A refreshing summer breeze took over the Muny for the premiere of the solid-gold Emilio and Gloria Estefan musical “On Your Feet!” and transformed it into an effusive Saturday night Dance Party. Did we need this now or what?
A winning combination of melodic Latin rhythms, heartfelt pop ballads, ebullient dance moves and an only-in-America success story, this electrifying jukebox musical swiftly engaged the crowd, who seemed ready to have the rhythm get them up and on their feet for a rockin’ megamix curtain call.
The winds of change were noticeable opening night on that venerable stage in Forest Park, where it has been a beacon in times of turmoil – and created more than a few memorable moments. Will we remember this night as a turning point? It deserves to be one.
To be sure, it was a fait accompli that also was of historical significance. Looking back at the past decade, this Muny premiere is the most recent work on the schedule, having opened on Broadway in 2015.
While the Municipal Opera archives includes pre-Broadway tryouts and shows imported directly from New York, “On Your Feet!” is also among the shows that have had the shortest time between its Broadway debut and the Muny-produced premiere. For instance, “On Your Feet!” has six years between those markers, only surpassed by “Legally Blonde” — 2007 in NYC and 2011 in Forest Park, and “Newsies” on Broadway in 2012 and at the Muny in 2017. (“Kinky Boots” and “Matilda the Musical” both opened on Broadway in April 2013 and were at the Muny the summer of 2019, and “Shrek the Musical” was in NYC in 2007 and at The Muny in 2013, so all tying the six years’ gap.)
The show also represents a sea change — the first about Latinos by Latinos with a primarily Latino cast. The Estefans are known for breaking barriers, so kudos for this achievement, too.
Because the audience of 5,930 wholeheartedly embraced this modern musical, magic materialized and represented something larger in the big picture. After all, the Muny is most importantly about community, and “On Your Feet!” is about what community means – and how determination and everlasting love can get us over insurmountable odds.
There is so much to like about this local production, well-suited for the expansive outdoors stage, not only a showcase for sizzling performances but also as a panorama of cultural heritage.
Based on the remarkable true story of married power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan (lightning bolts Omar Lopez-Cepero and Arianna Rosario), who met while making music in Miami. Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia was 17, studying for a degree in psychology.
As leader of the popular group Miami Latin Boys, Emilio recognized her talent, and it was apparent early on they made quite a team. They eventually married, had a son and daughter, and built an international career that resulted in Gloria becoming one of the best-selling female artists of all-time. (75 million records and counting).
Impossible was never in their vocabulary, and the realities of what they overcame makes for a compelling narrative. Above all, their backstory illustrates how enormous hard work and belief in what they offered paid off.
In the 1980s, their Miami Sound Machine music was a revolutionary fusion of Cuban and American cultures and as an early crossover to other audiences, earned worldwide acclaim through its propulsive beats: “Conga!”, “Rhythms Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Get on Your Feet” and “Live for Loving You” lit up club dance floors. Fame and fortune followed, but not without its struggles.
Initially, Gloria shied away from the spotlight, but that exceptional voice demanded she be front and center. The band became known as Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine, later dropping the group name. Grammy Awards, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors and two Super Bowl halftime appearances are among her accolades.
The ready-made-for-a-musical opened at New York’s Marquis Theatre in 2015 after a Chicago tryout and closed after 746 performances in 2017. Some of the Muny cast and production team were involved in the Broadway show, including music director Lon Hoyt, who makes the music pop with pizzazz.
This biopic was immediately elevated by the casting of real-life husband-and-wife Lopez-Cepero and Rosario as the leads. They make a dynamic duo, easily captivating with sincerity, personality and noticeable chemistry.
As the Queen of Latin pop, Rosario is a dazzling magnetic force delivering hit after catchy hit and conveying warmth and courage in the personal life interludes. During the Broadway run, she was an understudy for Gloria and performed as Rebecca, Gloria’s sister, and in the ensemble.
Since his breakthrough performance in the Muny’s 2017 “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and his tremendous turn as Armando in 2019’s “Paint Your Wagon,” Lopez-Cepero has been notable. Fortunately, he finally gets an opportunity to be in a starring role, and effortlessly rises to the occasion. He was in the original Broadway cast as a supporting player.
He shines as Emilio, who recognized Gloria’s talents and would not be deterred by all the doors shut along the way, opening windows instead and allowing the music to do its magic. His splendid voice soars in “Don’t Want to Lose You.”
Both the Estefans and the headliners project that their marriage is a terrific representation of a true partnership.
Family is a major focus of the musical’s book by Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Oscar winner for co-writing the original screenplay of “Birdman” with Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo.
The delightful Alma Cuervo, who originated the role of Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive “abuela’ (grandma) on Broadway, endeared herself on the larger stage.
And because there is never a musical biography without conflict, that friction is displayed in the rocky relationship with bitter mom, also named Gloria, whose dreams were crushed at a young age.
As the elder Gloria, Natascia Diaz stands out in song – “Mi Tierra” and with Lopez-Cepero in “If I Never Got to Tell You,” a song written by Gloria and her daughter Emily Estefan for this show.
