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

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.

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
:
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.

“Head Over Heels” will open at New Line Theatre March 6. It is the regional premiere of the wild, sexy, modern musical fairy tale where Once Upon a Time is now.

“Head Over Heels” is the bold new musical comedy from the visionaries that rocked Broadway with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q and Spring Awakening.

Conceived by Jeff Whitty, with an original book by Whitty, adapted by James Magruder, originally directed by Michael Mayer, and set to the music of the iconic 1980s all-girl rock band The Go-Go’s, this high-octane, laugh-out-loud love story includes hit songs like, “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.”

The wild story follows the escapades of a royal family who set out on a journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction, only to discover the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts — though not always in the way they expect — and in their willingness to let go of rigid tradition and change with the times.

With band and vocal arrangements by Broadway composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then, High Fidelity), and eleven amazing dance numbers, choreographed by New Liners Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, this is the heaviest dance show New Line has produced since Chicago in 2002.

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.

The New Line cast includes Grace Langford (Princess Pamela), Melissa Felps (Princess Philoclea), Clayton Humburg (Musidorus), Jaclyn Amber (Mopsa), Zachary Allen Farmer (King Basilius), Carrie Priesmeyer (Queen Gynecia), Aaron Allen (Dametas), Tiélere Cheatem (Pythio), Kevin Corpuz, Evan Fornachon, Chris Kernan, Chris Moore, Maggie Nold, Michelle Sauer, Alyssa Wolf, and Sara Rae Womack.

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Sarah Porter, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, and sound design by Ryan Day.

The Daily Beast said, “Head Over Heels is a raucously choreographed joy — intelligent, winningly comic, and surprisingly-for-Broadway radical when it comes to its presentation of gender and sexuality.” Entertainment Weekly said, “The show is an ode to female independence with the winking spirit of a Shakespearean fairy and the neon edge of a rebellious ‘80s teenager, teaming up to beckon people into the woods. Forty years after The Go-Go’s’ formation, Head Over Heels does more than preserve the band’s iconic hits in amber. For two hours and 15 minutes, it’s enough to pull the world back into sync.”

TimeOut NY said, “It grafts a 2010s sensibility onto songs from the 1980s — by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career) — and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. . . Head Over Heels is a fantasy and celebration of nonconformity, and it puts its casting where its mouth is with an ensemble that is diverse in race, gender and size. Honoring the beat, in this merry Arcadia, means making room for different drummers.”

Head Over Heels contains adult content. Produced by arrangement with Broadway Licensing, New York.

Tickets

HEAD OVER HEELS runs March 5-28, 2020, 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. March 5 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.

The New Line Film Series

Have a Little Rock & Roll Fable with your Rock & Roll Fable…

The New Line Film Series presents the movie musical ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS on Weds, March 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Head Over Heels.

Click Here for more info.

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 89 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 funding from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and the Regional Arts Commission.

For other information, visit New Line Theatre’s full-service website at www.newlinetheatre.com. All programs are subject to change. New Line’s 29th season closes in June with Urinetown.

New Line Theatre is very proud to announce the creation of the New Line Theatre Arch Incubator, to find, develop, and nurture new works of musical theatre, under the leadership of St. Louis native Wilson Webel.

The Arch Incubator will be an accepting, inclusive, and collaborative space for the creation, development, and production of original, innovative, and diverse musical theatre in the St. Louis metro area.

The incubator will also connect with educational, commercial, and nonprofit organizations in St. Louis and New York, to foster a growing partnership and understanding between the communities within the cities and to extend the life of new musicals beyond the St. Louis region.

New Line artistic director Scott Miller says, “I’ve been wanting to create something like this for years, but it’s been just too much to take on. When Wilson came to me and proposed this project, I was immediately on board. This is so important – for our company, for our audiences, and for the art form. Our region needs this Incubator.”

The Incubator will be a comprehensive program that gives artists a financially feasible environment in which to create musical theatre, and gives audiences a continuing source of the excellent musical theatre for which St. Louis is so well-known.

Webel has laid out a five-phase plan for the Incubator, which will be implemented over ten years, creating a lasting hub for new musical theatre and all those who create it, support it, and find joy in it. The first phase will include some small performances but will focus largely on fundraising.

Wilson Webel is a multi-skilled artist with a focus on theatrical production and management, and writing for the stage. He graduated in 2017 with a BA in Theatre from Saint Louis University and recently earned his MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

During his time in St. Louis he worked with various theatre companies taking on many roles, from stage manager to dramaturg. While in New York he had the privilege of working with, and being mentored by, some of the leading artists in the musical theatre world today. 

