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.

New Line Theatre, “the bad boy of musical theatre,” has announced casting for its 29th season of adult, alternative musical theatre, which opens with the return of the wild, comic rock musical CRY-BABY, based on the iconic John Waters film, a show which New Line first produced in 2012 in its American regional premiere, running Sept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019. The season continues with the electrifying new rock musical fresh from Broadway, in its regional premiere, HEAD OVER HEELS, a high-energy, adult romp about gender and sexuality, based on a 16th-century novel and using the songs of the 80s rock band The Go-Go’s, running March 5-28, 2020. And the season closes with the return of one of New Line’s biggest hits, which the New Liners first presented in 2007, the pitch dark satire URINETOWN, the hilarious, outrageous fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, running June 4-27, 2020.

Season tickets, including all three mainstage productions, start at just $60. Single tickets will go on sale in September. For more info, go to www.newlinetheatre.com/purchase/index.php

PLUS… New Line introduces the NEW LINE THEATRE FILM SERIES, curated by longtime New Liner Brian Claussen, screening a companion film at the Marcelle one Weds. night during the run of each mainstage show. This season’s films include John Waters’ original CRY-BABY during the run of Cry-Baby; ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS during the run of Head Over Heels; and MACK THE KNIFE, a film version of Threepenny Opera, during the run of Urinetown. These films are not part of the season subscription.

THE 2019-2020 SEASON

CRY-BABYSept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019

It’s 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He’s a bad boy with a good cause — truth, justice, and the pursuit of rock and roll. 

Wayward youth, juvenile delinquents, sexual repression, cool music, dirty lyrics, social rejects, it’s all here, as New Line opens its 29th season in October 2019 with the hilarious rockabilly musical CRY-BABY, based on the classic John Waters film. 

Cry-Baby premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in November 2007 and opened on Broadway in April 2008. New Line produced the show’s critically acclaimed American regional premiere in March 2012, after negotiating the first regional production rights in the country. The original creative team revised the show for New Line’s production and commissioned new orchestrations, to make it a smaller, more intimate musical, with a 6-piece rock band. 

At the center of our story are the star-crossed lovers, Cry-Baby and the square rich girl Allison, just a good girl who yearns to be bad in Cry-Baby’s arms. Fueled by hormones and the new rhythms of rock and roll, she turns her back on her squeaky clean boyfriend Baldwin to become a “drape” (a Baltimore juvenile delinquent) and Cry-Baby’s moll. At the other end of the topsy-turvy moral meritocracy of 1954 America, Baldwin as the king of the squares leads his close-harmony pals against the juvenile delinquents, who are ultimately arrested for arson, sending the drapes all off to prison. 

It’s Romeo and Juliet meets High School Hellcats. 

Cry-Baby has a score by David Javerbaum (The Daily Show) and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on John Waters’ classic indie film. O’Donnell and Meehan also adapted John Waters’ Hairspray for the musical stage. 

Cry-Baby was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography. It was also nominated for Best Musical by the Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Terry Teachout wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “You want funny? I’ll give you funny, or at least tell you where to find it: Cry-Baby, the new John Waters musical, is campy, cynical, totally insincere and fabulously well crafted. And funny. Madly, outrageously funny. It is, in fact, the funniest new musical since Avenue Q. If laughter is the best medicine, then Cry-Baby is the whole damn drugstore.” Newsday called the show “pleasantly demented and — deep in the sweet darkness of its loopy heart — more true to the cheerful subversion of a John Waters movie than its sentimental big sister Hairspray.” The New Jersey Star-Ledger called it, “candy for adults who like their musicals nutty — and not so nice.” 

The New Line cast includes Caleb Miofsky (as Wade “Cry Baby” Walker), Grace Langford (Allison Vernon-Williams), Margeau Steinau (Mrs. Vernon-Williams), Marshall Jennings (Dupree W. Dupree), Jake Blonstein (Baldwin Blandish), Reagan Deschaine (Pepper Walker), Jaclyn Amber (Wanda Woodward), Sarah Dowling (Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski), AJ Surrell (Lenora Frigid), Todd Micali, Stephen Henley, Ian McCreary, Christopher Strawhun, Maggie Nold, and Grace Minnis. 

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Colene Fornachon, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Cry-Baby contains adult language and content. Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents John Waters’ original musical film CRY-BABY on Weds., Oct. 9 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Cry-Baby.

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Horror-ComedyBLOODY KING OEDIPUSA Free Public ReadingMonday, Jan. 6, 2020

King Oedipus is already having a bad day, and here comes some REALLY bad news…! 

All Oedipus wants is to lift the curse that’s made his city sick, broke, and pissed off, but all these prophecies keep getting in the way. Could it be true that Oedipus killed the last king without realizing it? Is it possible he’s married to his own mother? Does his name really mean “swollen foot”? Maybe Tiresias the Blind Seer knows the answers. But does Oedipus really want to know…? 

