By Lynn Venhaus
Patsy Cline was that rare artist who made a deep connection with anyone who listened to her sing.

A similar effect happens with actresses Diana DeGarmo and Zoe Vonder Haar, who are a delightful combo of sweet and salty, smooth and sassy, silky and spirited, in the jukebox musical “Always…Patsy Cline,” now playing at Stages St. Louis through Sept. 5.

Raised in Georgia and now living in Nashville, DeGarmo has returned to her country music roots in a thoroughly engaging performance.

She sleekly inhabits Cline, who is considered the most popular female country singer in recording history. DeGarmo emulates Cline’s richly textured, emotive voice, and effortlessly delivers 27 numbers, including five with Vonder Haar, who plays Cline’s fan-turned-friend, Louise Seger.

DeGarmo, who was the runner-up on Season 3 of “American Idol” at age 16 in 2004, which Fantasia Barrino, 19, won (a total of 65 million votes were cast for both), has since pursued a music and musical theatre career, appearing on Broadway and in national tours.

Diana DeGarmo as Patsy Cline, Photographed by ProPhotoSTL

Previously in St. Louis, she was impressive as Doralee Rhodes in the first national tour of “9 to 5: The Musical,” which stopped at the Fox Theatre in February 2011, and also at the Fox in 2014 as the Narrator in the revival tour of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Her husband, Ace Young, was Joseph. (She met Young, who was on American Idol’s fifth season, when they were cast in “Hair” and have been married since 2013).

She is poised and commanding as she interprets one hit song after another, showcasing her range and control. The vocals on the ballads “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Sweet Dreams” are particularly lush, tugging on your heart strings.

She has fun changing tempos with the more down-home numbers, such as “Stupid Cupid” and “Shake Rattle and Roll.”

DeGarmo projects an elegance, which is enhanced by Brad Musgrove’s gorgeous vintage costume designs, and she is exquisitely lit by lighting designer Sean M. Savoie.

She has a dynamic chemistry with feisty firecracker Vonder Haar, the veteran fan favorite who has played Louise twice before. Vonder Haar won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for the first time (and would go on to win that same award for Stages’ “The Full Monty” two years later).

It’s a good match. Seger, a colorful Texas housewife, was a devoted fan who first saw Patsy on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in 1957, when she won after singing “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Living near Houston, she attended the singer’s show at the Esquire Ballroom in 1961, and they connected as friends, writing letters and talking on the phone until the singer’s tragic death at age 30 in a plane crash in 1963.

Playwright Ted Swindley fashioned the interviews Seger did for the biographies “Patsy Cline: An Intimate Biography” and “Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline” into the source material for his 1988 two-woman tribute revue, “Always…Patsy Cline,” which is the epitome of a crowd-pleaser. It is licensed by Cline’s family and estate.

Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise Seger, photographed by ProPhotoSTL

From Seger in “Country Weekly”: “The person inside me recognized the person who lived inside her. It was truly eerie.”

Patsy joined Louise and her friends and after the show accepted an invitation to Louise’s home for a late-night breakfast. “It was like I was living in a dream. There was Patsy Cline in my kitchen helping me fix bacon and eggs. She took her shoes off and wore an apron I gave her.

“She told me about her life, her hopes, her dreams. We discussed loves lost, loves found, loves yet to be.

“We talked about her troubled marriage and the pain she endured being away from her children. It was just two people baring their souls.

“We both sang and harmonized old Gospel songs and hillbilly tunes. We sat there and smoked and sang until 4:00 in the morning.”

Louise rushed Patsy to the airport, expecting never to hear from her again. But within two weeks, Louise received her first in what was to be many letters and phone calls they would exchange.

“I often would receive calls at 1:00 in the morning. She’d be singing in some town wanting a friend to talk to.”

Of course, this was 60 years ago, before entertainers had security, a ‘team’ and ‘people.’ It was just two women bonding at a kitchen table.

While Swindley took some poetic license, the story is true – a glamorous celebrity who grew up without privilege and her plain-spoken, music-lovin’ pal.

From the moment she sashays on to scenic designer James Wolk’s vintage 1950s-era kitchen set, Vonder Haar, a St. Louis treasure, is a funny and sincere Louise. She engages the audience as comic relief with her folksy charm, coming across like a neighbor joining you for a kaffee klatch.

This memoir, which opens the theater company’s 35th anniversary year, is the most popular show in Stages’ history. This is the third time it’s being presented, after back-to-back runs in 2013 and 2014, which demonstrates again how endearing and charming it is. It was as warmly received Aug. 11 as it was seven and eight years ago.

The cozy show, first at Stages’ former home at Kirkwood’s Community Center, then moved intact to The Playhouse at Westport Plaza, is opening their new venue, the Kirkwood Center for the Performing Arts. The Ross Family Theatre seats 529 comfortably.

Artistic Director Michael Hamilton has recreated the production, capitalizing on the actress’s strengths. The premise is simple – showing Cline singing at the Grand Old Opry and other locations, with Louise listening to her on the radio, which was a communication lifeline for people back then.

A simpler time, a touch of nostalgia, admiration for a career cut way too short, but spotlighting music that continues to warm hearts to this day.

The lively band, conducted by music director Jeremy Jacobs, who also plays the piano, is an expert blend of Steve Hitsman on steel pedal guitar, Dave Black on electric and acoustic guitars, Kevin Buckley on acoustic guitar and fiddle, Eric Grossman on bass and Joe Meyer on drums. Their tight sound is mighty in an alcove perched behind a scrim.

