The Muny announced Friday afternoon the cancellation of the three remaining performances of Chicago, the theatre’s fifth and final production of its 103rd season, due to positive COVID-19 breakthrough cases within the cast. There will be no performances Friday through Sunday, Sept. 3, 4 and 5, 2021.

“While deeply unfortunate, the decision to cancel the remainder of this season is unquestionably necessary. The safety of our Muny family, both onstage and off, has been a top priority since day one,” said Muny President and CEO Denny Reagan. “Out of 35 nights of Muny magic scheduled for 2021, we were able to spend 31 of them together. We cannot thank St. Louis enough for helping us usher live theatre back into Forest Park. This season has been nothing short of a homecoming for many.”

“The heartbreak of this moment is real,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “This was a remarkable production of Chicago, and I am so grateful for its three nights of glory. I feel the same about our entire 103rd season. It was extraordinary, and I honor everyone for their artistry, humanity and commitment.”

“We’ve remained in constant communication with health professionals and officials throughout this pandemic, and are remarkably grateful for their guidance in getting us to this point,” said Muny Managing Director Kwofe Coleman. “While this is a disappointing end to our 103rd season, we remain proud and grateful that this community, including our crews and staff, worked together to make it possible for an unforgettable return to live theatre in Forest Park. We’ll see you next summer.”

Season ticket holders for the 2021 season will be contacted with detailed information regarding remaining balance options. Single ticket holders who purchased their tickets through MetroTix will receive an email and automatic refund from MetroTix. The Muny Box Office in Forest Park will be closed Sept. 3 – 6. Beginning Tuesday, Sept. 7, Muny Box Office hours will be Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Single ticket holders who bought their tickets in person at the Muny Box Office in Forest Park m ay call or return to the box office to receive a refund. Refunds for the canceled performances are available Sept. 7 through Sept. 30, 2021.

To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please sign up for Muny emails or follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

By Alex McPherson

Directors Stephen Daldry’s and Justin Martin’s new film set during the current COVID-19 pandemic, “Together,” is an intense, powerfully acted, and morally troubling drama.

The film centers around an unnamed couple in the UK struggling to maintain their sanity in pandemic lockdown. “He” (James McAvoy) is a self-satisfied, conservative Alpha Male who manages a boutique consulting firm. “She” (Sharon Horgan) is a left-leaning charity worker with an acid tongue of her own. They live a middle class existence, while neglecting to give their introverted son, Artie (Samuel Logan), much parental attention.

From the moment viewers lay eyes on them, He and She bicker incessantly, piling on the insults in semi-teasing awfulness. The two opposites are stuck together in dire times, developing some semblance of compassion toward each other and the world at large as they endure the COVID-19 emergency.

Daldry and Martin’s film, with a screenplay by Dennis Kelly, is timely to a fault — using current events that have impacted us all as a background for an irritatingly predictable narrative. Despite this, however, “Together” is still a captivating viewing experience, largely thanks to its theatrical presentation and the dynamism of the two leads.

Indeed, “Together” feels highly reminiscent of a stage play, as He and She talk directly to the camera from the first scene onwards, vying for the center of viewers’ attention. This cinematic technique successfully puts viewers in the uncomfortable position of feeling like they’re right in the thick of things with these two flawed “adults,” forced to view their chaotic conversations without a possible exit. As interactions oscillate between being mean-spirited and hopeful, smirk-inducing and devastating, “Together” is relentless during the full 90-minute runtime.

Horgan and McAvoy have tangible chemistry, and their fast-paced dialogue conveys a mostly believable relationship. They’re able to handle comedic lines effortlessly — including an embarrassing exchange about their sex life — while also nailing the more dramatic beats as the months drag on. McAvoy, likably hyper as ever, showcases the insecurities that bely his character’s cynicism. Horgan shines as someone firm in her “good” beliefs who retains her own selfish tendencies. Combined with the film’s fourth-wall-breaking presentation, He and She seem like real people viewers might know. They both dislike and, deep down, care for one another.

Still, “Together” can only stay afloat on acting talent for so long. The story, good intentions notwithstanding, plays upon real-world traumas to somewhat generic effect. A particular subplot involving She’s elderly mother is emotionally devastating but foreseeable from the get-go. It concludes with an impassioned speech from Horgan about the meaning of the word “exponential” regarding viral infection and the government’s fumbling of crucial facts surrounding the illness. In retrospect, it all seems pretty obvious for anyone who isn’t a devoted consumer of misinformation.

“Together” is packed with scenes designed to elicit tears from viewers, but it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the discussion surrounding the global health crisis, nor does it illuminate a perspective that needs to be illuminated. The protagonists are so privileged, all things considered, and their respective character arcs surrounding basic human decency and not taking loved ones for granted aren’t exactly revelatory. If films like “Together” set during COVID times become more common, filmmakers run the risk of using it as a gimmick to grab viewers’ attention, instead of exploring it from new, insightful angles. This film, unfortunately, falls into the former category.

For all its attempts at relevance and its first-rate performances, “Together” doesn’t sit particularly well amid our current climate, where there’s no end in sight regarding the virus’ evolving mutations. It brings together broad social commentary and standard plotting to end up with something above average, but markedly inessential.

“Together” is a 2021 romantic comedy-drama directed by Stephen Daldry and co-directed by Justin Martin and starring James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan and Samuel Logan. Rated R for language throughout, the movie runs 1 hour, 31 minutes. In theaters Aug. 27 and on demand and digital Sept. 14. Alex’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
With the nostalgic glow of scrapbook memories, the toe-tapping and hummable “Smokey Joe’s Café” opened The Muny’s eagerly anticipated 103rd season.

