New Line Theatre is proud to present a Very Special Event to open the company’s 30th Anniversary Season, with just two New Line actors, Chris Kernan and Jeffrey M. Wright, along with artistic director Scott Miller on keyboard, in one of the most intimate evenings of musical theatre in the company’s 30 year history, telling a story all about stories, and the effect we have on other lives, usually without realizing it.

Neil Bartram and Brian Hill’s THE STORY OF MY LIFE follows the friendship of Alvin and Thomas, two lifelong friends from a small town who are reunited after Alvin’s mysterious death. Thomas struggles to write Alvin’s eulogy, so Alvin shows up to help the two of them take an amazing journey back through the story of their friendship, as Alvin searches through the manuscripts and stories in Thomas’ mind. And though Thomas is trying to write about his best friend, he ends up finding his own story in the process and coming to terms with the past.

The show opened on Broadway in 2009, after productions in Toronto and the Goodspeed Opera House, and it was nominated for four 2009 Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical. Since its Broadway run, the show has had regional productions throughout the U.S., and in South Korea, Belgium, Austria, and Denmark.

New Line’s THE STORY OF MY LIFE will be directed by Scott Miller, with scenic design by Rob Lippert and lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl.

All patrons will be required to wear masks in the lobby and theatre. The stage area will be safely distanced from the audience. In addition, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation now requires all patrons 12 years or older to show proof of their full COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test upon entry for all ticketed events at all KAF indoor performance venues, including the Marcelle Theater.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE runs Sept. 30-Oct. 23, 2021, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, all at 8:00 p.m., at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in the Grand Center Arts District. Sept. 30 is a preview.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $30 for adults and $25 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the MetroTix website.

DISCOUNTS: HIGH SCHOOL DISCOUNT: Any high school student with a valid school ID can get a $10 ticket for any performance, with the code word, posted only on New Line’s Facebook page. COLLEGE FREE SEATS: Ten free seats for every performance, open to any college student with a valid student ID. EDUCATORS DISCOUNT: New Line offers all currently employed educators half price tickets on any Thursday night, with work ID or other proof of employment. MILITARY DISCOUNT: New Line offers all active duty military personnel half price tickets on any Thursday night, with ID or other proof of active duty status. All offers not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.

All programs subject to change. New Line Theatre receives funding from the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council.

Coming Up in New Line’s 30th Season

HEAD OVER HEELS
Marcelle Theater
Mar. 3-26, 2022
Click Here for Tickets!
Head Over Heels may be the weirdest mashup Broadway has ever seen, a crazy, joyful celebration of the full variety of human experience, a bold, sexy new comedy from the stage visionaries that rocked Broadway with American Idiot, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q, and Spring Awakening. This wild, subversive love story follows a royal family on a journey to save their kingdom from extinction, only to discover the key to their survival lies in their own willingness to change with the times. New Line opened this show in 2020 to rave reviews, but it was shut down halfway through the run due to the pandemic. So we’ll be back to finish what we started.

URINETOWN
Marcelle Theater,3310 Samuel Shepherd Drive, St. Louis, 63103
June 2-25, 2022
Click Here for Tickets!
Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ Urinetown is an outrageous musical fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, set in a time when water is worth its weight in gold and there’s no such thing as a free pee. In this near-future dystopian Gotham, a severe 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. Citizens are forced to use public “amenities” now, regulated by a single malevolent corporation that profits from one of humanity’s most basic needs. But from the ruins of Democracy and courtesy flushes, an unlikely hero floats to the top, who decides he’s held it long enough, and he launches a People’s Revolution to lead them all to urinary freedom! New Line produced the show in 2007 to rave reviews.

By Lynn Venhaus Managing Editor THE BIZ IN SHOW: Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s St. Louis Arts Awards, which took place Jan. 21 at the Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta Hotel. Arts honorees included: Chris Hansen, executive director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, received Arts Innovator of the Year; Carrie Houk of the Tennessee Williams Festival, Arts Startup of the Year; Noémi and Michael Neidorff, Excellence in Philanthropy; Ken Page, Lifetime Achievement in the Arts; Brent Benjamin, Saint Louis Art Museum, Excellence in the Arts; Sue Greenberg, Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Champion for the Arts; and Amy Freet, Ferguson-Florissant School District, Art Educator of the Year.

