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

Zeitgiest, meet “Urinetown.”

In this Twilight Zone reality we seem to live in now in the 21st century, the subversive “Urinetown” the musical has never seemed timelier. Or funnier. Or scarier.

What once was merely laugh-out-loud outrageous 20 years ago has morphed into a gasp-filled hit-nail-on-head satire where sleazebag politicians are even slimier, greedy corporate bastards are more cruel, ecological disaster seems more imminent and cries of revolution are not far-fetched but absolutely necessary.

This wicked musical comedy composed by Fairview Heights, Ill., native Mark Hollmann, with co-lyricist and book writer Greg Kotis, appears to grow more relevant as the gap continues to widen between the haves and have nots.

Resurrecting one of its past triumphs, from 2007, for the cross-your-fingers 30th season, New Line Theatre’s savvy choice allows a confident, polished ensemble to have fun romping through the ripe-for-parody American legal system, ridiculous bureaucracy, corrupt municipal politics, and foolish mismanagement of natural resources.

The time is 2027 and the focus is urination. Yes, that indispensable body function. But, because we’re in a near dystopian future, there is no such thing as a free pee – and we can’t squander flushes and there is a limited water supply.

If you gotta go, it will cost you. A severe 20-year drought has resulted in the government banning private toilets. Citizens must use public amenities that are regulated by a single evil company that profits from charging a fee to conduct one of humanity’s basic needs.

So, what happens if you disobey? You are punished by a trip to Urinetown, never to return. Egads!

A rabble-rouser emerges – Bobby Strong, and he launches a People’s Revolution for the right to pee. Let’s hear it for urinary freedom! As he does with every role, energetic Kevin Corpuz is passionate in his hero’s journey.

This cast has the vocal chops to entertain in lively fashion, and with nimble comic timing, hits the sweet spot between exaggerated naivete and cheeky irreverence. Jennelle Gilreath, effectively using a Betty Boop-Shirley Temple voice, is the child-like street urchin Little Sally.

Bobby leads the poor rebels – performed by local live wires Grace Langford as pregnant Little Becky Two Shoes, Ian McCreary as Tiny Tom, Chris Moore ss Billy Boy Bill, Christopher Strawhun as Robbie the Stockfish and Jessica Winningham as Soupy Sue.

They are part of a first-rate ensemble in such crisply staged musical numbers as “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” “Snuff That Girl,” “Run Freedom Run,” and “We’re Not Sorry.”

Not only do Hollmann and Kotis take on capitalism, social injustice and climate crisis, but also cleverly twist the great American musical art form itself, with resemblance to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” and the populist champ “Les Miserables.”

With silly characters modeled after old-timely melodramas, Kent Coffel is Officer Lockstock, Marshall Jennings is Officer Barrel, and Sarah Gene Dowling is tough urinal warden Penelope Pennywise, all having fun with their goofy over-the-top roles.

Kent Coffel, Marshall Jennings as Officers Lockstock and Barrel. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

Bobby’s downtrodden parents, Joseph and Josephine Strong, are played by solid veterans Mara Bollini and Zachary Allen Farmer, also doubling as rebels, while fellow New Line regulars Todd Schaefer is the dastardly profiteer Caldwell P. Cladwell and Melissa Felps his darling daughter, Hope, who falls in love with Bobby. Both Schaefer and Felps play it straight, although they are winking to the audience the whole time as the heads of Urine Good Company, aka UGC.

Corpuz and Felps soar in “Follow Your Heart” while Bobby’s “Look to the Sky” and Hope’s finale “I See a River” showcase their skills.

Playing a caricature of an oily grifter and elected official Senator Fipp is Colin Dowd, doing his best Matt Gaetz impersonation, and Clayton Humburg is weaselly as Cladwell’s assistant Mr. McQueen. The “Rich” folk have fun with “Don’t Be the Bunny,”

Co-directors Scott Miller and Chris Kernan’s fresh take goes darker, which suits the capricious winds of an ever-evolving global pandemic that we have lived through for 27 months. Not to mention clinging to a democracy with fascist and authoritarian threats very much present. And hello, global warming.

Kernan’s choreography is a highlight, and music director Tim Clark keeps the tempo brisk. He conducts a tight band of Kelly Austermann on reeds, Tom Hanson on trombone, Clancy Newell on percussion and John Gerdes on bass while he plays keyboard.

The upside-down world we’re in is enhanced by Todd Schaefer’s grimy set, Sarah Porter’s astute costume design, Ryan Day’s sound design Kimi Short’s props,  and Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting design.

After an off-Broadway run, “Urinetown” opened on Broadway in 2001 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning for best book, best music score and best direction. The fact that it’s stature has grown over the years is a reflection of our current time – and while that is rather frightening, this show continues to say something worth saying through its devilish use of heightened reality.

It’s holding up a mirror, even though it’s presented in a funhouse way, and that is indeed admirable.

In that spirit, leave your paranoia behind and get ready to laugh at the zingers launched with glee. New Line Theatre’s “Urinetown” is worth a sojourn as time keeps on slipping into the future.

New Line Theatre presents “Urinetown” June 2-25, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Marcelle Theatre. For tickets or more information, visit ww.newlinetheatre.com

Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg

New Line Theatre, “the bad boy of musical theatre,” has announced its 31st season of adult, alternative musical theatre, including the wild musical comedy SOMETHING ROTTEN, running Sept. 22-Oct. 15, 2022; followed by the electrifying concept musical, NINE, based on Federico Fellini’s iconic film 8 1/2, running March 2-25, 2023; and the season closes with one of the great Stephen Sondheim’s earliest works, the hilarious farce, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, based on the Roman comedies of Plautus, running June 1-24, 2023.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE… New Line will present a free, public reading of the new musical A REEFER MADNESS CHRISTMAS for one night only in January 2023 (exact date TBA), at the Marcelle Theater. The new musical has book, music, and lyrics by New Line artistic director Scott Miller. The reading is not part of the season subscription.