After shocking the music and theatre worlds by rediscovering Gilbert & Sullivan’s lost masterpiece The Zombies of Penzance in 2013, and then staging and publishing the controversial original opera in 2018; now New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller has done it once again. This time, Miller has unearthed Gilbert & Sullivan’s even darker and funnier BLOODY KING OEDIPUS (or Pardon Me, Mum!), a comic horror opera no one even knew existed until now, based on Sophocles’ iconic Greek tragedy of murder, incest, disfigurement, suicide, and lots of prophecies, which first premiered in 429 BC. 

The legendary British team of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan together wrote fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896. Or is it sixteen? After rewriting their original Zombies of Penzance at the insistence of producer Richard D’Oyly Carte, the team premiered The Pirates of Penzance in 1879. Until now, scholars believed that their next project was the pastoral satire Patience. We now know that isn’t true. After the huge success of HMS Pinafore and Pirates, the team decided to tackle something a bit weightier. According to personal papers found with the manuscript, it was Gilbert who suggested two unlikely possibilities, Dante’s Inferno, and the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, set in Thebes, a Greek city-state in the 13th century BC. 

They both agreed Inferno would make a less than satisfying comic opera. 

Gilbert stayed curiously faithful to the plot and characters of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy for his opera – until the end of the show, when Gilbert evidently couldn’t restrain himself from adding a comic, Gilbertian twist, upending everything that’s come before, as usual. It’s safe to say Sophocles would not have sanctioned Gilbert’s much more comic ending. The score includes songs like “We’ve Been Very, Very Sick,” “I Can See Now I Was Blind,” “Now This is Quite Awkward,” “So Our King Just Might Have Murdered Our Last King,” and “He Hasn’t Taken It Too Well.” 

And now, at long last, King Oedipus, Queen Jocasta, General Creon, Tiresias the Blind Seer, Milo the Herald, and all of Thebes will make their comic opera debut. Miller has painstakingly reassembled these rediscovered materials into their original form; and St. Louis composer and orchestrator John Gerdes is reconstructing Sullivan’s music, after doing the same with The Zombies of Penzance. 

New Line Theatre will present a reading of the rediscovered show Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, free and open to the public. The company has not yet announced a full production. 

Dominic Dowdy-Windsor will play King Oedipus; with Kimi Short as Queen Jocasta; Kent Coffel as Gen. Creon; Lindsey Jones as Manto; and Zachary Allen Farmer as the Royal Messenger and Tiresias the Blind Seer and Milo the Herald and also Phorbus the Shepherd. The rest of the cast will be announced later. The reading will be directed by Scott Miller and music directed by Nicolas Valdez.

Bloody King Oedipus contains very adult language and content.

HEAD OVER HEELSMarch 5-28, 2020

The wild new modern musical fairy tale where Once Upon a Time is NOW! 

HEAD OVER HEELS is the bold new musical comedy from the visionaries that rocked Broadway with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q and Spring Awakening. Conceived by Jeff Whitty, with an original book by Whitty, adapted by James Magruder, originally directed by Michael Mayer, and set to the music of the iconic 1980s all-girl rock band The Go-Go’s, this high-octane, laugh-out-loud love story includes hit songs like, “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.” 

The wild story follows the escapades of a royal family who set out on a journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction, only to discover the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts — though not always in the way they expect — and in their willingness to let go of rigid tradition and change with the times. 

Head Over Heels originally premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, then opened on Broadway in 2018. The show was nominated for Best Musical by the Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle Awards. 

The Daily Beast said, “Head Over Heels is a raucously choreographed joy — intelligent, winningly comic, and surprisingly-for-Broadway radical when it comes to its presentation of gender and sexuality.” Entertainment Weekly said, “The show is an ode to female independence with the winking spirit of a Shakespearean fairy and the neon edge of a rebellious ‘80s teenager, teaming up to beckon people into the woods. Forty years after The Go-Go’s’ formation, Head Over Heels does more than preserve the band’s iconic hits in amber. For two hours and 15 minutes, it’s enough to pull the world back into sync.” 

TimeOut NY said, “To enjoy Head Over Heels, which offers quite a lot to enjoy, it is probably best to kick up your heels and put your head on hold. That’s not to say that this saucy, boisterous musical doesn’t have a brainy side, starting with its ambitious crossbreeding of four time periods: It grafts a 2010s queer sensibility onto songs from the 1980s—by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career)—and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. . . Head Over Heels is a fantasy and celebration of nonconformity, and it puts its casting where its mouth is with an ensemble that is diverse in race, gender and size. Honoring the beat, in this merry Arcadia, means making room for different drummers.” 

