in Your Home. This new series will feature exclusive, never-before-seen footage of the The Muny’s concert series  Muny Magic at The Sheldon. Launched in 2015, the popular off-season series hosts Muny fan-favorites for intimate evenings of music, song and story.

The online season launches this Monday, June 15 at 8:15 p.m. CDT with Muny favorite, and Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner, Beth Leavel. The first Muny Magic in Your Home will also feature a guest appearance from Tony Award nominee Lara Teeter, as well as other very special surprise artists. Ms. Leavel’s music director is Phil Reno and she is joined by Vince Clark on bass and Nick Savage on drums.

The complete Muny Magic in Your Home schedule is: Beth Leavel (June 15 and 18), A Night with the Buddy Holly Boys (June 22 and 25), Our Leading Ladies (June 29 and July 2), Our Leading Men (July 6 and 9) and Mikaela Bennett and Alex Prakken (July 13 and 16). For descriptions of each show, please see below.

Beginning Monday, July 20 through Monday, August 17 the Muny will produce five online variety shows featuring Muny friends and family from around the world. The full schedule and weekly lineup will be announced in early July.

All Muny online performances can be streamed on Monday and Thursday evenings at no cost via muny.org. These are exclusive, one-time-only streams and will not be available after the Thursday night airing.
“While we can’t be together in Forest Park this summer, we wanted to have a 102nd season to bring our community and our audiences together in whatever manner we can,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer, Mike Isaacson. “One of the reasons The Muny has survived and thrived for more than a century is because we’ve been a wonderful ritual, a life bookmark, for generations of St. Louisans. With our online season, we can keep and honor that beautiful tradition. We hope everyone will gather and enjoy these terrific Muny shows.

“Our teams have been hard at work putting together 10 incredible nights of programming that will hopefully help simulate a small piece of the Muny magic audiences feel each summer in Forest Park,” said Muny President and CEO, Denny Reagan. “To kick off our online season with beloved, longtime Muny favorite Beth Leavel is nothing short of exciting. Her Muny Magic in Your Home performance sets the bar for a great online summer season ahead. We are sad that we won’t see our Muny friends and family in person, but we are eager to spend 10 nights together virtually.”
Beth Leavel | June 15 and 18
Sponsored by World Wide Technology

Beth Leavel received Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and L.A. Drama Critics Awards for her performance as the title character in The Drowsy Chaperone. Other Broadway: Dee Dee Allen in The Prom (2019 Tony Award nomination), Florence Greenberg in Baby It’s You! (Tony, Drama Desk, OCC nominations); BandstandElfMamma Mia!Young Frankenstein42nd Street (original and revival), Crazy for YouThe Civil WarShow Boat. Numerous credits off-Broadway, regional theatre, commercials and television, including the Paper Mill Playhouse production of The Bandstand. MFA from University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Beth’s Muny credits include: inaugural Muny Magic at The Sheldon featured artist (2015), Mama Rose in Gypsy (2018), Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! (2015); Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! (2014); Sister Robert Anne in Nunsense: Muny Style! (2013); Mrs. Meers in Thoroughly Modern Millie (2012), Miss Hannigan in Annie (2009), Vera Charles in Mame (2005), Dorothy Brock in 42nd Street (2004) and Betty Rizzo in Grease (1988). She has also served as an understudy for some of the greatest Muny leading ladies in 1983: Judy Kaye in Can-Can; Lucie Arnaz in I Do! I Do!; Lynn Redgrave in The King and I and Susan Powell in Promises, Promises.



The Buddy Holly Boys | June 22 and 25
Sponsored by Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Drury Hotels, Safety National and Welsch Heating and Cooling Company

After starring as Buddy and the Crickets in The Muny’s 2015 summer blockbuster Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, Andy Christopher, Joe Cosmo Cogen, Kyle Lacy and Nathan Yates Douglass give an electrifying performance in the highest-attended Muny Magic at The Sheldon to date.


Our Leading Ladies | June 29 and July 2
Sponsored by Augusta Winery and Montelle Winery

Danielle Bowen (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, 2016), Ali Ewoldt (Martha Jefferson in 1776, 2019; Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, 2017; Maria in West Side Story, 2013), Stephanie Gibson (Gabrielle in Cinderella, 2019; Inga in Young Frankenstein, 2016; Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma!, 2007), and Elena Shaddow (Marian in The Music Man, 2016; Cinderella in Into the Woods, 2015) give heart-stirring tributes to leading ladies of past Muny seasons, including Ethel Merman, Shirley Jones and Bernadette Peters.

Our Leading Men | July 6 and 9
Sponsored by Centene Charitable Foundation

Ben Davis (John Dickinson in 1776, 2019; Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, 2019; Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017; Curly in Oklahoma!, 2015; Emile de Becque in South Pacific, 2013; Galahad in Spamalot, 2013), Davis Gaines (Joseph Pulitzer in Newsies, 2017), Jay Armstrong Johnson (Jack Kelly in Newsies, 2017, Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street, 2016; Barnaby Tucker in Hello, Dolly!, 2014) and Mykal Kilgore (Annas in Jesus Christ Superstar, 2017) celebrate iconic men from past Muny seasons.


Mikaela Bennett and Alex Prakken | July 13 and 16
Sponsored by U.S. Bank

Muny newcomer Mikaela Bennett (Ella in Cinderella, 2019) and St. Louis native, and former Muny Kid and Teen, Alex Prakken (Courier in 1776, 2019; Marius in Les Misérables, 2013) take audiences on an enchanted journey through the musical theatre songbook.

For digital assets, including the Muny Magic in Your Home logo and b-roll of Beth Leavel, please click here World Wide Technology (WWT) became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They are committed to continuing in this role with their leadership gift as The Muny’s 2020 Online Season Presenting Sponsor To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 350,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 102 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.

For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Plays with substantial women roles were spotlighted at the seventh annual St.
Louis Theater Circle Awards March 25, with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’
musical production of “Evita” and a homegrown “A Streetcar Named Desire” from
the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival each receiving seven awards.

Both iconic female-lead shows had received the most
nominations, 11 apiece, when the Circle announced them in January. The awards
recognized outstanding work locally produced by regional professional companies
during the calendar year 2018.

Nominees Kari Ely and Michelle Hand in “Into the Breeches!”The comedy “Into the Breeches!”, the first play in Shakespeare
Festival St. Louis’ new program, “In the Works,” won four awards. The world
premiere was in January 2018, with its first St. Louis performances in
September. The comedy from Chicago playwright George Brant is about a
fictitious theater group in 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s
wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” It had roles for
six women and two men. In addition to awards for ensemble, director Nancy Bell
and best production, Michelle Hand won best actress.

The Circle, which includes veteran area theater critics, annually recognizes outstanding work in comedies, dramas and musicals, and with two opera categories.