Original orchestrations for the band and vocals were crafted by August Eriksmoen and Tony Migliore.

While the songs take center stage, the fascinating tale of a close friendship between kindred spirits is what resonates, drawing an audience in, one who welcomes the warm embrace of harmony in music and life.

Diana DeGarmo as Patsy Cline, photographed by ProPhotoSTL

Stages St. Louis presents “Always…Patsy Cline” through Sept. 5, performance times vary, at the Ross Family Theatre inside the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center at 210 Monroe St. ASL interpreting and audio description by MindsEye will be available for the Aug. 20 show. For more information, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesSt.Louis.org. Follow Stages on Facebook and Instagram.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
“Grease” may be the word, but I have one for the Stages St. Louis production:
Vivacious!

This funny and nostalgia look at 1950s teenagers and the
decade’s burgeoning rock and roll culture bursts with ebullient performers who
deliver the beloved songs with panache.

Those songs never get old. “Summer Nights,” “We Go
Together,” “Greased Lightning,” “Born to Hand Jive” and “You’re the One That I
Want” are among the catchy show tunes in the style of Buddy Holly, Little
Richard and Elvis Presley that entice sing-a-longs. (And eager audiences are
ready).
Integrated with the snazzy dance numbers choreographed by Tony Gonzalez, and
costumes to match, they capture the look and sound of a bygone era — but also
a universal feeling.

And certainly not that we were all the cool kids. Far from
it.

By now, the worldwide smash hit is as familiar as your
senior year in high school. So why do people return over and over to watch high
school shenanigans?

Photo by ProPhotoSTL“Alone at the Drive-In Movie,” “Beauty School Dropout,” “Those
Magic Feelings” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night” touch on all the fretting that
comes with being a teen, no matter what generation.

Maybe it’s that sense of trying to fit in, to belong. That
underneath that tough T-Birds exterior are guys desperate to figure it out —
masking those insecurities (on display so well in James Dean’s “Rebel Without a
Cause”). And the Pink Ladies really wanting to be Gidget, but not letting on
they are afraid they don’t measure up.

On the surface, it is all fun times, that sweet flush of
youth during a more innocent time – but dealing with grown-up issues AND
hormones.

“Greaser” Danny Zuko (Sam Harvey) fancies “good girl” Sandy Dumbrowski (Summerisa Bell Stevens) one summer, and lo and behold, she transfers to his public high school, not the Catholic one. Whoa. Kind Frenchy (Lucy Moon) invites Sandy to hang out with the Pink Ladies, but rough-and-tough Rizzo (Morgan Cowling) is not nice to the new girl. Rizzo has her own issues with boyfriend Kenickie (Jesse Corbin), but school isn’t a high priority with anyone except  Patty Simcox (Aisling Halpin) and nerd Eugene (Brad Frenette).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            “Grease” is a cultural phenomenon nearly 50 years old — and has been revised multiple times, with the most significant changes made in the 1978 movie, then adopted for a 1993 London stage version, which incorporated four chart-topping songs from the movie written by Barry Alan Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis and Scott Simon. This is the version Stages has the rights to, and it makes a difference.

You would not much recognize the original 1971 stage version,
which has been sanitized from Jim Jacobs’ and Warren Casey’s initial effort
about working-class high schoolers in a Polish part of Chicago, based on
Jacobs’ alma mater in Cicero.

Photo by ProPhotoSTLThe duck-tailed, hot-rodding Class of 1959 of Rydell High
resembled those ruffians, and the gum-snapping and hip-shaking Pink Ladies were
a combination of bad and mean girls. The raunchier version has been toned down,
but there are still the themes of peer pressure, teen pregnancy, gangs, class
conflict, and good old garden-variety teen rebellion.
This cast, with a few who have been out of high school for some time, seem to
gel well. They sure can shake, rattle and roll in their musical numbers, and
exaggerate their characters for comic effect. Their school and home scenes,
under Michael Hamilton’s smooth direction, delve deeper into social
interaction, with different conversations and motives at play.

While it’s obvious the cast is older, “Grease” isn’t a
production that hinges on authenticity. Just go with the fantasy.

(After all, back in my day, most of these people would have
been considered juvenile delinquents, not people to emulate. And changing into
a sexy siren to get a guy? Oh dear. When would that fly today?)
“Grease” did not become a massive hit because everyone’s enamored with
hooligans. The modest musical parodying the 1950s had an eight-year run on
Broadway and two popular revivals in 1994 and 2007, plus the movie is the no. 1
movie musical of all-time, not to mention all the productions in schools,
regional and community theater.
People can identify with awkward adolescence and ‘types’ – if you don’t
recognize yourself, you know others who do. The supporting cast is appealing,
particularly Patrick Mobley as shy Doody, eager to be a chick magnet with his
guitar, and merry Brooke Shapiro as Jan, desperate to have a beau.

Photo by ProPhotoSTL

Moon is terrific as Frenchy, and “Beauty School Dropout” is
one of this show’s highlights, in staging, choreography and costumes. Showing
off her powerful pipes, Kendra Lynn Lucas is a showstopper as the Teen Angel.
She also doubles as Miss Lynch, but in a rather confusing development is flirty
with students.

Steve Isom evokes those early rock ‘n roll disc jockeys in
his on-air patter and hosting dance contest duties as Vince Fontaine.

Julia Johanos is admirable as a stylish Marty, who acts worldly
older on purpose, while Collin O’Connor is amusing as Roger of ‘Mooning” fame.
Frankie Thams tries to be a rowdy Sonny.

