By Lynn Venhaus

“Attention must be paid.”

In Fly North Theatrical’s hard-hitting “Assassins,” as the vainglorious actor John Wilkes Booth, a mesmerizing Jordan Wolk reminds us of those words, which were written by Arthur Miller in “Death of a Salesman” in 1949. With that, he connects these two commentaries on the American Dream.

This show, bending time and space, plunges us into a nightmare that we vividly recall but one, as the company makes clear, is no longer in the far-distant past.

Such is the unnerving grip of Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 musical, with book by John Weidman, based on a concept by Charles Gilbert Jr., as it delves into the twisted minds and violent motives of infamous criminals – four murderers and five would-be killers of U.S. presidents.

Weidman’s loose narrative features these footnotes in American history meeting, interacting, and inspiring each other in set pieces. He acknowledges the strange brew of celebrity culture colliding with deranged misfits, and Far North presents it with a raw, painful intimacy in the .Zack space.

This is Fly North’s first foray into presenting a classic landmark after offering original works in St Louis since 2017 (“The Gringo,” “Madam,” “Forgottonia.”)

The collaborative duo, music director and founder Colin Healy and director Bradley Rohlf, are at the helm, leading a creative team and cast that zealously dives into the deep end, uncompromising on the musical’s dark and disturbing nature. Its perspective is fresh, voices virtuoso and focus laser-like with minimal staging.

Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo’s work is outstanding, establishing an eerie mood through shadows and light. Costume designer Eileen Engel outfitted each character with period appropriate outfits, Healy created the sound design to add historical texture and Rohlf handled the projection design to enhance the visuals. Brian McKinley is the assistant director.

The .Zack has had some sound/microphone issues since it opened, and continues, in various degrees with an array of productions, but usually it affects musicals more than straight plays. In “Assassins,” some of the more intricate vocals are difficult to discern, but the singers project and enunciate with a lot of effort to overcome those moments, but it still happens. There is always this feeling, when you attend a show there, of “let’s hope the sound is OK.”

Thirty-two years after its off-Broadway premiere, this bold, ambitious, and revolutionary musical continues to haunt in a different way. It is one of those seminal works of the American theater, although at the time considered one of Sondheim’s least accessible. Interpretations change through the years, uniquely tapping into current political climates and realities.

The ensemble includes the mentally unstable killers of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy, and would-be murderers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (two!) and Ronald Reagan.

Basically, mostly losers who wanted desperately to be winners, these are the little guys tired of being oppressed by the rich and powerful, railing against injustice. Or they’re just extremists on the fringe, American psychos craving attention.

In the jaundiced group number, “There’s Another National Anthem,” Sondheim wrote “For those who never win” — The ensemble sings: “No one listens.” and “Where’s my prize?”

As the Proprietor entices the group to fame and glory, sweet-voiced Eileen Engel sells the devastating “Everybody’s Got the Right” like a QVC barker — but no doubt would administer death penalty lethal injections or place a hangman’s noose with a big smile.

The seeds are planted for disaffected and alienated souls, and their insatiable need to be someone. The song, also used in the finale, is almost sinister in context by the end of the 100-minute one-act.

“Look at me!” “Attention must be paid!” (see also @prescon2022, which prepares future leaders, because #EverybodysGotTheRight to be president).

Healy and Rohlf were forced to delay their plans for this musical several times because of the coronavirus pandemic. But perhaps it couldn’t be a timelier presentation.

With razor-sharp cynicism, the clever, whip-smart creative team has produced a fully immersed take, transforming the .Zack into Prescon 2022 – you must get there early (half-hour before) to take part in “Tinfoil Hat Origami,” “Q, no A, with Marjorie Taylor Greene,” “White Collar Crime and How to Get Away With It” and “Tips and Tricks For a Perfect Rose Garden,” sponsored by Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The run started during the Independence Day holiday weekend, at an unsettling time when political divisions are at a fever-pitch with nasty midterm campaigns heating up a summer of primaries, hearings, and mass shootings.

Of course, the musical was ahead of its time when the original off-Broadway production premiered at the Playwrights Horizons, and while still controversial, the acclaimed 2004 Roundabout revival on Broadway won five Tony Awards and a stripped down version was mounted off-Broadway by John Doyle in late 2021.

Rohlf’s re-imagining of the original carnival framing, a fairground shooting gallery, is a bull’s eye with the convention panel and recreation of vignettes, as narrated by The Balladeer, a riveting Stephen Henley, projecting melancholy and despair in a measured tone. He is the play’s soul.

As in other productions, The Balladeer performer transitions to play a conflicted Lee Harvey Oswald, and Henley imbues JFK’s assassin with a soul-crushing sadness. He is goaded into the deed by Booth, cunning in his persuasion while Oswald wrestles with his demons.

Sensitive to the issues of gun violence, Fly North uses mostly toy guns, but gunfire is used for the Kennedy assassination.

And it is jarring, and powerful, most effective in that one use, and leads up to the evocative and moving “November 22, 1963,” and “Something Just Broke,” which features Americans’ personal accounts from that day of infamy. The impact reverberated for years, as historians tell us, and anyone alive that day can recount in universal details about hearing the news and what it meant.

Such is the indelible Dealey Plaza in Dallas. And the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C., Bayfront Park in Miami, and parades, motorcades, and wherever death changed the course of history.

 “Assassins” is not just the JFK-Oswald Special, nor is it all about Booth, but Lincoln’s assassin is a major catalyst. As written by Weidman, the Confederate sympathizer is embodied more dimensionally in Wolk’s fiery orations, starting with “The Ballad of Booth.”

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Booth entered the Ford Theatre’s presidential box, where Lincoln was watching the comedy “Our American Cousin,” in the third act, and shot him in the back of the head with a .44-caliber derringer. Lincoln died the next morning. Booth escaped with another conspirator, David Herold, and they fled to a barn in Virginia, where they were finally cornered. Herold gave himself up, but Booth refused to surrender and was fatally shot by a police officer. He died on April 26, at age 26.

The show features other characters we may not know much about beyond their names. The bizarre cases of two women, who both attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford within three weeks of each other in California in 1975, are played for laughs — only they are not in on the joke.. While dark, the ineptness and the looney-tunes perception of Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and accountant-turned-hothead Sara Jane Moore is further enhanced by the manic performances of Avery Lux and Kimmie Kidd-Booker.

Lux portrays the brainwashed cultist believing Manson is the son of God and savior of the world as a woman not tethered to any reality while Kidd-Booker depicts easily agitated Moore as a loose cannon. Weidman has used creative liberties here in teaming up the unstable women.

Fromme was first, and the Manson Family mainstay, on Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, was hoping to talk to President Ford about the redwoods. Armed with a Colt semi-automatic pistol that had four rounds, she aimed at Ford but there was no bullet in the magazine chamber and was immediately apprehended by Secret Service. She was 26 and received life imprisonment, paroled in 2009 after serving 34 years.

Moore, 45, had 113 rounds of ammunition when she fired a single bullet at President Ford, who was about 40 feet away, and uninjured, while she was in a crowd across the street from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Moore later admitted to radical political views and expressed regret. She served 32 years of a life sentence and was released on parole in 2007, at age 77.

As one of the three would-be assassins not killed, Jaymeson Hintz portrays John Hinckley Jr. as a pathetic mentally ill young man who had an unhealthy obsession with actress Jodie Foster, then a student at Yale. At age 25, in Washington D.C., he shot President Reagan . on March 30, 1981. With a .22 caliber revolver, he also  wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. Press Secretary James Brady was left permanently disabled in the shooting.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent over three decades in psychiatric care. He is now released.

His duet with Fromme, “Unworthy of Your Love,” is one of Sondheim’s most heart-breaking ballads.

As the meeker but fixated marksman, Hintz holds his own on stage with the showier roles. He nails Hinckley’s schizoid personality disorder, among other diagnoses. Hintz also has some fun acting as bumbling President Ford.

This musical is not constructed to be a documentary, so the historical figures are shaped by their known backstory but in a more snapshot-type way than a History Channel recap.

Attorney Charles J. Guiteau is portrayed by Bradley Rolen as a delusional gasbag whose increasingly grandiose ramblings are dismissed as nonsense. He considered himself a “Stalwart,” the “Old Guard” faction of the Republican party, supporting Chester A. Arthur, then vice president. He purchased a gun he “thought would look good in a museum,” and followed President James A. Garfield several times, losing his nerve until destiny happened at a train station.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, as the 20th leader of our country departed for New Jersey, Guiteau shot him twice with a revolver. Garfield had only been president for three months when he died Sept. 19, from complications attributed to his doctors, and Guiteau was executed by hanging the next June. He was 40.

“The Ballad of Guiteau” and the chilling “The Gun Song” are part of his repertoire – “pull the trigger, change the world.”

After his second inauguration, the 25th president, William McKinley, another Ohioan, embarked on a six-week tour of the nation. Stopping in Buffalo, New York, to greet people at the Pan-American Exposition Hall’s Temple of Music on Sept. 6, 1901, disgruntled factory worker Leon Czolgosz concealed a handgun in a handkerchief.

The young laborer had become disillusioned by the country’s economic and social turmoil, later involved with a radical socialist group and influenced by anarchist Emma Goldman. Speaking with a Polish accent, Eli Borwick channels that anger and frustration in his powder-keg reactions.

When Czolgosz made it to the front of the line, he shot McKinley twice in the abdomen at close range. The president died a week later. Caught in the act, Czolgosz was quickly tried, convicted, and executed in an electric chair seven weeks later. He was 28.

Borwick’s bombast suits the character, particularly in his songs “The Gun Song” and “The Ballad of Czolgosz.”

As troubled Italian immigrant Guiseppe Zangara, Ryan Townsend conveys the bricklayer’s severe abdominal pain, which in his autopsy was attributed to adhesions on his gallbladder, but he had never received relief in life, even after an appendectomy.

Zangara attempted to kill president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt during a night speech in Miami, 17 days before his inauguration, on Feb. 15, 1933. He shot a .32 caliber pistol five times but missed Roosevelt, striking four others.

Without remorse, when taken to the Dade County Courthouse, he said: “I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.”

