By Connie Bollinger
Contributing Writer
Full disclosure: I ordinarily don’t enjoy audience interactive productions However, “Flanagan’s Wake,” playing now through March 21 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, proved to be a delightful exception.

Part improv, part scripted, part interactive,”Flanagan’s Wake” tells the story of an Irishman’s funeral and the family and friends who come together in an Irish pub to toast him on his way to paradise.  

Already a long-running smash hit in Chicago, Emery Entertainment has moved the interactive play to St. Louis, where the locals memorialize his passing with plenty o’ pints, zany sing-a-longs and witty tales.

There’s a priest, of course, dear Father Damon Fitzgerald, played by Alan Knoll, whose penchant for sacrilege and gambling is well presented. Knoll tells a thumping good story about the deceased and about an unknown Apostle named Kevin.

Alan Knoll as Father Fitzgerald. Photo by John Flack

Mother Flanagan is there, an ancient, salacious, Gaelic speaking old blister, played to perfection by Bill Burke. Mayor Martin O’Doul (Lynn Berg) hosts the gathering, as it’s his Pub after all.

Brett Ambler is Brian Ballybunion, a fun-loving handsome young man with big dreams. Dustin Petrillo plays Mikey, Teresa Doggett is Kathleen Mooney, the Irish Pagan, and Jennifer Theby-Quinn is Fiona Finn, Flanagan’s long-time fiance.

Music Director Charlie Mueller commands the pub piano, accompanying some of the most surprising songs we’ve ever heard, and three patient bartenders (Janelle Pierce, Sean Seifert, and Matt Billings) round out the cast, along with Patrick Blindauer playing the accordion.

The assembled audience are the cousins and friends come to participate in Flanagan’s send-off.

A romp of this magnitude requires a talented director and an equally skilled stage manager. Luckily, Director Lee Anne Mathews and Stage Manager Emily Clinger are up to the challenge, keeping the action moving along at a break-neck pace but never giving us the feeling of being rushed. 

The cast of “Flanagan’s Wake” are Improv wizards. Brett Ambler creates a wonderfully funny song out of thin air right before our eyes. Theresa Doggett’s Pagan Kathleen tells a  tale of a visit from the “Little People”  that is both surprising and, I’m sure, mostly improvised.

The Mayor, Lynn Berg, also spins a yarn about Flanagan that incorporates audience suggestions and never misses a beat; but for me, the favorite is Jennifer Theby-Quinn’s Fiona, the long suffering, hard drinking, short-tempered fiance whose Banshee;like wails of grief will literally make your ears ring. Fiona throws herself on Flanagan’s casket at every opportunity, causing brother Mikey (Dustin Petrillo) to have to wrestle her off kicking and screaming. 


Some of you may remember Ms Theby-Quinn in Westport’s production of “Avenue Q,” where she played Kate Monster and Lucy the Lounge Singer. Indeed, much of the cast of “Flanagan’s Wake” have St. Louis connections.

Teresa Doggett (Kathleen) recently appeared in “Pride and Prejudice” at the Rep and is also the resident Costume Designer for the Union Avenue Opera.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Fiona Finn. Photo by Jack Flack

Bill Burke (Ma) comes to the Playhouse from St. Louis’ own Stray Dog Theater where he recently played in “The Tempest” and “Macbeth.”  Patrick Blindauer has appeared in movie and television productions as well as several productions at the Muny.  Brett Ambler played Brian in “Avenue Q” last year at Westport, and  Dustin Petrillo’s St. Louis credits include Myriad Productions’ “Heathers the Musical” where he played JD.

“Flanagan’s Wake” is irreverent, loud, sarcastic, and delightful — just like family.  

The Playhouse @Westport presents “Flanagan’s Wake” Jan. 24 through March 21. Performances run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with a special Tuesday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day performance. Tickets are available at www.metrotix.com or at the box office one hour prior to show time. Groups of 10 or more should call 314-616-4455 for special rates. The Playhouse is located at 635 Westport. Visit www.playhouseatwestport.com for more information.

Theresa Doggett and Dustin Petrillo dance. Photo by John Flack.


By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Passion drives the characters and the R-S Theatrics production of a miraculous
little musical that has something to say. The title “A Man of No Importance” is
a misnomer, for Alfie Byrne is a remarkable human being whose significance is mirrored
in the faces of his fellow Dubliners.
In a blockbuster musical theater climate that regularly serves feel-good fluff and
spectacle, Broadway heavyweights Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote pensive
Irish-inflected music and lyrics and four-time Tony-winning playwright Terrence
McNally penned the book for a heartfelt rumination on friendship, acceptance,
creative expression and social mores for a 2002 Lincoln Center production.
This unconventional off-Broadway diamond in the rough feels like a pot o’ gold
discovery today. McNally, whose bold work on gay themes has been heralded
worldwide, adapted the 1994 film “A Man of No Importance” starring Albert
Finney into an introspective work of substance, a fanfare for the common man with
wry humor and touching moments.