Each of the 33 categories featured five nominees, with 23 local companies cited for 54 shows, and 120 artists receiving nods, including 10 with two apiece.

This year, there were three ties: sound design in a play, costume design in a musical and musical ensemble.

Evita won seven awards from the Circle“Evita,” the vibrant Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, earned awards for musical direction (Charlie Alterman), choreography (Gustavo Zajac and Mariana Parma), set design (Luke Canterella), lighting (John Lasiter), director (Rob Ruggiero, his third), ensemble and production of a musical.

The landmark “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written in 1947 by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, earned honors for Sophia Brown as Outstanding Actress – for her heart-wrenching portrayal of the emotionally needy and mental fragile faded beauty Blanche Dubois, sound design (original music by Henry Palkes and sound by Amanda Werre), lighting design (Sean M. Savoie), set design (James Wolk), direction (Tim Ocel), ensemble and production of a drama.

The 18 other awards went to separate shows, with both The
Black Rep and The Muny winning three apiece, and The Rep adding two more for earning
the most, nine.

Jeff Cummings and Katy Keating in “Life Sucks.” Photo by ProPhotoSTLIn comedy, Katy Keating won for Supporting Actress as feisty but unrequited lovesick Sonia in New Jewish Theatre’s “Life Sucks,” a ‘sort of’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Aaron Posner. She was also part of the award-winning ensemble of “Into the Breeches!”.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo by Ron James.Isaiah Di Lorenzo won Supporting Actor as The Player, the leader of the Tragedians, in St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” He also was in the award-winning ensemble of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Will Bonfiglio as Mary Dale in “Red Scare on Sunset.” Photo by Justin Been. Will Bonfiglio won his second Outstanding Actor Award, as film star Mary Dale in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Red Scare on Sunset.” He was honored in 2017 for the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.

For costume designs, Lou Bird won for The Rep’s “Born Yesterday” vintage wardrobe in the play category and there was a tie in the musical category between Leon Dobkowski, who won for The Muny’s colorful “The Wiz,” and Darryl Harris for the elegant “Crowns: A Gospel Musical” at The Black Rep.

There was another tie in sound design in a play – besides “Streetcar,” Rusty Wandall won for Lucas Hnath’s contemporary “The Humans” at The Rep.

Laurie McConnell, left, as Birdie Hubbard in “The Little Foxes.” Photo by Patrick HuberIn drama, Laurie McConnell won Supporting Actress as forlorn
Birdie Hubbard in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The
Little Foxes.” She won in 2017 for Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal
of Joanne in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company.

Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas. Photo by Ann AuerbachEric Dean White, a previous nominee, won Supporting Actor for playing the slick, smooth, haughty and conniving Satan in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ron Himes in “Fences”

Another previous nominee and winner, Ron Himes won Outstanding Actor as bitter garbage collector Troy in August Wilson’s “Fences at The Black Rep last winter. In 2014, The Black Rep won best ensemble and production for “The Whipping Man.”

The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” best new playThe Black Rep also won Best New Play for Nikkole Salter’s “Torn
Asunder,” which dramatized true stories of newly emancipated African Americans
trying to overcome the vestiges of slavery so they could reconnect with their
families.

Joy Boland won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the imposing villainess sea witch in Variety Theater’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

Beth Leavel as Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” Photo by Philip Hamer.For their powerhouse musical performances, Corbin Bleu won Outstanding Actor as the fleet-footed matinee idol Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” and Beth Leavel was honored as the controlling stage parent Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” both at The Muny.

Corbin Bleu in “Singin’ in the Rain” at The Muny. Photo by Phil Hamer.Leavel had been nominated three times before (“Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all at the Muny. She is currently performing on Broadway in a St. Louis-produced original musical, “The Prom.”

Stephanie Merritt and Kent Coffel in “The Light in the Piazza” Kent Coffel won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as well-meaning haberdasher Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father, in “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by R-S Theatrics in its St. Louis regional premiere.

Anything Goes at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter LindbergTying with “Evita” for musical ensemble was New Line Theatre’s vivacious “Anything Goes.”

It was a three-peat for Ruggiero, who won for directing “Evita,” and had previously been honored for The Rep’s productions of “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Regina” at OTSL was Outstanding Opera ProductionIn the opera categories, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was honored
for both Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was given to director Patricia
Racette for “La Traviata,” and the Mark Blitzstein adaptation of “The Little Foxes”
— “Regina,” as Outstanding Production of an Opera.
Three special awards were bestowed:  To the
Muny for a century of performances celebrated during its centennial season of
2018; to Kathleen Sitzer, founder and long-time artistic director of the New
Jewish Theatre, for lifetime achievement; and to Steven Woolf, Augustin
artistic director of The Rep for more than 30 years, also for lifetime
achievement.

Sitzer retired after New Jewish Theatre’s 2017-18 season, while Woolf will retire after The Rep’s 2018-19 season this spring. Organized in 2012, the St. Louis Theater Circle includes founding members Steve Allen of stagedoorstl.com, Mark Bretz of the Ladue News, Robert A. Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of Broadway World, Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX, Judith Newmark, now of judyacttwo.com, Ann Pollack of stlouiseats.typepad.com, Lynn Venhaus, now of St. Louis Limelight magazine, Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV’s Two on the Aisle, and Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tina Farmer of KDHX and Michelle Kenyon of snoopstheatrethoughts.com. Eleanor Mullin is the administrator.

Those who helped produce the show at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University included Andrea Torrence and Peggy Holly, who put together the slide show; awards assistance Hannah Daines, stage manager Alycia Martin and assistant stage manager Delaney Dunster, voice-over announcer Colin Nichols and box office assistants Kimberly Sansone and Harry Ginsburg.

Renowned local musician Joe Dreyer was the accompanist and Deborah Sharn performed an opening number.

Special thanks to Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Price Waterhouse Cooper LLC, who tabulate the Circle ballots, and to the awards certificate calligrapher Susan Zenner.

Contact the Circle by email: [email protected] and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

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.”

