By Lynn Venhaus

“Attention must be paid.”

In Fly North Theatrical’s hard-hitting “Assassins,” as the vainglorious actor John Wilkes Booth, a mesmerizing Jordan Wolk reminds us of those words, which were written by Arthur Miller in “Death of a Salesman” in 1949. With that, he connects these two commentaries on the American Dream.

This show, bending time and space, plunges us into a nightmare that we vividly recall but one, as the company makes clear, is no longer in the far-distant past.

Such is the unnerving grip of Stephen Sondheim’s 1990 musical, with book by John Weidman, based on a concept by Charles Gilbert Jr., as it delves into the twisted minds and violent motives of infamous criminals – four murderers and five would-be killers of U.S. presidents.

Weidman’s loose narrative features these footnotes in American history meeting, interacting, and inspiring each other in set pieces. He acknowledges the strange brew of celebrity culture colliding with deranged misfits, and Far North presents it with a raw, painful intimacy in the .Zack space.

This is Fly North’s first foray into presenting a classic landmark after offering original works in St Louis since 2017 (“The Gringo,” “Madam,” “Forgottonia.”)

The collaborative duo, music director and founder Colin Healy and director Bradley Rohlf, are at the helm, leading a creative team and cast that zealously dives into the deep end, uncompromising on the musical’s dark and disturbing nature. Its perspective is fresh, voices virtuoso and focus laser-like with minimal staging.

Lighting Designer Tony Anselmo’s work is outstanding, establishing an eerie mood through shadows and light. Costume designer Eileen Engel outfitted each character with period appropriate outfits, Healy created the sound design to add historical texture and Rohlf handled the projection design to enhance the visuals. Brian McKinley is the assistant director.

The .Zack has had some sound/microphone issues since it opened, and continues, in various degrees with an array of productions, but usually it affects musicals more than straight plays. In “Assassins,” some of the more intricate vocals are difficult to discern, but the singers project and enunciate with a lot of effort to overcome those moments, but it still happens. There is always this feeling, when you attend a show there, of “let’s hope the sound is OK.”

Thirty-two years after its off-Broadway premiere, this bold, ambitious, and revolutionary musical continues to haunt in a different way. It is one of those seminal works of the American theater, although at the time considered one of Sondheim’s least accessible. Interpretations change through the years, uniquely tapping into current political climates and realities.

The ensemble includes the mentally unstable killers of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy, and would-be murderers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford (two!) and Ronald Reagan.

Basically, mostly losers who wanted desperately to be winners, these are the little guys tired of being oppressed by the rich and powerful, railing against injustice. Or they’re just extremists on the fringe, American psychos craving attention.

In the jaundiced group number, “There’s Another National Anthem,” Sondheim wrote “For those who never win” — The ensemble sings: “No one listens.” and “Where’s my prize?”

As the Proprietor entices the group to fame and glory, sweet-voiced Eileen Engel sells the devastating “Everybody’s Got the Right” like a QVC barker — but no doubt would administer death penalty lethal injections or place a hangman’s noose with a big smile.

The seeds are planted for disaffected and alienated souls, and their insatiable need to be someone. The song, also used in the finale, is almost sinister in context by the end of the 100-minute one-act.

“Look at me!” “Attention must be paid!” (see also @prescon2022, which prepares future leaders, because #EverybodysGotTheRight to be president).

Healy and Rohlf were forced to delay their plans for this musical several times because of the coronavirus pandemic. But perhaps it couldn’t be a timelier presentation.

With razor-sharp cynicism, the clever, whip-smart creative team has produced a fully immersed take, transforming the .Zack into Prescon 2022 – you must get there early (half-hour before) to take part in “Tinfoil Hat Origami,” “Q, no A, with Marjorie Taylor Greene,” “White Collar Crime and How to Get Away With It” and “Tips and Tricks For a Perfect Rose Garden,” sponsored by Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The run started during the Independence Day holiday weekend, at an unsettling time when political divisions are at a fever-pitch with nasty midterm campaigns heating up a summer of primaries, hearings, and mass shootings.

Of course, the musical was ahead of its time when the original off-Broadway production premiered at the Playwrights Horizons, and while still controversial, the acclaimed 2004 Roundabout revival on Broadway won five Tony Awards and a stripped down version was mounted off-Broadway by John Doyle in late 2021.