Locally, Diaz won a Kevin Kline Award for best supporting actress in a musical in 2006 for portraying Anita in The Muny’s 2005 “West Side Story” and was nominated for a St. Louis Theater Circle Award as Velma Kelly in the Muny’s “Chicago” in 2012.
While the book follows the template of many other standard biographies, Gloria’s backstory does include some hefty issues. At age 2, she fled from the revolution in Cuba with her family. In the U.S. military, her father served in the Bay of Pigs invasion and volunteered for Vietnam, and Gloria’s tapes of her singing comforted him on the far-away battlefield.
Martin Sola is poignant as Jose Fajardo, the loving dad suffering from multiple sclerosis. He was also a part of the Broadway production.
Adolescent performers are bright lights — Isabella Iannelli as young Gloria and Jordan Vergara as son Nayib and young Emilio respectively. Vergara made his Broadway debut as an alternate in those roles and continued playing them in the national tour.
There is a fun recreation of a Shriners convention in Vegas, with the two youngsters as tiny Elvis impersonators, and the enitre youth ensemble is a sunny presence in the big numbers.
The multi-generational ensemble is noteworthy – and the diversity reflects how America looks today. Bravo to the casting that recognized talent comes in all different shades and sizes, and for the work by dialect coach Gaby Rodriguez Perara.
Director Maggie Burrows, a Muny first-timer, has deftly pulled all the elements together to keep the story on its toes, fortified with athletic choreography by William Carlos Angulo and Hoyt’s percussive beat. The musicians were a finely tuned machine, and the additional percussion gave the pulsating numbers extra oomph.
Costume Designer Leon Dobkowski’s signature swirling mix of bright colors provided flexibility and were pleasing to watch in motion.
The book’s construction makes it necessary to stage small, intimate scenes – such as a kitchen counter, a bedroom, a dressing room and a hospital bed, so I wish the sound had been better, because at times it was subpar, hard to hear the conversations.
Because of Gloria’s explosive career as an entertainer, scenic designer Tim Mackabee has staged multiple numbers with the pop superstar descending a staircase in headlining diva mode, and the band perched in full view – which lends such a vitality.
As does video segments on the LED screen as an ‘up close and personal’ viewpoint – an ingenious move that offers something new. Kudos to video designer Kate Ducey on the innovative work.
The scenic design also features a minimal but effective use of tropical settings in Havana and south Florida.
Act II features the devastating accident in March 1990, when the Estefans’ tour bus collided with a semi-truck in a snowstorm. Gloria suffered severe spinal injuries, and could have never walked again, but a nine-hour surgery, where they inserted two titanium rods, helped her to fully recover – that and an intense focus on rehabilitation, not to mention the encouragement from thousands of fans across the globe.
The finale recalls the stunning moment when Gloria took the stage at the American Music Awards the next year and sang “Coming Out of the Dark,” which she wrote with Emilio and songwriter/bandmate Jon Secada.
As with any triumph in life, persistence is the key, and this musical exemplifies that, just like Gloria’s album, “Into the Light.”
“On Your Feet!” is a breath of fresh air, a jolt of joy in an increasingly scary world. As the joint was jumpin’ on opening night, this indicated patrons could be receptive to a brand-new day.
How lovely that the universal language of music could soothe our souls at a time we badly need a reminder in the enduring, inspiring notion that America still is the land of hope and dreams.
This summer smile was indeed welcome. And a sweet ending with fireworks after tripping the light fantastic.
“On Your Feet!” is presented nightly at 8:15 p.m. from Saturday, Aug. 21 to Friday, Aug. 27, at the Muny outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.muny.org. For tickets, visit www.Metrotix.com or the Muny box office, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday at 1 Theatre Drive, or call (314) 361-1900 x1550.
Muny photos by Phillip Hamer.
Lynn Venhaus has been reviewing the Muny since 2009 and professional theater since 2005, and is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle, established in 2012. A longtime journalist, she has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metropolitan area publications since 1978, earning awards along the way for news and features (and an Illinois Press Association award for reviews before they dropped the category). She has taught writing for the media as an adjunct instructor at three local colleges. A graduate of Illinois State University, she has a mass communications degree with a minor in theater. Among her life achievements are sons Tim and Charlie.
The Muny announced today 27 principal cast members for its 2021 season in Forest Park. Complete company casting will be announced throughout June and July.
After what will be a 23-month intermission, The Muny’s 103rd season will open with the Muny premiere of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, followed by the beloved classic The Sound of Music. The season continues with a newly reimagined Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the Midwest regional and Muny premiere of On Your Feet! and closes with Broadway’s longest-running American musical Chicago. The Telsey Office is the official casting partner for The Muny.