Briana Whyte-Harris will be the Incubator’s Development Coordinator in New York.

Musical theatre artists interested in getting involved with the Incubator, in assisting, submitting work, learning through, collaborating with, or just wanting to know more, can email Wilson [email protected] At this time, the Incubator is taking only single song submissions for our first cabaret, and looking to connect with established composers, bookwriters, and lyricists.

ABOUT NEW LINE THEATRENew 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. The company 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 88 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 funding from the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

New Line’s upcoming 29th season will include Cry-Baby, Head Over Heels, and Urinetown, as well as the company’s new film series, a reading of a new show, and more. For information about season tickets, visit the New Line subscription page.

For other information, visit New Line Theatre’s full-service website at www.newlinetheatre.com. All programs are subject to change.

New Line Theatre, “the bad boy of musical theatre,” has announced casting for its 29th season of adult, alternative musical theatre, which opens with the return of the wild, comic rock musical CRY-BABY, based on the iconic John Waters film, a show which New Line first produced in 2012 in its American regional premiere, running Sept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019. The season continues with the electrifying new rock musical fresh from Broadway, in its regional premiere, HEAD OVER HEELS, a high-energy, adult romp about gender and sexuality, based on a 16th-century novel and using the songs of the 80s rock band The Go-Go’s, running March 5-28, 2020. And the season closes with the return of one of New Line’s biggest hits, which the New Liners first presented in 2007, the pitch dark satire URINETOWN, the hilarious, outrageous fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, running June 4-27, 2020.

Season tickets, including all three mainstage productions, start at just $60. Single tickets will go on sale in September. For more info, go to www.newlinetheatre.com/purchase/index.php

PLUS… New Line introduces the NEW LINE THEATRE FILM SERIES, curated by longtime New Liner Brian Claussen, screening a companion film at the Marcelle one Weds. night during the run of each mainstage show. This season’s films include John Waters’ original CRY-BABY during the run of Cry-Baby; ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS during the run of Head Over Heels; and MACK THE KNIFE, a film version of Threepenny Opera, during the run of Urinetown. These films are not part of the season subscription.

THE 2019-2020 SEASON

CRY-BABYSept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019

It’s 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism, and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He’s a bad boy with a good cause — truth, justice, and the pursuit of rock and roll. 

Wayward youth, juvenile delinquents, sexual repression, cool music, dirty lyrics, social rejects, it’s all here, as New Line opens its 29th season in October 2019 with the hilarious rockabilly musical CRY-BABY, based on the classic John Waters film. 

Cry-Baby premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego in November 2007 and opened on Broadway in April 2008. New Line produced the show’s critically acclaimed American regional premiere in March 2012, after negotiating the first regional production rights in the country. The original creative team revised the show for New Line’s production and commissioned new orchestrations, to make it a smaller, more intimate musical, with a 6-piece rock band. 

At the center of our story are the star-crossed lovers, Cry-Baby and the square rich girl Allison, just a good girl who yearns to be bad in Cry-Baby’s arms. Fueled by hormones and the new rhythms of rock and roll, she turns her back on her squeaky clean boyfriend Baldwin to become a “drape” (a Baltimore juvenile delinquent) and Cry-Baby’s moll. At the other end of the topsy-turvy moral meritocracy of 1954 America, Baldwin as the king of the squares leads his close-harmony pals against the juvenile delinquents, who are ultimately arrested for arson, sending the drapes all off to prison. 

It’s Romeo and Juliet meets High School Hellcats. 

Cry-Baby has a score by David Javerbaum (The Daily Show) and Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on John Waters’ classic indie film. O’Donnell and Meehan also adapted John Waters’ Hairspray for the musical stage. 

Cry-Baby was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Choreography. It was also nominated for Best Musical by the Drama League and the Outer Critics Circle Awards. Terry Teachout wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “You want funny? I’ll give you funny, or at least tell you where to find it: Cry-Baby, the new John Waters musical, is campy, cynical, totally insincere and fabulously well crafted. And funny. Madly, outrageously funny. It is, in fact, the funniest new musical since Avenue Q. If laughter is the best medicine, then Cry-Baby is the whole damn drugstore.” Newsday called the show “pleasantly demented and — deep in the sweet darkness of its loopy heart — more true to the cheerful subversion of a John Waters movie than its sentimental big sister Hairspray.” The New Jersey Star-Ledger called it, “candy for adults who like their musicals nutty — and not so nice.” 

