By Lynn Venhaus

TV: The Watcher (Limited Series)

Coming to Netflix: October 13

Based on a true story, “The Watcher” is seven episodes of a mystery-thriller about a couple who moves into their suburban dream home, only to discover a haunting figure is watching them. The cast includes Bobby Cannavale, Naomi Watts, Jennifer Coolidge, Terry Kinney (my ISU classmate), and Michael Nouri.

Here’s the trailer: https://youtu.be/5HDkw100sXQ


Food: Hot Dog! A ‘meat’ and greet

The Oscar Meyer Weinermobile will be in the metro St. Louis region Thursday and Friday, stopping at four Schnucks stores.

Oct: 13 – Godfrey, 2712 Godfrey Road: 9 a.m. to noon
Edwardsville, 2222 Troy Road: 1 to 4 p.m.

Oct. 14 – Des Peres, 12332 Manchester Road, 9 a.m. to noon
St. Charles, 1900 1st Capitol Drive, 1 to 4 p.m.

Schedules are subject to change. Check out the map for the latest information: https://khcmobiletour.com/wienermobile

Stage: More Sondheim, Please!

Stray Dog Theatre’s second weekend of “A Little Night Music” begins tonight at 8 p.m. at the Tower Grove Abbey, and continues Friday and Saturday. On Sunday,the only matineewill be presented at 2 p.m., and there will be a show on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

A bucolic setting for romantic entanglements is the premise, and this triple-threat cast has fun singing, dancing, and emoting in turn-of-the-20th-century Sweden.

Here is my review:

Coming Soon: A holiday musical twist on ‘A Christmas Carol’

Are you ready for Christmas movies? Here’s the trailer for “Spirited,” a musical comedy starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds that will open in theaters on Nov. 11 and streaming on Apple TV+. It’s a new take on Dickens’ classic, but from the ghosts’ point of view.
Original songs by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul.

Playlist: Rhymin’ Simon

It’s Paul Simon’s 81st birthday. He was born on Oct. 13, 1941, in Newark, NJ. He met his longtime music collaborator Art Garfunkel when they performed in a school production of ‘Alice in Wonderful” in sixth grade. They produced their first record in 1964.

Four years ago, on his 77th birthday, he appeared as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” for the ninth time (he hosted 4 times).

Here’s a three-minute compilation of some iconic moments on “Saturday Night Live,” including his performance of “The Boxer” on the first episode after 9-11.

Word: Ed Sullivan

On this date in 1974, the famous host died of esophageal cancer at age 73.

During his 23 years hosting “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the seminal Sunday night variety cavalcade, he said some very funny things to guests on the show and backstage. Here’s some of my favorites:

Here are some of my favorite things he ever said to music artists:

Ed Sullivan

“You boys look great, [but] you ought to smile a little more.” –speaking backstage with Jim Morrison and the band before The Doors performance

“I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy, and wherever you go, Elvis, we want to say we’ve never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we’ve had with you. So now let’s have a tremendous hand for a very nice person!” –complimenting Elvis Presley following his last performance.

“The little fella in front is incredible.” – Ed Sullivan talking about Michael Jackson following the first performance by The Jackson

“Before even discussing the possibility of a contract, I would like to learn from you, whether your young men have reformed in the matter of dress and shampoo.”  Ed Sullivan’s response to a request by The Rolling Stones’ manager for a contract for a second appearance

By Lynn Venhaus

Love has got everything to do with it. The costumes are gorgeous, the musicianship splendid and the legendary subjects all deserving of the spotlight in the reverent play with music, “St. Louis Woman.”

Local playwright Joe Hanrahan, Midnight Company’s founder and artistic director, has a deep knowledge and interest in local history as well as an affinity for and expertise in popular music.

In this enjoyable, affectionate showcase brimming with good beats and striking visuals, Hanrahan honors local legacies by presenting their impact on the world through an earnest young singer, Laka.

Laka is a relative newcomer on the local music scene, having performed her first cabaret at the Blue Strawberry in April 2020, and she does not have any experience regional theater.

This work is her stage debut – and it appears that her collaboration with Hanrahan took them both to their happy place. She is a likable performer, projecting perseverance and positivity, even if she is acting novice with more to learn.

Laka embodies their important traits of dedication and resolve as Hanrahan, also the director, unfolds snapshots of Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Katherine Dunham, Maya Angelou, Fontella Bass, Ann Peebles, and Willie Mae Ford Smith.

The women are all artists with some connection to St. Louis, whether they were born here, grew up here or moved her during their adult years. You might not have heard of everyone but by the end of the show, they will all be memorable.

Hanrahan reveals interesting tidbits about their lives while Laka tells their story in looks, voice and career/life observances. Each woman could be celebrated in their own show, but this ties them intrinsically together, in small-batch narratives.

Hanrahan knows how to mine key details from his copious research to make the script flow. It’s well-constructed with moments big and small.

“They brought this city to the world with their music, dance and poetry,” he said.

The accompanying music, with cool cats Corey Patterson on keyboards and Gabe Bonfili on percussion, had a fun vibe. They excelled at keeping the tempo upbeat and the mood pleasant – nice, easy and kicked up a notch. Bruce Bramoweth’s contributions as a music consultant helped set the piece, too.

