By Lynn Venhaus

This re-imagining of the classic Broadway musical is magnificent. “West Side Story” is brimming with vitality and breathtaking songs.

With so many expectations, director Steven Spielberg has made smart choices – honoring the original yet finessed it for a new generation.

Star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria meet, and they are connected with two rival gangs in a modern slant on “Romeo and Juliet” – only it’s the mean streets of Manhattan in an unfriendly urban jungle, where the Jets and the Sharks each want to rule the turf. Adapted by Arthur Laurents into the 1957 stage musical, which became a smash hit movie in 1961, earning 11 Academy Awards, and features music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Renowned playwright Tony Kushner’s grittier script effectively expanded the backstories, made the relationships more intimate and urgent. Spielberg’s go-to Janusz Kaminski’s vintage-hued cinematography pops – the film’s look and sound stands out.

The musical numbers have been staged with great care and are seamlessly integrated into the story. The work of choreographer Justin Peck, artistic director of New York City Ballet, is exquisite. It would be hard to top visionary Jerome Robbins, who not only conceived the 1957 musical but also directed and choreographed it, but what Peck achieves with lean, muscular and lithe dancers in the dynamic “Dance at the Gym” and an epic bold, swirling, vibrant “America” that spills out into the streets like an impromptu carnival is stunning.

There isn’t a better musical score – “Tonight,” “Maria,” “Somewhere,” “One Hand, One Heart,” “Something’s Coming,” “The Jet Song,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and more. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s music is timeless –orchestrations are lush while the young vocalists deliver the Stephen Sondheim lyrics with depth and understanding.

An impressive mix of Broadway and Hollywood talent elevates it – especially with youthful energy and soaring vocal chops. Tony winner David Alvarez (“Billy Elliot”) and Mike Faist (Connor Murphy in original Broadway cast of “Dear Evan Hansen”) are electric as Bernardo and Riff. Ariana deBose is ablaze as Anita while newcomer Rachel Zegler is something special as Maria. The others are so dazzling that Ansel Elgort is the weakest link as a blander Tony, but he can sing and dance.

Best of all is Rita Moreno in a new role as Doc’s wife. If she is nominated (and she should), it won’t be as a sentimental career nod — it will be because she is that good. After all, she is an EGOT winner (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) and to this day, is the only Latino to win an Oscar, for playing Anita in “West Side Story.”

Character actors Corey Stoll and Brian D’Arcy James play Lt. Shrank and Officer Krupke, the old-guard police guys trying to keep peace.

The modern retelling of “Romeo and Juliet” remains relevant and should excite a new audience like the 1961 movie did in its day.

While some didn’t think the movie should be messed with, it was 60 years ago, with a predominantly white cast and leads whose singing voices were dubbed, so it wasn’t perfect, and the updates are effective in bringing it into the 21st century – while keeping the time references the same.

“West Side Story” is an extremely challenging musical, and they manage to pull it off with style and grace. It deserves an audience – to be seen on a big screen in all its full technicolor glory — and I hope it lives on as a remarkable example of new approaches to a beloved classic that work.

“West Side Story” is a 2021 musical directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, David Alvarez, Arianna Debose, Mike Faist, Corey Stoll, Brian D’Arcy and Rita Moreno. It is rated PG-13 for some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material, and brief smoking, and it’s run time is 2 hours, 36 minutes. In theaters Dec. 10. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus

A refreshing summer breeze took over the Muny for the premiere of the solid-gold Emilio and Gloria Estefan musical “On Your Feet!” and transformed it into an effusive Saturday night Dance Party. Did we need this now or what?

A winning combination of melodic Latin rhythms, heartfelt pop ballads, ebullient dance moves and an only-in-America success story, this electrifying jukebox musical swiftly engaged the crowd, who seemed ready to have the rhythm get them up and on their feet for a rockin’ megamix curtain call.

The winds of change were noticeable opening night on that venerable stage in Forest Park, where it has been a beacon in times of turmoil – and created more than a few memorable moments. Will we remember this night as a turning point? It deserves to be one.

To be sure, it was a fait accompli that also was of historical significance. Looking back at the past decade, this Muny premiere is the most recent work on the schedule, having opened on Broadway in 2015.