“This is an amazing, thrilling, heart-stopping collection of talented artists,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “Our return this year in many ways has as much significance as our 100th season. It means so much to so many. I can’t wait for these amazing people to share their gifts.” SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE The Songs of Leiber and Stoller July 26 – August 1 Words and Music by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller Sponsored by Ameren
CHARL BROWN (Sonny) is thrilled to be appearing on The Muny stage for the first time and at this historic moment for theatre. He was nominated for a Tony Award for the role of Smokey Robinson in Motown: The Musical and reprised this role opening the West End production. This winter, he is slated to appear as Brick in Virginia Stage’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Other Broadway/tour: Jersey Boys, Sister Act, Hair. Select regional: The Who’s Tommy (Denver Center, Kennedy Center), Ever After (Paper Mill Playhouse), Johnny Baseball (American Repertory Theater), Dreamgirls, Ragtime, Six Degrees of Separation, Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line. Select television: FBI, Evil, Madam Secretary. When not in an acting role, Charl tours the globe with his group, The Doowop Project, including venues such as The Blue Note Beijing, Disney Symphony Hall, Ottawa Symphony, City Winery Nashville and many others worldwide.
MICHAEL CAMPAYNO (Rod) originated the role of Rob Camilletti in The Cher Show and also starred as Fiyero in the hit musical Wicked on Broadway. A Pittsburgh native and graduate of Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, he made his television debut as Rolf in the NBC live telecast of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood and can be heard on the cast recording. His other credits include Lancelot in Camelot starring Robert Sean Leonard and Barry Bostwick, productions at Pittsburgh CLO, and in concert with the Phoenix Symphony and Carolina Philharmonic. Television: The Other Two (HBOMAX), The Good Fight (CBS). Proud member of SAG, AFTRA and AEA. Follow @michaelcampayno
MYKAL KILGORE (Little Walter) is an award-winning actor and a Grammy and NAACP Image Award-nominated singer/songwriter. His debut album, A Man Born Black, is a gumbo of American roots and modern feels that highlight his ability to go from Broadway showtune storytelling to soul and jazz scatting to gospel. Mykal most recently starred in his online special, Mykal Kilgore Live… on the Innanets! Broadway: Motown: The Musical and Hair. National tour: The Book of Mormon. Other select credits: The Witch in Into the Woods at Barrington Stage Company, The Who’s Tommy at The Kennedy Center, Songs for a New World at Encores! OffCenter. TV/Film: NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, The Wiz Live! and Collateral Beauty. Mykal has racked up 10M+ views on social media with his videos, including his viral Reclaiming My Time video. #blacklivesmatter #translivesmatter #loveoneanother MYKALKILGORE.COM
TIFFANY MANN (Willie Mae) Broadway: Be More Chill, Waitress. Off-Broadway: Jerry Springer: The Opera (Lucille Lortel Award), Invisible Thread, Cabin in the Sky. Other select theater: Dreamgirls (Effie), Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd in Concert. TV: New Amsterdam and Rise for NBC, Orange Is the New Black. @iamtiffanymann
HAYLEY PODSCHUN (Annette) Originally from Kansas, Hayley returns to The Muny after playing Dainty June in the 2018 production of Gypsy. Broadway: Wicked (Glinda, national tour), Hello, Dolly!; Something Rotten, Chaplin (Mildred Harris), Anything Goes, Pal Joey, Sunday in the Park with George, Hairspray (Broadway, national tour) and The Sound of Music. Off-Broadway: Freckleface Strawberry (Freckleface, original cast). Select regional credits: Holiday Inn (Linda Mason, Paper Mill Playhouse), I Married an Angel (Anna Murphy, NY City Center Encores!), The Royal Family of Broadway (Gwen, Barrington Stage, world premiere), Holiday Inn (Lila Dixon, Goodspeed, world premiere) Crazy for You (Polly, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival), Peter Pan (Peter Pan, Artpark), Legally Blonde (Elle Woods, Arvada Center). Film/TV: Hairspray (Tammy), The Blacklist, Louie, Isn’t It Romantic and Hail, Caesar; You can also find Hayley on QVC as a guest host for Zodiac Shoes. IG: @hayley_podschun or www.hayleypodschun.com for more!
CHRISTOPHER SAMS (Cornelius) is ecstatic to join The Muny and Marcia Milgrom Dodge in turning up the summer heat with Leiber and Stoller’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Broadway credits feature Mufasa in Disney’s The Lion King. National touring credits include The Lion King (Ensemble, u/s Mufasa), The Color Purple (Ensemble/Grady/Buster), Ragtime (Coalhouse Walker Jr.) and Rock of Ages (Ensemble/Ja’Keith). Became a proud AEA member doing Smokey Joe’s Cafe with Ms. Dodge in 2016 and this is Chris’ third time rocking through the neighborhood.
NASIA THOMAS (Pearl) was most recently seen as Cathy in Out of The Box Theatrics version of The Last Five Years. In the fall, she can be seen as The Radio in the upcoming revival of Caroline, or Change on Broadway. Most recently seen in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations on Broadway. Broadway: Little Eva in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. National tour: Beautiful. Regional: Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations (Berkeley Rep, Kennedy Center, Center Theatre Group, Mirvish Theatre), Beauty and the Beast (TUTS), Hairspray, (Muny). BFA Musical Theatre, Elon ‘15, The Governors School for the Arts ‘11. Member at DGRW Talent. IG: @nasiathomas.
