Tickets are on sale for The Midnight Company’s St. Louis premiere production of Mickle Maher’s It Is Magic at MetroTix.com.  Performances, at Kranzberg’s Black Box Theatre, are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays October 21 through November 6, with all shows at 8pm.  Tickets are $15 for Thursdays and $20 for Fridays and Saturdays.  The production will be following all Kranzberg Arts Foundation safety protocols, including proof of vaccination for entry, and masks at all times.

It Is Magic is a sorrowful and hilarious meditation on the deep, ancient evil at the heart of the community theatre audition process, and an investigation into the mysteries of theatre-making itself.  Two sisters, community theatre veterans who’ve never had the chance to contribute artistically, are holding auditions for their adult version of The Three Little Pigs in the theatre basement, while the group’s pretentious artistic director is attending, then avoiding, opening night of his MacBeth on the MainStage above.  A third sister appears, and reality becomes really magical at the local playhouse.

It Is Magic premiered in Chicago in May, 2019, and Third Coast Review called it “…one of those love letters to theatre…delightfully wacky,” while New City Stage said “Any show that juggles loving critics and tearing their throats out is good in my book.”  Midnight has previously presented two Mickle Maher plays, The Hunchback Variations and An Apology For The Course And Outcome of Certain Events As Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening.  

Mickle Maher plays have Off-Broadway and around the world, and have been supported by grants from the NEA, the Rockefeller MAP fund, and Creative Capital. They include There is a Happiness That Morning Is; Song About Himself; The Strangerer; Spirits to Enforce; Cyrano (translator), The Cabinet; Lady Madeline; The Pine; and An Actor Prepares (an adaptation of Stanislavsky’s seminal book). He is a cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, and has taught playwriting and related subjects at the University of Chicago, Columbia College, and Northwestern University. He recently wrote the book and lyrics for a new musical about basketball, commissioned by the Catastrophic Theatre of Houston and Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. And he’s currently adapting the graphic novel Berlin by Jason Lutes for the Court Theatre.

Suki Peters will direct It Is Magic.  In Spring, 2022, Suki will play the bride in Cherokee Street Theatre’s adaptation of Kill Bill, and she will direct Once for R-S Theatrics.  The cast for It Is Magic includes Nicole Angeli as Sandy, desperate to get a part in a play, the part being the lead role of the Wolf in her sister’s play.  Nicole was most recently seen in Metro Theater’s It’s A Wonderful Life, in West End’s Photograph 51, and in Stray Dog’s Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House.  Michelle Hand portrays her sister, the first-time, aspiring playwright, Deb.  This past year Michelle was in Max & Louie’s Tiny Beautiful Things and SATE’s Zoom show Tonya And The Totes In Subterrstrata.  Carl Overly Jr. is Tim in the play, another actor vying for that coveted Big Bad Wolf role.  Carl was in recent productions of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear and COCA’s Billy Elliott, and upcoming will direct Rimers Of Eldritch at St Louis University.  Chrissie Watkins will be Elizabeth, arriving from seemingly nowhere to land smackdab in the middle of the audition process.  Chrissie was seen in Alpha Players’ The Mountaintop this summer.   And Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan is in the role of Mortier Civic Playhouse Artistic Director Ken Mason, as arrogant, self-absorbed and sporadically brilliant as any Artistic Director comes.  This year Joe has acted in Midnight productions of Here Lies Henry, and in his own scripts of Now Playing Third Base For The St. Louis Cardinals Bond James Bond, My Violin My Voice at the St. Louis Fringe Festival, and Tonight’s Special at the St. Louis Theatre Showcase.  He will next be seen in his new script, Midnight’s Tinsel Town in December.

Linda Menard will be the Stage Manager for the show, Elizabeth Henning is designing costumes, Kevin Bowman is designing the set and lights, and Ted Drury will design sound.

For more information, visit MidnightCompany.com  

By Lynn Venhaus

Heart-tugging and hopeful, “Tiny Beautiful Things” strikes universal chords as it reverberates through a darkened theater.

Now playing at The Grandel, the deeply personal journeys of people who cared enough to reach out to another human, to make that connection in cyberspace, even when they were confused or desperate or sad or angry, will smack you upside your head, resonate emotionally, and may elicit a few tears and some smiles – if you let it pull you in (and why resist?).