In this spirited localized production of the longest-running musical revue in Broadway history, the creative team imagined a soulful stroll down memory lane, intersecting a generation’s familiar soundtrack with Gaslight Square, one of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods.

And just like that, the U.S.’s oldest and largest outdoor theater demonstrated why it’s an essential part of St. Louis summers.

It had been over 700 days since we were last gathered under the stars in Forest Park – at “Matilda,” to be exact, which ran Aug. 5-11, 2019.

Nobody does what the Muny does, and did we miss it! On Monday, warm-and-fuzzy feelings energized the crowd of 5,956, who collectively exhaled and shared a glorious moment, sprinkled with pixie dust, during a pleasant July evening.

“You’re here. You made it through!” exclaimed Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director, with palpable joy.

One glance at that expansive stage and we were home.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The impressive scenic design by Edward E. Haynes Jr., who was responsible for the bright and playful fantasy world of “The Wiz” in 2019, included realistic facades of Crystal Palace, Jack Carl’s 2¢ Plain (a New York-style deli), Annadel’s Olde-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, Smokey Joe’s Grecian Terrace and a Sinclair service station built into the streetscape.

That bygone-era theme continued in Kevan Loney’s video design and Rob Denton’s lighting design, which bathed the nightclub scenes in neon and stardust.

In its heyday, Gaslight Square was the entertainment district in St. Louis – located between Olive and Boyle in the eastern portion of the Central West End. Attracting bohemians, hipsters and the well-heeled, it was known for comedy, dining and dancing. Such rising stars as Barbra Streisand, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and The Smothers Brothers appeared in venues there. By the late ‘60s, urban decay took over and people were flocking to the suburbs.

Astute observers will be able to pick out “Easter eggs,” those clever nuggets from the past that mean something to fans — and a major find is shopping bags with the Stix, Baer and Fuller logo. There’s a Sealtest Dairy ad on a back cover – and more blasts from the past.

Never underestimate the emotional connection shared by a live audience, listening to a talented mix of performers sing their hearts out.

As we are all aware of how a global coronavirus pandemic disrupted our lives during the past 16 months, The Muny had been forced to cancel its 102nd season in 2020 – for the first-time ever – and moved five shows to this year, which received the green light when it was deemed safe to do so. Isaacson noted that the performers hadn’t been able to “do what they do” either.

Enter an eclectic cast of nine (five guys, four women), who could be classified as “acting singers” – and their strong interpretations created easily identifiable vignettes during musical numbers. All but three were making their Muny debut.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Robust ovations began early, even before they harmonized in the first number “Neighborhood,” and continued through the enduring catalogue of prolific lyricist Jerry Leiber and composer Mike Stoller, for a total of 39 songs, mostly hits from the 1950s and 1960s.

Mutual fans of rhythm-and-blues, Leiber and Stoller collaborated on a pop-rock sound known as “crossover” music back in the day. Their catchy melodies and tender ballads are thread together without a storyline or a chronological order.

From the dance party that is “Baby, that is Rock and Roll” to the classic Drifters’ chart-climber “On Broadway,” the songs vary in mood and tempo.

For the most part, they reflect a more innocent time, especially the amusing novelty songs heard on transistor radios — golden oldies “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy” and “Love Potion No. 9.”

The assembled artists are a balanced group of pros with Broadway and national tour credits. By the time they united for a moving finale of “Stand by Me,” each performer had a knockout rendition.

First-timer Charl Brown. who was nominated for a Tony for his portrayal of Smokey Robinson in “Motown: The Musical,” showcased his smooth style and wide register with “There Goes My Baby” and “Young Blood.”

Immediately, the audience reacted to Christopher Sam’s rich, deep baritone, and his silky delivery wowed on “Spanish Harlem,” “Loving You” and “Dance with Me.” It’s easy to picture him as Mufasa in “The Lion King” on Broadway.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Belter Tiffany Mann was sensational with “Fools Fall in Love” and “Hound Dog,” soaring with the gospel tinged “Saved,” which closed the first act with a flourish. Mann, quickly a favorite, was in “Be More Chill” and “Waitress” on Broadway.

The charismatic Mykal Kilgore brought the house down with a passionate “I (Who Have Nothing).” He was Annas in the Muny’s 2018 “Jesus Christ Superstar” and part of the NBC live television concert version earlier that Easter, and also in the network’s live “The Wiz.”  

Excellent dancers Hayley Podschun and Michael Campayno stood out with “Teach Me How to Shimmy.” Podschun, the dance captain, starred as Dainty June in the Muny’s 2018 “Gypsy,” and touched with her sweet solo “Falling.”

Campayno, who played opposite Tony winner Stephanie J. Block in “The Cher Show,” channeled his inner Elvis Presley to lead a peppy “Jailhouse Rock,” and charmed with “Ruby Baby.”

Podschun teamed with Nasia Thomas on a sassy “Trouble.” Thomas, who was in the 2015 “Hairspray” Muny ensemble and played Little Eva in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” on Broadway, sang “Don Juan” solo.

In a take-note debut, Dee Roscioli, a long-running Elphaba in “Wicked,” showed versatility in “I Keep Forgettin’” and “Pearl’s a Singer.”. The females all have frisky fun in “I’m a Woman.”

A Smokey Joe’s veteran, expressive Jason Veasey paired with Thomas on “You’re the Boss,” and lead the men in the burlesque homage, “Little Egypt.”

Mykal Gilmore sings “I (Who Have Nothing)” — Photo by Phillip Hamer

Many of the lyrics, being from a different time decades ago, feature sexual innuendo and set society roles. That means it is preferable for more mature audiences, not the wee ones.