JASON VEASEY (Doc) Jason is happy to be back in one of his favorite cities making his Muny debut! Theatre credits include the Broadway and national touring companies of The Lion King, the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Strange Loop and a couple visits to Smokey Joe’s Cafe! He’s been at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Denver Center and The Public in New York. TV/Film credits include High Maintenance, Chicago Fire, Little Voice, Dash & Lily, Flatbush Misdemeanors and I’m Not Him.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC August 3– 9 Music by Richard Rodgers Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse Suggested by “The Trapp Family Singers” by Maria Augusta Trapp Sponsored by Edward Jones
KATE ROCKWELL (Maria Rainer) is thrilled to be back at The Muny! Previous Muny credits include Beauty and the Beast (Belle) and Tarzan (Jane). On Broadway, she recently starred as the original Karen Smith in Mean Girls: The Musical (Drama Desk nomination). Her previous Broadway dumb blondes include originating the role of Skylar in Bring It On: The Musical, Rock of Ages, Hair and Legally Blonde. She’s been seen recently as Nina Bennett on Fox’s Almost Family, High Maintenance, Deadbeat and Sex and the City: The Movie. Upcoming: Harlem on Amazon. She released her debut solo album, Back To My Roots, in 2018 on Broadway Records, and has performed her solo concert by the same name at Birdland Jazz Club, City Winery and other venues in NYC. She is a WSET-certified wine lover and has the two cutest dogs on the planet.
MICHAEL HAYDEN (Captain Georg von Trapp) Broadway: All My Sons, Festen, Henry IV, Judgement at Nuremberg (Tony nomination), Cabaret, Carousel. Off-Broadway: The Lady from Dubuque, Measure for Measure, Dessa Rose, Far East. London: Cabaret, Carousel (Olivier nomination). Regional: Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale, Henry V, Richard II, Merrily We Roll Along. Film: Patient 001, Charming Billy (American Film Institute Best Actor Award). TV: Evil, Elementary, Chicago Fire, Law & Order and Murder One.
BRYONHA MARIE PARHAM (The Mother Abbess) is thrilled to be making her Muny debut in her home state! Broadway: Prince of Broadway, The Book of Mormon, After Midnight, The Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess, Ragtime. Off Broadway/NY: Promenade (NY City Center Encores!), Candide (Carnegie Hall), Ragtime (Lincoln Center). National tour: Falsettos. World premieres: Dave (Arena Stage), Prince of Broadway (Tokyo Theatre Orb). Concert: New York Philharmonic, San Diego Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra (Bernstein’s Mass), Kansas City Symphony, 92nd Street Y Lyrics & Lyricists series. Regional: The Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess (American Repertory Theater), Ragtime (Kennedy Center), The Civil War (NETworks), Hair (Sacramento Music Circus), Dreamgirls (Effie, North Shore), Little Shop of Horrors (Berkshire Theatre Group) and many more! Television: The SpongeBob Musical: Live on Stage!; Madam Secretary, Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd in Concert (Beggar Woman) and Show Boat in Concert, 66th and 68th Annual Tony Awards, The Today Show. Twitter/Instagram: @BryonhaMarie
ELIZABETH TEETER (Liesl von Trapp) is thrilled to return to the Muny stage after last being seen off-Broadway as Lily in The Secret Life of Bees (Atlantic Theatre Company). Broadway: Betty in The Crucible, Young Elizabeth in The Audience, starring Helen Mirren; and Jane Banks in the closing company of Mary Poppins. Other NYC credits include workshops with Kathleen Marshall, Anne Kauffman, Leigh Silverman, Rachel Brosnahan and more. Regional: The Muny, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Theatre St. Louis, Tennessee Williams Festival, Variety Theatre. TV/Film: Leaving (short film), The Last O.G. (TBS). You can also see her this August as Laura in The Glass Menagerie with the Tennessee Williams Festival. Eleven years ago, she played one of the tiniest von Trapp children at The Muny and is honored for this full circle moment. @elizabethteeterofficial
ANDREW ALSTAT (Rolf Gruber) is thrilled to be returning to The Muny for his second season! Originally from Pomona, Illinois, Andrew is a recent graduate of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, where he received his BFA in Musical Theatre. He was last seen on the Muny stage as Chuck Cranston in Footloose. Recent credits: The Rocky Horror Show (Rocky) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Frederick) for CCM, Newsies (Albert, Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts), Legally Blonde (Emmett) and Anything Goes (Billy Crocker) for McLeod Summer Playhouse. @a_alstat. @andrewalstat_photography
JENNY POWERS (Elsa Schraeder) is thrilled to be back at the Muny where her credits include 1776 (Abigail Adams, 2019), Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (Monotony Singer/Hildy, 2018), Mamma Mia! (Tanya, 2016); The Addams Family (Morticia Addams, 2014), Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins, 2013), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Milly, 2011), Camelot (Guenevere, 2009) and Oliver! (Nancy, 2006). Broadway: Rizzo in Grease and Meg in Little Women. Theatre highlights: Marie Dancing Still (5th Avenue Theatre), Lois Lane in It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman (NY City Center Encores!), Donnybrook! (Irish Rep, Drama Desk nomination); Dangerous Beauty (Pasadena Playhouse), Happiness (Lincoln Center), Secondhand Lions (5th Avenue) and Little Dancer (Kennedy Center). TV: The Mysteries of Laura, Blue Bloods, Power, The Good Wife, Mercy, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Nurse Jackie, All My Children. She is also the co- founder of The Link Theatre Company thelinktheatre.org jenny-powers.com