Summerisa Bell Stevens is a radiant Sandy, and after
impressive turns as Sophie in “Mamma Mia” and Doralee in “9 to 5,” she
demonstrates her vocal talents once again. She is at her best with “Hopelessly
Devoted to You.”
I didn’t feel the pairings of Danny and Sandy and of Kenickie and Rizzo were
all that convincing, but their singing and dancing skills were dandy. Harvey
did a nice job with the ballad “Sandy,” and as much as Rizzo’s mean-spirited
“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” annoys me, her “There Are Worse Things I Can Do”
was fine.

The rest of the energetic ensemble includes Bryan Purvis as Peggy-Sue, Madison Tinder as Doreen, Matthew Weidenbener as Frankie, Erik Keiser as Junior, Zach Trimmer as Johnny Casino and Tiger Brown as that fleet-footed Cha-Cha Di Gregorio. Lisa Campbell Albert did her usual stellar job as musical director, with orchestral arrangements by Stuart M. Elmore.

The cast certainly looks the part in their stunning vintage
outfits, tailored to perfection by resident costume designer Brad Musgrove and
his crew. His choice of fabrics is spot-on and he has created looks that could
be straight out of the movies “Pillow Talk” and “A Summer Place,” or McCall’s
magazine, complete with bobby sox and saddle shoes.

Scenic Designer James Wolk makes interesting use of the
space with two staircases so that transitions are smooth, and he has built a
car – a red convertible that serves its purpose. He had me at hi-fi and 45s. Sean
M. Savoie’s lighting design enhances it beautifully.

This “Grease” does what it’s supposed to do – present a time, a place and a feeling, and as a bonus, has the groove and meaning audiences want.

Stages St. Louis presents “Grease” through Aug. 18. Many shows are sell-outs but tickets are available Aug. 13, 14 and 18. For more information or tickets, visit www.stagesstlouis.org

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
The dogs have their day in an inspired young audience production of Disney’s
beloved “101 Dalmatians” at Stages St. Louis.

This 40-minute condensed version sparkles in every aspect,
from the cut-to-the-chase story, merry melodies, precious puppies and cheerful
cast, who enlist the audience to help them solve the clever caper. You can’t
get much higher on the Cute Meter.

Ever since Walt Disney snapped up Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel
and turned it into an adorable animated feature released in 1961, which became
the highest-grossing film that year, we’ve been smitten with spots. Author Smith
used her own dog’s 15-pup litter as the basis for a family-friendly heist tale,
then Disney’s animators visually amped up one of the all-time great cartoon
villains, Cruella de Vil. She’s just as memorable in this live-action edition.

Photo by Peter WochniakIn a two-tone hair wig, Tyler Jent plays up the exaggerated
mannerisms of Cruella as she tries to buy the puppies, but owners Roger and
Anita turn her down. Little do they realize that she wants their pelts for an
elaborate fur coat and has collected 86 other Dalmatians.
Cruella hatches a diabolical plot to steal the pups by using their favorite
treat, Kanine Krunchies, to lure them away. With his comically expressive face accented
with bold makeup, Jent is deliciously dastardly in musical numbers “Cruella’s
Scheme,” “The Fur Vault” and “My Beautiful Coat.”

She is accompanied by bumbling henchmen Jasper (Ryan Cooper)
and Horace (Joshua Roach), who are goofy sight gags on their own. They demonstrate
their slapstick skills as they botch the job and succumb to defeat after “The
Chase.”

Photo by Peter WochniakThe dog network helps– as does a few other furry critters –
using the “Twilight Bark.” With the help of the savvy “Dogs of London – Boxers
(Carson Davis, Caden Michael Self), Poodles (Trenay Labelle, Anna Wright),
Scotties and Chihuahuas (Laura Ernst and Mitchell Holsclaw) — they nab the
burglars, returning the pups to Roger and Anita, and their parents Pongo and Perdita.

Light-hearted Eric Michael Parker and Larissa White are lovely
as the couple while Drew Humphrey and Dena DiGiacinto are lively as the proud
parental pooches.

Immensely likeable pairs, they lead the upbeat group
numbers, with peppy music direction by Tali Allen. That catchy “Cruella de Vil”
will again be stuck in your head. Their fine voices blend in sweet harmony and
captivate the audience, young and old, as they encourage interaction.

Laura Ernst plays the kind Nanny besides donning doggie
costumes, with Jacob Flekier as Sergeant Tibbs and Mitchell Holsclaw doubles as
a police officer.

In addition to professional actors, twelve students from
Stages Performing Arts Academy are included in the cast as puppies. Among the
house brood are Thomas Woodrow as Pepper, Luke Swaller as Patch, Hallie Fisher
as Penny, Aaron (AJ) Bentley as Spot and Sophie Gorgen as Dot, with Arden
Dickson and Dan Wolfe.

Director Peggy Taphorn has kept the show breezy and choreographed
the dances to be appealing and fun, starting out with a “Dalmatian Conga” and
wrapping it up with “Dalmatian Plantation” before the finale.

With the same attention to detail that they put into the
mainstage productions, Stages’ crackerjack creative team has crafted a charming
and delightful show suitable for youngsters and just as enjoyable for the
adults who accompany them.

Visually, scenic designer James Wolk has drawn warm and
whimsical rooms in a storybook way, and the smaller set neatly fits inside the current
mainstage show, with “The Boy from Oz” light grid framing the stage. Sean M.
Savoie’s lighting design takes advantage of the bright color scheme.

Snazzy outfits were designed with flair by resident costume designer Brad Musgrove, and every familiar character is immediately identifiable. With his penchant for glittery over-the-top garments, he has a ball with Cruella’s flamboyant ruby-and-fur (fake) diva attire.