The New Line cast includes Grace Langford (Princess Pamela), Melissa Felps (Princess Philoclea), Gabriel Beckerle (Musidorus), Jaclyn Amber (Mopsa), Zachary Allen Farmer (King Basilius), Carrie Priesmeyer (Queen Gynecia), Aaron Allen (Dametas), Tiélere Cheatem (Pythio), Kevin Corpuz, Chris Moore, Maggie Nold, Michelle Sauer, Abraham T. Shaw, Alyssa Wolf, and Sara Rae Womack. 

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Sarah Porter, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Head Over Heels contains adult language and content. Produced by arrangement with Broadway Licensing, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents the movie musical ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS on Weds, March 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Head Over Heels.

URINETOWNJune 4-27, 2020

It’s 2027, the toilets have all been privatized, and you have to pay to pee. Do you follow the rules or join the rebellion? 

Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ URINETOWN is the outrageous fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, in a time when water is worth its weight in gold and there’s no such thing as a free pee. Set in a near-future dystopian Gotham, a severe 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens are forced to use public “amenities” now, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. In this nightmare world, the punishment for an unauthorized pee is a trip to the dreaded Urinetown. 

But from the ruins of Democracy and courtesy flushes, there rises an unlikely hero who decides he’s held it long enough, and he launches a People’s Revolution to lead them all to urinary freedom! 

Inspired by the outrageous political theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and (very) loosely based on the writings of late eighteenth-century political and economic theorist Thomas Malthus, Urinetown is a gloriously silly, irreverently truthful satire from which no target is safe. This is a show that catapulted musicals into the new millennium with its rule-shattering tear through the traditions and conventions of musical theatre, leaving nothing but uncontrollable laughter and a big puddle in its wake. 

And that’s just Act I. 

When it opened in New York, the official slogan on the Urinetown T-shirts was “An appalling idea, fully realized.” Actor Daniel Marcus, who played Officer Barrel, said in an interview, “I call it a love letter to the American musical in the form of a grenade.” 

Bruce Weber in The New York Times said, “There simply is no show I’ve seen that gives such a sense that the creators and performers are always on the same page of an elaborate, high-spirited joke, that they are the proud members of a cabal that knows what it takes to make the world a better place and that they are thrilled to share what they know.” He also called the show “a sensational piece of performance art, one that acknowledges theater tradition and pushes it forward as well.” The show was nominated for 9 Tony Awards (winning Best Book and Best Score), 9 Drama Desk Awards, 7 Obie Awards (winning Best Musical), 5 Outer Critics Circle Awards (winning Best Musical), and a Drama League Award for Best Musical. 

New Line produced Urinetown in 2007. Kotis and Hollmann also wrote the rock musical Yeast Nation, which New Line produced in 2018.

The New Line cast includes Dominic Dowdy-Windsor (Lockstock), Jennelle Gilreath (Little Sally), Kevin Corpuz (Bobby Strong), Melissa Felps (Hope Cladwell), Kimi Short (Pennywise), Todd Schaefer (Mr. Cladwell), Marshall Jennings (Officer Barrel), Clayton Humburg, Sarah Porter, Zak Farmer, Ian McCreary, Brian Carles, Kellen Green, Jessica Winingham, Grace Langford, and Carrie Wenos Priesmeyer. 

The New Line production of Urinetown will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Todd Schaefer, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents MACK THE KNIFE, a film version of The Threepenny Opera, on Weds., June 17 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Urinetown.

SEASON TICKETS

Season tickets are on sale NOW, and single tickets go on sale in September. New Line’s mainstage shows and the new film series will be in the company’s home, the Marcelle Theater, in the Grand Center Arts District.

There are three kinds of subscriptions. The First Look Subscription contains tickets for only the Thursday preview for each show. These tickets cannot be exchanged for other dates. Each Regular Subscription includes one ticket for each show in the season. You can use each ticket for any performance date during the run of that show. Each Flex Subscription includes three Flex tickets that you can use at any time for any show during the entire season — use all three tickets for one show or spread them out over the season, however you want! The deadline for ordering season tickets is Sept. 2, 2019.

To order season tickets for the three mainstage shows, Cry-Baby, Head Over Heels, and Urinetown, go to http://www.newlinetheatre.com/purchase/index.php.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE… Save the dates for The Second Annual New Line Trivia Night, on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Richmond Heights Community Center; and The 19th Annual New Line Holiday Dinner, on Weds. Dec. 4, at Favazza’s Restaurant on The Hill. Reservations for the dinner are required.

THE 2019-2020 NEW LINE SEASON AT A GLANCE

Sept. 13, 2019 – Second Annual New Line Trivia Night

Sept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019 – Cry-Baby *

Oct. 9, 2019 – Film Series: Cry-Baby

Dec. 4, 2019 – 19th Annual New Line Holiday Dinner

Jan. 6, 2020 – Free Public Reading of Bloody King Oedipus

Mar. 5-28, 2020 – Head Over Heels *

Mar. 18, 2020 – Film Series: Absolute Beginners

June 4-27, 2020 Urinetown *

June 15, 2020 – Auditions for 30th Season

June 17, 2020 – Film Series: Mack the Knife

June 22, 2020 – Auditions for 30th Season

* These three shows are included in the season ticket package.

