By Lynn Venhaus

A longtime multi-hyphenate in St. Louis, actor, director and playwright Stephen Peirick’s latest challenge is a very personal and special experience for him, what he describes as a “dream opportunity.”

As director of the regional theater premiere of the Tony-winning “The Inheritance,” he said it’s not only an honor and privilege to be a part of the work, but described the production as an “embarrassment of riches” because of his “hands-down brilliant” cast.

Tesseract Theatre Company will present “The Inheritance, Parts 1 and 2” by Matthew Lopez April 26 to May 5 at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. There is one day, May 4, where both parts will be presented. For more information, visit www.tesseracttheatre.com and tickets are available at MetroTix.

Peirick is working with Tesseract for the first time. Taylor Gruenloh, former founder and artistic director, said he first thought of Stephen while reading the play, and locked him in to make it happen.

“As soon as I read that play, it reminded me of all the work Stephen was doing in town. And knowing how passionate he is about this kind of subject matter made it important to know he was at the helm before the rights were secured,” Gruenloh said.

The Daily Telegraph said it was “perhaps the most important American play of this century.” The play is based on “Howard’s End” by E.M. Forster and takes place in New York City decades after the AIDS epidemic, as three generations of gay men attempt to forge a future for themselves amid turbulent and changing America.

“This play doesn’t deny the pain of our experience.. it allows people to remember how we have gotten this far, what it’s like to fight, and who we have lost along the way. That sometimes our best weapon is our sense of humor, is our wit, is our intelligence, and is the love we have for each other,” said playwright Matthew Lopez.

Gabriel Paul and Chris Kernan. Photo by Tesseract Theatre Company.

Eric Glass (Chris Kernan) is a political activist engaged to his writer boyfriend, Toby Darling (Gabriel Paul). When two strangers enter their lives — an older man and a younger one — their futures suddenly become uncertain as they begin to chart divergent paths. This is an epic examination of survival, healing, class divide, and what it means to call a place home.

Besides Kernan and Paul, “The Inheritance” cast includes Tyson Cole, Stephen Henley, Jon Hey, Donald Kidd, Alex Moore, Kevin O’Brien, Jacob Schmidt, Sean Seifert, Nic Tayborn, Kelvin Urday, and Margery Handy. Assistant Director is Dani Mann.

Among its accolades, “The Inheritance” won the 2020 Tony Award for Best Play., the 2020 Drama Desk Award for Best Play and the 2019 Olivier Award for Best Play.

​This production is for mature audiences. May contain mature themes, language, nudity, sexuality, violence, satire and/or progressive ideas.

Peirick has been working with Stray Dog Theatre for years, and has performed and directed at West End Players Guild and performed with Union Avenue Opera in “Lost in the Stars.” He also works with Take Two Productions, a community theatre.

He is known for writing original plays as well, and has received nominations for Best New Play from the St. Louis Theater Circle for “Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs” and “Four Sugars.”

Last year, the Circle nominated him for his performance as Ned Weeks in “The Normal Heart” and several years ago for “The Doll’s House.”

He has also been nominated for the local community theatre Arts for Life awards for directing, lighting design, choreography and scenic design — winning the latter for Fun Home with Take Two Productions.

Next up is directing “Merrily We Roll Along” for Take Two Productions, which will be presented in September and October.

Stephen as Ned Weeks in “The Normal Heart,” with Joey Saunders, at Stray Dog Theatre in 2022. Photo by John Lamb.

Take Ten Questionnaire with Stephen Peirick

1. What is special about your latest project?

Larry Kramer masterfully wrote the brilliant play The Normal Heart, which detailed his experiences fighting for the gay community during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. When I first saw Kramer’s play in 2011, it amplified a history I had been almost entirely ignorant of. It was a humbling moment as a gay man: an embarrassing privilege of my age. Kramer’s play inspired me to want to share this history with the world, and in particularly with the next generation of queer youth.

Our history is important. We are important. Matthew Lopez’s first-rate epic The Inheritance goes one step further, by asking audiences to ponder not only what we owe the generation who came before us, but what will we leave behind for the generation to come?

It’s not often that you get asked about your interest in directing a two-part epic – this has been a dream opportunity. It has been my incredible honor and privilege to direct the St. Louis premiere of this Tony-Award winning play.

And then, on top of it, to get to work with a hands-down brilliant local cast (Tyson Cole, Nic Tayborn, Sean Seifert, Jacob Schmidt, Stephen Henley, Donald Kidd, Kevin O’Brien, Kelvin Urday, Chris Kernan, Gabriel Paul, Alex C. Moore, Jon Hey, and Margery Handy) and an exceptional behind the scenes team (Dani Mann, Rachel Downing, Amanda Brasher, Abby Pastorello, Tony Anselmo, Jacob Baxley, Sarah Baucom, Kent Coffel, Kevin Sallwasser, as well as Tesseract’s Creative Directors Brittanie Gunn and Kevin Corpuz): this show has been an embarrassment of riches for a director. A special experience, for sure.

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

Because I can’t NOT pursue it. (I would be so much more well-rested if I just stay away!) At the end of the day, I’m a storyteller trying to get better at this craft. Whether I’m directing, acting, or writing…I have a passion for creating, and no matter how tired I get, I keep going back for more.

As George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2023, with Stephen Henley and Claire Wenzel. John Lamb Photo.

3. How would your friends describe you?

First and foremost, I think they’d say I was hot. And also, probably…hilarious. Okay; maybe they wouldn’t say either of those things unprovoked…or at all. But in my mind, those are the two compliments they are always ABOUT to share with me…before they get distracted by something else and forget .

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

What is that? Spare time? Alas…should I ever find it again, I’d love to get back to writing.

5. What is your current obsession?

The Inheritance. I literally have no time for anything else. But once the show has come and gone, I love to spend summers outside…I love lounging in a pool, and enjoying R & R time. I love to find and read new plays, and I’m always on the lookout for some good Halloween décor. I track what’s playing in NYC, both on Broadway and Off…and I love reality television, or binding scripted shows.

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

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.

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

Seeing my sister’s high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank when I was six or seven. It ignited in me my love for live theatre. When I look back on my life, I think it was the very beginning moment of this whole journey.

8. Who do you admire most?

My mom was, no doubt, the most influential person on me. She passed away nearly 10 years ago, and I miss her everyday, and I can’t help but wonder what she would think of the work I’ve done over these years.

Lavonne Byers, Stephen Peirick and Laurell Stevenson in “Good People” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2022. Photo by John Lamb.

9. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

I was just getting ready to return to the stage as an actor (after having taken a year off) when the pandemic hit. Like for everyone else, it caused so much disruption to projects I had in the pipeline. Most of them still got to happen, although after a long delay, including directing Fun Home with Take Two Productions, and playing Mike in Good People and Ned in The Normal Heart for Stay Dog Theatre.

The Normal Heart was my dream project, and had been since 2011, so the fear that it would never get to happen, and that the arts might never recover was real.

I think it’s important to go see and support live theatre as one’s schedule (and wallet) allows. Volunteer to usher, and post to the socials when you go see work. Help your friends and family see that it is safe to return to the theatre, and that good things are happening. (And masks are still welcome in any theatre you might want that added layer of protection.)


10. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis? (Or your hometown)

I love to be immersed in our local arts scene as much as possible. This month alone, I saw productions with Stray Dog Theatre, The Rep, Clayton Community Theatre, and St. Louis Shakespeare. I love hitting up restaurants (The Tavern is a favorite for special occasions), and spending time with friends and family.