Each puppy, covered in black-and-white print, is distinct to bring out their personality, whether it’s a hat or a piece of their ensemble that helps them stand out. A bow tie! A propeller cap! Those darling little tails!

This short-and-sweet affair is a jolly good time in old
London town, and you’ll be enchanted with puppy power – and the expert human
performers who bring this entertaining musical to merry life.

Photo by Peter WochniakStages St. Louis presents Disney’s “101
Dalmatians”as the Emerson Family Theatre Series from June 18 to June 30 at the
Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood. For showtimes, tickets or more information,
visit www.StagesStLouis.org.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Although Peter Allen did not get a Hollywood ending, his remarkable true-life
story of how he skyrocketed to fame through sheer talent, drive and his
ebullient personality deserves a splashy musical as good as Stages St. Louis production.

“The Boy from Oz” is the kind of glitzy material that the
company has excelled at for 33 seasons, their intimate stage a canvas for
crowd-pleasing flashy numbers and lavish costumes, with added poignancy that
tugs at our heartstrings. Allen died of AIDS-related throat cancer in 1992; he
was 48.

You may not recognize the name, but you have heard Allen’s
songs, and this show reminds us of his catchy pop hits and power ballads, which
he often wrote for other artists (Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, Rita
Coolidge).

The Stages production is the Midwest premiere of this rarely
produced musical, although Hugh Jackman won a Tony in 2004 for Leading Actor in
a Musical in the first Australian production ever mounted on Broadway.

Born in a small bush town, Aussie Allen became one of the greatest showmen of the 1970s and ‘80s, and in the title role, David Elder makes him unforgettable. With his charming smile and boundless energy, Elder glides into the role with ease – singing and dancing with oodles of pizzazz, from tender love songs to the era’s disco beats.

Elder’s bravura performance is a stunning display of sass, class and Energizer Bunny motion. Winning over the crowd from his first appearance as the adult Peter, he dynamically captures the life force that Allen was, daring to say: ‘I am who I am, and you can’t ignore or stop me.’ It’s one of the most muscular and joyous lead performances of the year.

As Allen’s fame grew, he was a regular on the talk show
circuit, brightening up those couches, often wearing his trademark Hawaiian
shirts. I recall how genuine he seemed as an entertainer, although extremely
flamboyant – he clearly loved the glamour of showbiz, opened at Carnegie Hall,
danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and sang on the Academy
Awards.

This musical, with a snappy book by Martin Sherman and Nick
Enright, emphasizes his life as tailor-made rags-to-riches name-in-lights legend.
The cheeky wit is endearing as Elder narrates Allen’s first-person story.

To chronicle his life, original producers Ben Gannon and Robert
Fox used Allen’s own music and lyrics: “Best That You Can Do” (1981 Oscar
winning song known as “Arthur’s Theme” co-written with Burt Bacharach, Carole
Bayer Sager and Christopher Cross), “I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love,”
“Everything Old is New Again,” “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” “I Honestly Love
You” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” among them.

Corinne Melancon and David Elder. Photo by Peter Wochniak“Not the Boy Next Door” turns out to be a fun number between
mother and son. Reliable veteran Corinne Melancon, who seemingly can play any
kind of role, from the pious Mother Superior in “Sister Act” to strong-willed
single mother Donna Sheridan in “Mamma Mia!” during her frequent summers at
Stages, provides affection and pride as Peter’s mother Marion Woolnough, strong
in voice and characterization.

And it’s not just Elder who is sensational, but two debuts are noteworthy. While his Allen interpretation is a slow build – I mean, he doesn’t start at 11, Michele Ragusa is an astonishing Judy Garland, feisty right out of the gate, quickly becoming a patron favorite and stealing the show with her well-timed quips, mannerisms and powerful vocals. Garland’s husband, Mark Herron, discovered Allen in of all places, Hong Kong.

Ragusa soars in “All I Wanted Was the Dream” and “Don’t
Wish Too Hard,” and the moving “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage” with
Elder.

Garland’s daughter and his future wife, Liza Minnelli, is played with panache by Caitlyn Caughell. She assumed the role after Sarah Ellis (St. Louis Theater Circle nominee as Laurie in “Oklahoma!”) was injured and needed surgery.

She portrays the right mix of bravado and vulnerability as Liza embarks on her own celebrated career, shows her mettle in “Come Save Me” and “She Loves to Hear the Music” with the ensemble. The couple, who divorced after seven years of marriage, remained friends for life, and Elder and Caughell convey that bond.

Michele Ragusa as Judy GarlandZach Trimmer portrays Peter’s longtime love, Texas model
Greg Connell, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1984. He’s not a warm and
fuzzy character, so their relationship appears to have some holes in the
retelling. The pair share two affecting duets, “If You Were Wondering” and “Love
Don’t Need a Reason.”

Two boys, Ben Iken and Simon Desilets, alternate playing an
eager young Peter, who just wants to entertain, singing and dancing for small
change. Versatile mainstage mainstay Erik Keiser excels as Peter’s first
singing partner, Chris Bell, in their “brother act,” first appearing on
Australian Bandstand as The Allen Brothers. They would have a successful
touring cabaret act and appear on TV.

As is customary at Stages, Steve Isom plays several roles,
from Peter’s abusive alcoholic dad Dick Woolnough to his brusque manager Dee
Anthony.