He was charged with their attempted murders, but when a victim, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, died 19 days later from peritonitis, Zangara was upgraded to a first-degree murder charge and sentenced to death. He was electrocuted in the Florida State Prison’s electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky,” at age 32.  

Townsend uses a thick accent that sometimes makes it hard to understand his rants. He’s part of “How I Saved Roosevelt” and group numbers, displaying a strong voice.

One of the more amusing portrayals is Sarah Lantsberger as Sam Byck, who really thought he would be a hero if he hijacked a plane and flew it into the White House in hopes of killing the much-despised Nixon. On Feb. 22, 1974, he put his plan into motion – trying to hijack a plane flying out of the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but during the bungled incident, he killed a policeman and a pilot. He was then shot by another policeman and turned the gun on himself, death by suicide.

In two scenes, Byck is shown taping his diatribes, one to Leonard Bernstein (?!) – which can get very meta, connecting Sondheim’s contributions to “West Side Story”, and another to Nixon. Lantsberger commits to earnestly delivering his grievances. She also portrays Emma Goldman in scenes with Borwick..

Of note are Trey Marlette as a Secret Service agent and Layla Mason as Billy, Sara Jane Moore’s son that she brings along to the crime scene.

The vocals are exceptional, and the 11-piece band smoothly covers the complexities of Sondheim’s score that mixes tones and genres. Ryan Hinman, keyboards, Nicki Evans keyboards, Adam Lugo guitar, Teddy Luecke bass, Des Jones percussion, Lucille Mankovich reeds, Linda Branham Rice reeds, John Gerdes horn, Ron Foster trumpet, Joe Akers trumpet, and Adam Levin trombone, led by conductor Healy, are superb.

The ever-inventive Sondheim, whose brilliance encompassed writing lyrics of irony, emotional pain, humanity’s foibles and hunger for connection, has penned some of his most perturbing ones on our inalienable rights here. And now, after his passing in November, his words resonate from beyond the grave. “Made me wonder who we are” — “Something Just Broke.”

With the political chaos of the past decade and continued death threats against our political leaders and public servants, we have yet to fully comprehend the “Twilight Zone”-like reality that is life in 2022. After all, seditionists and malcontents tried to thwart democracy and nearly hung the vice president last year.

And after this show opened, a 22-year-old loner — who legally obtained five guns despite the ‘red flag laws,’ ripped a community apart from a rooftop as it was celebrating our 246th Independence Day.

This cogent “Assassins” certainly gives one pause about the current state of the union — If it doesn’t raise the hair on your arms, you are not paying attention.

After all, “Attention must be paid”!

Stephen Henley as The Balladeer, using his cellphone to pull up information on the assassins. Photo by John Gramlich.


Fly North Theatricals presents “Assassins” from July 1 through July 23, with a special July 4 show at 4 p.m. for $17.76. Other performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. July 7-9, July 14-16 and July 21-23, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. July 3, 10, and 17 at the .Zack building,  It runs 100 minutes and is presented in one act without an intermission. The show contains strong language, use of a racial slur as well as the use of prop firearms in the house in proximity to audience members. For more details, refer to the content warnings – which contains spoilers. For tickets, visit www.MetroTix.com and for more information, visit the website, www.flynorththeatricals.com

.Union Avenue Opera announces three new garden concerts taking place this spring.

This summer, Union Avenue Opera will make its highly anticipated return to its home stage within the historic Union Avenue Christian Church at 733 N. Union Blvd, just north of the intersection of Union and Delmar Boulevards.

Known for its commitment to presenting operas in their original language, Union Avenue Opera will offer a three opera festival season opening with Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Eugene Onegin (July 8, 9, 15, 16) which last appeared on the UAO stage in 2003 to great critical acclaim. The season will also see the return of Verdi’s riotous Italian romp Falstaff (July 29, 30, August 5, 6) which the company last produced in 2005. Rounding out the 2022 season will be the UAO debut of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s charming A Little Night Music (August 19, 20, 26, 27).

“Moving back to our home stage after these harrowing two years away is a joyful outcome to the uncertainty we have faced during this pandemic” said UAO Founder and Artistic Director Scott Schoonover. “Our first two productions are personal and audience favorites from our 28 years of producing opera – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Verdi’s Falstaff. These new, vivacious productions welcome back to our stage many returning artists and several debut singers. Director Octavio Cardenas will make his UAO debut with Eugene Onegin bringing his own special brand of visceral, physical directing to the UAO stage. Jon Truitt returns to direct Falstaff (Jon’s favorite
opera) with his proven comedic style, and Maestro Stephen Hargreaves will return to the UAO pit.”

“Our third production is a company and composer debut with Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I’ve wanted to bring this show to UAO for many years and am so thrilled it is finally happening!” said Schoonover. “Annamaria Pileggi will return to direct this stellar cast headlined by St. Louis’ own Debby Lennon as Desirée. It is a wonderful story with so much memorable music which finishes up a season that certainly offers something for everyone! I know we say often, but this one is truly a season not to be missed – it is chock-full of amazing voices, actors, orchestra and stage technicians eager to get back to great storytelling on the intimate UAO stage.”
Single tickets range from $35 to $55 and are available at unionavenueopera.org or by calling 314-361-2881. Discounts are available for Seniors (65+), Military/Educator, and Young Audiences (under 18). All performances start at 8:00PM and free parking is available in the lots behind the venue and overflow parking is available on the street. 

Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s: EUGENE ONEGIN

July 8, 9, 15, 16 at 8:00PM
Presented in Russian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Octavio Cardenas
Libretto by Konstantin Shilovsky and Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky


A cautionary tale of what was, what was not, and what could have been.
Tatyana, a lovesick girl from the countryside, declares her love for Onegin and finds herself spurned by the disenchanted aristocrat. Onegin, indifferent to the feelings of others, disregards Tatyana’s advances to pursue Olga, his friend Lensky’s betrothed. A duel commences and Onegin finds himself victorious albeit deeply tormented. He returns years later to find Tatyana happily married to Prince Gremin. Struck by her beauty, Onegin declares his love
for her only to find himself face to face with the folly of his naïveté. Eugene Onegin is a sophisticated and melancholy masterpiece by one of classical music’s most universally beloved composers. Tchaikovsky’s lush melodies are enhanced by the opera’s unique folk tunes, infectious waltzes, and passion-soaked arias bringing to
life Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel like never before.

Under the baton of Artistic Director Scott Schoonover, Robert Garner (Nabucco, Nabucco) and William Davenport (Hoffmann, Les contes d’Hoffmann) will return to UAO in their role debuts as Onegin and Lensky respectively. No stranger to the role of Tatyana, Zoya Gramagin will make her UAO debut alongside Andrew W. Potter as Prince Gremin. Melody Wilson (Fenena, Nabucco and Mrs. Miller, Doubt) will return as Olga along with local artists Debbie Stinson as Madama Larina, Victoria Carmichael as Filippyevna, Marc Schapman as Triquet, and Benjamin Worley as Zaretsky. This will be acclaimed stage director Octavio Carendas’ UAO directorial debut. Patrick Huber will provide scenic and lighting design with costume design by Teresa Doggett.

Eugene Onegin – Robert Garner
Tatyana – Zoya Gramagin*
Lensky – William Davenport
Olga – Melody Wilson
Filippyevna – Victoria Carmichael
Madame Larina – Debbie Stinson
Prince Gremin – Andrew W. Potter*
Monsieur Triquet – Marc Schapman
Zaretsky – Benjamin Worley

Giuseppe Verdi’s: FALSTAFF

July 29, 30, August 5, 6 at 8:00PM
Presented in Italian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Stephen Hargreaves
Directed by Jon Truitt
Libretto by Arrigo Boito


Drink. Cheat. Scheme. Repeat. Just don’t get caught unaware
Old, lecherous, and down on his luck, Sir John Falstaff can’t resist the ladies. The fool hatches a plan to reverse his ill-fortune and sets his sights on not one, but two married women. Sharper than they look, Alice and Meg discover the odious Falstaff’s plan to unceremoniously seduce them and trick them out of their fortunes. The women band together and with the help of Nannetta and Dame Quickly, they concoct a scheme to teach him a lesson he’ll never forget and to put him in his place once and for all. Add in a jealous husband, a pair of young lovers, and a touch of the supernatural and what ensues is a sophisticated comedy filled with failed plans and botched disguises. Verdi’s riotous romp Falstaff bubbles with irrepressible wit and charm in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

On the heels of last summer’s company debut, Robert Mellon (Figaro, Il barbiere di Siviglia) will lead the cast of returning artists as Sir John Falstaff. No stranger to the UAO stage Brooklyn Snow (the Heroines, Les contes d’Hoffmann, and Cunegonde, Candide) will be reunited with her Candide co-star, Jesse Darden (Candide) as the two young lovers, Nannetta and Fenton. St. Louis-based husband and wife duo Jacob Lassetter and Karen Kanakis will portray Ford and his wife Alice for the production as Janara Kellerman (Rosina, Il barbiere di Siviglia) returns as Dame Quickly, and Melody Wilson will again be seen on the UAO stage, this time in her role debut as Meg Page. A trio of St. Louis based artists round out the cast with Clark Sturdevant as Bardolfo, Mark Freiman as Pistola, and Anthony Heinemann as Dr. Caius. Stephen Hargreaves conducts while Jon Truitt directs. Lex Van Bloomestein’s set designs and Teresa Doggett’s costume designs will be enhanced by Patrick Huber’s lighting design.

Sir John Falstaff – Robert Mellon
Alice Ford – Karen Kanakis
Ford – Jacob Lassetter
Nanetta – Brooklyn Snow
Fenton – Jesse Darden
Dame Quickly – Janara Kellerman
Meg Page – Melody Wilson
Bardolfo – Clark Sturdevant
Pistola – Mark Freiman
Dr. Caius – Anthony Heinemann

Stephen Sondheim’s: A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

August 19, 20, 26, 27 at 8:00PM
Presented in English with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by Hugh Wheeler
Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Suggested by a Film by Ingmar Bergman
Originally Produced and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince


Lovers reunite, passions reignite, and new romance blossoms in the magic of music on a mid-summer’s night.


A Little Night Music explores the tangled web of affairs centered around the glamorous actress Desirée Armfeldt and the two married men who love her: a lawyer by the name of Frederik Egerman and Count Carl-Magnus Malcom.