SEASON TICKETS

Season tickets are on sale now, and single tickets will go on sale in September. New Line’s mainstage shows will be in the company’s home, the Marcelle Theater, in Grand Center, St. Louis’ arts district.

To order season tickets for the three mainstage shows, Something Rotten, Nine, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, go to http://www.newlinetheatre.com/purchase/index.php.

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 August 31, 2022.

THE 2022-2023 SEASON

SOMETHING ROTTEN
Sept. 22-Oct. 15, 2022

It’s Shakespeare’s London. Or it’s Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood.
Or is it BOTH?

This smart, subversive musical comedy mashes up the crass commercialism of today’s Hollywood with the people and plays of Shakespeare’s London, to ask fascinating, funny questions about commercial success, popular success, artistic success, and personal success. And beneath the rapid-fire Shakespeare jokes, the show comically deconstructs itself and musical theatre as an art form, exploring what makes musicals tick and why we love them. The show was nominated for ten Tonys, nine Drama Desk Awards, and twelve Outer Critics Circle Awards.

Set in the 1590s, brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom are desperate to write a hit play but they’re stuck in the shadow of the Renaissance rock star Will Shakespeare. When a local soothsayer foretells that the future of theatre involves singing, dancing and acting, all at the same time, Nick and Nigel set out to write the world’s very first musical.

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller, with costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Rob Lippert, and sound design by Ryan Day.

Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

A REEFER MADNESS CHRISTMAS
A Free Public Reading
January 2023
 (TBA)

What happens when a family’s secrets are all revealed on one outrageous, pot-fueled Christmas Eve in 1959?

Poor Harry Goodson is about to find out, as he’s visited overnight by his dead brother, Jesus Christ, Sandra Dee, and Johnny Appleweed, and he finally learns what his family already knows, that the answer to all his problems is marijuana!

Not really a sequel to the unintentionally hilarious 1936 “scare film,” this new musical is more like a wacky companion piece, a tongue-in-cheek response, a comic look at what a little pot and a little truth can do to a normal, average, Midwestern, American family at mid-century, just as America plunges into the 1960s.

The New Line reading will be directed by Scott Miller, featuring Zachary Allen Farmer as Harry, Nellie Mitchell as Bess, Isabel Garcia as Tammy, Chris Moore as Uncle Hugh, along with Colin Dowd, Sarah Gene Dowling, Brittany Hester, and Chris Kernan as the carolers.

New Line will present a full production of A Reefer Madness Christmas in fall 2023. More details to come….

NINE
March 2-25, 2023

Genius filmmaker Guido Contini is having a very messy nervous breakdown. And you’re invited!

Based on filmmaking legend Federico Fellini’s legendary (semi-)autobiographical film 8 1/2, this is a psychoanalytical roller coaster ride through the brain of a troubled, self-doubting genius. Underneath, it’s a story about creation and creators, the sacrifices and compromises and demons, and the mysterious, delicate process of making great art.

Nine follows Fellini avatar Guido Contini who suffers a monumental breakdown, just as he turns forty and cameras are ready to roll on his next film, which Guido hasn’t even written yet. The entire show unfolds inside Guido’s frantic, chaotic mind as the many women in his life begin to rebel against his casual use and abuse of them, and as he examines the many relationships in his life. Finally, Guido has to learn the hardest lesson of all for an artist – he has to grow up.

In fact, Fellini gave his film its title as a joke: his lead character was so blocked artistically that his story didn’t even get a real title (its original title was La Bella Confusione), just a number. Fellini had already directed six full-length films and one short film, and he had co-directed two films, so this was film number eight-and-a-half. But beacuse the stage musical was no longer artistic autobiography, the new title Nine refers to the age that Guido wishes he could return to, a simpler time free of responsibility.

Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times, “In Nine, his most ambitious show, director Tommy Tune provides the strongest evidence yet that he is one of or theater’s most inventive directors – a man who could create rainbows in a desert. Songwriter Maury Yeston, a newcomer to Broadway, has an imagination that, at its best, is almost Mr. Tune’s match. His score, giddily orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick, is a literate mixture of showbiz and operatic musical genres that contains some of the season’s most novel and beautiful songs. Together, Mr. Yeston and Mr. Tune give Nine more than a few sequences that are at once hallucinatory and entertaining – dreams that play like showstoppers.” Rich went on to say, “There’s so much rich icing on Nine that anyone who cares about the progress of the Broadway musical will have to see it.”

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller, with choreography by Chris Kernan, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Rob Lippert, and sound design by Ryan Day.

Open auditions will be held in June.

Produced by arrangement with Concord Theatricals, New York.

A FUNNY THINGS HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM
June 1-24, 2023

You think we’re confused by sex, gender, and love today?
Get a load of the Romans!

Master songwriter Stephen Sondheim and comic playwright and screenwriter Burt Shevelove took the classical Roman comedies of Plautus, mashed them together with American vaudeville, and came up with one of the great musical farces of all time, every bit as smart and subversive as Sondheim’s later shows. In 1962, this show satirized America’s hang-ups about sex; today, the show asks lots of complicated questions we’ve all been asking lately, about sex, gender, and more.

Sondheim was an honorary member of the New Line board for almost thirty years, and he was a regular New Line donor before his recent death. New Line has produced seven other Sondheim shows over the years.

The music critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini, wrote about the show, “For all the talk of Forum harking back to the days of good, clean farce, theatrically it is an experimental work. It completely subverts the heritage of what is called the book show, handed down by Rodgers and Hammerstein, where the songs emerge from the plot. In Forum, the songs purposely interrupt the farcical plot, giving the audience a needed break from the madcap hysterics.” The show was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Producer, Best Book, and Best Director. There have been multiple Broadway revivals, in 1972 with Phil Silvers, and 1996 with Nathan Lane, and later in the run, Whoopi Goldberg. All three actors who have opened in the role of Pseudolus on Broadway have won Best Actor Tony Awards. On top of that, Jason Alexander played the role in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, and he also won a Tony for Best Actor in a Musical.