The ensemble is as energetic and enthusiastic as Elder is,
and their showstopping grand finale, the 1976 salsa-flavored disco hit, “I Go
to Rio,” is a rousing number in which dancers make quite an entrance in Brad
Musgrove’s elaborate sequined costumes. Musgrove, who never met a sequin he
didn’t like, outdoes the Follies here in spectacular shiny silver-and-white outfits.
The costumes received their own applause, as did Dana Lewis’ robust choreography.

James Wolk’s scenic design is straightforward, allowing the
music numbers to be the focus, and there is a lovely nighttime New York skyline
through an apartment picture window. Sean M. Savoie’s brightly colored lighting
design complements Wolk’s set beautifully.

Director Michael Hamilton emphasizes the vivacious side of Peter while not forgetting the sorrow. He crisply stages the Judy-Peter-Mark-Chris number “Only an Older Woman” with as much oomph as he does with the exuberant ensemble numbers “Sure Thing Baby” at the Copacabana and “When I Get My Name in Lights.” Stuart Elmore’s orchestrations work well, while music director Lisa Campbell Albert varies the tempo to suit each singer.

“Caught between the moon and New York City” will always
define Allen for me. It’s just one of those phrases that you’ll always remember
with a smile, especially if you have fallen in love with the city like he did. And
he’s impossible to forget after seeing his story, “The Boy from Oz.”

David Elder and Ben Iken as old and young Peter AllenStages St. Louis presents “The Boy from Oz” May
31-June 30 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, 111
S. Geyer Road, St. Louis, 63122. For more information or to purchase tickets,
visit www.StagesStLouis.org or
call 314-821-2407.

STAGES St. Louis is thrilled to announce casting for its 33rd Season: THE BOY FROM OZ, GREASE, MAN OF LA MANCHA, and its Emerson Family Theatre Series production of Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS.

“The tagline at STAGES is ‘Experience The Story’ and our 2019 Season stays true to these words offering something special for everyone,” expresses Associate Producer Andrew Kuhlman.

THE BOY FROM OZ May 31 – June 30 Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen Book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Dana Lewis Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie.

The Midwest Premiere of THE BOY FROM OZ follows the dazzling and hilarious Australian singer-songwriter, Peter Allen, from his humble beginnings performing in backcountry pubs to his international stardom beside such Hollywood icons as Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli. Featuring such beloved Peter Allen hits as “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, “I Honestly Love You”, and the show-stopping “I Go To Rio”; THE BOY FROM OZ is a showbiz celebration of life, love, and being fabulous.

David Elder is Peter Allen, Sarah Ellis is Liza Minelli, Michele Ragusa is Judy Garland and Corinne Melancon is Marian Woolnough

DAVID ELDER (Peter Allen) David is thrilled to return for his 6th show at STAGES! Broadway credits include CURTAINS (Bobby Pepper), 42ND STREET Revival (Billy Lawlor, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Award Nominations), KISS ME, KATE (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio), TITANIC: The Musical (Frederick Fleet, the Lookout), ONCE UPON A MATTRESS starring Sarah Jessica Parker (Sir Harry u/s), DAMN YANKEES starring Jerry Lewis (Bomber on Broadway, Joe Hardy on the National Tour), Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Salt, Beast u/s), and GUYS AND DOLLS starring Nathan Lane (Guy, Crapshoot specialty). Film and TV credits include ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, CRADLE WILL ROCK, JEFFREY, and “Guiding Light”.

MICHELE RAGUSA (Judy Garland) Michele is thrilled to be making her STAGES debut! Broadway credits include YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (Elizabeth), URINETOWN (Pennywise), RAGTIME (Evelyn), TITANIC, A CLASS ACT, and CYRANO. Off-Broadway credits include ADRIFT IN MACAO (Primary Stages/ Lortel and Drama League nominations/Barrymore Award), TITANIC: 20th Anniversary Concert (Lincoln Center), and CRAVING FOR TRAVEL (Playwrights Horizon). Regional credits include BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Helen), MAME (Mame), HELLO, DOLLY! (Dolly Levi), LEND ME A TENOR (Maria), ANNIE (Hannigan), BOEING, BOEING (Gabriella), THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Mrs. Meers), FUNNY THING … FORUM (Domina), THE KING AND I (Anna), SPAMALOT (Lady/Lake), SWEENEY TODD (Beggar Woman), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Lena), INTO THE WOODS (Witch), KISS ME, KATE (Kate), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Chaperone), COMPANY, MARY POPPINS (Winifred Banks), GUYS AND DOLLS (Adelaide), and THE FULL MONTY (Vickie).

SARAH ELLIS (Liza Minnelli) Sarah is thrilled to be reuniting with her STAGES family! Recent credits include the Broadway 1st National Tour of A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER.  Favorite regional credits include Laurey in OKLAHOMA! (STAGES), Dyanne in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Riverside and Geva Theatres), and Molly in GHOST: The Musical at Fingerlakes MT Festival, where she will be returning later this summer to play Nellie in SOUTH PACIFIC. Other regional credits include Ogunquit, Pittsburgh CLO, North Shore Music Theatre, KC Starlight, Westchester Broadway Theatre, Florida Studio, and WV Public.  NYC credits include THE ROAD TO RUIN, DEAR JANE, and STARDUST ROAD: The Hoagy Carmichael Musical.  Sarah is a frequent Guest Artist with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and holds a BFA from Penn State (WE ARE!).