Both men—as well as their jealous wives—agree to join Desirée at her family’s estate for a scandalous “Weekend in the Country” under the watchful eyes of the wry family matriarch and harmonizing Greek chorus. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Hugh Wheeler, it is no wonder A Little Night Music won the Tony Award for Best Musical. From the romance of the night waltzes to the hauntingly beautiful “Send in the Clowns,” Sondheim’s sweeping score is infused with humor and warmth weaving together musical theatre and operetta seamlessly in this tantalizing tale.

Debby Lennon (Mrs. Mullin, Carousel) returns to the UAO stage to lead this stunning cast as Desirée Armfeldt under the direction of Annamaria Pileggi, and Scott Schoonover conducts. Also returning to the UAO stage are Peter Kendall Clark (Older Thompson, Glory Denied) and Brooklyn Snow, who makes her second appearances of the season, as the newly married Frederick and Anne Egerman. Eric J. McConnell makes his UAO stage debut as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm and Leann Schuering (Josephine, H.M.S. Pinafore) as his wife Charlotte. Local actor Teresa Doggett, best known for her work as UAO’s costume designer for the past fifteen seasons, makes her UAO stage debut as the matriarch Madame Armfeldt alongside Amy Maude Helfer as the restless maid Petra and Arielle Pedersen as the young Fredrika. A bevy of St. Louis talent round out the cast including James Stevens as Henrik Egerman, Jordan Wolk as the butler Frid, and Grace Yukiko Fisher, Gina Malone, Sarah Price, Joel Rogier, and Philip Touchette as the “Liebeslieders”. C. Otis Sweezey will provide scenic design for A Little Night Music along with costume design by Teresa Doggett and lighting design by Patrick Huber.

Desirée Armfeldt – Debby Lennon
Frederick Egerman – Peter Kendall Clark
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm – Eric J. McConnell*
Charlotte Malcolm – Leann Schuering
Madame Armfeldt – Teresa Doggett*
Anne Egerman – Brooklyn Snow
Henrik Egerman – James Stevens
Petra – Amy Maude Helfer*
Fredrika – Arielle Pedersen*
Mrs. Nordstrom – Gina Malone
Mrs. Anderssen – Grace Yukiko Fisher
Mrs. Segstrom – Sarah Price*
Mr. Erlanson – Philip Touchette
Mr. Lindquist – Joel Rogier
Frid – Jordan Wolk

A Little Night Music is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). All authorized
performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.mtishows.com
*UAO stage debut

Opera in the Garden
In anticipation of the season, UAO will bring classic opera front and center in its 2022 Opera in the Garden – Garden Concert Series Fundraiser this spring. Launched in 2018, as a House Concert Series, UAO moved the concerts outdoor in the fall of 2020 for the safety of its artists and patrons and were some of the first, live, operatic performances held in St. Louis during the pandemic. Each concert will feature two UAO artists from the upcoming season performing an eclectic and entertaining selection of arias, art songs and musical theatre favorites, and will showcase a scholarship winner from UAO’s 2022 CRESCENDO! program along with a guest instrumentalist from UAO’s talented opera orchestra.

Sunday, May 8 at 5:00PM
Our opening concert will take place on Mother’s Day and headlined by two singing moms – Gina Malone and Danielle Yilmaz – celebrating the day with us with some wonderful music and fun. Guest artists Raven Brooks, soprano, from Blackburn College and UAO principal flutist, Ann Dolan will join pianist Sandra Geary for this perfect Mother’s Day afternoon. The backdrop for our first concert is the beautiful lawn of the 1959 home of CK Siu and Shannon Hart which sits on what used to be the Krause farm in Ladue.

Sunday, May 22 at 5:00PM
Our second concert takes us to the grounds of the former Rand Mansion, now the home of University City mayor, Terry Crow. Artists Sarah Price, Mark Freiman and Nancy Mayo will lead this concert, along with guest soprano, Erica Ancell from Webster University and UAO principal horn player, Nancy Schick, who will team up with Ms. Price and Ms. Mayo for a not-to-be-missed special performance of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom D. 943.

Sunday, June 5 at 5:00PM
The 2022 Garden Concert Series concludes with a return to the beautiful flower-filled garden of the University City home of Richard and Mary Ann Shaw. Grace Yukiko Fisher, Philip Touchette and Nancy Mayo will entertain us with opera and musical theatre fun, and guest artists Madalyn Tomkins, soprano, from Webster University, and Carolina Neves, violinist will round out this beautiful afternoon.

Fundraiser tickets are $50 for individuals or $100 for Patron Seating which includes the best reserved seats and a $50 tax-deductible donation to UAO. Tickets are on sale now at www.unionavenueopera.org and must be ordered in advance (no door sales).

About Union Avenue Opera

UAO was founded in 1994 to bring affordable, professional, original-language opera t St. Louis, a mission the company continues to pursue to this day. UAO is committed to hiring the most talented artists, directors, designers and technicians both locally and from across the United States. UAO provides promising singers the first steppingstone of their professional career. The company celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season in 2019 and offers vibrant and affordable opera experiences in original languages to audiences who reflect the breadth and diversity of the St. Louis region. UAO is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in
Missouri.

Financial assistance for the 2022 Festival Season has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and with support from the Regional Arts Commission

The Muny announced today that Ben DavisCarmen Cusack and Robert Cuccioliwill star in the musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, July 16-22, 2022.

The Muny Premiere is directed by Rob Ruggiero, with musical staging by associate director Jessica Hartman, music direction by James Moore and Michael Horsley serving as associate music director. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is proudly sponsored by Missouri Lottery.

“These extraordinary artists in these iconic roles will be thrilling,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “I cannot wait to see them our Muny premiere of this musical masterpiece.”

Ben Davis

BEN DAVIS (Sweeney Todd) Muny: 1776Guys and DollsJesus Christ SuperstarOklahoma!; Spamalot and South Pacific.

Tony Honor (Ensemble) for his work in Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Bohème (Marcello).

NYC: Lady in the Dark (NY City Center Encores!), Call Me Madam opposite Carmen Cusack, Dear Evan Hansen, Violet, A Little Night Music, Les Misérables and Thoroughly Modern Millie.

National tour: The Sound of Music and Spamalot. Other favorites include Kiss Me, Kate for the BBC at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Kurt Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday opposite Kelli O’Hara and Victor Garber at Lincoln Center (recorded live) and in concert opposite Ms. O’Hara with Ted Sperling.

TV/Film: NBC’s Annie Live!Chicago Fire, Law & Order: SVUWoman in the Window, Boogie, The Magic Flute (directed by Kenneth Branagh), A Hand of Bridge, Blue Bloods, 30 Rock and Numb3rs.

Concerts: Philly Pops, RTÉ Orchestra, Tanglewood, Caramoor and many others.

Davis has been nominated for three St. Louis Theater Circle Awards — for “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” at the Muny.

Carmen Cusack

CARMEN CUSACK (Mrs. Lovett) Broadway: Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star (Tony Award nomination), Flying Over Sunset (Clare Boothe Luce).

Streaming/Film: Facebook series, Sorry For Your Loss (recurring opposite Janet McTeer and Elizabeth Olsen), TriStar’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (opposite Tom Hanks).

Cusack studied opera at the University of North Texas, which gave her its first honorary baccalaureate degree in 2018

ROBERT CUCCIOLI (Judge Turpin) Muny: 42nd Street. Broadway: Jekyll & Hyde (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, FANY and Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Awards), Les Misérables and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Some favorite off-Broadway credits include A Touch of the Poet, The White Devil, Caesar and Cleopatra (Caesar), And the World Goes ‘Round (Outer Critics Circle Award), Rothschild & Sons (London’s Offie nomination), Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris and White Guy on The Bus.

Robert Cuccioli

Robert has performed at such notable regional theatres as The Guthrie, Paper Mill Playhouse, The Shakespeare Theatre of NJ, Shakespeare Theatre Company (Lorenzaccio, Helen Hayes nomination), McCarter Theatre Center, George Street Playhouse, Ford’s Theatre (1776, Helen Hayes nomination).

Television: The Sinner, Elementary, White Collar, Sliders, Baywatch, Guiding Light. Film: Celebrity, The Stranger, The Rest of Us, Impossible Monsters, Columbus on Trial.

About the show:
The Broadway legend and American musical masterpiece makes its Muny debut. Set in 19th century London, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has captivated audiences around the world with its murderous melodies and a haunting tale of love, revenge and hilarious mayhem.

Considered to be one of composer Stephen Sondheim’s greatest showpieces, this eight-time Tony Award-winning musical offers both thrills and laughs and is guaranteed to be an unforgettable night at The Muny.
 
The Telsey Office is the official casting partner for The Muny. Full casting will be announced at a later date.

The Muny’s 2022 Season includes Chicago (June 13-19), Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot (June 22-28), Disney and Cameron Macintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 5-13), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (July 16-22), Legally Blonde, The Musical (July 25-31), The Color Purple (August 3-9) and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (August 12-18).

Season tickets are currently on sale. Single tickets will be available beginning May 23. Muny gift cards for the 104th season are now available online and at The Muny Box Office. For more information, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900

By Lynn Venhaus
We have been enriched by Steve Woolf as a titan in regional theater, and his loss will be deeply felt.

For 33 years, he guided The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, until his retirement in 2019. He died Monday at age 75.

I had the opportunity to interview and talk with him on several occasions, and I am very grateful to have been in his orbit for a bit. It was an honor. His immense love of theater was obvious from the moment you encountered him – his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas.

I have been reviewing plays at The Repertory Theatre since 2005. Their “Take Me Out” I consider to be the gold standard for plays in St. Louis. As a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle in 2012, I have presented him with a lion’s share of awards. Every year, from 2013-2019, he was always gracious and sincere, no matter how many trips he took to the stage.

During the past decade, The Rep has earned more than 100 awards. They have led the way in innovation and excellence – in acting, direction, set design, lighting design, sound and much more.

As an Arts For Life board member, I helped facilitate his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, for his “vision, passion and excellence,” and he was so genuine about the honor. But that’s what he did — lived an authentic life. He never forgot that he was a kid from Milwaukee living out his dream.

And so, he could inspire — he talked about the magic of live theater, being in a dark room, sharing a special experience with other people that changes us and connects us.