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Chris Kernan, with choreography by Kernan, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Rob Lippert, and sound design by Ryan Day.

Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

THE 2022-2023 NEW LINE SEASON AT A GLANCE

Sept. 22-Oct. 15, 2022 – Something Rotten

January 2023 (TBA) – Free Public Reading of Reefer Madness Christmas

Mar. 2-25, 2023 – Nine

June 1-24, 2023 – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

June 12, 2023 – Auditions for 32nd Season

June 19, 2023 – Auditions for 32nd Season

ABOUT NEW LINE THEATRE

New 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 92 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.

New Line’s current season closes with the outrageous musical comedy URINETOWN, running June 2-25, 2022. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.

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By Lynn Venhaus

Thomas Edison said: “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.”

That ode to hard work is evident in New Line Theatre’s latest production of “Head Over Heels,” a most unusual romantic comedy-fantasy musical involving high-octane dance numbers with upbeat songs from the ‘80s new wave/pop rock all-female group The Go-Go’s — and a fairy tale storyline from the 16th century.

This creative burst of a show seems fresh – and a refreshing change of pace. How can you not want to sing along with “Vacation,” “Our Lips Our Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”?

With such a catchy hit song catalogue included, there is an exuberance that’s comparable to those early days of the U.S. New Wave when Belinda Carlisle (lead vocals), Jane Wiedlin (guitar and vocals), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitar, keyboards, and vocals), Gina Schock (drums) and Kathy Valentine (base and vocals) were considered part America’s sweetheart, part rebel girls.

Those girly Go-Go’s became the first multi-platinum-selling all-female band to play their own instruments and write their own songs. The feisty five were tailor-made for the music-video television revolution as they rose to fame after their 1981 debut album, “Beauty and the Beat,” was released.

Did I mention infectious hooks? We are reeled in with abandon. And two songs are included from Carlisle’s solo career – “Mad About You” and “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.”

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

The cast is this unified blast of energy – a big bang of emotion as they cavort, smile, and lay on the charm. Oh, they got the beat, all right.

Because their run was unfortunately cut short in 2020, and the company has returned to live theater for a 30th season, there is a renewed spark and a collective celebratory vibe. They all look so happy to be on stage.

I first saw their regional premiere in the Before Times, right before a global coronavirus pandemic was declared and St. Louis went into lockdown. A lot has changed since then – death rate, highly transmissible variants, and political debates on public health safety vs personal rights – but – hey, The Go-Go’s were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame!

The music and movements are like a tonic here – after all the drama and reality of the past couple of years, it’s such a relief to see people doing what they are passionate about, and our second chance to make a connection that is unique to the art form.

And this is a show ultimately about connection – how we need it, how we screw it up, and what is so satisfying about it.

For more than 700 days, we have forged ahead — through dark stages, no shows going on, intermittent stays at home, getting vaccines and boosters, adapting to protocols like wear a mask and show your vaccine card at the door when theater resumed — or not, given the surges and number of cases. Some of us tested positive, others luckier in avoiding it.

We are forever changed, and art will reflect that someday. But for now, it’s time to dance!

Melissa Felps, Dawn Schmid, Grace Langford. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

In “Head Over Heels,” the source material may be hundreds of years old, but it is far from creaky, if you look at it as young folks revolting against parental authority.

“The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia” by Sir Philip Sidney is the novel it’s based on, which proved fertile source material for certain plot elements of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” “Hamlet” and “A Winter’s Tale.” There are various updates and editions.

What a combo plate this story is! It blends irony with old-timey morals – chew on that – and touches on gender politics while reinforcing that there are no rules in love and romance.

In 1580, a royal family wants to save their kingdom from extinction, but their journey is a rocky one. They discover “all you need is love,’ but in surprising – and sometimes shocking – ways.

And that changing with the times and letting go of traditions is a clarion call. During their escapades, they find out the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts but is not always in the way they expect.

The humor attempts – wordplay, double entendre, nimble timing — helps the flowery language of a bygone era go down, so dispel any notion that this is stuffy.

The New Liners are back, baby! And with only two changes from the original cast –Colin Dowd, as the dutiful but very nervous servant Dametas, and Dawn Schmid, as spunky Mopsa, make those parts their own. They play a father-daughter duo – he’s the well-meaning dad who has tried to shelter his little girl from the world, while she’s ready to plant her flag.

The rambunctious ensemble includes comic and frisky turns by Grace Langford as Princess Pamela and Melissa Felps as her sister Princess Philoclea, with Clayton Humburg exceptionally good as her major crush Musidorus, a lowly shepherd boy (but also charming in disguise – but let’s not ruin the plot).

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

The three main girls, as it turns out, are as much firebrands as the rock ‘n rollers who blazed trails for other females. Hmmm…maybe this match isn’t as unlikely as it sounds.

A serious Zachary Allen Farmer plays the princesses’ controlling father, King Basilius, while Carrie Priesmeyer plays his roving-eye wife Queen Gynecia with an insouciant shrug. Girls will be girls, after all.

Graceful Tiélere Cheatem is the grand and mysterious Oracle Pythio, working his fabulous shimmery wardrobe and commanding the stage like he always does.

Rounding out the cast is ball of fire Kevin Corpuz along with the oh-so-lively ensemble — Evan Fornachon, Chris Kernan, Chris Moore, Maggie Nold, Michelle Sauer, Alyssa Wolf, and Sara Rae Womack keeping a full-steam-ahead pace that’s like one big spring break party.

Womack and Sauer teamed on the choreography that keeps everyone in motion for 11 dance numbers. Yes, eleven. That’s a lot for a show!

Mounting this production again means some new folks on the creative team – visionary director Scott Miller returns as the solo credit, then subbed as the music director and accompanist the first weekend while original music director Nic Valdez, St. Louis Theater Circle nominee for his work in 2020, returned for the final two weeks of the run.

