By Lynn Venhaus

“Christmas with C.S. Lewis” starring St. Louis native Gregory Williams Welsch has been selling out the Westport Playhouse, such is its popularity. A 5 p.m. show on Sunday, Dec. 17, has been added to the run.

Wearing a red sweater and sipping tea, Welsch plays the British author, born as Clive Staples Lewis but known as Jack to his family and friends. Lewis wrote more than 30 books, including “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Narnia Chronicles,” “Surprised by Joy,” and “Prince Caspian.”

Welsch taps into Lewis’ sharp wit and spontaneous humor that made him a revered raconteur and one of the literary giants of the 20th Century.

“It can be very funny, but also sad, too. He talks about the death of his wife,” Welsch said.

This holiday-themed show has its roots in Lewis’ Christianity writings and “An Evening with C.S. Lewis,” which was also written by director-writer-performer David Payne, who originated the role many years ago. Welsch and Payne first got to know each other performing Payne’s show “Lewis and Tolkien.”

As a young adult, Lewis believed the story of Christ’s birth was nothing more than a feel-good myth. That all changed after a particular encounter with his great friend and fellow authors, JRR Tolkien.

Although both men loved mythology in general, Tolkien was convinced that the Jesus myth was the one true one. That was the start of Lewis’ journey from Atheism to Christianity. From that point on, Christmas took on an entirely different meaning.

In this one-man show, we find Lewis at his home near Oxford on Christmas Eve 1962, hosting a group of American writers who are in England for the holiday. They are about to experience an unforgettable assortment of Yuletide recollections that stimulate a whole range of emotions – curiosity, laughter, gladness and even some tears.

Above all, they will discover how that encounter with Tolkien forever changed Lewis’ Christmas celebrations. But also learn about the people and events that shaped his life – including how he came to embrace Christianity and the woman, Joy Davidman, who turned his life upside down. (They were married from 1956 until her death in 1960).

Lewis, born on Nov. 29, 1898, died on Nov. 22, 1963.

In the engaging conversation, you’ll find out why he nearly abandoned the Narnia Chronicles too.

Welsch has also been performing another one-man show, “Churchill” at venues all over the country. He currently resides in Nashville but grew up in Rock Hill. He has fond memories of flipping burgers at Carl’s Drive-In, attending St. Mary Magdalene Grade School in Brentwood, discovering theater at St. Louis University High School. He is grateful to have been taught by Joe Schulte, who directed the shows, and credits the work ethic at a Jesuit institution for helping him prepare for a life in the theater.

He has enjoyed playing Lewis but is willing to switch gears again to reprise the role of Tolkien opposite his friend Payne, who is known for performing Lewis. Stay tuned…

Take Ten Q&A with Gregory Williams Welsch

1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

I believe that I was drawn to the arts on a spiritual level, though I might not have known that as a youngster. I have always felt that to create was ‘of the soul’ and that what our capitalistic/materialistic society asks of us and promotes as desirable and laudable is the antithesis of that and is, in the end, empty.

2. How would your friends describe you?

As a true “listener” who cares. And whose advice is worth seeking.

3. How do you like to spend your spare time?

Spending time with friends or simply kicking back and watching a good documentary or playing the guitar and recording.

4. What is your current obsession?

Whatever show I am preparing.

5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

That I lived for 2½ years in Europe (Vienna) and speak several languages.

6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

Being called to travel to Peru and study with a Shipibo and an Amarya shaman to participate in the Ceremony of the Ayahuasca 8 years ago — long before it became a pop culture trope.

7. Who do you admire most?

Artists, like Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Keanu Reeves and others, whose values are steadfast and remain intact even as they deal with the wealth and fame that comes with their success.

8. What is at the top of your bucket list?

To visit the sacred lands that are the Black Hills and other lands here in my own country. I find I know Europe better than the US! Though Barcelona is a city I have missed and visiting Vienna again to reconnect with old friends and see them for what might be the last time is up there too.

9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

Hanging with family and old school friends.     

10. What’s next?

Continue to grow as an actor/artist. Recently did my first run of a one-man show, “Churchill” and want continue to grow in that role as well as reprise the role of JRR Tolkien working with British actor and friend, David Payne as CS Lewis in the show about their last meeting, “Lewis and Tolkien.”

More on Gregory Williams Welsch

Age: Old enough to know better

Birthplace: St. Louis

Current location: Nashville, Tenn.

Family: 7th of 9…Sometimes I feel like a Borg!

Education: SLUH, Mizzou, and the streets of any number of cities of the world.

Day job: Actor, Writer, Director

First job: Paper Route in Brentwood

First role: Joseph, in the first grade Christmas play. I killed it, BTW…

Favorite roles/plays: JRR Tolkien, Didi in “Waiting for Godot,” Ben Hubbard in “Little Foxes.”

Dream role/play: Shelly Levine in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Stage Manager in “Our Town”

Awards/Honors/Achievements: Founding member of Radio Free Nashville, a low-power, non-profit community radio station closing in on its 20th year giving an independent voice to the community.

