By Lynn Venhaus
Filled with whimsy and good cheer, “A Year with Frog and Toad” is a delightful example of clever staging and accessible theater for multi-ages.

The innovative Fly North Theatricals is presenting this sweet, sentimental show about friendship for free to all who can show their vaccination card and matching ID at the door. No ticket needed but there is limited seating because of social distancing.

The musical continues this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Center Theatre District.

Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf, two creatives who founded Fly North Theatricals in 2019, are making sensible, affordable art and have established a Theatre for All initiative as part of their mission.

In this make-believe adventure, they are doing double-duty as the two amphibious leads. Rohlf plays the popular perky Frog while Healy is the grumpy worry-wart Toad as they journey through four seasons.

They are joined in their woodland by a Snail, Turtle, Bird, Mouse, Mole and several other frogs. The young actors playing these characters sing and dance in musical numbers that recall vaudeville and merry make-believe.

The students of Fly North, who take voice and/or dance lessons, are cast members who bring a youthful energy to the production: Claudia Taylor, Trey Perlut, Ella Penico, Aislyn Morrow, Sarah Brown, Aiden Gildehaus and Julie Harris.

Earnestly directed by Alicia Like with a young audience in mind, she keeps the 85-minute show bright and breezy. Music Director Jermaine Manor smoothly kept the focus on entertaining all ages.

Their year begins in the Spring, as they wake from hibernation. They plant gardens. They swim in the Summer, rake leaves in the Fall and go sledding in the Winter.

As the two best friends celebrate their differences that make them unique and special, they learn life lessons along the way. In a non-cloying way, they tackle anxiety and fears – blissfully free of corny cheesy jokes.

The musical, based on the beloved children’s book series by Arnold Lobel, was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2003, including Best Musical. Because of its success, it was heralded as mainstreaming a children’s production as “regular” theater.

An enchanting score by brothers Robert and Willie Real is brought to life by conductor Jeremy Jacobs, also on keyboards, who leads the four -piece band with aplomb. Luke Mankovich is on reeds, Jacob Mreen on bass and Matthew Clark handles percussion.

Choreographers Angela Brandow and Carly Niehaus used a light touch in the peppy numbers to keep the show up-tempo and fun.

Stellar work is evident from light board operator Mason Hagarty and sound board operator Matthew Garrison, with fine lighting and strong sound without any difficulty.

Lauren Perry has designed the simple set with imagination in mind while costumer Sam Hayes mixed 19th and 20th century outfits and included animal accoutrements, like turtle shells, when necessary. Old-timey hats complete Frog’s and Toad’s appearances well.

An appealing romp for those young at heart who see imagination as a wide canvas, “A Year with Frog and Toad” is a good way to ease back into bringing young people to the theater. And watching such a cheerful presentation will make you smile underneath your mask!

To support their “Theatre for All” initiative, find out more: https://www.flynorthmusic.com/theatre-for-all

And/or attend their VIP fundraising brunch on Sunday, Nov. 14. Doors open at 11 a.m., and each ticket comes with one reserved seat for the closing performance of “A Year with Frog and Toad.”

The brunch will include a Breakfast Taco Bar from The Fifth Wheel of the Bailey’s restaurant family, bottomless mimosas and coffee and performances from cast members. The Studio Open House will be at 3617 Grandel Square in St. Louis.

Tickets are available on their website and all proceeds go toward future productions and resources for FNT students. Single tickets are available for a $100 minimum donation.

Part of FNT’s mission of promoting education through performance is to involve the students of its private voice and dance studio on and off stage in every show. This production has students work alongside their teachers to produce something wacky, fun, formative, and memorable. For more information, visit www.flynorththeatricals.com

NOTE: In accordance with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s recent COVID policy update, all attendees of “A Year with Frog And Toad” must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative test conducted less than 72 hours prior for admittance.

Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
When composer and music director Colin Healy first heard the story of wealthy
brothel madam and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft, he was intrigued. On Aug. 16,
“Madam,” the musical about this infamous St. Louisan that he wrote the book,
music and lyrics for, had its world premiere at the Bluff City Theatre in
Hannibal.