Perhaps listening to four people be vulnerable will prompt the proverbial light bulb to come on, illuminating what’s going on in your life. Or by hearing about others’ experiences, you will be comforted too.

The well-worn themes of love and loss provide perspective in this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s best-selling self-help book, served up by Nia Vardalos with sprinklings of humor and heaping amounts of compassion. This is not your mom’s yellowed Ann Landers’ clippings.

“Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” was published in 2012, a collection of essays from Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column, which she wrote anonymously on The Rumpus, an online literary magazine. She took it over from her friend, Steve Almond, in 2010. The book also includes essays not previously published.

With a nudge from director Thomas Kail, who was given the book by journalist Marshall Heyman, Vardalos conceived it as a play, mixing in the author’s memoir along with the dating advice and grieving support.

It premiered at The Public Theater in December 2016, starring Vardalos as Sugar and three actors playing various e-mail letter writers, directed by Tony Award-winner and Emmy nominee Kail (“Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” “Fosse/Verdon”), and a revised version returned the next year.

The story’s framework is simple: The writer dispenses words of wisdom, an understanding achieved after many battles of her own, and because she is willing to expose herself to strangers, they in turn disclose their inner-most thoughts and feelings.

With such candid material to work with, producing artistic director Stellie Siteman and managing director De Kaplan knew it was the right choice for their company, Max and Louie Productions, to return with after a harsh 16 months that has changed us all.

Because we endured a pandemic period filled with isolation and self-reflection about our own lives, being with others post-coronavirus quarantine reinforces what we all know but need to be reminded about: We are not alone.

Even with the best of intentions, this could come across very Hallmark cards-like, reducing sentiments to those home décor signs urging us to “Forgive and Forget” or “Live Laugh Love,” but Vardalos and Strayed are too smart to settle for repeating platitudes, as are the women involved in this production.

Vardalos struck gold writing and starring in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” two decades ago, earning an Oscar nomination in 2003, and Strayed, who was a troubled soul trying to come to terms with her past and present through a 1,100-mile hike in 1995, published that life-changing trek in the 2012 bestseller “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” Both are grounded women who have achieved success representing their own lives so authentically, which is the foundation here.

Director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga understood the challenges of this piece and did not embellish it with any unnecessary frills. She approached the play in a straightforward and sincere manner, which is affecting and skillfully presented by this veteran cast, anchored with authority by Michelle Hand.

Greg Johnson and Michelle Hand. Photo by Patrick Huber

The creative team’s collaboration is subtle. The minimal scenic design by master of detail Dunsi Dai suits the intent. Ronga moved, with purpose, the actors around furniture that represents their characters’ homes – including a couch, a bed, a desk and a table. Everything appears lived in, with key items placed by props designer Katie Orr, and exudes a comfortable atmosphere, accented by lighting designer extraordinaire Patrick Huber. Costume designer Eileen Engel selected casual outfits appropriate to the roles.

Two large panels rise above – are those windows to the soul? Hmmm…This isn’t supposed to resemble a psychiatrist’s office, and the set intriguingly widens the reach while narrowing the focus.

As letter writers, versatile stage actors Greg Johnston, Wendy Renee Greenwood and Abraham Shaw strike different tones as they reveal what their assorted characters are looking for or what has defined each of their lives.

As the human faces of email exchanges, they present their questions and responses in a natural way, becoming a de facto support system and sounding board. One of Johnston’s characters blurts out WTF several times, amusing the audience with such a declaration. (The play contains some strong language and adult content).

As Sugar, Hand wrestles with confidence and her conscience, showing the growth of Cheryl and depicting the raw honesty for which the writer is known. That draws the other characters in, and us, too.

Writers are often hard to portray, especially typing at a computer, for the work is such an internal process — unless there are major conflicts. With this format, we don’t follow the 80-minute show like regular storytelling — nor does it reach a dramatic conclusion – but is moving nonetheless.

What makes this so touching then? Could it be as plain as seeking meaning while we find our way, holding on to ideals and keeping faith that things will turn out all right? Or it’s OK to say we aren’t OK? Because having lived through the uncertainty and anxiety of a public health crises, something we are still processing, this performance on Friday night seemed as warm as your grandma’s chunky hand-knit afghan and as familiar as a hug from a cherished loved one.