12. What’s next?

Next up, I am directing the musical Merrily We Roll Along for Take Two Players. This dynamic and rarely produced musical is currently having an incredible run on Broadway. Running for two weekends in September and October, our cast features an incredible group of local talent, including Ryan Farmer, Grace Langford, and Michael Baird in the central roles of Frank, Mary and Charlie. www.taketwoproductions.org

Stephen Peirick and husband Jon Hey. Photo by Lynn Venhaus

More Information on Stephen Peirick
Birthplace: Franklin County, MO
Current location: St. Louis
Family: I am married to the incredible Jon Hey, and we have three cats: Kona, Poppy and George. I have four older sisters, three nephews, two nieces, two great nephews and two great nieces.
Education: BA in Communications/Theatre with a minor in Education
Day job: I have spent the last 15+ years working for a state association. I create our online newsletters, content for our socials, etc., and appreciate working for an organization that understands and supports my passion for the arts.
First job: I was a Ticket Taker at Six Flags when I was 15 years old.
First play or movie you were involved in or made: The first real, non-grade school Christmas play I did was a courtroom drama called The Night of January 16 when I was a freshman in high school.
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? Playing Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart at Stray Dog Theatre was such a dream; and seeing the premiere of my first, full-length play (in 2012 at West End Players Guild) Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs is something that I will never forget.
Dream job/opportunity: Taking Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs to New York maybe?
Awards/Honors/Achievements: I have been nominated for four St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards; two for acting (The Normal Heart and A Doll’s House) and two for writing (Wake Up, Cameron Dobbs and Four Sugars). I have also been nominated for our local, community theatre Arts for Life awards for directing, lighting design, choreography and scenic design (winning the latter for Fun Home with Take Two Productions).
Favorite quote/words to live by: Tell your story bravely. It’s a story worth telling.” – Morgan, The Inheritance
A song that makes you happy: I love 80s music. Here I Go Again by Whitesnake is a fave.

Stephen Peirick and Nicole Angeli in Stray Dog’s “Hedda Gabler” in 2017. Photo by John Lamb.
“Art” outdoors at Stray Dog, with Ben Ritchie and Jeremy Goldmeier in 2021. Photo by John Lamb

St. Louis, MO (March 4, 2024) – A new musical written for students at the Missouri University of Science & Technology will have a brief run in New York City this month before having its World Premiere at the Tesseract Theatre Company in St. Louis this July.

Cascade’s Fire, a modern adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone story, was written by Taylor Gruenloh and Kyle Wernke, professors at Missouri S&T.

“The students at this university,” Gruenloh says, “are super bright and drawn to creative adventures. Like other theatre programs at schools across the country, we came out of the pandemic swinging and haven’t slowed back down yet.”

Gruenloh and Wernke’s Cascade’s Fire had a workshop production on the campus of Missouri S&T in October 2023. Since the university doesn’t have a theatre major, the acting ensemble featured students studying in majors like engineering management, physics, education, and biological science.

“It was a staggeringly new experience,” said David Pisoni, a chemical engineering major. “Not only do you get to go through the rehearsal process with the writer and composer of the piece, but you’re approaching it with completely fresh eyes.”

Cascade’s Fire sees the character of Cascade return to her old college campus looking for answers after the death of her ex-girlfriend.

Taylor Gruenloh

The same cast from the October production will travel with the show to New York this month.

“It has always been a dream of mine to perform in New York,” said Madison Kastner, an education major. “I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to do the thing I love.”

While the student actors perform Cascade’s Fire during the evenings at Under St. Marks Theatre in the East Village, Gruenloh will be escorting them to career related activities during the day.

“Not only do these few students get to perform a new musical in New York, the university is helping send a larger student group with us to visit an entertainment engineering firm, talk with technical theatre professionals, and seeing a new Broadway show.”

Gruenloh says it’s his mission at Missouri S&T to showcase pathways for engineering students to achieve careers in the arts. “A lot of students came in around the start of the pandemic, thinking they weren’t going to have many opportunities in theatre, thinking this school only championed STEM activities, and now they’re taking a show to the busiest theatre city in the world.”

Cascade’s Fire won’t stop after the brief run in New York. St. Louis’ Tesseract Theatre Company will produce the musical’s official World Premiere as part of their 2024 New Musical Summer Fest in July.

Gruenloh has a strong history with Tesseract Theatre, co-founding the company in 2012 with current Creative Director Brittanie Gunn. Gruenloh stepped away from the company in August last year to focus on building the theatre program at Missouri S&T. “We’re excited to bring Taylor back,” said Kevin Corpuz, a Creative Director at Tesseract. “To share his new musical with St. Louis audiences is very special and we can’t wait to get started.”

While the St. Louis production of Cascade’s Fire will have a new cast at Tesseract for the World Premiere, the titular role of Cascade will be played by Josie Schnelten, who originated the role in October and will lead the show in New York this month.

“I never thought that I’d get the opportunity to bring a brand-new character to life,” said Schnelten, an engineering management major at Missouri S&T. “It’s been special to work on Cascade from her very beginnings and I cannot wait to be a part of her professional debut in St. Louis.”

The Tesseract Theatre Company will run Cascade’s Fire July 19 – 24 at the Marcelle Theatre in Midtown St. Louis. The 2024 New Musical Summer Fest will also feature My Heart Says Go, a show about a first-generation college student, Indigo, who defies his father and drops out of medical school to become a singer-songwriter.

Gruenloh, who is directing Cascade’s Fire in St. Louis, said, “This is the best possible outcome for this little experiment. I wanted to give the theatre students at Missouri S&T a taste of new play development, the bragging rights of originating roles in a musical, but the support from the university and the excitement at Tesseract Theatre has made this project a years long journey that is leaving a lot of people with some great memories.”

By Lynn Venhaus

After a brief hiatus, we’re back with our round-up of people, places, and events in the St. Louis region, a tad behind in posting our September/summer swan song.

IN COMES COMPANY: Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking musical “Company” – the female-led revival that won the Tony in 2022, kicks off its 25-city national tour on Oct. 8 in Schenectady, N.Y., with the St. Louis stop Feb. 27-March 10 at the Fox Theatre.

Belleville native Ann Beyersdorfer, associate set designer for the Broadway revival, worked with production designer Bunny Christie, who won her fourth Olivier Award for the London production design. And she’s on the team that has been preparing the hilarious and sophisticated show for the road.

(Three-time Tony Award winner Jack Lane, co-founder and executive producer emeritus of Stages St. Louis, was one of the Broadway show’s co-producers.)

Ann was back in town this summer, as scenic designer for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” and “West Side Story” at The Muny, and I was fortunate to interview her then for the Belleville News-Democrat.

https://news.yahoo.com/belleville-native-designs-sets-broadway-120000176.html

For a deeper dive into the mechanics of getting a Broadway show transferred to the road, read about her journey here on PopLifeSTL.com:

A winner of best set design of a play for “Afterglow” at the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, she’ll be part of the team taking the production to London Oct. 17–Nov. 24, with an official opening Oct. 22.

And as an art director on the visual shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” hopefully you will be able to see more of her work when the show resumes on Oct. 14. You may have seen the elaborate “HBO Mario Kart Trailer” she worked on when Emmy-nominated Pedro Pascal hosted.

Cheers to Ann and the tour launch! (We’ll drink to that!). For more information, visit: https://companymusical.com/

Nichelle Lewis, Wayne Brady

BRAND NEW DAY: “The Wiz,” the 1974 super-soul musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s beloved children’s novel “The Wizard of Oz,” which was given a reworking for The Muny’s 2018 season, is Broadway-bound in 2024, with St. Louis-connected producers, but this new revival is touring first. Opening night was Sept. 23 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, and the reviews were raves.

“The audience and the whole evening was full of joy and energy, extended applause, and standing ovations,” stated the Maryland Theatre Guide on Sept. 29. “Powerhouse performances and stunning choreography,” enthused the Baltimore Sun.

The first-ever revival will be easing down the road to 12 other cities, including Chicago (Nov. 28 – Dec. 10). For more information, visit: https://wizmusical.com/

The producing team of Kristin Caskey and Mike Isaacson (Muny artistic director and executive producer) and a long list of others, including Terry Schnuck, is behind this show. Caskey, now of the Ambassador Theatre Group, spent 20 years with Fox Theatricals. She and Isaacson produced the Tony-winning “Fun Home” in 2015 and this year’s Best Revival winner “Parade.”

Isaacson said they have been working on a revival for eight years, and plans are to mount another national tour after the Broadway limited engagement. In preparation for The Muny, he received permission from the original creators to make some changes. Amber Ruffin, recent Tony nominee for “Some Like It Hot,” wrote additional material – and had worked on the Muny script – from William F. Brown’s original book. You may know her as a writer on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” as she frequently appears.