CORINNE MELANÇON (Marion Woolnough) Corinne happily returns to STAGES after appearing in last season’s I DO! I DO! and MAMMA MIA!  Broadway credits include 11 years in MAMMA MIA! (where she appeared as Donna, Tanya, and Rosie), KISS ME, KATE, JEKYLL & HYDE, BIG, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, MY FAIR LADY, and ME & MY GIRL.  Other NY appearances include Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.  Corinne has appeared in the International Touring company of GRAND HOTEL and on film as Lady Beaconsfield/Guinevere in JEKYLL & HYDE.  Additional STAGES credits include Violet in 9 TO 5, the title role in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (St. Louis Theatre Circle nomination), Mother Superior in SISTER ACT, Charlotte in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Nickie in SWEET CHARITY, Tracy in HIGH SOCIETY, Rose in BYE BYE BIRDIE, and Lucille in NO, NO, NANETTE.  Favorite regional credits include Vera in MAME, Judith in HAY FEVER, Velma in CHICAGO, and Mona in DAMES AT SEA.

GREASE July 19 – August 18 Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey Additional Songs by Barry Alan Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis, Scott Simon Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Tony Gonzalez Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie.

Welcome to Rydell High where Danny Zuko and his gang of Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies rule the school! Bursting with explosive energy and 1950’s nostalgia, GREASE blends an irresistible mix of adolescent angst and All-American teen spirit to create a high octane pop-culture phenomenon you won’t want to miss!

SUMMERISA BELL STEVENS (Sandy Dumbrowski) Summerisa is thrilled to be returning to STAGES St. Louis, where she was recently seen as Sophie Sheridan in MAMMA MIA! and as Doralee Rhodes in 9 TO 5 (2018 Broadway World Award for Best Actress). Favorite regional credits include Swing/Tara u/s and Alison Prager u/s in HALF TIME (Paper Mill), Velma and “Somewhere” Soloist in WEST SIDE STORY (Paper Mill & Riverside Theatre), DeLee in SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ (Merry-Go-Round & Riverside Theatre), and Amber in HAIRSPRAY (Tuacahn). Summerisa holds a BFA in Musical Theatre and a Minor in Ballroom Dance.

SAM HARVEY (Danny Zuko) Sam is a born and raised Nebraska Cornhusker and proud AMDA NY graduate. He is also very excited to be taking on the iconic role of Danny Zuko this summer at STAGES after just coming off the 10th Anniversary Tour of ROCK OF AGES (Stacee Jaxx). NYC and Off-Broadway credits include BAYSIDE! The Musical! (Zack Morris) and THE LOVE NOTE (Peter). International credits include BROADWAY CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND (Lead Vocalist) and ROCK OF AGES (Drew). Sam performed regionally in GREASE (Kenickie) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Rolf). Love to his family and beautiful wife.

MORGAN COWLING (Betty Rizzo) Morgan is extremely grateful and excited to be making her STAGES St. Louis debut as a Pink Lady! She toured the country as Meg Giry in the original cast of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (25th Anniversary Tour). Off-Broadway and NYC credits include Sherri Walters in MARRY HARRY (The York Theatre), Lecy in ONCE WE LIVED HERE (Urban Stages), and BULL DURHAM (Workshop). Regional credits include OKLAHOMA! (Goodspeed Musicals), HELLO, DOLLY! (Ford’s Theatre), THE MADNESS OF MAY (Thalian Hall), and Disney’s WISHES (Disney Cruise Line, OC). A Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts alum, Morgan’s Australian credits include GUYS AND DOLLS, SEUSSICAL, and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

JESSE CORBIN (Kenickie) Jesse has worked extensively regionally and in New York City with favorite credits including Tony Manero in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Danny in GREASE, Enjolras in LES MIZ, and Joseph in JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. Other career highlights include appearing in the North American premiere of Tim Rice’s FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, debuting the spectacular THE FIRST NOEL at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and starring in the Off-Broadway, two person production of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. Jesse recently debuted his solo show in NYC at Haswell Green’s and just released a collection of original songs! MAN OF LA MANCHA September 6 – October 6 Written by Dale Wasserman Music by Mitch Leigh Lyrics by Joe Darion Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Dana Lewis Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie

A romantic and inspiring musical adventure, MAN OF LA MANCHA tells the epic story of seventeenth-century author Miguel de Cervantes and his immortal literary creation Don Quixote. This poignant tale of ultimate heartbreak and unimaginable triumph features a lushly melodic score that includes the rapturous “Dulcinea”, the rousing title song, and the classic Broadway anthem which dares us all to dream “The Impossible Dream”.

JAMES PATTERSON (Cervantes/Don Quixote) James is excited to make his debut with STAGES. Most recent credits include Georges in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the Pioneer Theatre Company and Lumiere in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Theatre Under The Stars. James has appeared in the Broadway and National Touring productions of GIGI (Dufresne), MARY POPPINS (Park Keeper), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beast, Gaston, and Lumiere understudy), CATS (Munkustrap), and STATE FAIR. Other credits include Dr. Livesey in TREASURE ISLAND and Lumiere in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Fulton Theatre & MSMT), LE COMTE ORY (Metropolitan Opera), MAME (Kennedy Center), Barnaby Slade in SAIL AWAY(Carnegie Hall), Joshua Chamberlain in CHAMBERLAIN (MSMT), and Reverend Shaw Moore in FOOTLOOSE (Fulton Theatre). Website: jamespattersontheactor.com. James is a graduate of Tufts University and NEC.