Music Director Abdul Hamid Royal, a Tony Award nominee and NAACP Image Award winner for “Five Guys Named Moe,” nimbly conducted the skilled musicians placed on stage, initially behind a storefront and then in plain view during the second act.

Choreographer Josh Walden designed the movements based on original choreography by director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, with whom he has worked before. He wove in the buoyant Muny Teen youth ensemble with aplomb.

Dodge, a frequent Muny collaborator, had helmed “Smokey Joe’s Café” in Chicago, winning a Jefferson Award. Her vision here added oomph to the characters’ stories, and the ensemble seamlessly slipped into specific archetypes.

Costume designer Sully Ratke created characters’ backstories with a keen eye for vintage wardrobes, and the retro apparel captured their personas, especially snazzy hats. Their looks were accented with spot-on wig design by Kelley Jordan.

The sound design by John Shivers and David Patridge was crisp and did not have any noticeable issues.

At an estimated run time of two hours, 11 minutes, the Tony-nominated musical from 1995 zipped along in swift fashion.

Those who like a beefier story with their musical interludes will not be satisfied by the structure, but if you expect a concert-type experience, then you know what is in store.

What is surprising is how the elements all came together to elevate a conventional revue into a more layered theatrical experience. By expanding on what’s considered routine entertainment, the show — directed and performed with verve — is a cut above the ordinary.

Projecting genuine affection for the material and each other, this cheerful cast and splendid creative team achieved its shining moment. And voila! A community was reborn and welcomed back.

I will never take this tradition for granted ever again.

A Muny premiere, “Smokey Joe’s Café” opened July 26 and runs through Sunday, Aug. 1 at 8:15 p.m. on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. Emerson is the 2021 season sponsor.

For more information, visit For tickets, visit or call (314) 361-1900 ext. 1550.

To stay connected virtually and to receive the latest updates, please follow The Muny on their social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Jack Carl’s vintage postcard of Gaslight Square.

Muny Photos by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus
I don’t mind putting my mask on again to follow public health rules and private business restrictions, but I resent the selfish anti-vaxxers who have doubled down on being against the shots, following gross misinformation, and creating a dangerous situation for the vulnerable population in this war against the coronavirus pandemic.

There are people, who for medical reasons, can’t take the vaccine, which I understand, and there are people not old enough yet, but to blindly cling to false rhetoric is infuriating and mind-boggling.

And those in opposition are extremely belligerent about their refusal to ‘take one for the team’ — and themselves. They are going to get people killed. Do they have a death wish as well?

We can’t return to whatever passes for normal if cases rise, and they are at an alarming rate. During 2020, we had such economic hardships and further divides in politics, not to mention the loss of life, that people would be sensitive to what’s best for the greater good. The cheerleading “We’re all in this together” didn’t work, which is disturbing.

I know I am preaching to the choir. I know the people who need to hear this will not.

The Delta variant is deadly. Missouri numbers are forcing us into another crisis — numbers have surpassed the winter peak. Currently, 97% of the new cases are unvaccinated people. 83% of new cases are the Delta variant.

Have these last 16 months not shown us the importance of fighting this deadly disease? In the U.S. alone, we have had 608,000 deaths — and 34 million cases, and it does not discriminate. If we don’t take precautions now, we will have to return to previous emergency rules. And who wants that?

The vaccine has proven to work — if you have questions, talk to your doctor. Seek out reliable sources. I had the J&J one-and-done — it was simple, have had no issues. If I have to get a booster shot down the road, so be it.

Public health officials are making it so easy and accessible for us. I know people who went outside of St. Louis to get their shots — Cape Girardeau, Hannibal, Rolla, Columbia and Mexico, Mo., in early spring — just because they wanted to be safe, particularly those considered high-risk. Pharmacies provide shots, and clinics are still active. There isn’t any roadblock if you want to get the shot, you can get it.

As one who had COVID-19 in mid-January, thankfully a mild case, but has lingering post-virus fatigue syndrome, I urge people to get vaccinated.

I took the oral polio vaccine as a child in fourth grade. We went to a public school gym one Sunday afternoon in November 1963, where it was administered. I don’t recall people saying, “nope, I’ll take my chances.’ Same goes for the childhood vaccines for smallpox, measles, mumps and whooping cough. I had a painful case of shingles in January 2017, and wish I had taken that optional vaccine as an adult. Having shingles was like ripping off a band-aid while being stabbed in the side.

If you think we should have control over our health, then getting the shot is liberating. I am happy to return to the movie theater, live performances and going to restaurants, and being able to hug my 89-year-old uncle at his assisted living home.

Because of the quarantine in New York City, I hadn’t seen my youngest son Charlie, a cancer survivor so high-risk, in 1 year, 6 months and 11 days until he visited last week from Brooklyn. We sacrificed for the greater good. He finished his Pfizer shots in May and then our work schedules and my health issues prevented earlier travel.

Society has asked us to step up, to do our part. Yes, this is America, land of the free — but also home of the brave, and we have to suck it up and be courageous because a global pandemic has created a public health emergency. To scoff at medical science is Russian roulette. Rules are in place to protect us. I really don’t understand this disconnect.

Please ignore Tucker Carlson and Fox News. Those talking heads have been vaccinated. Owner Rupert Murdoch was vaccinated. Former President Trump and his family are all vaccinated. Why this has become a political issue, I don’t understand. COVID-19 doesn’t care what you believe, how much you make, who you voted for and where you go to church.

What I do know is that hospitals are getting taxed to the max, and health care workers are exhausted.

Save your life and the people around you. Love thy neighbor.

Photo: Me getting a vaccine at a local community center on March 28, 2021.

Dispatch from the Hills is a personal column written by Lynn Venhaus, which started in quarantine in March 2020, first as Dispatch from the Island, living in Soulard, and now from residence in St. Louis Hills.