JOHN SCHERER (Max Detweiler) has appeared at The Muny in Cinderella, Kinky Boots, Annie, Young Frankenstein, The Buddy Holly Story, The Addams Family, Spamalot and Mame. He has appeared on Broadway in LoveMusik, By Jeeves and Sunset Boulevard. Off-Broadway credits include Dames at Sea, Olympus on My Mind and Preppies. Other NY credits include The Most Happy Fella (NY City Opera) and Out of This World (NY City Center Encores!). He has toured nationally in 42nd Street, Cats, Mame, Hello, Dolly! and White Christmas. His regional credits include Arena Stage, Goodman Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Kennedy Center, Goodspeed Opera House, Paper Mill Playhouse and many others. Television credits include Blue Bloods, The Shield, Crossing Jordan, Law & Order (SVU and CI) and Titus. He is originally from Buffalo, NY and is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS August 12 – 18 Book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay Lyrics by Johnny Mercer Music by Gene de Paul New Songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn Based on the MGM Film and “The Sobbin’ Women” by Stephen Vincent Benet Dance Music Arrangements by Sam Davis Sponsored by U.S. Bank
KENDRA KASSEBAUM (Milly Bradon) Muny: Guys and Dolls (Miss Adelaide, 2019). On Broadway, Kendra originated the role of Janice in the Tony-nominated production of Come From Away as well as Sam in Leap of Faith. She played Glinda in Wicked on Broadway, in San Francisco and on the first national tour (Helen Hayes nomination). Other New York: The Receptionist (Manhattan Theatre Club) and the Tony Award-winning, Grammy-nominated production of Assassins. Kendra made her Broadway debut in Rent. For Roundabout Theatre, she performed the role of Petra in A Little Night Music, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Natasha Richardson. Kassebaum’s regional appearances include Actors Theatre of Louisville, The 5th Avenue Theatre, American Conservatory Theater, Ordway, Florida Stage and her hometown St. Louis Muny. Film: The Other Woman (with Natalie Portman and Lisa Kudrow).
EDWARD WATTS (Adam Pontipee) is delighted to make his post-pandemic debut at The Muny! Broadway: Robert/David in Scandalous. Other New York: Superman (It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman), El Gallo (The Fantasticks), Joe (The Most Happy Fella) and Steve (Show Boa Tours: The Book of Mormon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Les Misérables and The Little Mermaid. Selected regional: The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Old Globe), Harold Hill in The Music Man (Goodspeed Musicals), Joe Bradley in Roman Holiday (Guthrie Theater), Carl-Magnus in A Little Night Music (Michigan Opera Theatre), Thomas Jefferson in 1776 (Goodspeed) and Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing… Forum (Shakespeare Theatre Company, Helen Hayes nomination). Television: NCIS: New Orleans, Quantico, The Sopranos, Rescue Me. Proud member of AEA. EdwardWatts.net.
ON YOUR FEET! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan August 21 – 27 Featuring Music Produced and Recorded by Emilio & Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine Book by Alexander Dinelaris Sponsored by BMO Harris Bank
OMAR LOPEZ-CEPERO (Emilio) is deeply humbled to return to the Muny stage after appearing in Paint Your Wagon (Armando) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Prior to the pandemic shutdown, he was seen in the off-Broadway premiere of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (Vincenzo). Broadway: On Your Feet! and American Idiot. Off-Broadway: The Public Theater’s Central Park concert of The Capeman. Regional/tour credits: The Flamingo Kid (Alejandro) at Hartford Stage, Guys and Dolls (Sky Masterson) at Theatre Under The Stars, Evita as Che (national tour, Fulton Theatre) and as Peron (Bay Street Theater). TV credits: Blue Bloods (CBS), The Detour (TBS), Vegas (CBS). He is a graduate of The University of Miami Frost School of Music with a degree in Vocal Performance. Alongside his performing career, he has developed an acting and voice studio where he coaches professional artists and students to maximize their potential. www.omarlopezcepero.com @omarlopezcepero
NATASCIA DIAZ (Gloria Fajardo) Most widely recognized for the documentary Every Little Step, this three-time Helen Hayes Award-winner returns to The Muny after her “breathtaking” turn as Velma Kelly in Chicago, and her award-winning turn as Anita in West Side Story. Broadway: Seussical (Bird Girl), Man of La Mancha (Antonia, u/s Aldonza). Off-Broadway: Tick, Tick…Boom!, Jacques Brel…; Washington DC: Petra (A Little Night Music) Rosalie (Carnival), Aurora (Kiss of the Spider Woman). Her first Helen Hayes happened in a tie with Chita Rivera for her transformation into Scottish rocker Monica in Rooms, and her second for her performance in Brel. Other favorites: Jenny (The Threepenny Opera), Betty 3, Collective Rage (Woolly Mammoth), Mariana (Measure for Measure), Savage (Savage in Limbo), Rafaella (Grand Hotel, NY City Center Encores!) and winning her third award for her “obsessively watchable, gorgeously sung” (Washington Post) role in a “career-defining performance” (BroadwayWorld) as Fosca in Sondheim’s Passion. TV: FBI IG:@LadyDiaz777
ALMA CUERVO (Consuelo) Broadway: On Your Feet!; Beauty and the Beast, Cabaret, Titanic, The Heidi Chronicles, Quilters, Is There Life After High School?; Censored Scenes from King Kong and Bedroom Farce. She has toured nationally in Wicked, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, M. Butterfly and Dancing at Lughnasa. Off-Broadway: Allegro (Classic Stage Company), Far From Heaven (Playwrights Horizons) and Road Show (The Public). She received an OBIE for her performance in Uncommon Women and Others and Philadelphia’s Barrymore Award for The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Ms. Cuervo has worked extensively in regional theatre, most recently In the Heights at Music Theatre Wichita and Yerma at Huntington Theatre. Film/Television: The Goldfinch, Bull, Lisey’s Story, City on a Hill, Instinct, The Slap, and she was a regular on Norman Lear’s AKA Pablo. She narrates many audiobooks and is a graduate of Tulane University and Yale School of Drama.