Rohlf’s re-imagining of the original carnival framing, a fairground shooting gallery, is a bull’s eye with the convention panel and recreation of vignettes, as narrated by The Balladeer, a riveting Stephen Henley, projecting melancholy and despair in a measured tone. He is the play’s soul.

As in other productions, The Balladeer performer transitions to play a conflicted Lee Harvey Oswald, and Henley imbues JFK’s assassin with a soul-crushing sadness. He is goaded into the deed by Booth, cunning in his persuasion while Oswald wrestles with his demons.

Sensitive to the issues of gun violence, Fly North uses mostly toy guns, but gunfire is used for the Kennedy assassination.

And it is jarring, and powerful, most effective in that one use, and leads up to the evocative and moving “November 22, 1963,” and “Something Just Broke,” which features Americans’ personal accounts from that day of infamy. The impact reverberated for years, as historians tell us, and anyone alive that day can recount in universal details about hearing the news and what it meant.

Such is the indelible Dealey Plaza in Dallas. And the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C., Bayfront Park in Miami, and parades, motorcades, and wherever death changed the course of history.

 “Assassins” is not just the JFK-Oswald Special, nor is it all about Booth, but Lincoln’s assassin is a major catalyst. As written by Weidman, the Confederate sympathizer is embodied more dimensionally in Wolk’s fiery orations, starting with “The Ballad of Booth.”

On the evening of April 14, 1865, Booth entered the Ford Theatre’s presidential box, where Lincoln was watching the comedy “Our American Cousin,” in the third act, and shot him in the back of the head with a .44-caliber derringer. Lincoln died the next morning. Booth escaped with another conspirator, David Herold, and they fled to a barn in Virginia, where they were finally cornered. Herold gave himself up, but Booth refused to surrender and was fatally shot by a police officer. He died on April 26, at age 26.

The show features other characters we may not know much about beyond their names. The bizarre cases of two women, who both attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford within three weeks of each other in California in 1975, are played for laughs — only they are not in on the joke.. While dark, the ineptness and the looney-tunes perception of Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and accountant-turned-hothead Sara Jane Moore is further enhanced by the manic performances of Avery Lux and Kimmie Kidd-Booker.

Lux portrays the brainwashed cultist believing Manson is the son of God and savior of the world as a woman not tethered to any reality while Kidd-Booker depicts easily agitated Moore as a loose cannon. Weidman has used creative liberties here in teaming up the unstable women.

Fromme was first, and the Manson Family mainstay, on Sept. 5, 1975, in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, was hoping to talk to President Ford about the redwoods. Armed with a Colt semi-automatic pistol that had four rounds, she aimed at Ford but there was no bullet in the magazine chamber and was immediately apprehended by Secret Service. She was 26 and received life imprisonment, paroled in 2009 after serving 34 years.

Moore, 45, had 113 rounds of ammunition when she fired a single bullet at President Ford, who was about 40 feet away, and uninjured, while she was in a crowd across the street from the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Moore later admitted to radical political views and expressed regret. She served 32 years of a life sentence and was released on parole in 2007, at age 77.

As one of the three would-be assassins not killed, Jaymeson Hintz portrays John Hinckley Jr. as a pathetic mentally ill young man who had an unhealthy obsession with actress Jodie Foster, then a student at Yale. At age 25, in Washington D.C., he shot President Reagan . on March 30, 1981. With a .22 caliber revolver, he also  wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy. Press Secretary James Brady was left permanently disabled in the shooting.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent over three decades in psychiatric care. He is now released.

His duet with Fromme, “Unworthy of Your Love,” is one of Sondheim’s most heart-breaking ballads.

As the meeker but fixated marksman, Hintz holds his own on stage with the showier roles. He nails Hinckley’s schizoid personality disorder, among other diagnoses. Hintz also has some fun acting as bumbling President Ford.

This musical is not constructed to be a documentary, so the historical figures are shaped by their known backstory but in a more snapshot-type way than a History Channel recap.

Attorney Charles J. Guiteau is portrayed by Bradley Rolen as a delusional gasbag whose increasingly grandiose ramblings are dismissed as nonsense. He considered himself a “Stalwart,” the “Old Guard” faction of the Republican party, supporting Chester A. Arthur, then vice president. He purchased a gun he “thought would look good in a museum,” and followed President James A. Garfield several times, losing his nerve until destiny happened at a train station.