ABOUT NEW LINE THEATRENew Line Theatre is a professional company dedicated to involving the people of the St. Louis region in the exploration and creation of daring, provocative, socially and politically relevant works of musical theatre. New Line was created back in 1991 at the vanguard of a new wave of nonprofit musical theatre just starting to take hold across the country. New Line has given birth to several world premiere musicals over the years and has brought back to life several shows that were not well served by their original New York productions. Altogether, New Line has produced 88 musicals since 1991, and the company has been given its own entry in the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre and the annual Theater World. New Line receives support from the Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, and the Grand Center Arts District.

New Line also continues its partnership with the Webster University Department of Music and their Bachelor of Music in Music Direction for Musical Theatre degree program.

For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
There is a sparkle that emanates, not just because of the outward snazzy sequined
outfits and shimmery set in New Line Theatre’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” but also inward
from the all-male drag chorus, Les Cagelles. Their unbridled enthusiasm for a
show celebrating “Be Yourself” is obvious, and underneath their wigs and cosmetic
enhancements, it’s endearing.

In fact, one strongly feels the liberation of the drag chorus, supporting players and in the tour-de-force performance from Zachary Allen Farmer as the drag diva Zaza/Albin. That palpable sense of freedom is one of the production’s most enduring qualities.

Set in the 1980s on the French Riviera, Georges (Robert
Doyle) and Albin (Farmer) have lived as a married couple for years and work
together – Georges runs the nightclub downstairs and Albin is the star
performer Zaza. They have raised the now-grown Jean-Michel (Kevin Corpuz) as
their son since birth, in their own version of a loving nuclear family. Biologically,
he’s Georges’ son, born from a one-night dalliance with a woman who has chosen
not to be an integral factor in the boy’s life.

When Jean-Michel becomes engaged to Anne (Zora Vredeveld), her
ultra-conservative parents, politician dad Dindon (Kent Coffel) and mom (Mara
Bollini), are invited to dinner, prompting panic, for fear of exposing their ‘alternative’
lifestyle to disapproval, and ultimately, difficulties for Jean-Michel.

The ensuing melodrama and potential disasters are more akin
to an episode of “I Love Lucy” – and it’s all because of trying to hide who
they really are. But then, what the hell – dignity eventually reigns. In the
meantime, wackiness ensues for plenty of side-splitting laughs, with co-directors’
Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor’s deft touch.

Focusing on characters who are loud, proud and know who they are is the hallmark of “La Cage Aux Folles” in all its art forms, from the hilarious 1973 French play by Jean Poiret, to the French film adaptation in 1978 to the Tony-winning Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein Broadway musical in 1983 to the American movie version in 1996 “The Birdcage” to the Tony-winning Broadway revivals in 2004 and 2010.

It’s not a new view, by any means. You would think by now,
people wouldn’t have to keep defending themselves, but homophobia still exists
in the most insidious and cruel ways in the 21st century. Therefore,
“La Cage Aux Folles” remains timely, and important, and most importantly, fun.

As always, “La Cage” boldly stands up to hypocrisy, ignorance and self-righteous prigs with sharp social commentary wrapped in light-hearted comedy and hummable music. This delectable confection as a crowd-pleaser is a brilliant offense, and Fierstein’s smart script is redolent with both zingers and heartfelt moments.

But this cast emphasizes it with their own perceptible
feeling of family, that intangible quality that sells the show, and underlined
by the confident directors.

Zora Vredeveld, Kevin Corpuz, Kent Coffel and Mara Bollini. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Farmer triumphantly leads this family in one of his finest performances. The actor, with multiple St. Louis Theater Circle nominations spanning seven years, has long since proven his versatility. He has been moving before – as the loner in “The Night of the Living Dead” and the slighted genius Leo Szilard in “Atomic,” and charming — the protective dad in “The Zombies of Penzance” and befuddled Sir Evelyn Oakleigh in “Anything Goes,” and comical as the iconoclast “Butkowski” and villain in “Celebration,” but the high-wire demands of Zaza/Albin go beyond the physical and present the biggest challenge.

Farmer is believable as this temperamental drama queen,
both in carriage and conviction. He looks fabulous, rocking the outfits – especially
that gorgeous lilac gown in the show-stopping “I Am What I Am,” notably after a
real-life 163-lb. weight loss. He projects effeminate airs, but not in a campy,
cartoonish way – they are organic to his character.

Because he isn’t merely window-dressing, Farmer’s transparency
showing the quicksilver mood swings — the hurt, the love and the defiance — ring
true. That makes him genuinely affecting as a transvestite man, while pushed to
the sidelines by convention, who refuses to be a cliché.