LEE ZARRETT (Phil) Broadway: My Fair Lady, On Your Feet!; Hair, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Jane Eyre. National tours: Peter and the Starcatcher, Les Misérables. TV: The Blacklist, High Fidelity, Gotham, Louie, Boardwalk Empire. Off-Broadway: NY City Center Encores!, New Victory, Vineyard Theatre. Regional: Pittsburg CLO, La Jolla Playhouse.
CHICAGO August 30 – September 5 Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Foss Music by John Kander Lyrics by Fred Ebb Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins Script Adaptation by David Thompson Sponsored by Missouri Lottery
SARAH BOWDEN (Roxie Hart) Originally from Australia, Sarah most recently played Velma Kelly in Chicago at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre with Denis Jones directing and is beyond excited to be working with Denis again on this dream show! USA highlights include Cherry Sundae in the first national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, playing Cassie in A Chorus Line in 2016 at The Hollywood Bowl opposite Mario Lopez, and her first Muny production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 2018. Sarah spent many years in Germany playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Anita in West Side Story, Doralee in 9 to 5, Gloria in Flashdance and lastly, Esmeralda in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with Scott Schwartz (director) and Chase Brock (choreographer). INSTA: @sarahbowden.de
J. HARRISON GHEE (Velma Kelly) is honored to be returning to The Muny playing Velma Kelly. Many thanks to family, friends, and his agency Nicolosi & Co. for continued love and support. Broadway/International tour: Kinky Boots (Lola/Swing), Mrs. Doubtfire (Andre Mayem). Regional: The Color Purple (Ensemble), The Sting (Johnny Hooker). Television: High Maintenance (Charles), Raising Dion (Kwame). Industrial: Tokyo Disney Sea’s Big Band Beat, Norwegian Cruise Line. Proud graduate of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (NY) @jharrisonghee
EMILY SKINNER (Matron “Mama” Morton) Muny: Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Billy Elliot. Broadway: Side Show (Tony nomination, Drama League Award), The Cher Show, Prince of Broadway, Jekyll & Hyde, The Full Monty, James Joyce’s The Dead, Dinner at Eight (Outer Critics Circle nomination), Billy Elliot (BroadwayWorld Award). Off-Broadway: Picnic (Drama Desk nomination), Jerry Springer: The Opera (Carnegie Hall), Fiorello!; No Strings, Pardon My English, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (all for NY City Center Encores!). She has sung leading roles at Manhattan Theatre Club, WPA Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Roundabout Theatre Company, York Theatre, Paramount Theatre at Madison Square Garden. Regional: The Kennedy Center, Signature Theatre, Alliance Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Long Wharf, Old Globe, Goodspeed, Bucks County Playhouse, Virginia Rep, and many others. She has sung with symphonies around the globe and her numerous recordings may be found at Amazon.com. www.emily-skinner.com
JAMES T. LANE (Billy Flynn) West End: The Scottsboro Boys, A Chorus Line (Palladium, revival). Broadway: Kiss Me, Kate (Paul), King Kong, The Scottsboro Boys (Ozie Powell/Ruby Bates), Chicago and A Chorus Line (Richie). National tours: Jersey Boys, Cinderella, Fame. Regional: Guys and Dolls (Nicely Nicely, Virginia Stage Company), Mary Poppins (Bert, Drury Lane Theatre), The Wiz (Tin Man), Promenade, Grand Hotel and Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope (all for NY City Center Encores!), Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Sebastian, The Muny), Broadway at Music Circus, The Old Globe, American Conservatory Theater and Dallas Theater Center. Concerts: Carnegie Hall with The New York Pops, Ottawa Symphony and many more. James is the creator of a one man show entitled Triple Threat: A Play That Moves and Sings. Look for streaming information, booking, as well as performance dates at www.jamestlane.com. Mr. Lane teaches music theatre dance when and wherever anyone will let him! Instagram: @jamestlane www.jamestlane.com
ADAM HELLER (Amos Hart) Muny: Gypsy, 1776. Repertory Theatre of St. Louis: Follies, Brighton Beach Memoirs. Broadway: It Shoulda Been You, Elf, Baby, It’s You; Caroline, or Change; A Class Act, Victor/Victoria; Les Misérables. National tours: Titanic, Falsettos. Off-Broadway: Popcorn Falls (Davenport), A Letter to Harvey Milk (Theater Row), Peer Gynt (CSC), Wings (Second Stage), Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn and The Immigrant (New World Stages), Merrily We Roll Along (York). Regional: The Flamingo Kid (Hartford Stage), Fiddler on the Roof (Connecticut Critics Circle Award) and Rags (Goodspeed), The Chosen (Barrington Stage), My Name is Asher Lev (Arden), Merrily We Roll Along (Kennedy Center). TV: The Bite, FBI: Most Wanted; Ray Donovan, The Good Fight, Elementary, Unforgettable, The Americans, The Sopranos, Law & Order (all), Oz, Submissions Only. Graduate: NYU/Tisch.