His work spoke for itself: He directed “Red,” one of my favorites, and he brought the complex “Oslo” to the stage as one of his final — and most intense — works. He committed to making it relatable, no easy task with a large sprawling cast.

During rehearsals for the stellar “All the Way” in 2015 (I was there to interview Brian Dykstra, playing LBJ, and Woolf, who was directing — https://www.bnd.com/living/magazine/article34672659.html), he told me about his experience seeing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” in London.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Rep

He had been gobsmacked. He didn’t think The Rep could do it — very technical show, intricate — but the wheels were turning. He was so excited about trying to bring it to The Rep. “I think I’ve found a way we can do it,” he said to me later. (And it would win the Theatre Circle’s Outstanding Production, which opened the 2017-2018 season, and Best Director, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, in 2018.)

The enthusiasm he had for the process and the collaboration of “putting it all together” were so obvious. I cherish a brief interchange I had with him — in a stairwell at The Rep — about “The Humans,” which was a thought-provoker, had many layers. I had made an observation, and he wanted to hear more of my thoughts. It had received a mixed reaction — but he was firm in his fervor. He was just so darn insightful.

During an interview before the 50th season, which opened with “Follies,” he recalled the first time he saw the show as a young man studying theater. We geeked out about our mutual love of Stephen Sondheim. “Follies” was brilliant, but his other major production at The Rep, in 2012, the magnificent “Sunday in the Park with George,” was breathtaking. Truly memorable.

Every year, he would go to New York to soak up multiple theater productions. And hearing about his experiences was always a treat. During intermission of yet another “Mamma Mia!” at the Fox, I went over to chat with Joe Pollack, and Steve Woolf also came over to talk to Joe, and he regaled us with tales from his recent Broadway adventures. How fortunate to hear his vision and just how he radiated joy about theater (I mean, he was at “Mamma Mia!”).

One of my favorite Steve Woolf remembrances was, in fact, at Joe Pollack’s memorial service on March 17, 2012, at The Rep, of course. His widow, Ann Lemons Pollack, had arranged for five main speakers — all from a different facet of Joe’s life/illustrious career. Steve was the representative for theater, only fitting. He said as a critic, Joe just wanted the theater groups to “get it right.” Oh, yes, what a perfect summation.

And yes, Steve, you “got it right” more often than not. You will be missed, for your wit, your wisdom, your humanity, your desire for theater to spark conversations — and how you appreciated St. Louis audiences.

May God rest your soul. Your memory is already a blessing to me. And I hope you and Joe can continue to have some great conversations.

Mark Bernstein, retired managing director at The Rep, summed it up perfectly in a statement: “Steve always had his finger on the pulse of the St. Louis community, programming plays that resonated in the here and now, and showcasing the work of outstanding directors, designers and actors. St. Louis audiences responded by filling the seats, night after night, week after week, year after year.”

Standing O, Steve!

”Here is an article I wrote for the Webster-Kirkwood Times when he was getting multiple awards before retiring:

https://www.timesnewspapers.com/webster-kirkwoodtimes/curtain-call/article_ee301692-61dc-11e9-bcf0-1b566b2e37e4.html?fbclid=IwAR3drHmQpZXanye8Tvo9OH-cdSItTeegAOBC9WfeJ0CSmlemUlWlUpSPJ9U

Follies

My review of “All the Way,” in the Belleville News-Democrat on Sept. 17, 2015: https://www.bnd.com/entertainment/article35666526.html

My review of “Follies,” in the Belleville News-Democrat on Sept. 21, 2016: https://www.bnd.com/entertainment/article103265847.html

Photos provided by The Rep

By Lynn Venhaus
Among the many thousands of people tuning in to the Muny’s Summer Variety Hour Live! on Monday nights, a health care professional told Mike Isaacson, the executive producer and artistic director who conceived this musical mash-up, that the show has saved her sanity and her summer. I second that.

If this summer were a mix-tape, mine would include all the magical Muny-ized showtunes, “Hamilton” (just because) and the TwinstheNewTrend (just watch). This bittersweet blend has become Operation: Summer Salvation. We didn’t know how desperately we needed this balm, like a cool breeze on an unbearably muggy day (or a Lemon Freeze under a Muny fan).

Kennedy Holmes

Why else would tears be streaming down my face as the sublime Kennedy Holmes beautifully sang “Children Will Listen” live under the Culver Pavilion, with Tali Allen on piano on Aug. 10, the fourth episode? Holmes, who broke out as Little Inez in 2015’s “Hairspray,” went on to become a phenom on “The Voice,” with a fourth-place finish. (She was robbed!). She remains a loyal Muny Teen and, as the soloist Monday, displayed a stunning maturity.

Under Isaacson – who loves Stephen Sondheim as much as I do – we were able to witness an extraordinary “Into the Woods” in 2015, and as I teared up at least five times during the Muny production back then, watching Tony winner Heather Headley sing “Children Will Listen” was the highlight among many. Leave it to a young woman, Kennedy, to remind us:

Children will look to you
For which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”

From a musical stressing the reality behind the make-believe, Monday’s rendition took on a greater poignancy. And being able to see Kennedy’s growth and blossoming as a future major star was another unforgettable “Muny moment.”

In a crazy world of scary happenings and headlines, we have been comforted by the talent of this joyful, faithful and hopeful ‘family’ of entertainers and the time-honored tradition of the Municipal Opera, now 102 years old, for four shows so far. Every superbly mixed show has elicited a rollercoaster of emotions as we take our seat, not in the 11,000 open-air theater, on a warm summer night, but instead before our televisions and computer screens, tissues at the ready.

The anticipation is matched by the exquisite renditions, whether live or on tape, but the added bonus has been seeing the work of such creative spirits – putting together all those filmed clips and using Zoom technology. And then you have the sunny optimism of those Muny Kids and Teens, and well, leaky eyes.

It feels real, even if it is make-believe. Somehow, through cyberspace, we feel connected. And we need it, apparently, for more than 140,000 people tuned in to the first three.

“Through the years, we’ll always be together, if the fates allow” — little did we know how much the lyrics of “Meet Me in St. Louis” would mean during a pandemic, “right here.” So, of course, this cast from the Centennial presentation in 2018 would be this week’s heartwarming sing-a-long reunion.

The sentimentality showed up in waves during the penultimate super-duper deluxe show, despite a heavy thunderstorm in the region that caused uprooted trees, power outages and flash flooding. Yet, here was Mike, underneath the stage, guiding us through another enchanted evening. We weren’t huddled together with our umbrellas, but nonetheless united.

And the urgency of underlying theme “Gotta Dance!” saved the day with some fresh, fantastic choreography.

The unbridled happiness of tap dancers, near and far, took us from stages to home spaces in “Tap Your Troubles Away.” Conceived and choreographed by Muny Resident and Teen Choreographer Katie Johannigman, this was a jolt of jubilation that had me grinning ear to ear, featuring alums from the past decade. And then Jack Sippel’s moving contemporary dance piece, “Speechless” featuring Muny Teens. Breath-taking! A St. Louis native, Broadway performer and Muny alum, Sippel is currently working on the Netflix version of “The Prom,” as he was the dance captain of the Broadway show.

“West Side Story” is my all-time favorite musical, and the Jerome Robbins choreography is swoon-worthy, so to be treated to the goosebumps-inducing “Dance at the Gym” from “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” in 2018 was a treat. The Muny’s 2013 production of “West Side Story” will always stand as one of the best ever, and the West Side Story suite from the Robbins’ greatest-hits compilation reminded me why the show is timeless 63 years later.

The archival footage included “Jersey Boys,” the sensational national premiere outside Broadway/national tours in 2018, and the splendid re-imagining of “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” with life force Beth Malone from 2017. Plus, one of the best “Annie” shows I’ve ever seen – “NYC”! — in 2018 helmed by the one-of-a-kind John Tartaglia.

John Tartaglia

It would not be a Muny summer without the exceptional Tartaglia, and he delivered the night’s best laugh-out-loud surprise – appearing as Murray the Muny Raccoon,” the pesky scene-stealer who waddled on stage during ‘The Addams Family” and is missing his scraps and his adoring fans. The versatile performer has memorably played The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical,” the Genie in “Aladdin” and won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Supporting Actor in a Musical for playing Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” in 2017, in addition to his directing work. He started as a puppeteer on “Sesame Street,” and went on to “Avenue Q” and playing Pinocchio in “Shrek.”

For the weekly Couple Duo, we had not one but two. Real-life couple Jason Gotay (Jack! Prince Eric! Prince Charming (well, Topher) in Cinderella!) and Muny regular Michael Hartung charmingly performed “Song on the Sand” from “La Cage aux Folles.”

Then the adorable power couple Jenny Powers and Matt Cavenaugh – who wowed us at the Sheldon a few years ago – brought baby daughter Rose with them to reprise “New Words,” a song by composer Maury Yeston. It’s not from a show, but he has composed “Titanic,” “Nine,” “Grand Hotel” among others. Waterworks.

This multi-tissue moment brought the house down, so to speak. All across the nation, we collectively burst into tears while they sang about “the moon, stars and love.”

Wait there was more! “Do-Re-Mi,” a special song-and-dance performance by those effusive Muny Kids and Teens. And those indomitable teens sang a bouncy rendition from “It Roars” from “Mean Girls.”

The Munywood Squares was another fun segment, and behind the scenes is always illuminating. We heard about the Clydesdales Ace and Deuce, and seeing the excitement of that experience from the creative anecdotes was a nice perk.

One more chance to see this show Thursday at 8:15 p.m. on Muny TV. For more information: muny.org/varietyhour/

And then Monday will be the swan song. Supersized (and with the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” too). Aug. 17, 8:15 p.m.

I’m so glad we’ve had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song…

Excuse me while I go grab another tissue.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
When composer and music director Colin Healy first heard the story of wealthy
brothel madam and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft, he was intrigued. On Aug. 16,
“Madam,” the musical about this infamous St. Louisan that he wrote the book,
music and lyrics for, had its world premiere at the Bluff City Theatre in
Hannibal.

Bluff City Theater commissioned the musical, where Healy has been the music director for the theater since 2017, and a branch of the Haycraft family is involved with BCT. Healy is artistic director of his own companies, Fly North Music and Fly North Theatricals.