Enhancing the show immeasurably is Liz Henning’s stunning costume designs – she captured each period and personality perfectly. The red-sequined mini-cocktail dress Laka rocked as Tina was a wow!

An accomplished video designer, Michael Musgrave-Perkins has done exceptional work with archival footage and vintage documents to convey time periods for each woman, setting us in a ‘you are there’ format. The selections are first-rate and the presentation polished.

Ashley L. Tate has executed appropriate choreography, particularly the iconic Banana Dance by Josephine Baker, and Tina Turner’s vivacious gyrations.

Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo and Production Designer Kevin Bowman helped create the look that set the mood and the groove.

Straightforward and sincere, “St. Louis Woman” raises the voices of some remarkable women, leading lights once rolling on the river. It’s a remembrance to savor, a pride to share and world-class names forever linked to our city’s tapestry.

Laka. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Midnight Company presents “St. Louis Woman” Oct. 6-22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. (Oct. 9 and 16) at the .Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust in the Grand Center Arts District. For more information, visit www. midnightcompany.com.

By Lynn Venhaus

STAGE: Familiar face in “Hadestown”

It’s opening night for “Hadestown” at the Fabulous Fox! And a St. Louisan, Nathan Lee Graham, is now touring as Hermes, the role originated on Broadway by Tony winner Andre de Shields. The Tony-winning musical – eight awards including Best Musical in 2019 — will play here through Oct. 23.

Forbes Magazine described it as “an epic celebration of music, togetherness and hope.”

I’ll be there tonight, and will talk about the show on KTRS Radio The Big 550 Wednesday at 10:35 a.m. with Wendy Wiese and guest host Cordell Whitlock.

I had the opportunity to interview Graham, a Hazelwood Central and Webster University graduate (Sargent Conservatory), for the Webster-Kirkwood Times. Here is the link:

https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/hadestown-at-the-fox-to-feature-nathan-lee-graham/article_fe6b9586-4586-11ed-b91b-e3769c7fca23.html

Eliza Shlesinger

STREAMING: Funny Girl

“Iliza Shlesinger: Hot Forever” is her sixth Netflix stand-up special now available. The comedian, actress and television host won NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” – the first woman and youngest winner – on NBC in 2008. She’ll be competing in the first “Celebrity Jeopardy!” semifinal on Sunday, too.

Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/pVYImnaQF-Y

Want more? Her specials are “War Paint” in 2013, “Freezing Hot” in 2015, “Confirmed Kills” in 2016, “Elder Millennial” in 2018, and “Unveiled” in 2019.

TV: Not Ready for Prime Time

On this day in 1975, the late-night comedy sketch and variety show “Saturday Night” premiered with George Carlin as the celebrity host from Studio 8H at the NBC Studios in New York City. There were two musical guests – Janis Ian and Billy Preston. The name would be changed to “Saturday Night Live,” and SNL became a late-night institution and captured the pop culture zeitgeist with catch phrases and iconic characters.

Now in its 48th season, there have been 932 episodes. Lorne Michaels is the current executive producer, having his first run from 1975 to 1980, then returned in 1985.

SNL has won 87 Emmy Awards from 252 Primetime Emmy nominations, the most received by any television program. In TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All-Time, it is ranked 10th.

Fun Fact: I have seen every episode since that first one, watching the show with my college roommates and then-boyfriend at my first apartment in Normal, Ill., senior year at Illinois State University. The show was such a hit, bars in town would have it on TVs, and if you were at a party, everyone would stop to watch it. Thanks to VHS tapes and DVRs, I’m able to keep up with the show, even if I did not watch it live.

FOOD: St Louis Taco Week!

Not just for Taco Tuesday but more! This week, Oct. 10-16, will showcase $5 taco specials at 35 participating restaurants.

Each restaurateur and chef will prepare their unique take with a taco special. Pick up a Taco Passport — participants will get stamped at participating locations throughout the week. Collect at least 4 stamps and be eligible for a very special grand prize drawing as well as smaller prizes.

For more info: https://stltacoweek.com/

PLAYLIST: In memory of Angela Lansbury

Today, one of the great actresses of stage and screen passed on at age 96. Mame, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, The Beauty and the Beast, The Manchurian Candidate and Murder, She Wrote – and on and on. She had 5 Tony Awards, three Oscar nominations, and so many other awards and nominations.

Here is her obituary:

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/angela-lansbury-dead-murder-she-wrote-1235239215/

Here is her Kennedy Center Honors tribute in 2000:
https://youtu.be/3gsMZx2eCXk

Here is one of her most iconic performances as Mrs. Potts in “The Beauty and The Beast”:

Word: “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” (SNL)

“When you go in for a job interview, I think a good thing to ask is if they ever press charges.”

By Lynn Venhaus

Infused with humor and a breezy charm, Stray Dog Theatre’s enchanting interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” brings out starlit summer imagery, the glory and glimmer of love, and the best in a resplendent cast.

On opening night, nature supplied a full moon on a crisp autumn evening outside the Tower Grove Abbey, a serendipitous touch. Imagine the golden glow of a warm, fragrant moonlit midsummer night – and you’ll easily slip into the mood for this sophisticated romp.

Set in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century, “A Little Night Music” concerns several pairs in various stages of romance or uncoupling – and what entanglements transpire during a summer sojourn in the country.