Isaacson revealed that in a terrific Broadway World interview with James Lindhorst, who also talked with producers Jack Lane, Mike Bosner and Terry Schnuck – heavy-hitters at this year’s Tonys (“& Juliet,” “Shucked” and “Parade”).

https://www.broadwayworld.com/st-louis/article/Interview-St-Louis-Area-Producers-Mike-Bosner-Mike-Isaacson-Jack-Lane-and-Terry-Schnuck-Nominated-for-Tony-Awards-20230512

Schele Williams is helming this show, with Wayne Brady as The Wiz from Jan. 16 to Broadway engagement, and Alan Mingo Jr. in the title role Sept. 23 – Jan. 14, 2024, and newcomer Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy.

The original 1974 production, directed by Geoffrey Holder and choreographed by George Faison, won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, and was adapted into a movie in 1978 starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, and Michael Jackson. NBC broadcast a live version in 2015, but a planned revival then did not materialize.

Colin, Jeanine

BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: Speaking of the musical “Fun Home,” composer Jeanine Tesori — the most honored and most prolific female theatrical composer in history, was in St. Louis this summer, and stopped in to visit with the local cast rehearing “Caroline, or Change,” produced by Fly North Theatricals.

To get the opportunity to talk with Tesori, who has written five Broadway musicals and received six Tony Award nominations, winning for “Fun Home” and the recent “Kimberly Akimbo,” was one of the best moments ever, according to music director Colin Healy.

Healy summed it up this way on Facebook: “She and Mike Isaacson (producer) offered such wonderful insight into the process of writing, building, and producing ‘Caroline, Or Change,’ validating what is already apparent when hearing the score: how much a labor of love and Herculean creative endeavor ‘Caroline’ was and continues to be… She spoke to us for over an hour and took questions from everyone.”

(Photo: Colin Healy and Jeanine Tesori)

NEW HORIZONS: All good wishes for theater and media folks moving on, changing directions and making the most of opportunities.

Bravo to Taylor Gruenloh, whose new musical “Cascade’s Fire,” a modern Antigone story co-written by Kyle Wernkel, will premiere Oct. 12 and run 13-15 and 19-21 in the Black Box Theatre at Missouri Science and Technology in Rolla, where he is on the Arts, Languages and Philosophy faculty. Taylor wrote the book and lyrics while Wernkel wrote the music.

Taylor recently stepped down as Creative Director at The Tesseract Theatre Company at the end of August, after their successful run of “Kinky Boots.” One of the most prolific and creative folks in town, I can’t wait to see what else he will accomplish.

Congratulations to Joe Gfaller, who has been managing director of Metro Theater Company since 2019, on becoming managing director of Clear Space Theatre Company, a 20-year-old regional theater in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. He’ll be leaving in mid-October. Jessie Youngblood, the current development director, will serve as interim managing director beginning Oct. 9. Always enjoyed working with Joe, starting with the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2014. Joe has served Metro, St. Louis’s premiere professional theater for youth and families, well.

Best wishes to Julia Flood, Metro artistic director for the past 10 years, who has announced her retirement after the 51st season. Of Joe’s departure, she said: “Joe has had boundless energy and enthusiasm for the mission and work of Metro Theater Company. I feel lucky to have had the benefit of his partnership through the complexities of the pandemic times and wish him much success and happiness in his new venture.”  (They both can be very proud of their endeavors).
 A free Fall Family Festival to celebrate MTC’s 50 years of service to the community will be held on Oct. 21 and 22. A toast in Gfaller’s honor will be held at that event on Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. 

Carol Daniel

Carol Daniel may have retired from one prominent longtime gig, but she is embarking on a fantastic journey. The award-winning St. Louis journalist, reporter, host, columnist, and author has joined Nine PBS as a Senior Producer and Host. 

Daniel said she looks forward to telling the stories of her community in a new way — with a podcast about people making an impact here, and also produce interviews and stories that celebrate and showcase underrepresented voices for Nine PBS’s content flagship, Living St. Louis. Yes to this! I look forward to seeing her next chapter.

Daniel has more than 40 years of experience as a host on KMOX Radio, as well as work on Great Day St. Louis on KMOV/Channel 4, and a columnist for the St. Louis American. She’s been honored as a Living Legend by the National Association of Black Journalists–St. Louis, was recently inducted into the Lincoln University Alumni Hall of Fame, and was a 2022 inductee into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame.  

Longtime public relations and marketing maestros Eric Pugh and Dylan Stanley have departed our fair river city for beachier pastures. Last at the Muny, Eric is now promoting The Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., the largest Equity theatre in Florida, and the largest Repertory theatre in Southeastern U.S. Just wonderful to work with both, and I’m glad we had time together.

Dylan, who has moved to Los Angeles with his fiancé, Nicolas Valdez, who is embarking on a fellowship at USC, will keep us posted on his next challenge after giving us his all at Stifel Theatre and Enterprise Center (and performing in Tesseract Theatre Company’s triumphant “Kinky Boots.”

Best wishes to Lee Anne Mathews in her new role as Education and Artistic Director for the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation!  Before May, she was making things happen at Westport Playhouse.

Congratulations to Brian McKinley on his new role as Director of Education and Community Program at the Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

HOMETOWNERS: Comedian-actor Cedric the Entertainer’s new book, crime caper “Flipping Boxcars,” fictionalizes his grandfather, Floyd “Babe” Boyce.

Jon Hamm is in two, not one, television series this fall. He joined the cast of “The Morning Show” for season 3, now streaming on Apple TV+, and will be in “Fargo,” season 5, which starts Nov. 21 on FX and Hulu.

Nicholas “Sifu” Alsup.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS

Best wishes to Nicholas “Sifu” Alsup of O’Fallon, Ill., who was chosen as one of 18 contestants on the 45th season of CBS’ “Survivor” that started Sept. 27.He is a larger-than-life personality, and I was able to interview him through permission with CBS. https://news.yahoo.com/o-fallon-gym-owner-one-120000863.html

CHEERS: Congratulations to New Jewish Theatre on their 25th anniversary as a regional professional theatre in St. Louis; and Gateway Center for Performing Arts school, and youth theater company, on their 10th anniversary in Webster Groves. A feature article by me will be in the Webster-Kirkwood Times soon.

OUT AND ABOUT: Two Colins in the ‘Lou news!
Co-owners Colin Healy and Bradley Rohlf of Fly North Theatricals, have opened their new home and social hangout, The Greenfinch Theater and Dive, at 2525 South Jefferson Avenue (the old Way Out Club).. The bar is open every night from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. You won’t want to miss Stool Pigeon Open Mic Comedy Night on Mondays and Drunk Voice Lessons karaoke with live piano accompaniment (and critiques) by Colin Healy on Wednesdays, plus Burlesque Bingo’s in the rotation too. They are also accepting reservations for their black box theater.

Colin Jost

SNL Head Writer Colin Jost was the Celebrity Guest Host at the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Illumination Gala on June 3 at The Ritz-Carlton, a major fundraising event for the Siteman Cancer Center. Not sure what he said about “The Square Beyond Compare” but Imo’s posted his photo.
Since 2007, the event has raised more than $42 million to support research funds

MEMORY LANE: Last month in pop culture history.

Sept. 26, 1975: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” opened in Westwood, Calif., and tanked at the box office, but later would become the definition of a cult classic, inspiring interactive screenings with toast, toilet paper and more.

If you attended midnight screenings in the late ‘70s at the Varsity Theatre in St. Louis (where Vintage Vinyl is now), you might have run in to a teenage Michael Stipe, future alt-rock band REM frontman, who is dressed as Frank-n-Furter here in this vintage newsclip on KSDK’s “Newsbeat.” He told the reporter: “We’re all normal, really.”

Why on earth was Stipe, now 63, in St. Louis then? His dad was in the Army, and they moved to several states during his childhood. In the late ‘70s, he lived in Collinsville, Ill., and attended high school there and went on to Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.. Later, he would move to Athens, Ga., for college, and met record store clerk Peter Buck, which led to forming a band with Mike Mills and Bill Berry…and the rest is history..

Rocky Horror played midnights at the Varsity Theatre from April 1976 until Jan. 3, 1988 when it closed for good. It was one of the first 30 theatres in the U.S. to do so.

I was fortunate to interview Barry Bostwick (Brad in the movie) when he had been scheduled to appear at Wizard World in St. Louis, but had to cancel, and he graciously talked about making the movie by phone. True delight to talk with and write about — here’s my BND feature from 2017.

https://www.bnd.com/entertainment/article142667129.html

Anne Meara, Alan Arkin

IN MEMORIAM: Frequent visitor to Gaslight Square with the infamous Compass players, RIP Alan Arkin (March 26, 1934 – June 29, 2023). Archival photo is at Crystal Palace with Anne Meara.

