By Andrea BraunContributing WriterLove’s Labor’s Lost is a “play” in the strictest sense of the word, and it’s fun to watch the characters pontificate, read their letters aloud (even if a couple of them go awry), flirt, and stretch language to illogical limits and syllogistic absurdity.

It’s well known in theatre circles that this early work in the Shakespeare canon isn’t often performed and conventional wisdom has it that it’s simply dated. Its puns and jokes are too much of their own time for contemporary audiences to “get” them. It also could be static considering how much standing and speaking there is if the stage business isn’t choreographed to avoid it.

I’m certainly pleased that director Tom Ridgely didn’t think in those limited terms. Our new artistic director of the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has given us a comic jewel. I’m not familiar enough with the text to cite specific edits and emendations that may have been made, but I think some are there. It’s particularly hard to tell because Ridgely has paced this piece at 11 out of 10, and yet it’s wonderfully easy to follow.

The basic story is simple enough. Four young noblemen decide to take an oath to forgo romance for three years to allow time for study and contemplation, and the edict is issued that Navarre shall be singular in its observation of these rules. In a trice, four young women show up. Oops! What now?

The situation is that straightforward, but complicated by politics in that the men are the friends and companions of the  King of Navarre (Sky Smith) and the Princess of France (Kea Trevett) representing her ailing father, the King, and her attendants and have come to discuss the disposition of the Aquitaine.

Flirting ensues, complete with the young men playing
dancing Muscovites (you won’t believe it until you see it) and the Princess and
her entourage exchanging jewelry to confuse the men about their identities.
There are actually two plays-within-the-play, plus funny moments from the
scholar Holofernes (Carine Montberband) and the curate Nathaniel (Katy Keating)
whose routine reminds me of a Socratic version of “Who’s On First.”

Early in the action, we meet consummate clown Costard
(Patrick Blindauer)  as he’s being
berated by the King for illicit relations with the wench Jacquinetta (Molly
Meyer). Costard shows his own facility with language when he tries to get out
of being punished for breaking the new law about congress with a woman, for
which the Spaniard, the haughty and verbose Don Armado (Philip Hernandez), also
in love with Jacquinetta, reports him. And the course is set for merriment
throughout.

The set by Jason Simms is perfect, and contains more
you than you might expect. Melissa Trn’s costumes span the ages from the
vaguely Roman slave look sported by Costard, to  Armado’s bedazzled uniform; the Curate and
Holofernes in Elizabethan dress, the noblewomen in Bennett sisters garb sans
the bonnets, and the men’s mostly timeless attire. With John Wylie’s lights, it
all combines to create a beautiful show. Rusty Wandall incorporates wandering
minstrels in his sound design, so we’re welcomed to the show with “Meet Me in
St. Louis” as we enter, and “Gloria” complete with a Blues flag at curtain call,
and much else throughout. While the actors are mostly excellent, it’s Tom
Ridgely’s show and he’s got a winner.

The Shakespeare Festival runs in Forest Park through June 23 nightly at 8 p.m. except Mondays. Admission is free and festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. with a Green Show and a 25-minute version of the play performed Thursday-Sunday nights at 7:15 by the Shakespeare Squadron.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Plays with substantial women roles were spotlighted at the seventh annual St.
Louis Theater Circle Awards March 25, with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’
musical production of “Evita” and a homegrown “A Streetcar Named Desire” from
the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival each receiving seven awards.

Both iconic female-lead shows had received the most
nominations, 11 apiece, when the Circle announced them in January. The awards
recognized outstanding work locally produced by regional professional companies
during the calendar year 2018.

Nominees Kari Ely and Michelle Hand in “Into the Breeches!”The comedy “Into the Breeches!”, the first play in Shakespeare
Festival St. Louis’ new program, “In the Works,” won four awards. The world
premiere was in January 2018, with its first St. Louis performances in
September. The comedy from Chicago playwright George Brant is about a
fictitious theater group in 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s
wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” It had roles for
six women and two men. In addition to awards for ensemble, director Nancy Bell
and best production, Michelle Hand won best actress.

The Circle, which includes veteran area theater critics, annually recognizes outstanding work in comedies, dramas and musicals, and with two opera categories.

Each of the 33 categories featured five nominees, with 23 local companies cited for 54 shows, and 120 artists receiving nods, including 10 with two apiece.

This year, there were three ties: sound design in a play, costume design in a musical and musical ensemble.

