By Lynn Venhaus
Whether you embrace the holiday season by turning on Christmas music soon after Halloween or are in the “Bah, Humbug” camp year-round, “Spirited” may surprise you as a sweet-and-salty confection that’s both playful and parody.

A merry musical comedy that offers a fresh twist on the evergreen “A Christmas Carol” from the ghosts’ point of view also mocks the endless parade of holiday entertainment and its conventions.

And that’s refreshing, given that the Hallmark Channel has started its festive onslaught and other streaming services will churn out dozens of films before the new year. We all have our annual favorites, of course, and I wouldn’t be surprised if “Spirited” is among the perennials in years to come.

This flip on Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella is that the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell, in charming doofus mode) selects one dark soul to be reformed by a visit from spirits on Christmas Eve. Sunita Mani is Past, Tracy Morgan is Yet to Come (in voice only), and Patrick Page is Jacob Marley.

He must find a selfish man who will see why he ended up miserable and alone, and why he should change. But his choice, an “unredeemable” marketing shark Clint Briggs (Ryan Reynolds doing his slick, sardonic persona) turns the tables and suddenly, Present is reexamining his life.

This bros-meets-Scrooged affair, co-written by Sean Anders and John Morris, is funny and clever, blending the 19th century behaviors with 22nd century attitudes, and Ferrell and Reynolds are quick with the quips and the wisecracks. Featuring Christmas movie Easter Eggs, there’s even an “Elf” nod, of course.

Anders and Morris are the writing team behind a string of genial just-folks comedies like “Instant Family,” “Daddy’s Home,” “We’re the Millers” and “Horrible Bosses 2.” They’re not re-inventing the wheel here, and this is entertaining enough to survive repeat viewings.

While kidding about “the afterlife is a musical!” and having a jaunty tone about the insertion of music numbers, “Spirited” is committed to the format. They’ve staged snappy song-and-dance numbers by choreographer Chloe Arnold, who’s been doing those delightful “Crosswalk musicals” and other numbers on James Corden’s “The Late Late Show.”

She knows what’s required of big splashy numbers, and the smiling dancers have pep in their steps – these are spirited homages on a major scale.

The songs are written by the current showtune golden boys Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, who recently produced and wrote original material for “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile.”

Pasek and Paul, who adapted “A Christmas Story” into a Broadway musical in 2009, are one award shy of an EGOT. They are Oscar winners for “La La Land,” Tony winners for “Dear Evan Hansen,” and their “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack won a Grammy Award and has sold over 7 million copies worldwide.

The funniest song here, not unlike the ironic “South Park” numbers, is “Good Afternoon.” The movie is bracketed by the tap-happy “That Christmas Morning Feelin,’” which is likely the catchiest takeaway. “Do a Little Good” is memorable and Spencer has a genuinely touching ballad “The View From Here.” Who knew she could sing? Or for that matter, Reynolds!

Ferrell, who showed his ease with music on “Saturday Night Live” — in such classic sketches as Marty Culp, along with Ana Gasteyer as his wife Bobbi Mohan Culp, who taught music at the Altadena Middle School, and the best-ever “More Cowbell” — is a natural, and Reynolds also demonstrates his willingness to have fun performing. (And he certainly fares better than Pierce Brosnan in “Mamma Mia!”)

The sweet part of the story is the Briggs family connections, and the director’s sister, Andrea Anders, a veteran of sitcoms including “Joey,” “Ted Lasso” and “Young Sheldon,” plays Reynolds’ sister Carrie, while Joe Tippett plays baby brother Owen and Marlow Barkley is the young niece.

This is a cheery, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously holiday offering where there seemed to be much effort made in getting all the elements right.

So, heat up the cocoa, haul the ugly sweater out of storage, and enjoy getting into the holiday spirit. May you have one of the the hap, hap, happiest Christmas movie watches since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye.

“Spirited” is a 2022 musical comedy directed by Sean Anders starring Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Sunita Mani and Patrick Page. It’s Rated PG-13 for language, some suggestive material, and thematic elements, and the run time is 2 hours, 7 minutes. In theaters Nov. 11 and streaming on Apple TV + starting Nov. 18. Lynn’s Grade: B

By Lynn Venhaus

Stage: American Idiot at Webster University Oct. 7-9

Whoa! I saw rehearsal clips of the musical “American Idiot,” before interviewing Lara Teeter, the director , and this cast has got game. The energy! Really impressive. I’m planning to go Saturday afternoon, it is about an hour and a half.