Strayed doesn’t profess to have all the answers, nor does she say she can fix everybody and everything. But by offering examples of her struggles, exposing herself so openly, somehow, we come out of the dark and into the light. It’s that simple, but that profound.

Hand approaches each role so genuinely that you believe whatever situation she is going through, whether she is Tami, the exasperated mother of an autistic son in “Falling” at Mustard Seed Theatre; Toril Grandal, a cook serving her family’s special pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream to world leaders, in “Oslo” at The Rep; or the broken-hearted lesbian artist Pickles in “Life Sucks” at New Jewish Theatre.

She is best at bringing the humanity out in her characters, real people portraits — (cases in point, Maggie Dalton in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Into the Breeches!”, who discovers her mettle while her husband is fighting in World War II, St. Louis Theater Circle Best Actress in a Comedy Award 2019; and innocent Rose Mundy, the intellectually challenged sister in “Dancing at Lughnasa” at Mustard Seed).

Anyone with a heart – lonely, heavy, hungry, normal – can relate to the personal stories shared. In a world where empathy seems to be in short supply, this work restores the belief that we get to carry each other, and through that, the broken can be healed.

If you crave the intimacy and insight that live theater can supply, “Tiny Beautiful Things” will reward you.

Wendy Renee Greenwood, Michelle Hand and Abraham Shaw. Photo by Patrick Huber

“Tiny Beautiful Things” is presented without intermission at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in St. Louis, from July 29 to Aug. 8. Performances are at 2 p.m. on Aug. 1 and 8; at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 4 and 5, and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7.

Tickets are on sale at www.metrotix.com or by phone at 314-534-1111 or at the box office an hour before curtain. Socially distanced reserved seating is restricted to groups of 2 and 4 consecutive seats, and booth seating is available for groups of 4 and 6. Masks are required.

Max & Louie Productions has received its Missouri ArtSafe certification. To ensure that they may create safely, present safely, and attend safely, they pledge to Covid-19 safe protocols which patrons are encouraged to view at Max & Louie Productions’ website at www.maxandlouie.com.

‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ and an Encore of ‘Songs for Nobodies’ to be Staged

Max & Louie Productions joyfully announces its “Comeback” with the St. Louis premiere of “Tiny Beautiful Things” based on the New York Times bestseller, “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed and adapted for the stage by Oscar nominee, Nia Vardalos, playing at The Grandel Theatre July 29-August 8,2021.

“We are so pleased to reopen safely, and welcome back St. Louis audiences with a powerful, dynamic, and empathetic play about words and the power of words to connect with one another. It’s the kind of connection that we have had to be extremely grateful for this past year,” said Stellie Siteman, Producing Artistic Director of Max & Louie Productions.

When life is hard, turn to Sugar.  “Tiny Beautiful Things” follows Sugar, an online advice columnist who uses her personal experiences to help the real-life readers who pour their hearts out to her. Rich with humor, insight, compassion and absolute honesty, “Tiny Beautiful Things” is a play about reaching when you’re stuck, healing when you’re broken, and finding the courage to take on the questions that have no answers.

The cast includes Michelle Hand as “Sugar”, Greg Johnston as Letter Writer #1, Wendy Renee Greenwood as Letter Writer#2, and Abraham Shaw as Letter Writer #3.  Sydnie Grosberg Ronga directs.

Critic’s Pick! “Tiny Beautiful Things” is about the endangered art of listening to-and really hearing and responding to-other people… it works beautifully as a sustained theatrical exercise in empathy.”

The New York Times

“…a show that aims to open our eyes to the tiny moments when the world surprises us with care.”

New York Magazine 

“Heart-tugging and emotionally rewarding.”

The Huffington Post

“… a theatrical hug in turbulent times”

Variety

“Tiny Beautiful Things” will run at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63108. The dates of the production are July 29-August 8,2021. Tickets will go on sale Monday, June 14th 2021 at metrotix.com or by phone at (314) 534-1111. Online Socially Distanced Reserved Seating will be restricted to groups of 2 and 4 consecutive seats. Booth seating is available for a group of 4 or 6 persons. Tickets are priced from $35-$55.