Liz Mischel is amusingly sarcastic as the unfiltered Madame Leonora Armfeldt, a wealthy matriarch who had colorful liaisons as a courtesan. She is schooling her innocent granddaughter Fredrika (a sweet and assured Adeline Perry) on the ways of the world – and men. She tells her the summer night ‘smiles’ three times: first on the young, second on fools, and third on the old.

The Armfeldts and servants picnicking. Photo by John Lamb

Madame’s daughter, the alluring, touring stage actress Desiree Armfeldt (Paula Stoff Dean) is a force of nature known for not playing by the rules. Her old lover, attorney Fredrik Egerman (Jon Hey), married a naïve young woman Anne (Eileen Engel) about 30 years his junior 11 months ago, and their union has not been consummated (her issues).

The coquettish but inexperienced wife teases her serious husband’s awkward son, Henrik (Bryce A. Miller), by his late first wife, who is studying for the ministry but has feelings for her, his stepmother. Although clumsy, he is not impervious to desire and has a dalliance with her maid, an older and wiser Petra (a brassy Sarah Gene Dowling making her character’s worldliness obvious).

Miller has to demonstrate the widest emotional range as the confused and ready-to-explode Henrik, and he effectively finesses the fine line between the melodramatic and the comedic to distinguish himself in a cast of veterans.

Desiree is currently the mistress of self-absorbed Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Scott Degitz-Fries), a buffoon whose jealous wife, Countess Charlotte (Madeline Black), is in on the charade. Degitz-Fries plays the military royal as an obnoxious, arrogant chauvinist who is not used to ‘no.’ Black channels her rage into a scheme – you know the adage about women scorned – but keeps her character’s refinement intact.

They all circle around and back to each other. Fredrik has taken Anne to see Desiree’s latest play, which eventually leads to an invitation for a country excursion. The complications culminate in the anticipation, flirting, fighting, and fleeing that takes place in the second act. Does love win in the end?

Hey, Dean. Photo by John Lamb.

One look at the waltzing quintet in their summer whites that starts this elegant show, and you’re transported back to a different era. Splendidly delivering “Night Waltz,” Cory Anthony, Shannon Lampkin Campbell, Jess McCawley, Kevin O’ Brien and Dawn Schmid glide across the stage as the Liebeslieder Singers, astutely controlling the tempo.

They act like a Greek chorus, and their lush harmonies soar in “The Glamorous Life,” “Remember?” and “The Sun Won’t Set.”

The entire cast’s strong vocal prowess is noteworthy throughout, but a masterfully arranged “Weekend in the Country” is a triumph.

Dean has decided to belt the signature song, “Send in the Clowns,” instead of reciting nearly all of it, as others have done, and it’s a fine rendition. Another highpoint is Dowling’s “The Miller’s Son,” emphatically sung as a mix of longing and reflection.

Whether they are singing solo or in duets, or at the same time with different songs (“Now” by Fredrik, “Later” by Henrik and “Soon” by Anne), you’ll marvel at how seamless the numbers are performed.

Black and Engel lament together on infidelity, smoothly combining in “Every Day a Little Death,” and Degitz-Fries has his moment with “In Praise of Women.”

Photo by John Lamb

Employing the beautiful orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick, Music Director Leah Schultz uses three string players that elevate the sumptuous sound. The orchestra is prominently placed on stage, and their work is exquisite.

Schultz, also playing piano, expertly conducts the seven-piece orchestra that includes a cello (Michaela Kuba), a violin (Steve Frisbee) and a bass (M. Joshua Ryan), along with Ian Hayden and David Metzger on reeds and Joe Winters on percussion.

The way director Justin Been has shaken off the stodginess and stuffiness of a high society period piece is impressive. He’s embraced the farcical aspect of revolving romantic hook-ups, sleekly moving the characters through a country estate, the grounds, and an adjacent forest

Looking at the book by Hugh Wheeler with a fresh set of eyes gave it needed oomph, and the ensemble, nimble in comedy, conveys a playfulness that endears. Been has brilliantly adapted the very theatrical and somewhat operetta-ish work for the small stage.

The original 1973 Broadway production won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, book, and score, and has had revivals in London’s West End and Broadway, adapted into a 1977 film starring Elizabeth Taylor, and has been performed by opera companies around the world – including this summer’s traditional format at Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis.

Anne and Henrik. Photo by John Lamb

With a minimum of set pieces, Been has depicted the states of different affairs well. He designed modern Scandinavian impressionistic slats that hang above the orchestra, perhaps as a nod to magic realism. Jacob Baxley’s sound design and Tyler Duenow’s lighting design add to the imagery.

The creators claim the musical was suggested by Ingmar Bergman’s romantic comedy, “Smiles of a Summer Night,” which premiered in 1955, and is a staple at film retrospectives.

You might not think of Bergman as a merry sort of guy, particularly if you’ve seen his critically acclaimed classics “The Seventh Seal,” “Persona,” “Cries and Whispers,” and “Through a Glass Darkly.” But he mixed sugar and spice to come up with a confection that’s been ‘borrowed’ more than a few times. (Woody Allen’s 1982 “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” to name one, which also references Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”).

But this Bergman-inspired fantasia is much lighter, and Been has brought out the laughter, easy on the melancholy – yet has middle-agers expressing regrets.

