By Lynn Venhaus

Supple vocal work stands out in Tesseract’s latest premiere, “My Heart Says Go,” a hip-hop-meets-pop musical well-suited for the company’s enthusiasm in mounting energetic ensembles.

But inconsistent sound quality, a louder-decibel pre-recorded music track overpowering the singers, and a cliché-riddled script hampered its impact.

Always dynamic Kevin Corpuz anchors this one-act musical as Indigo, a conflicted first-generation college student who quits to pursue his dream of making music. He is often a ball of fire on stage, i.e. “The Who’s Tommy,” “Godspell,” “Be More Chill,” “Urinetown,” “In the Heights,” and “Altar Boyz,” and this role is tailor-made to his strengths.

Indigo’s hard-working immigrant father (Kelvin Urday) thinks he’s made a grievous error. Despite that friction, Indigo moves to L.A., and meets a couple of people whom he thinks will help him reach his singer-songwriter goals.

Indigo quickly connects with Clara (Sarah Wilkinson), a struggling talented fashion designer who has a troubled relationship with her alcoholic mother (Loren Boudreau).

Sarah Wilkinson matches Corpuz in spirit and inner light. Their buoyancy, particularly in their emphatic movements, is tangible.

Clayton Humburg, Kevin Corpuz, Sarah Wilkinson. Photo by Florence Flick.

Bright spots are “What Does My Heart Say?” and “The Place Where Dreams Come True”; “Don’t Give Up” is a rousing finale.

Another vibrant portrayal is by Clayton Humburg as a lively rapper named Timmy, a guy brimming with positivity who assumes the role as Indigo’s biggest cheerleader.

While he doesn’t look that much older than Corpuz, Urday is touching as the concerned single father Eliseo, and the two bring out the emotions of a close dad-son bond in several heartfelt scenes and vocals (“Father vs. Son,” “Heat of the Moment” and “Foot Down”). Urday’s musical numbers are beautifully delivered, as is customary.

Victoria Pines is a soulful vocalist as a train conductor, and some sort of conduit to the characters. Her part, however, is underdeveloped and unclear how she connects to these people long after they rode the train. She shines in “Find Your Voice.”

The book is the weakest element of this show, and really drags down the overall experience. The characters are merely archetypes, and if the main characters weren’t live-wire performers, this would be painfully humdrum.

The book, written by Matthew Hawkins, overflows with triteness. How many times are aspiring artists used in hopes-and-dreams scenarios? This isn’t all that original, and nothing we haven’t seen before. Follow your passion, overcome obstacles, believe in yourself, blah blah blah. Must be compelling to sustain interest and empathy, and because of the cast’s talent, it is..

Dreams are such a theatrical staple that the brilliant satire “The Musical of Musicals” has a song called – what else? — “Follow Your Dream.”

Hey, having dreams fuels our fires, and any chance to remind people to persist following their heart is well-intentioned. But freshness is the key for endearment.

Wilkinson, Loren Goudreau. Photo by Florence Flick.

For an example, the addict mom is an unnecessary subplot, and you can predict her story arc the minute she enters. Both Pines’ conductor and Kevin Hester’s grungy recording studio engineer seem like they are characters in another show. Hester’s a fine vocalist, but he mumbled his speaking lines and barely spoke above a whisper, so his dialogue was hard to hear.

While everyone is earnest, the ensemble doesn’t seem to be well-defined either. They are a bouncy group, nevertheless – Khristian Duncan, David Gregory, Laura Schulze, and Goudreau are spry in song and dance.

Milo Garlich was out because of illness Sunday, so choreographer Maggie Nold stepped in, and didn’t miss a beat.

Grace Langford aces a brief role as a heart doctor supervising Indigo in med school.

The performers’ passion carries this show across the 90-minute finish line, as well as the music direction by Larry D. Pry and Nold’s choreography.

The sunny coupling of Wilkinson and Corpuz is natural, as they were last seen together as Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s Prince in New Jewish Theatre’s award-winning “Into the Woods” in November, and so was Pines as Jack’s Mom. Pry was the musical director of that show. Obviously, that’s a winning combination.

Other than the disappointing script, a major problem stemmed from the technical elements. The garbled sound was challenging, with echoes and reverbs marring vocals, and most of the time the recorded music overpowered the vocalists. Sound designer Ryan Day is familiar with The Marcelle, so I am not sure why there were so many issues.

The blocking where characters had scenes far back made it even harder to engage, because the sound was such a mixed bag. The lighting overall was inconsistent and shadowy, and again, another experienced Marcelle technician, Matt Stuckel, oversaw the design. The neon lights on the back wall, however, were a nifty touch.

Director Brittanie Gunn relied on simple staging to focus on the characters’ journeys. By using the entirety of The Marcelle stage, it seemed at times too cavernous for such a small musical. Nevertheless, she maintained a zippy pace, with smooth entrances and snappy group placings.