**Max & Louie Productions has received its Missouri ArtSafe certification. To ensure that we may create safely, present safely, and attend safely we pledge to Covid-19 safe protocols which patrons are encouraged to view at Max & Louie Productions’ website at www.maxandlouie.com.

The 2021 season concludes with the Max & Louie Productions’ hit revival of “Songs for Nobodies” written by Joanna Murray-Smith and presented at the Grandel Theatre December 2-12th 2021.

This one-woman powerhouse performance, starring Debby Lennon, weaves the music of legendary divas Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, and Maria Callas throughout a mosaic of stories told by the everyday women who had unexpected life-changing encounters with these musical icons.

Featuring such favorites as “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Crazy,” “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Vissi d’ arte,” “Songs for Nobodies” illuminates the power of song to share a story, heal a heartbreak, and inspire a dream.

“It’s a perfectly marvelous show to kick off the holidays”, exclaimed Stellie Siteman, Artistic Director.

Critic’s Pick! “Max & Louie’s ‘Songs for Nobodies’ is an intimate triumph.”

-Calvin Wilson St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Dazzling work from Debby Lennon and lots of bang for the audiences buck in this little jewel from Max & Louie Productions.”

-Ann Pollack St. Louis Eats and Drinks

“… Lennon’s range is astonishing. Her performance as an actor who portrays five, ordinary, utterly individual women is at least as impressive as her singing.”

-Judy Newmark Judy Act Two

Ten women, all played by one extraordinary actress, in “Songs for Nobodies” is directed by Pamela Hunt and runs at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, Missouri 63108. The dates of the production are December 2-12th,2021. Tickets go on sale at metrotix.com or by phone (314) 534-1111 on October 11th,2021. Tickets are priced from $35-$60 Booth seating is available for a group of 4-6 persons.

The Midnight Company will present four plays in 2021, including two St. Louis Premieres and one World Premiere.  The Company, which presented the only live theatre in town during the pandemic with Eric Bogosian’s SEX, DRUGS, ROCK & ROLL in November 2020, and mindful of the fears and realities of the ongoing virus war, will open the season with two one-man plays in June and July.

Midnight’s Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan said, “Last November, we worked with the State’s MissouriArtSafe program, the City of St. Louis and the Kranzberg organization to make sure all safety guidelines were in place and being followed.  We’ll be doing the same going forward, hoping that vaccine efforts will continue to positively affect quality of life, enabling us to provide  quality theatrical experiences for our audiences.”

Hanrahan also said, “If there’s a theme to this season, with theatre coming back it’s appropriate that these shows deal with the theatre and show business.  While HERE LIES HENRY focuses on the Art and Science of Lying (particularly relevant to this age of political and societal falsehoods), Marlon Brando did say ‘Acting is lying for a living.’  Our second show, NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE… specifically occurs during a young man’s introduction to live theatre, of a sort.  IT IS MAGIC, our third show, actually takes place during auditions in the basement of a theatre, and TINSEL TOWN, the season closer, tells three stories set in the Los Angeles entertainment world.”
  
The Company opens with HERE LIES HENRY by Daniel MacIvor, June 10-27 at the Kranzberg Black Box.  It will be directed by Ellie Schwetye, with Joe Hanrahan as Henry, a man in a room with a mission to tell you something you don’t already know.  He’s also a liar.  Midnight has presented two plays by MacIvor (a celebrated Canadian writer/performer) including CUL-DE-SAC, and then HOUSE at the 2015 St. Louis Fringe.  Hanrahan performed both one-man shows, and critics said “ CUL-DE-SAC takes you places you may not want to go.  But Hanrahan makes a spellbinding guide.” (Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and “HOUSE is a perfect combination of virtuoso acting and compelling storytelling.” (Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX.)

Tickets for HERE LIES HENRY, a St. Louis Premiere, will go on sale May 10 at MetroTix.com, and prices, performances, capacity and safety procedures will be announced at that time.