Dean, Hey. Photo by John Lamb

Hey, as Fredrik, and Dean, as Desiree, portray a rueful pair, looking back wistfully and rediscovering their spark. The accomplished actors display a natural rhythm with each other, especially in “You Must Meet My Wife.”

Like the music, the dance numbers are polished, choreographed by Michael Hodges with an emphasis on regal posture — although, at first, notice how awkward the pairings are – it’s on purpose, ahem).

Engel, who is delightful as the conflicted Anne, designed the costumes – and they are a mix of ethereal and chic, conveying the social status of each character. The hair and wig design by Dowling suitably complimented the looks.

Hey and Engel were part of Stray Dog’s “Sweeney Todd” in spring 2017, he in the title role and she as daughter Johanna, and know the challenges Sondheim presents, and their experience serves them well.

Sondheim’s work is getting a lot of posthumous attention – but that’s a good thing, never enough Sondheim done well. Like the recently revived “Into the Woods,” some of his musicals take on richer, more contemplative meaning as one ages and revisits them again.

Stray Dog’s superb “A Little Night Music” is worth the immersion, featuring a triple-threat cast in fine form and an inspired creative team.

The Liebeslieder Singers. Photo by John Lamb.

Stray Dog Theatre presents the Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through Oct. 22, with additional performances at 2 pm Sunday, Oct. 16 and 8 pm Wednesday Oct.19. Performances take place at Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee in Tower Grove East. Tickets are only offered in physically distanced groups of two or four. For more information: www.straydogtheatre.org

Hey and Degitz “It Would Have Been Wonderful.” Photo by John Lamb

By Lynn Venhaus

An idealist, pragmatist and a fence sitter want to walk out of a military convalescent hospital…

In “Heroes,” an amiable French comedy that’s been translated into English by the esteemed playwright Tom Stoppard, there’s drama and absurdity mixed in, of course.

Gerald Siblevras’ play, “Le Vent des Peupliers,” which is set in 1959, was first performed in London in 2005, winning an Olivier Award for best new comedy. It made it to Broadway two years later, with Richard Benjamin, Len Cariou and George Segal as Henri, Gustave, and Philippe.

In Albion Theatre’s inaugural production, three acting heavyweights play the disparate characters – David Wassilak, Will Shaw and Isaiah Di Lorenzo. The award-winning veterans have been honored for their work — Wassilak has awards from St. Louis Theater Circle, Shaw has AFL’s Theatre Mask Awards and Di Lorenzo has both Circle and TMAs.

The trio deliver their customary nuanced work, demonstrating their ease with each other and their finely-tune rhythms. The wounded veterans spend their days on a terrace in a sanitarium, having served in one World War and been through another from afar. They dream of escaping this tedium.

We recognize the characters they talk about – we can conjure up images of annoying fellow residents, the help – and fear Sister Madeleine, just like they do. We accept the stone dog as their companion.

Shaw drolly delivers many of the best lines as the grumpy agoraphobic Gustave. Di Lorenzo uses his nimble physicality well, for Phillippe has fainting spells and seizures. And Wassilak believably projects a lonely heart trying to stay positive.

The show is deftly directed by Robert Ashton, who is also the founder of the new theater company that specializes in mainly plays from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The men bicker, but still show affection and concern for each other. Without their well-worn camaraderie, it would just be three guys killing time, but they add human touches to make us care about them.

The small black box space at the Kranzberg works well for such a small show. Brad Slavik’s set design, Tracey Newcombe’s costume design, Nathan Shroeder’s lighting design and Robin Weatherall’s sound design help bring the production to life.

With dashes of “Waiting for Godot” and “The Gin Game,” and some carping like “The Odd Couple,” “Heroes” wears its heart on its sleeve and is a paean to dreamers everywhere.

Time passes for all of us. These three fine performers show us its best to not go it alone.

The Albion Theatre is presenting “Heroes” for three weekends starting Sept. 23-25, then Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, and wrapping up Oct. 7-9, at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre, 501 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis. For more information, visit AlbionTheatreSTL.org.

Robert Ashton was a guest on my podcast, PopLifeSTL.com, on Sept. 24. Here is that link, along with my co-host Carl “The Intern” Middleman:
 https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus/september-24th-2022-with-robert-ashton?si=6e49983b4cf84727818a4ff73e96cc71&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

By Lynn Venhaus

Stage: American Idiot at Webster University Oct. 7-9

Whoa! I saw rehearsal clips of the musical “American Idiot,” before interviewing Lara Teeter, the director , and this cast has got game. The energy! Really impressive. I’m planning to go Saturday afternoon, it is about an hour and a half.

Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents its first show of the 2022-2023 season, “American Idiot” this weekend on the Browning Mainstage Theatre (Loretto-Hilton). Tickets are available at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5565666

“American Idiot” follows the exhilarating journey of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post-9/11 world, borne along by Green Day’s electrifying score. The rock musical draws on all the songs from the album “American Idiot,” plus material that did not make the album and a handful of numbers from Green Day’s Grammy-winning “21st Century Breakdown.”

“American Idiot” is for mature audiences only. It involves adult content, sexual themes and situations, strong language, and stimulated use of drugs.

Listen to the PopLifeSTL.com Presents podcast featuring director Lara Teeter to hear more on the production:

https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus/october-7th-2022-joe-hanrahan-lara-teeter?si=951e6276d9554160a4ed23e829083b80&utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

To see some clips, visit:https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m77zuvbyd240abp/AADxC7RrXfj-VaYQo-00tEKza?dl=0

Photo and Video courtesy of Andrew Sanker.

