By Lynn Venhaus
After a brief hiatus, we’re back with our round-up of people, places, and events in the St. Louis region, a tad behind in posting our September/summer swan song.
IN COMES COMPANY: Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical “Company” – the female-led revival that won the Tony in 2022, kicks off its 25-city national tour on Oct. 8 in Schenectady, N.Y., with the St. Louis stop Feb. 27-March 10 at the Fox Theatre.
Belleville native Ann Beyersdorfer, associate set designer for the Broadway revival, worked with production designer Bunny Christie, who won her fourth Olivier Award for the London production design. And she’s on the team that has been preparing the hilarious and sophisticated show for the road.
(Three-time Tony Award winner Jack Lane, co-founder and executive producer emeritus of Stages St. Louis, was one of the Broadway show’s co-producers.)
Ann was back in town this summer, as scenic designer for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and “West Side Story” at The Muny, and I was fortunate to interview her then for the Belleville News-Democrat.
For a deeper dive into the mechanics of getting a Broadway show transferred to the road, read about her journey here on PopLifeSTL.com:
A winner of best set design of a play for “Afterglow” at the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, she’ll be part of the team taking the production to London Oct. 17–Nov. 24, with an official opening Oct. 22.
And as an art director on the visual shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” hopefully you will be able to see more of her work when the show resumes on Oct. 14. You may have seen the elaborate “HBO Mario Kart Trailer” she worked on when Emmy-nominated Pedro Pascal hosted.
Cheers to Ann and the tour launch! (We’ll drink to that!). For more information, visit: https://companymusical.com/
BRAND NEW DAY: “The Wiz,” the 1974 super-soul musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz,” which was given a reworking for The Muny’s 2018 season, is Broadway-bound in 2024, with St. Louis-connected producers, but this new revival is touring first. Opening night was Sept. 23 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, and the reviews were raves.
“The audience and the whole evening was full of joy and energy, extended applause, and standing ovations,” stated the Maryland Theatre Guide on Sept. 29. “Powerhouse performances and stunning choreography,” enthused the Baltimore Sun.
The first-ever revival will be easing down the road to 12 other cities, including Chicago (Nov. 28 – Dec. 10). For more information, visit: https://wizmusical.com/
The producing team of Kristin Caskey and Mike Isaacson (Muny artistic director and executive producer) and a long list of others, including Terry Schnuck, is behind this show. Caskey, now of the Ambassador Theatre Group, spent 20 years with Fox Theatricals. She and Isaacson produced the Tony-winning “Fun Home” in 2015 and this year’s Best Revival winner “Parade.”
Isaacson said they have been working on a revival for eight years, and plans are to mount another national tour after the Broadway limited engagement. In preparation for The Muny, he received permission from the original creators to make some changes. Amber Ruffin, recent Tony nominee for “Some Like It Hot,” wrote additional material – and had worked on the Muny script – from William F. Brown’s original book. You may know her as a writer on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” as she frequently appears.
Isaacson revealed that in a terrific Broadway World interview with James Lindhorst, who also talked with producers Jack Lane, Mike Bosner and Terry Schnuck – heavy-hitters at this year’s Tonys (“& Juliet,” “Shucked” and “Parade”).
Schele Williams is helming this show, with Wayne Brady as The Wiz from Jan. 16 to Broadway engagement, and Alan Mingo Jr. in the title role Sept. 23 – Jan. 14, 2024, and newcomer Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy.
The original 1974 production, directed by Geoffrey Holder and choreographed by George Faison, won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, and was adapted into a movie in 1978 starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson. NBC broadcast a live version in 2015, but a planned revival then did not materialize.
BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: Speaking of the musical “Fun Home,” composer Jeanine Tesori — the most honored and most prolific female theatrical composer in history, was in St. Louis this summer, and stopped in to visit with the local cast rehearing “Caroline, or Change,” produced by Fly North Theatricals.
To get the opportunity to talk with Tesori, who has written five Broadway musicals and received six Tony Award nominations, winning for “Fun Home” and the recent “Kimberly Akimbo,” was one of the best moments ever, according to music director Colin Healy.
Healy summed it up this way on Facebook: “She and Mike Isaacson (producer) offered such wonderful insight into the process of writing, building, and producing ‘Caroline, Or Change,’ validating what is already apparent when hearing the score: how much a labor of love and Herculean creative endeavor ‘Caroline’ was and continues to be… She spoke to us for over an hour and took questions from everyone.”
(Photo: Colin Healy and Jeanine Tesori)
NEW HORIZONS: All good wishes for theater and media folks moving on, changing directions and making the most of opportunities.
Bravo to Taylor Gruenloh, whose new musical “Cascade’s Fire,” a modern Antigone story co-written by Kyle Wernkel, will premiere Oct. 12 and run 13-15 and 19-21 in the Black Box Theatre at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, where he is on the Arts, Languages and Philosophy faculty. Taylor wrote the book and lyrics while Wernkel wrote the music.