The score of this show is based on the personal experience of Jorge “Jay” Rivera-Herrans, who switched from pre-med to the film, television and theater department as a student at University of Notre Dame. After graduation, he received a fellowship, continued pursuing his ideas, and the school served as his incubator.

No one doubts his ardor or sincerity. The musical premiered in 2023 and has become a viral sensation. I imagine that’s largely on the strength of the musical being a celebratory anthem because the story should be further workshopped, and characters more fleshed out.

Kelvin Urday, Kevin Corpuz. Photo by Florence Flick.

One of the show’s highlights is the costume design by Abby Pastorello, who either found or made embroidered denim jackets and shirts to give a unique flair to Clara’s original designs. Those outfits were a bright addition to an otherwise scruffy group wearing band T-shirts and casual attire. In contrast were fashionista Clara’s well-put together looks, especially a bedazzled black leather ensemble that Wilkinson rocked.

This show has a shaggy charm, not unlike Lin-Manuel Miranda’s early one-act endeavor “21 Chump Street,” but on the off-the-charts inspiring meter, it lags behind “tick, tick…Boom!” “Dreamgirls,” “Beautiful: the Carole King Musical,” and many others as a whole package.

Of course, this is on a much smaller scale, and targeted to tug at your heart strings. It is a labor of love for all involved.

In recent years, Tesseract has taken more risks with musical premieres, such as “The Mad Ones,” “Ordinary Days,” and the upcoming original “Cascade’s Fire,” and tackled big shoes with “Kinky Boots” and “The Last Five Years.” Their ambitious drive is refreshing.

Hopefully, the technical director Kevin Sallwasser can get the glitches worked out this week before the show returns. The production already has a first-rate cast that it showcases fervently.

(As an aside, many a show presented in the smaller Grand Center venues has been known to have sound issues, aka at The .Zack and The Grandel. If these venues encourage stage productions, doesn’t it behoove the facilities’ powers-at-be to upgrade sound technology? We critics are beginning to sound like broken records.)

Victoria Pines as the Conductor, surrounded by the ensemble. Photo by Florence Flick.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “My Heart Says Go” July 11 – July 21, as part of its Summer Festival of New Musicals at the Marcelle Theatre in Grand Center. Performances are July 11-13 and July 20 at 8 p.m., and July 14-21 at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.tesseracttheatre.com

By Lynn Venhaus

Epic in scope and intimate in execution, Tesseract Theatre Company’s “The Inheritance” Part I is a monumental achievement that leaves one exhilarated and eagerly anticipating Part 2.

A rich tapestry of yearning, desire, melancholy, fear, joy, hope, community, and love is written vividly and perceptively by Matthew Lopez.

This Tony and Olivier-Award winning play is surprising in its wit and depth of feeling as we’re hit with this tsunami of talent meeting moment after moment.

This magnum opus on what it’s like to be gay in America is boldly directed by Stephen Peirick and seamlessly acted by a passionate ensemble that radiates charm and conviviality.

It takes place decades after the AIDS epidemic while three generations of gay men grapple with those past tragedies, and the legacies of shame, secrets, and loss, especially at a time when hard-fought rights are available, yet shifting political tides make them vulnerable.

 What does it mean for the future? Intertwining a sprawling cast of 13, Lopez examines healing, survival, what home means and a class divide, inspired by E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel “Howards End.”

Because Forster examined class differences and hypocrisy in British society in the early 20th century, so does Lopez project his characters in the early 21st century.

Alex C Moore plays Morgan and Walter. Photo by FF.

Moments of grace and laughter abound as the knotty entanglements of life unfold. Lopez tackles the complexities we all face, connecting characters, ambitions and eras in a swirling, dizzying, fantastical way. It is specific to the LGBTQIA+ experience, but allies will be able to relate.

Where to begin with this marathon of a show that defies conventions and embraces universal truths?

Employing an uncommon structure, Lopez nimbly name drops in a dishy soap-opera way, using familiar – and amusing — pop culture references, while being profound about generational experiences with textured, novelist flourishes.

The production’s 7-hour runtime may be daunting, but do not be intimidated by its two parts. Yes, it is a commitment, but the rewards are vast, especially when everyone involved has given their all, and it shows.

Part 1, which is from Summer 2015 to Spring 2017, is 3 hours and 10 minutes. The first act is 75 minutes, followed by a 15-minute intermission, then the second act is 55 minutes, followed by a 10-minute intermission, and final piece of Part 1 is 52 minutes.

Part 2, which is set from Spring 2017 to Summer 2018, is 3 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission and a brief pause. I look forward to returning to find out what’s happening with these people.

Keeping the momentum was obviously Peirick’s goal, and it is riveting from start to finish, never sagging.