From William Roth, the founder and artistic director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio, who renovated The Gaslight Theatre in the Central West End, on Arkin:

“He made his off-Broadway debut in the late 1950s and joined the St Louis improvisational group the Compass Players in 1959. This led to a stint with the Chicago improv troupe Second City and his Broadway debut, in 1961, in the company’s show ‘From the Second City, which he co-wrote.’

Tony-winning actor Michael McGrath, whose last show was at the Muny this summer – he did a fine job as Mr. Mushnik in “Little Shop of Horrors,” passed away in his sleep Sept. 14 at his home in Bloomfield, N.J. He was 65. That wasn’t his first show in St. Louis – in 1990, he played John Adams in Theater Factory’s “1776.” He was first nominated for a Tony in “Spamalot,” and won for “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” playing a bootlegger, in 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/15/theater/michael-mcgrath-dead.html

Maggie Ryan, founder of Insight Theatre and inspiration to many, who spent 36 years as an English teacher and director of theater at Nerinx Hall, died Sept. 10, at age 80, after a short battle with leukemia. She was a lovely woman to interact with and cared passionately about theater. Insight operated for 12 years, won several St. Louis Theater Circle Awards including a legendary “Death of a Salesman” directed by Wayne Loui and starring father-son duo John and Jason Contini. Unfortunately, Insight closed in 2020.
https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/stltoday/name/margaret-ryan-obituary?id=53065958

Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch movie and theater critic, died Aug. 29, from an undisclosed illness. He was 70. I worked with Calvin, both in the St. Louis Film Critics Association, and with the St. Louis Theater Circle, and much admired his writing skill. His insight and passion for the arts will be missed.

https://www.stltoday.com/life-entertainment/local/art-theater/post-dispatch-writer-calvin-wilson-a-passionate-advocate-for-the-arts-dies-at-70/article_8fc9b7bc-46b5-11ee-a3a5-0bdd24dc5828.html

CALENDAR NOTES: John Cusack’s screening of “Say Anything,” originally scheduled for October 28 at Stifel Theatre, has been rescheduled for Saturday, March 30. All tickets for the Oct. 28 performance will be honored at the rescheduled date. The popular actor will follow the screening with a conversation regarding his career and the making of the film. Fans will get the opportunity to experience a moderated discussion, with John answering audience questions as well.

Me and Greta, Oct 1, 2022

SHAMELESS NAME-DROPPING: Before she had the biggest movie of the summer (“Barbie”!) and her second son in February, Greta Gerwig was pleasantly accommodating us press troops at the New York Film Festival 2022 (for “White Noise”). The accomplished actress-writer-director is exactly as she seems, a lovely person in person. I had to compliment her on the 2019 “Little Women,” and she said she had a great time working with the cast of that movie. Hopefully, we will be seeing her during the upcoming awards season. On Aug. 6, the film crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide, making her the first woman with sole director credit to have a movie make more than $1 billion.

(My film review: https://poplifestl.com/unexpected-unpredictable-barbie-is-an-irresistible-pop-o-culture/)

Our coda has been added for this issue:

RANDOM THOUGHTS: As you can probably tell, I enjoy waltzing down memory lane, and yes, I was one of the early attendees of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” midnight showings at the Varsity Theatre in 1977, which was so much fun. If you are a lover of cosplay, I have spied folks in Barbie and Ken outfits at “Barbie” — my prediction for hottest Halloween costumes — and I hear from Abe Goldfarb, hilarious as Otho in the touring company of “Beetlejuice,” who was on the weekly PopLifeSTL.com podcast co-hosted by Carl “The Intern” Middleman and myself on Oct. 4, that there’s many folks dressing up at the shows. He’s excited that they’re here Oct. 13.

The St. Louis Blues open at home Oct. 12. Just once I’d like to buy a team T-shirt where the player I selected isn’t traded. (I bought an Alexander Pietrangelo one — with a C — before the playoffs in ’19 and a Ryan O’Reilly in 2022.)

Are we having the Daylight Savings Time ‘fall back’ happen this year or is it over? Anyone? I’m so confused.

Where in the world is Lynn this weekend? Judging the costume contest at the sensational annual Witches and Wizards Festival in O’Fallon, Ill., a really fun event

By Lynn Venhaus
With its big heart and lofty ambitions, Tesseract Theatre Company has performed its first big splashy musical in St. Louis, and “Kinky Boots” is a chef’s kiss of a show, a celebration of possibilities and a tour-de-force performance by Tielere Cheatem as Simon/Lola.

Cheatem, a standout local performer and St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner, as housekeeper Jacob in New Line Theatre’s “La Cage Aux Folles” in 2019, has always had a ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality on stage, but as Lola, they are magnificent.

Cheatem makes the role that won Billy Porter a Tony Award their own and seizes that stage in authentic diva mode, with a ferocity and a passion that is remarkable to behold. It’s a fully realized, multi-layered performance.

Overcoming obstacles is the ebullient show’s theme, along with acceptance and tolerance, so it is understandable that moving to a larger space than they are used to, The Grandel Theatre, would present its own challenges. Opening night Aug. 17 was marred by sound problems, but Gruenloh said they have worked to solve those issues.

Tesseract’s previous small-scale musicals, “Ordinary Days” in November 2022 and “The Last Five Years” in February 2023, were performed at the .Zack Theatre. Tesseract’s “Kinky Boots” is also the second regional production after the Muny’s premiere in 2019.

Cheatem has a sweet chemistry with co-lead Kelvin Urday as Charlie Price, who inherited a failing shoe factory from his dad. They are a palpable pairing, and when they duet to “Not My Father’s Son,” their harmony tugs at the heartstrings.

In fact, the ballads about parental expectations and other relationships are memorable – Lola’s tearful “Hold Me in Your Heart” and Charlie’s “Soul of a Man.”

Aaron Tucker Jr. as Harry in “Take What You Got.” Photo by Taylor Gruenloh.

Urday displays confidence in his characterization of Charlie, who reluctantly took over the fourth-generation family business, Price & Son, which is on the verge of bankruptcy, and the weight of his father’s legacy leads him to much soul-searching. His earnest delivery of his “Step One” solo is also noteworthy.

Inspired by the life force that is the eccentric Lola, whose drag attire includes unsteady stilettos, the factory begins a niche business model, and those glittery sturdy “kinky boots” are made well to meet the needs of flamboyant performers-in-drag.

The musical “Kinky Boots” is based on a 2005 British film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Simon/Lola and Joel Edgerton as Charlie, which was based on a true story and a BBC documentary, and premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, catching the eye of some Broadway producers.

Thus began its journey to the stage. It premiered on Broadway in 2013, the adaptation by four-time Tony winner Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by first-timer Cyndi Lauper, the Grammy-winning pop icon, who won a Tony for the score, which is an infectious mix of club music and heartfelt ballads. The musical won six Tonys, including best musical, from a season-high 13 nominations.

It also won London’s Olivier Award for Best Musical and the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre album. It ran for six years and 1,400 performances until April 7, 2019.

The Tesseract ensemble includes some seasoned veterans, like versatile Marshall Jennings as the intimidating and homophobic foreman Don, dynamic Carrie Wenos as sassy line worker Trish, Loren Goudreau in her local debut as amiable worker Pat, who are all seamless. Kent Coffel, ‘an iron man’ in local theater this summer, is a good fit as Charlie’s proud hard-working dad and briefly seen as manager George.

Kaitlin Gant announces her presence as factory worker Lauren who fancies Charlie. Her standout number is the humorous “The History of Wrong Guys.”

Strong singer Chelsie Johnston, recently seen in “Nine” at New Line, has the thankless role as Charlie’s posh girlfriend Nicola, who is a status conscious social climber and meant to not be likable.

And there are some new-to-St. Louis performers, so to feel their joy is inspiring. They look like they are so happy to be on that stage, relatable in that ‘work family’ way, and emphasizing the message “You can change the world if you change your mind.”

Lindsey Grojean, Sarah Lueken, David Pisoni, Tori Ray, Corinna Redford, Michelle Sauer, Josie Schnelten and Aaron Tucker Jr. are a merry bunch as the factory ensemble. Tucker is stellar giving advice as Charlie’s childhood pal in a spirited “Take What You Got” and Redford is hilarious as the stage manager in Milan.