The New Line cast includes Caleb Miofsky (as Wade “Cry Baby” Walker), Grace Langford (Allison Vernon-Williams), Margeau Steinau (Mrs. Vernon-Williams), Marshall Jennings (Dupree W. Dupree), Jake Blonstein (Baldwin Blandish), Reagan Deschaine (Pepper Walker), Jaclyn Amber (Wanda Woodward), Sarah Dowling (Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski), AJ Surrell (Lenora Frigid), Todd Micali, Stephen Henley, Ian McCreary, Christopher Strawhun, Maggie Nold, and Grace Minnis. 

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Colene Fornachon, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Cry-Baby contains adult language and content. Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents John Waters’ original musical film CRY-BABY on Weds., Oct. 9 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Cry-Baby.

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Horror-ComedyBLOODY KING OEDIPUSA Free Public ReadingMonday, Jan. 6, 2020

King Oedipus is already having a bad day, and here comes some REALLY bad news…! 

All Oedipus wants is to lift the curse that’s made his city sick, broke, and pissed off, but all these prophecies keep getting in the way. Could it be true that Oedipus killed the last king without realizing it? Is it possible he’s married to his own mother? Does his name really mean “swollen foot”? Maybe Tiresias the Blind Seer knows the answers. But does Oedipus really want to know…? 

After shocking the music and theatre worlds by rediscovering Gilbert & Sullivan’s lost masterpiece The Zombies of Penzance in 2013, and then staging and publishing the controversial original opera in 2018; now New Line Theatre artistic director Scott Miller has done it once again. This time, Miller has unearthed Gilbert & Sullivan’s even darker and funnier BLOODY KING OEDIPUS (or Pardon Me, Mum!), a comic horror opera no one even knew existed until now, based on Sophocles’ iconic Greek tragedy of murder, incest, disfigurement, suicide, and lots of prophecies, which first premiered in 429 BC. 

The legendary British team of librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan together wrote fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896. Or is it sixteen? After rewriting their original Zombies of Penzance at the insistence of producer Richard D’Oyly Carte, the team premiered The Pirates of Penzance in 1879. Until now, scholars believed that their next project was the pastoral satire Patience. We now know that isn’t true. After the huge success of HMS Pinafore and Pirates, the team decided to tackle something a bit weightier. According to personal papers found with the manuscript, it was Gilbert who suggested two unlikely possibilities, Dante’s Inferno, and the classic Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, set in Thebes, a Greek city-state in the 13th century BC. 

They both agreed Inferno would make a less than satisfying comic opera. 

Gilbert stayed curiously faithful to the plot and characters of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy for his opera – until the end of the show, when Gilbert evidently couldn’t restrain himself from adding a comic, Gilbertian twist, upending everything that’s come before, as usual. It’s safe to say Sophocles would not have sanctioned Gilbert’s much more comic ending. The score includes songs like “We’ve Been Very, Very Sick,” “I Can See Now I Was Blind,” “Now This is Quite Awkward,” “So Our King Just Might Have Murdered Our Last King,” and “He Hasn’t Taken It Too Well.” 

And now, at long last, King Oedipus, Queen Jocasta, General Creon, Tiresias the Blind Seer, Milo the Herald, and all of Thebes will make their comic opera debut. Miller has painstakingly reassembled these rediscovered materials into their original form; and St. Louis composer and orchestrator John Gerdes is reconstructing Sullivan’s music, after doing the same with The Zombies of Penzance. 

New Line Theatre will present a reading of the rediscovered show Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, free and open to the public. The company has not yet announced a full production. 

Dominic Dowdy-Windsor will play King Oedipus; with Kimi Short as Queen Jocasta; Kent Coffel as Gen. Creon; Lindsey Jones as Manto; and Zachary Allen Farmer as the Royal Messenger and Tiresias the Blind Seer and Milo the Herald and also Phorbus the Shepherd. The rest of the cast will be announced later. The reading will be directed by Scott Miller and music directed by Nicolas Valdez.

Bloody King Oedipus contains very adult language and content.

HEAD OVER HEELSMarch 5-28, 2020

The wild new modern musical fairy tale where Once Upon a Time is NOW! 

HEAD OVER HEELS is the bold new musical comedy from the visionaries that rocked Broadway with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Avenue Q and Spring Awakening. Conceived by Jeff Whitty, with an original book by Whitty, adapted by James Magruder, originally directed by Michael Mayer, and set to the music of the iconic 1980s all-girl rock band The Go-Go’s, this high-octane, laugh-out-loud love story includes hit songs like, “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed,” “Vacation,” “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and “Mad About You.” 