Unlike the grand ambition of their masterpiece “Ragtime,” McNally,
and Ahrens and Flaherty, through their songs, give meaning to modest people and
their small-scale dreams and desires. And it’s in a specific setting – a working-class
Dublin parish in 1964, with quaint characters, during a time of innocence as
the world is changing.
With grace and laser-focus, director Christina Rios has created a cozy setting
that feels like the earnest characters are in your living room, that they are
part of your daily life and live next door.

“A Man of No Importance” at R-S TheatricsThe snug space gives the top-flight cast an opportunity to
gel like a community – the way an amateur theater group does, how church parishes
do, and why co-workers, pub mates and newcomers connect. You feel their moods,
temperaments.

Good-natured Alfie Byrne (Mark Kelley) is a bus conductor
by day, with a poet’s soul, and a creative force at night. Inspired by his
mentor Oscar Wilde, he fervently directs the St. Imelda’s Players, coming alive
fired up by art.

While kind and outgoing, he is also forlorn, a square peg
trying to fit into a round hole, as Alfie is a closeted homosexual when it was
still a crime in Ireland.

At home, he lives with his surly sister Lily (Stephanie
Merritt), who finds his hobbies peculiar, particularly his penchant for making
foreign dishes for dinner distasteful – Bolognese sauce, curry? She has decided
not to marry until he does, which adds to her exasperation. Merritt’s strong vocal
prowess is displayed in “The Burden of Life” and the touching ‘Tell Me Why” in
second act.

Stephanie Merritt and Michael B. PerkinsHer blustery steady beau, Carney (Michael B. Perkins), is the neighborhood butcher. Quite a ham on stage, he leads his enthusiastic castmates in the upbeat “Going Up!” – a fun song any thespian can identify with, setting the stage for the rehearsals to come.

But in an ugly character development, Carney also thinks it
is his moral duty to make the local church aware they are putting on “pornography,”
for he is appalled at Alfie’s choice for the next production – Wilde’s controversial
“Salome,” based on the tragic Biblical characters.

Miffed that he’s not the lead, Carney riles up the ladies’
sodality while the rest of the troupe are trying to find a way to costume the
seven veils and paint a realistic dummy head of John the Baptist. He wraps his
thoughts around it in “Confusing Times.”

Perkins has several stand-out songs, including the dandy comical
duet with Merritt, expressing outrage about Alfie’s proclivities “Books.”

Perkins also doubles as the flamboyant Wilde in dream
sequences, handling both with aplomb.
While Father Kenny (Dustin Allison) is shutting down the program, the church
hall teems with cast members, and we are introduced to a quirky assortment of folks
in this interesting patchwork quilt of a show.

Alfie loves these people. They’re home. They’re his “other”
family.

Lindy Elliott as AdeleThere are the housewife diva-wannabes who flutter about him
– Miss Crowe (Kay Love), Mrs. Curtin (Nancy Nigh), Mrs. Grace (Jodi Stockton)
and Mrs. Patrick (Jennifer Theby-Quinn). Besides Carney, on the men’s side is
widowed Baldy (Kent Coffel), Rasher Flynn (Marshall Jennings) and Ernie Lally
(Dustin Allison).

All gifted singers, they are outstanding in the ensemble
numbers “A Man of No Importance,” “Our Father,” “Art” and several reprises. Nigh
has fun carrying out Naomi Walsby’s tap choreography in “First Rehearsal.”

Alfie has a secret crush on his co-worker, bus driver Robbie Fay (Kellen Green). He’d like to cast him as John the Baptist but Robbie’s not convinced. A lovely young woman, Adele Rice (Lindy Elliott), is new to town, and Alfie’s inspiration to tackle his mentor’s masterwork. Could she be his “Salome”?

Elliott, very impressive in this key role, sweetly sings a
reprise of “Love Who You Love,” and she and Kelley have a touching song
together, “Princess.”

Kellen Green as Robbie

As the handsome, conflicted Robbie, Green is terrific, trying
to find his way — and has a secret too. He robustly delivers “The Streets of
Dublin,” one of the show’s best numbers, and has a moving duet, “Confession” with
Kelley. He shows his prowess on the violin and in a reprise of “Love Who You
Love” as well.

Another highlight is Kent Coffel’s tender rendition of “The
Cuddles Mary Gave,” as the character Baldy mourns his late wife.

Anchoring the whole shebang is Mark Kelley, a revelation as
Alfie. He understands this sensitive soul and his pain. He imbues Alfie with so
much conviction that his bittersweet songs, “Love’s Never Lost” and “Love Who
You Love” are affecting and the triumph of “Welcome to the World” is
well-earned.