Bryan Batt and Carrie Houk at A&E Arts Awards.

Nominations are sought from the community every spring by
the Arts and Education Council, who convenes a selection panel made of past
honorees, arts patrons, artists and others to review the nominations and select
the honorees.

A&E Council has recognized more than 175 artists,
educators, philanthropists, corporate citizens and arts groups since 1992.

Bryan Batt, who starred in “Mad Men” and appeared as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray” at The Muny, will be returning in May for the Tennessee Williams Festival, Carrie Houk said. Exciting news to come! ***DOWN-HOME DIVA:  Grammy-winning artist, world-class soprano and proud resident of Lebanon, Ill., Christine Brewer can be seen in Doug Cuomo’s opera “Doubt” on PBS.

Christine Brewer of Lebanon, Ill.

The Minnesota Opera production is airing on the “Great
Performances” program and is now available for streaming on pbs.org/gperf and
PBS apps. Check local listings for programming. PBS Local is Ch. 9 KETC
and Ch. 8 WSIU in Carbondale.
The opera is based on playwright John Patrick Shanley’s acclaimed 2005 Broadway
play, which was later adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film in 2008
starring Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Union Avenue Opera company produced “Doubt” here in the summer of 2016, with Brewer as Sister Aloysius.

Brewer was on hand to introduce a showing and participate in a Q&A Jan. 27 at The Hettenhausen Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of her alma mater, McKendree University, in Lebanon, Ill. The opera also stars Adriana Zabala as Sister
James, Matthew Worth as Father Flynn and Denyce Graves as Mrs. Miller

 Great Performances
Executive Producer David Horn said “Doubt’ is a powerful story that has
resonated with Broadway and movie audiences alike. Minnesota Opera has brought
the story to life in an exciting new way, highlighting the company’s depth of
talent and willingness to take on the challenge of an emotionally charged new
work.”

In 1964 at a Bronx Catholic Schools, a battle of wills is ignited when Sister James shares her suspicion that Father Flynn, the progressive pastor, may be abusing the school’s only African-American student. Sister Aloysius, the school’s iron-fisted principal, embarks on a personal crusade to discover the truth. Brewer will return to the Union Avenue Opera stage this summer as the Mother Abbess in “The Sound of Music.” Performance dates are July 5, 6, 12 and 13. ***NO DAY BUT TODAY: The Fox Network has confirmed that the original Broadway cast of  the landmark musical “Rent” will be on the “Rent Live!” telecast Sunday, Jan. 27, from 7 to 10 p.m. on KTVI (ch. 2 local).

The original 1996 cast includes Tony winner Idina Menzel
who played Maureen Johnson, Tony nominee Adam Pascal as Roger Davis, Tony
nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega as Mimi Marquez, Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen, Jesse L.
Martin as Tom Collins, Fredi Walker as Joanne Jefferson, Taye Diggs as Benny
and Wilson Jermaine Heredia in a Tony-winning turn as Angel.

Original Broadway Cast 1996The live cast will include Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen
Johnson, Brennin Hunt as Roger Davis, Tinashe as Mimi Marquez, Jordan Fisher as
Mark Cohen, Tony nominee Brandon Victor Dixon as Tom Collins, Kiersey Clemons
as Joanne Jefferson, Mario as Benny and Valentina as Angel, with Tony nominee
Keala Settle as the “Seasons of Love” soloist.

Jonathan Larson’s musical about a group of friends
surviving in New York City at the during the AIDS crisis won the 1996 Tony
Award for Best Musical and a Pulitzer Prize, among many others. A film
adaptation was released in 2005, featuring most of the original cast.

Original director Michael Greif is helming the TV version.  Producers include Julia and Al Larson, Jonathan’s
sister and father.

 ***FIT AND FAB: Conquering Mount Olympus, St. Louisan Derik Scott, 30, is the Reigning Titan after competing Jan. 24 on NBC’s “The Titan Games,” which is hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Scott, a lawyer and professional mixed martial-arts fighter, grew up in Jefferson and south St. Louis counties. He is a 2006 graduate of Lindbergh High School and attended Lindenwood University, where he competed on the diving team and graduated in 2009.

Derik Scott of St. Louis

He earned his law degree from Baylor University and lived
in the Dallas area, moving back to the ‘Lou in 2015. This past summer, he moved
again, taking a job as general counsel with a chain of fitness centers.