“After one of the shows, they told me Eliza’s story. I was
fascinated ever since,” he said. “I said ‘Wow, that’s a musical.’ About a year
later, Joe Anderson, the artistic director, called me up and said in so many
words ‘Let’s make it a musical.’”

Rosemary Watts and Larissa White

Bluff City Theatre’s executive director wrote in his recent
blog: “Madam the musical is a totally new play we commissioned to end our 2019
season dedicated to the theme of The American Experience,” he said. “We follow
the story of a group of women who, for a variety of reasons found themselves
without the means to support themselves and turned to the only profession open
to women like them — prostitution. Madam Eliza Haycraft rose from obscurity to
become the richest woman in Missouri, much-loved by the general public, and a
major philanthropist with a special emphasis on Civil War widows and orphans. Yet,
despite the fact that her houses were well-frequented by the rich and powerful
men who ran the city, she was shut out of polite society.”   

“Madam introduces other characters who are historically
based on some of the remarkable women who defied the norm to claim their place
in the country at a time when they had few legitimate rights. One, an escaped
slave, disguised herself as a man to fight in the Union Army.  One is sister to Victoria Woodhull, candidate
for president in 1872,” he continued. “In addition to being a lesson in America
history, Healy’s musical is bright and lyrical. The cast is amazing. And you
can be among the first to see what is sure to be a hit.”

Healy’s score features St. Louis style jazz and blues, “Madam” is directed by Sydnie Grosberg -Ronga. The musical stars Rosemary Watts as Madam, Brett Ambler as The Benefactor, and Eileen Engel, Kimmie Kidd, Cameron Pille, Gracie Sartin and Larissa White as the ladies she protected.

There are only nine performances in Hannibal. Five are left
– Wednesday through Saturday. For tickets or more information, visit
www.eventshannibal.com or call 573-719-3226. The show is sponsored by Harold
and Kathleen Haycraft.

The first-run weekend is over, and seeing it happen has been
something special.

“Realizing work on stage is quite literally turning something practically two-dimensional — many many sheets of paper — into something truly three-dimensional,” Healy said. “In any other aspect of life, suddenly perceiving a whole new dimension would be beyond life-altering. Well, that’s what realizing a work of theatre is and it hasn’t gotten old yet.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew. Sydnie
Grosberg-Ronga, in addition to being an effective and incredible director, has
been an even better mentor, dramaturg, and sometimes-therapist,” he said. “Rosemary,
Lari, Cameron, Kimmie, Gracie, and Eileen have all been amazing to work with—
and as a millennial and member of the meme generation, I’d be remiss if I
didn’t say I’ve been a little starstruck getting to work with the Kazoo Kid — love
ya, Brett!”

Healy considers the musical a work in progress, but the
fact that Bluff City Theater encourages new and emerging work is music to his ears.

“What Joe Anderson is doing in Hannibal is remarkable. Bluff City Theatre is producing new and emerging work every year and filling houses with it. Go support them. They’re doing it right up there,” he said. The journey has been an interesting one, but it won’t end when the show does on Aug. 24. Plans are for his company, Fly North Theatricals, to perform “Madam” in St. Louis in 2020, from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2 at the .Zack Theater, 3224 Locust St.

Brett Ambler, Larissa White

And that is not the only plan, either.

“I’d love for it to someday reach a wider audience — whatever
that means. There are already plans for ‘Madam’ in the near future, so stay
tuned,” he said.

Not much is known about the real Eliza Haycraft, but this
much we do know. Haycraft, born in 1820, arrived in St. Louis from Callaway
County when she was 20, cast out by her parents. She had been seduced by a
lover. Destitute, she sold herself as a courtesan to support herself. When
prostitution was legal, for only a brief time, in St. Louis, she became owner
and manager of a brothel, doing well even though she couldn’t read or write. She
bought commercial and residential property and rented it back out. She was known
for helping the city’s poor, offering them help and financial aid.

In the last year of her life, the richest and most powerful men in St. Louis were hellbent on taking it all away from her, he said. She died in 1871, at age 51, leaving an estate valued at over a quarter million dollars. More than 5,000 people attended her funeral, and she was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Healy’s musical focuses on a dying Haycraft as the owner of
five brothels and the richest woman in St. Louis. She hates men. She once
empowered her employees by giving them the right to refuse service to anyone. She
had three simple rules: Respect, Consent and Pay Up Front. Then, the passage of
The Social Evils Act of 1870 made her business legitimate, but it also took
away her right to say “no.”

While based loosely on real events, the musical tells the fictionalized
story of her search for an heir to her sex empire while also taking a romp
through first-wave feminism and sexism in America at the time of
Reconstruction. It is told through the lens of Eliza’s courtesans.

“St. Louis had passed the Social Evils Ordinance, which
under the guise of legalizing prostitution actually served to deny the women
affected by it of many of the rights they had previously enjoyed. Eliza
Haycraft was a remarkable woman — a pragmatic feminist who mistrusted men,
especially those who used their positions of power to control the rights of
women, the poor and the marginalized. But she knew how to operate in a
male-dominated world. As she neared death, Eliza sought to purchase a burial
plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery, then the largest and most prestigious in the
city. The trustees of the cemetery, all clients of hers, attempted to block the
purchase until Haycraft countered by suggesting that she would take her case
directly to their wives.  They relented,”
Bluff City Theater blog said.

The poster design

Healy said he likes the show’s message.

“The show at its core is about the vulnerability of aging
and the power of ‘no’ — so for now, I just hope people like it and take away
something from it,” he said.
Bluff City Theater raved: “Audience attendance is already at a record for any
show we’ve produced here at Bluff City Theater…Don’t take our word for it — talk
to anyone who has seen the show so far. ‘Madam’ is one of the most exciting new
musicals to come along this decade.”

Healy has written five original musicals, including “The
Gringo,” which was the local headline act at the St. Louis Fringe Festival last
summer, and was the best-selling show in its history. Like “Madam,” it was
based on a real story.

Riley Dunn in “The Gringo”

He began writing “The Gringo” in 2013 after the wrongful
death of Miami teen Israel Hernandez at the hands of police. Healy had attended
high school with Hernandez, although they were not acquainted. He became
intrigued as details emerged in the fallout surrounding his death, especially
by the stark differences between their lives.

Healy moved to St. Louis during the Ferguson riots in
summer 2014. “The Gringo” then went in a different direction, instead of
confronting privilege but about fighting for your home.

“The Gringo” tells the story of art bringing together a
community facing injustice and rapid gentrification. On the morning of the
biggest art festival in Miami, a beloved local street artist is wrongfully
gunned down by police. Through the lens of a successful painter, her wannabe
lover, a drug dealer, his mule, and the white boy from out of town bearing
witness to it all, “The Gringo” is about what it means to fight for your home
in spite of it all.
Through its workshop and staged reading, a funding campaign raised enough to
record a full-length and fully orchestrated album.

“The Gringo”For the premiere of ‘The Gringo,” he also directed and was the music director. He always seems to be juggling multiple projects at once. For instance, he was contracted as the music director for “Into the Woods” this July at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA). He currently directs the Adagio Music Company at COCA and serves as the resident music director at East Central College in Union, Mo. where he has done five mainstream shows, plus his original musical “Forgottonia” last year.

Colin Healy

While living in his native South Florida, he composed
“Anthem,” which was presented in Fort Lauderdale in 2009 and 2011, and “Translation,”
which was part of the Florida Theatre Conference in 2015.

After graduating from South Broward High School in
Hollywood, Fla., he became the music director for the theater department.

Beginning at age 15, he was a touring singer/songwriter and
his work as a recording artist in the South Florida-based rock band, The
Republik, was recognized by Billboard and College Music Journal. He recorded
three full-length studio albums as a performer – Last Chance Planet, 2006; The
Unexpected Answer, 2010; and We Are the Wild Things, 2012, with the last one
recorded at the legendary Stratosphere Studios in New York and produced by
Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls. They received radio play nationwide.

In 2017, he established Fly North Music as a St.
Louis-based creative company that serves as the production house for his compositions.
He now has three components: Fly North Music, Fly North Studios, and Fly North
Theatricals.

In early 2018, his private vocal studio had grown,
therefore Fly North Studios was born.

Then, after “The Gringo” was successful, he and his friend Bradley Rohlf decided to establish a new theater company, Fly North Theatricals this year.

They plan to promote education through performance by utilizing both their students and a local community of actors to create new, local, accessible, high-quality works of musical theatre, Healy said. “Neat, huh?”

His five original musicals have seen production at the
educational, community, and professional levels.

“Assassins” announcementFly North Theatricals is planning to present “Assassins”
next summer, July 4 – July 26, at the .Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust St., St. Louis,
with auditions set for Sept.16 and 17.

Fly North Theatricals said it will be a new take on Sondheim and Weidman’s classic where our nations’ most notorious assassins gather on stage to violently pursue a twisted American Dream.

“While many characters represent historical figures, our
vision for this cast requires performers that visually represent our local
community, not necessarily the real people being portrayed,” the audition
notice states.

Their website states: “A multiple Tony Award-winning theatrical tour-de-force, Assassins combines Sondheim’s signature blend of intelligently stunning lyrics and beautiful music with a panoramic story of our nation’s culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it, embodied by America’s four successful and five would-be presidential assassins. Bold, original, disturbing and alarmingly funny, “Assassins” is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written.”

For more information, visit www.flynorthmusic.comOur Questions with Colin Healy

Colin Healy on drums1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts? “I’ve never really done much else. I’ve played music since I was 5 and went to performing arts schools my whole life — not really a great background to go into medicine or finance.”

2. How would your friends describe you? “I don’t know. I annoy myself a lot but at least they don’t have to around me all the time. So, there’s that.”

3. How do you like to spend your spare time? “I don’t understand the premise of this question.”

4. What is your current obsession? “I’m answering these questions from rehearsals for my new musical, ‘Madam!’ — so I guess that.”

5. What would people be surprised to find out about you? “People are always surprised to hear that I played baseball for 10 years, which I guess is playfully insulting? Like, why are you surprised?! Do I not strike you as the model of athleticism?! (OK, I get it.)”

