By Lynn Venhaus
Christ Memorial Productions’ presentation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!” won eight Best Performance Awards for choreography, music direction, lighting, costumes, acting and Best Featured Dancer while Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production of the George and Ira Gershwin 1920s musical-screwball comedy “Nice Work If You Can Get It” won seven, including Best Large Ensemble Musical Production, Best Director and five acting awards, from Arts For Life Sunday.

It was KTG’s sixth win for musical production since 2000. Both shows had been nominated for 17 awards apiece. “A New Brain,” which was a local community theater premiere for Hawthorne Players, won Best Small Ensemble Production.

Arts For Life is a nonprofit organization that encompasses 140 communities and 8,460 square miles in St. Louis city, county and St. Charles County in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois.

Founded in 1994 by Lucinda Gyurci as a group dedicated to the healing power of the arts, AFL has honored community theater musicals for performances and achievements since 1999 (BPAs), plays since 2015 (Theatre Mask Awards) and expanded awards in youth musical theater in 2013.

Best Small Ensemble Musical “A New Brain”

But this is the first time AFL did not host a live gala. Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ceremony was re-imagined as a pre-recorded virtual celebration. The 21st annual BPAs took place June 14, which was the original date, but transitioned to a streaming format broadcast on Facebook and YouTube.

AFL President Mary McCreight said the coronavirus safety measures in place and restrictions on gatherings in St. Louis County were factors in the decision to cancel the live show but still have some sort of event.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our local arts community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding achievements of the previous year,” McCreight said.

Performances from nominees for large ensemble musicals, two small ensemble musicals and five youth productions premiered on AFL’s YouTube channel for 10 days leading up to the awards, and are now available there, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnCSL5RPbHTrhbc0mbHcWnA

There were 15 community theaters and 10 youth-only groups who participated last year. More than 60 judges in the Theatre Recognition Guild scored 46 shows — 19 large ensembles, 3 small and 24 youth, featuring 939 roles. For 2019, there were 154 individual nominations from 22 groups, with 36 percent first-time nominees and 65 percent first-time winners.

Goshen Theatre Project, which led all groups with 18 nominations, won five youth awards overall for “Les Miserables School Edition,” including Best Youth Musical Production, Supporting Actress Natalie Cochran as Eponine, costume design (Terry Pattison), lighting design (Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill) and Bennett English as Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean.

Other multiple winners in the youth categories were Riverbend Theatre, which won three for “The Drowsy Chaperone” — director (Kristi Doering), music direction (Michael Frazier/Alison Neace) and lead actor (Jayson Heil as the Man in Chair), and Young People’s Theatre, which won two for “Newsies” – best supporting actor (Will Dery as Les) and set design (Brisby Andrews and Gary Rackers).

Norbert Leo Butz

Thirty-three awards honoring excellence during 2019 were announced by past winners and members of the AFL board of directors, with two special guest presenters — Norbert Leo Butz, two-time Tony Award winner who grew up in St. Louis, and Hana S. Sharif, the Augustin Family Artistic Director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Butz, who also announced the youth musical production winner, told the audience to believe in themselves, even when it’s hard, and follow their dreams, noting he had supportive parents and “great” teachers.

“Believe in yourself and keep on being grateful. Stick to it,” he said from his home in New Jersey. “(Performing arts) feeds our soul, our minds, our hearts.”

AFL donated to Butz’s charity, The Angel Band Project, which uses music therapy to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and advocates for rights of survivors. For more information, visit www.angelbandproject.org

Jennifer Kerner

Four special honors were given out to Jennifer Kerner for her inclusion efforts, Bennett English for Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean in Goshen Theatre Project’s “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Kayla Dressman for Best Featured Dancer as Dream Laurie in  CMP’s “Oklahoma!” and Diane Hanisch, the BPA musical director/conductor for the past 20 years, who won a national Spotlight Award from the American Association of Community Theatres, presented by Quiana Clark-Roland. A Lifetime Achievement Award was not designated this year.

Kerner’s recognition was for her advocacy on inclusion and helping to make the live theater experience accessible to all individuals. Kerner, a local singer and actress, works to help place people with developmental disabilities in jobs. She has guided local theater companies in providing sensory-friendly performances and has worked to create comfortable environments for those on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing disorders.

McCreight was thrilled about Hanisch’s national award.