Lola and The Angels. Photo by Taylor Gruenloh

Splendid are The Angels – Lola’s six drag queen back-up singers at the seedy nightclub where they perform a cabaret act, notable with their in-your-face bravado. The always outstanding Mike Hodges and Jordan Woods, also local choreographers, as well as the ever-radiant Dylan Stanley, with their effervescent energy are matched by flashy newbies Todd Garten, Ronnie Wingbermuehle, and Nick Zobrist. They sparkle in “Land of Lola” and “Sex is in the Heel.”

Asher Woodward and Mark Ambrose Hill are impressive as the young Charlie and Lola respectively.

The cast brings the fun out in the cheery Act 1 finale “Everybody Say Yeah,” and is ecstatic in the up-on-your-feet anthem closer “Raise You Up/Just Be,” which is a marvelous way to spread hope in a universal message.

Taylor Gruenloh, who directed this musical first at the Missouri University Science & Technology in the spring, where he is an assistant professor in theatre, has honored the uplifting nature of the book, focusing on humanity – and made the humor zing. He knows how to get laughs, too, and deftly works in physical comedy.

He also ensured that the British accents were spot on – hurray!

“In This Corner.” Photo by Taylor Gruenloh

He shares the same affection for the material as celebrated music director Nicolas Valdez and experienced choreographer Maggie Nold, with Michelle Sauer the dance captain.

However, Valdez is not conducting a 12-piece orchestra but using recorded tracks from the publisher Music Theatre International that includes orchestrations and arrangements by Stephen Oremus for the performances. Charlie Heil was a music supervisor.

Zachary Phelps’ costume designs are stunning, and to learn that he’s a 19-year-old college student makes it even more astonishing. He also was the makeup assistant. The well-fitted wigs were designed by Sarah Gene Dowling and the wig supervisor was Analyse Thropic.

Technical director Kevin Salwasser and sound designer/supervisor Phillip Evans had to master the issues at the Grandel, as did lighting designer Max Demski.

Scenic designer Taylor Gruenloh created a believable and modest set, with a working conveyor belt, and was able to keep the action flowing. He also kept the focus on the performers.

On one level, it’s a feel-good dance party. Yet, Tesseract’s production is another exclamation point on the need for inclusion and individuality. And that is “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World.”

You may fall head-over-high-heels with this cast and crew, and you could be singing “Raise You Up” at the jubilant curtain call, which should empower everyone to “Feed your fire,” and perhaps like me, leave dancing in the aisles.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “Kinky Boots” Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 17-27, at 7:30 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis. Tickets are available at MetroTix.com. Questions can be sent to Tesseract Theatre at contact@tesseracttheatre.com

Dylan Stanley, one of the Angels. Photo by Taylor Gruenloh.

By Lynn Venhaus

Jason Robert Brown’s musical compositions are strenuous and so are two-character pieces, therefore, “The Last Five Years” was a daunting choice for the enterprising Tesseract Theatre Company as they dive into musical theater endeavors.

However, the group pulled off this marriage chronicle with aplomb when I saw it Feb. 19.. With spirited performers, exemplary musicians, accomplished direction, and smart creative choices, “The Last Five Years” is splendid.

With its all-sung framework and an unconventional structure, Brown’s unforgettable score and emotionally powerful lyrics tug at the heartstrings, for in 85 minutes, they go from meeting to break-up (Jamie Wellerstein) and from break-up to meeting (Cathy Hiatt), intersecting at their wedding.

High praise must be bestowed on an exceptional five-piece orchestra lead by veteran maestro Leah Schultz, who is on piano, with Adam Rugo on guitar, John Gerdes on bass, Chuck Evans on violin, and Marie Brown on cello. (The strings are the cherry on top here, lovely and lush.)

The music is beautiful to get lost in, and highlights are “The Next Ten Minutes,” “Still Hurting,” and “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.”

While this might sound like a simple endeavor, it is not. Brown has incorporated many genres, including jazz, blues, folk, and Latin besides his usual pop-rock fusion with musical theatre. His distinctive melodies are notoriously difficult, and his atypical harmonies require a broad vocal range.

The two leads, Kevin Corpuz as Jamie and Grace Langford as Cathy, as dynamic as they are, struggle a wee bit on a few demanding notes.  Nevertheless, with the high wire singing for nearly an hour and a half, it’s a dandy achievement – especially the stamina required.

With their pizzazzy personalities on display, Corpuz and Langford are engaging as two New Yorkers – he’s a writer and she’s an actress. They convincingly convey a couple from start to finish over five years — exhilaration at falling in love to crestfallen going through a difficult break-up.

You can’t not be moved by the ebbs and flows as the storytelling weaves the doubts that 20-somethings fret about with careers and commitment.

The aching-yearning-worried songs include “Moving Too Fast” and “A Miracle Could Happen” (Jamie) and “I’m a Part of That” and “Climbing Uphill” (Cathy), which they deliver sincerely.

Langford, a strong vocalist who is well-trained, and Corpuz, who moves with great ease, have worked together multiple times in local regional professional theater, so their comfort level with each other is obvious. This is their first time paired as a romantic couple, and they are believable.

Director Taylor Gruenloh has given the piece some needed vitality, for I’ve seen this musical a couple of times where the pair just basically stand there. No, not a move you’d likely see from inventive Gruenloh, nor Corpuz or Langford. Gruenloh’s tweaked it in a good way, making it more heartfelt.

Lankford is particularly fetching in the clever ditty “A Summer in Ohio,” about her experience in summer stock away from her husband, and the humorous “I Can Do Better Than That,” about her hopes and dreams.

And Corpuz’s energy isn’t containable, so he must move. His “Shiksa Goddess” is amusing in a brazen way, a song detailing his character’s Jewish heritage.

The songs that are raw and tinged with sadness — “If I Didn’t Believe in You,” “I Could Never Rescue You,” and “Nobody Needs to Know,” have forceful solos.

Brown has won three Tony Awards – for his original score to “Parade” in 1999 (currently revived on Broadway) and for original score and orchestrations for “The Bridges of Madison County” in 2014. He was nominated for Billy Crystal’s “Mr. Saturday Night” score last year (with Amanda Green lyrics).

This musical, his third, was inspired by his first marriage, and premiered in Chicago in 2001. It moved to off-Broadway in 2002. St. Louis native Norbert Leo Butz originated the role of Jamie in Chicago and played opposite Sherie Renee Scott off-Broadway, and they recorded the cast album.

That production won the 2002 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics, as well as receiving Drama Desk nominations for musical, actor, actress, orchestrations and set design. It also received Lucille Lortel Award nominations for musical and actor, and the Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Off-Broadway musical.

An enduring and popular musical with regional, colleges and community theaters, it has been revived on Broadway, turned into a 2015 movie with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, had an acclaimed London run, a 20th anniversary concert with Butz and original Cathy Lauren Kennedy, and directed by Brown, among other presentations.

The music remains hummable and memorable, and add Tesseract to the list of companies that do it right. Sound designer Phillip Evans has figured out .Zack’s finicky acoustics for flawless work, Brittanie Gunn’s lighting design is striking, and Gruenloh did fine projection work. Actress Josie Schnelten shows up for a cameo.

After their triumphant “Ordinary Days” last fall, and now this 2-hander, Tesseract’s prowess on staging musicals must be highly regarded. “Kinky Boots” is next up at the Grandel Theatre Aug. 17-27, one that will be a must-see.

And you don’t want to miss “The Last Five Years” – a show about love, produced with great affection, and another opportunity to hear those glorious songs.

The Tesseract Theatre Company presents “The Last Five Years” from Feb. 17 to Feb. 26, with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. at the .ZACK, 3224 Locust, in the Grand Center. For more information or tickets, visit: www.tesseracttheatre.com.

 The Tesseract Theatre Company has changed leadership structures and announced its new team of Creative Directors.

Tesseract Theatre has followed the more traditional model of theatre administration for over a decade now, with an Artistic Director choosing production material, a Managing Director overseeing production operations, and an Executive Director tackling the administrative identity of the company.

The company is now switching to a more ‘open forum’ type of management structure with the addition of Kevin Corpuz. ”It opens up for more collaboration,” says Corpuz, “and allows us to work more in tandem to help shape the new direction of the company.”