Evita won seven awards from the Circle“Evita,” the vibrant Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, earned awards for musical direction (Charlie Alterman), choreography (Gustavo Zajac and Mariana Parma), set design (Luke Canterella), lighting (John Lasiter), director (Rob Ruggiero, his third), ensemble and production of a musical.

The landmark “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written in 1947 by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, earned honors for Sophia Brown as Outstanding Actress – for her heart-wrenching portrayal of the emotionally needy and mental fragile faded beauty Blanche Dubois, sound design (original music by Henry Palkes and sound by Amanda Werre), lighting design (Sean M. Savoie), set design (James Wolk), direction (Tim Ocel), ensemble and production of a drama.

The 18 other awards went to separate shows, with both The
Black Rep and The Muny winning three apiece, and The Rep adding two more for earning
the most, nine.

Jeff Cummings and Katy Keating in “Life Sucks.” Photo by ProPhotoSTLIn comedy, Katy Keating won for Supporting Actress as feisty but unrequited lovesick Sonia in New Jewish Theatre’s “Life Sucks,” a ‘sort of’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Aaron Posner. She was also part of the award-winning ensemble of “Into the Breeches!”.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo by Ron James.Isaiah Di Lorenzo won Supporting Actor as The Player, the leader of the Tragedians, in St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” He also was in the award-winning ensemble of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Will Bonfiglio as Mary Dale in “Red Scare on Sunset.” Photo by Justin Been. Will Bonfiglio won his second Outstanding Actor Award, as film star Mary Dale in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Red Scare on Sunset.” He was honored in 2017 for the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.

For costume designs, Lou Bird won for The Rep’s “Born Yesterday” vintage wardrobe in the play category and there was a tie in the musical category between Leon Dobkowski, who won for The Muny’s colorful “The Wiz,” and Darryl Harris for the elegant “Crowns: A Gospel Musical” at The Black Rep.

There was another tie in sound design in a play – besides “Streetcar,” Rusty Wandall won for Lucas Hnath’s contemporary “The Humans” at The Rep.

Laurie McConnell, left, as Birdie Hubbard in “The Little Foxes.” Photo by Patrick HuberIn drama, Laurie McConnell won Supporting Actress as forlorn
Birdie Hubbard in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The
Little Foxes.” She won in 2017 for Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal
of Joanne in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company.

Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas. Photo by Ann AuerbachEric Dean White, a previous nominee, won Supporting Actor for playing the slick, smooth, haughty and conniving Satan in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ron Himes in “Fences”

Another previous nominee and winner, Ron Himes won Outstanding Actor as bitter garbage collector Troy in August Wilson’s “Fences at The Black Rep last winter. In 2014, The Black Rep won best ensemble and production for “The Whipping Man.”

The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” best new playThe Black Rep also won Best New Play for Nikkole Salter’s “Torn
Asunder,” which dramatized true stories of newly emancipated African Americans
trying to overcome the vestiges of slavery so they could reconnect with their
families.

Joy Boland won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the imposing villainess sea witch in Variety Theater’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

Beth Leavel as Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” Photo by Philip Hamer.For their powerhouse musical performances, Corbin Bleu won Outstanding Actor as the fleet-footed matinee idol Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” and Beth Leavel was honored as the controlling stage parent Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” both at The Muny.

Corbin Bleu in “Singin’ in the Rain” at The Muny. Photo by Phil Hamer.Leavel had been nominated three times before (“Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all at the Muny. She is currently performing on Broadway in a St. Louis-produced original musical, “The Prom.”

Stephanie Merritt and Kent Coffel in “The Light in the Piazza” Kent Coffel won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as well-meaning haberdasher Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father, in “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by R-S Theatrics in its St. Louis regional premiere.

Anything Goes at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter LindbergTying with “Evita” for musical ensemble was New Line Theatre’s vivacious “Anything Goes.”

It was a three-peat for Ruggiero, who won for directing “Evita,” and had previously been honored for The Rep’s productions of “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Regina” at OTSL was Outstanding Opera ProductionIn the opera categories, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was honored
for both Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was given to director Patricia
Racette for “La Traviata,” and the Mark Blitzstein adaptation of “The Little Foxes”
— “Regina,” as Outstanding Production of an Opera.
Three special awards were bestowed:  To the
Muny for a century of performances celebrated during its centennial season of
2018; to Kathleen Sitzer, founder and long-time artistic director of the New
Jewish Theatre, for lifetime achievement; and to Steven Woolf, Augustin
artistic director of The Rep for more than 30 years, also for lifetime
achievement.