The wild story follows the escapades of a royal family who set out on a journey to save their beloved kingdom from extinction, only to discover the key to their realm’s survival lies within each of their own hearts — though not always in the way they expect — and in their willingness to let go of rigid tradition and change with the times. 

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. 

The Daily Beast said, “Head Over Heels is a raucously choreographed joy — intelligent, winningly comic, and surprisingly-for-Broadway radical when it comes to its presentation of gender and sexuality.” Entertainment Weekly said, “The show is an ode to female independence with the winking spirit of a Shakespearean fairy and the neon edge of a rebellious ‘80s teenager, teaming up to beckon people into the woods. Forty years after The Go-Go’s’ formation, Head Over Heels does more than preserve the band’s iconic hits in amber. For two hours and 15 minutes, it’s enough to pull the world back into sync.” 

TimeOut NY said, “To enjoy Head Over Heels, which offers quite a lot to enjoy, it is probably best to kick up your heels and put your head on hold. That’s not to say that this saucy, boisterous musical doesn’t have a brainy side, starting with its ambitious crossbreeding of four time periods: It grafts a 2010s queer sensibility onto songs from the 1980s—by the all-girl pop-punk quintet the Go-Go’s (plus two hits from lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s solo career)—and fits them into a 16th-century story that is set in ancient Greece. . . Head Over Heels is a fantasy and celebration of nonconformity, and it puts its casting where its mouth is with an ensemble that is diverse in race, gender and size. Honoring the beat, in this merry Arcadia, means making room for different drummers.” 

The New Line cast includes Grace Langford (Princess Pamela), Melissa Felps (Princess Philoclea), Gabriel Beckerle (Musidorus), Jaclyn Amber (Mopsa), Zachary Allen Farmer (King Basilius), Carrie Priesmeyer (Queen Gynecia), Aaron Allen (Dametas), Tiélere Cheatem (Pythio), Kevin Corpuz, Chris Moore, Maggie Nold, Michelle Sauer, Abraham T. Shaw, Alyssa Wolf, and Sara Rae Womack. 

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, scenic design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Sarah Porter, lighting design by Kenneth Zinkl, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Head Over Heels contains adult language and content. Produced by arrangement with Broadway Licensing, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents the movie musical ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS on Weds, March 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Head Over Heels.

URINETOWNJune 4-27, 2020

It’s 2027, the toilets have all been privatized, and you have to pay to pee. Do you follow the rules or join the rebellion? 

Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’ URINETOWN is the outrageous fable of greed, corruption, love, revolution, and urination, in a time when water is worth its weight in gold and there’s no such thing as a free pee. Set in a near-future dystopian Gotham, a severe 20-year drought has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets. The citizens are forced to use public “amenities” now, regulated by a single malevolent company that profits by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. In this nightmare world, the punishment for an unauthorized pee is a trip to the dreaded Urinetown. 

But from the ruins of Democracy and courtesy flushes, there rises an unlikely hero who decides he’s held it long enough, and he launches a People’s Revolution to lead them all to urinary freedom! 

Inspired by the outrageous political theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and (very) loosely based on the writings of late eighteenth-century political and economic theorist Thomas Malthus, Urinetown is a gloriously silly, irreverently truthful satire from which no target is safe. This is a show that catapulted musicals into the new millennium with its rule-shattering tear through the traditions and conventions of musical theatre, leaving nothing but uncontrollable laughter and a big puddle in its wake. 

And that’s just Act I. 

When it opened in New York, the official slogan on the Urinetown T-shirts was “An appalling idea, fully realized.” Actor Daniel Marcus, who played Officer Barrel, said in an interview, “I call it a love letter to the American musical in the form of a grenade.” 

Bruce Weber in The New York Times said, “There simply is no show I’ve seen that gives such a sense that the creators and performers are always on the same page of an elaborate, high-spirited joke, that they are the proud members of a cabal that knows what it takes to make the world a better place and that they are thrilled to share what they know.” He also called the show “a sensational piece of performance art, one that acknowledges theater tradition and pushes it forward as well.” The show was nominated for 9 Tony Awards (winning Best Book and Best Score), 9 Drama Desk Awards, 7 Obie Awards (winning Best Musical), 5 Outer Critics Circle Awards (winning Best Musical), and a Drama League Award for Best Musical. 