The new direction of the company involving the addition of musicals, like last November’s production of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days, something Tesseract never did in its first twelve years in St. Louis. “I found myself wishing the play would never end,” wrote Richard Green of Talkin’ Broadway of the production.


”We’ve always celebrated having a lot of voices in the room,” says Taylor Gruenloh, the founding Artistic Director of the company, now turned Creative Director alongside Corpuz, “but this feels more responsible. And guarantees a ‘check and balance’ system to everything. And not just to make sure that duties are being done and everything is done fairly in production, but that leadership can look out for one another, make sure everyone is still taking a breath and is reminded why we want to sacrifice our time to produce theatre in this community.”

Along with Gruenloh and Corpuz is Brittanie Gunn, a founding partner of the company. “We celebrate ensembles on our stage,” Gunn says, “and I think mirroring our management structure in a more ensemble-like fashion should allow us to find new experimental ways to take on production management and company administration.”

”I’m excited to help Tesseract do what it’s always done,” says Corpuz. “Which has been producing exciting shows in St. Louis. And I’m glad to help usher in the exploration of musical theatre inside this company.”

Corpuz will be featured in the musical The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown at Tesseract Feb. 17-26, directed by Gruenloh. And Gunn will be directing the hip-hop romance Welcome to Arroyo’s by Kristoffer Diaz this upcoming April. Both shows at the .Zack Theatre in Midtown on Locust.

Ordinary Days

By Lynn Venhaus

What a pleasant surprise the leap of faith “Ordinary Days” is – as the inaugural musical presentation of Tesseract Theatre Company, as an original musical by Adam Gwon, as a coda to this year and as a reflective piece for our third winter of a pandemic.

An intimate, affecting sung-through musical that intersects the lives of four young New Yorkers, “Ordinary Days” resonates with its struggles, search for fulfillment and the palpable sense of yearning from the new-to-me quartet.

Discovering the vocal talents and comedic timing of Brittani O’Connell, Jacob Schmidt, Micheal Lowe, and Lauren Tenenbaum is also part of the fresh-and-fun experience.

As directed by veteran Elisabeth Wurm, the cast maneuvers like the New Yorkers they portray. There’s a certain rhythm to moving around the city, and the four performers nail the aptitude and the attitude. (Full disclosure: my youngest son has lived there since 2011, so I have visited over the years, and have observed the natives, transplants, and tourists.)

When navigating the hustle and bustle, I am often reminded of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to “Another Hundred People” in “Company”: “It’s a city of strangers, Some come to work, some to play… Some come to stare, some to stay And every day The ones who stay
Can find each other in the crowded streets and the guarded parks…”

Worried about their futures while still clinging to their hopes and dreams, these two pairs have found each other in a city misrepresented by a cold-hearted perception. It’s not, but you must learn survival — “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” is pretty much true.

Tenenbaum is Deb, a small-town girl with dreams of more, who is in grad school and misplaces a notebook crucial to her thesis. It’s found by Warren, a guileless goofy guy played by Schmidt, who is too pleasant and agreeable for his own good, for he’s one of those random guys passing out flyers on the street who is repeatedly ignored. His job is cat-sitting but he’s the proverbial struggling artist. He’s desperate to fit in – can he still be chipper when trying not to get swallowed whole by the city?

Frazzled high-strung Deb is always in a hurry, and will eventually learn to be in the moment, or else the treasured little things in life will pass her by. She thinks Warren is weird, but eventually they become good friends.

Jacob Schmidt, Lauren Tenenbaum

 The other couple is romantically linked. They have been together for a while but mulling over taking it to the next level, as Jason moves his things in to Claire’s. But something isn’t quite right. O’Connell plays Claire, whose backstory includes a 9-11 casualty, and Lowe is Jason, whose journey leads to commitment, but is Claire ready?  

Learning to appreciate the simple things of life – while feeling lonely, isolated, and out of sorts – has been a common theme during the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought a gamut of emotions to the surface since March 2020.

So, Adam Gwon’s play, written in 2008, takes place in 2005, which is important for the actions and transitions. It is a marvel of relatable key moments – Oh, youth! The 30s! – and somehow, reverberates with the same contemplations we’ve had during this pandemic era of uncertainty.

Gwon is a noteworthy talent, included in Dramatists Magazine’s “50 to Watch,” and “Ordinary Days” put him on the map. His lyrics are sharp and vibrant, have an everyman quality and universal appeal. (He also wrote the revue “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” which was presented by New Jewish Theatre in 2014.)

Tesseract’s presentation of “Ordinary Days” is a fine introduction to his music, and Music Director Zach Neumann deftly plays the keyboards and keeps the pace brisk for the singers, whose strong enunciations and interpretations really make the vivid lyrics hit home.

Schmidt sets a convivial tone with “One By One By One,” then shades his character’s personality through “Life Story” – his heart and his humor apparent.

Tenenbaum, also quirky but bursting with possibilities, explains her life to date in “Don’t Wanna Be Here” and her mojo in “Dear Professor Thompson, Part I” – continuing her funny bundle of nerves.

Deb and Warren’s meet-cute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art turns into a sweet duet “Sort of Fairy Tale” – ‘violent punctuation”! And continues with “Big Picture.”

Brittani O’Connell, Micheal Lowe

The Met figures into Claire and Jason’s relationship, but not as positive as the other pair’s.

While moving in, gifted vocalists O’Connell and Lowe explore their next-step feelings in “Let Things Go” and “The Space Between,” and go through their stuff in “I’m Trying.” They succinctly sum up a couple’s argument with a lighter humorous touch in “Fine.”

Among the most poignant is O’Connell’s “I’ll Be Here” – which should elicit leaky eyes from nearly everyone – and Lowe’s simple but so eloquent “Favorite Places.”

The hits just keep on coming — “Hundred-Story City” captures the love-hate relationship that New Yorkers have with the concrete jungle. And “Rooftop Duet/Falling” ties the show together.

Claire has realized she must let go of the past before she can move on, and O’Connell’s character arc is the deepest felt, but all performances are warm and captivating. They harmoniously come together in the stirring finale “Beautiful.”

With the focus squarely on the individuals and how they factor in with others, the set design is simple, and relies on photographs projected on the large screen – sights of living in New York City. (NYC always feels familiar because we’ve seen it so many times in entertainment.)

If you feel that you have taken away from our recent 21st century life-and-death experience the importance of connection, like I have, then this timely and charming reminder to appreciate beauty and joy in our lives, no matter how small or fleeting, delivers its heartfelt message as only live theater can.

This may be Tesseract’s first musical, but it won’t be their last, as they are planning to present the two-hander “The Last Five Years” by Jason Robert Brown in February and the Tony Award winner for Best Musical in 2013, “Kinky Boots,” later this year.

I’m liking this leap of faith Taylor Gruenloh has set his company on – and the first step is a knockout, a memorable musical for our times. Dare I say “optimistic”?

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “Ordinary Days” Nov. 18-27 on Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m. at the. Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust. Tickets are available at MetroTix.com or at the box office before the performance. $25 for general audience and $20 for students. For more information, visit www.tesseracttheatre.com

The Tesseract Theatre Company is moving to the Marcelle Theatre with two new plays by local playwrights. The St. Louis premieres of “The Length of a Pop Song” by Taylor Gruenloh and “All That Remains” by JM Chambers will open in July.

“The Length of a Pop Song,” directed by Karen Pierce and featuring the cast of Rhiannon Creighton, Donna Parrone, and Kelvin Urday, will run July 8 – 17.

“All That Remains,” directed by Brittanie Gunn and featuring the cast of Luis Aguilar, Melody Quinn, Morgan Maul-Smith, Nyx Kaine, Sherard Curry, and Victor Mendez will run July 22 – 31.

Performances will be Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 4 pm.

The Length of a Pop Song by Taylor Gruenloh: Lex has no choice but to move back into her parent’s house after another incident of self-harm. Her mother wants to help prepare her for an upcoming trial against an adult website hosting non-consensual videos of Lex, but Lex can’t find a reason to look forward to tomorrow.

All That Remains by JM Chambers: Gary survives a school shooting and isn’t dealing with the trauma well. Gary’s wife Elaine is trying her best to hold it all together, take care of Gary, work, pay the bills, and deal with her own sadness. Gary and Elaine can’t go on living this way forever and soon they both reach a breaking point.