Sitzer retired after New Jewish Theatre’s 2017-18 season, while Woolf will retire after The Rep’s 2018-19 season this spring. Organized in 2012, the St. Louis Theater Circle includes founding members Steve Allen of stagedoorstl.com, Mark Bretz of the Ladue News, Robert A. Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of Broadway World, Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX, Judith Newmark, now of judyacttwo.com, Ann Pollack of stlouiseats.typepad.com, Lynn Venhaus, now of St. Louis Limelight magazine, Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV’s Two on the Aisle, and Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tina Farmer of KDHX and Michelle Kenyon of snoopstheatrethoughts.com. Eleanor Mullin is the administrator.

Those who helped produce the show at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University included Andrea Torrence and Peggy Holly, who put together the slide show; awards assistance Hannah Daines, stage manager Alycia Martin and assistant stage manager Delaney Dunster, voice-over announcer Colin Nichols and box office assistants Kimberly Sansone and Harry Ginsburg.

Renowned local musician Joe Dreyer was the accompanist and Deborah Sharn performed an opening number.

Special thanks to Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Price Waterhouse Cooper LLC, who tabulate the Circle ballots, and to the awards certificate calligrapher Susan Zenner.

Contact the Circle by email: [email protected] and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Veteran performer Philip Hernández, the only actor in Broadway history to play both Valjean and Javert in “Les Misérables,” will headline the 2019 Shakespeare Festival St. Louis production of “Love’s Labors Lost,” May 31 through June 23, at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. Preview performances are scheduled May 29-30. Performances are held nightly, excluding Mondays, and begin at 8 p.m. 

Philip Hernandez

Hernández will portray Don Adriano de Armado, the lovelorn soldier considered to be one of Shakespeare’s finest comic creations. The actor made his Broadway debut in the Original Cast of the Tony Award-winning “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” directed by Harold Prince, and created the role of Reverend Gonzalez opposite Marc Anthony and Ruben Blades in the Original Broadway Cast of Paul Simon’s “The Capeman.” TV credits include roles on “Nurse Jackie,” “Mysteries of Laura,” “Law and Order” and “Ugly Betty,” among others. 

Joining Hernández in the Festival production are Bradley James Tejeda (Duc de Biron), a native of San Antonio, Texas, and a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, as well as New Yorkers Kea Trevett (Princess of France) and Sky Smith (King of Navarre), both emerging stars within the Shakespeare theater circle. Trevett has appeared on stages nationally with the Classic Stage Company and the Roundabout, as well as internationally in “Antigone” (Africa Tour). Her TV and film credits include “Fosse/Verdon” (FX), “Milkwater” and “The Kindergarten Teacher.” Smith’s most recent credits include “Twelfth Night” (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival) and “Love’s Labours Lost”* (The Acting Co.). 

Kea Trevett

Festival veterans include Patrick Blindauer (Costard), who appeared in 2018’s “Romeo & Juliet”; Katy Keating (Nathaniel), most recently seen with the Festival in “Into the Breeches!” and “Blow, Winds”; and Michael James Reed (Forester/Marcadé), marking his seventh park appearance. 

Other area performers making their Festival debut include Jeffery Cummings (Boyet); Carl Howell (Dull), returning to St. Louis after appearing regionally at the Repertory Theater; Carine Montbertrand (Holofernes), most recently of Titan Theatre at Queens Theatre; Naima Randolph (Moth), an alumni of the Festival’s Shakespeare Squadron and Camp Shakespeare programs; Laura Sohn (Rosaline), a graduate of Rutgers University; Molly Meyer (Jaquenetta); and Sam Jones (Longueville). Also joining the cast are Webster University Conservatory graduates Vivienne Claire Luthin (Maria) and Kiah McKirnan (Catherine), and current student Riz Moe (DuMaine). 

Tom Ridgely, executive producer of the Festival, will direct the production, his first since taking the helm of the organization last spring. This marks the company’s 19th season of free, outdoor, professional theater in the park. 

Creative team members include Jason Simms (Set Design) of New York; Melissa Trn (Costumes), a former St. Louisan currently living in Los Angeles; and John Wylie (Lighting) and Rusty Wandall (Sound). This marks Wylie’s sixth season with the Festival, and Wandall’s eighth.