By Lynn Venhaus
Feb 22, 2021. In personal remarks, President Biden led a tribute for the 500,000+ lives lost during the coronavirus pandemic that had tp resonate with all those grappling with bereavement.

In a candlelight ceremony, with a moment of silence for all those who have died this past year — more lives lost than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined — we were able to mark this enormous loss.

Biden’s empathy and firsthand experience with heart-shattering grief are important now, meaningful words to comfort those grieving. He is the man for the moment.

Around 2,000 people die from the disease every day on average (data from Johns Hopkins University), which is down from a high of more than 3,000 a day on average in mid-January. Last month, the coronavirus was the leading cause of death in America. To date, 28 million people have tested positive in U.S.

The eloquence today consoled a nation, with sincerity and sympathy. Throughout the year, though, we knew how wise and heartfelt his words on grief were. — really ever since his book on his son Beau’s death from cancer at age 46. And in a first, the night before the inauguration, they light Lincoln Memorial in a ceremony that was so very touching.

Collective grief is important. I am still grieving two major losses in 2018 and 2019, and all I can say is, it’s hard. So many triggers. It is not something you ever get over. Some days are better than others. But the kindness and compassion of friends and family help.

Joe Biden’s words have helped me navigate mourning, time and time again.

Ok, critics will say he’s longwinded, and whatever else they want to hurl at him, but he rolled up his sleeves and went to work for all Americans. Actions do speak louder than words. And we see that it’s about us, not him. His teams are working to reset some sort of normalcy to American life. And to try to end the political angle and disinformation about the virus.

His approval rating was 62% last week, which is remarkable. I ask all those who didn’t vote for him to give him a chance – I have always done that with people I didn’t vote for (even #45, but then after a few weeks, it was worse than I could ever imagine in a bizarro world that have been documented many times and we don’t have time to rehash. Moving forward. But the contrast is stunning.

Joe is a devout Catholic, a man of faith. It’s refreshing to have a president who actually prays daily — and without a big show or arranging a photo op. People can tell he is a decent man who really cares about others. Attack his policies, his viewpoint, and work towards solutions if you do, but as a country, he is addressing what needs to be done, and we need to do our part. He inherited a huge mess, not to mention the deep scars of the Big Lie.

We are desperate for leadership, strength, peace, support and reassurance.

The pandemic has changed us all. I experienced a mild case of it, and it’s terrifying, but thankfully, I recovered, and pray for many people daily who are hospitalized or for their families who have lost loved ones — a number in that growing statistic. It’s devastating and it’s real. Biden said: “Resist becoming numb.” We must. We must fight.

Godspeed, frontline workers, first responders, those dealing with coronavirus, our leaders to help get the vaccines to as many people as possible, and all those concerned about our fellow man in these dark times. Need something positive? Look for the helpers.

Here’s the whole ceremony:

By Lynn Venhaus
I have COVID-19. This is my personal story. It is my experience, not anyone else’s, and I certainly don’t have any medical expertise on this public health crisis or any insight into a global pandemic’s effect that has caused 400,000 deaths in the U.S. I am one of 25 million cases to date..

I would describe my illness as a mild case. I feel very blessed. For two weeks, I have had the extreme fatigue that everyone mentions – it’s nothing like I have felt before, and aches like I have been pummeled by a heavyweight champion. Four naps a day are not uncommon. Very strange. This is real – it is not a hoax or a government conspiracy.

We all need to take this seriously. And it’s so pervasive and the likelihood of contamination seems inevitable, even with trying to do the right protocol and follow the restrictions. Now, there are new strains. It can be easy to let your guard down for a brief period even if you are trying hard to do what’s suggested. I know. We’ve been at this for nearly a year.

Fortunately, I work from home and could call people for interviews, contact through email and work with my editors online. I did not miss a BND deadline or my KTRS radio segment (even though I didn’t sound like myself Thursday and had some cough breaks). We Zoom our Reel Times Trio podcasts these days. (What would we do without Zoom? Thank you, technology!).

Nevertheless, getting stuff done on some days was a challenge. And there are the coughing fits.

I also don’t have a family to take care of or a job I must be at full-time, so I was lucky in that regard. I can’t imagine what that is like. I only ran a low-grade fever a couple of times – nothing to cause alarm. The body tries to fight the virus off. (After all, it is an animal disease that jumped to human that our DNA doesn’t recognize, therefore no immunity).

Because the virus tries to settle in your lungs, I have been doing lung exercises that are supposed to help. I walk around the block to get some ‘cardio’ and fresh air daily – it’s quick. I don’t pass anyone nor do I stop. Some days, you can hear the slight ‘wheeze’ in your lungs. I don’t sleep ‘flat’ – as I heard that helps.

I have been taking extra Vitamin D and Zinc for a year now, and actually think that has helped. Those are recommended by doctors. And lots of fluids. A dear nurse friend has been advising me. She suggested Vitamin C, plus melatonin to help sleep. Even when you are tired, it’s not always a restful sleep.

I have A- blood type, which is supposed to be the worst one for getting this. At 66, I am in the tier that’s next for the vaccine, but now, since I contracted the virus, I will have to wait 90 days once they start with my age/high-risk group. Missouri is last in the nation in vaccinating folks. I am still unclear about it all, but I will find out soon enough.

I can only guess where I might have gotten it. I have been staying in, living in isolation for the most part. I go for a grocery run at a non-busy time and I always have a mask on and social distance, go through the drive-through at Sonic on occasion, but always wear my mask when I roll down the window. I went out to dinner on my birthday Dec. 23 (Peacemaker in Benton Park had socially distanced tables and waiters with masks), and I was in a long Target line for Christmas Eve afternoon shopping.