The Marcelle Theatre is located at: 3310 SAMUEL SHEPARD DRIVE, SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI 63103

Tickets are available for both plays at MetroTix.com. $20 for general audience and $15 for students.

Questions can be sent to Tesseract Theatre at contact@tesseracttheatre.com

By Lynn Venhaus

It is tempting to use food metaphors to describe “Feast.” After all, we are the invited guests at a banquet presided over by a glamorous and flamboyant hostess, who appears to be gracious and welcoming.

The carefully crafted experience is not unlike a tasting menu prepared by a Michelin- starred chef. Playwright Megan Gogerty and dramaturg Melissa Trepa have deftly mixed textures and flavors to create bold statements and subtle undercurrents.

A St. Louis premiere, this unusual and provocative one-woman show is an ambitious work by the intrepid Gogerty, written in 2019. She has woven a tapestry using images of an ancient myth, revisionist thinking on the classic literature “Beowulf” and a cultural reckoning.

In an Old English epic poem set in the 6th century, the valiant Beowulf is lauded for his strength over demons and beasts. He has traveled to help a king whose hall is terrorized by a monster, Grendel. He slays Grendel and later kills his mother, but not before she has crushed an advisor, Aeschere, in retaliation. Later, the hero becomes king, ruling for 50 years, but is eventually defeated by a dragon. Despite his death, a feast goes on in his honor.

In one of her finest performances yet, a fiery Donna Parrone reveals a personal tale of vengeance, in vivid details. We witness a maelstrom of outrage, grief and feminist comeuppance as she seethes with anger – and is gleeful about her perceived victory against a mighty enemy.

This unnamed character, the “She” here, is mother to Grendel. She might be a magical mythological creature disguised as a middle-aged woman, trying to reconcile past actions. As she reflects on what she has done, there are greater implications regarding humanity.

At first, she comes across as mercurial, and as she discloses the reasons behind her rage, she delves deeper into her emotions, recalling past grievances. Hell hath no fury liked wronged mothers.

Gogerty, using the tragedy as power, makes the case that maybe Beowulf is not such a good guy after all – especially if you read between the lines and view it from the eyes of a mother.

The Tesseract Theatre Company, which specializes in presenting new plays in intimate settings, always has something to say – using drama to create a new point of view.

Maybe you haven’t thought about “Beowulf” since college. Perhaps you have never read it (I admit my ignorance). Even with the “Feast” reimagining, it’s worth knowing the basic plot — but you can enjoy the presentation as a newbie, especially as a universal truth about dominant male patriarchy and how society views motherhood.

That’s because director Shane Signorino, no stranger to the classics, has made sure the political overtones can be translated to the present. As we have sadly been forced to confront, authoritarianism isn’t just in the past. Kayla Bush is the assistant director.

Donna Parrone in “Feast”

Signorino moves Parrone all over the small space with purpose – pleading, scoffing, distressed. This woman refuses to be ignored. It’s one of those virtuoso portrayals where you are mesmerized by the nuances, the change in tempo and tone – and the interpretation of every mood and meaning.

This absorbing production is challenging in ways we have missed during the pandemic. Parrone demands that we listen. Quiet, please – there is a lady on stage! She has been wronged in the worst possible way. After the loss of a child, mothers have an unfathomable depth of sorrow, and this woman, on the periphery of a dark abyss, must be heard.

Parrone has specialized in strong women roles during the past few years, particularly at Tesseract, and one of her finest performances was as Lee Harvey Oswald’s controlling mother Marguerite in “Mama’s Boy” by Rob Urbanati, presented in the fall of 2018.

But this demanding role is on another level and requires a special reserve of stamina.

The technical elements – scenic and lighting design by Taylor Gruenloh and Brittanie Gunn, sound by Megan Barris, music – all create an atmosphere that is highly theatrical.

Watching Parrone’s physicality makes the show very real. She interacts with the audience, with some seated at a few tables, and in chair groupings. You can’t not be a part of the dinner party.

Yes, it’s serious – but it is inspired and not devoid of humor. Consider the presentation as food for thought. If you are hungry for an uncommon drama, “Feast” is worth tasting.

The play runs from June 11 to 27, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 4 p.m. Sundays at the .Zack Theatre, 3224 Locust. Tickets are available at MetroTix.com

You can request socially distanced seating, and they ask that your masks remain on during the performance for the safety of all patrons.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing EditorTHAT VOICE: Are you on Team Kennedy yet? If you haven’t heard Kennedy Holmes, 13, from St. Louis in her blind audition on “The Voice,” be prepared to be wowed and understand why it went viral.
Part of The Muny Kids for five years, Kennedy starred as Little Inez in the 2015 “Hairspray” production, has sung the national anthem for Cardinals’ games and appeared as one of the Cratchit children in “A Christmas Carol” at The Rep in 2016. She is an eighth grader at John Burroughs School.
Her confident delivery of Adele’s “Turning Tables,” which showcased her control and range, impressed all four judges and got a 4-chair turn – and standing ovation.
She auditioned in Indianapolis earlier this year and is the youngest person in the singing competition this season. Producers saved her for the last spot and teased her appearance in a sneak peek last week that set her schoolmates and local folks buzzing. The cliffhanger coach pick was easy to guess.
Kennedy, while remarkably poised singing, got emotional over Jennifer Hudson, and then sang with her idol in an impromptu “I Am Changing” from “Dreamgirls.”
The guys made convincing pitches.
Adam Levine: “Very, very rarely does someone come around that kind of reignites our passion for what we do. And to hear you sing today did that. Just to see that kind of confidence naturally exist in you at such a young age, it’s unheard of. After the 15 seasons, you really could become the absolute biggest thing to ever come from this show.”
Blake Shelton: “Let me be the first to thank you for coming to ‘The Voice,’ ’cause our ratings are going to shoot through the roof this evening. I think you are the best vocalist that has auditioned this year. I want you to pick me as your coach so you can teach me how to sing like that.”
After Kennedy’s pick, Hudson was ecstatic. “I think the game is over because I just won ‘The Voice’ with little Miss Kennedy. Yes, I did.”
Here’s the clip from the Blind Auditions, which started Sept. 24. To date, her audition video has been viewed 3.6 million times on YouTube.com.