Movie: “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” in theaters

Family fun, Shawn Mendes singing Pasek and Paul show tunes, and Javier Bardem having a blast! Here is my review in the Webster-Kirkwood Times

https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/arts_and_entertainment/reel_world/lyle-lyle-crocodile/article_901bb388-45a2-11ed-85d9-974c29bdbd9c.html

Trailer: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an upcoming computer-animated film based on Nintendo’s Mario video game franchise, produced by Illumination in association with Nintendo and distributed by Universal Pictures. Release date is April 7, 2023.

https://variety.com/2022/film/news/mario-movie-trailer-chris-pratt-nintendo-1235369647/#recipient_hashed=bb64e01aee50d449aa21820964b6eeead30bf8285a166730a8875138da3a9eca&recipient_salt=5af7a91c256563e8a2a1ca92d27e043941083c455962856a217cbbc6daa826b1

Weekend Happenings

Cardinal Nation: Wild Card Games at Home

Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies will be on ABC at 1:07 p.m. and Saturday’s game is set for 7:37 on ESPN2. If needed, Sunday is at 7:37 p.m., possibly on ESPN2, but that could change, depending on all the other games.

St. Louis Public Radio’s 50 Fest Satruday

Celebrate 50 years of STLPR with a street festival full of food, fun and festivities. We’re taking over our little branch of Olive Street and the Public Media Commons! Enjoy food trucks, live entertainment, and a children’s zone with games, face painting and more!

Plus, pop inside for St. Louis Public Radio’s 50th Anniversary Exhibit, a chance to meet some of your favorite St. Louis Public Radio hosts and staff or record a testimonial. They might even use your voice on air.

Meet and Greet Schedule:

1 p.m. – On air hosts and journalists

2 p.m. – St. Louis on the Air team

3 p.m. – Politics team

Live musical performances by DJ Crim Dolla Cray, The Saint Boogie Brass Band, and HEAL Center for the Arts Point of View Jazz Ensemble.

More info: stlpr.org/50fest


Belleville Chili Cook-off Friday and Saturday

Main Street, downtown square

For more than 39 years, the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Annual Chili Cook-off and has grown to over 50 vendors – individuals, local organizations, and area businesses.

Haunted Garage Horror Festival Oct. 7-9, Westport Playhouse

Last year’s Best of Fest, “Fresh Hell,” will screen on Friday evening. Co-director Matt Neal will be on hand tonight.

Who will take home this year’s Golden Piston Awards?

For a complete line-up of the fun and fright that awaits this weekend on the 40-foot screen at the renovated Westport Playhouse, read on:

https://www.hauntedgaragehorrorfest.com/

To hear more from fest founder Franki Cambeletta, listen to the PopLifeSTL.com Presents Podcast with co-hosts Lynn Venhaus and Carl “The Intern” Middleman:

And if you can’t attend tonight, “Fresh Hell” is available to stream for free, shown with ads, on Tubi and Redbox, and for rent for $2.99 on Amazon Prime.

“Fresh Hell,” co-directed and written by Ryan Imhoff, takes place inside the dark days of 2020. A group of friends reunite online and experience another level of darkness, terror. From their isolation comes this strange tale that turns brutal when they begin to uncover the depths of their dammed era.

Next Week: MasterBlaster Stevie Wonder Tribute

Lincoln Theatre in Belleville, Oct. 14

Steve Ewing, of The Urge, is back with a new project aimed at bringing the classic hits of Stevie Wonder to the stage, MasterBlaster. In this two-hour tribute Steve Ewing reproduces the beloved songs of this music legend. This is no small task, but Ewing has gathered the best musicians in the area to conquer the challenge.

To open the show, special guest Brad Jackson from O’Fallon, Ill., will perform a mix of popular hits.

For tickets, visit: https://117.formovietickets.com:2235/T.ASP?WCI=BT&Page=PickTickets&SHOWID=40733&PLACEID=2

Playlist: Shawn Mendes, “Top of the World” from “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”

Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, of “The Greatest Showman,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land,” have written songs for the new hybrid animated-live action family film, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.” Here is a Mendes’ music video. He’s the voice of Lyle.

https://youtu.be/kgLc_UIFgKc

Word:

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”

― Edgar Allan Poe, who died on this day in 1849.

How five-time Oscar nominee David O. Russell, director and writer of “Amsterdam,” could squander such a star-studded award-winning cast in one of the most eagerly anticipated fall releases is more of a mystery than this convoluted period piece.

Set in the 1930s, the basic structure is that three friends witness a murder, are framed for it, and uncover one of the most outrageous plots in American history.

Russell, in his first film since the lackluster 2015 “Joy,” has crafted a historical comedy-drama that is not as funny as he thinks it is, which serves as a cautionary tale about the evils of fascism — but is too heavy-handed to be a sharp social commentary.

After a zippy opening introducing a quirky cadre of characters, midway through its 2 hours, 14 minutes’ run time, I thought: “What is this movie about?” “What is going on?” and “Why was this made?” The climax – especially DeNiro’s strong showing as military brass — prevents the story from totally going off the rails, but still, this is a major disappointment.