PATRICK JOHN MORAN (Sancho Panza) Originally from NJ, Patrick took a quick $4 bus ride over the George Washington Bridge and now calls NYC home! National Tour credits include Francis Flute/ Master of the Justice in SOMETHING ROTTEN! and Asher/Baker in JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. Regional credits include William Morris Barfee in THE 25TH ANNUAL … SPELLING BEE (Chicago Company/Drury Lane), Jacey Squires in THE MUSIC MAN (Cape Playhouse), Sancho Panza in MAN OF LA MANCHA (Flat Rock Playhouse), Hubie Cram in DO RE MI (Musicals Tonight!), Harry in MY FAIR LADY (Riverside Theatre), and Norman Bulansky in THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (Identity Theater Company).

AMANDA ROBLES (Aldonza) Amanda is a graduate of the University of the Arts and holds a BFA in Musical Theatre. She has recently been seen as Rita in a full workshop production of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (Jerome Robbins Theater) under Sir Tim Rice and as Isabel/Tia Carmen in the World Premiere of AMERICAN MARIACHI (DCPA and The Old Globe). Amanda has also appeared at Walt Disney World’s Castle Stage in the opening casts of ELENA’S ROYAL WELCOME (Princess Elena) and MICKEY’S MOST MERRIEST CELEBRATION. Currently, she resides in New York City and continues to work in regional productions around the country.

Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS June 18 – June 30 Music and Lyrics by Mel Leven, Randy Rogel, Richard Gibbs, Brian Smith, Martin Lee Fuller, Dan Root Book Adapted and Additional Lyrics by Marcy Heisler Music Adapted and Arranged by Bryan Louiselle Based on the Screenplay by Bill Peet Based on the Novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith Direction and Choreography by Peggy Taphorn Musical Direction by Tali Allen Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie

STAGES Emerson Family Theatre Series production returns this year with Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS. Join the evil Cruella De Vil and her two klutzy henchmen as they try to steal a litter of the cutest puppies ever to hit jolly old London Town. But not to worry – this fur-raising adventure ends happily with plenty of puppy power to spare! A musical treat for the entire family, Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS is sure to have audiences barking for more! This year’s Emerson Family Theatre Series also features 12 students from STAGES Performing Arts Academy. STAGES is offering a unique performance opportunity as the only Academy attached to a professional theatre in the region.

DENA DIGIACINTO (Perdita) Dena is thrilled to be back at STAGES St. Louis where previous credits include OKLAHOMA!, 9 TO 5, and JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. She appeared on Broadway in the recent revival of A CHORUS LINE. Other favorite credits include EVITA (Riverside Theatre and National Tour), Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and THE WIZARD OF OZ (Variety Theatre), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Peninsula Players), MARY POPPINS (John W. Engeman Theater), and Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS (Pioneer Theatre Company).

DREW HUMPHREY (Pongo) Drew is thrilled to return to STAGES, where he was most recently seen in OKLAHOMA!; New York/Tour credits include the Broadway production of Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS (also Cast Recording), OF THEE I SING and LADY BE GOOD at Encores!, and the First National Tour of 42ND STREET. Regional credits include CRAZY FOR YOU (Bobby Child), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Cosmo), CATS (Skimbleshanks), THE MUSIC MAN (Tommy Djilas), and WEST SIDE STORY (Snowboy).  Drew received a BFA in dance from the University of Arizona. 

LARISSA WHITE (Anita) Larissa has appeared as Bonnie Parker in BONNIE & CLYDE, Dolly in THE THREEPENNY OPERA, Heather McNamara in HEATHERS, Heather (again) in AMERICAN IDIOT, physicist Leona Woods in ATOMIC, Angel in CELEBRATION, Alice in LIZZIE, and Elle in LEGALLY BLONDE. Her show WERDEN SIE MICH TOTEN was produced for Surfacing’s Emerging Playwrights Festival.

ERIC MICHAEL PARKER (Roger) Originally from Los Angeles, Eric is a NYC-based actor and singer. He is also a winner of the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Lotte Lenya Competition and has performed on stages from Tokyo to Rome. Some favorite credits include Freddy in MY FAIR LADY (Musical Theatre West), Harold Bride in TITANIC: The Musical (Moonlight Productions), Robert Martin in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Norris PAC), and, most recently, Mr. Collins in AUSTEN’S PRIDE, a new musical of the novel “Pride & Prejudice” (ACT of CT). 

STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2019, STAGES celebrates its 33rd year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, presenting 140 performances from June through October to nearly 50,000 patrons.

STAGES employs a full-time staff of 23 overseeing a budget of $5.1 million. During the performance season, an additional 150 actors and crew members bring the productions to life. To date, STAGES professionals have produced 120 musicals, with over 3,700 performances, playing to more than one million patrons. Single tickets to STAGES’ 2019 Season are on sale now and prices range from $25 – $65. Subscriptions are still available and begin at just $120. STAGES’ Mainstage productions perform in the intimate, 377-seat Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road in St. Louis, MO 63122.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis. org.

New York Casting is done by Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay of Wojcik/Seay Casting.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
“Mamma Mia!” – take me away! Stages St. Louis’ high-spirited production is a ticket to pure escapism, a refreshing summer confection that’s a welcome respite from real-world troubles.
What makes this version of the jukebox musical irresistible is the intimate staging at the Robert G. Reim Theatre and an exuberant ensemble whose joy is infectious. Under Michael Hamilton’s animated direction, they are having such a blast that it’s easy to be drawn into their merrymaking. The joint was jumping!
Don’t think too hard about the story’s timeline or do any math about the ages – for this fantasy is critic-proof and one must suspend belief. For supreme enjoyment, be on board for mindless fun when you take your seat, and if you are not singing, dancing or clapping in time during the festive curtain call, check your pulse.
The 1999 smash hit, now the ninth longest-running Broadway musical of all-time, cleverly weaves 1970s hit songs by Swedish pop group ABBA into a lightweight romantic comedy about a former singer and her soon-to-be-married daughter. It may be far-fetched, but it works – hence, the global phenomenon.
Sophie, 20, is obsessed with the looming question of who’s her father, so she invites the maybe-dads Australian adventurer Bill, stuffed-shirt British banker Harry and divorced American architect Sam. They all show up. At the same time.