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
You go, girls! Local singer-actors get national attention, and the St. Louis-produced Broadway musical “The Prom” made Thanksgiving Parade television history.
BREAKING OUT: We have a talented trio of local ladies who are living their dreams right now.
Lexi Krekorian, 27, of Waterloo, Ill., is one of the nine struggling musicians featured on the Netflix reality series, “Westside,” now available. She goes by the stage name, Alexandra Kay, and has released her first single, “You Think You Know Someone,” and several music videos of songs on the “Westside” soundtrack. She started out in school and community theater, and is chasing her dream in L.A. Here is the feature I wrote for the Belleville News-Democrat about her rising star.
https://www.bnd.com/living/magazine/article221600685.html
Kennedy Holmes of Florissant, the John Burroughs student and Muny Kid who is wowing the nation as a contestant on “The Voice,” made it through to the Top 11 Live Playoffs on Nov. 20. She sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” and is on Jennifer Hudson’s team, headed for the Top 10 showdown Nov. 26. Here is her Top 11 performance:
https://www.nbc.com/the-voice/video/kennedy-holmes-wind-beneath-my-wings/3832852
Thirteen proved to be lucky for Kennedy, as she was not among the 12 eliminated from the Top 24 Live Playoffs in Episode 13. She sang Beyonce’s “Halo.” “The Voice” is on Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, with live voting the first night and results the second night. She is 13.
Meadow Nguy, providedMeadow Nguy, 23, of O’Fallon, Ill., performed in two musicals at Stray Dog Theatre (Marta in “Spring Awakening” in 2012 and the female lead in the original musical “Spellbound” in 2015), and in community and school theater. She guest-starred on the Nov. 18 episode of “Madam Secretary” called “Baby Steps,” as a Southeast Asia surrogate caught up in a human trafficking imbroglio . She made her crime-drama debut in ‘The Blacklist” earlier this year. Both shows available on demand. Here is the news article I wrote for the Belleville News-Democrat:
https://www.bnd.com/news/local/article221829910.html

***ATTABOY: Congratulations to Cory Finley, who scored a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay for his “Thoroughbreds.” The annual awards, held since 1984, honor independent filmmakers working with small budgets. The awards are always announced the day before the Oscars, and this year, it will be Saturday, Feb. 23.
Focus Features photoIn fall 2017, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presented Finley’s play, “The Feast.” A John Burroughs School grad, Finley’s movie opened nationwide in March after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It played the St. Louis International Film Festival in 2017.
Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split,” “The Witch”) play upper-class Connecticut teenagers who rekindle their unlikely friendship and hatch a plan to solve both of their problems — no matter what the cost. It’s the last film of Anton Yelchin.                                                                    Finley, who grew up in Clayton, is based in New York City. He is a member of the Obie-winning Youngblood playwrights group at Ensemble Studio Theater, has received a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for playwrighting, and was the inaugural recipient of the Gurney Playwrights Fund for his play, “The Feast,” at The Flea Theater. Check out www.thoroughbredsmovie.com
***STANDING O’s: Standing ovation for stand-up guy, Kwofe Coleman, who started as an usher at the Muny the summer of 1998, and now has been named managing director! He has served as Director of Marketing and Communications since 2013.
Kudos to the Cinema St. Louis team on their record-setting attendance of 28,723 at this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival Nov. 1 – 11. SLIFF screened 413 films, including 88 narrative features, 77 documentary features, and 248 shorts. Local actors are often seen in the regionally produced short films.

Cast members from “Disney’s Aladdin” presented “Sultan’s Soiree,” an exclusive cocktail reception, Nov 18 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Guests mingled while enjoying cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, photo opportunities, live entertainment and karaoke. To learn more, visit www.broadwaycares.org. Michael James Scott, a Webster University Conservatory graduate, is playing the Genie while Jonathan Weir, formerly of Belleville, is Jafar. “Aladdin” is at the Fox through Nov. 25.
***BIG SPLASH: The reviews are in, and it’s all raves for the new original musical comedy “The Prom,” which opened on Broadway Nov. 15 at the Longacre Theatre, following previews that began Oct. 23.
The New York Times said: “Makes you believe in musical comedy again.”
Variety said: “This original musical has laughs, tears and joy — not to mention jaw-dropping star-turns — in a clash-of-cultures hoot that earns a big Broadway corsage.”
Vanity Fair photoThe 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. Beguelin wrote lyrics to Disney’s “Aladdin” and both he and Sklar were Tony-nominated for “The Wedding Singer.”
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. St. Louis performers Jack Sippel and Drew Reddington are part of the ensemble, and stars Beth Leavel and Christopher Sieber have appeared several times at The Muny. The Broadway cast also includes Brooks Ashmanskas (Tony nominee for ‘Something Rotten!”),
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. Its tagline is “There’s no business like getting in other people’s business.”
***
NOBODY RAINED ON THEIR PARADE: “The Prom,” one of four musical acts in the 92nd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Nov. 22, made parade history with the first same-sex kiss televised live. As the number, “It’s Time to Dance,” closed, cast mates Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen embraced and kissed. The LGBTQ community cheered.
Here is that performance: https://youtu.be/VDZDLJjzJBI
Tony nominee Taylor Louderman of Bourbon, Mo., performed with the cast of “Mean Girls.” She plays Regina, the snotty leader of the cool girls’ pack. Taylor was last seen locally on the Muny stage in 2016’s “Aida” as Amneris.
Fun Fact: The dance company, Radio City Rockettes, was founded in St. Louis in 1925 by Russell Markert. First known as the “Missouri Rockets,” the precision chorus line has performed in Radio City Music Hall since 1932.
***HANNUKAH HULLABALOO: The eighth annual Brothers Lazaroff show to benefit Metro Theater Company will take place on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. at The Grandel Theatre, and all ages welcome.
The show will feature Rabbi James Stone Goodman and the Eight Nights Orchestra, DJ Boogieman, tributes to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and more! As always, free latkes will be fried on-stage! Food vendors will include Taco Buddha, The Dark Room and STL-Style will be selling their St. Louis-inspired apparel.
***AROUND TOWN: Legendary Wilco founder and Belleville native Jeff Tweedy took to The Pageant stage with Jon Hamm Nov. 17 to discuss his storied career. The book tour stop was sold-out.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch photoThe Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back”): Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.,” features stories about his childhood, putting Uncle Tupelo together, and recollections about St. Louis record store, rock clubs and live-music scene during his formative years.
Now based in Chicago, Tweedy can be spotted in the indie movie “Hearts Beat Loud” as a customer, in what else, a record store.
Playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky was in town for the opening weekend of West End Players Guild “The Great Seduction,” and graciously spoke to Tina Farmer of KDHX and I about his interesting life and writing process.
 
Zelevinsky also wrote “Manifest Destiny,” performed at WEPG in 2016, which was nominated for Best Ensemble by the St. Louis Theater Circle.
***SANTA’S COMING! I KNOW HIM: With the holiday essential film “Elf” as its next movies-for-foodies event, Tenacious Eats returns to the St. Louis Banquet Center in Holly Hills, at 5700 Leona Street, on Saturday, Dec. 15.
Guests will feast on five courses and have cocktails themed to the movie, and the event also includes contests and live music. Chef Liz Schuster has left West End Grill and Pub to devote more time to her cinema-and-theme-dining experience – and Tenacious Eats is known for its “full-contact dining experiences.” Tickets are on sale now at BrownPaperTickets.com.
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Ah, Church Ladies and Christmas Pageants are customary fixtures during the holiday season, so the folks behind the Lutheran laugh-apalooza, “Church Basement Ladies: Away in a Basement” have returned with a warm, sentimental and uproarious show.
Now playing at The Playhouse @ Westport through Jan. 6, this is a perfect show to take your mom or grandma to – and you can win two free tickets to the show if you enter our drawing.
Select a show from the list below to answer our question: “What is your favorite holiday-themed play or musical?”
 