The band, as always, is stellar – Adam Rugo on lead guitar, Jaylen Edwards on guitar, Clancy Newell on percussion and John Gerdes on bass.

A few changes to some costumes – superbly crafted by Sarah Porter and Courtney Gibson – but still the same kicky bright-color garments fashioned after medieval minstrels while giving the royal family a more regal appearance with lush textures and deep hues, gem tones.

Scenic designer Rob Lippert created an imaginative but simple set, so that people could romp around a fairy tale kingdom set in ancient Greece. He elevated natural elements for different height levels that helped with the blocking – such as rocks and forested nooks. Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting design expressed distinct moods between day and night.

How did this show ever come about? It took some bold veterans to enliven the musical comedy genre with some real cheeky moves. Jeff Whitty conceived it and wrote the book, which was adapted by James Magruder into a laugh-out-loud love story. Broadway composer Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”) took care of the band and vocal arrangements.

“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.

And just in case you need a reminder, it contains adult content.

While New Line Theatre often offers a fresh take on musicals in need of a makeover or neglected ones who need resurrection, they have grabbed recent works who could benefit from the company’s spotlight, such as “Be More Chill” in 2019 and this cultish gem.

The night belongs to lovers, nonconformists and an ebullient cast who revel in the romance and adventure – and the twists! (And they twist!). Female independence never looked so bold, brave, boisterous, or beautiful.

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

New Line Theatre presents “Head Over Heels” March 3 through March 26 (Thursday through Saturday) at 8 p.m. Performances take place at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in Grand Arts Center. For more information, visit newlinetheatre.com or call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 for tickets.

By Lynn Venhaus

Friendship is indeed one of life’s blessings, especially those lasting ones through the ebb and flows of the years. The French novelist Francois Mauriac once wrote that “No love, no friendship, can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.” And this little musical theater gem, “The Story of My Life,” illustrates that theme beautifully.

New Line Theatre kicks off its 30th season with this deceptively simple yet poignant and profound work, an intimate and thoughtful reflection on the special people who change our lives. It runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 23, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater.

It particularly strikes a chord after what we’ve been through during the past 18 months, dealing with a coronavirus pandemic and periods of lockdown and quarantine during the public health crisis. The appreciation of and craving for connection has become an exclamation point.

“The Story of My Life” opened on Broadway in 2009 after earlier productions in Toronto and the Goodspeed Opera House. It was nominated for four Drama Desk Awards, including best musical.

With a keenly observed book written by Brian Hill and heartfelt music and lyrics by Neil Bartram, “The Story of My Life” follows the friendship of Alvin Kelby and Thomas Weaver, two lifelong friends since age 6 who grew up in a small town. Once inseparable, they are reunited after Alvin’s mysterious death.

Jeffrey M Wright as Thomas, Chris Kernan as Alvin. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

While Thomas, a successful author, struggles to write Alvin’s eulogy, his deceased pal appears from the afterlife, and they take a sentimental journey, revealing moments big and small from their intertwined lives.

Alvin goes through the manuscripts and short stories in Thomas’ mind, some which found their way to being published and receiving acclaim.

The adage “write what you know” is what guides Thomas as he sums up his best friend. During the process, he finds his own story and comes to terms with his past.

New Line veterans Chris Kernan as Alvin and Jeffrey M. Wright as Thomas make for an appealing pair, ardently portraying the lifetime friends who chronicle their journey in vignettes – their story is told through stories.

And the two actors punctuate each other’s remembrances. Pouring their hearts and souls into the demanding roles, Kernan and Wright are passionate about making these two guys memorable.

With a deft touch, Scott Miller accompanies the pair on keyboard. He also directed the show with a smart no-frills approach that never feels static.

The score finds the magic in special moments that friends share during lengthy relationships – and addresses rough patches, too. There are four parts to “Saying Goodbye,” and each one is real.

Kernan and Wright meet the challenge of being on stage the entire 70 minutes, without an intermission, breathing life into these roles with insight and charm  

Tom’s book report, “1876” and a song after something Alvin said, “The Butterfly,” are just two highlights.

These parts are unlike anything else they have ever done, with Wright known for classic leading men roles like Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” and Nicky Arnstein in “Funny Girl,” and Kernan often supporting and humorous roles, like one of the dads in “Heathers” and St. Jimmy in “American Idiot,” and his award-winning Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

As the likable kids, who bond over their annual Christmas movie tradition “It’s a Wonderful Life,” they resonate at every turn in their lives.

Alvin, a cheerful sort despite being dealt a few George Bailey-like blows during his life, lost his mom at an early age. When his father begins ailing, he takes over running the bookstore instead of going off to college and adventures.

Thomas, a driven guy who communicates better on paper, is the one who grabs the opportunities afforded him and leaves town, rarely returning.

Alvin stays rooted in their town, running the treasure trove that is his father’s bookstore, “The Writers Block,” and misses his buddy, who is off to other crossroads. Nobody “gets” him like Thomas did. “You’re Amazing, Tom” Alvin sings.

As Thomas is off living a life he imagined, does he feel the same about how special their friendship has been?

Redolent with tender and touching moments, “The Story of My Life” includes many warm humorous bits too – starting with Alvin’s reminisce about their teacher, “Mrs. Remington.”

The show’s rich emotional depth effectively builds to a heart-tugging conclusion, ending with “Angels in the Snow.” Moist-eye alert – bring a tissue.

Scenic designer Rob Lippert’s minimalist set – full of books and the written word – and Kenneth Zinkl’s modest lighting design are impressive accents for a show that stands out without any bells and whistles.

An outstanding collaboration by all involved, “The Story of My Life” has a lot to say, and you’ll be glad you spent time getting to know Alvin and Thomas. Maybe you will recognize your own friends and your experiences along the way, like I did.