Donna Sheridan’s bandmates Tanya and Rosie, aka The Dynamos, also arrive at her Greek island taverna. This reunion combo leads to a splendid “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trooper,” and a sweet “Chiquitita,” with all three strong-voiced actresses Corinne Melancon (Donna), Dan’yelle Williamson (Rosie) and Dana Winkle (Tanya) in robust harmony.
Book writer Catherine Johnson has injected plenty of light-hearted humor into what ultimately is a heartwarming celebration of family, friends and women empowerment, all played out on a tiny slice of paradise.
In a fresh and dynamic way, the creative team has emphasized the everlasting charm that makes the show so popular, and the ensemble projects a carefree day-at-the-beach mentality. Stages’ has concentrated on the characters’ feelings, which aids the believability of their connections.
Tony Gonzalez’ buoyant choreography is a highlight, with “Lay All Your Love on Me” featuring a unique tap-dance in snorkeling fins that prompted hearty applause.
He maintained the effusive party atmosphere in “Voulez-Vous” and “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” where the chorus shines.
The technical elements came together in such a pleasurable way that it truly enhanced the experience.
Ah, the sun-drenched days and starry nights are beautifully captured by Sean M. Savoie’s lighting design, with James Wolk’s scenic design adding a moon that moves. The taverna’s balcony is a smart addition for a stressed-out Donna and wistful musical numbers.
Resident costume designer Brad Musgrove’s penchant for glitz gets a workout here, and the colorful eye-candy costumes pop. He outdoes fashion designer Bob Mackie for the razzle-dazzle finale, and noteworthy are the ensemble’s bright and flamboyant wedding attire. With the show set in 1999, I don’t think the outfits entirely reflected that period, but rather spotlighted a spirit of adventure.

The entire cast must be an integral component for this story to succeed, and this group is one of the finest I’ve seen. Music director Lisa Campbell Albert kept up a kicky pace for the singers, and oh, is it a tight chorus, not to mention the consummate professionalism of the principals. Stuart M. Elmore’s orchestral designs are on point.
I was surprised to find out that some patrons had never seen it before – and their joy of discovery was palpable. Fortunately, they experienced an outstanding show as their first time.
Corinne Melancon has become a versatile leading lady at Stages, capable of genuine conviction. She is an experienced Donna – she played the role as part of the 11 years she spent in the Broadway cast, and was also the other two Dynamos. She appeared to really love portraying this woman.
With all that experience, she could have coasted, but is fully engaged as a woman wrestling with a lot of pent-up feelings and frustrations. She brings a gravitas to the single mom who is a struggling businesswoman too.
She excels in a well-staged “Money, Money, Money” and the title song, but knocks “The Winner Takes It All” out of the auditorium.
In a superb “S.O.S.,” she beautifully blends with Gregg Goodbrod’s Sam, the love-of-her-life she scorned in 1979. Goodbrod is a strong Sam in acting and his solo “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Nice to see him back in St. Louis after playing J.J. in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” last summer at The Muny.
As the sultry Tanya, statuesque Dana Winkle, who was recently in the national tour of the elegant “An American in Paris,” shows off her slick dance moves in a cheeky “Does Your Mother Know.”
In a departure from the character’s typically frumpy appearance, sassy Rosie is portrayed by striking Dan’yelle Williamson, memorable as Dolores in “Sister Act” two summers ago. She’s convincing as a fierce determined woman and playful in “Take a Chance of Me.”
But Summerisa Bell Stevens as wide-eyed innocent Sophie just might be this show’s secret weapon. She’s one of the best Sophies I have ever seen – a total package who projects an innate sunniness and intelligence. So terrific as Doralee in last year’s “9 to 5,” she practically glows in “I Have a Dream,” “Honey, Honey,” and “Thank You for the Music.”
At first, David Sajewich seemed too old as Sky, but he and Stevens had so much chemistry, that it didn’t distract.
Reliable veterans Steve Isom and David Schmittou play Bill and Harry with their customary skill and crisp comic timing. They both nail their accents – Australian for Isom and British for Schmittou — and are admirably steady throughout, good sports in the dancing numbers.
The ensemble was noteworthy in the effective blacklight dream sequence “Under Attack,” which was thankfully not as silly as usual.
Of course, everyone does their part to raise the roof in the pull-out-all-the-stops finale, and when they come to “Waterloo,” no one wants this party to end.
I’m an unabashed fan of this musical – and it was my eighth time during the past 15 years. I compare it to the warm nostalgia of a “Gidget” movie from my youth. And yes, I cheerfully sang every word to “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia!” at the curtain call – the audience is encouraged to do so (and I warned my neighbors to the right and left).
While it doesn’t matter if you have seen either the first or second movie, after viewing the just-released prequel-sequel, I did like that it shed more light on the backstory and motivations, so I thought of those things while watching this original show that sparked it all.
“Mamma Mia!” has sincere sentiment and its whole lotta fun vibe uplifted everyone. This production is one I’m not going to forget.
Stages St. Louis presents “Mamma Mia!” from July 20 through Aug. 19 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Ave. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit: www.stagesstlouis.org. At least 18 shows are sold-out.Photos by Peter Wochniak