*A note on the title, “Love’s Labors Lost”:

Spelling and punctuation in early modern English weren’t nearly as regularized as they are today. Shakespeare famously never even spelled his own name the same way twice. Similarly, the first quarto of this play is titled “Loues labors lost”; the first folio has it as “Loues Labour’s Lost”; and, the second folio, “Loues Labours Lost.” Given the lack of certainty about what exactly Shakespeare intended, there are various schools of thought on how best to render those three words in modern English. Since the British “u” in “labour” was optional even in Shakespeare’s day, the Festival has opted for the more familiar American spelling. In addition, since the title contains an allusion to the Labors of Hercules, which are referred to often, along with the work of Cupid (aka Love), the Festival opted for the plural over the contraction — hence, “Love’s Labors Lost.”

About Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents Shakespeare and works inspired by his legacy of storytelling. Since 2001, the festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful theater in exciting and accessible venues throughout the St. Louis community. The festival’s artistic and education programs reached over 50,000 patrons and students during the 2018 season and have reached over one million since 2001. Leadership support for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ 2019 season is provided by the Whitaker Foundation. The festival is also funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.sfstl.com, or call 314-531-9800.

#  #  #

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Unexpectedly charming and heartfelt, the experimental but relatable “Well”
breaks the fourth wall just enough to easily win over the audience.

In fact, the disarming play purported to be about health
and wellness is more like a fluid, thought-provoking conversation that pulls us
in – and a running internal monologue by the lead character, playwright Lisa
Kron, about family and neighbors, and in sickness and in health.

The keen Katy Keating is endearing as the exasperated Lisa,
whose ailing mother presses all her buttons and she turns into the perpetual
angsty and whiny 13-year-old she once was and has been desperately trying to
shed that old fragile skin ever since.

Lisa tries to convince us that her latest creation –
expanded as a change of pace from her one-woman shows – is “a multi-character
theatrical exploration of issues of health and illness both in the individual
and in the community.”

But really, the complicated mother-daughter relationship is
its foundation, with a side trip into their racially integrated neighborhood in
Lansing, Mich., which was spearheaded by her compassionate, liberal mother.

Mom Ann (Lori Adams) has the usual aches and pains
associated with aging, but she suffers from some sort of undiagnosed ailment
that appears to be like chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. She is
convinced allergies keep her homebound and infirmed.

She’s made her recliner the point of operations. She perks
up watching ice skating and giving her daughter pearls of wisdom.

Mom, in her current state, seems like a kind senior citizen
whose days pass without much consequence. But every so often, she has a burst
of energy.

As played by Adams, Ann would have been quite a Mom force in the neighborhood back in the day – and we would have taken an instant shine to her. Here, we wish the frail Mom would get better so she could be productive. But she’s lovable in that earth mother kind of way.

If Lisa would get out of her own way, she’d be more confident and less tied to the past. But it’s fun to see childhood memories spring from her talented castmates. And that’s a whole other tangent. She’s searching for answers that she might never be satisfied with, ever. (If she’d only listen to Mom — and herself.)

Mom tries not to intrude but does indeed pull focus in their wonderfully lived-in middle-class Midwestern-appointed living room, deftly decorated by scenic designer Bess Moynihan and props master Laura Skroska — the rabbit tchotchke! The dainty appliqued afghan!

The pair work beautifully together and convey that longstanding complex mother and daughter relationship so well.

The entire ensemble is first-rate, with Leslie Wobbe, Carl Overly Jr., Robert Thibault and Alicia Reve Like effortlessly transitioning into different characters – severely allergic patients, old neighbors, and even themselves.

But the formidable anchor is Katy, whose sincerity and natural affability carry the show. We root for her and believe in her, despite her wrestling with personal torment. Katy, who is such an intuitive performer, can go through a gamut of emotions in a nano-second.

Director Deanna Jent knows how to extract nuanced work from her players, and she has adroitly staged this show for maximum effect.

We’re engaged by the material, yes, but we’re also captivated by the production elements.

Playwright Kron is an interesting writer, allowing herself
to be transparent in her works. No wonder she won two Tony Awards for the book
and lyrics to the musical “Fun Home.” In 2004, she wrote “Well,” which was
produced off-Broadway. Two years later, it was on Broadway.

Her clever style works well in Mustard Seed Theatre’s Blackbox theater, and the production team’s attention to detail is superb, with Michael Sullivan’s lighting design and Zoe Sullivan’s sound design enhancing the setting. Costumes by Jane Sullivan are appropriate to the story.

Witty and whimsical, serious and playful, “Well” is a
multi-layered discourse that is both fresh and familiar. And it hits close to
home because of its captivating cast.

Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Well” by Lisa Kron Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. March 1 – March 17 in the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. For more information, visit www.mustardseedtheatre.com.