Diane Hanisch

“This award is designed to help pay tribute to an individual for long or special service. It recognizes outstanding dedication, service and contribution to your organization. It is for someone who has made a significant impact on the quality of your organization. Diane has done just that with per professionalism and charm. She is a gem! Not only can she calm the nerves of a 12-year-old singing a solo, but others who are singing in front of 700 people for the first time. She arranges and writes the music, gathers her professional band, and conducts the show with aplomb. Diane cares as much about our legacy as anyone involved on the Arts for Life Board. No one is more deserving,” she said.

The annual Youth Scholarships, which are awarded to two students pursuing a degree in the arts, were announced, with Alaina Bozarth, a graduate of Metro East Lutheran High School, and Josiah Haan, a graduate of Fort Zumwalt High School, each given $500. Bozarth plans to major in musical theatre at Belmont University in Louisville, Ky., and Haan plans to major in technical theatre and design at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.

Other ensemble nominees include “Hello, Dolly!” from Wentzville Christian Church, “Oklahoma!” from Monroe Actors Stage Company and “The Bridges of Madison County” from Alpha Players of Florissant for Best Large Ensemble and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from O’Fallon TheatreWorks for Best Small Ensemble.

For Best Youth Production, in addition to “Les Miserables,” nominees include “The Drowsy Chaperone” from Riverbend Theatre, “Matilda” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, “Newsies” from Young People’s Theatre and “Spring Awakening” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

CMP’s Oklahoma!

For the record books, Kimberly Klick won her sixth BPA for choreography for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”. She had previously won for CMP’s “Mary Poppins” and “The King and I,” plus “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Big the Musical” and “Fiddler on the Roof” for other companies. It was her 10th overall, including wins for Best Featured Dancer in “Brigadoon” in 2000, Lead Actress for Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2006 and Jo in “Little Women” in 2008, and Cameo Actress in “Titanic” 2003.

It was three in a row for Jonathan Hartley, who won for lighting design of “Oklahoma!” and had won last year for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at DaySpring Center for the Arts; he won for set design for DSA’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2017. Stephanie Fox won her third in four years for choreography in Gateway Center for the Performing Arts shows – “Spring Awakening” 2019, “Carrie the Musical” 2017 and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2016. Terry Pattison also won her third for costume design since 2017: “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King Jr.” and “Les Miz,” all for Goshen Theatre Project, and won set design for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2018.

Joe Paule Sr. won his third for musical direction, for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”, following CMP’s “The King and I” in 2014 and Hawthorne Players’ “The Producers” in 2010. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award last year. It was the second award for Michael Frazier and Alison Neace for musical direction, this year for Riverbend Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” and for Alton Little Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill” in 2011.

Other multiple winners included two for Alpha Players of Florissant’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for Lead Actor (Cole Guttmann) and Cameo Actress (Chelsie Johnston) and Take a Bow Showcase for “Annie” – juvenile performer (Leontine Rickert) and duo/group (Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller).

Winners Will Shaw and Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Nice Work If You Can Get It”

In the acting categories, Mike Huelsmann’s award for Best Featured Actor as Jud Fry was his third, after Lead Actor as Javert in Take Two Productions’ “Les Miz” (2013) and as part of Best Duo/Group in Looking Glass Playhouse’s “Young Frankenstein” 2015. Kimmie Kidd-Booker’s award for Best Featured Actress as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” was her second win, after Best Featured Actress in “The Wiz” in 2014. George Doerr IV won his second, as Igor in Alfresco’s “Young Frankenstein,” after winning Best Actor in 2017 for Alfresco’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”

The virtual program included the following production team: directors Mary McCreight and David Wicks Jr., video supervisor Kim Klick, visual designers Colin Dowd and Bethany Hamilton, voice-over announcer Ken Clark and host Karen Fulks.

A list of winners is included here, below.

AFL’s Theatre Mask Awards was originally set for April 4, then moved to July 18, but now will also be a virtual celebration. The 2020 TMAs will honor excellence in community theater productions of dramas and comedies during 2019 in a live interactive viewing event at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 18, on the AFL Facebook page and YouTube Channel. The awards show will be recorded beforehand and the content will remain on social media.

On March 16, McCreight suspended all public activities of the AFL organization because of the public health crisis. The extension has been extended until further notice. Both TRG and TMA branch judges and participating groups will receive announcements on future developments. As the region re-opens, social distancing and wearing face coverings continues. At this time, all AFL performance venues remain closed.