While the Municipal Opera archives includes pre-Broadway tryouts and shows imported directly from New York, “On Your Feet!” is also among the shows that have had the shortest time between its Broadway debut and the Muny-produced premiere. For instance, “On Your Feet!” has six years between those markers, only surpassed by “Legally Blonde” — 2007 in NYC and 2011 in Forest Park, and “Newsies” on Broadway in 2012 and at the Muny in 2017. (“Kinky Boots” and “Matilda the Musical” both opened on Broadway in April 2013 and were at the Muny the summer of 2019, and “Shrek the Musical” was in NYC in 2007 and at The Muny in 2013, so all tying the six years’ gap.)

The show also represents a sea change — the first about Latinos by Latinos with a primarily Latino cast. The Estefans are known for breaking barriers, so kudos for this achievement, too.

Arianna Rosario and Omar Lopez-Cepero as Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Because the audience of 5,930 wholeheartedly embraced this modern musical, magic materialized and represented something larger in the big picture. After all, the Muny is most importantly about community, and “On Your Feet!” is about what community means – and how determination and everlasting love can get us over insurmountable odds.

There is so much to like about this local production, well-suited for the expansive outdoors stage, not only a showcase for sizzling performances but also as a panorama of cultural heritage.

Based on the remarkable true story of married power couple Emilio and Gloria Estefan (lightning bolts Omar Lopez-Cepero and Arianna Rosario), who met while making music in Miami. Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia was 17, studying for a degree in psychology.

As leader of the popular group Miami Latin Boys, Emilio recognized her talent, and it was apparent early on they made quite a team. They eventually married, had a son and daughter, and built an international career that resulted in Gloria becoming one of the best-selling female artists of all-time. (75 million records and counting).

Impossible was never in their vocabulary, and the realities of what they overcame makes for a compelling narrative. Above all, their backstory illustrates how enormous hard work and belief in what they offered paid off.

In the 1980s, their Miami Sound Machine music was a revolutionary fusion of Cuban and American cultures and as an early crossover to other audiences, earned worldwide acclaim through its propulsive beats: “Conga!”, “Rhythms Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Get on Your Feet” and “Live for Loving You” lit up club dance floors. Fame and fortune followed, but not without its struggles.

Initially, Gloria shied away from the spotlight, but that exceptional voice demanded she be front and center. The band became known as Gloria Estefan and The Miami Sound Machine, later dropping the group name. Grammy Awards, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors and two Super Bowl halftime appearances are among her accolades.

The ready-made-for-a-musical opened at New York’s Marquis Theatre in 2015 after a Chicago tryout and closed after 746 performances in 2017. Some of the Muny cast and production team were involved in the Broadway show, including music director Lon Hoyt, who makes the music pop with pizzazz.

Omar Lopez-Cepero and Arianna Rosario. Photo by Phillip Hamer

This biopic was immediately elevated by the casting of real-life husband-and-wife Lopez-Cepero and Rosario as the leads. They make a dynamic duo, easily captivating with sincerity, personality and noticeable chemistry.

As the Queen of Latin pop, Rosario is a dazzling magnetic force delivering hit after catchy hit and conveying warmth and courage in the personal life interludes. During the Broadway run, she was an understudy for Gloria and performed as Rebecca, Gloria’s sister, and in the ensemble.

Since his breakthrough performance in the Muny’s 2017 “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and his tremendous turn as Armando in 2019’s “Paint Your Wagon,” Lopez-Cepero has been notable. Fortunately, he finally gets an opportunity to be in a starring role, and effortlessly rises to the occasion. He was in the original Broadway cast as a supporting player.

He shines as Emilio, who recognized Gloria’s talents and would not be deterred by all the doors shut along the way, opening windows instead and allowing the music to do its magic. His splendid voice soars in “Don’t Want to Lose You.”

Both the Estefans and the headliners project that their marriage is a terrific representation of a true partnership.

Family is a major focus of the musical’s book by Alexander Dinelaris Jr., Oscar winner for co-writing the original screenplay of “Birdman” with Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone and Armando Bo.

The delightful Alma Cuervo, who originated the role of Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive “abuela’ (grandma) on Broadway, endeared herself on the larger stage.

And because there is never a musical biography without conflict, that friction is displayed in the rocky relationship with bitter mom, also named Gloria, whose dreams were crushed at a young age.

As the elder Gloria, Natascia Diaz stands out in song – “Mi Tierra” and with Lopez-Cepero in “If I Never Got to Tell You,” a song written by Gloria and her daughter Emily Estefan for this show.

Locally, Diaz won a Kevin Kline Award for best supporting actress in a musical in 2006 for portraying Anita in The Muny’s 2005 “West Side Story” and was nominated for a St. Louis Theater Circle Award as Velma Kelly in the Muny’s “Chicago” in 2012.