However, the way the multi-layered show is structured is an investment, as it has many moving parts and themes that intersect. Sure, it’s imperfect, but hello…

It takes a broad canvas and narrows it down, starting in a classroom, where out-and proud gay men in their 30s are instructed by E.M. Forster, known as “Morgan,” to shape their own stories.

Gabriel Paul as Toby and Chris Kernan as Eric. Photo by FF.

Yes, the legendary author Edward Morgan Forster, who lived from 1879 to 1970, and besides “Howards End,” wrote the novels “A Room with a View” and “A Passage to India,” all later adapted into Merchant and Ivory films.

This is a conceit that is a master stroke, and not far-fetched. While the contemporary characters here chastise Morgan for hiding his sexuality publicly as a gay man – homosexual acts in private weren’t decriminalized until he was 83 – he is a guiding light.

According to biographical data, in 1963, Forster wrote: “How annoyed I am with society for wasting my time by making homosexuality criminal. The subterfuges…that might have been avoided.”

While that is not forgotten, he never gave up on love and believed all his life that “the true history of the human race is the history of human affection.”

So, it’s no wonder that this play is based on his 343-page “Howards End,” demonstrating empathy and understanding, and especially with the full-circle motto: “Only connect.”

In “The Inheritance,” Morgan’s advice comes from a place of love and wisdom. In a preternatural performance, Alex C. Moore navigates the role like a captain on a ship, respected and in command. He’s an imposing, mesmerizing figure in dual roles.

“One may as well begin with Toby’s voice mails to his boyfriend,” he says with confidence, and the students appear to begin making up the work as they go along.

Toby at the disco. Photo by FF.

The interconnectedness of the characters is engrossing. Political activist Eric Glass is cultured and likes bringing people together. He’s mindful of making a difference in the world and his heritage. Chris Kernan plays him as committed but easygoing.

His boyfriend, aspiring playwright Toby Darling, is reckless and hedonistic, drawn to the limelight and lives in the moment. Gabriel Paul’s performance bristles with electricity — he’s a hot spring of emotion, giving off Icarus vibes.  

They are the main couple, but the secondary pair are two older, longtime companions –
Walter Poole and Henry Wilcox – wealthy gentlemen with social graces and an enviable lifestyle. Jon Hey as the capitalist billionaire Henry and Moore, as Walter, the caretaker/partner, ingratiate themselves as learned men of money and manners.

In another dual role, a captivating Tyson Cole is Adam, a flirtatious and adventurous rich kid who disrupts Eric and Toby’s lives.

For all of Toby’s faux bravado, there is an undercurrent of turbulence and mystery, particularly when Toby is drawn to a street hustler, Leo, also played by Cole. Paul’s intense Toby, as troubled as he is, driven by fame and his libido, is a remarkable achievement in complexity.

Cole superbly manages to play both his roles surreptitiously, distinguishing them in subtle ways. In his Prague monologue, he shows exceptional bravery.

Lopez has created a circle of friends that feels like a warm cocoon, in a way that Mart Crawley’s play “The Boys in the Band” couldn’t in 1968, or wasn’t, in its 2018 revival. They are a Greek chorus, not unlike Bobby’s married friends in the Sondheim musical “Company.”

It’s that dichotomy – outside in a not-so-kind world, and inside their sanctuary that is contrasted so sharply.

Through overlapping dialogue, the actors establish characters and their place in Eric and Toby’s orbit, while Kernan anchors this landscape. Eric has fostered a supportive environment, and now his life is topsy-turvy in both unexpected and anticipated ways.

He traverses the slab stage to center it as his family homestead, and then deals with all the aggravations of ‘being.’

Photo by FF.

A sweet friendship between Walter and Eric develops, and their conversations are lovely reminders of the people we meet on our journey, and how they influence our thoughts and deeds.

Howards End was the name of a country house in the novel, and a similar property is prominent in this play. It takes on different emotional and sentimental meanings, which is another interesting aspect, and best not be spoiled in a review. Its impact is earned in ending Part I.

Peirick’s scenic design expands on the blossoms of a significant cherry tree, and he has placed artwork based on several photos he took during his NYC travels on the walls, pointedly referencing the Bethesda Fountain at Central Park.

One of my favorite flavors of this show is that New York City is also a character, for it’s as much a love letter to the island as it is a contemplation on the big picture.

Lopez’s dialogue reminds one of NYC’s lure, of its magical quality as the center of the universe, its unparalleled cultural offerings, and its encapsulation of hopes and dreams.

“Every summer, waves of college graduates wash up on its shores to begin the struggle toward success and achievement,” one character says, and as the mother of two sons who did just that, it resonated.

Of course, people will compare this to the landmark “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” whose two parts “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika” opened on Broadway in 1993. After all, its themes are metaphorical and symbolic as it explored AIDS and homosexuality in the 1980s.