ALI EWOLDT (Mary Sunshine) is beyond thrilled to return to The Muny. She appeared here as Philia in Forum, Martha Jefferson in 1776 and Maria in West Side Story. Other credits include Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Cosette in Les Misérables (Broadway, national tour), The King and I (Broadway, tour, Lyric Opera of Chicago), Maria in West Side Story (national tour, international tour), Luisa in The Fantasticks (off-Broadway), Fan/Mrs. Bonds in A Christmas Carol (McCarter Theatre) and Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (Sacramento Music Circus). Concert/symphony work: Alice Tully Hall, The Town Hall, NY Pops at Carnegie Hall, Houston Symphony, American Pops Orchestra, Kaohsiung Symphony and The Boston Pops with Maestro Keith Lockhart. Her TV/Film credits include The Michael J. Fox Show, Yield, Mia and The Cactus. Ali has a BA in psychology from Yale University and is a proud Filipina American and member of Actors’ Equity. @aliewoldt
Current season ticket holders for the 2021 season will receive their season tickets later this month. New season subscriptions for the 2021 five-show season are currently available, with single tickets becoming available July 12. Tickets can be purchased online at muny.org or by phone by calling (314) 361-1900 ext 1550. Currently, the box office in Forest Park is closed for walk-up service until July 5.
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By Lynn Venhaus
Eureka! A robust makeover to an unremarkable ‘50s era musical “Paint Your
Wagon” has hit pay dirt on the Muny stage.
Those behind the new edition have dreamed as big as the
characters in this fresh look at the American identity, those yearning for a
better life who came over land and by sea, as many as 300,000 during the
rough-and-tumble California Gold Rush.
It’s one of our nation’s most significant tipping points (1848-1855).
The musical, set in a mining camp in 1853, has everything we associate with
those rugged settlers – the wild untamed west, the wide-open spaces and the
pioneer spirit, only this version sharpens the American melting pot feel.
Despite its Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe pedigree,
the 1951 homage to the Old West had fallen out of favor – not that it ever was
a hot property, for it had only run on Broadway for 289 performances. And then,
there was the much-maligned 1969 movie starring those songbirds Lee Marvin and
Clint Eastwood (27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes!).
The latest incarnation, developed by the Frederick Loewe
Foundation and playwright Jon Marans, has new orchestrations, vocal
arrangements, dance and characters – and presents the reimagined story through
a different lens. You won’t be able to forget this one, an unvarnished snapshot
that touches on bigotry and prejudices as fortune seekers headed West.
Photo by Phillip HamerMarans has focused on historical accuracy and made deep
incisions so that it’s not merely unsatisfying filler between the signature
songs “They Call the Wind Maria,” “I Talk to the Trees” and “Wand’rin’ Star,”
but a journey about lives and loves with real emotional heft.
Those compelling changes are as much a surprise as Josh
Rhodes’ inspired direction and innovative choreography, assisted by Lee
Wilkins, because they have rescued an otherwise lightweight show and connected
with a modern audience.
Marans wrote the 1996 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “Old
Wicked Songs,” a character study about a Holocaust survivor and his burnt-out
pupil. A New Jewish Theatre production won Best Drama at the St. Louis Theater
Circle Awards in 2017.
The story still has brawny prospector Ben Rumson (Matt Bogart) as the strong center, the enterprising leader among the rag-tag settlers of “No Name City,” but in the first act, the only female is not his daughter, as the earlier incarnations, but his lovable new wife, Cayla (Mamie Parris).
He ‘wins’ her in a bidding contest, like a commodity, for
she has been abused by her despicable lout of a husband (Michael James Reed,
yelling at 11). Well, that was awkward. Parris, so winning as Irene in the 2014
“Hello, Dolly!,” conveys genuine warmth and caring, and her lilting voice is
Mamie Parris and Matt Bogart. Photo by Phillip HamerBogart and Parris have combustible chemistry, and their harmonies mesh beautifully. While Bogart didn’t seem to be as smooth as other performers on opening night, he delivered an electric “They Call the Wind Maria,” and his other numbers showcased his commanding baritone.