Bluff City Theater commissioned the musical, where Healy has been the music director for the theater since 2017, and a branch of the Haycraft family is involved with BCT. Healy is artistic director of his own companies, Fly North Music and Fly North Theatricals.

“After one of the shows, they told me Eliza’s story. I was
fascinated ever since,” he said. “I said ‘Wow, that’s a musical.’ About a year
later, Joe Anderson, the artistic director, called me up and said in so many
words ‘Let’s make it a musical.’”

Rosemary Watts and Larissa White

Bluff City Theatre’s executive director wrote in his recent
blog: “Madam the musical is a totally new play we commissioned to end our 2019
season dedicated to the theme of The American Experience,” he said. “We follow
the story of a group of women who, for a variety of reasons found themselves
without the means to support themselves and turned to the only profession open
to women like them — prostitution. Madam Eliza Haycraft rose from obscurity to
become the richest woman in Missouri, much-loved by the general public, and a
major philanthropist with a special emphasis on Civil War widows and orphans. Yet,
despite the fact that her houses were well-frequented by the rich and powerful
men who ran the city, she was shut out of polite society.”   

“Madam introduces other characters who are historically
based on some of the remarkable women who defied the norm to claim their place
in the country at a time when they had few legitimate rights. One, an escaped
slave, disguised herself as a man to fight in the Union Army.  One is sister to Victoria Woodhull, candidate
for president in 1872,” he continued. “In addition to being a lesson in America
history, Healy’s musical is bright and lyrical. The cast is amazing. And you
can be among the first to see what is sure to be a hit.”

Healy’s score features St. Louis style jazz and blues, “Madam” is directed by Sydnie Grosberg -Ronga. The musical stars Rosemary Watts as Madam, Brett Ambler as The Benefactor, and Eileen Engel, Kimmie Kidd, Cameron Pille, Gracie Sartin and Larissa White as the ladies she protected.

There are only nine performances in Hannibal. Five are left
– Wednesday through Saturday. For tickets or more information, visit
www.eventshannibal.com or call 573-719-3226. The show is sponsored by Harold
and Kathleen Haycraft.

The first-run weekend is over, and seeing it happen has been
something special.

“Realizing work on stage is quite literally turning something practically two-dimensional — many many sheets of paper — into something truly three-dimensional,” Healy said. “In any other aspect of life, suddenly perceiving a whole new dimension would be beyond life-altering. Well, that’s what realizing a work of theatre is and it hasn’t gotten old yet.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew. Sydnie
Grosberg-Ronga, in addition to being an effective and incredible director, has
been an even better mentor, dramaturg, and sometimes-therapist,” he said. “Rosemary,
Lari, Cameron, Kimmie, Gracie, and Eileen have all been amazing to work with—
and as a millennial and member of the meme generation, I’d be remiss if I
didn’t say I’ve been a little starstruck getting to work with the Kazoo Kid — love
ya, Brett!”

Healy considers the musical a work in progress, but the
fact that Bluff City Theater encourages new and emerging work is music to his ears.

“What Joe Anderson is doing in Hannibal is remarkable. Bluff City Theatre is producing new and emerging work every year and filling houses with it. Go support them. They’re doing it right up there,” he said. The journey has been an interesting one, but it won’t end when the show does on Aug. 24. Plans are for his company, Fly North Theatricals, to perform “Madam” in St. Louis in 2020, from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2 at the .Zack Theater, 3224 Locust St.

Brett Ambler, Larissa White

And that is not the only plan, either.

“I’d love for it to someday reach a wider audience — whatever
that means. There are already plans for ‘Madam’ in the near future, so stay
tuned,” he said.