After all, George Bailey wisely learned: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

Holiday time or not, this show is a gift to theatergoers eager to feel “the feels” that only live theater can provide. And a reminder about humanity in a time of great uncertainty and division. It could not be more timely – and timeless.

Jeffrey M Wright, Chris Kernan. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

“The Story of My Life” runs through Oct. 23, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in the Grand Center Arts District. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $30 for adults and $25 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the MetroTix website.

COVID-19 POLICY

All patrons will be required to wear masks in the lobby and theatre. The stage area will be safely distanced from the audience. In addition, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation now requires all patrons 12 years or older to show proof of their full COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test upon entry for all ticketed events at all KAF indoor performance venues, including the Marcelle Theater.  

Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

New Line Theatre is proud to present a Very Special Event to open the company’s 30th Anniversary Season, with just two New Line actors, Chris Kernan and Jeffrey M. Wright, along with artistic director Scott Miller on keyboard, in one of the most intimate evenings of musical theatre in the company’s 30 year history, telling a story all about stories, and the effect we have on other lives, usually without realizing it.

Neil Bartram and Brian Hill’s THE STORY OF MY LIFE follows the friendship of Alvin and Thomas, two lifelong friends from a small town who are reunited after Alvin’s mysterious death. Thomas struggles to write Alvin’s eulogy, so Alvin shows up to help the two of them take an amazing journey back through the story of their friendship, as Alvin searches through the manuscripts and stories in Thomas’ mind. And though Thomas is trying to write about his best friend, he ends up finding his own story in the process and coming to terms with the past.

The show opened on Broadway in 2009, after productions in Toronto and the Goodspeed Opera House, and it was nominated for four 2009 Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical. Since its Broadway run, the show has had regional productions throughout the U.S., and in South Korea, Belgium, Austria, and Denmark.

New Line’s THE STORY OF MY LIFE will be directed by Scott Miller, with scenic design by Rob Lippert and lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl.

All patrons will be required to wear masks in the lobby and theatre. The stage area will be safely distanced from the audience. In addition, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation now requires all patrons 12 years or older to show proof of their full COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID-19 test upon entry for all ticketed events at all KAF indoor performance venues, including the Marcelle Theater.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE runs Sept. 30-Oct. 23, 2021, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, all at 8:00 p.m., at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, three blocks east of Grand, in the Grand Center Arts District. Sept. 30 is a preview.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for students/seniors on Thursdays; and $30 for adults and $25 for students/seniors on Fridays and Saturdays. To charge tickets by phone, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the MetroTix website.

DISCOUNTS: HIGH SCHOOL DISCOUNT: Any high school student with a valid school ID can get a $10 ticket for any performance, with the code word, posted only on New Line’s Facebook page. COLLEGE FREE SEATS: Ten free seats for every performance, open to any college student with a valid student ID. EDUCATORS DISCOUNT: New Line offers all currently employed educators half price tickets on any Thursday night, with work ID or other proof of employment. MILITARY DISCOUNT: New Line offers all active duty military personnel half price tickets on any Thursday night, with ID or other proof of active duty status. All offers not valid in connection with other discounts or offers, available only at the door, and subject to availability.

All programs subject to change. New Line Theatre receives funding from the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council.

Coming Up in New Line’s 30th Season

HEAD OVER HEELS
Marcelle Theater
Mar. 3-26, 2022
Click Here for Tickets!
Head Over Heels may be the weirdest mashup Broadway has ever seen, a crazy, joyful celebration of the full variety of human experience, a bold, sexy new comedy from the stage visionaries that rocked Broadway with American Idiot, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q, and Spring Awakening. This wild, subversive love story follows a royal family on a journey to save their kingdom from extinction, only to discover the key to their survival lies in their own willingness to change with the times. New Line opened this show in 2020 to rave reviews, but it was shut down halfway through the run due to the pandemic. So we’ll be back to finish what we started.

URINETOWN
Marcelle Theater,3310 Samuel Shepherd Drive, St. Louis, 63103
June 2-25, 2022
Click Here for Tickets!
Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ Urinetown is an outrageous musical fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, set in a time when water is worth its weight in gold and there’s no such thing as a free pee. In this near-future dystopian Gotham, a severe 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. Citizens are forced to use public “amenities” now, regulated by a single malevolent corporation that profits from one of humanity’s most basic needs. But from the ruins of Democracy and courtesy flushes, an unlikely hero floats to the top, who decides he’s held it long enough, and he launches a People’s Revolution to lead them all to urinary freedom! New Line produced the show in 2007 to rave reviews.

Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a multitude of obstacles to overcome for organizations of all types, and theater groups are no exception. Sharon Hunter, Artistic Director-Producer of Moonstone Theatre Company, aims to help address some of the virus-related challenges that the St. Louis theatre community faces by forming the St. Louis Theatre Community Task Force.

“As I was thinking about how to proceed with my own company in the wake of the pandemic, I started thinking it would be helpful  to get a lot of the theaters to sit down via Zoom and discuss concerns, ideas and solutions for moving forward as we navigate the future of theatre in St. Louis,” Hunter explains.

Sharon Hunter

The Task Force will address concerns including conducting safe auditions, rehearsals and performances, finding new ways to seat audiences, maintaining the visibility of the St. Louis theatre community, new ways to offer theatre experiences and recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment.

Hunter said the Task Force, which is the first of its kind in the St. Louis area, welcomes local theatre groups of all sizes. In addition to these organizations, representatives from the St. Louis County Department of Health and the Center For Disease Control have also been invited to the first online meeting to address questions and concerns.

Theatre companies invited to participate include R-S Theatrics, The Q Collective, The Midnight Company, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, Upstream Theater, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, COCA, Shakespeare Festival STL, Black Rep, Stray Dog Theatre, Stages St. Louis, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, New Jewish Theatre, Cherokee Street Theatre, The Cabaret Project of St. Louis, Max & Louie Productions, Black Mirror Theatre, Young Liars, West End Players Guild, Tennessee Williams Festival St Louis, New Line Theatre, ERA Theatre Company, STL Fringe Festival, St Louis Shakespeare, Metro Theatre Company, That Uppity Theatre Company and the Tesseract Theatre Company.