“I am incredibly grateful to all of our constituencies – the board, judges, participating groups, audience members and donors – for their commitment to AFL and their engagement and unwavering support of our local theatre community during these uncertain times,” McCreight said.

Any company that won can have a representative pick up their trophies on July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Clayton Community Theatre, which is located at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117.

Riverbend Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone

A souvenir program is available to download online: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YlomcYjVNqDNqmPTCrYGSjnAtDwkn9QT/view

A limited number of copies will be available for purchase as well.

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at [email protected]

To see a list of the 2019 nominees and winners, as well as the awards history 1999-2019, visit the website: www.artsforlife.org

Follow AFL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2020 Best Performance Award Winners:

Best Musical Production Large Ensemble: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Musical Production Small Ensemble: “A New Brain,” Hawthorne Players

Best Youth Musical Production: “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Director: Dani Mann, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Project

Best Musical Direction: Kathy Eichelberger and Joseph Paule Jr., “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Choreography: Kimberly Klick, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Lead Actor: Cole Guttmann, “The Bridges of Madison County, “Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Lead Actress: Jaclyn Amber, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Featured Actor: Mike Huelsmann, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Featured Actress: Kimmie Kidd-Booker, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Supporting Actor: Caleb Long, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Supporting Actress: Dianne M. Mueller, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Actor in a Comedic Role: George Doerr IV, “Young Frankenstein,” Alfresco Productions

Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Margery Handy, “The Wizard of Oz,” Alton Little Theater

Best Cameo Actor: Jacob Streuter, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Looking Glass Playhouse

Best Cameo Actress: Chelsie Johnston, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Will Shaw, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Maria Wilken, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Duo/Group: Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller, “Annie,” Take A Bow Showcase

Best Set Design: Matt Dossett, “The Little Shop of Horrors,” Monroe Actors Stage Company

Best Lighting Design: Jonathan Hartley, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Costume Design: Krysta Wenski, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Juvenile Performer: Leontine Rickert, “Annie,” Take a Bow Showcase

Best Youth Director: Kristi Doering, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Music Direction: Michael Frazier and Alison Neace, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Choreography: Stephanie Fox, “Spring Awakening,” Gateway Center for the Performing Arts

Best Youth Lead Actor: Jayson Heil, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Lead Actress: Alli McDonald, “Once Upon a Mattress,” St. John’s UCC Performing Arts Camp

Best Youth Supporting Actor: Will Dery, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Supporting Actress: Natalie Cochran, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Set Design: Brisby Andrews and Greg Rackers, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Lighting Design: Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project



By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
You go, girls! Local singer-actors get national attention, and the St. Louis-produced Broadway musical “The Prom” made Thanksgiving Parade television history.
BREAKING OUT: We have a talented trio of local ladies who are living their dreams right now.
Lexi Krekorian, 27, of Waterloo, Ill., is one of the nine struggling musicians featured on the Netflix reality series, “Westside,” now available. She goes by the stage name, Alexandra Kay, and has released her first single, “You Think You Know Someone,” and several music videos of songs on the “Westside” soundtrack. She started out in school and community theater, and is chasing her dream in L.A. Here is the feature I wrote for the Belleville News-Democrat about her rising star.
https://www.bnd.com/living/magazine/article221600685.html
Kennedy Holmes of Florissant, the John Burroughs student and Muny Kid who is wowing the nation as a contestant on “The Voice,” made it through to the Top 11 Live Playoffs on Nov. 20. She sang “Wind Beneath My Wings” and is on Jennifer Hudson’s team, headed for the Top 10 showdown Nov. 26. Here is her Top 11 performance:
https://www.nbc.com/the-voice/video/kennedy-holmes-wind-beneath-my-wings/3832852
Thirteen proved to be lucky for Kennedy, as she was not among the 12 eliminated from the Top 24 Live Playoffs in Episode 13. She sang Beyonce’s “Halo.” “The Voice” is on Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC, with live voting the first night and results the second night. She is 13.
Meadow Nguy, providedMeadow Nguy, 23, of O’Fallon, Ill., performed in two musicals at Stray Dog Theatre (Marta in “Spring Awakening” in 2012 and the female lead in the original musical “Spellbound” in 2015), and in community and school theater. She guest-starred on the Nov. 18 episode of “Madam Secretary” called “Baby Steps,” as a Southeast Asia surrogate caught up in a human trafficking imbroglio . She made her crime-drama debut in ‘The Blacklist” earlier this year. Both shows available on demand. Here is the news article I wrote for the Belleville News-Democrat:
https://www.bnd.com/news/local/article221829910.html