Robert Doyle and Zak Farmer. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Farmer is so sensational that perhaps Georges suffers in
comparison. As written, the part is in the parlance of a ‘straight man’ in a
comedy duo, and Robert Doyle is rather bland in the role, more in the shadow of
the very flamboyant characters. A few of the early songs seem a little shaky –
the duet “With You on My Arm” and “Song on the Sand,” but it could have been a
lower range issue on opening night. In the second act, “Look Over There” was
much more assertive.

The young engaged couple – Corpuz and Vredeveld – also are
secondary to the daffy proceedings because of the big personalities unleashed
here. They have a sweet dance interlude and competently convey their roles, but
really, the focus is pulled more towards the outrageous goings-on.

Tielere Cheatem as Jacob. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.As the mercurial butler Jacob, Tielere Cheatem is dandy cavorting
in whirlwind prima donna mode. Strutting like a peacock, all attitude and
motion, Cheatem is a nimble laugh-riot making numerous scene-stealing entrances
in a procession of increasingly over-the-top outfits. His comic timing is
impressive.

When a pompous bigoted politician is set up for comeuppance, you know good humor will result, and the expressive Coffel milks it for laughs. And Bollini, as the snobbish wife and mother, is a good sport.

Both also play progressive restaurateurs M. and Madame
Renaud, and their “Masculinity” scene giving Albin tips on how to be macho is a
standout.

Lindsey Jones and Zak Farmer. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Lindsey Jones is used effectively as Jacqueline, a chic
restaurant owner whose place is the setting for some fireworks and several
terrific numbers – “La Cage aux Folles” and “The Best of Times.”

As previously mentioned, the spirited Les Cagelles are a
high point with their ebullience and energy — Jake Blonstein, Dominic
Dowdy-Windsor, Evan Fornachon, Tim Kaniecki, Clayton Humburg and Ian McCreary are
gleeful as real accomplished showmen.

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Fornachon, as the dominatrix Hanna, is quite comfortable
cracking a whip. A running gag is his ‘physical’ relationship with nightclub stage
manager Francis (Joel Hackbarth).

As a cohesive cast, it does not matter who’s really gay or
straight, all are convincing and display a commitment to their characters by
not relying on superficial stereotypes.

Behind the scenes are several unsung heroes – namely, stellar costume designer Sarah Porter, whose work is stunning. She also guided the make-up and wig applications with outstanding results.

Sara Rae Womack and Michelle Sauer choreographed the peppy musical numbers, moving Les Cagelles well in the provided space.

Nicolas Valdez’ work as music director is also exceptional –
he leads the Jerry Herman score with vitality, and the vocalists enunciate the
lyrics well. Herman, who crafted such iconic shows as “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame,”
succeeded here with a traditional score but with a definitive light touch.

Valdez’ band – Kelly Austermann on reeds, Ron Foster on trumpet, Tom Hanson on trombone, Clancy Newell on percussion and Jake Sergos on bass – is a finely tuned ensemble that created a smooth, effortless flow of upbeat tempos and poignant ballads. They are hidden behind a scrim, which worked out well.

Next to the grand “I Am What I Am,” my favorite number was “The
Best of Times,” delivered crisply as a robust, sentimental tune summing up the
show’s poignancy – and a swell sing-a-long moment.

Rob Lippert’s colorful scenic design had plenty of pizzazz –
a functional combination of glitzy showplace and living quarters. And his
lighting design competently alternated between daylight and nightlife. Ryan Day’s
expert sound design is consistently good.

There is an obvious joy and compassion in this work, and because everyone involved is having such a good time, it carries over to the audience. After all, love is love is love is love.

None of us need permission to be who we are, but “La Cage Aux Folles” reminds us that we are all free to be you and me. And that’s mighty fine any time.

Photo by Jill Ritter LIndbergNew Line Theatre presents “La Cage Aux Folles” March 1 through March 23, Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at The Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Arts District. For tickets, visit Metrotix.com or call 314-534-1111. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com

By Andrea Braun
Contributing Writer“Last night I had the strangest dream I ever had before. I dreamed that men had all agreed to put an end to war.” –Chad Mitchell Trio
Entering Kyra Bishop’s set feels much like walking onto a battlefield. It is dark and dreary, no color to speak of, just browns and grays all around. There are rolls of copper wire, downed trees, and a backdrop so primitive it is held up by rope. Then, in the distance a man is singing a traditional Scottish ballad, “Will ye go to Flanders?” Gradually other voices join him and nine soldiers enter. It is 1914 at Christmas, and these guys are already tired of the fighting and their voices reflect that sense of weariness, of hopelessness.
But what they also demonstrate is a remarkable ability to sing solo, in ensembles or all together. This is the fourth production of “All Is Calm”  that Mustard Seed has mounted since its premiere in 2012, the third one I’ve seen, and the strongest yet.