Taylor recently stepped down as Creative Director at The Tesseract Theatre Company at the end of August, after their successful run of “Kinky Boots.” One of the most prolific and creative folks in town, I can’t wait to see what else he will accomplish.
Congratulations to Joe Gfaller, who has been managing director of Metro Theater Company since 2019, on becoming managing director of Clear Space Theatre Company, a 20-year-old regional theater in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He’ll be leaving in mid-October. Jessie Youngblood, the current development director, will serve as interim managing director beginning Oct. 9. Always enjoyed working with Joe, starting with the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2014. Joe has served Metro, St. Louis’s premiere professional theater for youth and families, well.
Best wishes to Julia Flood, Metro artistic director for the past 10 years, who has announced her retirement after the 51st season. Of Joe’s departure, she said: “Joe has had boundless energy and enthusiasm for the mission and work of Metro Theater Company. I feel lucky to have had the benefit of his partnership through the complexities of the pandemic times and wish him much success and happiness in his new venture.” (They both can be very proud of their endeavors).
A free Fall Family Festival to celebrate MTC’s 50 years of service to the community will be held on Oct. 21 and 22. A toast in Gfaller’s honor will be held at that event on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m.
Carol Daniel may have retired from one prominent longtime gig, but she is embarking on a fantastic journey. The award-winning St. Louis journalist, reporter, host, columnist, and author has joined Nine PBS as a Senior Producer and Host.
Daniel said she looks forward to telling the stories of her community in a new way — with a podcast about people making an impact here, and also produce interviews and stories that celebrate and showcase underrepresented voices for Nine PBS’s content flagship, Living St. Louis. Yes to this! I look forward to seeing her next chapter.
Daniel has more than 40 years of experience as a host on KMOX Radio, as well as work on Great Day St. Louis on KMOV/Channel 4, and a columnist for the St. Louis American. She’s been honored as a Living Legend by the National Association of Black Journalists–St. Louis, was recently inducted into the Lincoln University Alumni Hall of Fame, and was a 2022 inductee into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame.
Longtime public relations and marketing maestros Eric Pugh and Dylan Stanley have departed our fair river city for beachier pastures. Last at the Muny, Eric is now promoting The Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., the largest Equity theatre in Florida, and the largest Repertory theatre in Southeastern U.S. Just wonderful to work with both, and I’m glad we had time together.
Dylan, who has moved to Los Angeles with his fiancé, Nicolas Valdez, who is embarking on a fellowship at USC, will keep us posted on his next challenge after giving us his all at Stifel Theatre and Enterprise Center (and performing in Tesseract Theatre Company’s triumphant “Kinky Boots.”
Best wishes to Lee Anne Mathews in her new role as Education and Artistic Director for the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation! Before May, she was making things happen at Westport Playhouse.
Congratulations to Brian McKinley on his new role as Director of Education and Community Program at the Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
HOMETOWNERS: Comedian-actor Cedric the Entertainer’s new book, crime caper “Flipping Boxcars,” fictionalizes his grandfather, Floyd “Babe” Boyce.
Jon Hamm is in two, not one, television series this fall. He joined the cast of “The Morning Show” for season 3, now streaming on Apple TV+, and will be in “Fargo,” season 5, which starts Nov. 21 on FX and Hulu.
Best wishes to Nicholas “Sifu” Alsup of O’Fallon, Ill., who was chosen as one of 18 contestants on the 45th season of CBS’ “Survivor” that started Sept. 27.He is a larger-than-life personality, and I was able to interview him through permission with CBS. https://news.yahoo.com/o-fallon-gym-owner-one-120000863.html
CHEERS: Congratulations to New Jewish Theatre on their 25th anniversary as a regional professional theatre in St. Louis; and Gateway Center for Performing Arts school, and youth theater company, on their 10th anniversary in Webster Groves. A feature article by me will be in the Webster-Kirkwood Times soon.
OUT AND ABOUT: Two Colins in the ‘Lou news!
Co-owners Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf of Fly North Theatricals, have opened their new home and social hangout, The Greenfinch Theater and Dive, at 2525 South Jefferson Avenue (the old Way Out Club).. The bar is open every night from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. You won’t want to miss Stool Pigeon Open Mic Comedy Night on Mondays and Drunk Voice Lessons karaoke with live piano accompaniment (and critiques) by Colin Healy on Wednesdays, plus Burlesque Bingo’s in the rotation too. They are also accepting reservations for their black box theater.
SNL Head Writer Colin Jost was the Celebrity Guest Host at the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Illumination Gala on June 3 at The Ritz-Carlton, a major fundraising event for the Siteman Cancer Center. Not sure what he said about “The Square Beyond Compare” but Imo’s posted his photo.
Since 2007, the event has raised more than $42 million to support research funds
MEMORY LANE: Last month in pop culture history.
Sept. 26, 1975: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” opened in Westwood, Calif., and tanked at the box office, but later would become the definition of a cult classic, inspiring interactive screenings with toast, toilet paper and more.