***ATTABOY: Congratulations to Cory Finley, who scored a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay for his “Thoroughbreds.” The annual awards, held since 1984, honor independent filmmakers working with small budgets. The awards are always announced the day before the Oscars, and this year, it will be Saturday, Feb. 23.
Focus Features photoIn fall 2017, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio presented Finley’s play, “The Feast.” A John Burroughs School grad, Finley’s movie opened nationwide in March after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It played the St. Louis International Film Festival in 2017.
Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split,” “The Witch”) play upper-class Connecticut teenagers who rekindle their unlikely friendship and hatch a plan to solve both of their problems — no matter what the cost. It’s the last film of Anton Yelchin.                                                                    Finley, who grew up in Clayton, is based in New York City. He is a member of the Obie-winning Youngblood playwrights group at Ensemble Studio Theater, has received a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for playwrighting, and was the inaugural recipient of the Gurney Playwrights Fund for his play, “The Feast,” at The Flea Theater. Check out www.thoroughbredsmovie.com
***STANDING O’s: Standing ovation for stand-up guy, Kwofe Coleman, who started as an usher at the Muny the summer of 1998, and now has been named managing director! He has served as Director of Marketing and Communications since 2013.
Kudos to the Cinema St. Louis team on their record-setting attendance of 28,723 at this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival Nov. 1 – 11. SLIFF screened 413 films, including 88 narrative features, 77 documentary features, and 248 shorts. Local actors are often seen in the regionally produced short films.

Cast members from “Disney’s Aladdin” presented “Sultan’s Soiree,” an exclusive cocktail reception, Nov 18 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Guests mingled while enjoying cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, photo opportunities, live entertainment and karaoke. To learn more, visit www.broadwaycares.org. Michael James Scott, a Webster University Conservatory graduate, is playing the Genie while Jonathan Weir, formerly of Belleville, is Jafar. “Aladdin” is at the Fox through Nov. 25.
***BIG SPLASH: The reviews are in, and it’s all raves for the new original musical comedy “The Prom,” which opened on Broadway Nov. 15 at the Longacre Theatre, following previews that began Oct. 23.
The New York Times said: “Makes you believe in musical comedy again.”
Variety said: “This original musical has laughs, tears and joy — not to mention jaw-dropping star-turns — in a clash-of-cultures hoot that earns a big Broadway corsage.”
Vanity Fair photoThe show has multiple local connections – Centralia, Ill., native Chad Beguelin is the co-book writer, with Bob Martin (co-creator of “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and lyricist, with music by Matthew Sklar. Beguelin wrote lyrics to Disney’s “Aladdin” and both he and Sklar were Tony-nominated for “The Wedding Singer.”
Some local producers include Jack Lane, executive director of Stages St. Louis; Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, Patty Gregory of Belleville, Terry Schnuck, Andrew S. Kuhlman of St. Louis and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy. St. Louis performers Jack Sippel and Drew Reddington are part of the ensemble, and stars Beth Leavel and Christopher Sieber have appeared several times at The Muny. The Broadway cast also includes Brooks Ashmanskas (Tony nominee for ‘Something Rotten!”),
Casey Nicholaw, Tony winner for “The Book of Mormon,” directed and choreographed the show.
“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance – a student is barred from bringing her girlfriend to the prom — and four fading Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of the spotlight. Its tagline is “There’s no business like getting in other people’s business.”
***
NOBODY RAINED ON THEIR PARADE: “The Prom,” one of four musical acts in the 92nd annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Nov. 22, made parade history with the first same-sex kiss televised live. As the number, “It’s Time to Dance,” closed, cast mates Isabelle McCalla and Caitlin Kinnunen embraced and kissed. The LGBTQ community cheered.
Here is that performance: https://youtu.be/VDZDLJjzJBI
Tony nominee Taylor Louderman of Bourbon, Mo., performed with the cast of “Mean Girls.” She plays Regina, the snotty leader of the cool girls’ pack. Taylor was last seen locally on the Muny stage in 2016’s “Aida” as Amneris.
Fun Fact: The dance company, Radio City Rockettes, was founded in St. Louis in 1925 by Russell Markert. First known as the “Missouri Rockets,” the precision chorus line has performed in Radio City Music Hall since 1932.
***HANNUKAH HULLABALOO: The eighth annual Brothers Lazaroff show to benefit Metro Theater Company will take place on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. at The Grandel Theatre, and all ages welcome.
The show will feature Rabbi James Stone Goodman and the Eight Nights Orchestra, DJ Boogieman, tributes to Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and more! As always, free latkes will be fried on-stage! Food vendors will include Taco Buddha, The Dark Room and STL-Style will be selling their St. Louis-inspired apparel.
***AROUND TOWN: Legendary Wilco founder and Belleville native Jeff Tweedy took to The Pageant stage with Jon Hamm Nov. 17 to discuss his storied career. The book tour stop was sold-out.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch photoThe Grammy-winning singer-songwriter’s memoir “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back”): Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc.,” features stories about his childhood, putting Uncle Tupelo together, and recollections about St. Louis record store, rock clubs and live-music scene during his formative years.
Now based in Chicago, Tweedy can be spotted in the indie movie “Hearts Beat Loud” as a customer, in what else, a record store.
Playwright Vladimir Zelevinsky was in town for the opening weekend of West End Players Guild “The Great Seduction,” and graciously spoke to Tina Farmer of KDHX and I about his interesting life and writing process.
 