His parents, Kevin and Dana Scott, owned Scotts Gymnastics
in Crestwood. He won his first national championship at age 7.

The 10-episode athletic competition show began Jan. 3 and is
produced by the team behind “America’s Ninja Warriors.”

Jeff Wright

HEAR YE: Local singer-actor Jeffrey M. Wright will be a guest performer at the CabaretFest in Provincetown, Mass., late May/early June. More details to come.

Alexandra Kay

Local singer-actress Lexi Krekorian returns to her roots, coming in from L.A. to play on Saturday, Feb. 16, with her Alexandra Kay Band at the Silver Creek Saloon & Grill, 2520 Masscoutah Ave., in Belleville. Matt Wynn will open the show that begins at 8:30 p.m. Cover is $5.

Lexi, aka Alexandra Kay, can be seen in the original Netflix reality series, “Westside.” She is from Waterloo, Ill.

The Zombies of PenzancePhoto by Jill Ritter Lindberg

***THE SINGING DEAD: The script, full piano-vocal score and live original cast recording of ‘The Zombies of Penzance” are now available on Amazon.com.

New Line Theatre’s world premiere of this comic-horror opera adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” was in October 2018, with new text by Scott Miller and music adaptation and orchestration by John Gerdes. It contains adult language and adult content.

The cast album features the entire original St. Louis cast and band, recorded in front of a live audience at the Marcelle Theater in the Grand Center Arts District, recorded and mixed by New Line sound designer Ryan Day.

The show’s writers are also
accepting requests for production rights.

New Line’s original Zombies of
Penzance cast included Sean Michael as Frederic, Melissa Felps as Mabel,
Zachary Allen Farmer as Major-General Stanley the Zombie Hunter, Dominic
Dowdy-Windsor as the Zombie King, Kent Coffel as Zombie Sam, with Mara Bollini,
Robert Doyle, Matt Hill, Lindsey Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Kyle Kelesoma, Melanie
Kozak, Sarah Porter, Christina Rios, and Kimi Short.

The Zombies of Penzance band
included Nicolas Valdez (Conductor/Piano), John Gerdes (French Horn), Lea
Gerdes (Reeds), Joseph Hendricks (Bassoon), Emily Trista Lane (Cello), Twinda
Murry (Violin), Kelly Austermann (Reeds), and Hope Walker (Reeds).

The show was directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez.***

GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Want to see “Avenue Q” at the Playhouse at Westport? We are giving away two tickets for the Thursday, Jan. 31, performance. To enter this drawing, send your name, phone number and your answer to the question on Favorite Musicals About Neighbors by noon on Tuesday, Jan. 29 to: [email protected] All entries will be placed into a drawing, and winner will be notified that afternoon.What Is Your Favorite Musical About Neighbors?Avenue Q The Fantasticks Fiddler on the Roof In the Heights Promises, Promises Rent

Send your choice to Lynn Venhaus, [email protected], by Tuesday. Jan. 29, at noon.***WORD: What do you say when you receive three Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for “A Star Is Born”?

Oscar nominees Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper“Everyone who worked on this film truly risked putting themselves out there — in the hope that in doing so people will connect and feel something deep and personal — the way films have made me feel since I was a kid.  When I got this opportunity I knew I had to risk it all because I may never get another chance — so to be here today in a place where people who have seen the film are talking about how it makes them feel, something deep — that simple human thing — that we need each other — and the Academy to recognize that this morning — I just am so grateful.” – statement from Bradley Cooper***

Awards March 25

THEATER PROM: More than 100 shows were produced by 40 companies during the calendar year for consideration for the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Nominations for the seventh annual ceremony were announced Jan. 25.Circle members recently voted for five nominees in 34 categories each — 54 shows received nominations, presented by 23 companies, and 120 artists recognized.