6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life? “My father passed away last month (July) so… that. That will certainly be informing a lot of my writing and teaching in the future (not that he didn’t when he was alive).”

7. Who do you admire most? “Angela Brandow and Bradley Rohlf and Stephen Sondheim and William Finn.”

8. What is at the top of on your bucket list? “Probably a bucket.”

9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis? “Eating all the food, drinking all the beer, and riding my bike (because you have to burn the calories somehow).”

10. What’s next? Shameless plug: My new theatre company, Fly North Theatricals, kicks off its inaugural season this January at the .ZACK. Stay tuned to our social media (@flynorththeatricals) for more information.

More about Colin Healy

Colin Healy, circa 2015

Age: 29
Birthplace: Hollywood, Fla.
Current location: St. Louis
Education: Studied acting and music education, with a focus in voice, at
Florida International University.
Day job: I’m a full-time music director, composer, and voice teacher.
First job: Waiter
First role: Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”
Favorite roles/plays: “Man 1 in “Songs for a New World”
Dream role/play: George in “Sunday in the Park with George”
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Uhhh — I don’t know! I got a dog. He’s pretty
cool. Getting featured on the cover of RFT for “The Gringo” last year was
pretty neat. I make a pretty mean egg sandwich.
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Fail better.”
A song that makes you happy: Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”

By Lynn VenhausManaging EditorThree metro-east community theater groups and a veteran youth program won multiple awards at the 20th annual Best Performance Awards sponsored by Arts For Life on June 9. 

The awards recognize excellence in community and youth
musical theater, with 27 groups participating from St. Charles County to
Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois as part of the St Louis
Metropolitan area. It is the oldest and longest continually running theater
awards in St. Louis.

“Into the Woods” Curtain’s Up Theater CompanyCurtain’s Up Theater Company won six awards for its production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” including Best Large Ensemble Musical, Directors Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, Music Director Liz Murphy White, Costume Design Donna Saltamachia, Comedic Actress Miranda Mobley as Little Red and Supporting Actor Dennis Folwarczny as Cinderella’s Prince. It had received 16 nominations, the most for any show. The 1986 musical is a twist on Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of wishes and quests.

“Dames at Sea” Alfresco Productions“Dames at Sea” at Alfresco Productions won four,
for Best Small Ensemble Musical, Best Leading Actress Morgan Ladyman,
Supporting Actress Elizabeth Semko and Best Choreography Ashley Pavlige. It had
received 12 nominations. The 1966 musical romantic comedy is an homage to
nostalgic 1930s movie musicals.

Bryce Miller won Best Youth Actor for “Big Fish” from Shooting Star Productions“Big Fish” at Shooting Star Productions won six
awards in the youth categories: Best Youth Production, Best Choreography Ellen
Isom, Best Music Director Ross Bell, Best Actor Bryce Miller as Edward Bloom,
Best Supporting Actress Carolyn Karutz as The Witch and Best Set Design Marty
Strohmeyer and Christopher Phillips. It had received 14 nominations. Based on
the 2003 movie by Tim Burton, adapted from David Wallace’s 1998 book, “Big
Fish” tells the larger-than-life tale of traveling salesman Edward Bloom, a man
who leads an extraordinary life according to the stories he shares.

Mia Williams won Best Youth Actress as Rafiki in “The Lion King Jr.” from Goshen Theatre ProjectThe Goshen Theatre Project in Madison County won three
awards — for leading actress, Mia Williams, as Rafiki, and costume design
Terry Pattison, for “The Lion King Jr.” (the crowd gasped when the
walking giraffe came out and the kids came down the aisles in their animal
costumes), and another one for Terry Pattison for set design for “Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang.”

Glenn Guillermo in “Bells Are Ringing”

Winning two awards were Alpha Players of Florissant’s “Bells Are Ringing” for Cameo and Non-Singing Actor, while Christ Memorial Productions’ “The Wizard of Oz” won for Juvenile Performance and Non-Singing Actress, and Looking Glass Playhouse won lighting design for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and best actor for “Newsies.”.

Another first occurred – both the youth supporting actor
and adult featured actor won for playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and
Dolls” at Riverbend Theatre and Kirkwood Theatre Guild respectively, Spencer
Domer and Christopher Strawhun.

“Guys and Dolls” Riverbend TheatreThis year, 48 shows – 21 large, 7 small and 20 youth —
were eligible for BPA awards consideration, with 1,302 artists judged for
nominations. Trophies were awarded in 33 categories.

 “Theater is alive
and kicking in 2019 and local theaters in metro St. Louis and Illinois are to
be commended for a job well done,” McCreight said. “The awards are a wonderful way
for all actors and tech crews to celebrate and enjoy each other’s successes and
be recognized and rewarded.”

Since it began in 1998, AFL’s goal has been “Making a
Dramatic Difference” and is proud to salute, support and serve the theater
groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area. The non-profit organization
continues to be passionate about the healing power of the performing arts.

Morgan Ladyman, Best Actress as Ruby in “Dames at Sea”AFL President Mary McCreight said the group is dedicated to
promoting public awareness of local community theater, encouraging excellence
in the arts and acknowledging the incredible people who take part.

“St. Louis is an amazing city, especially for the arts.
There are over sixty theatre companies at home here, a third of which are
community theatre. As we watch music education and theatre programs rapidly die
in our schools, the need to keep community theatre alive is more important now
than ever,” McCreight said.

The best musical award was the first for Curtain’s Up
Theater Company, and with his win, director Glenn Saltamachia made AFL history.
He is the first person to win both Best Director Awards at the Best Performance
Awards and at the Theatre Mask Awards in April, which honors dramas and
comedies. He won the TMA for directing “Frost/Nixon” at Looking Glass Playhouse,
and that drama was tied with Actors’ Attic, for “The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-time,” as Best Play – Drama.

He shared the director’s award with Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, who
started as assistant director but made such an impact on set design, staging
and concept that he was billed as a co-director.

“It has been an incredible year! To win the TMA and BPA for
Directing in the same year is an honor I could never have dreamed of.  I have worked with two outstanding companies-
– LGP and CUTC, and I have been blessed and extremely lucky to have had
outstanding, talented, wonderful casts, production crews, technicians, and
musicians to work with,” Saltamachia said.

 “The honor is more a
reflection of their talent, hard work and determination than anything I have
brought to the table. I have always said my greatest talent as a director is
that I surround myself with extremely talented, capable people who share my
passion for good theatre. The fact that both my shows also won for Best
Ensemble in their respective categories proves my point,” he said.

Saltamachia said he was bit by the theater bug when as a
brand new second lieutenant in the Air Force, he auditioned for the Kessler Air
Force Base Little Theatre production of “Charley’s Aunt.”
“Throughout my Air Force career, I would participate in productions wherever we
were stationed when I had the time and circumstances allowed,” he said. “After
retiring from the Air Force in 1997 in Belleville, I began to hear of all the
great local community theaters, and in 1999, I got up the nerve to audition for
the Looking Glass Playhouse production of “Oliver!” and I’ve never stopped.”

Saltamachia has directed 10 shows for LGP since 2001, his
first being “The Odd Couple.” Then, he worked with some Edwardsville people who
were starting a theater company, Curtain’s Up. He appeared in “The Curious
Savage” and has directed six shows for them, the first was “Fiddler on the
Roof” in 2008.

Over the years, he has directed shows for Clinton County
Showcase in Breese, Hard Road Productions in Highland, and in Belleville, Brass
Rail Players, Downtown Players and Cathedral Players. 

“The thing I love most about directing is the process. I
love everything about it!  From script
analysis, planning conferences for concept development, set design and staging
months before production. Then the fun starts with auditions and rehearsals,”
he said. “But the absolute best part is watching as a group of diverse people;
who may not have known each other before, come together, work hard and share
their talents to produce something we are all are proud of. And on the way we
become a family who love each other and develop friendships for life.”

“Thanks to AFL. I am honored and humbled, but I am smart
enough to know I didn’t win these awards by myself,” Saltamachia said. 

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” Goshen Theatre ProjectTerry Pattison, who won awards for costume design and set
design for Goshen Theatre Project, said the group is in its fifth season.

“The Lion King had 46 kids in it, all under the age of 15.
There were well over 160 costumes, all hand-created. Most of the masks and
animals were constructed from a high-density foam so they stayed light weight,”
she said.

The animal costumes included: Lions, lioness, hornbills,
ostrich, zebra, gazelle, egrets, giraffes, wildebeasts, rhino, meerkat, warthog
and various birds.

 “I am honored to
have received two BPA’s this year, one for costuming and the other for scenic
design. I am always creating something in one way or another and it is a
humbling experience to have been recognized against all the other talent in the
St. Louis community theater circuit,” Pattison said.

Lucinda Gyurci, who founded Arts for Life in 1998, said she
continues to be inspired by community theater productions.

“Big Fish” Shooting Star Productions“I feel fortunate to have watched many young people, who
grew up in community theatre, become wonderfully talented adults; some making
their way to Broadway; some establishing their art in local professional
theatre; and some bringing up their next generation in their own footsteps on
the stage,” she said.

Joe Paule Sr. received the Lifetime Achievement Award for
his work as a musician in numerous pit bands, orchestras and as a music
director. Kim Klick and Glenn Guillermo were honored with two special awards,
“TRG Recognition 20th Anniversary Exceptional Volunteer Award,” citing
extraordinary above and beyond service.

Sean Harvey “Crazy for You”

Two special youth awards were given to Caroline Santiago
Turner, who received Best Youth Musical Performance for “Violet,” and
Sean Harvey, named Best Youth Featured Dancer, as Bobby in “Crazy for
You,” both produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

Allison McDonald of Timberland High School and Kira Averett
of Mascoutah received the 2019 AFL Youth Scholarships.

The ceremony was directed by Ken Clark, with music
direction by Diane Hanisch. Ryan Cooper served as master of ceremonies for the
fifth time.