The initial meeting of the Task Force is scheduled for Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. Theatre groups interested in interested in participating should contact Hunter at [email protected] to get access to the Zoom link. For more info, check their Facebook page for updates: https://www.facebook.com/STLTheatre/.

By Lynn Venhaus

Greetings! This is a people, places and events column about local and national showbiz items that will appear regularly. Feel free to message me with interesting tidbits.

Today we provide some ways to fill your quarantine days and nights, a list of resources for artists, updates on the Theatre Proms and more.

MRS. AMERICA: St. Louis anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly was an Alton, Ill. housewife when she gained national attention in conservative politics, fighting the Equal Rights Amendment and founding the Eagle Forum in 1972. She’s the subject of a nine-part miniseries, “Mrs. America,” which starts Wednesday, April 15 on Hulu. The first three episodes: “Phyllis,” “Gloria” and “Shirley” will air then, then each week through May 27, depicting the battles between Schlafly and the leaders of the women’s movement in the 1970s.

The cast includes Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan, Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug and Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm.

Fun fact: I saw Schlafly debate Betty Friedan on the ERA during college. Phyllis came up to the podium, looking like Betty Crocker, and said: “How many women want to get drafted?” A guy in the audience yelled out: “How many men do?” When Betty came up, in a mumu, she clearly had the crowd on her side. Illinois State University, 1973.

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THEATER PROMS: Springtime is awards season for the theater community, but this year, the mandatory Shelter-in-Place doesn’t allow gatherings of 10 or more. Therefore, events have been cancelled, rescheduled and rebooted

Often referred to as “Theater Prom,” the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony was to take place on March 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University, but the event had to be cancelled. Local theater critics still honored outstanding regional professional theater.

Instead, HEC provided a streamcast of the awards on Tuesday, April 7, at 7 p.m. on their Facebook page. The event was downscaled reading of the nominations and awards, but hey, it’s #TCA20. You can still see it! Here is the YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/tCo0AFHbChE

The theater critics recorded the nominations, and their voice-overs ran over photos. Then HEC announcer Rod Milam announced the winner. There were 34 categories to give awards in, which cover dramas, comedies and musicals. All in a half hour.

Many thanks to HEC Media, including Dennis Riggs, total pro announcer Rod Milam and ace producer Paul Langdon. Thanks to our theater buddy Andrea Torrence for the work on the graphics – the photos really made the virtual. event “pop.” I applaud your sharp professional skills and your devotion to local theater.

A special award was given to Ken and Nancy Kranzberg for their tremendous support and commitment to the arts. Where would St. Louis arts be without the Kranzbergs?

Here are the winners:
https://www.poplifestl.com/indecent-creve-coeur-new-jewish-theatre-are-big-winners-at-eighth-annual-st-louis-theater-circle-awards-ceremony/

Congratulations to the winners AND the nominees, and everyone who gave of their heart and soul to produce live regional professional theater with such passion and panache in 2019.

It truly was a fantastic year, especially for drama, and what a crowded field of talent among the 125 artists nominated and 51 shows from 25 different companies.

It is a privilege to see such a variety of theater during the year, and as a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle, it has been a real joy these past eight years.

In due time, we’ll be back in darkened theaters watching people create magic. We’ll get to hug and laugh again, and marvel at this thing called art that connects us all.

Even virtually for one evening — that was a welcome respite from the sad, terrifying and anxious daily news, wasn’t it, in what’s become the norm in our current global pandemic. People really seemed to enjoy it, lifted spirits – some casts had Zoom parties.

I look forward to seeing you all again, in the “After Times.”

If you want to see who was nominated, here is the PopLifeSTL article: https://www.poplifestl.com/brighton-beach-memoirs-kinky-boots-and-man-of-la-mancha-lead-8th-annual-st-louis-theater-circle-awards/

In community theater, the Arts For Life board of directors presents two awards events each year, the Best Performance Awards honor musical theater and youth productions, and the Theatre Mask Awards honor straight plays.

The fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, which honors both dramas and comedies, was to take place at a brunch on Saturday, April 4, at The Atrium Center at Christian Hospital. However, it has been rescheduled for July 18.

The 21st annual Best Performance Awards is scheduled for Sunday, June 14, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade. However, the AFL board of directors will decide shortly on whether the event will be moved. Stay tuned.

For more information and to see lists of nominations, visit www.artsforlife.org.

You can get tickets to both events for the special price of $40. Visit www.artsforlife.org for more information and to see a complete list of nominees.

Emcees are Donna Northcott, a theater professor at Lindenwood University – St. Charles, for the TMAs, and local singer-actress Karen Fulks for the BPAs.

 (Full disclosure: I am a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle and I am on the Board of Directors of Arts For Life).
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HELP IS HERE: How can you help all the artists around the region and homebound folks around the region? During this unprecedented time of isolation, Stay-at-Home mandate, social distancing to #flattenthecurve, here are some resource links:

Gateway Resilience Fund: https://stlgives.org/covid19/gateway-resilience-fund/

This fund will provide short term monetary relief to employees and owners of independent bars, restaurants, and shops in the St. Louis area affected by closures and other circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Curbside STL: https://www.curbsidestl.com/

CurbsideSTL was created to help support our local independent restaurant and retail businesses and their workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Regional Response Fund: https://stlgives.org/covid-19-regional-response-fund/

The fund will be used to direct resources to regional nonprofits that are working with local communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

St. Louis COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/st-louis-covid19-artist-relief-fund

Any individual artist living in the St. Louis metro area who has had an event, gig, or paying opportunity canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis can apply for funding.