Katy Keating, Carl Overly Jr. and Alicia Reve Like. Photo by Ann Auerbach.

Ben Nordstrom and Kari Ely will play opposite one another in “Into the Breeches!,” the headlining production of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ new program titled, In the Works, set for Oct. 28 through Nov. 24, at the Grandel Theatre. Written by George Brant and directed by Nancy Bell, the month-long, ticketed production is the culmination of the Festival’s 2018 season.
Kari ElyIn addition to “Into the Breeches!,” In the Works will include a Saturday matinee family show, “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness,” inspired by the mistaken identity hijinks of “The Comedy of Errors” and written by Bell. Also included are two staged readings of “The Thousand Natural Shocks” by playwright Michael Sáenz. Deep-dive talkbacks and art-making workshops for kids will round out the events.
For a detailed In the Works schedule and to order tickets, please visit www.sfstl.com/in-the-works, or call Metrotix at 314-534-1111. Student tickets to all performances are free with an ID but it is recommended they be reserved in advance. A limited number of “Pay What You Can Nights” are scheduled for the “Breeches!” performances on Nov. 7 and 14 and should also be reserved in advance. Military discounts are available as well.
Ben Nordstrom“One of the things that excited me most about joining the Festival was knowing that it already had plans to make this foray into producing new work alongside the classics of Shakespeare,” said Tom Ridgely, executive producer of the Festival. “These plays each capture something beautifully distinct about our current American moment. Like Shakespeare, they show us ourselves, in a way we’ve never seen before, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share them with St. Louis.”
“Into the Breeches!” is a comedy about a fictitious theater group. It’s 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” She assembles an unexpected cast that showcases how art and comedy can come together in even the darkest times. The play had its critically-acclaimed world premiere in January 2018 at the Tony-winning Trinity Repertory Company. This will be its first production in St. Louis. There will be 16 performances of “Breeches!” throughout the month-long run. Brant, the play’s author, also wrote “Grounded,” which starred Anne Hathaway during its New York run.
Nordstrom, whose work includes numerous appearances at the Repertory Theatre, the Muny, New Jewish, Stages, among others, also appeared in two plays written by Bell on behalf of the Festival, and in collaboration with the St. Louis Symphony in 2016. Ely, who previously appeared in the Festival’s main stage productions of “Henry IV,” “Henry V,” and “Antony and Cleopatra,” has worked for virtually every professional theater company in St. Louis. In addition to Nordstrom and Ely, the “Breeches!” cast will include Gary Wayne Barker, Michelle Hand, Katy Keating, Mary McNulty, Laura Resinger and Jacqueline Thompson.
Gary Wayne Baker will direct the family play,  “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness,” Bell’s story of resilience, identity and family. Cast members include Erika Flowers, Karl Hawkins, Michael James Reed and Jen Sinnen. “Outrageous” matinee performances are scheduled at 4 p.m. on Saturdays (Nov. 10, 17, 24).
“The Thousand Natural Shocks” tells the story of a high school student who explores his identity through experiences at a private military academy. The title character is encouraged and challenged by his role in the school’s production of “Hamlet.” Sáenz was commissioned by the Festival to adapt the story from his book of the same title. The story draws inspiration from the It Gets Better Project, which leads a global movement to empower LGBTQ youth worldwide. Webster Conservatory alumnus Kern McFadden will direct.  Two staged readings are scheduled at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 7-8.
Set designers Margery and Peter Spack and costume designer Michele Siler will serve as creative team members for both “Into the Breeches!” and “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness.”
Generous support for In the Works is provided by Mont and Karen Levy. Student tickets for 18 and under are free thanks to support from PNC Arts Alive.
About Playwright George Brant:
George BrantGeorge Brant was born in Park Ridge, Illinois and studied acting at Northwestern before turning to writing for his own zeppo theater company in Chicago during the ‘90s. He now lives in Cleveland with his wife, Laura Kepley, the Artistic Director of Cleveland Play House.

His 2012 play, Grounded, about a female fighter pilot reassigned to the Air Force’s drone unit, played New York’s Public Theater in a production starring Oscar winner Anne Hathaway and directed by Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner Julie Taymor. That production won three Lortel Awards for excellence Off-Broadway and has gone on to over 125 productions in 18 countries and a dozen different languages.
Still when Into the Breeches! premiered earlier this year at the Tony-winning Trinity Rep in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal called it, out of Brant’s 20-plus plays, “his best work by far” and “a gem of a play, one of the sweetest nights of theater you’re likely to see”.
The Shakespeare Festival is proud to present the Midwest premiere of this charming, big-hearted and provocative new play by one of America’s most acclaimed and original new voices.

About Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Since its inception in 2001, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has surpassed the one million mark in attendance through its work In the Schools, In the Streets and In the Park with more than 800,00 people attending the free main stage productions at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. The organization has reached an additional 300,000 students In the Schools through its educational programming. In 2010, the Festival launched SHAKE 38, a marathon participatory presentation of Shakespeare’s entire 38-play canon community wide. In 2012, the Festival shut down its first street, Cherokee, to present a community-based play In the Streets. Leadership support for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ 2018 season is provided by the Whitaker Foundation. The Festival is also funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.sfstl.com, or call 314-531-9800.

Local actor-singer lands national tour, Tony-nominated local playwright ready for another Broadway go-round, managing editor Lynn Venhaus back on Broadway (the street) and reflects on Neil Simon, local fest in lieu of Lou Fest and more!
SOMETHING WONDERFUL: St. Louis’s own Mark Saunders has landed a plum role in a national tour of the Tony-nominated musical “Something Rotten!” He is playing Brother Jeremiah, the father of Portia, a Puritan girl who falls in love with the single Bottom brother, Nigel.
The new Work Light Productions’ non-Equity tour will launch Sept. 19 at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Georgia, and he’ll be on the road until next June. The tour includes a one-day stop in March at the Stifel Theatre (formerly the Peabody).
This hilarious musical comedy tells the story of brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom, two playwrights stuck in the shadow of that Renaissance rock-star William Shakespeare. When a soothsayer foretells the next big thing in theatre involves singing, dancing, and acting at the same time, the Bottom brothers set out to write the world’s very first musical.
“Something Rotten!” premiered on Broadway in 2015 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, with Christian Borle winning for Best Featured Actor as Shakespeare.
So, how did this exciting opportunity happen? Mark, a St. Louis native and graduate of Bishop DuBourg High School, said he responded to an audition notice and asked for advice from a friend who had worked on the producing side of the original Broadway production.