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Story
Elf
Inspecting Carol
It’s a Wonderful Life
White Christmas
And send it via email, along with your name, cell phone and email address by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 25, to [email protected] and you will be entered in a drawing. Winner will receive 2 tickets to an upcoming show.
In our last “Go See a Play” poll, Graham Emmons of St. Louis won two tickets to Rebel and Misfits’ “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows.” The survey’s response to best mystery play landed the 1952 classic “Dial M for Murder” by Frederick Knott op top, with “Wait Until Dark” – another Frederick Knott play from 1966 — a close second.
***FOSSE, VERDON AND ALL THAT JAZZ: The next show-biz limited series for FX will be “Fosse/Verdon” in 2019, about the legendary Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse and his professional and personal relationship with dancer Gwen Verdon.
Oscar winner Sam Rockwell is cast as Fosse while Oscar nominee Michelle Williams will be Verdon, returning to the network 20 years after “Dawson’s Creek.”
The cast features St. Louis native Norbert Leo Butz as writer Paddy Chayefsky, Margaret Quall as Ann Reinking and Nate Corddry as Neil Simon.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is executive-producing the eight episodes and “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler is creating the dance.
***WHISTLING A HAPPY TUNE: The lavish acclaimed Tony-winning revival, “The King and I,” will be shown two nights at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema, on Nov 29 and Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical filmed during its run at the London Palladium, June 21 to Sept. 29 and features more than 50 performers.
Kelli O’Hara reprised her Tony Award-winning performance and Tony and Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe played The King again. Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles returned as Lady Thiang and West End “Aladdin” star Dean John Wilson and Na-Young Jeon played Lun Tha and Tuptim. Director Bartlett Sher reunited the original creative team.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: With St. Louis performers making a name for themselves on the national stage, here’s a little flashback to the halcyon days of “American Idol,” the big-bang of reality competition singing shows.
1. Who is the only St. Louisan to make “American Idol” Top Ten Finalists?
2. What “American Idol” winner tried out in St. Louis one of the two times auditions were held here?
Answers (both Season 4):
Nikko Smith, born Osborne Earl Jr., son of Cardinal Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who wound up ninth overall in 2005. He had been voted off in the third round of the semi-finals, but the producers asked him back to take the place of Mario Vazquez, who left for “family reasons.”
Carrie Underwood, who drove up with her mom from the family farm in Checotah, Okla., in 2004, sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt.
Here’s that audition: https://youtu.be/P0j9NGV-Jm4
She just won CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, killed with a live awards show performance of “Love Wins” at six months’ pregnant, and has to date seven Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist in 2007, the only second country artist to win it.
St. Louis has hosted auditions for Seasons 4 and 11.
***WORD: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
 
 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorTHAT VOICE: Are you on Team Kennedy yet? If you haven’t heard Kennedy Holmes, 13, from St. Louis in her blind audition on “The Voice,” be prepared to be wowed and understand why it went viral.
Part of The Muny Kids for five years, Kennedy starred as Little Inez in the 2015 “Hairspray” production, has sung the national anthem for Cardinals’ games and appeared as one of the Cratchit children in “A Christmas Carol” at The Rep in 2016. She is an eighth grader at John Burroughs School.
Her confident delivery of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” which showcased her control and range, impressed all four judges and got a 4-chair turn – and standing ovation.
She auditioned in Indianapolis earlier this year and is the youngest person in the singing competition this season. Producers saved her for the last spot and teased her appearance in a sneak peek last week that set her schoolmates and local folks buzzing. The cliffhanger coach pick was easy to guess.
Kennedy, while remarkably poised singing, got emotional over Jennifer Hudson, and then sang with her idol in an impromptu “I Am Changing” from “Dreamgirls.”
The guys made convincing pitches.
Adam Levine: “Very, very rarely does someone come around that kind of reignites our passion for what we do. And to hear you sing today did that. Just to see that kind of confidence naturally exist in you at such a young age, it’s unheard of. After the 15 seasons, you really could become the absolute biggest thing to ever come from this show.”
Blake Shelton: “Let me be the first to thank you for coming to ‘The Voice,’ ’cause our ratings are going to shoot through the roof this evening. I think you are the best vocalist that has auditioned this year. I want you to pick me as your coach so you can teach me how to sing like that.”
After Kennedy’s pick, Hudson was ecstatic. “I think the game is over because I just won ‘The Voice’ with little Miss Kennedy. Yes, I did.”
Here’s the clip from the Blind Auditions, which started Sept. 24. To date, her audition video has been viewed 3.6 million times on YouTube.com.

