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 Venhaus
Managing EditorA STAR WAS BORN: It was as if scripted in a movie. You’ve heard of that classic moment in the 1933 movie “42nd Street” when an understudy takes over for an injured diva. Well, it really happened right here in St. Louis one summer 46 years ago at The Muny.
On Aug. 14, 1972, MGM musical star Ann Miller was playing Reno Sweeney to Michael Callan’s Billy Crockett in “Anything Goes.” The classic Cole Porter romantic romp was underway when right after the song “Friendship” during a scenery change, Miller was conked on the head by a steel boom. Callan had followed her off-stage, then found her on the floor, dazed and bruised.

“Is there a doctor in the house?” A call went out from the stage and 15 doctors responded. The show was cancelled and Miller taken to Deaconess Hospital with a mild brain concussion and loss of equilibrium. She spent 23 days there.With Miller out but not wanting to cancel the week, Muny brass sought a replacement. They plucked Pat St. James, a senior at Webster University, from the ensemble. She rose to the occasion.
St. James, whose parents were local broadcast celebrities Clif and Nance St. James, was praised for her soaring performance. She later thrived in a musical theater career.
But in 1999, she switched gears, earning a degree in theology and ordained an Episcopal priest. She was married to David Roberts, and they lived in Atlanta with their two children, Oliver and Julia. At age 61, after a four-year battle with cancer, she died on Dec. 5, 2010.
Her moment in the sun became a Muny legend.
“Anything Goes” may have been Miller’s first appearance at The Muny but it wouldn’t be her last. She would be persuaded to return in the next decade, for ‘Sugar Babies” with Mickey Rooney in 1984.
Miller starred in “Kiss Me Kate,” “Easter Parade,” “On the Town,” “Stage Door,” “Room Service” and “Mulholland Drive” (?!?).Side Note: I actually saw Pat St. James as Reno Sweeney that week at The Muny. Everyone was abuzz.
(“Anything Goes” photo from Muny archives, from left, Pat Paulsen, Pat St. James, Michael Callan.)
***HELLO, USA!: Congratulations to Madison Johnson of St. Louis, who has been cast in the national tour of “Hello, Dolly!” that begins in late September. She is part of the ensemble and understudy for Minnie Fay.This tour of the Broadway revival, which won four Tony Awards in 2017, will feature Betty Buckley as Dolly Levi and Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder. Stadlen, a three-time Tony nominee, has been in several Muny shows, including “The Producers,” “Damn Yankees,” “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Madison has been part of the Muny ensemble the past six years, recently playing Lucille Ballard in “Meet Me in St. Louis.” She was Kristine in “A Chorus Line” last summer and Frenchie in 2014’s “Grease.” She started at age 7 as a Muny Kid. A graduate of Whitfield School and Elon College, she moved to New York City in 2016.
***
SIX DEGREES OF ST. LOUIS: John David Washington is starring in “BlackkKlansman” as undercover cop Ron Stallworth, who wrote the book that Spike Lee has adapted into this acclaimed film.

He was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2007 after he was not drafted in the NFL Draft. Later cut from the Rams, he was a running back for the Hamburg Sea Devils, a German team playing in the NFL Europe League. Fun fact: Eldest son of two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.
Photo: Adam Driver and John David Washington
***GO SEE A PLAY! POLL: The St. Louis Fringe Festival’s local headlining act is an original musical written and composed by Colin Healy called “The Gringo.” The world premiere will be performed four times from Thursday, Aug. 16 through Sunday, Aug. 19, at the .Zack, 3224 Locust.
It’s about how art can bring a community together. Set in Miami, a local street artist is wrongfully gunned down by police. As told through the lens of a successful painter, this community faces injustice and rapid gentrification. They learn what it means to fight for your home.
The cast includes Gheremi Clay, Kevin Corpuz, Robert Crenshaw, Evann De-Bose, Riley Dunn, William Humphrey, Omega Jones, Tim Kaniecki, Alicia Revé Like, Brittany Losh, Samantha Madison, Gabby McNabb, Carly Niehaus, Janine Norman and David Zimmerman.
Healy directs, with Bradley Rohlf assistant director; Christopher Page-Sanders choreographer and Carly Uding costume design.Tieliere Cheatem contributed the artwork. On opening night, they will give this portrait away that has been signed by the cast and the crew. Tickets available at Metrotix.com

For a chance to win two tickets to one performance, enter our poll drawing!Poll Question: What Is Your Favorite Show About Art? “Art”
“Is He Dead?”“Red”“Sunday in the Park with George”“Sight Unseen”
Submit your selection to [email protected] by noon on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Please include your phone number. You will be notified that afternoon if you won, and you can select what performance so that tickets can be arranged. The show is at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. Thanks for participating.
Winner of our two tickets to “Meet Me in St. Louis” was Chuck Brinkley. Thank you, Muny!
“Meet Me in St. Louis” received the most votes as the favorite local movie shot in or made about St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Oscar winner Shelley Winters, whose career spanned five decades, was born Shirley Schrift on Aug. 18, 1920, in St. Louis to Jewish immigrant parents. Her father, a tailor, moved the family to Brooklyn when she was a child. She died at age 86 in 2006.
Once nicknamed “The Blonde Bombshell,” she later became known for forceful dramatic roles.For what movie performances did she win her two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress?Answer: “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1959, as a shrill Mrs. Van Daan, and “A Patch of Blue” in 1965, in which she played a slatternly mother cruel to her blind daughter.
Her breakthrough role on stage was as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!” five years into the run, and she was noticed in “A Double Life” starring Oscar winner Ronald Coleman in 1947.But after a dissatisfying number of movie roles, she finally got the role of her lifetime in “A Place in the Sun” with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor.
Some of her other big movies were “A Night of the Hunter” in 1955 and “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972. Earlier, she had returned to studying at the Actors Studio and became a big advocate of the Lee Strasberg method.
A lifelong progressive Democrat and outspoken on feminist issues, she became quite a raconteur on talk shows during the 1970s and ‘80s. Her two tell-all autobiographies created quite a stir, as she had some high-profile leading-men dalliances.
Fun fact: She roomed with Marilyn Monroe when they were just starting out in Hollywood.
Happy Birthday, Shelley! (She would have been 98 Monday).Photo at right: Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.
***ICYMI: A movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning “In the Heights” is planned for summer release 2020. Jon M. Chu, who helmed the new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians,” will direct.Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” will be made into a movie, and production is to start in November. Stars signed so far are Tony winners James Corden and Ian McKellen, along with Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Grammy winner Taylor Swift.
***WORD/DOWN MEMORY LANE: “Would you shut your phones off for Christ sakes?” – Stanley Tucci, during the Aug. 14, 2002, performance of “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway. An audience member’s cell phone kept ringing. Calls for a ban on cell phones at NYC’s theatres grew louder, and a law was put into effect in 2003.
***Have any tidbits for this people column? Contact Managing Editor Lynn Venhaus – [email protected]
.All photos from archives or submitted. Featured image is of St. Louis native Shelley Winters.