On the morning of July 2, 1881, as the 20th leader of our country departed for New Jersey, Guiteau shot him twice with a revolver. Garfield had only been president for three months when he died Sept. 19, from complications attributed to his doctors, and Guiteau was executed by hanging the next June. He was 40.

“The Ballad of Guiteau” and the chilling “The Gun Song” are part of his repertoire – “pull the trigger, change the world.”

After his second inauguration, the 25th president, William McKinley, another Ohioan, embarked on a six-week tour of the nation. Stopping in Buffalo, New York, to greet people at the Pan-American Exposition Hall’s Temple of Music on Sept. 6, 1901, disgruntled factory worker Leon Czolgosz concealed a handgun in a handkerchief.

The young laborer had become disillusioned by the country’s economic and social turmoil, later involved with a radical socialist group and influenced by anarchist Emma Goldman. Speaking with a Polish accent, Eli Borwick channels that anger and frustration in his powder-keg reactions.

When Czolgosz made it to the front of the line, he shot McKinley twice in the abdomen at close range. The president died a week later. Caught in the act, Czolgosz was quickly tried, convicted, and executed in an electric chair seven weeks later. He was 28.

Borwick’s bombast suits the character, particularly in his songs “The Gun Song” and “The Ballad of Czolgosz.”

As troubled Italian immigrant Guiseppe Zangara, Ryan Townsend conveys the bricklayer’s severe abdominal pain, which in his autopsy was attributed to adhesions on his gallbladder, but he had never received relief in life, even after an appendectomy.

Zangara attempted to kill president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt during a night speech in Miami, 17 days before his inauguration, on Feb. 15, 1933. He shot a .32 caliber pistol five times but missed Roosevelt, striking four others.

Without remorse, when taken to the Dade County Courthouse, he said: “I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.”

He was charged with their attempted murders, but when a victim, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, died 19 days later from peritonitis, Zangara was upgraded to a first-degree murder charge and sentenced to death. He was electrocuted in the Florida State Prison’s electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky,” at age 32.  

Townsend uses a thick accent that sometimes makes it hard to understand his rants. He’s part of “How I Saved Roosevelt” and group numbers, displaying a strong voice.

One of the more amusing portrayals is Sarah Lantsberger as Sam Byck, who really thought he would be a hero if he hijacked a plane and flew it into the White House in hopes of killing the much-despised Nixon. On Feb. 22, 1974, he put his plan into motion – trying to hijack a plane flying out of the Baltimore/Washington International Airport, but during the bungled incident, he killed a policeman and a pilot. He was then shot by another policeman and turned the gun on himself, death by suicide.

In two scenes, Byck is shown taping his diatribes, one to Leonard Bernstein (?!) – which can get very meta, connecting Sondheim’s contributions to “West Side Story”, and another to Nixon. Lantsberger commits to earnestly delivering his grievances. She also portrays Emma Goldman in scenes with Borwick..

Of note are Trey Marlette as a Secret Service agent and Layla Mason as Billy, Sara Jane Moore’s son that she brings along to the crime scene.

The vocals are exceptional, and the 11-piece band smoothly covers the complexities of Sondheim’s score that mixes tones and genres. Ryan Hinman, keyboards, Nicki Evans keyboards, Adam Lugo guitar, Teddy Luecke bass, Des Jones percussion, Lucille Mankovich reeds, Linda Branham Rice reeds, John Gerdes horn, Ron Foster trumpet, Joe Akers trumpet, and Adam Levin trombone, led by conductor Healy, are superb.

The ever-inventive Sondheim, whose brilliance encompassed writing lyrics of irony, emotional pain, humanity’s foibles and hunger for connection, has penned some of his most perturbing ones on our inalienable rights here. And now, after his passing in November, his words resonate from beyond the grave. “Made me wonder who we are” — “Something Just Broke.”

With the political chaos of the past decade and continued death threats against our political leaders and public servants, we have yet to fully comprehend the “Twilight Zone”-like reality that is life in 2022. After all, seditionists and malcontents tried to thwart democracy and nearly hung the vice president last year.

And after this show opened, a 22-year-old loner — who legally obtained five guns despite the ‘red flag laws,’ ripped a community apart from a rooftop as it was celebrating our 246th Independence Day.

This cogent “Assassins” certainly gives one pause about the current state of the union — If it doesn’t raise the hair on your arms, you are not paying attention.