Not much is known about the real Eliza Haycraft, but this
much we do know. Haycraft, born in 1820, arrived in St. Louis from Callaway
County when she was 20, cast out by her parents. She had been seduced by a
lover. Destitute, she sold herself as a courtesan to support herself. When
prostitution was legal, for only a brief time, in St. Louis, she became owner
and manager of a brothel, doing well even though she couldn’t read or write. She
bought commercial and residential property and rented it back out. She was known
for helping the city’s poor, offering them help and financial aid.

In the last year of her life, the richest and most powerful men in St. Louis were hellbent on taking it all away from her, he said. She died in 1871, at age 51, leaving an estate valued at over a quarter million dollars. More than 5,000 people attended her funeral, and she was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Healy’s musical focuses on a dying Haycraft as the owner of
five brothels and the richest woman in St. Louis. She hates men. She once
empowered her employees by giving them the right to refuse service to anyone. She
had three simple rules: Respect, Consent and Pay Up Front. Then, the passage of
The Social Evils Act of 1870 made her business legitimate, but it also took
away her right to say “no.”

While based loosely on real events, the musical tells the fictionalized
story of her search for an heir to her sex empire while also taking a romp
through first-wave feminism and sexism in America at the time of
Reconstruction. It is told through the lens of Eliza’s courtesans.

“St. Louis had passed the Social Evils Ordinance, which
under the guise of legalizing prostitution actually served to deny the women
affected by it of many of the rights they had previously enjoyed. Eliza
Haycraft was a remarkable woman — a pragmatic feminist who mistrusted men,
especially those who used their positions of power to control the rights of
women, the poor and the marginalized. But she knew how to operate in a
male-dominated world. As she neared death, Eliza sought to purchase a burial
plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery, then the largest and most prestigious in the
city. The trustees of the cemetery, all clients of hers, attempted to block the
purchase until Haycraft countered by suggesting that she would take her case
directly to their wives.  They relented,”
Bluff City Theater blog said.

The poster design

Healy said he likes the show’s message.

“The show at its core is about the vulnerability of aging
and the power of ‘no’ — so for now, I just hope people like it and take away
something from it,” he said.
Bluff City Theater raved: “Audience attendance is already at a record for any
show we’ve produced here at Bluff City Theater…Don’t take our word for it — talk
to anyone who has seen the show so far. ‘Madam’ is one of the most exciting new
musicals to come along this decade.”

Healy has written five original musicals, including “The
Gringo,” which was the local headline act at the St. Louis Fringe Festival last
summer, and was the best-selling show in its history. Like “Madam,” it was
based on a real story.

Riley Dunn in “The Gringo”

He began writing “The Gringo” in 2013 after the wrongful
death of Miami teen Israel Hernandez at the hands of police. Healy had attended
high school with Hernandez, although they were not acquainted. He became
intrigued as details emerged in the fallout surrounding his death, especially
by the stark differences between their lives.

Healy moved to St. Louis during the Ferguson riots in
summer 2014. “The Gringo” then went in a different direction, instead of
confronting privilege but about fighting for your home.

“The Gringo” tells the story of art bringing together a
community facing injustice and rapid gentrification. On the morning of the
biggest art festival in Miami, a beloved local street artist is wrongfully
gunned down by police. Through the lens of a successful painter, her wannabe
lover, a drug dealer, his mule, and the white boy from out of town bearing
witness to it all, “The Gringo” is about what it means to fight for your home
in spite of it all.
Through its workshop and staged reading, a funding campaign raised enough to
record a full-length and fully orchestrated album.

“The Gringo”For the premiere of ‘The Gringo,” he also directed and was the music director. He always seems to be juggling multiple projects at once. For instance, he was contracted as the music director for “Into the Woods” this July at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA). He currently directs the Adagio Music Company at COCA and serves as the resident music director at East Central College in Union, Mo. where he has done five mainstream shows, plus his original musical “Forgottonia” last year.

Colin Healy

While living in his native South Florida, he composed
“Anthem,” which was presented in Fort Lauderdale in 2009 and 2011, and “Translation,”
which was part of the Florida Theatre Conference in 2015.

After graduating from South Broward High School in
Hollywood, Fla., he became the music director for the theater department.