Sometimes, I get delivery or curbside pick-up from local places because restaurants need our help. I have not traveled or hung out in public places. I took my uncle to some doctor appointments, but haven’t done that in awhile. I was with three people on Thanksgiving and four people at Christmas.

I haven’t seen my son Charlie, who lives in Brooklyn, for over a year now (even missed his wedding, which is a long story that I shared in September).

I spent the spring lock down thinking I was helping the greater good, but we’re back to square one. So, it was so far, so good, until now. This is work, and anxiety, and fatigue just trying to stay safe.

In my 4-unit apartment building, I am one of three senior singles living here, one is vacant, and we all have had COVID-19 in the past month. First, my two neighbors and then me.. I talked to one when I opened my door without a mask — but she was six feet away and had a mask on, so who knows?

My symptoms timeline: I began New Year’s Day with my annual bronchitis – it usually appears late fall or during the holidays or in January. As it went on – it usually lingers now that I am in my 60s — my lungs hurt, so that was a different feeling. Then, symptoms of a sinus infection arose.

This was on Sunday, Jan. 10. My face hurt, I just didn’t feel ‘normal,’ was going through a lot of tissues, and that’s when I think the coronavirus surfaced. By Wednesday night, as it continued to get worse, I made up my mind to go to an Urgent Care the next day. I thought they’d give me a Z-pack.

That was Thursday, Jan. 14. Did I want a COVID-19 test? Yes, please. Swabs up each nostril. Didn’t hurt. Very easy. Physician Assistant came in to tell me that I tested positive. If I came down with a fever or a bad cough, go to a hospital. But as my symptoms were ‘mild,’ just keep taking over-the-counter cold medicine and Tylenol. No steroids. They checked my oxygen level, which was normal.

I was shocked at the news, but a nurse friend had told me they were seeing a lot of people who thought they had a sinus infection, but it was COVID-19. The PA said they were either seeing positive patients with the sinus issues or respiratory. It felt like a bad cold.

I went straight home. Notified my son, family, some close friends. Mucinex DM was helping. The worst part was the anxiety of having it – thinking about what might be ahead. I did not lose my senses of smell and taste, although they are not at 100 percent.

The St. Louis City Department of Public Health called to ask me questions. They send you an official letter too. Keeping track of cases for the public record.

Even though I think it started Jan. 10, and two weeks are over for quarantine, I’m counting Thursday, Jan. 28, to return to ‘normalcy.’ As in return to the outside world. I think I am turning a corner but know I need to be careful. I still tire easily. I’m still coughing and sneezing, though not as frequent. People do get this again.

I have learned to get things done during bursts of energy and then take it easy, or the exhaustion will be worse. I do think rest and nutrition are key.

I am grateful for people’s well wishes and concern, and their offers to help. A friend went to pick up an oximeter for me. I recommend these – judges your oxygen. Put your finger in a slot. Should be in the 90 to 100 range. Fortunately, mine has been 98-99, thank God. If it’s below 80, get to a doctor.

I appreciate all the kindness shown me the past couple of years. December is a tough month for me, and people were so nice – and I meant to start thanking everyone New Year’s Day, so I will get around to individual thanks, just a delay. It is really special for people to reach out and care about how you are doing, feeling, and I don’t take it for granted.

We are all in this together. So that’s my tale. I hope I am getting stronger. I feel like I am but also know I’m not ‘back to normal’ or feel 100 percent. It might take awhile. I hope there are minimal after-effects. There is the brain fog…

And I have no idea why some of us work through it while others have it worse and must be on ventilators.

There is so much we don’t know about it. My heart goes out to people in the local ICUs and families who have lost loved ones. It’s devastating.

Thank you to all the health care professionals guiding us through this ordeal. They are putting themselves at risk to help us.

We have all experienced emotional exhaustion and collective grief. This has been hard. Of course I miss going to cinemas and theaters, meeting people for lunch and dinner, and hugging friends and family. I can’t imagine what a restricted funeral would be like for a family after having arranged both son Tim’s and my brother Matt’s services. ( is a good start if you need help).

Now, the Biden Administration is forging through with plans to get this pandemic under control. I hope we can see results sooner than later but at least we are getting honest answers and information. Viva le Dr. Fauci.

In the meantime, trust science. Wear a mask. Stand apart. Wash hands. All of it really does help. Only you know how safe you feel.

When my 88-year-old uncle had COVID-19 in November, and we didn’t know it yet, I had sat with him in a doctor’s tiny examination room at BJC– but we both had masks on, and I weathered that with no ill effects. He wound up having a mild case – and he has COPD! We were certain the masks saved people from not spreading it.

Like I said, there are things we can’t explain about this disease. I just know it’s real, the fatigue is something else, and I hope we can get through these next few months by rolling out the vaccine to many people.

We have never been through anything like this, and lives have been forever changed. It’s not going to be over anytime soon, and we have to deal with it. One thing — everyone is in the same boat. Our way of life has been altered, and in some ways, we’ve learned a few things. And concentrated on priorities and what’s important. When we return to whatever passes for ‘back to normal,’ I have a feeling we will really appreciate the little things, the small moments.

My advice is to seek medical help if you have any symptoms – don’t wait. The goal is to stay alive.

We have to be patient. We have to ‘suck it up.’ We endure, adapt, move forward with resolve.

Take care. Stay safe. Use common sense. I hope everyone can be spared. It is a scary time. Godspeed.

By Lynn Venhaus
Trump has lied more than 22,000 times in less than 4 years. We have normalized this Pinocchio, which is really sad and mind-boggling. The fact-checking is exhausting. But this irresponsible narcissist leader’s dishonesty on the coronavirus pandemic is misleading and dangerous.