I am a founding member, and published the list here. https://stllimelight.com/2019/01/25/evita-streetcar-lead-st-louis-theater-circle-nominations/

The awards will be presented on Monday, March 25, on the Browning Mainstage at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus, home of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Admission remains $15 per person, and tickets can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com. Instead of a pre-show dinner, appetizers and drinks will be available from Llewellyn Catering***

Nominations for the Theatre Mask Awards (plays) and Best Performance Awards (musicals) will be announced at the 10th annual AFL Trivia Night this Friday, Feb. 1 at St. Joseph’s Parish Center in Manchester. Go to this page to sign up and for more information. The 70s theme is just for costumes (optional) and tables.http://www.artsforlife.org/trivia-night-1.htmlTRIVIA TIME-OUT: Whether you are a RENT-head or not, you must admit that “Rent” changed the cultural landscape when it opened on Broadway April 29, 1996, after being workshopped and off-Broadway. The night it was to be unveiled to the public, Jan. 25, 1996, composer-writer Jonathan Larson was found dead from an aneurysm (later diagnosed Marfan Syndrome). At the New York Theatre Workshop, the cast went on to sing-through the score for a closed audience of Jonathan’s family and friends instead.After its move to the Niederlander Theatre, it spent 12 years there and is the 11th-longest running musical of all-time. And it also pioneered the Broadway ticket lottery. Here are a few questions – test your knowledge (Answers Below):

The musical is based on what Puccini opera?Anthony Rapp, who originated the role of Mark
Cohen, went to high school with stage and screen star John Barrowman and comic
actor Andy Dick in what northern Illinois town?Four cast members were nominated for Tonys, but
who won?The cast of “Rent” performed “Seasons of Love” on the
opening day of the 1996 Democratic convention (Aug. 26). A year later,
President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary took Chelsea to see it for her 17th
birthday.
Another Broadway legend was inspired by seeing it when he turned 17 – Lin-Manuel
Miranda. He called it a revelation.
Here is the cast of “Rent” singing at the Chicago convention: https://youtu.be/WlOWRrXqTr4

Answers: 1. “La Boheme” 2. Joliet, Ill. 3. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who played Angel. (Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Idina Menzel were also nominated.) ***

Broadway fan David Letterman

MEMORY LANE: Friend to the Broadway theater community, David Letterman’s talk show “Late Night” debuted on Feb. 1, 1982, filmed at the NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center.

He moved to CBS on Aug. 30, 1993, broadcasting “Late Show” from the historic Ed Sullivan Theatre in mid-town Manhattan, in the heart of the Broadway theater district, and retired May 20, 2015. With his 33 year-tenure, he became the longest running talk show host ever.

Known for often presenting new musicals in thrilling live
performances, that mantel has moved to his successor, Stephen Colbert’s show in
the Ed Sullivan Theatre, and also Seth Meyer’s late-night show on NBC.
Letterman also involved local theaters and performers in comedy bits, and Broadway
stars were frequent guests.

When Letterman retired, Playbill published an article “Letterman Loves Broadway!” and included clips of some show performances, including “American Idiot,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” Spring Awakening,” “Jersey Boys,” “Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Million Dollar Quartet,” “The Producers,” “Spider-Man,” and “Young Frankenstein,” with revivals of  “Anything Goes,” “Cabaret,” “Hair,” “West Side Story,” “South Pacific” and “How to Succeed.”

Here is the article link with the video clips. “Matilda,” “Pippin” and “Rocky” have been removed, but all the mentions above are still there.

http://www.playbill.com/article/letterman-loves-broadway-see-more-than-two-dozen-thrilling-musical-performances-from-the-late-show-video-com-349539

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

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

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

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

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

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
For a rooting-tooting time at the theater, head yonder to the Tower Grove Abbey, where wacky hi-jinx are afoot in the Southern-fried “The Robber Bridegroom.”
Stray Dog Theatre’s colorful cast realizes that many people are unfamiliar with this mid-1970s musical based on Eudora Welty’s first novella, which is adapted from a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, so they are eager to please, and work overtime to charm the crowd.
The goofy story, set in 18th century Mississippi, is not fooling anybody but the ensemble, who have so much fun with this campy tall tale of mistaken identities and nefarious motives.