Support for Artists and Production Crews:

• I Lost My Theatre Gigs resource list and donation site: https://ilostmytheatregigs.squarespace.com/

• Freelance Artists Resource List: https://covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/ 

 Alive STL: https://alivestl.org/ 314-993-2777

 Safe Connections: https://safeconnections.org/ Hotline: 314-531-2003

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/ Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 Text support: Text “LOVEIS” to 22522

Broadway may be dark, but today you can be a light for the theater community.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS launched the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund to help those onstage, backstage and behind the scenes during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Through your donation to this special fund, administered by The Actors Fund, you can ensure entertainment professionals get the health care, emergency financial assistance and counseling they need.

Any others I miss?

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THEATER UPDATES: I try to keep up with the latest news on cancellations and postponements. Here’s the new one. https://www.poplifestl.com/?p=1845
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THE SHOW MUST GO ON: OverDue Theatre Company had to cancel “My Fair Lady” this spring but has put together a Quarantine Concert for Facebook Live on Friday, April 17, at 7 p.m. Special guests include Kaitlyn Mayse, Lauren Molina and Nikki Snelson. Featuring Kimmie Kidd, Eleanor Humphrey and Kay Love, there are 17 performers from the OverDue family who will perform too.

SOME GOOD NEWS: You know him, you love him from “The Office,” the immortal Jim Halpern of the Jim and Pam office romance. Actor John Krasinski has started his own web series, “Some Good News,” and the first episode on March 29 was such a hit, he has produced two more, all dropping on Sunday nights. It’s both inspiring and distracting.

The first one features an interview with Steve Carell, as they reminisce about “The Office.” Watch here: https://youtu.be/F5pgG1M_h_U

John Krasinski

The second features the cast of “Hamilton”:
And here is the third: https://youtu.be/Eg08rJGKjtA

You can follow his page on Facebook for updates and a link to submit good news.

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CINEMA STL: Like everyone else, Cinema St. Louis has rescheduled some events. Here are the new dates/information: Classic French Film Festival: Working to move to late July/early August; St. Louis Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Festival: Moving from May 1 to hopefully this summer; QFest: Moving from mid-May to possibly July; Filmmaking camps: Camps slated for June and July will continue as scheduled for now; I Love Movies Trivia Night: Still scheduled for Friday, June 5, with backup dates of Friday, Aug. 28, or Friday, Sept. 4; St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase: This event is currently scheduled to go on as planned in July – deadline May 31; Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1970: The six-film fest is now slated for the following Saturday-Sundays: Aug. 22-23, Aug. 29-30, and Sept. 5-6 at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library; SLIFF: Hoping to go as scheduled in November.

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TEAM LEGEND: About a year ago, singer-guitarist Joanna Serenko won the St. Louis Teen Talent Showcase, sponsored by the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation. Now she’s a contestant on “The Voice.”

Joanna Sorenko

The poised and talented 2019 Kirkwood High School graduate had a four-chair judges’ turn for her blind audition during Feb. 24 night’s season premiere. She sang Amy Winehouse’s R&B rendition of The Beatles’ classic “All My Loving,” and new judge Nick Jonas fought for her to be on his team. Here’s her performance link:

https://www.nbc.com/the-voice/video/nick-jonas-fights-for-joanna-serenko-who-sings-all-my-loving-voice-blind-auditions/4121502

The Battle Rounds began March 23, and Joanna was paired with Roderick Chambers to sing Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over.” Here is the duet:

https://youtu.be/lVmvz9v5KgE

Kelly Clarkson described their duet as “effortless and beautiful and passionate,” and coach Nick called her a “flawless singer” but picked Rod as the winner — then John Legend stole Joanna, so she advances to the Knockout Rounds on Team Legend. EGOT Legend said she had a lot of “style and grace” in her voice.

Both the Battle and Knockout Rounds were taped earlier, so they aren’t affected by the virus shutdown. However, the live shows in May might be, which follows the Knockout Rounds. Go Joanna! (Tune in April 13).

For the first show, a viewing party took place at the Marcus Des Peres Cinema. Due to the pandemic, that can’t happen now. If it starts up again, I’ll let you know.

She used to sing in the choir at Kirkwood’s United Methodist Church and moved here from Cleveland in 2010.

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AND THAT’S A WINNER: Sports commentator and hometowner Joe Buck is reaching out to sports fans, asking them to send videos so he can provide a “play-by-play” of what they’re doing while staying at home — perhaps dribbling in place? Just be careful what you send him.

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HARRY POTTER INTERACTION: Want to escape to fantasy worlds during this global pandemic? “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has launched a new website called Harry Potter at Home – a free magical resource to keep readers of all ages entertained while staying at home. In addition to the existing interactive features on WizardingWorld.com, the site creators have added new activity kits, “nifty magical craft videos,” quizzes, puzzles, and more. You can also listen to the first book on Audible for free or download and read it from a digital library.

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AND HE SCORES! Congratulations to Tom Calhoun, one of the nice guys in local media and the St. Louis Blues announcer for 33 years, who was recognized with three honors by the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. He was recently inducted, presented with the President’s Choice Award and given a commemorative 1500th-game plaque at the fourth annual Illinois Enshrinement Dinner.

Tom Calhoun, Tom Morris and Laila Anderson

A veteran of KMOX, WIBV and other stations, he is currently an adjunct communications professor at Southwestern Illinois College and general manager of its campus radio station, Blue Storm. He has never missed a Blues game since 1987 — until the global pandemic sidelined the team and the NHL cancelled the season. (Just think: a year ago, on April 10, we won the first of the 16 games we needed to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

Cutline: Pictured, left to right, Tom Calhoun, head of the St. Louis National Hockey League Off-Ice Crew Tom Morris and St. Louis Blues inspiration and “super-fan” Laila Anderson. Photo by Bill Greenblatt

APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE: The Black Rep was awarded the August Wilson American Century Cycle Award by Christopher Rawson of the Pittsburgh Gazette on its opening night of “Two Trains Running.”