After all, “Attention must be paid”!

Stephen Henley as The Balladeer, using his cellphone to pull up information on the assassins. Photo by John Gramlich.


Fly North Theatricals presents “Assassins” from July 1 through July 23, with a special July 4 show at 4 p.m. for $17.76. Other performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. July 7-9, July 14-16 and July 21-23, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. July 3, 10, and 17 at the .Zack building,  It runs 100 minutes and is presented in one act without an intermission. The show contains strong language, use of a racial slur as well as the use of prop firearms in the house in proximity to audience members. For more details, refer to the content warnings – which contains spoilers. For tickets, visit www.MetroTix.com and for more information, visit the website, www.flynorththeatricals.com

Don’t have tickets yet? Some seats remain for Arts For Life’s 22nd Best Performance Awards at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, which will honor excellence in community musical theater and youth productions.

It will be the first time the annual event is live and in-person since 2019. Musical numbers from eight nominated musicals “Annie,” “Cabaret,” “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Fun Home,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” “Nunsense,” “Shrek,” and “Young Frankenstein” will be performed.

This year’s venue is the Clayton Ballroom at the Frontenac Hilton, 1335 S Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis 63131. Seating will be general admission theater-style seating.

Formal attire is requested. Face masks are recommended. A cash bar and light snacks will be available for purchase.

Veteran performers and BPA winners Gerry and Kay Love are the co-hosts, and Kimmie Kidd-Booker, another BPA winner and AFL board member, will join the Loves for the opening number.

This year’s BPAs include nominees from the shortened 2020 and 2021 theater seasons. Winners will be announced in 30 categories.

The Gateway Center for the Performing Arts’ youth musicals “Annie” and “Cabaret” earned 25 nominations – 14 and 11 respectively, to lead all groups.

Goshen Theatre Project in Collinsville, Ill., received the most community theater nominations, 16, with 11 for “Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast” and five for “Nunsense.”

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild in Kirkwood, Mo., earned 12 for the musical adaptation of the fairy tale “Shrek,” while St. Louis’ Take Two Productions received 10 for their regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home.”

The Hawthorne Players in Florissant, Mo., received eight nominations for the jukebox musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes” while Monroe Actors Stage Company of Waterloo, Ill., garnered seven for the Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation “Young Frankenstein.”

Charlie Wehde will receive a special youth musical recognition award. He was honored for the Best Youth Musical Performance for his portrayal of Jack in “Into the Woods” at DaySpring Academy.

AFL’s annual pair of talent scholarship recipients will be announced. Honorees must pursue an arts career in higher education.

The annual event was held virtually in 2020 but cancelled in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“These events recognize the incredible talent we have in St. Louis community theater and honor the passion and dedication of those who build this amazing and unique theatrical community,” said Mary McCreight, president of Arts For Life.

Arts For Life is a local not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the underserved, and the community, with its goal of “Making a Dramatic Difference.”

AFL is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theatre, encouraging excellence in the arts, and acknowledging the incredible people who are a part of it in the St. Louis metropolitan and metro-east Illinois region.

Nominations were announced Jan. 22 at the annual Trivia Night, which was a virtual event held during a surge in the Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 last winter. They are listed on the website at www.artsforlife.org.

Starting in mid-March 2020, productions were postponed and canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, and safety precautions have been a priority for performers and performances because of the public health crisis. Theaters are no longer dark, and judging resumed in 2021.

“While we did about half the usual number of shows in 2021, it did not diminish Arts for Life’s vision for a community recognition program,” McCreight said.

Prior to the pandemic, 15 theater groups and 10 youth-only groups participated in the BPAs As the region’s mitigations efforts were ongoing the past two years, only four youth-only groups and nine community theater organizations produced BPA-eligible musicals 2021.

BPA tickets are $25, They are available online with a service fee of $2 added: https://arts-for-life-2.square.site/ and can be picked up at the box office on event day.

For special seating needs or COVID-19 related concerns, contact afltrg@artsforlife.org. Handicapped seating is available

Groups participating in this year’s BPAs include Christ Memorial Productions, Dayspring Arts and Education, Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, Goshen Theatre Project, Hawthorne Players, Kirkwood Theatre Guild, KTK Productions, Looking Glass Playhouse, Monroe Actors Stage Company, O’Fallon Theatre Works, OverDue Theatre, and Spotlight Productions.