Zelevinsky also wrote “Manifest Destiny,” performed at WEPG in 2016, which was nominated for Best Ensemble by the St. Louis Theater Circle.
***SANTA’S COMING! I KNOW HIM: With the holiday essential film “Elf” as its next movies-for-foodies event, Tenacious Eats returns to the St. Louis Banquet Center in Holly Hills, at 5700 Leona Street, on Saturday, Dec. 15.
Guests will feast on five courses and have cocktails themed to the movie, and the event also includes contests and live music. Chef Liz Schuster has left West End Grill and Pub to devote more time to her cinema-and-theme-dining experience – and Tenacious Eats is known for its “full-contact dining experiences.” Tickets are on sale now at BrownPaperTickets.com.
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Ah, Church Ladies and Christmas Pageants are customary fixtures during the holiday season, so the folks behind the Lutheran laugh-apalooza, “Church Basement Ladies: Away in a Basement” have returned with a warm, sentimental and uproarious show.
Now playing at The Playhouse @ Westport through Jan. 6, this is a perfect show to take your mom or grandma to – and you can win two free tickets to the show if you enter our drawing.
Select a show from the list below to answer our question: “What is your favorite holiday-themed play or musical?”
 
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Story
Elf
Inspecting Carol
It’s a Wonderful Life
White Christmas
And send it via email, along with your name, cell phone and email address by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 25, to [email protected] and you will be entered in a drawing. Winner will receive 2 tickets to an upcoming show.
In our last “Go See a Play” poll, Graham Emmons of St. Louis won two tickets to Rebel and Misfits’ “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows.” The survey’s response to best mystery play landed the 1952 classic “Dial M for Murder” by Frederick Knott op top, with “Wait Until Dark” – another Frederick Knott play from 1966 — a close second.
***FOSSE, VERDON AND ALL THAT JAZZ: The next show-biz limited series for FX will be “Fosse/Verdon” in 2019, about the legendary Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse and his professional and personal relationship with dancer Gwen Verdon.
Oscar winner Sam Rockwell is cast as Fosse while Oscar nominee Michelle Williams will be Verdon, returning to the network 20 years after “Dawson’s Creek.”
The cast features St. Louis native Norbert Leo Butz as writer Paddy Chayefsky, Margaret Quall as Ann Reinking and Nate Corddry as Neil Simon.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is executive-producing the eight episodes and “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler is creating the dance.
***WHISTLING A HAPPY TUNE: The lavish acclaimed Tony-winning revival, “The King and I,” will be shown two nights at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema, on Nov 29 and Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical filmed during its run at the London Palladium, June 21 to Sept. 29 and features more than 50 performers.
Kelli O’Hara reprised her Tony Award-winning performance and Tony and Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe played The King again. Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles returned as Lady Thiang and West End “Aladdin” star Dean John Wilson and Na-Young Jeon played Lun Tha and Tuptim. Director Bartlett Sher reunited the original creative team.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: With St. Louis performers making a name for themselves on the national stage, here’s a little flashback to the halcyon days of “American Idol,” the big-bang of reality competition singing shows.
1. Who is the only St. Louisan to make “American Idol” Top Ten Finalists?
2. What “American Idol” winner tried out in St. Louis one of the two times auditions were held here?
Answers (both Season 4):
Nikko Smith, born Osborne Earl Jr., son of Cardinal Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who wound up ninth overall in 2005. He had been voted off in the third round of the semi-finals, but the producers asked him back to take the place of Mario Vazquez, who left for “family reasons.”
Carrie Underwood, who drove up with her mom from the family farm in Checotah, Okla., in 2004, sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt.
Here’s that audition: https://youtu.be/P0j9NGV-Jm4
She just won CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, killed with a live awards show performance of “Love Wins” at six months’ pregnant, and has to date seven Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist in 2007, the only second country artist to win it.
St. Louis has hosted auditions for Seasons 4 and 11.
***WORD: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
 