Midnight will then present the rescheduled (from 2020) NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…BOND, JAMES BOND, written and performed by Joe Hanrahan, directed by Shane Signorino, with video design by Michael B. Perkins. It will run July 8-23 at The Chapel.  First presented at the St. Louis Fringe in 2018, the script has been expanded, and Hanrahan said, “The Fringe version of this show had to come in under an hour.  This version, with additional material, should be deeper, hopefully richer.”  NOW PLAYING… is a memory show, of when a teen was introduced, in an unusual way, to live theatre, while the rest of life, including baseball, James Bond, racism, The Beatles, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and more swirled around him.  Michelle Kenyon in Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts called the play “…entertaining, educational, thought-provoking…” and also said it was “…difficult to describe, but what it is is excellent.”

In October, Hanrahan’s short play PATIENT #47 will be presented as part of True Community Theatre’s TRUTH, LIES, and CONFESSIONS October 1-3 at The Chapel.  PATIENT #47 was originally presented at the 2019 Theatre Crawl And later in the month, Midnight will begin to add additional performers to their cast lists. 

Midnight will present Mickle Maher’s IT IS MAGIC, also rescheduled from 2020, directed by Suki Peters, October 21-November 6 at the Kranzberg Black Box.  IT IS MAGIC takes place in the basement of a community theatre.  Two sisters, tireless long-term theatre volunteers but ignored in the artistic process, have finally received their chance to write and act for the group.  While opening night of the company’s Scottish Play goes on in the MainStage above them, they’re holding auditions for the role of the Big Bad Wolf for their new script, an adult version of THREE LITTLE PIGS.  But an inebriated, jaded artistic director and an unexpected, wild Third Sister intrude, delivering dire changes, dangerous chaos and, eventually, magic.  

The cast for the production includes Nicole Angeli, Michelle Hand, Joe Hanrahan, Britteny Henry and Carl Overly.  Chicago’s Third Coast Review called IT IS MAGIC “…one of those love letters to theatre…delightfully wacky,” and New City Stage in Chicago said “Any show that juggles loving critics with tearing their throats out is good in my book.”  

Midnight has previously presented Maher’s THE HUNCHBACK VARIATIONS and AN APOLOGY FOR THE COURSE OF CERTAIN EVENTS AS DELIVERED BY DOCTOR JOHN FAUSTUS ON THIS HIS FINAL EVENING (twice each), and IT IS MAGIC will be a St. Louis Premiere.
And rounding out the year (and rounding out a cycle of plays from three St. Louis theatre artists) is the World Premiere of TINSEL TOWN 3 Short Plays – 24 Hours In L.A. by Joe Hanrahan.  It will run December 2-18 at Avatar Studios, a television production studio on the edge of Downtown St. Louis, near Market and Jefferson, and will be directed by Rachel Tibbetts.   (Midnight has previously presented TITLE AND DEED and LITTLE THING BIG THING at Avatar.)

Joe Hanrahan

 In TINSEL TOWN, Ellie Schwetye and Hanrahan each play characters in the three plays set in the Los Angeles entertainment world.  In LATE LUNCH ON MELROSE, Hanrahan is a talent agent trying to convince his movie star client, Schwetye, to accept the new normal.  In JUST OFF SUNSET, Schwetye is a rock singer/songwriter who’s just finished a frustrating gig at a club, and Hanrahan is a grizzled backup musician who’s seen it all in the industry.  And in SHOOT IN SANTA MONICA, Hanrahan is a British actor brought to Hollywood for a role in a science fiction film, and Schwetye is the director trying to get her first film under her belt.

Hanrahan first worked with Tibbetts when he recruited her to direct an earlier Midnight run of SEX DRUGS ROCK & ROLL, after seeing her direction of BACHELORETTE for her home company, SATE.  Thus began an association between their two companies, with Hanrahan acting in ONE FLEA SPARE, OF MICE AND MEN, DOCTOR FAUSTUS and 2020’s APHRA BEHN FESTIVAL for SATE; and Schwetye directing JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG(with Tibbetts in the cast) and A MODEL FOR MATISSE for Midnight.

But it was during the winter of 2016/2017 that these three did two plays together that demanded a third, sometime in the future, to complete a triptych.  At that time, Hanrahan directed Schwetye and Tibbetts in the vampire drama, CUDDLES, for SATE, followed by Schwetye directing Tibbetts and Hanrahan in Midnight’s Irish thriller, LITTLE THING BIG THING.  So a third show was needed, with (as TINSEL TOWN provides) roles for Schwetye and Hanrahan, and Tibbetts directing.  And thus, the cycle will be complete, and TINSEL TOWN will bring Midnight’s 2021 season to  a close.