The ensemble changes, though five of the cast members have appeared in the show at least a couple of other times. What is remarkable is that whoever is in front of us is fully believable, invested in the roles, and able to bring off every single number in the show from the sublime to the silly.
I couldn’t single out any cast members because they were all so good; here they are in alphabetical order: Kent Coffel, Anthony Heinmann, Christopher Hickey, Greg Lhamon, Gerry Love, Michael Lowe, Sean Michael, Abraham Shaw, Jeff Wright
The center of the story is a real event. On a memorable night in the first year of World War I, the British and Irish and the Germans stopped fighting. Just like that. They had been in mortal combat for days, perhaps weeks, and while they don’t exactly beat their swords into plowshares, they spend a night burying their dead together, playing soccer with each other, decorating a tiny Christmas tree, and most of all, singing the holiday songs of their cultures.
Besides song, the men recite quotations from soldiers’ letters, from the Pope and Winston Churchill, and most moving, two of the so-called “War Poets,” Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. These young men created a body of literature about the war experience, and there is nothing romantic about it, nothing “sweet and right” about dying for one’s country, as Owen expresses in his ironically  titled “Dulce et Decorum est,” about a slow and horrible death from mustard gas. All these statements give the audience a sense of how the troops from the lowliest private to the prime minister were feeling about the job at hand. So, why did they do it?
Because they were called to duty. Because patriotism motivates both sides in war. And, probably not least because they could be hanged for treason if they ran away. But there is also a sense of real camaraderie here, not only on one’s own side, but among all the men—perhaps more accurately boys—who have been called to kill the other side who look just like them. The Royal Family is 100 percent German, for example. They just changed their names from Saxe, Coburg and Gotha to Windsor. Done and dusted. It wasn’t so easy for the young men who had to take sides, however.
Lighting design is a character too. Generally, the lighting designer does the job by not being particularly notable, but here, the light literally brings life, especially in the Christmas tree scene wherein “Silent Night” begins in a minor key when the tree comes out, then as the lights gradually go up, the song becomes harmonic. Credit goes to Michael Sullivan.
Jane Sullivan and Zoe Sullivan handle costumes and sound respectively and with their usual expertise. Director Deanna Jent and Musical Director Joe Schoen keep everything moving, and in its fifth production, the show works like a well-oiled machine.
“All Is Calm” is by Peter Rothstein, with musical arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach. Its history is fascinating, having had its public debut on Minnesota Public Radio. Jent notes that: “While not shying away from the horrors of war, it presents a moment of hope that seems to have been transformative for the men involved in the event.”
In only six years since All Is Calm was first presented, our country seems to have gone to war with itself. May the peace among a group of people whose immediate “job” is to kill the “enemy,” serve as an example of the way we might all treat each other and perhaps even someday agree “to put an end to war.”
“All Is Calm” will run through Dec. 16 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre. Details are available at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.
 
 
 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Science Fiction, meet Musical Comedy, New Line Theatre-style, with a touch of Midnight Movie Madness.
Artistic Director Scott Miller co-directs musicals with Mike Dowdy-Windsor, and has certainly proven over the years that he beats to a different drummer. Hence, this calling card — an original and clever “The Zombies of Penzance,” where he makes the walking dead kick in a chorus line and put moves on sheltered single ladies.
These silly components make this quirky world premiere a dip into Monty Python territory. Miller has substituted singing and dancing zombies for musical comedy pirate characters, using the same structure of Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous comic opera, which makes it funnier. It may be one-joke, but it’s laugh-out-loud fun.

