By Lynn Venhaus

A sunny, soulful song-and-dance showcase, “Last Stop on Market Street” includes a sweet slice-of-life lesson to engage audiences of all ages.

Metro Theater Company is presenting this vivacious 75-minute musical without intermission at the Grandel Theatre from Feb. 6-27 and is offering a video streaming option, too.

Written by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Christian Robinson in 2015, the Newberry Medal-winning picture book is considered a modern classic and its theme of inclusivity and community is timeless.

It strikes a chord about finding the good in unexpected places through a child spending time with his out-of-town grandmother. He’s dropped off for the weekend and hasn’t ever spent that much time away from his parents – he’s counting the hours he must be there. Their relationship is rocky at first, and he is a reluctant guest, but eventually grows in love and understanding.

The child, CJ, is spoiled and a bit sheltered, and while bonding with his older and wiser grandmother “Nana,” he learns about the bigger, and very different, world around him. She introduces him to neighbors and new experiences.

Always plugged into his phone and tablet, he learns how fun adventures can be without reliance on screens. She, in turn, learns more about technology. In a relatable way, they appreciate age differences – and bridge the digital divide.

That intergenerational bond, if we’re lucky to experience it, lasts a lifetime – and the legacy beyond that, which this presentation shows so well.

Riding the bus. Photo by Jennifer A. Lin.

It’s always a good thing when we can be reminded of our grandmother’s love and guidance, and how they helped shape our paths. My “Mims” was a special person that I reference almost daily, what an impact this little dynamo made on my life from her 50s until age 80.

With her indomitable spirit, director Jacqueline Thompson has highlighted the colorful book’s emphasis on kindness, compassion, and gratitude.

In her director’s notes, Thompson dedicated the show to “all the Nanas of the world, — our truth tellers, safe spaces, warmth, roots to our foundation and light.” Amen to that. And thank you to Mildred Thompson.

The book was adapted for the stage by Cheryl L. West and co-produced by the Chicago Children’s Theater and the Children’s Theatre Company in 2018.

In bringing this celebration of community to the local region, Metro has enlisted five-star talent to create an outstanding production that unifies young and old, and easily gets folks into the rhythm and out of their seats.

In the neighborhood setting, brightly imagined by scenic designers extraordinaire Margery and Peter Spack, a sense of community is palpable. The Spacks are known for their original creations that evoke whimsy and wonder, and their work here could fit into a PBS set for the Children’s Television Workshop.

Get ready to be energized by the beat, with a Motown-infused score from rhythm-and-blues legend Lamont Dozier and his son Paris Ray Dozier, who have incorporated hip hop, soul, rap and gospel into the catchy music and lyrics.

Music director Phil Woodmore and choreographer Christopher Page-Sanders have captured the Doziers’ vibrancy.

The tight ensemble is like a vitamin shot, with Robert Crenshaw, Daniel McRath, Valentina Silva, Denise Thimes, Cameron Tyler, and Tyler White lifting their voices in heartfelt harmony, and making you smile because of their joie de vivre as they groove to the beats.

Denise Thimes as Nana. Photo by Jennifer A. Lin

Denise Thimes is well-suited to play the inspirational Nana, and her relationship with Daniel McRath, playing CJ, is believable – stern but warm.

Thimes is a local jazz legend and has sung on the world’s greatest stages and with world-class artists. She’s in a league of her own.

Listening to the group sing is enjoyable, but their sublime solo efforts are when we get the full experience of their remarkable vocal chops. Wow.

McRath has an exceptional voice. He’s a graduate of Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s Artist-in-Training program and was in “Aida” at The Muny.

Part of the ensemble, Robert Crenshaw’s voice is also superb, and last seen in “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” and “Spell #7,” both at The Black Rep.

Valentina Silva, who is seen in multiple roles, including M. Butterfly, is a versatile performer and recent BFA graduate in musical theater from Webster University. Cameron Tyler, a recent musical theater graduate of Missouri Baptist University, is the sympathetic Jojo, a homeless youth, that opens CJ’s eyes to the plight of others.

Tyler White is a veteran artist who has appeared on multiple stages and easily transitions to different roles, like a bus driver and homeless woman, with authenticity.

With creativity and dedication, the artists and technicians have ensured the details pop to keep youngsters occupied.