While the book follows the template of many other standard biographies, Gloria’s backstory does include some hefty issues. At age 2, she fled from the revolution in Cuba with her family. In the U.S. military, her father served in the Bay of Pigs invasion and volunteered for Vietnam, and Gloria’s tapes of her singing comforted him on the far-away battlefield.

Martin Sola is poignant as Jose Fajardo, the loving dad suffering from multiple sclerosis. He was also a part of the Broadway production.

Adolescent performers are bright lights — Isabella Iannelli as young Gloria and Jordan Vergara as son Nayib and young Emilio respectively. Vergara made his Broadway debut as an alternate in those roles and continued playing them in the national tour.

There is a fun recreation of a Shriners convention in Vegas, with the two youngsters as tiny Elvis impersonators, and the enitre youth ensemble is a sunny presence in the big numbers.

The multi-generational ensemble is noteworthy – and the diversity reflects how America looks today. Bravo to the casting that recognized talent comes in all different shades and sizes, and for the work by dialect coach Gaby Rodriguez Perara.

Director Maggie Burrows, a Muny first-timer, has deftly pulled all the elements together to keep the story on its toes, fortified with athletic choreography by William Carlos Angulo and Hoyt’s percussive beat. The musicians were a finely tuned machine, and the additional percussion gave the pulsating numbers extra oomph.

Costume Designer Leon Dobkowski’s signature swirling mix of bright colors provided flexibility and were pleasing to watch in motion.

The book’s construction makes it necessary to stage small, intimate scenes – such as a kitchen counter, a bedroom, a dressing room and a hospital bed, so I wish the sound had been better, because at times it was subpar, hard to hear the conversations.

Because of Gloria’s explosive career as an entertainer, scenic designer Tim Mackabee has staged multiple numbers with the pop superstar descending a staircase in headlining diva mode, and the band perched in full view – which lends such a vitality.

As does video segments on the LED screen as an ‘up close and personal’ viewpoint – an ingenious move that offers something new. Kudos to video designer Kate Ducey on the innovative work.

The scenic design also features a minimal but effective use of tropical settings in Havana and south Florida.

Act II features the devastating accident in March 1990, when the Estefans’ tour bus collided with a semi-truck in a snowstorm. Gloria suffered severe spinal injuries, and could have never walked again, but a nine-hour surgery, where they inserted two titanium rods, helped her to fully recover – that and an intense focus on rehabilitation, not to mention the encouragement from thousands of fans across the globe.

The finale recalls the stunning moment when Gloria took the stage at the American Music Awards the next year and sang “Coming Out of the Dark,” which she wrote with Emilio and songwriter/bandmate Jon Secada.

As with any triumph in life, persistence is the key, and this musical exemplifies that, just like Gloria’s album, “Into the Light.”

“On Your Feet!” is a breath of fresh air, a jolt of joy in an increasingly scary world. As the joint was jumpin’ on opening night, this indicated patrons could be receptive to a brand-new day.

How lovely that the universal language of music could soothe our souls at a time we badly need a reminder in the enduring, inspiring notion that America still is the land of hope and dreams.

This summer smile was indeed welcome. And a sweet ending with fireworks after tripping the light fantastic.

“On Your Feet!” is presented nightly at 8:15 p.m. from Saturday, Aug. 21 to Friday, Aug. 27, at the Muny outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.muny.org. For tickets, visit www.Metrotix.com or the Muny box office, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday at 1 Theatre Drive, or call (314) 361-1900 x1550.

The Megamix Curtain Call. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Muny photos by Phillip Hamer.

Lynn Venhaus has been reviewing the Muny since 2009 and professional theater since 2005, and is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle, established in 2012. A longtime journalist, she has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metropolitan area publications since 1978, earning awards along the way for news and features (and an Illinois Press Association award for reviews before they dropped the category). She has taught writing for the media as an adjunct instructor at three local colleges. A graduate of Illinois State University, she has a mass communications degree with a minor in theater. Among her life achievements are sons Tim and Charlie.

By Lynn Venhaus
EGOT winner Rita Moreno, who will turn 90 on Dec. 11, traveled from Puerto Rico to America with her mother when she was 5 years old. She would go on to a legendary career as an actress, singer and dancer that has spanned 70 years.

A candid documentary, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It,” is a loving and illuminating look at her life and struggles.

Just when you think this will be a fawning showbiz portrait, Moreno matter-of-factly points out the bumps in the road in a difficult journey to stardom. She shares intimate details about the racism and sexism she endured on Broadway and in Hollywood, reveals jaw-dropping abuse and a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando.