For more information, visit the website at www.artsforlife.org

Early Bird Ticket Price Good Through May 12

Two versatile professional performers well-known in community theater circles and support for the arts community, Gerry and Kay Love, have been named co-hosts of this year’s Best Performance Awards.

After a two-year absence, Arts For Life will return to a live and in-person awards ceremony June 12, and tickets are now available for the formal afternoon event at the Frontenac Hilton.

Through AFL, the BPAs have honored musical theater in community and youth productions in the St. Louis and metro-east Illinois area since 2000, after the nonprofit organization was founded a year earlier.

Kay Love has won nine BPAs, all in the acting categories, the third most overall in the organization’s history, and has been nominated 29 times, a record for actresses.

Gerry Love has been nominated 12 times and won as the Narrator in Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production of “Into the Woods” in 2000, for best performance in a non-singing role.

Kay Love in Stray Dog Theatre’s ” Ragtime”

They both have been nominated for St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, which recognizes excellence in regional professional theater.

“We are thrilled to be the hosts of the 2022 BPA’s.  We were involved with Arts For Life at its inception and are so happy to see how it has grown over the years. After two years of sitting on our couch, we will be ecstatic to spend the afternoon with so many dear friends!” Kay Love said.

AFL President Mary McCreight praised the Loves’ fervent support of the local arts community as well as their talent.

“They are definitely in the cream of the crop in St. Louis,” McCreight said. “They have a rich history in musicals, plays, concerts, and benefits.”

Plans For This Year’s Event

The 22nd Best Performance Awards will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 12, at the Frontenac Hilton, Clayton Ballroom, 1335 S Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis 63131.

This year’s BPAs include nominees from the shortened 2020 and 2021 theater seasons. Songs from musicals nominated for large ensemble, small ensemble and youth productions will be performed, with Diane Hanisch returning as music director.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker

Kimmie Kidd-Booker, a past BPA winner, current AFL board member, and professional entertainer, will perform “Show People” from the musical “Curtains” as the opening number.

“So happy to see the enthusiasm among theater groups for recognizing excellence among their peers and cheering each other on. It was a tough year to get out there, rehearse, and be among crowds. But through their diligence and willpower, the magic happened. Let’s celebrate!” McCreight said.

The Theatre Mask Awards, which have honored drama and comedy plays since 2015, were held April 9 at a brunch ceremony.

Because of the coronavirus public health crisis, AFL held its BPAs and TMAs ceremonies virtually in 2020, while BPAs were not held in 2021, but TMAs were virtually, and in a smaller capacity.

Prior to the pandemic, 15 theater groups and 10 youth-only groups participated in the BPAs while 11 were involved in the TMAs. As the region’s mitigations efforts were ongoing the past two years, only four youth-only groups and nine community theater organizations produced BPA-eligible musicals while seven participated in TMAs in 2021.

BPA Nominations

Thirteen groups received nominations for 16 musical productions in 2020 and 2021.

The Gateway Center for the Performing Arts led all groups with 25 nominations in total for their youth musicals “Annie” and “Cabaret”– 14 for “Annie” and 11 for Kander-Ebb’s “Cabaret.”

Goshen Theatre Project in Collinsville, Ill., earned 16 nominations –with 11 for “Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast” and five for “Nunsense.”

The Kirkwood Theatre Guild in Kirkwood, Mo., has 12 for the musical adaptation of the animated fairy tale “Shrek,” while Take Two Productions earned 10 for their regional premiere of the Tony Award-winning musical “Fun Home.”

Hawthorne Players received eight for the jukebox musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and Monroe Actors Stage Company has seven for the Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation “Young Frankenstein.”

Looking Glass Players garnered a total of seven – The Tony Award 2014 winner for best musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” received four and the jukebox musical comedy “Rock of Ages” has three.

A complete list of nominees is available at: https://nebula.wsimg.com/5ec987b8d5580ca0c11ed016e97ce1a6?AccessKeyId=901C1079C3BABD637603&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

Tickets $20 Through May 12 or $25 After

Formal attire is requested, and the event will be general admission theater-style seating. A cash bar will be available.

BPA tickets are either $20 as an early bird pricing before May 12, or $25 after that until June 12. They are available online with a service fee of $2 added: https://arts-for-life-2.square.site/.