 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorGREEN DAY: We have been changed for good by the cultural phenomenon “Wicked,” which has broken records in St. Louis and is still “Popular” around the world after opening on Oct. 30, 2003 on Broadway.
To commemorate the musical’s 15th anniversary, NBC will air a tribute concert on Monday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m. (CST).
“A Very Wicked Halloween” was recorded live Oct. 16 at the Marquis Theatre, hosted by the original Elphaba and Glinda, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth.
The celebration will feature Pentatonix, Ariana Grande and Ledisi. Adam Lambert will join them, and he is certainly not mourning the wicked. He left the Los Angeles cast after making “American Idol,” and from 2005 to 2008, had been in the ensemble and understudy for Fiyero, and on a national tour.
The current Broadway cast will also make an appearance.

This spellbinding untold story about the Witches of Oz is now the sixth longest-running musical in Broadway history, having surpassed “A Chorus Line” on July 12 with its 6,128th performance.
Since its debut, “Wicked” has broken box office records around the world. St. Louis is one of the cities where “Wicked” currently holds the weekly-gross-takings records, along with Los Angeles, Chicago and London.
It has played the Fox Theatre five times since 2005, selling out and each week broke box office records. The national tours stopped here in 2005, 2007, June 2010, for four weeks Dec. 12, 2012 – Jan. 6, 2013, and for four weeks in Dec. 9, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016. Another tour is under way but St. Louis isn’t listed – as yet.
St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz originated Fiyero in “Wicked.”The original Broadway cast featured St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero. The Bishop DuBourg and Webster U. Conservatory grad played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero twice, from Oct. 8 to Nov. 23, 2003, and from Jan. 20 to July 18, 2004. He met his second wife, Michelle Federer, during the production – she played Nessarose, and they were married in 2007.
Norbie, the seventh of 11 children born to Elaine and Norbert A. Butz, went on to win two Tony Awards, for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me If You Can.” He is planning to leave his Tony-nominated role as Alfred P. Doolittle in the Lincoln Center revival of “My Fair Lady” on Jan. 6, 2019.
Composer Stephen Schwartz told Playbill why he cast him.
“I’ve wanted to work with Norbert since I saw him in ‘Thou Shalt Not’ and particularly in ‘The Last Five Years.’ He’s a lyricist’s dream. In ‘Wicked,’ I wrote ‘Dancing Through Life’ especially for him to take advantage of both his voice and charisma.”
In July 2017, “Wicked” surpassed “The Phantom of the Opera” as Broadway’s second-highest grossing show, trailing only “The Lion King.”
Based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked” has won more than 100 international awards, including three Tony Awards and a Grammy.
The TV special isn’t the only way “Wicked” is celebrating its milestone – Ben and Jerry’s locations in Times Square and Rockefeller Center will sell special ice cream sand-Witches beginning Oct. 26. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the National School Climate Center’s BullyBust campaign.
The NBC Studios Store has an Ozmopolitan apparel display. And a special “Wicked” cupcake, baked by Melissa, is available online and at all 14 store locations through the rest of October. A portion of the cupcake proceeds with benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and A BroaderWay.
***GET REEL: Native sons and daughters can bask in the klieg lights in the ‘Lou during the 27th annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which will screen a record 414 films from 63 countries Nov. 1 through Nov. 11 at nine venues.
John GoodmanJohn Goodman, one of St. Louis’ favorite sons, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. That program and a screening of “The Big Lebowski” on Nov. 2 are already sold out. Goodman, who grew up in Affton, has enjoyed a long career – in movies, on TV and on stage. He is part of the “Roseanne” reboot called “The Conners,” along with former Edwardsville resident Laurie Metcalf, who plays his sister-in-law Jackie. The TV   sitcom began Oct. 16 on ABC and can be seen at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.
Yours truly is hosting a special event film. The fest is celebrating the Golden Anniversaries of several influential films that came out in 1968: “Bullitt,” “Medium Cool,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Pretty Poison.”
Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld in “Pretty Poison”I will introduce “Pretty Poison” and lead the post-show discussion after the free screening on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 11 a.m. at the St. Louis Public Library central headquarters downtown on Olive. The film is sponsored by the St. Louis Film Critics Association.
This underrated film noir-like thriller starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, and has gained new appreciation as a cult gem, its influence noted in Terence Malick’s “Badlands” and Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade.” Think “Gun Crazy” meets “Lolita.” Mix in conspiracy theories, passion, greed and fantasy. With its inspired casting, it’s a strange and wonderful film about a teenage arsonist who is paroled, becomes smitten with a young femme fatale, and dangerous plans are put into play.
For a complete schedule or for more information, www.cinemastlouis.org For the trailer by Sleepy Kitty Arts (you rock Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult), watch this: https://youtu.be/UTm2PZJng_0
I was fortunate to be the moderator of a Q&A session after a sold-out screening of “Beautiful Boy” Sunday at the Hi-Pointe, with writer Nic Sheff, whose story is the film, and star Timothee Chalamet, whose fans started lining up at 8 a.m. for the 11 a.m. screening. St, Louis was one of four stops the Oscar-nominated Chalamet did over the weekend; Nic Sheff is appearing at over 10 locations.
Lynn Venhaus, Timothee Chalamet, Nic Sheff at “Beautiful Boy” Q&A. Photo by Kevin Brackett.***
APPLAUSE FOR: Congratulations to Kathleen Sitzer on her honor from the Alliance for Jewish Theatre, an International organization dedicated to promoting the creation, presentation, and preservation of theatrical endeavors by, for, and about the Jewish experience.
She is seen here with honoree Tovah Feldshuh at the recent Alliance for Jewish Theatre annual conference in Philadelphia. Feldshuh’s one-woman show, “Golda’s Balcony,” is the longest running in Broadway history. She received the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre.
Kathleen, the recently retired Founding Artistic Director of New Jewish Theatre, was recognized for her years of service and dedication to the concept of Jewish Theatre.
In addition to Sitzer, the conference will honor actress Tovah Feldshuh with the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre. Her one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” was the longest running in Broadway history.
The conference provides an opportunity for theatre artists and organizations to network and learn from each other through a variety of workshops, panel discussions and performances. It is hosted annually by a member theatre. This year’s conference in Philadelphia is hosted by Theatre Ariel. New Jewish Theatre hosted the conference two years ago in 2016 and also in 2002.
For more information, visit: www.alljewishtheatre.org.
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AROUND TOWN: Sarajane Alverson, who played Chef Rossi in the autobiographical “The Raging Skillet” at the New Jewish Theatre, was able to meet the real-life inspiration when she came to St. Louis for the play’s premiere.
Sarajane Alverson, Chef RossiHere is a photo of the two from their appearance on a Fox 2 news segment. Photo courtesy of Aemi Tucker. Sarajane made it through three weeks of performances without a knife injury!
Country singer Alexandra Kay of Waterloo, Ill.Let’s hear it for country singer Alexandra Kay, aka Lexi Krekorian from Waterloo, Ill., who is among the nine people on Netflix’s new “Westside” that premieres Nov. 9. (I have an in-depth feature article that will be published in the Belleville News-Democrat soon).
Mark Saunders isn’t trying out his Halloween costume — he began the national tour of “Something Rotten!” last month and revealed his character Brother Jeremiah’s look.
His show will be in Champaign, Ill., on Monday, Oct. 29, for a one-night performance at 7:30 p.m. at the State Farm Center (University of Illinois). It’s a 2-hour, 43-minute drive from St. Louis. For more information, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.
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AMERICAN IDOL: Interesting in auditioning for the next season of “American Idol” on ABC? Online audition videos are being accepted now through Nov. 5. You must be at least 15 years old to submit a video for consideration. You’ll be notified by Nov. 19 if you made the cut.
More information can be found here: https://fmna.etribez.com/ag/fmna/ai2abc/welcome.html
***BOOK SHELF: St. Louis native Ellie Kemper, a John Burroughs graduate, has published a collection of uplifting essays called “My Squirrel Days.” Her Oct. 13 book signing at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters was sold out.
The comic actress, known for “The Office” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has written about her journey from Midwestern naif to Hollywood.