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kennedy. It will be fun watching her progress on the national stage, next in the Knockout Rounds, then hopefully Battle Rounds and Live Performances. (And the local television and radio stations are all over it.)
***DEVIL MAY CARE: As the calendar turns autumnal, it’s time for sinister, spooky suspense. Five local theater groups have teamed up to present “Faustival: The Devils We Choose” – one in August and the rest through December.
The artistic collaboration is between Equally Represented Arts, The Midnight Company, Theatre Nuevo, SATE, and the Post-Romantics. They are presenting works on the Faust myth from the 16th century – about a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for perks.
ERA FaustIn August, ERA, along with Kid Scientist, presented “Faust (go down with all the re$t),” an experimental rock-opera-adaptation of Goethe’s most celebrated work.
Currently, The Midnight Company is presenting the one-act “An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening,” along with another one-act by Mickle Maher, “The Hunchback Variations.”
For more information, www.midnightcompany.com
In October, Theatre Nuevo will present “whither should I fly” from Oct. 25 – Nov. 10 at the William A. Kerr Foundation, 21 O’Fallon St., St. Louis. For more information, visit www.theatrenuevo.com
Starting on Halloween, “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” by John Wolbers and Kit Marlowe will be performed by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) Wednesdays through Saturdays through Nov. 17 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis. For more information, www.slightlyoff.org.
The Post-Romantics will present “Doomsday Faust” Dec. 5 – 8 at the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street, St. Louis.
For more information, please visit faustival.org.
***MOVING ON UP: The aforementioned John Wolbers, who has adapted Faust for SATE, shared some exciting news recently. He is a new Producing Associate at the Metro Theatre Company. He has served as the full-time resident teaching artist at MTC since the 2012-2013 season. He will assist Artistic Director Julia Flood with casting, directing and production administration.
Andrew Kuhlman is Broadway bound! He is currently working in New York as a co-producer on “The Prom,” the Broadway musical comedy that begins previews on Oct. 23. Andrew, an associate producer at Stages St. Louis, made the announcement Sept. 7.
“I am beyond excited to be taking this journey with a show that I could not believe in more. I cannot wait for audiences to fall in love with this hilarious, heartfelt and energetic musical,” he said.
“The Prom” has some prominent local connections – including Jack Lane, at Stages St. Louis, as one of its producers. Lane already has two Tony Awards as part of the group behind “Fun Home” and “The Humans.”
Joe Grandy, Andrew Kuhlman of “The Prom”The show lyricist and book writer is Chad Beguelin, who grew up in Centralia, Ill. He’s a multiple Tony nominee, for book and lyrics to “The Wedding Singer” and lyrics to “Aladdin.”
The cast includes Muny favorite Beth Leavel, Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Muny veterans, including St. Louis natives Drew Redington and Jack Sippel, and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy.
***WHO’S WHO: Upstream Theater is hosting renowned director Marianne de Pury who will stage the U.S. premiere of “Chef” by UK/Egyptian playwright and poet Sabrina Mahfouz. The one-woman show, starring Linda Kennedy, opens Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 14.
Linda Kennedy, Photo by ProPhotoSTL“Chef” is the gripping story of how one woman went from being an haute-cuisine head chef to a convicted inmate running a prison kitchen. Leading us through her world of mouth-watering dishes and heart-breaking memories, Chef questions our attitudes to food, prisoners, violence, love and hope.
Originally from the French part of Switzerland, de Pury is known for her work with the famed Open Theatre, where she composed music for “America Hurrah” and “Viet Rock.” Since those days she has directed all over the world–mostly in Germany, where her most recent work, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” was nominated as one of the year’s best productions.
Playwright Rob Urbanati came to the ‘Lou for Tesseract Theatre Company’s opening of his play, “Mama’s Boy,” which explores the relationship between a controlling mom and her son, who gained infamy as the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
Here he is with the cast after Friday night’s show. They got our attention opening night at the .Zack, conveying a roller-coaster of emotions played out in historical context.
Urbanati, of New York City, is a playwright, screenwriter, book author, director, and director of new play development at Queens Theatre in the Park. His well-constructed 2015 drama is a fascinating exploration of family dynamics. It’s directed by Brad Schwartz.
From left: Jeremy Goldmeier (Robert Oswald), Brandon Atkins (Lee Harvey Oswald), playwright Rob Urbanati, Donna Parrone (Marguerite Oswald) and Carly Uding (Marina Oswald).
Lynn Venhaus photo***AROUND TOWN: Alas, the Stephen Sondheim appearance in St. Louis Oct. 4 is sold out. He is accepting the 2018 St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates for being one of the most eminent lyricists and composers of the modern era.
He is the first musical lyricist to win the award since its inception in 1967. In a remarkable career spanning 70 years, Sondheim has written the lyrics, music —or both, for some of the most iconic and long running plays in the history of American theater.
The response was overwhelming, and all seats in the Sheldon Concert Hall and the simulcast viewing room have been reserved. During the event, which begins at 7 p.m., Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director – and major Sondheim fan – will interview him on stage.
Three-time Tony Award winner “Avenue Q” has been extended three more weeks for its winter presentation at the Playhouse @ Westport.
Because of overwhelming ticket response, the “furry, funny and feel-good musical” will now run Jan. 25 – March 3. The cast is a combo of local and touring performers.
Another famous St. Louisan, poet, novelist and playwright A.E. Hotchner, an alumnus of Washington University, has endowed an annual Playwriting Festival. Three new works will be presented this weekend (Sept. 28 and 29) – “Tom and Grace” by Scott Greenberg, “Arriving At” by Ike Butler on Saturday at 2 p.m. and “Florida” by Lucas Marschke at 7 p.m. The guest dramaturg is Michele Volansky, chair of the drama department at Washington College in Maryland. The event is sponsored by Newman’s Own Foundation. For more information, visit: pad.artsci.wustl.edu.
The Stage Left Grille is now under Fox Management, so you can stop there for a bite to eat before a show at the Fox Theatre, the Kranzberg Arts Center or The Grandel, or any place in the Grand Arts Center.
“Confessions of a Nightingale,” a production from the Tennessee Williams Festival set for Nov. 1-4, has to be postponed until 2019.
***CHAMPAGNE & MOONSHINE: If you saw “Always, Patsy Cline” at Stages St. Louis in 2014 or at The Playhouse at Westport the following year, you must remember Jacqueline Petroccia as the star. A national sensation in that role, I recall that her velvety voice was “like butter.” She has released a debut solo album, the double EP “Champagne and Moonshine,” Collaborators on the album include musician royalty from Music City, including members of the Nashville Symphony, the award-winning Rascal Flatts, and Broadway Musician Brent Frederick.
Recorded live, with special permission, at the legendary and historic Quonset Hut on Music Row in Nashville, Tenn.,the album is available online through CD Baby (physical copy), Amazon, and iTunes.
The first EP, “Champagne,” features a big band sound appropriate for any ballroom or supper club, including an original arrangement mix “Crazy/Crazy He Calls Me,” and “Mambo Italiano.” The second EP, “Moonshine,” features new country music hits, and her original debut single “Your Name in Lights,” written by Brandon Hood, Hillary Lee Lindsey, and Troy Verges
Her other stage credits include the national tours of :The Producers,” “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was a featured soloist on the album “Where the Sky Ends” by Michael Mott (Broadway Records) and has appeared on “Prairie Home Companion,” featured with the Williamsburg Swing Orchestra and in her solo cabaret show Sometimes Patsy Cline (productions at 54 Below and Regional Theatres). More information can be found at JacquelinePetroccia.com
***YOU GO GLEN COCO: “Is butter a carb? Whatever, I’m having cheese fries.”
Wednesday, Oct. 3, is unofficially known as National Mean Girls Day, so imaginative Chef Liz of Tenacious Eats has created a fun event for the evening. Tickets are $35 and include a Mean Girls-inspired cocktail, entree and Kalteen Protein Bar for dessert.
Expect some “fetch” prizes if you can answer some Mean Girls trivia and photo ops will be available with a Lindsay Lohan lookalike. Costumes are encouraged, and it is on a Wednesday, so you might want to wear pink!
The Tina Fey movie will be shown at 7 p.m. on the big screen at the West End Grill & Pub, 354 N. Boyle. Doors open at 6 p.m. for pre-show fun, Mean Girls trivia, prizes and photo ops. Tickets are available at: www.BrownPaperTickets.com.
***WORD: Decoding Theatre Reviews – a must-read: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/theatre-reviews-decoded/
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Who are your favorite moms in musicals? Answer our poll and you will be entered in our drawing for two tickets to “One Funny Mother” at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m.
Dena Blizzard, former Miss New JerseyHilarious Dena Blizzard, best known as “The Target Mom,” is a viral sensation and former Miss New Jersey. Her one-woman show puts the fun in domestic dysfunction.
FAVORITE MOM IN MUSICALS:Mae Peterson in “Bye, Bye Birdie”Margaret Smith in “Carrie”“Big Edie” Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale in “Grey Gardens”Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray”The Witch in “Into the Woods”Lady Thiang in “The King and I”Margaret Johnson in “The Light in the Piazza”
Send your pick to: [email protected] by Monday, Oct. 1, at noon. Winner will be notified soon after, and arrangements will be made for your tickets to be waiting for you at the box office.
Our last winner was Christopher Strawhun for “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Let’s hear it for St. Louis native Chris Redd and longest-ever SNL cast member Kenan Thompson on their Emmy win for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “Come Back, Barack,” a Boyz II Men-style parody from last November’s episode hosted by Chance the Rapper.