After striking it rich, sturdy Ben becomes the boomtown’s
chief developer. Now named Rumson City, the outpost becomes home to Rumson
Palace in the second act, a place for socializing and gambling that he
envisioned for everybody.
Michael Schweikardt’s scenic design is a distinct mix of awe-inspiring
panoramic exteriors and fresh-hewed lumber interiors. Lighting designer John
Lasiter makes the night sky glow while video design by Caite Hevner expanded picture
However, Ben’s one-world theory isn’t exactly practiced when his right-hand man Armando (Omar Lopez-Cepero), whose wealthy and cultured family lived in the Mexican territory of northern California, takes a shine to Rumson’s feisty daughter, Jennifer (Maya Keleher), who has traveled from the East Coast to join her father.
Much to the horror of his college-educated daughter and wife,
Rumson will not accept the Armando-Jennifer union, therefore not practicing
what he preaches. His luster is dimmed, only to see him work through those
Racism is rampant among the rowdy miners, who are frustrated
and fearful of the ‘foreigners.’ Two brothers from China, Ming Li (St. Louis
native Austin Ku) and Guang Li (Raymond J. Lee), once of royal lineage now just
wanting to survive; a down-on-his-luck Irish immigrant William (Bobby Conte
Thornton), who regrets leaving his family but is desperate to provide for them after
the Great Famine (aka Irish Potato Famine); two African-Americans, free man H.
Ford (Rodney Hicks) and slave Wesley (Allan K. Washington); and Europeans of
various nationalities all jostle for their piece of the pie.
Ku, Lee, Thornton, Hicks and Washington are outstanding talents who immersed themselves in these meatier roles. And the men revealed bold and controlled voices in such numbers as “How Can I Wait?” and “Four Hundred People Came to No Name City.”
Allan K. Washington and Rodney Hicks. Photo by Phillip HamerSome of the characters are contemptible, especially Preston
Truman Boyd as an intolerable loudmouth Jake, a Southerner who owns a tavern
and looks at all of life as transactional.
Sinai Tabak is conducting the Muny orchestra for the first
time, and the richly textured sound adds another layer of complexity to a testosterone-heavy
show. There is a harp among all the strings, and the sounds of country and bluegrass
impart an Americana homespun feel.
One is reminded how elegant and lyrical Lerner and Loewe
were, as this show was written in between the more successful “Brigadoon”
(1947) and “My Fair Lady” (1956).
Photo by Phillip HamerThe dancing girls show up in the second act, in quite the
entrance – arriving by stagecoach, “There’s a Coach Comin’ In.” Two magnificent
Clydesdale horses pull them – and the audience went crazy.
Some of the lonely men lose their way and go a little batty,
and this 180-degree turn, while true to life, is disconcerting. Gold fever makes
some of the men envious, greedy and bitter. Things get ugly, reminding us that
while the high road is preferred, human nature suggests otherwise. This is harsh
and hard-hitting, recovering in a hail of hope. If you are expecting fluff,
this is not that kind of show, dancing girls aside.
Nevertheless, the performers are indeed the gold nuggets
enticing us to make the emotional investment. The vocal prowess on display is as
breathtaking as the scenery, so it’s unfortunate there was a myriad of uncharacteristic
sound issues Saturday – static, mics cutting out or not on for singers, and
rough patches. Sound design is by John Shivers and David Patridge.
“Paint Your Wagon” was one of those lackluster second-rate musicals whose contemporary overhaul is quite an accomplishment, and the Muny has polished it with tender loving care. You might as well forget any previous version.
A new world premiere production in Los Angeles, with a revised
libretto by David Rambo, ran from Nov. 23, 2004 to Jan. 9, 2005. Then a fall
2007 production by the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Utah had a
cast of nearly 30. An Encores! Staged concert production in New York City in
March 2015 starred Keith Carradine as Rumson and Justin Guarini as Julio.
There is no Julio here, replaced by Armando. It’s a stronger role, and Lopez-Cepero unleashes a glorious voice in his standout performance. His “Carino Mio” duet with Keleher is lush and romantic.
Photo by Phillip HamerHelping to shape the in-the-works musical is a natural fit
for the Muny, for it presented spirited reboots of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”
in 2017 and “The Wiz” last year. During the Mike Isaacson era, the emphasis on
imagination and the theme of home has been recurring elements. So, it’s no
surprise that the Mother Lode Muny is again a birthplace, producing in
association with On the Wagon Productions and Garmar Ventures.
By virtue of its American patchwork quilt make-up, “Paint Your Wagon” may remind people of “Oklahoma!” – especially that number pleading harmony, “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends,” but I recalled “Fiddler on the Roof” instead, a proud community clinging to its customs but having to move forward at great sacrifice for survival. In the West, hardships knocked down many a soul, but hope springs eternal in “Paint Your Wagon,” and smartly addressing changing tides so dramatically will be able to resonate. You can hear America singing with its varied voices. The Muny presents “Paint Your Wagon” evenings at 8:15 p.m. July 27 – Aug. 2. For more information, visit www.muny.org.
Bobby Conte Thornton as William. Photo by Phillip Hamer