“After chatting with him, and a lot of amazing people helping me out, I was able to get my materials (headshot, resume, website, etc.) to the casting agency and they called me in for an audition,” he said.
It was on his birthday, a Monday. He was called back that Thursday and found out the next day he was cast.
“It was even crazier because the day that I found out and flew home, I had to perform a piece by Rachmaninov in Russian with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. So, I landed around 3-ish and had to get my life together and be at Powell Hall for a concert at 7 p.m. It was a crazy nine days from the day that I got the initial email to the day that I found out that I booked the show,” he said.
Currently, he is rehearsing in NYC. During the past few weeks, he has been getting fittings done, and taking care of other logistics.
When he had a shoe fitting for a custom pair of boots at LaDuca, he described it as “an insanely happy moment.”
“You hear about all these kinds of moments, but when it’s actually you, it’s crazy!” he said. “I’m super excited that we’re going to play the Stifel Theatre in St. Louis on March 13, 2019! I can’t wait to share this amazing cast and show with my family and friends.”
Born and raised in Dogtown, Mark has worked different day jobs while pursuing performing opportunities. Recently, he was in Union Avenue Opera’s “Lost in the Stars” and can be seen in a Missouri Lottery commercial for The Voice VIP Promotion. He has been a paid singer with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus for the past five years.
In addition to Mark, the cast features Matthew Baker as Shakespeare, Matthew Janisse as Nick Bottom, Greg Kalafatas as Nostradamus, Emily Kristen Morris as Bea, Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Portia, and Richard Spitaletta as Nigel Bottom.
For more info or tickets, visit www.rottenbroadway.com
Bravo and Break a Leg!
***IN LIEU FESTIVAL: Sunday will still be a Fun Day, thanks to the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, who has come to the rescue of local bands without a venue now that the Lou Fest has been cancelled.
“The Sound of St. Louis Showcase,” a free musical festival will take place on two stages — at The Grandel Theatre and the Dark Room (in the Grandel) — from 2 to 10 p.m. Sept. 9 in the Grand Center Arts District.
In addition to the Kranzbergs, other sponsors include Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, Gaslight, the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, Express Scripts, and Red Bull are presenting this showcase of “some of the best talent in our vibrant music scene. Help us uplift and celebrate ‘The Sound of St. Louis.’ More local vendors may become involved.
The local line-up includes Ben Reece’s Unity Quartet, Bob DeBoo, The Burney Sisters, Dracla, Grace Basement, Jesse Gannon, Kasimu-tet, Kevin Bowers, Nova, The Knuckles, Mo Egeston, Owen Ragland, Ptah Williams Trio, The River Kittens, Scrub & Ace Ha and Tonina.
***
GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Oh, what a beautiful day! You can win two free tickets to “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis for either this Friday or Saturday.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration will open at Stages St. Louis Sept. 7 and will run through Oct. 7. When it debuted on Broadway 75 years ago, it changed the face of the American musical, and ran for more than five years.
Were you in a school production, in community theater or professional regional theater? It seems many people were. Who is your favorite among the iconic characters?
Such history! Those unforgettable classic songs “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “I Cain’t Say No” and “Kansas City,” not to mention the title number, always stay with you.
You can see Stages’ fresh take on this historic musical by entering our Go See a Play Poll. Respond to our poll question on who your favorite iconic character is, along with your name and phone number, and send to: [email protected] by noon Friday, Sept. 7. We will draw a name, and you can choose either Friday or Saturday, Sept. 7 or 8, at 8 p.m. performance – two tickets. We’ll let you know and help arrange your selected evening with the fine folks at Stages St. Louis.
Who is your favorite character from “Oklahoma!”?
Ado Annie Carnes
Aunt Eller
Gertie Cummings
Jud Fry
Ali Hakim
Curly McClain
Will Parker
Laurey Williams
Peter Wochniak photo
***THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Every year, new theater troupes pop up in the metropolitan St. Louis area, but perhaps the biggest growth is with youth groups. The Debut Theatre started this year and all proceeds benefit Pedal the Cause, which funds cancer research. The youth-founded group will present its third Acting Against Cancer event with a performance of “Into the Woods” on Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Chesterfield YMCA.
Debut Theatre Company was founded by youth to promote life-long learning and appreciation of the arts toward a more conscious and compassionate community. Its goal is to engage, inspire and entertain.
The mission statement includes: “We hope to make a difference for our artists, our audiences and those who benefit through our charitable cause. This youth centered company celebrates the essential power of the theatre to illuminate our common humanity.”
In the metro-east, St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church music director Stephen Eros and his wife, Jamie Marble Eros, music director at St. Clare School, organized a community theatre troupe to present “Godspell,” with 13 adults and teens in the cast, last month. A 25-member children’s chorus, which rehearsed through a week-long music camp at the church, joined the cast for two public performances.
***SIDE BY SIDE: Tony nominee Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill., is gearing up for another Broadway opening. He co-wrote the book with Bob Martin and lyrics for the musical “The Prom,” which begins previews Oct. 23, along with writing partner Matthew Sklar, who composed the music.
Chad Beguelin of Centralia, Ill. on 42nd Street near graphics of shows he’s both a part of on Broadway. Photo provided.He posted this recent picture in front of the Longacre Theatre at 220 W. 42nd Street, the new home of “The Prom,” while “Aladdin” is currently running next door, at the New Amsterdam Theatre. He wrote the book and new lyrics to the 2011 musical “Aladdin,” invited by Alan Menken to do so, and landed his third and fourth Tony nominations in the process. Fun to have two of your shows collide (his other major works include “The Wedding Singer” – Tony nominations for book and lyrics — and “Elf”). The duo’s website is: www.sklarandbeguelin.com