Today, he said this:”Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid. You know that, right? I mean, our doctors are very smart people.” WHAT?

This isn’t the last time he will lie about COVID-19 in his desperate attempt to hold on to power by downplaying his destructive response. But attacking health care workers now?Those of us believing in science and the health professionals know his alternative reality he is babbling about at these super-spreader rallies is false – deny and deflect, his M.O.

We have more than 88,500 new cases. How does this magically disappear in his narrative of ‘turning the corner’?His disregard for the public good is killing people. Blowhard Donald Trump Jr. told egregious hack Laura Ingraham that deaths are down to “almost nothing.” That’s the way he described 1,004 deaths on Thursday.

Our total count is 228,000-plus. They are down-playing this to the detriment of containing the spread. The arrogance and incompetence is unbelievable.This week, Bob Woodward released the Jared Kushner recordings basically saying their coronavirus response was a political strategy. All about re-election. Red states vs. blue states.This is a national disgrace.

Seven months in, still no national plan, health care workers are overwhelmed, bed capacity is maxing out, and surges continue. Everything we did in March, April and May is erased.

Now, Trump is pushing a baseless conspiracy that greedy American health care workers are overcounting coronavirus deaths, besmirching their integrity at a time they’re nearly at the breaking point.

His base still think it’s overblown. Believe at your own peril. No one is going to change the base’s opinion on their cult leader. Facts mean nothing. Only if they have been touched by the virus.

We shake our head because this is where we are, less than 100 hours from the first polling places closing on Election Day.There must be some accountability for making a pandemic political and a polarizing issue. This has resulted in more deaths than it should have.

And the fact that there are people who don’t care is something I can’t wrap my head around, on this 30th day in October in 2020.

By Lynn Venhaus
Christ Memorial Productions’ presentation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!” won eight Best Performance Awards for choreography, music direction, lighting, costumes, acting and Best Featured Dancer while Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production of the George and Ira Gershwin 1920s musical-screwball comedy “Nice Work If You Can Get It” won seven, including Best Large Ensemble Musical Production, Best Director and five acting awards, from Arts For Life Sunday.

It was KTG’s sixth win for musical production since 2000. Both shows had been nominated for 17 awards apiece. “A New Brain,” which was a local community theater premiere for Hawthorne Players, won Best Small Ensemble Production.

Arts For Life is a nonprofit organization that encompasses 140 communities and 8,460 square miles in St. Louis city, county and St. Charles County in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois.

Founded in 1994 by Lucinda Gyurci as a group dedicated to the healing power of the arts, AFL has honored community theater musicals for performances and achievements since 1999 (BPAs), plays since 2015 (Theatre Mask Awards) and expanded awards in youth musical theater in 2013.

Best Small Ensemble Musical “A New Brain”

But this is the first time AFL did not host a live gala. Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ceremony was re-imagined as a pre-recorded virtual celebration. The 21st annual BPAs took place June 14, which was the original date, but transitioned to a streaming format broadcast on Facebook and YouTube.

AFL President Mary McCreight said the coronavirus safety measures in place and restrictions on gatherings in St. Louis County were factors in the decision to cancel the live show but still have some sort of event.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our local arts community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding achievements of the previous year,” McCreight said.

Performances from nominees for large ensemble musicals, two small ensemble musicals and five youth productions premiered on AFL’s YouTube channel for 10 days leading up to the awards, and are now available there,

There were 15 community theaters and 10 youth-only groups who participated last year. More than 60 judges in the Theatre Recognition Guild scored 46 shows — 19 large ensembles, 3 small and 24 youth, featuring 939 roles. For 2019, there were 154 individual nominations from 22 groups, with 36 percent first-time nominees and 65 percent first-time winners.

Goshen Theatre Project, which led all groups with 18 nominations, won five youth awards overall for “Les Miserables School Edition,” including Best Youth Musical Production, Supporting Actress Natalie Cochran as Eponine, costume design (Terry Pattison), lighting design (Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill) and Bennett English as Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean.

Other multiple winners in the youth categories were Riverbend Theatre, which won three for “The Drowsy Chaperone” — director (Kristi Doering), music direction (Michael Frazier/Alison Neace) and lead actor (Jayson Heil as the Man in Chair), and Young People’s Theatre, which won two for “Newsies” – best supporting actor (Will Dery as Les) and set design (Brisby Andrews and Gary Rackers).

Norbert Leo Butz

Thirty-three awards honoring excellence during 2019 were announced by past winners and members of the AFL board of directors, with two special guest presenters — Norbert Leo Butz, two-time Tony Award winner who grew up in St. Louis, and Hana S. Sharif, the Augustin Family Artistic Director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Butz, who also announced the youth musical production winner, told the audience to believe in themselves, even when it’s hard, and follow their dreams, noting he had supportive parents and “great” teachers.

“Believe in yourself and keep on being grateful. Stick to it,” he said from his home in New Jersey. “(Performing arts) feeds our soul, our minds, our hearts.”

AFL donated to Butz’s charity, The Angel Band Project, which uses music therapy to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and advocates for rights of survivors. For more information, visit

Jennifer Kerner

Four special honors were given out to Jennifer Kerner for her inclusion efforts, Bennett English for Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean in Goshen Theatre Project’s “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Kayla Dressman for Best Featured Dancer as Dream Laurie in  CMP’s “Oklahoma!” and Diane Hanisch, the BPA musical director/conductor for the past 20 years, who won a national Spotlight Award from the American Association of Community Theatres, presented by Quiana Clark-Roland. A Lifetime Achievement Award was not designated this year.