“The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer is another touchstones – addressing the rise of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City between 1981-1984.

These bellwethers inform and add emotional depth to this exercise, for advocacy isn’t confined to the past, a crucial message.

Tyson Cole is Adam and Leo. Photo by FF.

Warning to the audience: Because part of the show takes place in 2016 with social liberals re-enacting election night shock (and for some, horror), that could conjure up some “things.”

Depictions of relationships include frank dialogue and stylized moves for sexual encounters. Adam’s lengthy explicit monologue about a euphoric erotic experience in a gay bathhouse in Prague leads to a terrifying realization of the danger of unprotected sex, and immediate action with PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, medicine taken to prevent HIV).

The supporting players are lively and animated, and transform into whatever they are tasked with, which adds to the show’s unique appeal. For instance, Kevin O’Brien shifts into two parts as one of Henry’s spoiled entitled sons and Eric’s fiery progressive activist boss Jasper.

Kelvin Urday and Nic Tayborn are funny as an anxious singular-focused couple expecting a baby through a surrogate. Jacob Schmidt and Sean Seifert are young Walter and Henry. Stephen Henley is the other spoiled entitled son of Henry. Donald Kidd is Tristan and Margery Handy is Margaret, and they both factor into Part 2.

While the subject matter is serious, levity is present, including a whole discussion on whether camp is necessary as an ostentatious example of gay-ness.

This massive undertaking has involved the outstanding skill sets of many local technicians – lighting designer Tony Anselmo, sound designer Jacob Baxley, technical director Kevin Sallwasser, assistant director Dani Mann, stage manager Rachel Downing, production manager Sarah Baucom and dialect coach Mark Kelley – and their accomplishments are noteworthy.

Part I is an extraordinary piece of theatre, enhanced by its fully alive cast and the creative team’s commitment to telling truths in this special way. “Only connect” is a good motto to leave a theater with, where you just saw brilliance shine.

The Inheritance cast. Photo by FF.

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

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “The Inheritance, Parts I and 2” April 26 – May 5 at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive. Part 1 is presented Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. April 28. Part 2 is presented Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3, at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on May 5. Both Parts 1 and 2 are presented on Saturday, May 4, with Part 1 at 2 p.m. and Part 2 at 7: 30 p.m.

For tickets, visit: https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/the-tesseract-theatre-company-the-inheritance


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

It’s that down-to-the-wire time where I write about the year that was in local theater. It’s my annual opportunity to celebrate theater, to encourage artists to be artful, and to give some virtual bouquets to people doing outstanding work.

When media folks publish lists at year’s end of their favorite things in arts and entertainment, I admire the succinct way they make their cases. Good, quick reads. And I do that for my best films of the year lists for KTRS (Dec. 29) and Webster-Kirkwood Times (Jan. 5). But when it comes to regional theater, that’s not how I roll.

Call me fastidious, but I prefer to be thorough. Hence, the Lotties (Lynn’s Love of Theatre Awards), which usually arrive sometime in January, and get really specific (some call it ‘give everyone a trophy,’ I refer to it as “these are my opinions, and I’d like to recognize these people.”) Besides “Lotties” implies “a lot,” as in largesse.

I do start assembling this in December – and on my lovely train trip home from the holidays in the west, I mulled over my choices while observing the beautiful topography of New Mexico from Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. As relaxing as that was, it was short-lived, because 2024 was not on pause.

The Lehman Trilogy at The Rep

But looking back is necessary. It’s time for the victory lap on a truly outstanding 2023, which started strong, morphed into an exciting summer, and finished with some of the companies’ best works. I know there are struggles post-pandemic — the world is not the same, and neither are we, nor the arts. Yet, if I had to describe the year in two words, I’d use “moving” and “meaningful.”

To put awards timing in perspective, the Grammys and Screen Actors Guild are in February and Oscars wind up film awards in March. As a grateful longtime local reviewer, I consider awards seasons a way to get through a dreary winter, a time to shed light on people doing good work, and a terrific reason to get together.

The St. Louis Theater Circle’s annual awards will be March 25 at the Loretto-Hilton Center at Webster University. More details will be forthcoming Friday (including ticket link) because that’s when my colleagues in the Circle will announce our awards nominations in 33 categories. Jim Lindhorst and Michelle Kenyon will be on KWMU (90.7 FM) at 12:30 p.m., and our group releases our press release at 1 p.m. (stay tuned here, on social media, and the Circle’s Facebook page). We’re working hard on the show, as a collective we founded in 2012.

So, what were the takeaways of 2023 on local stages? For me, in these dark times, theater continues to be a beacon of light.