In 1795, the hero-outlaw Jamie Lockhart (Phil Leveling) swaggers in to Rodney, Miss., looking for his next swindle. As his alter-ego, he is The Robber in the Woods, a Robin Hood-like figure who disguises himself with berry juice.
He’s unrecognizable to Rosamund (Dawn Schmid), the beautiful daughter of the richest planter, Clement Musgrove (Jeffrey Wright). They fall in love during the charade, which leads to hilarious complications.
Mix in an evil stepmother, the overbearing Salome (Sarah Gene Dowling); a mischievous bandit Little Harp (Logan Willmore); his brother Big Harp (Kevin O’Brien), who is only a head in a briefcase these days; a pea-brained flunky named Goat (Bryce Miller); his sister Airie (Christen Ringhausen); and a talking raven (Susie Lawrence), and these zesty ingredients create farcical nonsense.
Rounding out the rambunctious ensemble is Chris Ceradsky, Shannon Lampkin and Rachel Sexson as residents of Rodney.
Director Justin Been has inventively staged the show to bring out the cast’s playful nature, and swiftly spins the action in a captivating piece of “story theater.”
The clever Tony Award-nominated book and lyrics are written by Alfred Uhry, who later became famous for his “Atlanta Trilogy” – the 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” Tony Award for Best Play in 1997; and the Tony-nominated libretto to “Parade” in 1998.
The bluegrass-tinged music score is by Uhry’s frequent collaborator, Robert Waldman, and music director and pianist Jennifer Buchheit’s work captures its lively spirit. Her exceptional band gets the show off to a rollicking start and keeps up the momentum throughout – fine work by Steven Frisbee on fiddle, Mallory Golden on fiddle and mandolin; Michael Kuba on banjo, cello and guitar; Marty Lasovica on guitar, and M. Joshua Ryan on acoustic bass and bass ukulele.
Choreographer Mike Hodges freshens up old-timey western dances and gives the ensemble a chance to kick up their heels in their period-appropriate garb designed by SDT’s artistic director Gary F. Bell.
The entire cast speaks in exaggerated Southern drawls and projects the show’s light-heartedness out of the gate with “Once Upon the Natchez Trace.” They remain exuberant in “Flop Eared Mule,” “Goodbye Salome” and “Leather Britches.”
The harmonious ensemble’s “Deeper in the Woods” is a lush, ethereal ballad that shifts into a full-fledged romance between Jamie and Rosamund, while “Where, Oh Where” is a foot-stomping number featuring everyone’s nimble voices.
Impressive newcomers Logan Willmore, as Jamie’s rival Little Harp, and Bryce Miller, as the imbecile Goat, display slick comic timing that accentuates the breezy romp. Their duet, “Poor Tied Up Darlin’” is a hoot, with assist from a game Christen Ringhausen.
Versatile Kevin O’Brien is funny as the talking head Big Harp, and both he and Miller are hilarious in “Two Heads.”
Veterans Phil Leveling, Dawn Schmid and Jeffrey M. Wright superbly inhabit their characters.
As the rascally Jamie, Leveling is well-suited to the role both in acting and singing, as his range is spot-on for the vocal demands. He’s appealing in his introduction, “Steal with Style.”
The jaunty role isn’t demanding but allows for mischief-making. In 1977, Barry Bostwick won a Tony as Lead Actor in a Musical for the ’76 Broadway run while in 2016, Steven Pasquale won a Lucille Lortel Award for the Roundabout Theatre off-Broadway revival.
Leveling and Schmid blend beautifully in song, including “Love Stolen.” They have some oomph in their chemistry as a romantic comedy coupling.
Schmid’s positive approach and her beaming smile project a spirit of adventure. No damsel in distress, she shines in “Rosamund’s Dream” and “Nothin’ Up.” In the archetypal fairy-tale princess way, she tussles with Dowling, who wants the golden daughter out of the way.
Dowling has a field day mugging malicious intentions as the over-the-top Salome, spewing venom in “The Pricklepear Bloom.”
Wright plays a blustery rich guy who misses his first wife and puts his daughter on a pedestal. Even though his second wife is a pain, Musgrove’s a people-pleaser and can’t shift gears. Wearing a loud checkered suit, Wright just has a ball cavorting as this gaudy character.
The quartet of Jamie, Musgrove, Rosamund and Salome have fun frolicking in “Marriage is Riches.”
The roots music imbues a feel-good quality while the cast appears to be having a swell time like friends around a campfire.
It is that conviviality one will remember soon after the story fades.
Stray Dog Theatre presents “The Robber Bridegroom” Aug. 2 -18, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with a Sunday, Aug. 12 matinee at 2 p.m. and a Wednesday, Aug. 15 performance at 8 p.m. added, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue, St. Louis, 63104. For tickets or more information, visit www.straydogtheatre.org

Photos by John Lamb