In what is sure to be a highlight of the St Louis cultural season, That Uppity Theatre Company in collaboration with the Missouri History Museum will present a free musical reunion of Joan Lipkin and Tom Clear’s “Some of My Best Friends Are…”[SOMBFA] on Thursday Oct 20, 2022, from 6:30-8:00 pm. The event is part of the Missouri History Museum’s Thursday Nights at the Museum series and the organization’s Gateway to Pride Initiative which seeks to collect and preserve St. Louis’s LGBTQ+ history. The initiative includes a digital exhibit which launched in 2021, and a major special exhibit on LGBTQ+ history opening in June 2024.
Enjoy a happy-hour, resource tables and activities beginning at 5:30 pm. There will be many organizations with community tabling, including Metro Trans Umbrella Group, PFLAG, Black Pride, Pride St. Louis, SQSH, and TransParent, and there will be performances by CHARIS and the Black Tulip Chorale. Light appetizers and drinks will be available for purchase until 7:00 pm, and the Missouri History Museum’s exhibits are open until 8:00 pm.
““Some of My Best Friends Are…”is a notable part of St. Louis LGBTQ+ history, is included in our Gateway to Pride digital exhibit and will certainly be incorporated into our major special exhibit on LGBTQ+ history opening in 2024,” said Sharon Smith, Curator of Civic and Personal Identity for the Missouri Historical Society, which operates the Missouri History Museum. “The Missouri History Museum is delighted to host this special program reuniting much of the original cast and crew of this theatrical work which was the first of its kind in Missouri.”
Hailed groundbreaking in 1989 as the first piece of LGBTQ+ theatre ever done in Missouri, SOMBFA sold out every performance at the St Marcus Theatre in St Louis and was voted Best Play of the Year by the Riverfront Times Readers Poll.
A collaboration between composer and lyricist Tom Clear and playwright, director and producer Joan Lipkin, and subtitled: A Musical Revue for People of All Preferences, SOMFBA chronicled the saga of Frank and Sheila, a heterosexual couple trying to make their way through a bigoted gay world. It also featured other sketches and lauded musical numbers.
“A lot of us were young rural Missourians – from towns like Willard, Poplar Bluff, Cooter, and Potosi – living in Cape Girardeau in the fall of 1989 when we heard about a hip new gay musical revue called “Some of My Best Friends Are…”,” said Rodney Wilson, retired Mehlville High School history teacher, longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ students and teachers, and founder of LGBTQ+ History Month USA. “I wasn’t out to many in October 1989 and our two hour caravan to Joan Lipkin’s splendid (and now historic) “Some of My Best Friends Are…”was my first experience with live queer culture. I’ll never forget how comfortable and safe I felt to be in a theater of mostly LGBTQ folks watching a stage of stories – funny, provocative, and poignant – about people like me.”
The reunion will bring together most of the original cast including Kate Durbin, Bill Ebbesmeyer, Terry Meddows, Steve Milloy, Mary Schnitzler, Christy Simmons and Jonas Moses. Many have described their time with the show as foundational for their professional careers and personal lives.
Music director Larry Pressgrove is coming in from New York to direct the reunion which Joan Lipkin will emcee.
““Some of My Best Friends Are…” figures significantly in my career,” said Pressgrove. “Prior to SOMBFA, I had been working as music director and arranger at St. Louis’ Metro Theatre Company. This was my first test to see if the process I had developed would work on a bigger project.”
“In addition, I had only been out of the closet a few years,” said Pressgrove. “This would be my first time working on openly gay material that directly spoke about my life. I borrowed some of Joan’s confidence and dove into the project. It was life changing for me. It really increased my pride in myself as a gay man and showed me that Gay people needed to have our stories told. SOMBFA remains one of the favorite projects of my career because it was so connected to me personally and meant so much to the people who saw it.”
Since his work with SOMBFA, Pressgrove has served as a music director, conductor and orchestrator on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and national tours. He has composed, arranged, and worked as a vocal coach and educator in numerous award-winning productions and programs.
The original production of “Some of My Best Friends Are…” was also the site of political and community organizing and is credited with helping to overturn Missouri’s Sexual Misconduct Law.
The museum event will offer audience members the chance to ask questions and share their own memories.
“For many of us, “Friends” remains one of our pivotal cultural and personal experiences, despite going on to do a lot of other interesting and productive work,” said Lipkin. “We are grateful to the museum and thrilled to come together in this free offering as a gift to the community and a reminder of what is possible in challenging times.”
This event is made possible in part by funding from the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, AARP and the Missouri History Museum.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.