Q: Despite multiple nominations, SNL has won only once before, for what song?
Justin Timberlake and Andy Samburg’s collaboration, “D**k in a Box.”
Fun fact: Theme songs also count for the award. “Moonlighting,” “Cheers,” “Chico and the Man,” “Growing Pains” and “Police Woman” have won.
Chris Redd didn’t live in St. Louis long and moved to Chicago as a youth. He is back at “Saturday Night Live” for his second season, which starts this Saturday, with host Adam Driver and musical guest Kanye West.
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Tips? Contact: [email protected]

Local actor-singer lands national tour, Tony-nominated local playwright ready for another Broadway go-round, managing editor Lynn Venhaus back on Broadway (the street) and reflects on Neil Simon, local fest in lieu of Lou Fest and more!
SOMETHING WONDERFUL: St. Louis’s own Mark Saunders has landed a plum role in a national tour of the Tony-nominated musical “Something Rotten!” He is playing Brother Jeremiah, the father of Portia, a Puritan girl who falls in love with the single Bottom brother, Nigel.
The new Work Light Productions’ non-Equity tour will launch Sept. 19 at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Georgia, and he’ll be on the road until next June. The tour includes a one-day stop in March at the Stifel Theatre (formerly the Peabody).
This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, two playwrights stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock-star William Shakespeare. When a soothsayer foretells the next big thing in theatre involves singing, dancing, and acting at the same time, the Bottom brothers set out to write the world’s very first musical.
“Something Rotten!” premiered on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, with Christian Borle winning for Best Featured Actor as Shakespeare.
So, how did this exciting opportunity happen? Mark, a St. Louis native and graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School, said he responded to an audition notice and asked for advice from a friend who had worked on the producing side of the original Broadway production.