Spencer Kruse and Jacob Flekier in “Broadway Bound”

When I’m focused on live theater, I forget about the soul-crushing Twilight Zone episode that’s on an endless loop when I wake up – that bad people are not accountable, facts are dismissed so cavalierly and belligerently, manners have disappeared, science is mocked in favor of personal agendas, while outrage and cultural wars spread, and uncertainty, anxiety, isolation and fear– aaarrrrggghh.

I learned last year, because of two serious sudden life-threatening emergencies, that if you don’t pay attention to your health, consequences are dire. (Much gratitude for the tremendous selfless health care professionals in this town, city ambulance EMTs, and those who donate blood.)

Live theater has always been a source of salvation, of rejoicing, of awe and wonder, of communal laughter, and ultimately, feeling something. And when it clicks, connection. I hear from professional movers and shakers that people want escape, especially after the tough several-year slog through a global pandemic and ongoing political chaos.

Obviously, elevated endorphins are a good thing. But for emotional wallops, those hard-hitting, thought-provoking works that stick with you, and the performers who impress because they rise to the occasion, are unforgettable. Hooray for the fearless and adventurous artists who try new things, raise the bar, and collaborate in the best way possible. Oh, how I admire the many talents and supremely gifted people in this regional theater community.

Sometimes, by virtue of writing for several different publications from home, as an independent contractor, I get stuck, for it is easy to sink into despair when it is cold and gray outside, when a chill goes right through your bones, and daylight dims.

There is nothing better than sharing an experience, re-affirming that we’re not alone, understanding that human decency is noble, and realizing that even though we may be broken, we can still find solace in beautiful small moments.

Like soaring vocals, funny people showing off their quippy comic timing, and the artisans crafting stunning costumes, sets, lighting, and moods. Seeing what people can create and the inspirations behind it – always enriching.

The 145s

Theater helps us discover the good in people, reflect on our common and unique human condition, shows triumph over adversity, and offers more understanding. With hope, maybe we can somehow make a difference in the smallest of ways.

The last five years have been exhausting and overwhelming. In December, I officially became a published author. I wrote a chapter about my journey in a woman’s anthology book, “Ageless Glamour Girls: Reflections on Aging,” that is currently a bestseller on Amazon. I joined 13 women over age 50 in sharing lessons we’ve learned. My chapter: “You Are Not Alone: Dealing with Grief and Loss.”

I am grateful to all the angels sent my way to remind me that a sense of purpose is the very best reason to live. And that spring is six weeks away. I look forward to humming happy tunes. And so we beat on…

If you are out and about, say hey. Few things I like better than talking about theater and seeing people do something they love to do.

Warning: This article is long. It might be comparable to William Goldman’s book assessing the 1967-68 Broadway season, “The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway,” which was published in 1969 (an example of my drama geek youth if I was reading that book when I was 14).

And if you feel like celebrating, join us for the St Louis Theater Circle Awards on March 25. It has always been a great night to enjoy everyone’s company, celebrate the past year’s accomplishments, and look ahead to ’24 – and spring will have arrived!

Into the Woods at New Jewish Theatre

This Year’s Awards

Clearly, there is a big hole here in that I did not see “Death of a Salesman” at the Black Rep because I was in the hospital (that pesky internal bleeding incident from outpatient surgery), twice, and then at home recovering. I know I missed a great one.

Because of scheduling issues in my busiest periods as a working journalist, I’ve missed a few, but overall, I attended at least 72 eligible shows, not including one-acts at festivals (was at some of Fringe, and all of Tesseract and LaBute), touring and school productions. Hope to get to as much as possible this new year (but it’s hard when they’re all lumped together opening same weekend).
Here’s my assessments on 2023 output. Gushing will ensue.

Production of the Year: “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep gets the honor, rebounding in spectacular fashion after what I considered their worst show “Side by Side by Sondheim,” last February, to end the year on a glorious high note, with the “It’s a Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play.”

Overflowing with cheer and kindness, the crisp and polished production was more than a performance – it was a change in direction and a celebration of community.

It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play at The Rep

Everything about this show gleamed – the company of all local performers and the nostalgic setting of KSTL’s studio harkened back to the Golden Age of Radio.

This play-within-a-play was a savvy adaptation by Joe Landry, reworking his play that modified the movie that’s now a holiday staple. The twist to the timeless tale is that it’s being performed by characters who work at the radio station.

Opening night Dec. 3 also was a statement, and people eagerly responded with enthusiastic applause.

After The Rep went public with their financial woes in mid-October, starting a “Rally for the Rep!” campaign to raise $2.5 million to continue the 57-year-old regional professional theater in the new year, handwringing and finger-pointing occurred. But goodwill flourished too.

A Dec. 17 benefit, an online auction, and other fundraising efforts helped. This production was the first opportunity for The Rep to welcome patrons back to the Loretto-Hilton Center since the news broke, and a merry mood was evident.

It warmed the heart. And perhaps was an omen for the future.