Her resilience, and talent, would help her triumph over adversity – but what a remarkable, strong woman. Fiesty and fearless now, the former Rosita Dolores Alverio is still going strong. She is an executive producer on Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story,” to be released this December, and was on the rebooted sitcom “One Day at a Time” from 2017 to 2020.

 Often cast as a stereotypical ethnic minority early in her career, she discusses her efforts to break barriers, fight for representation and forge a path for other artists.

Winning the Oscar in 1962

The talking heads include George Chakiris, fellow Oscar winner for “West Side Story” (1961) as Bernardo to her Anita; Morgan Freeman, who appeared with her on PBS’ “The Electric Company,” for which she won a Grammy; and Latino performers who consider her a role model: Gloria Estefan, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado. Karen Olivo and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is one of the executive producers on the documentary.

The spry Moreno, a widow and mother of one daughter, is a marvel of movement. An activist ready to take to the streets, she chronicles her early involvement in civil rights and how she continues to fight injustice.

The career achievements are vast – including two Emmys, for ‘The Rockford Files” and “The Muppet Show,” and a Tony for “The Ritz” in 1975. The director has inserted copious amounts of archival footage, and Moreno’s body of work is impressive.

For 89 minutes, this fascinating and inspiring documentary shows how the gutsy Moreno survived – and thrived – in a cutthroat business. I’m eager to see the next chapter.

“Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” is a 2021 documentary directed by Mariem Perez Riera.
It is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some strong language including a sexual reference, and suggestive material, and has a run-time of 1 hour, 30 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: A

Available in local theatres June 18
and at the Tribeca Film Festival June 9-20, with virtual screenings at Tribeca at Home through June 23.

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 EditorGreetings! Spring has sprung after a miserable, dreary winter of 24 inches of snow and long stretches of gray days. We bring to you a long catch-up column, a winter wrap-up with lots o’ news about our wonderful theater talents in our metro area. It’s always sunny when we’re talking bright lights.

AWARDS SEASON: Spring means theater awards in St. Louis! For regional professional theater, the seventh annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards will be presented on Monday, March 25, at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University.

For general admission tickets ($15), visit: www.brownpapertickets.com You
can purchase tickets the night of the ceremony by cash or check. Our Circle
Facebook page is updated with information. We are not having pre-festivities
food, but Llewyn’s Catering will have drinks, desserts and snack boxes
available throughout the night.

If you missed who’s nominated, here is our Limelight link: https://stllimelight.com/2019/01/25/evita-streetcar-lead-st-louis-theater-circle-nominations/

See you at Theater Prom Monday!

For local community theater, Arts For Life will present the fourth annual Theatre Mask Awards, honoring comedies and dramas, on Saturday, April 6, at a.m. at The Atrium Banquet Center, Paul F. Detrick Building, on the campus of Christian Hospital, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Doors open at 10 a.m. Radio personality Vic Porcelli is the host.

A brunch buffet is served and awards in 18 categories are given out. Tables of 8 are available, and you can select what theater group or person you want to sit with – just tell [email protected] or mark it at checkout. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased by March 22. Visit www.artsforlife.org.

For a Power Point Presentation of the TMA Nominations, here
is the link: http://nebula.wsimg.com/60b66319ddb8e5ebbac7b8ba7019e6dd?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

AFL will present the 20th annual Best Performance Awards, for musicals, on Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts, 425 Lindbergh Blvd. (Chaminade). Actor Ryan Cooper is the emcee.

From a pool of 1,302 community theater artists, 48 shows
produced by 26 community theater groups in the Metro-St. Louis area have been
reviewed for consideration for this year’s Best Performance Awards. Trophies
will be awarded in 33 categories.

The event will include performances from the 13 musicals
nominated in the three Best Musical Production categories and a special
presentation to Lifetime Achievement Award winner. Formal attire is
requested. 

All tickets are reserved seating. Group seating will not be
guaranteed on orders received after May 10. All ticket orders will be held at
the box office unless a self-addressed stamped envelope is included with ticket
order. Please let us know if you require any special needs.

Early Bird Tickets are $20 and available until May 10, and
regular tickets are $25 ($26/credit card at the door).
A special rate of $40 for a combined BPA/TMA ticket for both, which is $10 off,
is available until March 22.  Visit the
website for more information, www.artsforlife.org.