“After chatting with him, and a lot of amazing people helping me out, I was able to get my materials (headshot, resume, website, etc.) to the casting agency and they called me in for an audition,” he said.
It was on his birthday, a Monday. He was called back that Thursday and found out the next day he was cast.
“It was even crazier because the day that I found out and flew home, I had to perform a piece by Rachmaninov in Russian with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. So, I landed around 3-ish and had to get my life together and be at Powell Hall for a concert at 7 p.m. It was a crazy nine days from the day that I got the initial email to the day that I found out that I booked the show,” he said.
Currently, he is rehearsing in NYC. During the past few weeks, he has been getting fittings done, and taking care of other logistics.
When he had a shoe fitting for a custom pair of boots at LaDuca, he described it as “an insanely happy moment.”
“You hear about all these kinds of moments, but when it’s actually you, it’s crazy!” he said. “I’m super excited that we’re going to play the Stifel Theatre in St. Louis on March 13, 2019! I can’t wait to share this amazing cast and show with my family and friends.”
Born and raised in Dogtown, Mark has worked different day jobs while pursuing performing opportunities. Recently, he was in Union Avenue Opera’s “Lost in the Stars” and can be seen in a Missouri Lottery commercial for The Voice VIP Promotion. He has been a paid singer with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus for the past five years.
In addition to Mark, the cast features Matthew Baker as Shakespeare, Matthew Janisse as Nick Bottom, Greg Kalafatas as Nostradamus, Emily Kristen Morris as Bea, Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Portia, and Richard Spitaletta as Nigel Bottom.
For more info or tickets, visit www.rottenbroadway.com
Bravo and Break a Leg!
***IN LIEU FESTIVAL: Sunday will still be a Fun Day, thanks to the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, who has come to the rescue of local bands without a venue now that the Lou Fest has been cancelled.
“The Sound of St. Louis Showcase,” a free musical festival will take place on two stages — at The Grandel Theatre and the Dark Room (in the Grandel) — from 2 to 10 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Grand Center Arts District.
In addition to the Kranzbergs, other sponsors include Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, Gaslight, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, Express Scripts, and Red Bull are presenting this showcase of “some of the best talent in our vibrant music scene. Help us uplift and celebrate ‘The Sound of St. Louis.’ More local vendors may become involved.
The local line-up includes Ben Reece’s Unity Quartet, Bob DeBoo, The Burney Sisters, Dracla, Grace Basement, Jesse Gannon, Kasimu-tet, Kevin Bowers, Nova, The Knuckles, Mo Egeston, Owen Ragland, Ptah Williams Trio, The River Kittens, Scrub & Ace Ha and Tonina.
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GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Oh, what a beautiful day! You can win two free tickets to “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis for either this Friday or Saturday.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration will open at Stages St. Louis Sept. 7 and will run through Oct. 7. When it debuted on Broadway 75 years ago, it changed the face of the American musical, and ran for more than five years.
Were you in a school production, in community theater or professional regional theater? It seems many people were. Who is your favorite among the iconic characters?
Such history! Those unforgettable classic songs “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “I Cain’t Say No” and “Kansas City,” not to mention the title number, always stay with you.
You can see Stages’ fresh take on this historic musical by entering our Go See a Play Poll. Respond to our poll question on who your favorite iconic character is, along with your name and phone number, and send to: [email protected] by noon Friday, Sept. 7. We will draw a name, and you can choose either Friday or Saturday, Sept. 7 or 8, at 8 p.m. performance – two tickets. We’ll let you know and help arrange your selected evening with the fine folks at Stages St. Louis.
Who is your favorite character from “Oklahoma!”?
Ado Annie Carnes
Aunt Eller
Gertie Cummings
Jud Fry
Ali Hakim
Curly McClain
Will Parker
Laurey Williams
Peter Wochniak photo
***THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Every year, new theater troupes pop up in the metropolitan St. Louis area, but perhaps the biggest growth is with youth groups. The Debut Theatre started this year and all proceeds benefit Pedal the Cause, which funds cancer research. The youth-founded group will present its third Acting Against Cancer event with a performance of “Into the Woods” on Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Chesterfield YMCA.
Debut Theatre Company was founded by youth to promote life-long learning and appreciation of the arts toward a more conscious and compassionate community. Its goal is to engage, inspire and entertain.
The mission statement includes: “We hope to make a difference for our artists, our audiences and those who benefit through our charitable cause. This youth centered company celebrates the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity.”
In the metro-east, St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church music director Stephen Eros and his wife, Jamie Marble Eros, music director at St. Clare School, organized a community theatre troupe to present “Godspell,” with 13 adults and teens in the cast, last month. A 25-member children’s chorus, which rehearsed through a week-long music camp at the church, joined the cast for two public performances.
***SIDE BY SIDE: Tony nominee Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill., is gearing up for another Broadway opening. He co-wrote the book with Bob Martin and lyrics for the musical “The Prom,” which begins previews Oct. 23, along with writing partner Matthew Sklar, who composed the music.
Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill. on 42nd Street near graphics of shows he’s both a part of on Broadway. Photo provided.He posted this recent picture in front of the Longacre Theatre at 220 W. 42nd Street, the new home of “The Prom,” while “Aladdin” is currently running next door, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. He wrote the book and new lyrics to the 2011 musical “Aladdin,” invited by Alan Menken to do so, and landed his third and fourth Tony nominations in the process. Fun to have two of your shows collide (his other major works include “The Wedding Singer” – Tony nominations for book and lyrics — and “Elf”). The duo’s website is: www.sklarandbeguelin.com
“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance and four fading Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of the spotlight
Beth Leavel and Adam HellerBest wishes to Muny favorite Beth Leavel and her leading man, Adam Heller, on their recent engagement. They played Rose and Herbie in The Muny production of “Gypsy” this summer, and she is preparing to star in The Prom.” They are shown here attending the 2015 premiere of “It Shoulda Been You.”
Those aren’t the only local connections. “The Prom” producers include Jack Lane, Terry Schnuck and Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, all of St. Louis.
Talk about timing! New Line Theatre will produce “Be More Chill” in May, and the musical sensation is moving to Broadway in March.
Attagirls to the MVPs of SATE, who dealt with an audience medical emergency during the final performance of “No Exit” at The Chapel Sept. 1. Kudos to Kristen Strom, stage manager; Bess Moynihan, director; and Ellie Schwetye, producer for the cool and calm efforts.
(And another round of applause for the cast – Rachel Tibbetts, Shane Signorino, Sarah Morris and Katy Keating — for their professionalism).
***,
WORD: “I can’t take his genius anymore.” – Rita Hayworth, on divorcing Orson Welles.
On Sept. 7, 1943, Welles whisked Hayworth away from the set of “Cover Girl” and they were married at the Santa Monica City Hall. She was 25, he was 28. Their marriage would last less than four years; they had one daughter, Rebecca.
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BROADWAY BOUND:  During a recent trip to NYC to visit my youngest son, I was fortunate to see “Straight White Men” starring Armie Hammer, Josh Charles, Paul Schneider and Stephen Payne, with introduction and some supporting work from Kate Bournstein and Ty Dafoe, at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. It is a 10-week limited run ending Sept. 9.
Charlie and Lynn Venhaus at Helen Hayes Theatre, Aug. 26.Written by Young Jean Lee, she is the first Asian-American female playwright to be produced on Broadway. She provided laughter and poignancy, striking a chord about family interactions when you are grown-ups.
The Helen Hayes Theatre is the smallest on Broadway, at 597 seats, and recently renovated to become Second Stage’s new home.
It starts out on Christmas Eve with a widowed dad and his three grown sons — two who live out of town. With its Christmas setting, the play about family dynamics and the responsibilities that come with education and privilege lends itself to the intimate atmosphere. It’s 90 minutes, no intermission.
All the actors were good – convincing as a real family – but Paul Schneider is the one I’d for sure single out for awards. I hope it’s considered for multiple Tony Award nominations.
So many people connected with this show were Steppenwolf Theatre veterans and involved in the “This Is Our Youth” revival that both sons and I saw at the Cort Theatre in November 2014, notably director Anna D. Shapiro and scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. They also launched Tracey Letts’ “August: Osage County.”
No wonder this was so tip-top. I can see local theater groups wanting to produce it, and there is plenty of local talent to fill those roles. I suspect I will see it again. This play will likely have a good run with groups across the country.
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Barbra Streisand sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade”TRIVIA TIME-OUT:  Fifty years ago, the movie adaptation of “Funny Girl” premiered on Sept. 8, 1968, earning Barbra Streisand her first Oscar for her first movie role. However, she had originated the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway.
The Academy Award was the first and only tie for Best Actress. Who did she share the award with?
What was Streisand’s second Oscar for?
In 1964, Streisand lost the Tony Award for her performance in “Funny Girl” to what actress?
Answers:
Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”
Best Song: “Evergreen” from “A Star is Born”
Carol Channing for “Hello, Dolly!”
TRIBUTE: He was one of my first theater idols and continued to be a favorite, decades later. I discovered Neil Simon in high school, used “The Star-Spangled Girl” for speech competition (comedy interp) senior year, was in his plays “Fools” (Lenya) and “Plaza Suite” (Karen) in community theatre, and made it a point to see pretty much all his shows.
He influenced me in the way he wrote such distinct characters with specific snippets of dialogue to give you hilarious insights into their personalities. He had such an impact on modern comedy!
On Aug. 26, the day Neil Simon died, at age 91, I happened to be in New York City and was planning a Broadway afternoon. So I went by the Neil Simon Theatre to pay my respects and see any tributes.
The playwright had written over 30 plays and movie scripts, mostly adaptations of his own works, but a few originals (“The Out-of-Towners” and “The Goodbye Girl.”)
We headed to the Neil Simon Theatre on W. 52nd in the twilight — as all the marquees began to light up the night, I knew the sign would be dark as a tribute to the legendary funny man. A small memorial had started.
His influence on comedy writers was significant. I read “The Odd Couple” when I was 15 and had never laughed so hard. That was around the time I saw the 1967 movie “Barefoot in the Park” with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, who had played Paul on Broadway. Then I saw “Promises, Promises” with Jerry Orbach at the Muny in 1970, and I marveled at genius. That man was a quip machine!
I realized that reading/seeing Simon’s plays had given me a yearning to see NYC (along with early Woody Allen movies). It was his town, his people. He taught us Midwesterners all about the Big Apple.
Now it was back to my son Charlie’s apartment in Brooklyn, where once upon a time I envisioned Eugene being scolded by his Mom Blanche as he envisioned himself pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is one of the few Simon works that makes me cry).
Thank you, Mr. Simon, for making us laugh and recognize ourselves along the way.
Lynn Venhaus as Lenya in Monroe Actors Stage Company’s “Fools” in November 2009.What are your favorites? Please add your comments.
“Fools” was the funniest play I ever was in, and it was my final performance in community theater.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Imelda Staunton. Their different portraits of the iconic Momma Rose character in “Gypsy” are among the most legendary in theater history. Now add Beth Leavel to that august list.
The Muny’s sixth production of the gutsy Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim classic hits the heights in so many ways, but first and foremost is Leavel’s knockout performance.
Most of the time, the ambitious Momma Rose is viewed as a heartless monster and played in that blustery, brassy Merman-style. Others have realized that Rose is a tough survivor. Either way, she is hard to warm up to, but at least Leavel makes you understand her.