In 2008, they were the third company in America to complete the 10-play American Century cycle and are currently two-thirds of the way through it for the second time. Each of the 10 plays are set in a different decade of the 20th century.

The Black Rep board at ceremony – Rawson at far right. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Rawson, the newspaper’s senior theater critic and an August Wilson House board member, made the presentation Jan. 10. The award was established only recently, so presentations are being made gradually to the 15 qualifying companies.

 “August is still alive, first, in the people, places and stories from what we call August Wilson’s Hill, and second, in the theaters around the country that bring them to life. This award, presented jointly by his hometown newspaper and his childhood home, celebrates the conjunction of these two. It says that we are all connected in August’s work, through our recognition of its rich humanity and spiritual passion,” he said.

Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero Wilson, sent thanks to The Black Rep “for your ongoing support of his legacy and for continuing to tell the stories for many generations to come. You ‘belong to the band’!” The quotation comes from Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” where “the band” refers to those who struggled to free black Americans from slavery and Jim Crow.

Meadow Nguy

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IN THE CREDITS: Meadow Nguy of O’Fallon, Ill., makes an appearance in the seventh episode of the new Amazon Series “Hunters” starring Al Pacino. She was seen in “Law and Order: SVU” last November, and has been on “Madam Secretary” and “The Blacklist.”
She moved to New York after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in musical theater. She appeared on stages in St. Louis, including the 2012 “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog Theatre and their world premiere of “Spellbound,” and in the metro-east during her high school years. She won the Illinois Musical Theater Award, her ticket to the Jimmy Awards in 2012.

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BOOKSHELF: New Line Theatre Artistic Director Scott Miller is also a prolific writer. His latest, “Idiots, Heathers, and Squips,” digs into a new batch of original, interesting musicals produced the first 15 years of the millennium.

He does deep dives into these 11 that represent “the astonishing variety and fearlessness of this new Golden Age:  Urinetown, Sweet Smell of Success, Jerry Springer the Opera, Passing Strange, Cry-Baby, Next to Normal, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, American Idiot, Heathers, and Be More Chill.

It’s available on Amazon for $17.96: https://www.amazon.com/Idiots-Heathers-Squips-Musical-Theatre/dp/B084DR2HNW


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MK Andersen

LISTEN IN: MK Andersen’s “The First Hundred Days.” She is inspired by the idea that if the first hundred days of a presidency are the most pivotal and important, then the first hundred days of X,Y and Z must also be important. New ones are released every Tuesday: https://yourdaybymk.com/podcast-first-hundred-days
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MK, who operates a wedding planning business, is a graduate of University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in political science. For the podcast she has talked to a writer at Netflix, a former university president and others. In episode 2, a fascinating talk with former FCC Chairman Newton Minow  (1961-1963) is here. Minow, 94, served under President Kennedy. He practices telecommunications law in Chicago and in 2016, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

Fun fact: “Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz named the tiny ship that took that fateful trip for Minow because he thought he had ruined television. Minow is noted for a speech in which he called American television a “vast wasteland.”

Reel Times Trio

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REEL TIMES TRIO: Of course I’m going to plug my own, Reel Times Trio podcast, which is Carl “The Intern” Middleman, myself and a rotating guest to discuss the latest movie releases, what’s out on DVD and streaming, what’s new in Hollywood and Broadway, what’s happening locally, good TV and more.

We’re on iTunes and SoundCloud, and have a Facebook page where we post episodes each week. We also are posted here at PopLifeSTL.com
During the pandemic, after a brief layoff, we have transitioned to Zoom.  Find us here: https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler in “Barry”

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ICYMI: Need something to do?
HBO has unlocked the vault on nine popular series that you can watch for free on HBO Now or HBO Go, or if you have cable TV, now through May 31. The shows are: Barry, Big Little Lies, The Wire, The Sopranos, Succession, Veep, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, True Blood and Ballers.

Here are musicals and shows to watch online: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Broadway-From-Home-157-Musicals-Shows-You-Can-Watch-Online-20200319

Need to know where you can find a movie to watch, whether it’s streaming or not? Check out www.justwatch.com or download the app on your phone.

Did you miss Andrea Bocelli’s free streaming concert from Milan on Easter Sunday? Here is the YouTube link to the half-hour concert, featuring the famed opera singer performing “Ave Maria,” “Santa Maria” and “Amazing Grace”: https://youtu.be/huTUOek4LgU

He told NBC News: “I believe in the strength of praying together. I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone – whether they are believers or not – truly needs right now. Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded earth’s pulsing heart…”

One of the best ads yet on staying safe for the good of a city, Here’s Doner Advertising Agency’s uplifting message to Detroit: https://youtu.be/JJzlXhXrD7I

Playwright Nancy Bell and Director Lucy Cashion teamed up for “MUTE: A Play for Zoom” that debuted on Facebook April 5. Spencer Lawton was the production manager. )Main photo is a screen shot of the Zoom play, a remarkable achievement.) Here is the Vimeo link to the half-hour production: https://vimeo.com/405178212?fbclid=IwAR2hkRVBGu78QK8rLQWmb6pY-e7fynRixVlGxky1vvhWNxyN3kKY8PrCP0s
Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/visionary-apocalyptic-farce-mute-a-play-for-zoom-brings-joy-in-modern-storytelling/

Ali MacGraw

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MEMORY LANE: Valentine’s Day marked the 50th anniversary of bestseller “Love Story,” the young romance that had hearts aflutter back when I was in high school. This is actually my own book cover.

And the movie turns 50 in December. I wrote about the movie’s impact. We all wanted to be Ali MacGraw. We sure did copy her fashions. Here is that link:
 https://www.poplifestl.com/love-story-at-50-the-iconic-romance-revisited/

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WORD: “The world needs artists more than ever to remind us what truth and beauty and kindness really are.” — Terence McNally (1938-2020), in his Lifetime Achievement Award speech at last year’s Tony’s.