“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance and four fading Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of the spotlight
Beth Leavel and Adam HellerBest wishes to Muny favorite Beth Leavel and her leading man, Adam Heller, on their recent engagement. They played Rose and Herbie in The Muny production of “Gypsy” this summer, and she is preparing to star in The Prom.” They are shown here attending the 2015 premiere of “It Shoulda Been You.”
Those aren’t the only local connections. “The Prom” producers include Jack Lane, Terry Schnuck and Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, all of St. Louis.
Talk about timing! New Line Theatre will produce “Be More Chill” in May, and the musical sensation is moving to Broadway in March.
Attagirls to the MVPs of SATE, who dealt with an audience medical emergency during the final performance of “No Exit” at The Chapel Sept. 1. Kudos to Kristen Strom, stage manager; Bess Moynihan, director; and Ellie Schwetye, producer for the cool and calm efforts.
(And another round of applause for the cast – Rachel Tibbetts, Shane Signorino, Sarah Morris and Katy Keating — for their professionalism).
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WORD: “I can’t take his genius anymore.” – Rita Hayworth, on divorcing Orson Welles.
On Sept. 7, 1943, Welles whisked Hayworth away from the set of “Cover Girl” and they were married at the Santa Monica City Hall. She was 25, he was 28. Their marriage would last less than four years; they had one daughter, Rebecca.
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BROADWAY BOUND:  During a recent trip to NYC to visit my youngest son, I was fortunate to see “Straight White Men” starring Armie Hammer, Josh Charles, Paul Schneider and Stephen Payne, with introduction and some supporting work from Kate Bournstein and Ty Dafoe, at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. It is a 10-week limited run ending Sept. 9.
Charlie and Lynn Venhaus at Helen Hayes Theatre, Aug. 26.Written by Young Jean Lee, she is the first Asian-American female playwright to be produced on Broadway. She provided laughter and poignancy, striking a chord about family interactions when you are grown-ups.
The Helen Hayes Theatre is the smallest on Broadway, at 597 seats, and recently renovated to become Second Stage’s new home.
It starts out on Christmas Eve with a widowed dad and his three grown sons — two who live out of town. With its Christmas setting, the play about family dynamics and the responsibilities that come with education and privilege lends itself to the intimate atmosphere. It’s 90 minutes, no intermission.
All the actors were good – convincing as a real family – but Paul Schneider is the one I’d for sure single out for awards. I hope it’s considered for multiple Tony Award nominations.
So many people connected with this show were Steppenwolf Theatre veterans and involved in the “This Is Our Youth” revival that both sons and I saw at the Cort Theatre in November 2014, notably director Anna D. Shapiro and scenic designer Todd Rosenthal. They also launched Tracey Letts’ “August: Osage County.”
No wonder this was so tip-top. I can see local theater groups wanting to produce it, and there is plenty of local talent to fill those roles. I suspect I will see it again. This play will likely have a good run with groups across the country.
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Barbra Streisand sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade”TRIVIA TIME-OUT:  Fifty years ago, the movie adaptation of “Funny Girl” premiered on Sept. 8, 1968, earning Barbra Streisand her first Oscar for her first movie role. However, she had originated the role of Fanny Brice on Broadway.
The Academy Award was the first and only tie for Best Actress. Who did she share the award with?
What was Streisand’s second Oscar for?
In 1964, Streisand lost the Tony Award for her performance in “Funny Girl” to what actress?
Answers:
Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion in Winter”
Best Song: “Evergreen” from “A Star is Born”
Carol Channing for “Hello, Dolly!”
TRIBUTE: He was one of my first theater idols and continued to be a favorite, decades later. I discovered Neil Simon in high school, used “The Star-Spangled Girl” for speech competition (comedy interp) senior year, was in his plays “Fools” (Lenya) and “Plaza Suite” (Karen) in community theatre, and made it a point to see pretty much all his shows.
He influenced me in the way he wrote such distinct characters with specific snippets of dialogue to give you hilarious insights into their personalities. He had such an impact on modern comedy!
On Aug. 26, the day Neil Simon died, at age 91, I happened to be in New York City and was planning a Broadway afternoon. So I went by the Neil Simon Theatre to pay my respects and see any tributes.
The playwright had written over 30 plays and movie scripts, mostly adaptations of his own works, but a few originals (“The Out-of-Towners” and “The Goodbye Girl.”)
We headed to the Neil Simon Theatre on W. 52nd in the twilight — as all the marquees began to light up the night, I knew the sign would be dark as a tribute to the legendary funny man. A small memorial had started.
His influence on comedy writers was significant. I read “The Odd Couple” when I was 15 and had never laughed so hard. That was around the time I saw the 1967 movie “Barefoot in the Park” with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, who had played Paul on Broadway. Then I saw “Promises, Promises” with Jerry Orbach at the Muny in 1970, and I marveled at genius. That man was a quip machine!
I realized that reading/seeing Simon’s plays had given me a yearning to see NYC (along with early Woody Allen movies). It was his town, his people. He taught us Midwesterners all about the Big Apple.
Now it was back to my son Charlie’s apartment in Brooklyn, where once upon a time I envisioned Eugene being scolded by his Mom Blanche as he envisioned himself pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is one of the few Simon works that makes me cry).
Thank you, Mr. Simon, for making us laugh and recognize ourselves along the way.
Lynn Venhaus as Lenya in Monroe Actors Stage Company’s “Fools” in November 2009.What are your favorites? Please add your comments.
“Fools” was the funniest play I ever was in, and it was my final performance in community theater.