New Line produced Urinetown in 2007. Kotis and Hollmann also wrote the rock musical Yeast Nation, which New Line produced in 2018.

The New Line cast includes Dominic Dowdy-Windsor (Lockstock), Jennelle Gilreath (Little Sally), Kevin Corpuz (Bobby Strong), Melissa Felps (Hope Cladwell), Kimi Short (Pennywise), Todd Schaefer (Mr. Cladwell), Marshall Jennings (Officer Barrel), Clayton Humburg, Sarah Porter, Zak Farmer, Ian McCreary, Brian Carles, Kellen Green, Jessica Winingham, Grace Langford, and Carrie Wenos Priesmeyer. 

The New Line production of Urinetown will be directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Nicolas Valdez, choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Todd Schaefer, and sound design by Ryan Day. 

Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

The New Line Film Series presents MACK THE KNIFE, a film version of The Threepenny Opera, on Weds., June 17 at 7:00 p.m. at the Marcelle Theater, during the run of New Line’s Urinetown.

SEASON TICKETS

Season tickets are on sale NOW, and single tickets go on sale in September. New Line’s mainstage shows and the new film series will be in the company’s home, the Marcelle Theater, in the Grand Center Arts District.

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 Sept. 2, 2019.

To order season tickets for the three mainstage shows, Cry-Baby, Head Over Heels, and Urinetown, go to http://www.newlinetheatre.com/purchase/index.php.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE… Save the dates for The Second Annual New Line Trivia Night, on Friday, Sept. 13, at the Richmond Heights Community Center; and The 19th Annual New Line Holiday Dinner, on Weds. Dec. 4, at Favazza’s Restaurant on The Hill. Reservations for the dinner are required.

THE 2019-2020 NEW LINE SEASON AT A GLANCE

Sept. 13, 2019 – Second Annual New Line Trivia Night

Sept. 26-Oct. 19, 2019 – Cry-Baby *

Oct. 9, 2019 – Film Series: Cry-Baby

Dec. 4, 2019 – 19th Annual New Line Holiday Dinner

Jan. 6, 2020 – Free Public Reading of Bloody King Oedipus

Mar. 5-28, 2020 – Head Over Heels *

Mar. 18, 2020 – Film Series: Absolute Beginners

June 4-27, 2020 Urinetown *

June 15, 2020 – Auditions for 30th Season

June 17, 2020 – Film Series: Mack the Knife

June 22, 2020 – Auditions for 30th Season

* These three shows are included in the season ticket package.

ABOUT NEW LINE THEATRENew 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 88 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.

For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor

Every generation has a musical that captures the zeitgeist
of the moment, that speaks to them in a special way. My generation of Baby
Boomers had “Hair,” Gen X had “Rent,” Millennials had “Spring Awakening” and
now Generation Z has the current cultural sensation “Be More Chill.” It’s
fierce, fun and frisky.

This is not just another teen misfit story, although it taps into familiar themes, bearing some resemblance to “Mean Girls,” Dear Evan Hansen” and “Heathers.”

With more dimensions than stock characters, the kids work
through messy life things – and as an adult, you just want to tell them “It
gets better,” but then we’d have no story conflicts, would we? It’s set in
suburban New Jersey and the time is now.

Is it ever. You’ll identify right away, as the dialogue is
a contemporary bulls-eye.
Besides being incredibly clever, another aspect that sets this realistic cautionary
tale apart is its sci-fi framework. To understand just what a big-bang this musical
clearly is, look at how it has tapped into a youthful energy that’s contagious,
no matter what demographic.

Giving this show both a relevancy and a relatability, New
Line Theatre is presenting the original regional version, which premiered in Red
Bank, New Jersey in 2015, with music and lyrics by the Tony-nominated Joe
Iconis and book by Joe Tracz, which is adapted from Ned Vizzini’s 2004 novel. An
off-Broadway smash hit in 2018, “Be More Chill” moved to Broadway in February
with an expanded version that is more ‘bigger is better.’

New Line keeps it focused with a tidy production, marked by
co-directors Mike Dowdy-Windsor’s and Scott Miller’s high-spirited and insightful
interpretation. This is arguably a defining moment for this fearless theater
troupe, and not only because they obtained the rights before its Broadway run, but
also because it’s a major leap forward as the company ends its 28th
season.