The complete list of awards is as follows:
Best Large Ensemble Musical: “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Small Ensemble Musical: “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions

Best Youth Musical: “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Direction: Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Direction- Youth Production: Paul Pagano, “Violet,”
Gateway Center for the Performing Arts
Best Music Direction: Liz Murphy White, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater
Company

Best Music Direction – Youth Production: Ross Bell, ‘Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Choreography: Ashley Pavlige, “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions

Best Choreography – Youth Production: Ellen Isom, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Austin Turnbull, Jack Kelly,
“Newsies,” Looking Glass Playhouse

Best Leading Actor – Youth Production: Bryce Miller, Edward
Bloom, “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Morgan Ladyman, Ruby,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Producifion

Best Leading Actress – Youth Production: Mia Williams,
Rafiki, “The Lion King Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Actor in a Featured Role: Christopher Strawhun,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Best Actress in a Featured Role: Elizabeth Breed Penny, Paulette, “Legally
Blonde,” Hawthorne Players

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Dennis Folwarczny,
Cinderella’s Prince, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Supporting Actor – Youth Production: Spencer Domer,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Elizabeth Semko, Joan,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions
Best Supporting Actress – Youth Production: Carolyn Karutz, The Witch, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Actor in a Comedic Role: Matthew Hansen, Franz, “Rock
of Ages,” Take Two Productions
Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Miranda Mobley, Little Red Riding Hood, “Into
the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theatre Company

Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Kevin Michael Hester, Dr.
Kitchell, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Nicky Collett, Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch,
“The Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Duo or Group Performance: Abby Cockerham, Laura Megan
Deveney and Theresa Peters Nigus as Donna, Linolium and Betty in “The Great
American Trailer Park Musical,” Act Two Theatre
Best Actor in a Cameo Role: Glenn Guillermo, Carl, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha
Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Cameo Role: Julia Gilbert, Babette, Disney’s “Beauty and the
Beast,” Alfresco Productions

Best Youth Performer: Victor Landon, Munchkin Mayor, “The
Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Costume Design: Donna Saltamachia, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company

Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “The Lion King
Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Set Design: Terry Pattison, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,”
Goshen Theatre Project

Best Set Design – Youth Production: Marty Strohmeyer and
Christopher Phillips, ‘Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions

Best Lighting Design: Jason Koonce, “Bloody Bloody Andrew
Jackson,” Looking Glass Playhouse
Best Lighting Design – Youth Production: Jonathan Hartley, “Disney’s Beauty and
the Beast,” DaySpring School of Arts

For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org

“Dames at Sea” Alfresco ProductionsFor a PDF of the BPA nominations for 2018, here is the
link:

http://nebula.wsimg.com/b255dc30a55d222d652ab689930da965?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorTHAT VOICE: Are you on Team Kennedy yet? If you haven’t heard Kennedy Holmes, 13, from St. Louis in her blind audition on “The Voice,” be prepared to be wowed and understand why it went viral.
Part of The Muny Kids for five years, Kennedy starred as Little Inez in the 2015 “Hairspray” production, has sung the national anthem for Cardinals’ games and appeared as one of the Cratchit children in “A Christmas Carol” at The Rep in 2016. She is an eighth grader at John Burroughs School.
Her confident delivery of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” which showcased her control and range, impressed all four judges and got a 4-chair turn – and standing ovation.
She auditioned in Indianapolis earlier this year and is the youngest person in the singing competition this season. Producers saved her for the last spot and teased her appearance in a sneak peek last week that set her schoolmates and local folks buzzing. The cliffhanger coach pick was easy to guess.
Kennedy, while remarkably poised singing, got emotional over Jennifer Hudson, and then sang with her idol in an impromptu “I Am Changing” from “Dreamgirls.”
The guys made convincing pitches.
Adam Levine: “Very, very rarely does someone come around that kind of reignites our passion for what we do. And to hear you sing today did that. Just to see that kind of confidence naturally exist in you at such a young age, it’s unheard of. After the 15 seasons, you really could become the absolute biggest thing to ever come from this show.”
Blake Shelton: “Let me be the first to thank you for coming to ‘The Voice,’ ’cause our ratings are going to shoot through the roof this evening. I think you are the best vocalist that has auditioned this year. I want you to pick me as your coach so you can teach me how to sing like that.”
After Kennedy’s pick, Hudson was ecstatic. “I think the game is over because I just won ‘The Voice’ with little Miss Kennedy. Yes, I did.”
Here’s the clip from the Blind Auditions, which started Sept. 24. To date, her audition video has been viewed 3.6 million times on YouTube.com.

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kennedy. It will be fun watching her progress on the national stage, next in the Knockout Rounds, then hopefully Battle Rounds and Live Performances. (And the local television and radio stations are all over it.)
***DEVIL MAY CARE: As the calendar turns autumnal, it’s time for sinister, spooky suspense. Five local theater groups have teamed up to present “Faustival: The Devils We Choose” – one in August and the rest through December.
The artistic collaboration is between Equally Represented Arts, The Midnight Company, Theatre Nuevo, SATE, and the Post-Romantics. They are presenting works on the Faust myth from the 16th century – about a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for perks.
ERA FaustIn August, ERA, along with Kid Scientist, presented “Faust (go down with all the re$t),” an experimental rock-opera-adaptation of Goethe’s most celebrated work.
Currently, The Midnight Company is presenting the one-act “An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening,” along with another one-act by Mickle Maher, “The Hunchback Variations.”
For more information, www.midnightcompany.com
In October, Theatre Nuevo will present “whither should I fly” from Oct. 25 – Nov. 10 at the William A. Kerr Foundation, 21 O’Fallon St., St. Louis. For more information, visit www.theatrenuevo.com
Starting on Halloween, “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” by John Wolbers and Kit Marlowe will be performed by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) Wednesdays through Saturdays through Nov. 17 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis. For more information, www.slightlyoff.org.
The Post-Romantics will present “Doomsday Faust” Dec. 5 – 8 at the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street, St. Louis.
For more information, please visit faustival.org.
***MOVING ON UP: The aforementioned John Wolbers, who has adapted Faust for SATE, shared some exciting news recently. He is a new Producing Associate at the Metro Theatre Company. He has served as the full-time resident teaching artist at MTC since the 2012-2013 season. He will assist Artistic Director Julia Flood with casting, directing and production administration.
Andrew Kuhlman is Broadway bound! He is currently working in New York as a co-producer on “The Prom,” the Broadway musical comedy that begins previews on Oct. 23. Andrew, an associate producer at Stages St. Louis, made the announcement Sept. 7.
“I am beyond excited to be taking this journey with a show that I could not believe in more. I cannot wait for audiences to fall in love with this hilarious, heartfelt and energetic musical,” he said.
“The Prom” has some prominent local connections – including Jack Lane, at Stages St. Louis, as one of its producers. Lane already has two Tony Awards as part of the group behind “Fun Home” and “The Humans.”
Joe Grandy, Andrew Kuhlman of “The Prom”The show lyricist and book writer is Chad Beguelin, who grew up in Centralia, Ill. He’s a multiple Tony nominee, for book and lyrics to “The Wedding Singer” and lyrics to “Aladdin.”
The cast includes Muny favorite Beth Leavel, Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Muny veterans, including St. Louis natives Drew Redington and Jack Sippel, and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy.
***WHO’S WHO: Upstream Theater is hosting renowned director Marianne de Pury who will stage the U.S. premiere of “Chef” by UK/Egyptian playwright and poet Sabrina Mahfouz. The one-woman show, starring Linda Kennedy, opens Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 14.
Linda Kennedy, Photo by ProPhotoSTL“Chef” is the gripping story of how one woman went from being an haute-cuisine head chef to a convicted inmate running a prison kitchen. Leading us through her world of mouth-watering dishes and heart-breaking memories, Chef questions our attitudes to food, prisoners, violence, love and hope.
Originally from the French part of Switzerland, de Pury is known for her work with the famed Open Theatre, where she composed music for “America Hurrah” and “Viet Rock.” Since those days she has directed all over the world–mostly in Germany, where her most recent work, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” was nominated as one of the year’s best productions.
Playwright Rob Urbanati came to the ‘Lou for Tesseract Theatre Company’s opening of his play, “Mama’s Boy,” which explores the relationship between a controlling mom and her son, who gained infamy as the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
Here he is with the cast after Friday night’s show. They got our attention opening night at the .Zack, conveying a roller-coaster of emotions played out in historical context.
Urbanati, of New York City, is a playwright, screenwriter, book author, director, and director of new play development at Queens Theatre in the Park. His well-constructed 2015 drama is a fascinating exploration of family dynamics. It’s directed by Brad Schwartz.
From left: Jeremy Goldmeier (Robert Oswald), Brandon Atkins (Lee Harvey Oswald), playwright Rob Urbanati, Donna Parrone (Marguerite Oswald) and Carly Uding (Marina Oswald).
Lynn Venhaus photo***AROUND TOWN: Alas, the Stephen Sondheim appearance in St. Louis Oct. 4 is sold out. He is accepting the 2018 St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates for being one of the most eminent lyricists and composers of the modern era.
He is the first musical lyricist to win the award since its inception in 1967. In a remarkable career spanning 70 years, Sondheim has written the lyrics, music —or both, for some of the most iconic and long running plays in the history of American theater.
The response was overwhelming, and all seats in the Sheldon Concert Hall and the simulcast viewing room have been reserved. During the event, which begins at 7 p.m., Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director – and major Sondheim fan – will interview him on stage.
Three-time Tony Award winner “Avenue Q” has been extended three more weeks for its winter presentation at the Playhouse @ Westport.
Because of overwhelming ticket response, the “furry, funny and feel-good musical” will now run Jan. 25 – March 3. The cast is a combo of local and touring performers.
Another famous St. Louisan, poet, novelist and playwright A.E. Hotchner, an alumnus of Washington University, has endowed an annual Playwriting Festival. Three new works will be presented this weekend (Sept. 28 and 29) – “Tom and Grace” by Scott Greenberg, “Arriving At” by Ike Butler on Saturday at 2 p.m. and “Florida” by Lucas Marschke at 7 p.m. The guest dramaturg is Michele Volansky, chair of the drama department at Washington College in Maryland. The event is sponsored by Newman’s Own Foundation. For more information, visit: pad.artsci.wustl.edu.
The Stage Left Grille is now under Fox Management, so you can stop there for a bite to eat before a show at the Fox Theatre, the Kranzberg Arts Center or The Grandel, or any place in the Grand Arts Center.
“Confessions of a Nightingale,” a production from the Tennessee Williams Festival set for Nov. 1-4, has to be postponed until 2019.
***CHAMPAGNE & MOONSHINE: If you saw “Always, Patsy Cline” at Stages St. Louis in 2014 or at The Playhouse at Westport the following year, you must remember Jacqueline Petroccia as the star. A national sensation in that role, I recall that her velvety voice was “like butter.” She has released a debut solo album, the double EP “Champagne and Moonshine,” Collaborators on the album include musician royalty from Music City, including members of the Nashville Symphony, the award-winning Rascal Flatts, and Broadway Musician Brent Frederick.
Recorded live, with special permission, at the legendary and historic Quonset Hut on Music Row in Nashville, Tenn.,the album is available online through CD Baby (physical copy), Amazon, and iTunes.
The first EP, “Champagne,” features a big band sound appropriate for any ballroom or supper club, including an original arrangement mix “Crazy/Crazy He Calls Me,” and “Mambo Italiano.” The second EP, “Moonshine,” features new country music hits, and her original debut single “Your Name in Lights,” written by Brandon Hood, Hillary Lee Lindsey, and Troy Verges
Her other stage credits include the national tours of :The Producers,” “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was a featured soloist on the album “Where the Sky Ends” by Michael Mott (Broadway Records) and has appeared on “Prairie Home Companion,” featured with the Williamsburg Swing Orchestra and in her solo cabaret show Sometimes Patsy Cline (productions at 54 Below and Regional Theatres). More information can be found at JacquelinePetroccia.com
***YOU GO GLEN COCO: “Is butter a carb? Whatever, I’m having cheese fries.”
Wednesday, Oct. 3, is unofficially known as National Mean Girls Day, so imaginative Chef Liz of Tenacious Eats has created a fun event for the evening. Tickets are $35 and include a Mean Girls-inspired cocktail, entree and Kalteen Protein Bar for dessert.
Expect some “fetch” prizes if you can answer some Mean Girls trivia and photo ops will be available with a Lindsay Lohan lookalike. Costumes are encouraged, and it is on a Wednesday, so you might want to wear pink!
The Tina Fey movie will be shown at 7 p.m. on the big screen at the West End Grill & Pub, 354 N. Boyle. Doors open at 6 p.m. for pre-show fun, Mean Girls trivia, prizes and photo ops. Tickets are available at: www.BrownPaperTickets.com.
***WORD: Decoding Theatre Reviews – a must-read: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/theatre-reviews-decoded/
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Who are your favorite moms in musicals? Answer our poll and you will be entered in our drawing for two tickets to “One Funny Mother” at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m.
Dena Blizzard, former Miss New JerseyHilarious Dena Blizzard, best known as “The Target Mom,” is a viral sensation and former Miss New Jersey. Her one-woman show puts the fun in domestic dysfunction.
FAVORITE MOM IN MUSICALS:Mae Peterson in “Bye, Bye Birdie”Margaret Smith in “Carrie”“Big Edie” Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale in “Grey Gardens”Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray”The Witch in “Into the Woods”Lady Thiang in “The King and I”Margaret Johnson in “The Light in the Piazza”
Send your pick to: [email protected] by Monday, Oct. 1, at noon. Winner will be notified soon after, and arrangements will be made for your tickets to be waiting for you at the box office.
Our last winner was Christopher Strawhun for “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Let’s hear it for St. Louis native Chris Redd and longest-ever SNL cast member Kenan Thompson on their Emmy win for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “Come Back, Barack,” a Boyz II Men-style parody from last November’s episode hosted by Chance the Rapper.