Kerner’s recognition was for her advocacy on inclusion and helping to make the live theater experience accessible to all individuals. Kerner, a local singer and actress, works to help place people with developmental disabilities in jobs. She has guided local theater companies in providing sensory-friendly performances and has worked to create comfortable environments for those on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing disorders.

McCreight was thrilled about Hanisch’s national award.

Diane Hanisch

“This award is designed to help pay tribute to an individual for long or special service. It recognizes outstanding dedication, service and contribution to your organization. It is for someone who has made a significant impact on the quality of your organization. Diane has done just that with per professionalism and charm. She is a gem! Not only can she calm the nerves of a 12-year-old singing a solo, but others who are singing in front of 700 people for the first time. She arranges and writes the music, gathers her professional band, and conducts the show with aplomb. Diane cares as much about our legacy as anyone involved on the Arts for Life Board. No one is more deserving,” she said.

The annual Youth Scholarships, which are awarded to two students pursuing a degree in the arts, were announced, with Alaina Bozarth, a graduate of Metro East Lutheran High School, and Josiah Haan, a graduate of Fort Zumwalt High School, each given $500. Bozarth plans to major in musical theatre at Belmont University in Louisville, Ky., and Haan plans to major in technical theatre and design at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.

Other ensemble nominees include “Hello, Dolly!” from Wentzville Christian Church, “Oklahoma!” from Monroe Actors Stage Company and “The Bridges of Madison County” from Alpha Players of Florissant for Best Large Ensemble and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from O’Fallon TheatreWorks for Best Small Ensemble.

For Best Youth Production, in addition to “Les Miserables,” nominees include “The Drowsy Chaperone” from Riverbend Theatre, “Matilda” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, “Newsies” from Young People’s Theatre and “Spring Awakening” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

CMP’s Oklahoma!

For the record books, Kimberly Klick won her sixth BPA for choreography for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”. She had previously won for CMP’s “Mary Poppins” and “The King and I,” plus “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Big the Musical” and “Fiddler on the Roof” for other companies. It was her 10th overall, including wins for Best Featured Dancer in “Brigadoon” in 2000, Lead Actress for Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2006 and Jo in “Little Women” in 2008, and Cameo Actress in “Titanic” 2003.

It was three in a row for Jonathan Hartley, who won for lighting design of “Oklahoma!” and had won last year for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at DaySpring Center for the Arts; he won for set design for DSA’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2017. Stephanie Fox won her third in four years for choreography in Gateway Center for the Performing Arts shows – “Spring Awakening” 2019, “Carrie the Musical” 2017 and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2016. Terry Pattison also won her third for costume design since 2017: “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King Jr.” and “Les Miz,” all for Goshen Theatre Project, and won set design for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2018.

Joe Paule Sr. won his third for musical direction, for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”, following CMP’s “The King and I” in 2014 and Hawthorne Players’ “The Producers” in 2010. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award last year. It was the second award for Michael Frazier and Alison Neace for musical direction, this year for Riverbend Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” and for Alton Little Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill” in 2011.

Other multiple winners included two for Alpha Players of Florissant’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for Lead Actor (Cole Guttmann) and Cameo Actress (Chelsie Johnston) and Take a Bow Showcase for “Annie” – juvenile performer (Leontine Rickert) and duo/group (Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller).

Winners Will Shaw and Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Nice Work If You Can Get It”

In the acting categories, Mike Huelsmann’s award for Best Featured Actor as Jud Fry was his third, after Lead Actor as Javert in Take Two Productions’ “Les Miz” (2013) and as part of Best Duo/Group in Looking Glass Playhouse’s “Young Frankenstein” 2015. Kimmie Kidd-Booker’s award for Best Featured Actress as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” was her second win, after Best Featured Actress in “The Wiz” in 2014. George Doerr IV won his second, as Igor in Alfresco’s “Young Frankenstein,” after winning Best Actor in 2017 for Alfresco’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”

The virtual program included the following production team: directors Mary McCreight and David Wicks Jr., video supervisor Kim Klick, visual designers Colin Dowd and Bethany Hamilton, voice-over announcer Ken Clark and host Karen Fulks.

A list of winners is included here, below.

AFL’s Theatre Mask Awards was originally set for April 4, then moved to July 18, but now will also be a virtual celebration. The 2020 TMAs will honor excellence in community theater productions of dramas and comedies during 2019 in a live interactive viewing event at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 18, on the AFL Facebook page and YouTube Channel. The awards show will be recorded beforehand and the content will remain on social media.

On March 16, McCreight suspended all public activities of the AFL organization because of the public health crisis. The extension has been extended until further notice. Both TRG and TMA branch judges and participating groups will receive announcements on future developments. As the region re-opens, social distancing and wearing face coverings continues. At this time, all AFL performance venues remain closed.

“I am incredibly grateful to all of our constituencies – the board, judges, participating groups, audience members and donors – for their commitment to AFL and their engagement and unwavering support of our local theatre community during these uncertain times,” McCreight said.

Any company that won can have a representative pick up their trophies on July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Clayton Community Theatre, which is located at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117.

Riverbend Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone

A souvenir program is available to download online:

A limited number of copies will be available for purchase as well.