The well-cast ensemble, playing 11 characters, sparkles.
Each one has taken this show to heart with so much enthusiasm that it carries
over to the audience, which included many young fans expressing their delight
at every opportunity on opening night. Their joyous embrace of a show that
defines how they feel, look and act is refreshing. The powerful connection
between actors and theatergoers is electric and palpable. The performers feel
every word and the audience responds in kind.

Jayde Mitchell and Grace Langford

In one of the more memorable NLT debuts, Jayde Mitchell genuinely captured the teenage angst of nerdy Jeremy, who goes from zero to hero after a square little pill “from Japan” takes root in his brain, and this supercomputer communicates with a Squip (Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor). The Squip will guide his moves to become more popular at school. Mitchell announces himself as one to watch with his opening number, “More Than Survive,” and then transforms convincingly throughout, leading this finely tuned ensemble. The mysterious Squip, played with potent authority by Dominic Dowdy-Windsor, is stunningly dressed in a dapper black crocodile coat made by costume designer Sarah Porter. He is the catalyst for action good, bad and ugly. If he looks like Laurence Fishburne in “The Matrix,” it’s intentional.

Jayde Mitchell and Dominic Dowdy-WindsorDowdy-Windsor, always a strong singer, manages the beats of
the darker role, as he is usually cast in heroic or romantic leads, a la “Yeast
Nation” and “Zorba the Greek.” He’s terrific leading “Be More Chill” and
revealing more of his intentions in “The Pitiful Children.”

As we know from every John Hughes movie in the 1980s, being
a “Cool Kid” has its price, and losing/not valuing true-blue friends is one of
the harshest costs. Jeremy’s bestie, Michael Mell, must be sacrificed in his all-consuming
make-over quest to fit in and be liked – and not be invisible..

As Michael, dynamo Kevin Corpuz shines in a major supporting
role, giving his all – it’s a heartfelt performance, easily tugging at the
emotions in not only his delivery, but in his solo number, ‘Michael in the
Bathroom.”

Irrepressible Evan Fornachon plays Rich, a jerky Big Man on
Campus who likes to bully both Jeremy and Michael, displaying a menace that
makes his ‘a-ha’ moment all the better.

Jayde Mitchell and Evan FornachonJeremy’s Dad is played with marvelously droll delivery by
Zak Farmer, depressed over his recent divorce, who wanders around in a robe,
mortifying his son, who would like to have him put on some pants. How can you
not love a composer who gives you “The Pants Song”?

Farmer also doubles as Mr. Reyes, the cynical and animated
drama teacher. He is very funny, both in appearance with an interesting platinum
wig and in line delivery.

Another standout is Grace Langford playing ditzy Christine,
who had been the object of Jeremy’s affection before the hotter, sluttier girls
made a beeline for him once he had cool street cred. Her off-the-charts exuberance
over acting in school plays is a ‘been there, done that’ bright spot,
especially “I Love Play Rehearsal” and her candid “A Guy That I’d Kinda Be Into.”

Gossip girl Jenna is all attitude in the hands of Isabel
Garcia, who plays snarky, sassy and snotty with a duplicitous beaming smile.
Laura Renfro, as shallow Chloe, and Melissa Felps, as vapid Brooke, are
mercurial marvels here, powering through their characters’ hormones, secrets and
lies with glee, quickly flipping moods. Ian McCreary also displays the viper girls’
distasteful qualities as their shameless male counterpart Jake.

The meticulous attention to detail is evident in every
creative aspect, which are all in sync to create “a moment,” providing theater
patrons with an entirely memorable experience.

The simplicity of the music, with its repetitive lyrics and
catchy hooks, is deceptive, for music director Nicolas Valdez and his ace band
– Assistant music director Marc Vincent as conductor/keyboard, Jake Heberlie on
guitar, Joseph Henricks on reeds and keyboard, Clancy Newell on percussion and
Jake Stergos on bass are extremely tight in pacing and master the score’s
intricacies.

Choreographers Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack gave both
a playful bounce and a vitality to the group musical numbers.

Combined with the ensemble’s exquisite harmonies, the peppy
group numbers “Be More Chill,” “Upgrade” and “Voices in My Head” get stuck,
well, in your head. And yes,  “The
Smartphone Hour” is literal, funny and nails the cellphone phenomenon.

Scenic designer Rob Lippert’s set is a clever mix of effective
futuristic symbols and as always, his set is supremely functional. Everything
has a purpose for being there. Propmaster Kimi Short did a dandy job assembling
pieces that suit the décor and lifestyles.

Lippert, also the lighting designer, has excelled in
creating precarious teen moods and a fantasy futuristic element with his illuminating
plan. Ryan Day’s sound work is seamless.