For a PDF of the BPA Nominations, here is the link: http://nebula.wsimg.com/b255dc30a55d222d652ab689930da965?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1 *** ARTS LIVES: This year’s AFL Lifetime Achievements Awards are being bestowed on Joseph Paule Sr. at the Best Performance Awards June and Alton Little Theatre’s Kevin Frakes at the Theatre Mask Awards April 6.

Kevin Frakes

Frakes, current president of the Alton Little Theatre, will
be honored for his lifelong devotion and involvement in community theater, and
for helping with ALT’s growth and expansion. He began 40 years ago and has
directed and/or acted in more than 100 shows.

Joseph Paule Sr. has been involved with several community theater groups over the years, including Christ Memorial Productions and Hawthorne Players.

Caroline Santiago Turner

*** YOUTH PHENOMS: Special Awards recognition is going to two talented teens this year at AFL’s Best Performance Awards. Sean Harvey will receive Best Youth Featured Dancer for his fleet footwork as Bobby in “Crazy for You” produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts and Caroline Santiago Turner will receive Best Youth Musical Performance for her exquisite vocals as Violet in “Violet,” also produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

These awards are not giving annually, only when the Theatre
Recognition Guild judges deem performances so outstanding that they deserve
special recognition.

Sean Harvey in “Crazy for You”

Sean, who graduated from high school in Wentzville last
year, studies musical theatre at Chicago College of Performing Arts. Caroline,
who graduated from Visitation Academy in 2018, is working on her BFA in musical
theater at Indiana University.

They will be in good company. Past youth winners Zach Erhardt, Troyer Coultas and Yvette Lu toured nationally in ‘The Book of Mormon,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Hamilton” respectively last year.

***BROADWAY BUZZ: The Tony Awards are Sunday, June, at 7 p.m. on CBS, and nominations will be announced on April 30. The local folks involved in producing the original musical “The Prom” are hoping for good news that day. The original musical comedy was among the best reviewed shows in 2018, after opening Nov. 15 on Broadway.  

The PromThe show has multiple local connections – Centralia, Ill., native Chad Beguelin is the co-book writer, with Bob Martin (co-creator of “The Drowsy Chaperone”) and lyricist, with music by Matthew Sklar. A number of cast members have performed at The Muny: St. Louisans Drew Reddington and Jack Sippel, and stars Beth Leavel and Christopher Sieber.

Some local producers include Jack Lane, executive director of Stages St. Louis; Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, Patty Gregory of Belleville, Terry Schnuck, Andrew S. Kuhlman of St. Louis and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy.

Casey Nicholaw, Tony winner for “The Book of Mormon,”
directed and choreographed the show.

“The Prom” is about a canceled high school dance – a
student is barred from bringing her girlfriend to the prom — and four fading
Broadway stars who seize the opportunity to fight for justice — and a piece of
the spotlight.

As one of four musical acts in the 92nd annual Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day Parade, they made parade history with the first same-sex kiss
televised live.

Here is that performance: https://youtu.be/VDZDLJjzJBI

And the cast also performed live on “Late Night with Seth
Meyers.”

***VIVE LA VISIONARIES: More local arts awards for women! The St. Louis Visionary Awards will honor established working arts professionals, arts educators, emerging artists and community impact artists on Monday, April 22, at 6 p.m. at the Sun Theatre.

The Saint Louis Visionary Awards celebrates the numerous
contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in the
greater St. Louis region. The awards are presented by an independent committee
of women dedicated to promoting the arts here.

Brava! To the 2019 Saint Louis Visionary Awards honorees, who  are, from left: Standing: Carmen Dence; Susan Barrett; Kathie Winter; and Kari Ely. Seated: Brea McAnally; Jacqueline Thompson. Photo by Diane Anderson ***COMMUNITY RECOGNITION: Congratulations to the Alton Little Theater will receive a prestigious national award for excellence in innovation, dedication to community and organizational development ensuring the future of live theater. The Twink Lynch Organizational Development Award will be presented to Kevin Frakes and Lee Cox at the AACT  (American Association of Community Theaters) National Convention in Gettysburg, Pa.,  in June.

A Raisin in the Sun

The Hawthorne Players give out “Duckies” at the year’s end, as voted on by the members and season ticket holders. The awards are named after the late veteran Hawthorne actress and director, Duckie DeMere. “A Raisin in the Sun” was the most lauded production, with , including Best Show, Best Director (Nancy Crouse), Best Actor (Erick Lindsey), Best Actress (Kimmie Kidd-Booker), Best Supporting Actor (Moses Weathers), Best Cameo Actress (Rhonda Cropp), Best Set Design (Nancy Crouse) and a Special Award (Archie Coleman).Elizabeth Breed Penny won Best Supporting Actress, for her role as Pauline in “Legally Blonde” and John Robertson won Best Cameo Actor in “The Fantasticks.” Eric Wennlund won two — Best Lighting and Best Sound for “The Fantasticks” Special Awards went to Connie Mulch of “The Fantasticks” and Michele Paladin, “Legally Blonde.”