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at

To see a list of the 2019 nominees and winners, as well as the awards history 1999-2019, visit the website:

Follow AFL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2020 Best Performance Award Winners:

Best Musical Production Large Ensemble: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Musical Production Small Ensemble: “A New Brain,” Hawthorne Players

Best Youth Musical Production: “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Director: Dani Mann, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Project

Best Musical Direction: Kathy Eichelberger and Joseph Paule Jr., “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Choreography: Kimberly Klick, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Lead Actor: Cole Guttmann, “The Bridges of Madison County, “Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Lead Actress: Jaclyn Amber, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Featured Actor: Mike Huelsmann, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Featured Actress: Kimmie Kidd-Booker, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Supporting Actor: Caleb Long, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Supporting Actress: Dianne M. Mueller, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Actor in a Comedic Role: George Doerr IV, “Young Frankenstein,” Alfresco Productions

Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Margery Handy, “The Wizard of Oz,” Alton Little Theater

Best Cameo Actor: Jacob Streuter, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Looking Glass Playhouse

Best Cameo Actress: Chelsie Johnston, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Will Shaw, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Maria Wilken, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Duo/Group: Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller, “Annie,” Take A Bow Showcase

Best Set Design: Matt Dossett, “The Little Shop of Horrors,” Monroe Actors Stage Company

Best Lighting Design: Jonathan Hartley, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Costume Design: Krysta Wenski, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Juvenile Performer: Leontine Rickert, “Annie,” Take a Bow Showcase

Best Youth Director: Kristi Doering, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Music Direction: Michael Frazier and Alison Neace, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Choreography: Stephanie Fox, “Spring Awakening,” Gateway Center for the Performing Arts

Best Youth Lead Actor: Jayson Heil, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Lead Actress: Alli McDonald, “Once Upon a Mattress,” St. John’s UCC Performing Arts Camp

Best Youth Supporting Actor: Will Dery, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Supporting Actress: Natalie Cochran, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Set Design: Brisby Andrews and Greg Rackers, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Lighting Design: Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Jamie Lee Curtis to Host Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies to Help Furloughed Movie Theater Employees

“The Hunger Games,” “Dirty Dancing,” “La La Land,” and “John Wick” Will Livestream

Global content leader Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF.A, LGF.B) announced today that the studio will honor the communal experience of watching movies in movie theaters and support the people who make those places great with a special program that reminds everyone how much we love going to the cinema. The studio is presenting Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies, a program of four Fridays of free movies streaming live on YouTube. 

Beginning this Friday and continuing every Friday spanning four consecutive weeks, the studio will team with Fandango and YouTube to livestream four of Lionsgate’s most popular library titles – the blockbuster The Hunger Games, the classic Dirty Dancing, the Academy Award®-winning La La Land, and the box office smash John Wick – on Lionsgate’s YouTube page and Fandango’s Movieclips YouTube page

Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies will be hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis will share her own movie memories as she is joined by special guest celebrities and YouTube personalities. Each week’s night at the movies will feature special programming and interactive opportunities for fans, like real-time fan chats via YouTube Live, live tweeting @Lionsgate and partners, and shared fan engagement opportunities in-show, including movie trivia, movie-themed challenges, and more.

The Hunger Games

Most importantly, audiences everywhere will have the chance to join Lionsgate in showing support for the country’s temporarily jobless movie theater employees and how much we all appreciate and miss them. Lionsgate’s initial donation as well as the audience and partner donations throughout this event will benefit the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping workers throughout the motion picture industry, and will link to the Foundation’s charitable page so that viewers who are able can help as well. The Will Rogers Foundation is currently providing financial assistance to theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis.

The free movies that will livestream on Fridays at 6:00pm PT/9:00pm ET are:

April 17 – “The Hunger Games” 

April 24 – “Dirty Dancing”

May 1 – “La La Land” 

May 8 – “John Wick” (age registration required)

John Wick

To present the live movie event, Lionsgate is joining with some of its most dedicated partners like Fandango and important exhibition partners such as the National Association of Theatre Owners, AMC Theatres, Regal, and Cinemark Theatres, among other regional circuits. And what’s a movie without popcorn and snacks? Popcornopolis, purveyors of gourmet popcorn and “known for the cone,” will support with a consumer movie night offer, with 10% of sales donated to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation. And SnackNation, the country’s leading provider of better-for-you snacks, drinks, and coffee for the home and office, will curate a movie-themed snack box with a special price and free shipping.

“There’s nothing that will replace the magic of seeing a movie together with your fellow moviegoers in a theater on a big screen, but this is a chance for America to come together to recreate the experience,” said Joe Drake, chairman, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “This is a great chance to show the country’s theatrical employees how much we miss going to their theaters and how much we support them. Jamie Lee Curtis – a woman who literally grew up with the movies and movie theaters – is one of the world’s biggest movie fans, so it’s a real thrill that she’ll be our host for this event. Let’s have some fun watching some classic movies together at home while celebrating moviegoing!”

Dirty Dancing

John Fithian, president and CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners, added, “Throughout the 125-year history of the cinema, this is the first time that movie theaters have been shut down across the country. Whether it was the Depression, wars, disasters, or local calamities, movie theaters have always been a gathering place where audiences can come together to laugh and be moved, reacting as one, to put their troubles behind them or forget about their hard week at work, and just get lost in the amazing stories on the big screen. Until we can gather again in our nation’s theaters, we’re grateful to Lionsgate for honoring the theatrical moviegoing experience and we are thrilled to join together with them over these next four Fridays, not only to see four classic movies for free, but also to allow fans and celebrities to share their own moviegoing memories. We love that so many people will be talking about what makes going to the movies so unique and memorable.”


The first major new studio in decades, Lionsgate is a global content leader whose films, television series, digital products and linear and over-the-top platforms reach next generation audiences around the world. Lionsgate film and television properties also support a global network of location-based entertainment and other branded attractions as well as a robust video game business. Lionsgate’s content initiatives are backed by a nearly 17,000-title film and television library and delivered through a global sales and distribution infrastructure. The Lionsgate brand is synonymous with original, daring and ground-breaking content created with special emphasis on the evolving patterns and diverse composition of the Company’s worldwide consumer base.