It’s mind-boggling, really, that you can have a cast, top to bottom, that does quality work but is either under-utilized or poorly drawn. Oscar winners Christian Bale, Rami Malek and DeNiro are joined by Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldaña, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola.

The A-list cast isn’t the problem, for this ensemble gives it their all, but can’t convince us of caring about a messy murder-mystery that reveals political intrigue and nefarious conspiracy theories.

For every attempt at a madcap 1930s screwball comedy, it becomes a chore to sort out what’s credible in the global arena.

Perhaps you have heard of the “Business Plot,” a 1933 political conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt so his socialist “New Deal” agenda couldn’t happen. It was funded by a Wall Street coalition of affluent businessmen who wanted to install a dictator instead. Obviously, the plan failed.

Of course, Russell is trying to connect what’s happening now in the U.S. to what took place then, making sure we get the references to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy and the resulting White Supremacy – not to mention parallels to Q-Anon conspiracy theorists

When a U.S. Senator is killed, three friends – a doctor (Bale), a nurse (Robbie), and a lawyer (Washington)– who were on the front lines in World War I, are accused of the crime.

Thus begins a race against time and a never-ending parade of eccentricities, undercover agents, and people with a hidden agenda.

As the three friends, the always superb Bale, a well-suited Washington, and a riveting Robbie gel quite nicely, and I think Washington does better in ensembles than he does in some of his leading roles. Robbie excels as a smart and savvy artist who uses shrapnel to craft designs.

Among the supporting players, Mike Myers and Michael Shannon are very funny as spies who are quite enthusiastic about birds.

At first, the film is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s distinctive landscapes, in the vein of “The French Dispatch,” but then it unravels quickly because Russell fails to make things cohesive, and the pacing turns sluggish.

Russell was Oscar-nominated as director of “American Hustle,” “The Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter,” and screenwriting for “American Hustle” and “The Silver Linings Playbook.”

However, the look of the film is exceptional. Three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who often collaborates with Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity,” “Birdman” and “The Revenant”), makes the night settings glow and his overall look is striking.

Costume designers J.R. Hawbaker and Albert Wolsky outfit the characters in stunning vintage attire while production designer Judy Taylor has enhanced the European settings in fitting details.

Despite those elements and an all-in cast, this movie lands with a thud.

Chris Rock

“Amsterdam” is a 2022 comedy-drama-mystery written and directed by David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale, John David Washington, Margot Robbie, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Zoe Saldana, Rami Malek, Robert DeNiro, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Timothy Olyphant, Andrea Riseborough, Taylor Swift, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alessandro Nivola It is rated R for brief violence and bloody images, and has a run time of 2 hours, 15 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: C-

By Lynn Venhaus

“I believe it’s called ‘Miser-ahh-bluh’!”

Brimming with references to many modern musicals, the spoofy, goofy “Something Rotten!” is a humdinger of a regional professional theater premiere from New Line Theatre. After all, it has an exclamation point in the title, so it must be special!

It is!

Fresh, funny, and frisky, the cast accepts their mission to have fun with the fluff, and the tight-knit ensemble is downright giddy frolicking in some of the most original show tunes in the past decade.

Besides the peppy song-and-dance numbers, the crowd-pleasing show provokes oodles of laughter and features an expertly tuned high-energy ensemble all-in with the snappy repartee and fun hijinks.

With its scaled-down setting and a smaller cast, this upbeat show flows smoothly on the Marcelle Theatre’s intimate stage. Scenic designer Rob Lippert used Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theatre as his guide, and director Scott Miller builds the action on two levels.

“Something Rotten!” opened on Broadway in 2015 and received 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, with Christian Borle winning the only one, as Best Featured Actor in a Musical as William Shakespeare. This is the regional professional premiere.

Written by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell as both a love letter to literature and a send-up of musical comedy, it never takes itself too seriously.

Karey and brother Wayne Kirkpatrick penned a clever music score and lyrics that the New Liners deliver in a zippy and zany style that has the audience engaged at “Welcome to the Renaissance,” the opening number.

The time is 1595, and William Shakespeare is an idol-like bard. Meanwhile, brothers and playwrights Nick (Chris Kernan) and Nigel (Marshall Jennings) Bottom crave the same rock-star celebrity and fame. They are desperately in need of a hit but disaster plagues their endeavors.

Then one day, Nick listens to a soothsayer, Thomas Nostradamus (not THE Nostradamus, but his neophyte nephew), who predicts that musicals will be the next big thing.

When Nostradamus guesses Shakespeare’s next hit will be “Omelette,” wackiness then ensues.

The book’s cheeky wit comes through when principals engage in wordplay and display their sterling comic timing. It’s as if everyone is winking while they are smiling.

As the downtrodden Nick, Kernan confidently leads the ensemble. A versatile performer, he delivers “God, I Hate Shakespeare” and “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top” with aplomb and “Make an Omelette!” showcases his character’s despair and stubbornness.

An ebullient Jennings, as the talented but shy brother Nigel, works well with Kernan, and they deftly land the theater-insider quips. When conflicts arise, their clash is believable.

Jennings and Melissa Felps are a charming romantic pair. As the Puritan lass Portia, Felps is radiant, and their strong voices soar in the ballads, blending beautifully in “I Love the Way” and are bouncy in “We See the Light.”