Reservations can be arranged through the mail and tickets can be picked up at the venues on event day. Please make check payable to ARTS FOR LIFE and mail to PO Box 16426, St. Louis, MO 63125.

All BPA ticket orders will be held at the box office unless a self-addressed stamped envelope is included with ticket order. If ordering for a group, please attach a list of individual names for box office pick-up.

Please contact afltrg@artsforlife.org if you have any special seating needs or COVID-19 related concerns. Handicapped seating is available

Community theater organizations who produced shows and were eligible for BPA Awards consideration during the specified time period include Christ Memorial Productions, Dayspring Arts and Education, Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, Goshen Theatre Project, Hawthorne Players, Kirkwood Theatre Guild, KTK Productions, Looking Glass Playhouse, Monroe Actors Stage Company, O’Fallon Theatre Works, Over Due Theatre, Spotlight Productions and Take Two Productions.

For more information or to see a list of nominees, visit the website at www.artsforlife.org

Kay Love

The Loves

The Loves, who live in Sunset Hills, met onstage at the Florissant Civic Center in 1994 and have been married for 25 years.

“We both have been singing all of our lives,” Kay said.

Gerry began acting in high school in Norman, Okla., in the dancing chorus of “Oklahoma” in 1969 and appeared in four more shows during those school days. After a 12-year hiatus, he returned to stages in Dallas, Texas, between 1982 and 1986. His first St. Louis production was in “42nd Street” at Hawthorne Players in 1988, and he was involved in their shows for 20 years. He also performed at other local venues, amateur and professional. Besides performing, he directed four shows, one for Alpha Players and three for Hawthorne.

Kay, a St. Louis native, has been in shows since seventh grade (“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown”), graduated from Lindbergh High School, and attended Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Texas Christian University.

She performed on the Muny stage in 1985 and 1987, including four shows as an Equity actress – “My Fair Lady,” “Peter Pan,” “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was also in two later concert versions of “The Desert Song” and “The Merry Widow.”

Kay has created and performed three solo cabaret shows. For many years, she has sung with The Jeweltones and Caroling St. Louis.

An avid photographer since 2007, Gerry has shot photos of 50 community theater and university productions, plus dance concerts and actor headshots, and produced videos. He is currently the primary photographer for Webster University’s Department of Dance. He also served on the boards for Kirkwood Theatre Guild and Hawthorne during his time in St Louis.

The Loves have sung at Carnegie Hall and have appeared with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus during multiple seasons.  

Gerry Love in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at Stray Dog Theatre

Making a Dramatic Difference

Arts For Life is dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the underserved, and the community, with its goal of “Making a Dramatic Difference.”

AFL is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theatre, encouraging excellence in the arts, and acknowledging the incredible people who are a part of it.

Nominations were announced Jan. 22 at AFL’s annual Trivia Night, which was a virtual event during heightened COVID-19 cases earlier this winter. They are listed on the website, www.artsforlife.org.

Starting in mid-March 2020, productions were postponed and canceled during the coronavirus pandemic, and safety precautions have been a priority for performers and performances because of the coronavirus public health crisis. Now that vaccines and COVID-19 tests are available, stage work has returned, and theaters are no longer dark.

“While we did about half the usual number of shows in 2021, it did not diminish Arts for Life’s vision for a community recognition program,” McCreight said

“These events recognize the incredible talent we have in St. Louis community theater and honor the passion and dedication of those who build this amazing and unique theatrical community,” she said.

Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

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, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnCSL5RPbHTrhbc0mbHcWnA

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 www.angelbandproject.org

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: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YlomcYjVNqDNqmPTCrYGSjnAtDwkn9QT/view

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

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at afltrg@artsforlife.org

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

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



By Lynn Venhaus
Ambitious and intriguing, “Madam” is a new musical full of promise and potential.

Elevated by a charming cast of local performers, this vibrant musical cements composer and music director Colin Healy as one to watch.

His fifth original musical, “Madam” showcases what a multi-talent he is — Healy wrote the book, music and lyrics and did the orchestrations for his new Fly North Theatricals company’s latest work. He also conducts a very tight band and plays the piano.

With a lot of passion and heart behind it, “Madam” had a triumphant sell-out run of nine performances last summer at the Bluff City Theater in Hannibal, which commissioned the musical.

Now, St. Louisans has the opportunity to discover one of its most notorious businesswomen from the 19th century, wealthy brothel madam and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft. She built quite an empire, as the opening song says, and became the richest woman in Missouri, beloved by the general public during the Reconstruction Era.