Can’t get enough of Tony winner “Dear Evan Hansen”? The smash-hit has been turned into a young adult novel by Val Emmich and published on Oct. 9 by Little Brown. T
o promote the book, show composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul went on a 10-city bus tour with musical book writer Steven Levenson and author Emmich. Fellow Michigan alumnus Darren Criss joined them in Ann Arbor, and Tony winner and late-night host James Corden sang “Waving through the Window” at an L.A. bookstore.
A new deluxe album, including cut songs along with the original Broadway cast recording, is now available through Atlantic Records.
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LIFE IS ART – SAVE THE DATE: Who will be nominated for their work in 2018 St. Louis metropolitan area community theater – in musicals (Best Performance Awards) and plays (Theatre Mask Awards)?
Winners will be revealed at the annual Arts For Life Trivia Night, now set for Saturday, Feb. 1 at St. Joseph’s parish hall in Manchester. Ryan Cooper returns as the emcee.
Our theme this year is “That ‘70s Trivia” – you can decorate your table and dress accordingly (costumes optional) – but questions are a variety related to the category titles (announcing the show nominees).
AFL awards excellence in large and small ensemble musicals, dramas and comedies, and youth musical productions. The TMAs will take place on Saturday, April 6, at and the BPAs on Sunday, June 9, at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade.
Boogie the night away with AFL! Enjoy 10 rounds featuring a variety of trivia, silent auction, raffles, table decoration contest, “STL Theatre Sampler” ticket raffle, attendance prizes, and more.
New this year – VIP Tables – $200/8 people. VIP Tables include snacks, soda/water, prime seating, and a dedicated runner.  Reserve your table today! $160/8 people
For more information, visit AFL’s Facebook page or website, www.artsforlife.org.
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THEATRE RECOGNITION GUILD: Interested in scoring community theater and youth production musicals during the calendar year 2019? From now through Nov. 15, you can apply to be an AFL judge in what’s called the Theatre Recognition Guild. It’s the branch of AFL that judges musical theater for the Best Performance Awards given in 33 categories every June.
This is the only time during the year that you can apply. The online application is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2019trgapplication
You will be notified in December if you have been selected. Between 50 and 60 volunteers are judges, and 10-12 judges are assigned to score each eligible show for about 25 groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area.
Judges are required to attend shows throughout the bi-state region. There is no monetary compensation – it is all volunteer. If you judge 8 shows, you receive a free ticket to the BPAs. In 2018, TRG will have judged a total 48 shows (21 large ensemble, 7 small ensemble and 20 youth).
If you have any questions, please contact me, the TRG Chairman on the AFL Board of Directors since 2010, at [email protected]
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Artistic Director Kelly Hummert whipped us into a frenzy for months trying to figure out clues as to what Shakespeare play would be the next Immersive Theatre Project by her Rebel and Misfits Productions.
She recently revealed it’s “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” which opened Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 10, Wednesday through Saturday.
Sean Michael Higgins, Kelly Hummert in “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows”You can be there, too. Rebel and Misfits is offering 2 tickets to a performance for our current giveaway. All you do is answer our poll below – we’re asking about your favorite mystery play because Kelly was so mysterious about her show.
Send your pick, along with your name and phone number, to [email protected] by noon on Tuesday, Oct. 30. A winner will be selected from the entries, we’ll announce the name, and get the lucky pair set up for this yet-to-b-revealed enticing fall premiere.
FAVORITE MYSTERY PLAY (make selection to enter the drawing):
Deathtrap
Dial M for Murder
The Mousetrap
Night Must Fall
Sleuth
Wait Until Dark
Send your choice by noon Tuesday, Oct. 30, to enter the drawing to: [email protected]

WORD: “Movies will make you famous, television will make you rich, but theatre will make you good.” – Terrence Mann
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