By Lynn Venhaus

Several visionary local artists proved that fortune does favor the bold through their efforts to present a gift to a theater-starved community.

This precious lifeline was “Mute: A Play for Zoom” on Sunday, April 5. We experienced an original 5-person 30-minute play on the internet with a hundred other people that Sunday night, boldly going where no one had gone before.

This absurdist apocalyptic academic farce was a burst of creativity and a jolt of connectivity like the sun coming out on a cloudy day.

A maiden voyage by playwright Nancy Bell, director Lucy Cashion and production manager Spencer Lawton explored our strange new world of making art during a quarantine. It starts out as a video conference call among colleagues at a university. For these academics, there is confusion, and eventually fire – and a hamster.

A recording of last week’s live Zoom performance was shown during a Facebook Watch Party April 12. It is now on Vimeo for all to see: https://vimeo.com/405178212?fbclid=IwAR2hkRVBGu78QK8rLQWmb6pY-e7fynRixVlGxky1vvhWNxyN3kKY8PrCP0s

How it all came together was truly remarkable — ignited a spark, a surge of energy that took us out of our stay-at-home melancholia and made us appreciate authentic art and true talent.

It was like I was on a new adventure without leaving my couch.

The five-person cast included several lauded veterans and standout newcomers as colleagues. St. Louis Theater Circle Award winners Michelle Hand (a very nervous Maria), Michael James Reed (agitated Trent), Keating (trying to hang on Fiona) and Sophia Brown (mysterious Lila and Man Ray) performed with their customary immersion into character as well as Delaney Piggins, so good at New Jewish Theatre’s “I Now Pronounce,” as confused Heather and Jakob Hulten as assistant Dustin trying to herd the cats and keep normalcy.

They all connected in a believable way, providing distinctive portraits in a very short amount of time as what the new normal is quickly erodes into a disturbing situation. Reed mastered delivery of a barrage of new vocabulary among his monologues, unleashing a torrent of new words among his distain for the circumstances. He did it with a complete command of the twisty dialogue.

Worried about technical difficulties, it actually went off without a hitch, and ended abruptly according the script. Just be patient. Zoom is a terrific tool for bringing us all together, and the technical gurus behind this production did a fantastic job.

I have always been grateful we have the brilliance of Nancy Bell as a playwright and an actress and the visionary viewpoint of Lucy Cashion, who is never deterred by convention or obstacles, and noticed them right away as I began reviewing more regional professional theater in 2012.

And “Mute: A Play for Zoom” confirms how lucky we are to have them producing art in St. Louis.

This is just a thrilling testament to the possibilities of how to create art in unconventional ways under difficult circumstances.

While this view is indeed apocalyptic, the way it was executed was also life-affirming and uplifting in a bracing way – and to be able to appreciate how we can still connect through storytelling was indeed a lovely surprise gift.

Bravo to everyone involved.

Here is what the cast bios said on their event page:

CAST

Delaney Piggins [Heather] is a St. Louis Actor/Playwright/Producer, who is excited to do her first “pants optional” play.

Jakob Hultén [Dustin] is a SLU senior graduating with a BA in Theatre and History.

Michelle Hand [Maria] is an STL born and bred professional actor who, in her twenty years at work, has never quite done something like this.

Sophia Brown [Lila/Man Ray] is thrilled to be joining Mute! She is a local theatre artist, most recently seen with the Imaginary Theatre Company.

Keating [Fiona] is a kick-ass theatre artist who is madly in love with STL, co-artistic director of Poor Monsters.

Michael James Reed [Trent] used to enjoy doing a play or two. He now spends good portions of his day in a cardigan and Crocks.

They took a risk and it paid off.

Note: MUTE: A play for Zoom WATCH PARTY this Sunday, APRIL 12th at 7PM. DETAILS TBA. https://facebook.com/events/s/mute-a-play-for-zoom-watch-par/159436718663052/?ti=icl

Join us for the watch party!!! Here’s the page where you can get all the details coming soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Himes in “Fences”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

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

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

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