“The Birthday Party” at Albion Theatre

Companies of the Year: The Muny (large) and Albion Theatre (small)

I have professionally reviewed Muny shows since 2009, first for the Belleville News-Democrat, until 2017 when the parent company went in a different direction, and now continue on my website, www.PopLifeSTL.com in addition to mentions on KTRS with Jennifer Blome and Wendy Wiese, and our PopLifeSTL podcast. But I’ve been attending since my grandmother took me to “Flower Drum Song” in 1965, when I was 10. Life-changing.

The 105th season was the best one yet. Each sterling production was technically outstanding, enormously entertaining, and the audience leaned into the premieres with gusto (“Beautiful,” “Chess,” “Rent” and “Sister Act.”). In addition, the enduring “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “West Side Story,” and “Little Shop of Horrors” really did deliver all the feels. I was impressed with the sheer magnitude and artistic daring of each show.

Believe. Longing. Belonging. Overcoming. Those were the themes. It was a seven-show arc of uncommon grace – a genuine depth of feeling in each well-executed one. In every performance, there was a palpable sense of yearning – a future Hall of Fame talent finding her voice, outsiders opening their hearts in a timeless fairy tale classic, of high-stakes gamesmanship and personal cost in a political arena, star-crossed lovers clinging to a dream, unearthing your worth and wish fulfillment in a flower shop, discovering love and nurturing friendship in a bleak place, and using your gifts to foster community.

That big sprawling Muny family made it look effortless when it wasn’t at all – a massive team of creatives, performers and technicians crafting the magic we demand from our musical theater under the stars. Nobody does what they do, and that “alone in its greatness” tagline from my teenage years still stands. We expect a lot from this cultural institution – and they delivered at a very high level.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at The Muny

Albion Theatre was in its second season last year, and produced superb works: “The Birthday Party,” “Absent Friends” and “Mindgame,” all very clever, all home runs.

You never know what awaits you in the Kranzberg Black Box when Albion is putting on a show, but British-born founder and artistic director Robert Ashton guarantees an intriguing premise, a dandy ensemble and a thoughtfully put-together play. The company’s niche is exploring the long and rich history of playwriting in Britain — with forays into Ireland, and even with UK ancestors (maternal great-grandfather from Manchester, England, and great-grandmother from Glasgow, Scotland), I am continually fascinated by the culture and how much detail he puts into each production.

Joe Hanrahan of The Midnight Company

Artist of the Year: Joe Hanrahan

Playwright, actor, producer, director – a man of many hats who is constantly pushing himself and his The Midnight Company with new endeavors. He started a hybrid of cabaret and theater with Jim Dolan at the Blue Strawberry, and Kelly Howe, as Linda Ronstadt, sold out multiple shows of “Just One Look,” a career retrospective, with the 13th show at the City Winery last November.

He continues to explore those new avenues, produced a fun reading of “The Humans of St. Louis” at last summer’s Fringe Festival (which I hope they develop further). He mounted an impressive full-scale “The Lion in Winter” with some of the best actors in town, revived a past production, “The Years,” with a fresh ensemble, and starred in a one-man show, the heartfelt and gut-punching “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey.”

A true original is the best compliment I can give, whether he’s working on one of his own scripts, or collaborating with another company. He’s so prolific that I think people take his output for granted. Standing O.

Producers of the Year: Taylor Gruenloh and Rebekah Scallet

Taylor Gruenloh, along with his right-hand team of Brittanie Gunn and Kevin Corpuz, expanded Tesseract Theatre Company’s reach this year, producing such bold musicals as “The Last Five Years,” “The Mad Ones,” and “Kinky Boots,” along with a contemporary hybrid, “Welcome to Arroyo’s.”

His pivot a couple years ago to a new play festival was very engaging this summer, with “In Bloom” by Gwyneth Strope and “Red Curtain Rivalry” by Amy Lytle, who was in attendance.

Whatever he chooses to do, you know it will be different and enlightening, and he’s unafraid to tackle difficult subjects. I can’t wait to see the complex Tony winner “The Inheritance” this spring.

Taylor has decided to step down as artistic director after founding the company in 2010, but Gunn and Corpuz will continue to manage the company and take it in new directions. He is a playwright, and currently an assistant professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and teaching at Webster University. He won’t be fading away any time soon.

Rebekah Scallet. The woman’s got game. In her first full season as artistic director of the New Jewish Theatre, she wowed us with her confident and eclectic picks last year: “Broadway Bound,” “Every Brilliant Thing,” “Gloria: A Life,” “The Immigrant” and “Into the Woods.” Each one was a crown jewel in her cap. Strong casts, excellent material, and superb technical acumen combined for thrilling theater. She perceptively directed a magnificent “The Immigrant,” which was so very timely.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” on national tour with Richard Thomas and Yaegel T. Welch

Touring Production of the Year: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” The Fox.