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Kennedy. It will be fun watching her progress on the national stage, next in the Knockout Rounds, then hopefully Battle Rounds and Live Performances. (And the local television and radio stations are all over it.)
***DEVIL MAY CARE: As the calendar turns autumnal, it’s time for sinister, spooky suspense. Five local theater groups have teamed up to present “Faustival: The Devils We Choose” – one in August and the rest through December.
The artistic collaboration is between Equally Represented Arts, The Midnight Company, Theatre Nuevo, SATE, and the Post-Romantics. They are presenting works on the Faust myth from the 16th century – about a scholar who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for perks.
ERA FaustIn August, ERA, along with Kid Scientist, presented “Faust (go down with all the re$t),” an experimental rock-opera-adaptation of Goethe’s most celebrated work.
Currently, The Midnight Company is presenting the one-act “An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening,” along with another one-act by Mickle Maher, “The Hunchback Variations.”
For more information, www.midnightcompany.com
In October, Theatre Nuevo will present “whither should I fly” from Oct. 25 – Nov. 10 at the William A. Kerr Foundation, 21 O’Fallon St., St. Louis. For more information, visit www.theatrenuevo.com
Starting on Halloween, “Doctor Faustus, or the Modern Prometheus” by John Wolbers and Kit Marlowe will be performed by Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble (SATE) Wednesdays through Saturdays through Nov. 17 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis. For more information, www.slightlyoff.org.
The Post-Romantics will present “Doomsday Faust” Dec. 5 – 8 at the Centene Center for the Arts, 3547 Olive Street, St. Louis.
For more information, please visit faustival.org.
***MOVING ON UP: The aforementioned John Wolbers, who has adapted Faust for SATE, shared some exciting news recently. He is a new Producing Associate at the Metro Theatre Company. He has served as the full-time resident teaching artist at MTC since the 2012-2013 season. He will assist Artistic Director Julia Flood with casting, directing and production administration.
Andrew Kuhlman is Broadway bound! He is currently working in New York as a co-producer on “The Prom,” the Broadway musical comedy that begins previews on Oct. 23. Andrew, an associate producer at Stages St. Louis, made the announcement Sept. 7.
“I am beyond excited to be taking this journey with a show that I could not believe in more. I cannot wait for audiences to fall in love with this hilarious, heartfelt and energetic musical,” he said.
“The Prom” has some prominent local connections – including Jack Lane, at Stages St. Louis, as one of its producers. Lane already has two Tony Awards as part of the group behind “Fun Home” and “The Humans.”
Joe Grandy, Andrew Kuhlman of “The Prom”The show lyricist and book writer is Chad Beguelin, who grew up in Centralia, Ill. He’s a multiple Tony nominee, for book and lyrics to “The Wedding Singer” and lyrics to “Aladdin.”
The cast includes Muny favorite Beth Leavel, Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Muny veterans, including St. Louis natives Drew Redington and Jack Sippel, and Fairview Heights native Joe Grandy.
***WHO’S WHO: Upstream Theater is hosting renowned director Marianne de Pury who will stage the U.S. premiere of “Chef” by UK/Egyptian playwright and poet Sabrina Mahfouz. The one-woman show, starring Linda Kennedy, opens Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 14.
Linda Kennedy, Photo by ProPhotoSTL“Chef” is the gripping story of how one woman went from being an haute-cuisine head chef to a convicted inmate running a prison kitchen. Leading us through her world of mouth-watering dishes and heart-breaking memories, Chef questions our attitudes to food, prisoners, violence, love and hope.
Originally from the French part of Switzerland, de Pury is known for her work with the famed Open Theatre, where she composed music for “America Hurrah” and “Viet Rock.” Since those days she has directed all over the world–mostly in Germany, where her most recent work, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” was nominated as one of the year’s best productions.
Playwright Rob Urbanati came to the ‘Lou for Tesseract Theatre Company’s opening of his play, “Mama’s Boy,” which explores the relationship between a controlling mom and her son, who gained infamy as the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.
Here he is with the cast after Friday night’s show. They got our attention opening night at the .Zack, conveying a roller-coaster of emotions played out in historical context.
Urbanati, of New York City, is a playwright, screenwriter, book author, director, and director of new play development at Queens Theatre in the Park. His well-constructed 2015 drama is a fascinating exploration of family dynamics. It’s directed by Brad Schwartz.
From left: Jeremy Goldmeier (Robert Oswald), Brandon Atkins (Lee Harvey Oswald), playwright Rob Urbanati, Donna Parrone (Marguerite Oswald) and Carly Uding (Marina Oswald).
Lynn Venhaus photo***AROUND TOWN: Alas, the Stephen Sondheim appearance in St. Louis Oct. 4 is sold out. He is accepting the 2018 St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates for being one of the most eminent lyricists and composers of the modern era.
He is the first musical lyricist to win the award since its inception in 1967. In a remarkable career spanning 70 years, Sondheim has written the lyrics, music —or both, for some of the most iconic and long running plays in the history of American theater.
The response was overwhelming, and all seats in the Sheldon Concert Hall and the simulcast viewing room have been reserved. During the event, which begins at 7 p.m., Mike Isaacson, executive producer and artistic director – and major Sondheim fan – will interview him on stage.
Three-time Tony Award winner “Avenue Q” has been extended three more weeks for its winter presentation at the Playhouse @ Westport.
Because of overwhelming ticket response, the “furry, funny and feel-good musical” will now run Jan. 25 – March 3. The cast is a combo of local and touring performers.
Another famous St. Louisan, poet, novelist and playwright A.E. Hotchner, an alumnus of Washington University, has endowed an annual Playwriting Festival. Three new works will be presented this weekend (Sept. 28 and 29) – “Tom and Grace” by Scott Greenberg, “Arriving At” by Ike Butler on Saturday at 2 p.m. and “Florida” by Lucas Marschke at 7 p.m. The guest dramaturg is Michele Volansky, chair of the drama department at Washington College in Maryland. The event is sponsored by Newman’s Own Foundation. For more information, visit: pad.artsci.wustl.edu.
The Stage Left Grille is now under Fox Management, so you can stop there for a bite to eat before a show at the Fox Theatre, the Kranzberg Arts Center or The Grandel, or any place in the Grand Arts Center.
“Confessions of a Nightingale,” a production from the Tennessee Williams Festival set for Nov. 1-4, has to be postponed until 2019.
***CHAMPAGNE & MOONSHINE: If you saw “Always, Patsy Cline” at Stages St. Louis in 2014 or at The Playhouse at Westport the following year, you must remember Jacqueline Petroccia as the star. A national sensation in that role, I recall that her velvety voice was “like butter.” She has released a debut solo album, the double EP “Champagne and Moonshine,” Collaborators on the album include musician royalty from Music City, including members of the Nashville Symphony, the award-winning Rascal Flatts, and Broadway Musician Brent Frederick.
Recorded live, with special permission, at the legendary and historic Quonset Hut on Music Row in Nashville, Tenn.,the album is available online through CD Baby (physical copy), Amazon, and iTunes.
The first EP, “Champagne,” features a big band sound appropriate for any ballroom or supper club, including an original arrangement mix “Crazy/Crazy He Calls Me,” and “Mambo Italiano.” The second EP, “Moonshine,” features new country music hits, and her original debut single “Your Name in Lights,” written by Brandon Hood, Hillary Lee Lindsey, and Troy Verges
Her other stage credits include the national tours of :The Producers,” “The Sound of Music” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” She was a featured soloist on the album “Where the Sky Ends” by Michael Mott (Broadway Records) and has appeared on “Prairie Home Companion,” featured with the Williamsburg Swing Orchestra and in her solo cabaret show Sometimes Patsy Cline (productions at 54 Below and Regional Theatres). More information can be found at JacquelinePetroccia.com
***YOU GO GLEN COCO: “Is butter a carb? Whatever, I’m having cheese fries.”
Wednesday, Oct. 3, is unofficially known as National Mean Girls Day, so imaginative Chef Liz of Tenacious Eats has created a fun event for the evening. Tickets are $35 and include a Mean Girls-inspired cocktail, entree and Kalteen Protein Bar for dessert.
Expect some “fetch” prizes if you can answer some Mean Girls trivia and photo ops will be available with a Lindsay Lohan lookalike. Costumes are encouraged, and it is on a Wednesday, so you might want to wear pink!
The Tina Fey movie will be shown at 7 p.m. on the big screen at the West End Grill & Pub, 354 N. Boyle. Doors open at 6 p.m. for pre-show fun, Mean Girls trivia, prizes and photo ops. Tickets are available at: www.BrownPaperTickets.com.
***WORD: Decoding Theatre Reviews – a must-read: http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/theatre-reviews-decoded/
***GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Who are your favorite moms in musicals? Answer our poll and you will be entered in our drawing for two tickets to “One Funny Mother” at the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m.
Dena Blizzard, former Miss New JerseyHilarious Dena Blizzard, best known as “The Target Mom,” is a viral sensation and former Miss New Jersey. Her one-woman show puts the fun in domestic dysfunction.
FAVORITE MOM IN MUSICALS:Mae Peterson in “Bye, Bye Birdie”Margaret Smith in “Carrie”“Big Edie” Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale in “Grey Gardens”Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray”The Witch in “Into the Woods”Lady Thiang in “The King and I”Margaret Johnson in “The Light in the Piazza”
Send your pick to: lynnvenhaus@gmail.com by Monday, Oct. 1, at noon. Winner will be notified soon after, and arrangements will be made for your tickets to be waiting for you at the box office.
Our last winner was Christopher Strawhun for “Oklahoma!” at Stages St. Louis.
***TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Let’s hear it for St. Louis native Chris Redd and longest-ever SNL cast member Kenan Thompson on their Emmy win for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “Come Back, Barack,” a Boyz II Men-style parody from last November’s episode hosted by Chance the Rapper.

Q: Despite multiple nominations, SNL has won only once before, for what song?
Justin Timberlake and Andy Samburg’s collaboration, “D**k in a Box.”
Fun fact: Theme songs also count for the award. “Moonlighting,” “Cheers,” “Chico and the Man,” “Growing Pains” and “Police Woman” have won.
Chris Redd didn’t live in St. Louis long and moved to Chicago as a youth. He is back at “Saturday Night Live” for his second season, which starts this Saturday, with host Adam Driver and musical guest Kanye West.
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Tips? Contact: lynnvenhaus@gmail.com