Q: Despite multiple nominations, SNL has won only once before, for what song?
Justin Timberlake and Andy Samburg’s collaboration, “D**k in a Box.”
Fun fact: Theme songs also count for the award. “Moonlighting,” “Cheers,” “Chico and the Man,” “Growing Pains” and “Police Woman” have won.
Chris Redd didn’t live in St. Louis long and moved to Chicago as a youth. He is back at “Saturday Night Live” for his second season, which starts this Saturday, with host Adam Driver and musical guest Kanye West.
***
Tips? Contact: [email protected]

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Imelda Staunton. Their different portraits of the iconic Momma Rose character in “Gypsy” are among the most legendary in theater history. Now add Beth Leavel to that august list.
The Muny’s sixth production of the gutsy Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim classic hits the heights in so many ways, but first and foremost is Leavel’s knockout performance.
Most of the time, the ambitious Momma Rose is viewed as a heartless monster and played in that blustery, brassy Merman-style. Others have realized that Rose is a tough survivor. Either way, she is hard to warm up to, but at least Leavel makes you understand her.

Leavel is a Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” veteran of 12 Broadway shows and Muny diva whose “Hello, Dolly!” in 2014 remains one of the outdoor stage’s finest shows. Tackling this titanic role was a challenge I was certain she could meet but was not prepared for the delicate balance she achieved.
Sure, hear her roar. A born belter who projects well, Leavel pretty much started at 11, and then dialed back to modulate this complex character.
Given that Rose was introduced in 1959, when theater was not a champion of woman empowerment, it’s interesting that book writer Arthur Laurents wrote such a complicated part. And now it’s on nearly every actress’s bucket list.
The show is loosely based on the 1957 memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque entertainer known internationally for her striptease artistry. She’s the Louise inspiration, and her sister, actress June Havoc, is Baby June.
Their mother pushed them into the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s, dreaming of showbiz success. June was the extroverted performer while Louise was shy and in the background. That changes during the show’s many conflicts.
This ultimate stage mother, fiercely driven and controlling, is twice-divorced and perpetually broke. Rose must be resourceful and rely on her wits in a world not used to strong independent women.
She is a bulldozer, but peerless director Rob Ruggiero’s emphasis is that she’s motivated out of desperation. Always thinking of where their next gig will be, and if they can grab the spotlight, Rose is all about what’s next – for her and those she loves.
Because their mother is living through her children’s lives, Baby June and Louise will suffer the consequences from her abrasive efforts. However, her bossiness hides the fear of failing, of losing, of not making it through to the next day.
Ruggiero’s ability to deconstruct a 1950s era “book musical” and bring out what makes it enduring is why his shows resonate, especially on the expansive Muny stage. Despite my familiarity with a show I’ve seen multiple times, he makes it seem that I’m seeing it for the first time – namely “Hello, Dolly!” “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma” at the Muny, and award-winning “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Besides a vulnerability that seeps through in this “Gypsy,” there is an undercurrent of hunger. People are hungry physically, emotionally and mentally. They crave some things that have been out of reach or are not yet attainable, whether it be a nourishing meal, a living wage, a sense of worth or a dream realized.
Because of this deeper context, the musical is not just a showcase for Momma Rose, and this cast has an abundance of talent. Adam Heller captures nice-guy agent Herbie, the good cop to Rose’s bad cop, in a nuanced portrait of the man Rose loves – and pushes around. He and Leavel, a real-life couple, are noticeably in sync in their numbers “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and “Together Wherever We Go.”
While they headline, Julia Knitel is a stealth bomber. Lanky and awkward as a reluctant Louise, the proverbial people-pleaser who only wants what Momma says is best, she blooms as Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a striking performance, and her physical transformation is astonishing – although Knitel was already endearing from the get-go, especially in the heartbreaking “Little Lamb.”

She and Hayley Podschun as June share nice moments, including “If Momma Was Married.”
Their younger counterparts, Amelie Lock as Baby June and Elise Edwards as Baby Louise, are winsome performers. It’s a slick move when Ruggiero transitions them from young to older midway in a number.
Another standout is St. Louisan and Muny regular Drew Redington as Tulsa, a superb dancer who outgrows the kiddie act. His solo to “All I Need Is the Girl” is sensational.

The scene-stealing strippers in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” are not only a hilarious sight gag but terrific performers who were a bright spot of comic relief. Jennifer Cody as Tessie Tura, Ann Harada as an older Electra and Ellen Harvey as a statuesque Mazeppa were laugh-out-loud funny.
Lighting designer John Lasiter’s precise work deserves mention, as does costume designer Amy Clark, going the showbiz gamut from kitsch to glitz — and those distinctive patterned cloth coats for Rose.

Scenic designer Luke Cantarella draped the show in reality – muted colors for drab sets to indicate the hardships during financially strapped times, and the dingy two-bit nature of the fading vaudeville circuit.
Ruggiero’s dream team of choreographer Ralph Perkins and music director James Moore assured that the song-and-dance numbers would be first-rate. They’ve worked together on multiple productions.
Nevertheless, maestro Moore raised the bar. He displayed his expertise conducting the orchestra in an overture that was so magnificent the audience applauded midway. And this was only the start of something special. The orchestra’s big wall of sound, with all that splendid brass, was one of the show’s best elements..
After all, what great material to work with — Jule Styne wrote this unforgettable music. He’s behind such famous tunes as “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Let It Snow” and ‘The Party’s Over.” Paired with lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, fresh off “West Side Story,” these songs have stood the test of time.
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” brings the house down at the end of Act I. And Leavel still had plenty left in her tank for Act 2.
After Rose has cajoled and bullied her way through nearly two acts, we are ready for Momma to confront her demons in the showstopper “Rose’s Turn.”
In this emotional wallop, Leavel gave it everything she had, defiantly going through a litany of anger, frustration and regrets for Rose to finally realize she did it for herself. And to herself.
It’s one of the greatest scenes ever, and Leavel hits it over the free-seats fence. Afterwards, we had to let it sink in, like she did in catharsis, and then wave after wave of applause stopped the show until the very long ovation waned.
That shared experience is what we all hope for when watching live theater, and she earned it, seizing her moment, fearless and alone on that stage.
While the show is bleak – and I’ve seen productions that were darker – there is still a glimmer of hope: that mothers and daughters can reconcile, that brighter days are ahead, and that all the work that goes into a goal was worth it.
This “Gypsy” doesn’t sugar-coat show business or struggles, and instead tells us about real-and-flawed people trying to get by and get noticed. It’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling and features a cast that makes you feel everything they experience.
“Gypsy” was clearly ahead of its time, back in 1959. And this week it was time for the Muny to hit repeat in a brand new way for this Centennial Season.
“Gypsy” is presented July 27 through Aug. 2 at 8:15 p.m. nightly at The Muny’s outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information or tickets, visit www.muny.org or call MetroTix at 314- 534-1111.

Photos by Phillip  Hamer