I was fortunate to see the riveting Aaron Sorkin-scripted production starring Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch at a sold-out Shubert Theatre on Broadway in May 2019. The audience’s thunderous ovation was one of the loudest and longest that I ever took part in, and I consider that production one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. Could the touring show headed by Richard Thomas even come close? Yes, it did, and was just as powerful and emotional. Bravo.

(Runner-Up: “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.” They raised the roof and we responded. This is based on new touring shows, but I would be remiss if I didn’t include the “Come From Away” tour that stopped here for a weekend last fall. It was a profound experience, like God walking through the room. Vibrant, moving, relatable. Tears streamed down my face. I don’t think I was alone.)

My Ten Favorite A&E Things of 2023
(Most of these took place in the summer. Hmmm…)

  1. Barbenheimer at the movie theaters
  2. The delightful 145s Musical Improv Troupe — see them at The Improv Shop. One of the best Saturday nights you can ever have.
  3. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra playing “The Princess Bride” score with the movie at Stifel, and the audience anticipating and cheering for their favorite lines.
  4. The outstanding youth productions I saw last summer:
    “Grease” by Ignite Theatre Company
    “Sweeney Todd” by Debut Theatre Company
    “Bare: A Pop Opera” by Gateway Center for the Performing Arts

Inventively staged, tight ensembles, imaginative touches, strong music direction. Very impressive. Those kids seemed so poised and polished! Keep an eye out for Jordan Thompson, who played both Danny Zuko and Sweeney Todd. Wow, just wow.

Amneris’ wedding gown designed by Brad Musgrove for “Aida” at Stages St Louis

5. St Louis Shakespeare Festival’s touring production of “Merry Wives.” Sitting in Tower Grove Park with my peeps Carl “The Intern” Middleman (poplifestl podcast co-host) and Chas Adams (poplifestl.com reviewer) on a pleasant August night (!) to see those sparks fly with the intrepid traveling troupe of Michelle Hand, Joel Moses, Carl Overly Jr., Rae Davis, Mitchell Henry-Eagles, and Christina Yancy, directed by Suki Peters.

6. “Ragtime” at Union Avenue Opera. Those voices! Talk about a wall of sound! 49 people were part of that endeavor. This event was as hard-hitting as ever.

7. Costume Designer Brad Musgrove’s wedding gown for Amneris (Diana DeGarmo) in “Aida” at Stages St. Louis.

8. Sarah Gene Dowling’s wig design in “Into the Woods” at Stray Dog Theatre

9. Remarkable rigged sets to collapse dramatically: Rob Lippert for “Godspell” at Stray Dog Theatre and Jim Robert, for “Grand Horizons” at Moonstone Theatre Company.

10. Puppet Designer John Ortiz for Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Muny, and Nicholas Ward as The Voice and Travis Patton as the Manipulator.

TJ Staten Jr. in “It’s a Wonderful Life’

THE MVPs
(must have been in two or more shows this year, not a rookie, and whose presence made a difference)

Bridgette Bassa
Sarajane Clark
Kevin Corpuz
Rae Davis
Ricki Franklin
Joseph Garner
Marshall Jennings
Ryan Lawson-Maeske
Debby Lennon
Kevin O’Brien
Jane Paradise
Reginald Pierre
Michael James Reed
Sean Seifert
Ron Strawbridge

ONES TO WATCH

DeAnte Bryant
Hannah de Oliveira
Evann DeBose
Joey File
Nick Freed
Lindsey Grojean
Alexander Huber
Drew Mizell
Kenya Nash
TJ Staten Jr.
James Stevens
Claire Wenzel (now Coffey)

J’Kobe Wallace and DeAnte Bryant in “Eubie!” at The Black Rep

DYNAMIC DUOS and TERRIFIC TRIOS

Brian Slaten and Jessika D. Williams in “Gruesome Playground Injuries”
Alicia Reve Like and Eric J. Conners in “The Light,” The Black Rep
Chuck Winning and Nick Freed in “The Birthday Party” and “Mindgame,” Albion Theatre
J’Kobe Wallace and DeAnte Bryant in “Eubie!” The Black Rep
Jason Meyers and Colleen Backer in “Outside Mullingar,” West End Players Guild
Jacob Flekier and Spencer Kruse in “Broadway Bound,” New Jewish Theatre
Joel Moses and John Wolbers in “The Lion in Winter,” The Midnight Company
John Contini and Alexander Huber in “Barrymore,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Joneal Joplin and Jared Joplin in “Grand Horizons,” Moonstone Theatre Company
Leslie Wobbe and Kate Durbin in “Walter Cronkite Is Dead,” West End Players Guild
Kevin Corpuz and Grace Langford in “The Last Five Years,” Tesseract Theatre Company
Kelvin Moon Loh and Eric Jordan Young in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” The Muny
Vincent Klemski and Lincoln Clauss in “Rent,” The Muny
Terrance Johnson (replacement for Evan Tyron Martin in early performances) and Adrian Vallegas in “Rent,” The Muny
Kimmie Kidd, Ebony Easter and Adrienne Spann as The Radio, “Caroline, or Change,” Fly North Theatricals
Kennedy Holmes, Taylor Marie Daniel, and Stephanie Gomerez as The Urchins in “Little Shop of Horrors,” The Muny
Rob Colletti, Brandon Espinoza and Darron Hayes as the goons in “Sister Act,” The Muny