*** NAME-DROPPING: Did you know the musical “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” has a local connection? Producers are Paul Blake, former executive director at the Muny for 22 seasons, and Mike Bosner, Burroughs grad and Muny front office alum. The second national tour recently stopped at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis for a limited 5-day engagement. The musical celebrated its fifth season on Broadway in January. They tell me a movie is in the works! Here is my article ICYMI: https://stllimelight.com/2019/03/12/local-producers-found-beautiful-success-with-carole-king-musical/

There is another big-news local connection. Perhaps you’ve
heard about the college admissions scandal. Well, turns out Joe Buck’s daughter
is the roommate of Lori Laughlin’s daughter, the clueless and vapid video blogger
Olivia Jade, at University of Southern California. Ms. Buck is attending the
prestigious USC Film School. (Thanks, J.C. Corcoran for this tidbit).

Meadow Nguy

Meadow Nguy of O’Fallon, Ill., appeared in a new musical “Arrowhead” in concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. The new Jackson Teeley and Sarah Galante work takes you inside the cozy and tuneful world of Arrowhead Café — from the heartache of love unrequited to the bliss of love that’s true, uncover all the ups, downs, and inevitable complications of modern love over a simple cup of coffee. The concert was directed by Dan Barron and music directed by Michael Pacifico, and featured a cast of 14.

Lisa Ramey, who performed at The Muny, Stages St. Louis and The Black Rep, was picked by John Legend for his team on Season 16 of “The Voice,” now finished with the Blind Auditions. Ramey currently lives in New York City and fronts a band called Superbad. She auditioned last year but did not get a chair turn, talked to the coaches about what she should do to improve, and returned this year.

Beau Willimon, third from left, speaks to the cast, while one of his mentors, director Wayne Salomon stands next to him. (Photo provided)Playwright Beau Willimon attended the preview night of his first Broadway play, “Farragut North,” which was produced at St. Louis Actors’ Studio last month. Willimon grew up in St. Louis and is a graduate of John Burroughs. He is most known for developing the American version of “House of Cards” for Netflix and was show runner for four years. His recent screenplay was the 2018 film “Mary, Queen of Scots.”

St. Louis’ sunny Jenna Fischer can now be seen with Ted Danson in a commercial for Smirnoff Vodka.

***

AND THEN THERE WERE 15: A harpist, juggler, dancers, acrobats, musicians and singers will be competing in Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation’s 9th Annual St. Louis Teen Talent Competition, which takes place Saturday, April 13, at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. The public is invited to attend for free, but general admission tickets must be reserved at Metrotix.com or 314-534-1111. You can vote for the Audience Award.

The youths will have an opportunity to win scholarships and prizes. They were selected from a process that began with 140 acts auditioning in the preliminary round, and a semifinal round on March 9 that featured 45 acts who were then whittled down to the 15 finalists. More than 50 high schools, homeschoolers and performing arts schools were represented.

Congratulations to those who advanced — quite a lot of variety: Modern Dancers: Arielle Adams, Senior DessaRae Lampkins, Senior Brooke Reese, Senior De’Jai Walker, Senior Hazelwood Central High School. Musical Theatre Act: Kaley Bender, Sophomore, Nerinx Hall Nathaniel Mahone, Sophomore, Lafayette High School. Consecrated: pianist and drummer Emmanuel Morgan, Junior Thaddaeus Morgan, Sophomore Kirkwood High School.Expressions Academy of Dance: Emma Bilzing, Sophomore; Mackenzie Branson, Freshman; Kaele Kidwell, Senior; Ja’la Stancil, Sophomore Belleville East High School Ukulele/Vocalist/Sonwriter Afiya Faatuono, Sophomore McKinley Classical Leadership Academy Pop Vocalist Jameson Falconer, Sophomore Ladue Horton Watkins High School Modern Dancer Ashley Gardner, Junior Trinity Catholic High School Pop Vocalist Madelynn Gartland, Sophomore Kirkwood High School Partner Acrobatics K.O. Duo, Oliver Layher, Senior, Vianney High School Kyran Walton, Senior, Metro Academic and Classical High School Bharatnatyam Dancer Samanvita Kasthuri, Junior Parkway South High School Ballet Dancer Anne Oberman, Junior Cor Jesu Academy Juggler Sean Petric, Sophomore Oakville High School Harpist Mereya Riopedre, Junior MICDS Guitarist and Vocalist Joanna Serenko, Senior Kirkwood High School Musical Theatre Vocalist Troy Staten, Sophomore McCluer High School These talented teens are the entertainers of tomorrow.