If you attended midnight screenings in the late ‘70s at the Varsity Theatre in St. Louis (where Vintage Vinyl is now), you might have run in to a teenage Michael Stipe, future alt-rock band REM frontman, who is dressed as Frank-n-Furter here in this vintage newsclip on KSDK’s “Newsbeat.” He told the reporter: “We’re all normal, really.”
Why on earth was Stipe, now 63, in St. Louis then? His dad was in the Army, and they moved to several states during his childhood. In the late ‘70s, he lived in Collinsville, Ill., and attended high school there and went on to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.. Later, he would move to Athens, Ga., for college, and met record store clerk Peter Buck, which led to forming a band with Mike Mills and Bill Berry…and the rest is history..
Rocky Horror played midnights at the Varsity Theatre from April 1976 until Jan. 3, 1988 when it closed for good. It was one of the first 30 theatres in the U.S. to do so.
I was fortunate to interview Barry Bostwick (Brad in the movie) when he had been scheduled to appear at Wizard World in St. Louis, but had to cancel, and he graciously talked about making the movie by phone. True delight to talk with and write about — here’s my BND feature from 2017.
IN MEMORIAM: Frequent visitor to Gaslight Square with the infamous Compass players, RIP Alan Arkin (March 26, 1934 – June 29, 2023). Archival photo is at Crystal Palace with Anne Meara.
From William Roth, the founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio, who renovated The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, on Arkin:
“He made his off-Broadway debut in the late 1950s and joined the St Louis improvisational group the Compass Players in 1959. This led to a stint with the Chicago improv troupe Second City and his Broadway debut, in 1961, in the company’s show ‘From the Second City, which he co-wrote.’
Tony-winning actor Michael McGrath, whose last show was at the Muny this summer – he did a fine job as Mr. Mushnik in “Little Shop of Horrors,” passed away in his sleep Sept. 14 at his home in Bloomfield, N.J. He was 65. That wasn’t his first show in St. Louis – in 1990, he played John Adams in Theater Factory’s “1776.” He was first nominated for a Tony in “Spamalot,” and won for “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” playing a bootlegger, in 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/theater/michael-mcgrath-dead.html
Maggie Ryan, founder of Insight Theatre and inspiration to many, who spent 36 years as an English teacher and director of theater at Nerinx Hall, died Sept. 10, at age 80, after a short battle with leukemia. She was a lovely woman to interact with and cared passionately about theater. Insight operated for 12 years, won several St. Louis Theater Circle Awards including a legendary “Death of a Salesman” directed by Wayne Loui and starring father-son duo John and Jason Contini. Unfortunately, Insight closed in 2020.
Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch movie and theater critic, died Aug. 29, from an undisclosed illness. He was 70. I worked with Calvin, both in the St. Louis Film Critics Association, and with the St. Louis Theater Circle, and much admired his writing skill. His insight and passion for the arts will be missed.
CALENDAR NOTES: John Cusack’s screening of “Say Anything,” originally scheduled for October 28 at Stifel Theatre, has been rescheduled for Saturday, March 30. All tickets for the Oct. 28 performance will be honored at the rescheduled date. The popular actor will follow the screening with a conversation regarding his career and the making of the film. Fans will get the opportunity to experience a moderated discussion, with John answering audience questions as well.
SHAMELESS NAME-DROPPING: Before she had the biggest movie of the summer (“Barbie”!) and her second son in February, Greta Gerwig was pleasantly accommodating us press troops at the New York Film Festival 2022 (for “White Noise”). The accomplished actress-writer-director is exactly as she seems, a lovely person in person. I had to compliment her on the 2019 “Little Women,” and she said she had a great time working with the cast of that movie. Hopefully, we will be seeing her during the upcoming awards season. On Aug. 6, the film crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, making her the first woman with sole director credit to have a movie make more than $1 billion.
(My film review: https://poplifestl.com/unexpected-unpredictable-barbie-is-an-irresistible-pop-o-culture/)
Our coda has been added for this issue:
RANDOM THOUGHTS: As you can probably tell, I enjoy waltzing down memory lane, and yes, I was one of the early attendees of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” midnight showings at the Varsity Theatre in 1977, which was so much fun. If you are a lover of cosplay, I have spied folks in Barbie and Ken outfits at “Barbie” — my prediction for hottest Halloween costumes — and I hear from Abe Goldfarb, hilarious as Otho in the touring company of “Beetlejuice,” who was on the weekly PopLifeSTL.com podcast co-hosted by Carl “The Intern” Middleman and myself on Oct. 4, that there’s many folks dressing up at the shows. He’s excited that they’re here Oct. 13.
The St. Louis Blues open at home Oct. 12. Just once I’d like to buy a team T-shirt where the player I selected isn’t traded. (I bought an Alexander Pietrangelo one — with a C — before the playoffs in ’19 and a Ryan O’Reilly in 2022.)
Are we having the Daylight Savings Time ‘fall back’ happen this year or is it over? Anyone? I’m so confused.
Where in the world is Lynn this weekend? Judging the costume contest at the sensational annual Witches and Wizards Festival in O’Fallon, Ill., a really fun event