Leavel is a Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” veteran of 12 Broadway shows and Muny diva whose “Hello, Dolly!” in 2014 remains one of the outdoor stage’s finest shows. Tackling this titanic role was a challenge I was certain she could meet but was not prepared for the delicate balance she achieved.
Sure, hear her roar. A born belter who projects well, Leavel pretty much started at 11, and then dialed back to modulate this complex character.
Given that Rose was introduced in 1959, when theater was not a champion of woman empowerment, it’s interesting that book writer Arthur Laurents wrote such a complicated part. And now it’s on nearly every actress’s bucket list.
The show is loosely based on the 1957 memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque entertainer known internationally for her striptease artistry. She’s the Louise inspiration, and her sister, actress June Havoc, is Baby June.
Their mother pushed them into the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s, dreaming of showbiz success. June was the extroverted performer while Louise was shy and in the background. That changes during the show’s many conflicts.
This ultimate stage mother, fiercely driven and controlling, is twice-divorced and perpetually broke. Rose must be resourceful and rely on her wits in a world not used to strong independent women.
She is a bulldozer, but peerless director Rob Ruggiero’s emphasis is that she’s motivated out of desperation. Always thinking of where their next gig will be, and if they can grab the spotlight, Rose is all about what’s next – for her and those she loves.
Because their mother is living through her children’s lives, Baby June and Louise will suffer the consequences from her abrasive efforts. However, her bossiness hides the fear of failing, of losing, of not making it through to the next day.
Ruggiero’s ability to deconstruct a 1950s era “book musical” and bring out what makes it enduring is why his shows resonate, especially on the expansive Muny stage. Despite my familiarity with a show I’ve seen multiple times, he makes it seem that I’m seeing it for the first time – namely “Hello, Dolly!” “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma” at the Muny, and award-winning “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Besides a vulnerability that seeps through in this “Gypsy,” there is an undercurrent of hunger. People are hungry physically, emotionally and mentally. They crave some things that have been out of reach or are not yet attainable, whether it be a nourishing meal, a living wage, a sense of worth or a dream realized.
Because of this deeper context, the musical is not just a showcase for Momma Rose, and this cast has an abundance of talent. Adam Heller captures nice-guy agent Herbie, the good cop to Rose’s bad cop, in a nuanced portrait of the man Rose loves – and pushes around. He and Leavel, a real-life couple, are noticeably in sync in their numbers “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and “Together Wherever We Go.”
While they headline, Julia Knitel is a stealth bomber. Lanky and awkward as a reluctant Louise, the proverbial people-pleaser who only wants what Momma says is best, she blooms as Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a striking performance, and her physical transformation is astonishing – although Knitel was already endearing from the get-go, especially in the heartbreaking “Little Lamb.”

She and Hayley Podschun as June share nice moments, including “If Momma Was Married.”
Their younger counterparts, Amelie Lock as Baby June and Elise Edwards as Baby Louise, are winsome performers. It’s a slick move when Ruggiero transitions them from young to older midway in a number.
Another standout is St. Louisan and Muny regular Drew Redington as Tulsa, a superb dancer who outgrows the kiddie act. His solo to “All I Need Is the Girl” is sensational.

The scene-stealing strippers in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” are not only a hilarious sight gag but terrific performers who were a bright spot of comic relief. Jennifer Cody as Tessie Tura, Ann Harada as an older Electra and Ellen Harvey as a statuesque Mazeppa were laugh-out-loud funny.
Lighting designer John Lasiter’s precise work deserves mention, as does costume designer Amy Clark, going the showbiz gamut from kitsch to glitz — and those distinctive patterned cloth coats for Rose.

Scenic designer Luke Cantarella draped the show in reality – muted colors for drab sets to indicate the hardships during financially strapped times, and the dingy two-bit nature of the fading vaudeville circuit.
Ruggiero’s dream team of choreographer Ralph Perkins and music director James Moore assured that the song-and-dance numbers would be first-rate. They’ve worked together on multiple productions.
Nevertheless, maestro Moore raised the bar. He displayed his expertise conducting the orchestra in an overture that was so magnificent the audience applauded midway. And this was only the start of something special. The orchestra’s big wall of sound, with all that splendid brass, was one of the show’s best elements..
After all, what great material to work with — Jule Styne wrote this unforgettable music. He’s behind such famous tunes as “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Let It Snow” and ‘The Party’s Over.” Paired with lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, fresh off “West Side Story,” these songs have stood the test of time.
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” brings the house down at the end of Act I. And Leavel still had plenty left in her tank for Act 2.
After Rose has cajoled and bullied her way through nearly two acts, we are ready for Momma to confront her demons in the showstopper “Rose’s Turn.”
In this emotional wallop, Leavel gave it everything she had, defiantly going through a litany of anger, frustration and regrets for Rose to finally realize she did it for herself. And to herself.
It’s one of the greatest scenes ever, and Leavel hits it over the free-seats fence. Afterwards, we had to let it sink in, like she did in catharsis, and then wave after wave of applause stopped the show until the very long ovation waned.
That shared experience is what we all hope for when watching live theater, and she earned it, seizing her moment, fearless and alone on that stage.
While the show is bleak – and I’ve seen productions that were darker – there is still a glimmer of hope: that mothers and daughters can reconcile, that brighter days are ahead, and that all the work that goes into a goal was worth it.
This “Gypsy” doesn’t sugar-coat show business or struggles, and instead tells us about real-and-flawed people trying to get by and get noticed. It’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling and features a cast that makes you feel everything they experience.
“Gypsy” was clearly ahead of its time, back in 1959. And this week it was time for the Muny to hit repeat in a brand new way for this Centennial Season.
“Gypsy” is presented July 27 through Aug. 2 at 8:15 p.m. nightly at The Muny’s outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information or tickets, visit www.muny.org or call MetroTix at 314- 534-1111.

Photos by Phillip  Hamer