Jason Blackburn is comical, delivering double-entendres as Portia’s overbearing, religious zealot father Brother Jeremiah, who does not approve of his daughter’s relationship.

In one of his best performances, Clayton Humburg swaggers like a rock star as the egomaniac Shakespeare, encapsulating all the preening cliches in his “Will Power” introduction and has fun with the sly references. He’s amusing in his lament, “Hard to Be the Bard.”

Carrie Wenos uses both her comedic and vocal skills as Nick’s supportive wife Bea, a burgeoning feminist, and has fun with “Right Hand Man.”

And as Nostradamus – not “THE” soothsayer but his nephew Thomas – Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon has a daffy debut that’s part Monty Python, part Marx Brothers.

The merry ensemble – Robert Doyle as Shylock and Lord Clapham, Chris Moore as a Minstrel and Peter Quince, Mara Bollini as Francis Flute, Kent Coffel as Robin Starveling, Brittany Kohl Hester as John Snug, Ian McCreary as Tom Snout, Maggie Nold as Helena and a psychic, and Alyssa Wolf as Miranda and an astrologer — are plugged into presenting the low-brow Mel Brooks’ type humor as well as the ‘higher brow’ theatrical and Shakespearean jokes.

Music Director Mallory Golden capably conducts band members Joe Akers on trumpet, Jack Catalanotto on guitar, John Gerdes on bass, Joe Hendricks on reeds and Des Jones on percussion while she plays keyboards. The band is strategically placed under the balcony.

Sarah Porter’s playful costume design allows the performers to move while wearing such period attire as puffy pants and petticoats.

Ryan Day’s sound design and Matt Stuckel’s lighting design seamlessly enhance the action.

Choreographer Alyssa Wolf’s crisp and snappy dance routines really shine, but the standout is “A Musical,” a hilarious pastiche of Broadway hits. “It’s Eggs!” is a rib-tickler too.

By the time the show wraps up with a reprise of “To Thine Own Self” and “Welcome to America,” your sides may ache from laughing and you may notice you have been grinning for over two hours.

“Something Rotten!” is a must-see comedic gem, a well-cast, well-staged show that’s a bright spot in local theater this fall.

New Line Theatre presents “Something Rotten!” from Sept. 23 through Oct. 15, at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, at The Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, in the Grand Arts District. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com

Nostradamus. Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

And Some Weekend Happenings, Too

By Lynn Venhaus

Video: “Night of the Living Dead”

Criterion Collection

It’s that time of year for spooky movies, and “Night of the Living Dead,” shot outside Pittsburgh on a shoestring budget and released in 1968, has now been released through the Criterion Collection. There’s a 4K USD disc of the film and two Blu-rays with the film and special features.

The film’s zombie plot and the guerilla filmmaking are part of film lore. Now a horror master, George A. Romero directed and co-wrote with John A. Russo this landmark indie, at first relegated to midnight movie bookings but became a box office hit and is considered one of the most influential films of all-time.

The story is a simple one about a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse find themselves battling recently dead flesh-eaters. Romero’s claustrophobic vision of a late 1960s America, along with his social commentary, changed the horror genre. He also broke ground casting black actor Duane Jones in the leading role.

For more info on all the extras, read: https://onvideo.org/criterion-collection-october-releases-3/

To read insights from Film School Rejects, visit this site: https://filmschoolrejects.com/26-things-we-learned-from-the-night-of-the-living-dead-commentary-1f0ef17cda1e/

Wilco


Music: Wilco “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Wilco has reissued its masterpiece “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

Here’s the versions: https://wilco-reissue-store.com/

Now considered a “Chicago group,” we all know they started here in St. Louis, and Jeff Tweedy grew up in Belleville.

For more on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, check this out: https://www.thisisdig.com/jeff-tweedy-on-wilcos-yankee-hotel-foxtrot-reissue/

Food: Four Fall Inspired Flavors at Clementine’s Creamery

Mexican Hot Chocolate has rich dark chocolate, cinnamon, smoky heat from chipotle, and a touch of Tuaca. In the Naughty section.

Orange Ghoulius is a creamsicle-like ice cream made with orange juice and cream and laden with house-made colorful Halloween pretzel crisps.

Pumpkin Toffee Cake consists of natural pumpkin ice cream with warm notes of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and sprinkled with bits of toffee for added crunch and sweetness.

Vegan Boo-Berries is bursting with blueberries! It is a creation with bubbling baked blueberries and sprinkled with a crispy gluten-free crumble of rolled oats.

As participants in the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month giveback organized by STL Wine Girl, 15% of all pint sales of Vegan Boo-Berries will be donated to @thewomenssafehousestl through the month of October.

For more information, visit www.clementinescreamery.com

Theatre: Something’s Rotten

Must-see at New Line Theatre, Thursdays through Saturdays now through Oct. 15 at The Marcelle. Really fun show! Regional professional premiere. Here is my review:

https://www.poplifestl.com/new-line-theatres-crisp-something-rotten-is-fresh-fun-and-frisky/

New Line’s “Something Rotten!” Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

Today’s Trailer: Action-Romantic Comedy “Shotgun Wedding”

Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel star as an engaged couple at a destination wedding, and the guests are taken hostage by criminals. This rom-com comes out on Prime Video on Jan. 27, 2023. Amazon dropped the trailer yesterday.