Turns out zombies have personalities in sync with pirates! Stranger things have happened, so just go with it, and enjoy the playful spirit. I mean, songs have titles like “Eat Their Flesh,” “Poor Walking Dead,” and “Hail, Zombies!” We can’t be serious, no matter how straight the characters play their predicaments.
The 1879 comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance,” by the British team of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, was given new life in a Joseph Papp 1981 revival that won Kevin Kline the Tony as the swashbuckling Pirate King. It spawned many imitations and parodies, and a 1983 feature film. Here, you think of both those cartoonish roles and the roaming zombies that rule movie and TV screens, particularly this time of year.
The flimsy 19th century plot should be played for laughs – Frederic, 21, is released from his apprenticeship from tender-hearted pirates, but a technicality – he is a Leap Day baby — means he must serve another 63 years, but his true-love Mabel agrees to wait. We’re not talking “The Great Gatsby” level tragic romance.
Now, New Line has rewired the “Slave of Duty” to be a fresh zombie! Frederic is a new flesh eater, a pawn in the other zombie maneuvers as they aim their mark on Major-General Stanley and his nubile brood.
Let the wackiness ensue with Miller’s smart book and quick-witted lyrics, using Gilbert’s template. Listen carefully for laugh-out-loud humor, utilizing contemporary snarkiness.
St. Louis composer and orchestrator John Gerdes reconstructed Sullivan’s music, and it’s a mighty fine re-working. In music director Nicolas Valdez’s capable hands, he conducts a snazzy nine-piece band, including Gerdes on French horn, Lea Gerdes on reeds, Joseph Hendricks on bassoon, Emily Trista Lane on cello, Twinda Murry on violin and Kely Austermann/Hope Walker on reeds. Valdez is on keyboards. Their efforts are exquisite – love those strings!
Dowdy-Windsor, an oft-nominated director with Miller for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards (and winner for “Bonnie & Clyde”), also has a keen eye and sharp attention to detail.
The pair has moved the cast around – you hear the flesh-eaters before the heavily made-up zombies shamble through the audience to the Stanley home. Yet, this is not intended to be slick staging, but a motley crew invasion with a rag-tag feel.
Those dastardly decaying dudes have their eyes on Stanley’s bevy of beauties. However, Major-General Stanley, who professes to be a zombie, is actually a great zombie hunter.
Zak Farmer is as sharp as ever as the fearless father, but what stands out is his impeccable delivery of the difficult songs, particularly the often parodied “Major-General’s Song,” which is now “Modern Era Zombie Killer,” and “When the World Went Bad.” His impressive performance indicates how deceptively hard farcical fun is.
The charade will be up soon enough, but in the meantime, romantic entanglements are on the minds of those frisky young ones, who wish they were not at a disadvantage.
Dominic Dowdy-WindsorWith his strong voice, Dominic Dowdy-Windsor delivers superb vocals as the Zombie King, including the solo “Oh Better Far, to Live as Dead,” and his many duets and company numbers. Given the confines of the part, he can’t swashbuckle like the role model Pirate King, and I wish he could have more swagger.
Sean Michael and Melissa FelpsSean Michael, as the dullard Frederic, and Melissa Felps, as a rather colorless Mabel, are saddled with a drippy romance that’s the show’s centerpiece. Voices are fine and so is their earnestness, but those roles remain insipid. Their lack of chemistry doesn’t help either. (The 1981 revival starred Rex Smith and Linda Ronstadt).
So, the supporting cast’s efforts enliven the puffy piece.
The ladies play the giggly girly magnets up to a point, then reveal they’re no helpless ingenues. That’s a nice twist.
With Lindsay Jones as Kate, Christina Rios as Edith, Kimi Short as Isabel and Mara Bollini, Melanie Kozak and Sarah Porter as other daughters, you knew they weren’t going to be powder puffs, but amp up their grrrl power. Armed already with gorgeous voices, they are demure to a point, but then turn into warrior princesses.
Kent Coffel goes all in as Zombie Sam, playing everything for laughs – and he’s a delight. Other goofy zombies Robert Doyle, Matt Hill, Tim Kaniecki and Kyle Kelesoma physically turn into animated creatures.
Scenic designer Rob Lippert paid homage to George A. Romero, director of the 1968 cult classic, “The Night of the Living Dead,” the granddaddy of zombie lore,  in his ornate home interior, a cool touch. The set has the period look, but also a show within a show accents.
Costume designer Sarah Porter has outfitted everyone in appropriate garb for the tonal shifts — the frilly feminine dresses and petticoats for the girls and the natty Zombie attire for the guys. Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting design emphasizes the bewitching tone while Ryan Day’s sound work makes all those fast-paced lyrics easily understood.
These zombies might not terrify, after all, but they certainly provide a fun, frothy look in a lighter vein — at both vintage opera and the horror archetypes who proliferate this time of year. Barbara, they are coming — only armed with songs, dances and feelings.
One can’t resist the pull of brainy and talented people who set out for a road not taken before.
“The Zombies of Penzance” is presented by New Line Theatre Sept. 27 – Oct. 20, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at The Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive in Grand Arts Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com and for tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to MetroTix.com
Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg
 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
With its lush, unusual score and seductive setting, “The Light in the Piazza” is swoon-worthy in many aspects.
Regarded as demanding to present because of its music and dramatic complexities, this intricate musical heightens realism and challenges the most confident vocalist.
Its Tony-winning neoromantic score and orchestrations by Adam Guettel, grandson of icon Richard Rodgers, have more in common with opera and classical music than traditional showtunes, without any pop references.
Nevertheless, the cast of R-S Theatrics’ production rises to master the harmonies and embrace la dolce vita. Guided by music director Sarah Nelson, whose work is exceptional, with assured stage direction from Christine Rios, they project a confident grasp of the material.