Beginning at age 15, he was a touring singer/songwriter and
his work as a recording artist in the South Florida-based rock band, The
Republik, was recognized by Billboard and College Music Journal. He recorded
three full-length studio albums as a performer – Last Chance Planet, 2006; The
Unexpected Answer, 2010; and We Are the Wild Things, 2012, with the last one
recorded at the legendary Stratosphere Studios in New York and produced by
Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls. They received radio play nationwide.

In 2017, he established Fly North Music as a St.
Louis-based creative company that serves as the production house for his compositions.
He now has three components: Fly North Music, Fly North Studios, and Fly North
Theatricals.

In early 2018, his private vocal studio had grown,
therefore Fly North Studios was born.

Then, after “The Gringo” was successful, he and his friend Bradley Rohlf decided to establish a new theater company, Fly North Theatricals this year.

They plan to promote education through performance by utilizing both their students and a local community of actors to create new, local, accessible, high-quality works of musical theatre, Healy said. “Neat, huh?”

His five original musicals have seen production at the
educational, community, and professional levels.

“Assassins” announcementFly North Theatricals is planning to present “Assassins”
next summer, July 4 – July 26, at the .Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust St., St. Louis,
with auditions set for Sept.16 and 17.

Fly North Theatricals said it will be a new take on Sondheim and Weidman’s classic where our nations’ most notorious assassins gather on stage to violently pursue a twisted American Dream.

“While many characters represent historical figures, our
vision for this cast requires performers that visually represent our local
community, not necessarily the real people being portrayed,” the audition
notice states.

Their website states: “A multiple Tony Award-winning theatrical tour-de-force, Assassins combines Sondheim’s signature blend of intelligently stunning lyrics and beautiful music with a panoramic story of our nation’s culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it, embodied by America’s four successful and five would-be presidential assassins. Bold, original, disturbing and alarmingly funny, “Assassins” is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written.”

For more information, visit www.flynorthmusic.comOur Questions with Colin Healy

Colin Healy on drums1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts? “I’ve never really done much else. I’ve played music since I was 5 and went to performing arts schools my whole life — not really a great background to go into medicine or finance.”

2. How would your friends describe you? “I don’t know. I annoy myself a lot but at least they don’t have to around me all the time. So, there’s that.”

3. How do you like to spend your spare time? “I don’t understand the premise of this question.”

4. What is your current obsession? “I’m answering these questions from rehearsals for my new musical, ‘Madam!’ — so I guess that.”

5. What would people be surprised to find out about you? “People are always surprised to hear that I played baseball for 10 years, which I guess is playfully insulting? Like, why are you surprised?! Do I not strike you as the model of athleticism?! (OK, I get it.)”

6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life? “My father passed away last month (July) so… that. That will certainly be informing a lot of my writing and teaching in the future (not that he didn’t when he was alive).”

7. Who do you admire most? “Angela Brandow and Bradley Rohlf and Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.”

8. What is at the top of on your bucket list? “Probably a bucket.”

9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis? “Eating all the food, drinking all the beer, and riding my bike (because you have to burn the calories somehow).”

10. What’s next? Shameless plug: My new theatre company, Fly North Theatricals, kicks off its inaugural season this January at the .ZACK. Stay tuned to our social media (@flynorththeatricals) for more information.

More about Colin Healy

Colin Healy, circa 2015

Age: 29
Birthplace: Hollywood, Fla.
Current location: St. Louis
Education: Studied acting and music education, with a focus in voice, at
Florida International University.
Day job: I’m a full-time music director, composer, and voice teacher.
First job: Waiter
First role: Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Favorite roles/plays: “Man 1 in “Songs for a New World”
Dream role/play: George in “Sunday in the Park with George”
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Uhhh — I don’t know! I got a dog. He’s pretty
cool. Getting featured on the cover of RFT for “The Gringo” last year was
pretty neat. I make a pretty mean egg sandwich.
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Fail better.”
A song that makes you happy: Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”