Playlist: “Faith” George Michael

On this date in 1987, George Michael released the single, “Faith,” which went on to become the Billboard Song of the Year in 1988. It was from his debut solo album of the same name, released on Oct. 30, 1987, which is one of the best-selling albums of all time having sold over 25 million copies worldwide. The album won several awards, including Album of the Year, at the 31st Grammy Awards.

Cardinal Nation: Wild Card Games this weekend

Tickets are on sale for the Wild Card games, which are set for Friday afternoon and Saturday night at Busch Stadium, and if needed, Sunday night.

Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies will be on ABC at 1:07 p.m. and Saturday’s game is set for 7:37 on ESPN2.

Weekend Happenings:

Belleville Chili Cook-off Friday and Saturday
Main Street, downtown square

For more than 39 years, the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Annual Chili Cook-off and has grown to over 50 vendors – individuals, local organizations, and area businesses.

Haunted Garage Horror Festival Oct. 7-9, Westport Playhouse

Last year’s Best of Fest, “Fresh Hell,” will screen on Friday evening. Who will take home this year’s Golden Piston Awards?

For a complete line-up of the fun and fright that awaits this weekend on the 40-foot screen at the renovated Westport Playhouse, read on:

https://www.hauntedgaragehorrorfest.com/

To hear more from fest founder Franki Cambeletta, listen to the PopLifeSTL.com Presents Podcast with co-hosts Lynn Venhaus and Carl “The Intern” Middleman:

Word: She’s got Bette Davis Eyes

“Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.” – Bette Davis

One of the legendary Hollywood stars of the golden era, Bette Davis died on Oct. 6, 1989, at age 81. She made over 100 movies during her 60-year career, won two Academy Awards and the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1977. Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in Lowell, Mass., on April 5, 1908

By Lynn Venhaus

Movies: It’s #MeanGirlsDay

This is so fetch!

In the 2004 movie, Cady Heron started talking to Aaron in math class when he asked her what day it was. And just like all classic date lines in movies or music, we now celebrate the pop culture phenom “Mean Girls” on Oct. 3. Just look at your social media today.

Ways to Celebrate:

  1. Wear Pink
  2. Or wear something vintage
  3. Watch the movie on Netflix

If you do not have the streaming service, you can rent the endlessly quoteable movie Amazon Video, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Vudu, Microsoft Store, Redbox, AMC on Demand, Apple iTunes, DIRECTV, Alamo on Demand online.

For more:
https://www.newsweek.com/mean-girls-october-3rd-celebrations-mean-girls-day-1634615

Streaming: “Schitt’s Creek”

All six seasons of the hit sitcom “Schitt’s Creek” are now available on Hulu.

Down on their luck, the once-wealthy Rose family has moved back to a small town that Johnny (Eugene Levy) once bought as a joke. Levy’s son Daniel plays son David, his fellow Second City trouper Catherine O’Hara plays his wife Moira, and Annie Murphy plays daughter Alexis. The Roses deal with the culture shock in humorous ways. One of the wacky characters is the town mayor played by Chris Elliott. Schitt’s Creek won nine Emmy Awards 2015-2021.

TV: “The House That Norm Built,” PBS, 9 p.m. CST (Ch. 9)

Master Carpenter Norm Abram is retiring from PBS’s “This Old House” after 43 years. He started on Episode 2 in 1979, and this hour retrospective features classic archival footage and tributes from celebrities and colleagues.

On This Day in TV: 1960

If you can whistle, all together now – the theme of “The Andy Griffith Show,” which premiered on this day in 1960. For Sheriff Andy Taylor and the denizens of Mayberry entertained us on CBS until 1968.

The series won 7 Emmys, including four for Don Knotts as supporting actor. His portrayal of deputy Barney Fife won in 1962-63 and 66-67.

Quote: ‘If there’s anything that upsets me, it’s having people say I am sensitive.” – Barney Fife.

New Trailer: “Wakanda Forever”

Out Nov. 11: https://youtu.be/_Z3QKkl1WyM

Food: Steve’s Hot Dogs + Eckert’s

Back by Popular Demand is the Eckert’s Caramel Apple Campfire at Steve’s Hot Dogs – available only Oct. 3-9 only. The sleeper hit has the flavors of fall a smoked & grilled all-beef dog topped with spiced cinnamon apples, sweet ricotta cream, and a decadent caramel sauce. Comes with an optional Cinnamon Toast Crunch crumble.

Steve’s Hot Dogs is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 3145 S Grand Blvd, St. Louis.

Playlist: Tom Petty

On this day in 2017, Tom Petty died at age 66

He went into cardiac arrest at his Malibu home and was taken to UCLA medical center, but cannot be revived. Later that night, after his friends and family gather, he is taken off life support.

Just a week earlier, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers wrapped up their 40th Anniversary tour, a successful 53-date trek that found the band in top form and Petty in good spirits. In January 2018, when the medical examiner’s report is complete, Petty’s family issues a statement explaining that he was in inconsiderable pain throughout the tour, with knee problems and a fractured hip. His death was the result of an accidental overdose of prescription medications – the same thing that killed Prince in 2016.

Listen to some “Free Falling.”

https://youtu.be/1lWJXDG2i0A

ICYMI: Cardinal Nation

Waino, Yadi, Pujols leave the field together on Sunday.