As the dialect coach, sound designer and fight
choreographer in addition to the lead, Kelley has galvanized this production.
The fight is realistic thanks to assistant fight choreographer Rhiannon Skye
Creighton and Perkins as fight captain.

The Irish accents are spot-on and never waiver – kudos to
the cast’s commitment on getting it right. It makes a difference setting the
proper tone, and the lived-in quality of the production is noteworthy.

Kent Coffel and Mark KelleyThe orchestra is very much a key part of the production,
and not just because conductor Curtis Moeller doubles as a character, Carson.
The cast interacts with them and vice versa, and they excel at giving an authentic
Celtic sound to the score. Moeller is on keyboard, with Benjamin Ash on bass,
Twinda Murry and Hanna Kroeger playing violins, Emily T. Lane on cello, Adam
Rugo on guitars and Marc Strathman on flutes. They achieve a lush sound that piquantly
flavors the show.

Amanda Brasher’s costume designs are a treat. She nailed the characters perfectly, from vintage frocks to the nubby knit sweaters to the assortment of hats defining personalities. Stockton’s Mrs. Grace wears a stunning ballet-slipper pink lace two-piece suit straight out of Jackie Kennedy’s closet.

The musical is a slow simmer but worth the investment as the sympathetic characters ripen. While the story spotlights a different time in another country, it illustrates the universal social awakening that “Love is Love is Love.” And being accepted for who you are is a worthy topic no matter when or where.

R-S Theatrics’ “A Man of No Importance” is to be admired
for its wholehearted mounting of a little-known show, illuminated by a talented
group of performers who feel like family at the finale.

Jodi StocktonR-S Theatrics presents “A Man of No Importance”
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 7 p.m., Aug. 9 – 25, at the Marcelle
Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive in Grand Center For more information or for
tickets, visit www.r-stheatrics.com
or call 314-252-8812.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Jennifer Theby-Quinn, one of the most radiant life forces in local theater, joyfully
slips into a vivacious literary heroine with energy, enthusiasm and ease in
“Daddy Long Legs.”

The charming musical romance opened Insight Theatre
Company’s 12th season, whose theme is “A Riot of the Heart!”

Based on Jean Webster’s 1912 novel, which is a written as a
series of letters between pen pals, “Daddy Long Legs” enthralled me as a youth.
I naturally identified with orphan Jerusha Abbott, a very smart young woman who
longs for adventure.

Because she is a bookworm who shows much promise as a
writer, Jerusha is given an opportunity to attend college by an anonymous
benefactor, whom she nicknames “Daddy Long Legs” after she spies this
tall trustee leaving the John Grier Home one day, from a distance. The sole
request is that she correspond once a month.

In a plot twist, he befriends her using his real identity,
as the bachelor uncle of one of her affluent roommates. The family is of
considerable social status, and Jerusha is enamored of their wealth and advantages.

Internationally renowned countertenor Terry Barber plays the
mysterious Jervis Pendleton whose zest for life grows as his affection for the
wide-eyed innocent coed does. Her lively observations, spoken as her written
prose, have enchanted him.

Barber’s vocals are exquisite, and with music direction by
Scott Schoonover, the lush score soars. Leading a three-person combo on
keyboard, Schoonover benefits from Tracy Andreotti on cello and Vincent Varvel
on guitar, guiding each number with expert skill. 

While Barber’s acting is less effective here, the show is
really is Jennifer’s to own, for it is truly a remarkable role for a leading
lady. In Jerusha’s journey of self-discovery, Theby-Quinn shines brightly,
lighting up every corner of The Marcelle.

The story takes place in turn-of-the-century New England,
and through Theby-Quinn’s animated performance, Jerusha reveals herself as a
woman of substance, an outspoken suffragette who champions social justice. As
she blossoms, her joie de vivre is palpable and infectious.

Julian King’s vintage costume design is quite fetching,
except the wig choice for Jervis.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Jerusha Abbott

Director Maggie Ryan keeps the characters moving, and with
Quinn’s ebullience, there is no static at all. Rob Lippert’s ingenious set
design, rich in detail and smart function, serves the action well.

Nevertheless, the second act seems much longer than
necessary, and tests the goodwill of the first one as the two-person show seems
in no rush to arrive at the inevitable.

The book is by John Caird, Tony nominee for directing “Les
Miserables,” and the music and lyrics are by Paul Gordon, the Tony
Award-nominated composer of “Jane Eyre.” The production debuted off-Broadway in
2015, but before that, received an engaging tryout at The Repertory Theatre of
St. Louis in 2012.

For any girl who know what it’s like to dream, this musical
marvelously captures the yearning to see the world and the excitement to be
introduced to new things in life.

It’s also a quaint portrait of the social mores in the
early 20th century, and the evolution of contemporary women.

“Daddy
Long Legs” is presented by Insight Theatre Company March 29-April 14 at The
Marcelle Theatre. For more information, visit www.insighttheatrecompany.com