For more information about the competition, visit: http://www.foxpacf.org/programs/teen-talent-competition/ for more information. ***SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITY:  Since 2012, Arts For Life has awarded a scholarship to a student who is pursuing an education in the arts. The deadline for applicants is April 12. Applicant must be enrolled in an arts undergraduate program at an accredited college or university. Arts programs include, but are not exclusive to: performing arts (music, dance, theatre) and visual arts (painting, sculpture, architecture, film,photography, etc). Arts programs not defined as Fine Arts but related to the arts may be considered if superior work has been demonstrated in this area. Applicant must have participated in a Metro St. Louis community theater production or event in the past two years (1/1/2016-12/31/2018). Metro St. Louis defined as any location within 35 miles from Clayton. Here is the link: http://www.artsforlife.org/scholarship.html***

Taylor Louderman

THE POWER OF THEATRE: Tony Award nominee Taylor Louderman will host a one-night-only cabaret to celebrate performing arts education and support rural Missouri’s Ozark Actors Theatre.

It’s set for May 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Louderman, proud native of Bourbon, Mo., will take part in “The Power of Theatre,” bringing together the voices of some of St. Louis’s best performers as they share the power of theater education.

Currently starring on Broadway as Regina George in “Mean
Girls,” she is well-known on local stages. Her career began at Ozark Actors
Theater in 2001, when she played the title role of ‘Annie.”

Since then, she appeared on Broadway in “Bring It On: The
Musical” and “Kinky Boots,” as well as NBC’s “Peter Pan Live.” She spent
summers performing at the Muny, last seen in “Aida.” She voices the character
Blair on Nickelodeon’s “Sunny Day” and can be seen in “The Good Fight” and HBO’s
“High Maintenance.”

She likes to give back to the community where she started
and grateful to be a part of the OAT board.

Evening also includes silent and live auctions, and a special introduction by News 4’s Paige Hulsey.

All proceeds from this event will benefit Ozark Actors
Theatre’s education programming.

Tickets are available in person at the Fox Theatre box office without a handling fee. For more information: https://www.thesheldon.org/concert-detail.php?id=768

***

Wendy Renee Greenwood as war photographer in “Time Stands Still”GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Modern relationships are certainly complicated, aren’t they? But they sure make compelling dramas. We’re giving away two tickets to New Jewish Theatre’s upcoming production of “Time Stands Still” that runs March 28 – April 15. All you have to do is enter our drawing and select your favorite play on modern relationships for our poll (see below).

“Time Stands Still” revolves around Sarah, a photojournalist who has returned from covering the Iraq war after being injured by a roadside bomb, and her reporter boyfriend James who is swamped by guilt after having left Sarah alone in Iraq. The two are trying to find happiness in a world that seems to have gone crazy. Theirs is a partnership based on telling the toughest stories, and together, making a difference. But when their own story takes a sudden turn, the adventurous couple confronts the prospect of a more conventional life. Can they stay together amidst unspoken betrayals and conflicting ideals? Playwright Donald Margulies answers these questions, while leaving unanswered qualms regarding the way America deals with war and tragedy coverage.

Directed by Doug Finlayson, the cast includes Wendy Renee Greenwood as Sarah, Ben Nordstrom as James, Jerry Vogel as Robin and Eileen Engel as Mandy.

To enter our drawing, please send your email address and
phone number to Lynn Venhaus, [email protected], by Friday,
March 22, before 5 p.m., with your choice for your favorite contemporary play
on modern relationships.

What would yours be? Here’s our list from which to select:August: Osage County God of Carnage The Humans Proof Rabbit Hole Stop Kiss Venus in Fur

Thanks for entering. Our last drawing for tickets to “Avenue Q” at the Playhouse @Westport Playhouse was won by Jennelle Gilreath. *** BEST WISHES: Kelly Hummert, founder and artistic director of Rebel and Misfits Productions, has decided to move on to other projects, and will no longer be producing shows in St. Louis.

Kelly Hummert

We will miss seeing what innovative and immersive plays she
put her heart and soul into, and the outstanding ensembles she brought together
during the past three years.