Haycraft, born in 1820, arrived destitute in St. Louis at age 20. When prostitution was legal, for only a brief time, in St. Louis, she became owner and manager of a brothel, doing well even though she couldn’t read or write. She bought commercial and residential property and rented it back out. She was known for helping the city’s poor, offering them help and financial aid.

Healy’s crafted message is about the vulnerability of aging and the power of saying “No.”
Haycraft empowered her courtesans by granting them the right to refuse service to anyone. She had three simple rules: Respect, Consent and Pay Up Front.

“Madam” focuses on the last year of her life – she died in 1871 at age 51. While based on true events, the musical fictionalizes the story about a search for an heir to her sex empire when the richest and most powerful men were hellbent on taking it all away from her.

The passage of The Social Evils Act of 1870 made her business legitimate, but denied women affected by it of many of their rights they previously enjoyed.

The fascinating story’s conflicts must include the double standard conundrum – her houses were well-frequented by those rich guys who ran the city but she was shut out of polite society.

What the musical brings out in the small cast of female characters is their dependence on prostitution to support themselves and their independence by defying the status quo at a time when they had few legitimate rights – an early glimpse at feminism and sexism.

These characters are composites of strong spunky women – among them an escaped slave who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Union Army and a sister to Victoria Woodhull, a candidate for president in 1872.

Sunny Eileen Engel and Gracie Sartin, who have been with the production since its workshop, effortlessly strut with confidence in song and dance, smiles beaming as Tennie and Ripley.

They open the show, along with new addition Marta Bady as gutsy Billie, with a vivacious “Empire.” The three are often paired in song – including “Love Is Work,” “Another Fence (The Baseball Song)” and “The Great Benefactor.”

They aren’t the only working girls with gumption – Abigail Becker is the complicated once-married Mercy Jones and Cameron Pille is the troubled Calista, each with outstanding solos: Mercy in “A Man with Money” and “I Want to be a Star,” and the sad “The Unfortunate Song” with The Benefactor (Phil Leveling), and Calista with “It Feels So Good” and “Special.”

The women have moments to shine and plenty of melodic tunes to sing, and director Sydnie Grosberg Ronga has staged the musical numbers with verve in the small .Zack space, creating an intimacy by having performers up close on the ground and on the second level, not far from the audience.

Scenic designer George Shea has created a good space for the action to flow, well-lit by lighting designer Kevin Bowman.

Healy knows the drawbacks of the .Zack’s acoustics, and his sound designer Tazu Marshall has done a terrific job.

Choreographer Carly Niehaus has resolved the space challenges with streamlined numbers that punctuate the music. Eileen Engel also designed the costumes, and she made them extremely functional while period-appropriate.

The St. Louis cast is almost the same as the Hannibal cast minus three. Kimmie Kidd-Booker, who played Madam in the COCA workshop and Billie in Bluff City, resumes the leading role as man-hating Eliza. She is fierce and feisty as this remarkable dignified woman in her declining final days.

With her rich, velvety voice, Kidd-Booker has become a welcome fixture in both regional professional and community theater. She commands attention as she sashays across the two-level set with major attitude, first introduced in “All You Need to Know.” Her “No,” with Calista in the Part 1, and solo in Part 2, is a hard-hitting high point.

She understands Eliza as a smart, pragmatic woman who knows how to operate in a male-dominated world. Her mistrust of men reaches a boiling point as they threaten to ruin her. Fuming, she joins Ripley and The Benefactor in “The Social Evils Act.”

One of the three new cast members, Leveling has a fine voice but seems miscast as the unsavory The Benefactor, an imposing bad guy and frequent customer. This male chauvinist pig must be menacing and Phil is not that. In reality, maybe it’s a good thing that he’s not believable being mean to women, but not for the part – it is a sticky wicket. The role is a tad underwritten as it is.

While the music – infused with jazz and blues for a St. Louis flavor — is admirable, the book could use a little more tweaking – there are a few time leaps that are somewhat confusing

The musical is still a work in progress but the elements for success are there and will be going places.

Fly North Theatricals presents the local premiere of “Madam” from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the .Zack Theater, 3224 Locust Street. For more information, visit www.flynorthmusic.com.

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 afltrg@artsforlife.org 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, lynnvenhaus@gmail.com, 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.”