Favorite quote/words to live by: “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” – Jonas Mekas

A song that makes you happy: “Carey” Joni Mitchell with the LA Express.

Emery Entertainment presents Christmas with C.S. Lewis starring Gregory Williams Welsch through Dec. 17. Performances take place at the Westport Playhouse in Westport Plaza. For more information:

Coleman discusses upcoming 103rd season and the challenges ahead

By Lynn Venhaus
Kwofe Coleman, who started at The Muny as a seasonal employee when he was 16, will become the theatre’s next president and CEO, succeeding Denny Reagan, who is retiring after 52 years.

Coleman begins the new position on Jan. 1, 2022. He is currently The Muny’s managing director, overseeing the organization, financial and business affairs. He will assume the role with more than a decade of extensive theatre management experience.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead The Muny and serve a community that I love,” Coleman said. “The unparalleled history, remarkable resources and aspirational spirit that have yielded a century of success for The Muny are our foundation as we begin our second century.”

The Muny Board of Directors announced the decision Friday.

One of the premier musical theaters in the U.S., the 103-year-old St. Louis venue traditionally welcomes more than 350,000 patrons over its nine-week season in the nation’s largest and oldest outdoor theatre in Forest Park.

The opportunity to mold The Muny’s future is not one Coleman, 38, takes lightly.

“With great excitement, I look toward the future of a cultural institution that will take intentional steps to broaden and evolve our identity and relationships through both our art and our investment in this community,” he said.

He has been preparing for this opportunity for many years.

“It’s been a 22-year job interview,” he said. “The opportunities I have had to work in different departments and gain the necessary experience in a community I care about has motivated me to want to figure out our next chapter. ‘What else can I do?’ We have an opportunity to define what a cultural institution is. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

Coleman said he is eager to get to work.

“I have a lot of respect for what the people do here. I’m honored for this moment, and I’m so excited to do the work,” he said.

Coleman’s promotion has been met with local and national praise, with both the board chairman and retiring president describing it as a “perfect” choice.

“Thanks to Denny’s leadership, and the diligent stewarding of the selection process by the executive committee and full board, the perfect candidate has been chosen,” Muny Board Chairman James S. Turley said.

Reagan, who has been with The Muny since 1968, has served as president and CEO since 1991. He announced plans to retire in December.

He and Coleman have worked extensively alongside each other. In recent years, they have stood together near stage left, greeting patrons before each of the seven shows on summer evenings.

And like Reagan, Coleman started working at the Muny as a summer job when he was in high school. He was an usher, handing out programs and helping with patrons’ needs.

“Kwofe is a remarkably gifted leader who understands the institution at its core, and more importantly, its commitment to the St. Louis community,” Reagan said. “He will ensure The Muny’s future remains bright while offering a new perspective on how to lead our beloved theatre into its next century. Without question, he is the perfect choice.”

“Undoubtedly, Kwofe will ensure The Muny continues its commitment to accessibility, regardless of physical or socioeconomic limitations, while expanding the vital role we fill in our community,” said Turley, who is also the Second Century Campaign chairman.

Dave Steward, founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, the nation’s largest black-owned company, said Coleman was a national and local leader of rare passion and commitment for serving young people.

“His record reflects an accomplished innovator who is making education and training increasingly accessible for historically underserved communities through schools and the arts,” Steward said.

“From the Gospel of Mark we learn, ‘Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant,’ and I am confident that Kwofe will lead with faith and humility. The Steward family, along with World Wide Technology, salute The Muny on choosing Kwofe as their next leader,” said Steward, a Muny board member.

World Wide Technology and the Steward Family Foundation became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They were to be the 2020 Season Presenting Sponsor but instead continued as the online season presenting sponsor with a leadership gift.

Coleman is recognized both locally and nationally as a strong force in theatre operations and currently serves as the president-elect of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre.

 Betsy King, NAMT executive director, noticed the symmetry of Reagan, a former president, passing the torch to Coleman.

“I can say with both excitement and confidence that Kwofe will be a charismatic, insightful leader for The Muny. He will respect the past while also moving the organization into a strong, vibrant future. The Muny is in excellent hands!” she said.

Coleman was a 2018 Fellowship advisor for the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland.

“The Muny has enjoyed a remarkably stable and strong leadership that has allowed the organization to move from strength to strength. Appointing Kwofe Coleman as the new president and CEO ensures leadership continuity. Kwofe brings his own insights and talents to the position and will lead The Muny to even greater heights in the years to come,” said Michael Kaiser, DeVos Institute of Arts Management chairman and Kennedy Center president emeritus.

Photo in St. Louis American. Kwofe Coleman and Dennis Reagan backstage at The Muny

103rd Season

Because of the public health crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 102nd season was cancelled, and the line-up was transferred to the 2021 season. Even though season ticket sales were announced in March, the current health landscape, best practices and all available information must indicate that a season is possible.

A final decision will be made next month, Coleman said.

“We’re eager to come back, to gather and have the shows, but we have to be safe and be cleared to do so by the health department and the labor unions,” he said. “We’re looking at every angle. We might have to have a slightly reduced season, a socially distanced scenario. We’ll do something. How we will do it has to be figured out.”