Rebel and Misfits’ “The Realistic Joneses” and “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” have been nominated for Best Ensemble in this year’s St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, and last year, both Andrew Michael Niemann and Jim Butz won acting awards for “Uncle Vanya: Valiantly Accepting Next Year’s Agony.”

Break a leg, Kelly! The best is yet to come!

*** AUTHOR! AUTHOR!: Don Miller, an expert on media literacy and a local playwright, actor and professor, wrote a reference book, “Coming of Age in Popular Culture: Teenagers, Adolescence, and the Art of Growing Up,” that is getting good reviews. He is being lauded for his thoughtful work and providing insight into popular culture.

“And the beat goes on! What a wonderful tribute to the
decades. A entertaining explanation of our influences of the decades that
brought back so many memories,” said bestselling author Wade Rouse.

“This text is a tremendous boost to the media literacy
education field at a time when both the media communicator as well as the media
consumer hold great sway on many platforms in our digital communications
environment and understanding these processes can help both be better. And, the
timing couldn’t be better to have this definitive, well researched and
well-documented textbook regarding an age-old relationship about teens and
their media,” said Jessica Z. Brown, founder of Gateway Media Literacy
Partners.

Miller documented the evolution of teens and media from the
1950s through 2010, this book examines the films, books, television shows, and
musical artists that impacted American culture and shaped the “coming of
age” experience for each generation.

He will speak to the Mid Rivers Ethical Society in July.

***

“The Lusty Month of May” from the movie “Camelot” 1967TRIVIA TIME-OUT: We flip seasons to spring! Yay! Happy Dance. What a cold, dreary, gray winter. Here are some questions about productions focused on a spring.

In “The Producers,” what is the name of the musical
that Max Bialistock and Leo Bloom are mounting?Who sings “The Lusty Month of May” on the
original cast recording of “Camelot”? In the movie?What original cast member won a Tony Award in
the musical “Spring Awakening”?What musical features the song “Younger Than
Springtime”?ANSWERS 1. “Springtime for Hitler” 2. Julie Andrews; Vanessa Redgrave (Guinnevere)3. John Gallagher Jr.4. “South Pacific”

***

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story”MOVIE MUSICAL MAKEOVER: “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner is writing the script for Steven Spielberg’s new version of “West Side Story,” which is expected to be released in 2020. The announced movie cast includes Ansel Elgort as Tony, Rachel Zegler as Maria, Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose (Donna Summer) as Anita, Tony Award winner David Alvarez (Billy Elliot) as Bernardo, Josh Andres Rivera as Chino, Brian d’Arcy James as Sergeant Krupke and Corey Stoll as Lieutenant Schrank.

The sole returning cast member of the original is EGOT
winner Rita Moreno, who will play a new character, Valentina. She won an Oscar playing
Anita.

This will be Spielberg’s first musical. He had a casting
call for Latinx performers and received 30,000 submissions. Seventeen-year-old
high school newcomer Rachel Zegler won the part of Maria.

The 1961 landmark film is the most-award winning movie musical
of all-time, nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning 10. With choreography
by Jerome Robbins, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim,
the movie adaptation was directed by Robert Wise (“The Sound of Music”) and
Robbins.

Fun Fact: Natalie Wood played Maria but her singing was
dubbed by Marni Nixon, who also subbed for Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady.”

***

Jared Sanz-Agero

IN MEMORIAM: Friends, family and colleague are remembering the wonderful talent that Jared Sanz-Agero was. The actor died Feb. 19, from injuries suffered in a horrific automobile accident two weeks earlier, on Feb 5.

Twice-nominated for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for “Stones
in My Pocket” and “The Liar,” he was a passionate presence on many regional
group’s stages. You might have chatted with him at the .Zack, working at the
bar and concessions. He attended Southwest Missouri State University.

Jared, 47, was traveling to Kansas City for a commercial
shoot when his 2004 Toyota Matrix slid off the ice-covered roadway. He was
taken to the Centerpoint Hospital ICU in Independence, Mo., according to the
police report.
Official cause of death was internal bleeding and loss of blood, and is being
investigated by his family, from what’s on the Go Fund Me page.

A memorial service is being planned for a later date. If
you would like to contribute to a Go Fund Me account set up by his brother
Gentry after the accident to help with his medical expenses, and now, costs
related to his death investigation, and services, here is the link to the Jared
Sanz-Agero Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/help-jared-heal-fund

***WORD: To quote Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent” and died on opening day from an aneurysm:

“It’s not how many years you live, but how you fulfill the time you spend here.”