In her wheelhouse, Porter has populated the oh-so-fun and
cringe-worthy Halloween Party with a variety of spot-on costumes, showcasing
both personality and pop culture references. Her work throughout is accurate –
and cheeky. She gets the ‘90s love.

“Be More Chill” is fresh and funny, and not in a jaded
‘we’re so clever and smart’ way, but with real heart, and that may be the most
important aspect – the emphasis on real.

 The musical, in
lyrics and book, speaks to us in a captivating way that transcends labels and
genres. It
targets our humanity. To make people feel less alone in this world is
a remarkable thing.

(There is a wall of Post-It Notes at The Marcelle indicating what people imagine as their Squip. I didn’t take marker to paper opening night, but I’ve thought about it since, and mine would be Oprah. What’s yours?)

The New Line Theatre is presenting “Be More Chill” through June 22 but is sold out for its complete run. For more information about New Line, visit www.NewLineTheatre.com

#BeMoreChillSTL

Photos by Jill Ritter Lindberg

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
There is a sparkle that emanates, not just because of the outward snazzy sequined
outfits and shimmery set in New Line Theatre’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” but also inward
from the all-male drag chorus, Les Cagelles. Their unbridled enthusiasm for a
show celebrating “Be Yourself” is obvious, and underneath their wigs and cosmetic
enhancements, it’s endearing.

In fact, one strongly feels the liberation of the drag chorus, supporting players and in the tour-de-force performance from Zachary Allen Farmer as the drag diva Zaza/Albin. That palpable sense of freedom is one of the production’s most enduring qualities.

Set in the 1980s on the French Riviera, Georges (Robert
Doyle) and Albin (Farmer) have lived as a married couple for years and work
together – Georges runs the nightclub downstairs and Albin is the star
performer Zaza. They have raised the now-grown Jean-Michel (Kevin Corpuz) as
their son since birth, in their own version of a loving nuclear family. Biologically,
he’s Georges’ son, born from a one-night dalliance with a woman who has chosen
not to be an integral factor in the boy’s life.

When Jean-Michel becomes engaged to Anne (Zora Vredeveld), her
ultra-conservative parents, politician dad Dindon (Kent Coffel) and mom (Mara
Bollini), are invited to dinner, prompting panic, for fear of exposing their ‘alternative’
lifestyle to disapproval, and ultimately, difficulties for Jean-Michel.

The ensuing melodrama and potential disasters are more akin
to an episode of “I Love Lucy” – and it’s all because of trying to hide who
they really are. But then, what the hell – dignity eventually reigns. In the
meantime, wackiness ensues for plenty of side-splitting laughs, with co-directors’
Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor’s deft touch.

Focusing on characters who are loud, proud and know who they are is the hallmark of “La Cage Aux Folles” in all its art forms, from the hilarious 1973 French play by Jean Poiret, to the French film adaptation in 1978 to the Tony-winning Jerry Herman-Harvey Fierstein Broadway musical in 1983 to the American movie version in 1996 “The Birdcage” to the Tony-winning Broadway revivals in 2004 and 2010.

It’s not a new view, by any means. You would think by now,
people wouldn’t have to keep defending themselves, but homophobia still exists
in the most insidious and cruel ways in the 21st century. Therefore,
“La Cage Aux Folles” remains timely, and important, and most importantly, fun.

As always, “La Cage” boldly stands up to hypocrisy, ignorance and self-righteous prigs with sharp social commentary wrapped in light-hearted comedy and hummable music. This delectable confection as a crowd-pleaser is a brilliant offense, and Fierstein’s smart script is redolent with both zingers and heartfelt moments.

But this cast emphasizes it with their own perceptible
feeling of family, that intangible quality that sells the show, and underlined
by the confident directors.

Zora Vredeveld, Kevin Corpuz, Kent Coffel and Mara Bollini. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Farmer triumphantly leads this family in one of his finest performances. The actor, with multiple St. Louis Theater Circle nominations spanning seven years, has long since proven his versatility. He has been moving before – as the loner in “The Night of the Living Dead” and the slighted genius Leo Szilard in “Atomic,” and charming — the protective dad in “The Zombies of Penzance” and befuddled Sir Evelyn Oakleigh in “Anything Goes,” and comical as the iconoclast “Butkowski” and villain in “Celebration,” but the high-wire demands of Zaza/Albin go beyond the physical and present the biggest challenge.