Webster University’s Sargent Conservatory of Theatre Arts presents its first show of the 2022-2023 season, “American Idiot” this weekend on the Browning Mainstage Theatre (Loretto-Hilton). Tickets are available at

“American Idiot” follows the exhilarating journey of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post-9/11 world, borne along by Green Day’s electrifying score. The rock musical draws on all the songs from the album “American Idiot,” plus material that did not make the album and a handful of numbers from Green Day’s Grammy-winning “21st Century Breakdown.”

“American Idiot” is for mature audiences only. It involves adult content, sexual themes and situations, strong language, and stimulated use of drugs.

Listen to the Presents podcast featuring director Lara Teeter to hear more on the production:

To see some clips, visit:

Photo and Video courtesy of Andrew Sanker.

Movie: “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” in theaters

Family fun, Shawn Mendes singing Pasek and Paul show tunes, and Javier Bardem having a blast! Here is my review in the Webster-Kirkwood Times

Trailer: The Super Mario Bros. Movie

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an upcoming computer-animated film based on Nintendo’s Mario video game franchise, produced by Illumination in association with Nintendo and distributed by Universal Pictures. Release date is April 7, 2023.

Weekend Happenings

Cardinal Nation: Wild Card Games at Home

Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies will be on ABC at 1:07 p.m. and Saturday’s game is set for 7:37 on ESPN2. If needed, Sunday is at 7:37 p.m., possibly on ESPN2, but that could change, depending on all the other games.

St. Louis Public Radio’s 50 Fest Satruday

Celebrate 50 years of STLPR with a street festival full of food, fun and festivities. We’re taking over our little branch of Olive Street and the Public Media Commons! Enjoy food trucks, live entertainment, and a children’s zone with games, face painting and more!

Plus, pop inside for St. Louis Public Radio’s 50th Anniversary Exhibit, a chance to meet some of your favorite St. Louis Public Radio hosts and staff or record a testimonial. They might even use your voice on air.

Meet and Greet Schedule:

1 p.m. – On air hosts and journalists

2 p.m. – St. Louis on the Air team

3 p.m. – Politics team

Live musical performances by DJ Crim Dolla Cray, The Saint Boogie Brass Band, and HEAL Center for the Arts Point of View Jazz Ensemble.

More info:

Belleville Chili Cook-off Friday and Saturday

Main Street, downtown square

For more than 39 years, the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce has hosted the Annual Chili Cook-off and has grown to over 50 vendors – individuals, local organizations, and area businesses.

Haunted Garage Horror Festival Oct. 7-9, Westport Playhouse

Last year’s Best of Fest, “Fresh Hell,” will screen on Friday evening. Co-director Matt Neal will be on hand tonight.

Who will take home this year’s Golden Piston Awards?

For a complete line-up of the fun and fright that awaits this weekend on the 40-foot screen at the renovated Westport Playhouse, read on:

To hear more from fest founder Franki Cambeletta, listen to the Presents Podcast with co-hosts Lynn Venhaus and Carl “The Intern” Middleman:

And if you can’t attend tonight, “Fresh Hell” is available to stream for free, shown with ads, on Tubi and Redbox, and for rent for $2.99 on Amazon Prime.

“Fresh Hell,” co-directed and written by Ryan Imhoff, takes place inside the dark days of 2020. A group of friends reunite online and experience another level of darkness, terror. From their isolation comes this strange tale that turns brutal when they begin to uncover the depths of their dammed era.

Next Week: MasterBlaster Stevie Wonder Tribute

Lincoln Theatre in Belleville, Oct. 14

Steve Ewing, of The Urge, is back with a new project aimed at bringing the classic hits of Stevie Wonder to the stage, MasterBlaster. In this two-hour tribute Steve Ewing reproduces the beloved songs of this music legend. This is no small task, but Ewing has gathered the best musicians in the area to conquer the challenge.

To open the show, special guest Brad Jackson from O’Fallon, Ill., will perform a mix of popular hits.

For tickets, visit:

Playlist: Shawn Mendes, “Top of the World” from “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile”

Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, of “The Greatest Showman,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land,” have written songs for the new hybrid animated-live action family film, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.” Here is a Mendes’ music video. He’s the voice of Lyle.


“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”

― Edgar Allan Poe, who died on this day in 1849.