The lighting and sound design work is notable, from Jayson M. Lawshee and Jackie “Jackpot” Sharp respectively. Costume designer Felia Davenport crafted each characters’ outfits with personality in mind.

For those who love St. Louis, this charming and delightful production is a special treat from the Metro Theater Company, now in its 49th year, reminding us now, more than ever, small acts of kindness are never wasted. And city living is endlessly educational.

The play is recommended for children ages 5 and up. A short on-stage Q&A with the cast follows the performance.

Valentina Silva, Daniel McRath, Denise Thimes. Photo by Jennifer A. Lin

“Last Stop on Market Street” is live on stage through Feb. 27 at The Grandel Theater, 3610 Grandel Square in Grand Center Arts District, across the street from Powell Hall. Tickets are available at MetroTix at (314) 534-1111 until 4 hours prior to the performance, then at The Grandel box office an hour before the performance.

Seven live performances are left: Feb. 18, 7 p.m.; Feb. 19, 4 p.m.; Feb. 20, 2 and 5 p.m.; Feb. 26, 1 and 4 p.m.; and Feb. 27, 2 p.m.

A video stream of the production is available. For more information: www.metroplays.org/marketstreet

Pandemic Protocols: Please be sure to bring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for every member of your party who is medically eligible for the vaccine. You will not be able to enter the building without proof of vaccination. Mask wearing is required at all times inside the Grandel. For more details, please take a moment to look over the COVID safety procedures on the website. Thank you for doing your part to keep our audiences of all ages safe and healthy!

Daniel McRath as C.J. Jennifer A. Lin Photo.

Photos by Jennifer A. Lin.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorA STAR WAS BORN: It was as if scripted in a movie. You’ve heard of that classic moment in the 1933 movie “42nd Street” when an understudy takes over for an injured diva. Well, it really happened right here in St. Louis one summer 46 years ago at The Muny.
On Aug. 14, 1972, MGM musical star Ann Miller was playing Reno Sweeney to Michael Callan’s Billy Crockett in “Anything Goes.” The classic Cole Porter romantic romp was underway when right after the song “Friendship” during a scenery change, Miller was conked on the head by a steel boom. Callan had followed her off-stage, then found her on the floor, dazed and bruised.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” A call went out from the stage and 15 doctors responded. The show was cancelled and Miller taken to Deaconess Hospital with a mild brain concussion and loss of equilibrium. She spent 23 days there.With Miller out but not wanting to cancel the week, Muny brass sought a replacement. They plucked Pat St. James, a senior at Webster University, from the ensemble. She rose to the occasion.
St. James, whose parents were local broadcast celebrities Clif and Nance St. James, was praised for her soaring performance. She later thrived in a musical theater career.
But in 1999, she switched gears, earning a degree in theology and ordained an Episcopal priest. She was married to David Roberts, and they lived in Atlanta with their two children, Oliver and Julia. At age 61, after a four-year battle with cancer, she died on Dec. 5, 2010.
Her moment in the sun became a Muny legend.
“Anything Goes” may have been Miller’s first appearance at The Muny but it wouldn’t be her last. She would be persuaded to return in the next decade, for ‘Sugar Babies” with Mickey Rooney in 1984.
Miller starred in “Kiss Me Kate,” “Easter Parade,” “On the Town,” “Stage Door,” “Room Service” and “Mulholland Drive” (?!?).Side Note: I actually saw Pat St. James as Reno Sweeney that week at The Muny. Everyone was abuzz.
(“Anything Goes” photo from Muny archives, from left, Pat Paulsen, Pat St. James, Michael Callan.)
***HELLO, USA!: Congratulations to Madison Johnson of St. Louis, who has been cast in the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” that begins in late September. She is part of the ensemble and understudy for Minnie Fay.This tour of the Broadway revival, which won four Tony Awards in 2017, will feature Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi and Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder. Stadlen, a three-time Tony nominee, has been in several Muny shows, including “The Producers,” “Damn Yankees,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Madison has been part of the Muny ensemble the past six years, recently playing Lucille Ballard in “Meet Me in St. Louis.” She was Kristine in “A Chorus Line” last summer and Frenchie in 2014’s “Grease.” She started at age 7 as a Muny Kid. A graduate of Whitfield School and Elon College, she moved to New York City in 2016.
***
SIX DEGREES OF ST. LOUIS: John David Washington is starring in “BlackkKlansman” as undercover cop Ron Stallworth, who wrote the book that Spike Lee has adapted into this acclaimed film.