Farmer is believable as this temperamental drama queen,
both in carriage and conviction. He looks fabulous, rocking the outfits – especially
that gorgeous lilac gown in the show-stopping “I Am What I Am,” notably after a
real-life 163-lb. weight loss. He projects effeminate airs, but not in a campy,
cartoonish way – they are organic to his character.

Because he isn’t merely window-dressing, Farmer’s transparency
showing the quicksilver mood swings — the hurt, the love and the defiance — ring
true. That makes him genuinely affecting as a transvestite man, while pushed to
the sidelines by convention, who refuses to be a cliché.

Robert Doyle and Zak Farmer. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Farmer is so sensational that perhaps Georges suffers in
comparison. As written, the part is in the parlance of a ‘straight man’ in a
comedy duo, and Robert Doyle is rather bland in the role, more in the shadow of
the very flamboyant characters. A few of the early songs seem a little shaky –
the duet “With You on My Arm” and “Song on the Sand,” but it could have been a
lower range issue on opening night. In the second act, “Look Over There” was
much more assertive.

The young engaged couple – Corpuz and Vredeveld – also are
secondary to the daffy proceedings because of the big personalities unleashed
here. They have a sweet dance interlude and competently convey their roles, but
really, the focus is pulled more towards the outrageous goings-on.

Tielere Cheatem as Jacob. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.As the mercurial butler Jacob, Tielere Cheatem is dandy cavorting
in whirlwind prima donna mode. Strutting like a peacock, all attitude and
motion, Cheatem is a nimble laugh-riot making numerous scene-stealing entrances
in a procession of increasingly over-the-top outfits. His comic timing is
impressive.

When a pompous bigoted politician is set up for comeuppance, you know good humor will result, and the expressive Coffel milks it for laughs. And Bollini, as the snobbish wife and mother, is a good sport.

Both also play progressive restaurateurs M. and Madame
Renaud, and their “Masculinity” scene giving Albin tips on how to be macho is a
standout.

Lindsey Jones and Zak Farmer. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Lindsey Jones is used effectively as Jacqueline, a chic
restaurant owner whose place is the setting for some fireworks and several
terrific numbers – “La Cage aux Folles” and “The Best of Times.”

As previously mentioned, the spirited Les Cagelles are a
high point with their ebullience and energy — Jake Blonstein, Dominic
Dowdy-Windsor, Evan Fornachon, Tim Kaniecki, Clayton Humburg and Ian McCreary are
gleeful as real accomplished showmen.

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.Fornachon, as the dominatrix Hanna, is quite comfortable
cracking a whip. A running gag is his ‘physical’ relationship with nightclub stage
manager Francis (Joel Hackbarth).

As a cohesive cast, it does not matter who’s really gay or
straight, all are convincing and display a commitment to their characters by
not relying on superficial stereotypes.

Behind the scenes are several unsung heroes – namely, stellar costume designer Sarah Porter, whose work is stunning. She also guided the make-up and wig applications with outstanding results.

Sara Rae Womack and Michelle Sauer choreographed the peppy musical numbers, moving Les Cagelles well in the provided space.

Nicolas Valdez’ work as music director is also exceptional –
he leads the Jerry Herman score with vitality, and the vocalists enunciate the
lyrics well. Herman, who crafted such iconic shows as “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame,”
succeeded here with a traditional score but with a definitive light touch.

Valdez’ band – Kelly Austermann on reeds, Ron Foster on trumpet, Tom Hanson on trombone, Clancy Newell on percussion and Jake Sergos on bass – is a finely tuned ensemble that created a smooth, effortless flow of upbeat tempos and poignant ballads. They are hidden behind a scrim, which worked out well.

Next to the grand “I Am What I Am,” my favorite number was “The
Best of Times,” delivered crisply as a robust, sentimental tune summing up the
show’s poignancy – and a swell sing-a-long moment.

Rob Lippert’s colorful scenic design had plenty of pizzazz –
a functional combination of glitzy showplace and living quarters. And his
lighting design competently alternated between daylight and nightlife. Ryan Day’s
expert sound design is consistently good.

There is an obvious joy and compassion in this work, and because everyone involved is having such a good time, it carries over to the audience. After all, love is love is love is love.

None of us need permission to be who we are, but “La Cage Aux Folles” reminds us that we are all free to be you and me. And that’s mighty fine any time.

Photo by Jill Ritter LIndbergNew Line Theatre presents “La Cage Aux Folles” March 1 through March 23, Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. at The Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Arts District. For tickets, visit Metrotix.com or call 314-534-1111. For more information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com