Some of the lyrics are in Italian, and silky-smooth voiced Tielere Cheatem, as Fabrizio, is impressive, particularly in his fluid renditions of “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” and “Passeggiata.” His family, the Naccarellis, speak impeccable Italian and deliver richly textured vocals – Kent Coffel as Signor, Jodi Stockton as Signora, Stephanie Merritt as Franca and Micheal Lowe as Giuseppe.
Special mention must go to Italian language coach Myriam Columbo, for it feels organic.
It’s the summer of 1953, and the well-to-do Southern matron Margaret (Kay Love) returns to Florence, Italy, where she spent her honeymoon. With her innocent 26-year-old daughter in tow, her joy is tempered by the special needs of the developmentally delayed Clara (Macia Noorman), who was hit in the head by a Shetland pony at age 10. She matured physically but not emotionally/mentally. It is more subtle than obvious, but when Clara gets upset, she behaves like a petulant child.
The melodramatic story is adapted from a novella by Elizabeth Spencer, which became a turgid 1962 movie starring Olivia de Havilland, Rossano Brazzi, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton (?!? as Fabrizio). The 2005 Broadway show was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won five. It had both fans and detractors, and I was one of its sharpest critics, particularly of the book by Craig Lucas.
Not a fan of the 2007 touring production, which was swallowed in the Fox, was devoid of sympathy for the mother and did not have an ounce of nuance in what I considered a duplicitous transaction.
Not so here – surprise! – because of the performances and the interpretation, although they can’t help that the book has some issues.
Several key elements soothed my misgivings, but mainly it was because of Kay Love’s splendid performance as the Southern matron Margaret, which is the lynchpin to the whole show.
Love earns our sympathy right away – it is a virtuoso performance that highlights her outstanding vocal talent while giving her a juicy role in which to shine. You feel her dilemma, and the emotional rollercoaster she endures. Her North Carolina accent is refreshingly soft and does not overpower her character,  thanks to dialect coach Mark Kelley.
All that guilt Margaret carries is shown on Love’s face, along with the regrets of a lackluster marriage, and a life, though comfortable, spent in service to others. She’s exasperated keeping tabs on an excited Clara, who encounters a young Florentine, Fabrizio. It’s love at first sight for both.
As Clara, Macia Noorman’s accent weaves in and out. Noorman and Cheatem work well together, but she seems more tentative in the duets and went sharp or flat more often in her vocals, particularly when paired with someone. However, her “Clara’s Interlude” is quite lovely.
Rios does not make this entanglement of two star-crossed families overwrought, rather keeps focus on the complicated romance and culture clash. As Margaret wrestles with the couple’s wedding plans, she must decide if she believes in love and her daughter’s happiness. Her husband Roy (Robert Doyle) is of no help, or empathy.
In addition to their superb vocals, the actors playing the Naccarelli family stand out. Kent Coffel plays the haberdasher father with such authority that you believe he is a Florentine of stature while a winsome Jodi Stockton has a nice motherly moment explaining the proceedings to the audience.
Stephanie Merritt gives considerable oomph to the tempestuous Franca so that she is not just a caricature, and soars in her number, “The Joy You Feel.”
While Love imbues her numbers with emotion, her rendition of the finale “Fable” is stunning, all the more remarkable because it follows a fabulous “Love to Me” sung by Cheatem. Love has a sweet duet with Coffel, “Let’s Walk,” before two families join together.
The power of the cast’s voices match the character demands, and Nelson’s musical work must be recognized, for the level of difficulty is understood.
The expressive orchestra adds so much, with Terri Langerak playing a glorious harp, Emily Lane on cello, Kelly LaRussa on violin, Jacob Stergos on bass and Nelson on piano. Their expert skill provided a luxurious sound that elevated this show.
The location also prominently figures into the presentation. Florence is an alluring city of Renaissance masterpieces in the Tuscany region of Italy, with its postcard Mediterranean landscapes, ancient history, and extraordinary art, culture and cuisine. It’s also a character.
The look and feel of this show combines tantalizing adventure with a traveler’s awestruck sense of wonder, providing atmosphere along with sense of time and place.
The piazza, a town square, is where we meet a very tight ensemble, crisp in purposeful movements and welcoming in demeanor. Chris Kernan, Jason Meyers, Louisa Wimmer, Robert Doyle, Melissa Christine, Lindy Elliot, Ann Hier and Anthony Randle are a compelling chorus.
Keller Ryan’s scenic design allows for this tableau to come alive with a captivating vibrancy while Nathan Schroeder’s lighting design provides a burnished glow.
They all look marvelous, too — chic fashion choices by costume designer by Ashley Bauman enhanced the characters’ personalities.
Margaret can’t help but be swept away by the scenic views and the teeming crowd, and neither could I. The intimate staging, the strong creative aspects and the level of talent add up to a must-see production.
R-S Theatrics opens its eighth season – The Season of the Not-so-Perfect Past — with the St. Louis premiere of “The Light in the Piazza” Aug. 10 – 26, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m., at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis, 63103. Tickets can be purchased through Metrotix.com. For more information, visit r-stheatrics.org.