Coleman said meetings continue to take place, consulting with the city and medical experts on the COVID-19 regional numbers and mitigation efforts. He said they have watched what the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and other local institutions have done in their altered re-openings.

“We’ve had a lot of great conversations. We’re only going to be together again by working together,” he said.

The upcoming season, announced in December, is to start later in July and then run through September, a shift from the usual June to August schedule, “should conditions allow.”

The seven shows are: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (July 5 – 11), Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins (July 14 – 22), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (July 25 – 31), The Sound of Music (August 3 – 9), Sweeney Todd (August 12 – 18), On Your Feet! (August 21 – 27) and Chicago (August 30 – September 5). Three – Sweeney Todd, Smokey Joe’s Café and On Your Feet – are Muny premieres.

In the meantime, the activities at #1 Muny Drive continue. The stage is being installed, construction is on track and preparations to return are underway.

The Muny is currently undergoing a multi-year major renovation project that was announced in October 2018.  Phase 3 started in September, focused on backstage support spaces. The Muny’s aging 11.5-acre campus needs upkeep and maintenance.

The new Emerson Artists’ Building will house dressing rooms, the wig shop, hair and makeup departments and wardrobe. Renovations are planned for the costume shop, production and general offices, rehearsal space, craft and scenic room, painter and carpenter areas, and the sewer and plumbing infrastructure. The capital campaign has raised $85 million so far.

The first two phases focused on rebuilding the state-of-the-art James S. McDonnell stage

Summer of 2020

The Muny announced in May that a modified season of 5, not 7, shows would take place beginning in July only if local health experts and officials deemed it safe, but on June 8, the decision was made not to move forward.

After that sad news, the Muny pivoted to an online season, a first in its 102-year history. They aired the live Muny Magic concerts at The Sheldon, never before made available to the public, and created a new series, “The Muny 2020 Summer Variety Hour Live!” This one-of-a-kind, free online endeavor was packed with performances by Muny artists across the country and dancers performing outside on the grounds.

Because of the online season, The Muny was able to employ several members of its typical summer staff, including trades people, performers, artists and musicians.

With viewers from 22 countries, the total estimated attendance for the free 10-show summer season was 189,582. This number represented a record-breaking first in The Muny’s live-streaming history, and is an aggregated estimate based on YouTube analytics.

“While this season was anything but ordinary, the support from our viewers has been nothing short of extraordinary,” Reagan said.

“My heart was transported back to so many magical summer nights past,” said Mike Isaacson, artistic director and executive producer of The Muny.

“I am so grateful to everyone in the Muny family who worked on and created these 10 streams,” Isaacson said. “It was a remarkable collaboration in so many ways, and in this really challenging time, these shows allowed us to create, to celebrate and to be together. We’re all very grateful.”

The Muny 2018. Photo by Lynn Venhaus

Coleman’s biography

Coleman joined The Muny full time in 2008 as a staff accountant, helping to manage the finances, accounting and payroll for its multimillion-dollar annual budget.

In the decade preceding it, he performed a variety of roles, including house manager.

In 2011, Coleman formed The Muny’s first digital communications department, reconstructing its internet presence and social media identity while also dramatically increasing the theatre’s internet sales stream, national presence and forming connections with nextgeneration audiences.

He was promoted to director of marketing and communications in 2014, where he managed branding and marketing efforts through its 2018 centennial season. During this time, Coleman was also key in the creation of both The Muny’s Second Century Strategic Plan and the $100 million Second Century Capital Campaign.

Following the 2018 season, Coleman was named The Muny’s managing director, responsible for managing the business functions while working with Isaacson, to embrace and articulate the artistic and institutional vision.

In St. Louis, he is an active contributor, serving on the St. Louis University High School Board of Trustees, Cor Jesu Academy Advisory Council, Common Circles Advisory Council and as a proud founding board member of Atlas School.

Coleman is an alumnus of St. Louis University High School, Class of 2001, and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University in Atlanta.

He is a first-generation American. His parents migrated here from the Republic of Ghana in the mid-1970s and settled in Bellefontaine Neighbors. He has two sisters, both doctors, who attended Harvard and Duke universities, and locally, Cor Jesu Academy. He said his parents prized education and his father worked side jobs to send his children to private schools.

Coleman said his parents appreciated the arts and culture, and that was handed down to their three children, to make sure they were well-rounded.

“Art was natural to me and I appreciated it,” Coleman said.

He also serves on the board of directors for the Saint Louis Club, as well as other various social service organizations. During the 2020 holiday season, Coleman served as executive producer for “A New Holiday,” a short film musical set in St. Louis created by LIFE Creative Group.

He is a 2015 recipient of the St. Louis American’s Salute to Young Leaders Award and was named to the 2020 St. Louis Business Journal 40 under 40.

For more information about The Muny, visit

Season tickets can be purchased online at or by phone by calling (314) 361-1900. Currently, the box office in Forest Park is closed to the public.