He was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2007 after he was not drafted in the NFL Draft. Later cut from the Rams, he was a running back for the Hamburg Sea Devils, a German team playing in the NFL Europe League. Fun fact: Eldest son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
Photo: Adam Driver and John David Washington
***GO SEE A PLAY! POLL: The St. Louis Fringe Festival’s local headlining act is an original musical written and composed by Colin Healy called “The Gringo.” The world premiere will be performed four times from Thursday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, Aug. 19, at the .Zack, 3224 Locust.
It’s about how art can bring a community together. Set in Miami, a local street artist is wrongfully gunned down by police. As told through the lens of a successful painter, this community faces injustice and rapid gentrification. They learn what it means to fight for your home.
The cast includes Gheremi Clay, Kevin Corpuz, Robert Crenshaw, Evann De-Bose, Riley Dunn, William Humphrey, Omega Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Alicia Revé Like, Brittany Losh, Samantha Madison, Gabby McNabb, Carly Niehaus, Janine Norman and David Zimmerman.
Healy directs, with Bradley Rohlf assistant director; Christopher Page-Sanders choreographer and Carly Uding costume design.Tieliere Cheatem contributed the artwork. On opening night, they will give this portrait away that has been signed by the cast and the crew. Tickets available at Metrotix.com

For a chance to win two tickets to one performance, enter our poll drawing!Poll Question: What Is Your Favorite Show About Art? “Art”
“Is He Dead?”“Red”“Sunday in the Park with George”“Sight Unseen”
Submit your selection to [email protected] by noon on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Please include your phone number. You will be notified that afternoon if you won, and you can select what performance so that tickets can be arranged. The show is at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. Thanks for participating.
Winner of our two tickets to “Meet Me in St. Louis” was Chuck Brinkley. Thank you, Muny!
“Meet Me in St. Louis” received the most votes as the favorite local movie shot in or made about St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Oscar winner Shelley Winters, whose career spanned five decades, was born Shirley Schrift on Aug. 18, 1920, in St. Louis to Jewish immigrant parents. Her father, a tailor, moved the family to Brooklyn when she was a child. She died at age 86 in 2006.
Once nicknamed “The Blonde Bombshell,” she later became known for forceful dramatic roles.For what movie performances did she win her two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress?Answer: “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1959, as a shrill Mrs. Van Daan, and “A Patch of Blue” in 1965, in which she played a slatternly mother cruel to her blind daughter.
Her breakthrough role on stage was as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” five years into the run, and she was noticed in “A Double Life” starring Oscar winner Ronald Coleman in 1947.But after a dissatisfying number of movie roles, she finally got the role of her lifetime in “A Place in the Sun” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.
Some of her other big movies were “A Night of the Hunter” in 1955 and “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972. Earlier, she had returned to studying at the Actors Studio and became a big advocate of the Lee Strasberg method.
A lifelong progressive Democrat and outspoken on feminist issues, she became quite a raconteur on talk shows during the 1970s and ‘80s. Her two tell-all autobiographies created quite a stir, as she had some high-profile leading-men dalliances.
Fun fact: She roomed with Marilyn Monroe when they were just starting out in Hollywood.
Happy Birthday, Shelley! (She would have been 98 Monday).Photo at right: Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.
***ICYMI: A movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning “In the Heights” is planned for summer release 2020. Jon M. Chu, who helmed the new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” will direct.Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” will be made into a movie, and production is to start in November. Stars signed so far are Tony winners James Corden and Ian McKellen, along with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Grammy winner Taylor Swift.
***WORD/DOWN MEMORY LANE: “Would you shut your phones off for Christ sakes?” – Stanley Tucci, during the Aug. 14, 2002, performance of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. An audience member’s cell phone kept ringing. Calls for a ban on cell phones at NYC’s theatres grew louder, and a law was put into effect in 2003.
***Have any tidbits for this people column? Contact Managing Editor Lynn Venhaus – [email protected]
.All photos from archives or submitted. Featured image is of St. Louis native Shelley Winters.