De-Rance Blaylock in “Caroline, or Change” at Fly North Theatricals

BRINGING THE HOUSE DOWN

(Best Musical Numbers)

  1. De-Rance Blaylock singing “Lot’s Wife” in “Caroline, or Change” at Fly North Theatricals
  2. John Riddle singing “Anthem” in “Chess” at The Muny
  3. Ben Crawford singing “If I Can’t Love Her” in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” at The Muny
  4. John Battagliese and Mike Schwitter as The Righteous Brothers singing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at The Muny
  5. Lindsey Grojean singing “If I Can’t Have You” in “Saturday Night Fever” at Stray Dog Theatre
  6. The cast of “Rent” in “Seasons of Love,” especially Anastacia McKleskey, at The Muny
  7. Kevin O’Brien and Phil Leveling in “No More” in “Into the Woods” at New Jewish Theatre
  8. Meredith Aleigha Wells as Sister Mary Robert singing “The Life I Never Led,” Sister Act, The Muny
  9. Christian Douglas singing “Maria” in “West Side Story” at The Muny
  10. The extended curtain call for “Million Dollar Quartet” at Stages St. Louis with Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash), Jeremy Sevelovitz (Carl Perkins), Brady Wease (Jerry Lee Lewis), and Edward La Cardo (Elvis).
Meredith Aleigha Wells in “Sister Act” at The Muny


BEST YOUTH PERFORMERS

  1. Zoe Klevorn “Caroline, or Change,” Fly North Theatricals
  2. Rosario Rios-Kelly “In Bloom,” Tesseract Theatre Company
  3. Michael Hobin “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” The Muny
  4. Cameron Hadley, “Caroline or Change,” Fly North Theatricals
  5. Malachi Borum, “Caroline or Change,” Fly North Theatricals
  6. Riley Carter Adams “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Max & Louie Productions
  7. Jada Little “The Piano Lesson,” Encore! Theatre Group
  8. Vaida Gruenloh “In Bloom,” Tesseract Theatre Company
  9. Tommy Pepper “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You,” Stray Dog Theatre
“Feminine Energy” by Myra L. Gary at Mustard Seed Theatre

BEST NEW PLAYS

  1. “One Night in the Many Deaths of Sonny Liston,” LaBute New Theatre Festival, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  2. “Safe Space,” LaBute New Theatre Festival, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  3. “This Palpable Gross Play,” SATE
  4. “See You in a Minute,” Contraband Theatre
  5. “In Bloom,” New Play Festival, Tesseract Theater Company
  6. “The Game’s Afoot,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, Shake in the Streets
  7. “Feminine Energy,” Mustard Seed Theatre
  8. “From the Garden,” Wee Laddie Theatrics

“Clue” at Stages St Louis

BEST COMEDY PRODUCTIONS

  1. Clue – Stages St. Louis
  2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Stray Dog Theatre
  3. The Birthday Party – Albion Theatre
  4. Gruesome Playground Injuries – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
  5. Broadway Bound – New Jewish Theatre
  6. Merry Wives – St. Louis Shakespeare Festival Touring Company
  7. This Palpable Gross Play – SATE
  8. Outside Mullingar – West End Players Guild
  9. A Midsummer Night’s Dream – St Louis Shakespeare
  10. Murder on the Orient Express – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
“The Immigrant” at New Jewish Theatare

BEST DRAMA PRODUCTIONS

  1. It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
  2. The Immigrant – New Jewish Theatre
  3. The Lion in Winter – The Midnight Company
  4. Uncle Vanya – St Louis Actors’ Studio
  5. The Lehman Trilogy – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
  6. Skeleton Crew – The Black Repertory Theatre of St Louis
  7. What the Constitution Means to Me – Max and Louie Productions
  8. Mindgame – Albion Theatre
  9. Doubt: A Parable – Prism Theatre Company
  10. Gloria: A Life – New Jewish Theatre
“Million Dollar Quartet” at Stages St Louis

BEST MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS

  1. Caroline, or Change – Fly North Theatricals
  2. West Side Story – The Muny
  3. Into the Woods – New Jewish Theatre
  4. Eubie! – The Black Rep
  5. Million Dollar Quartet – Stages St. Louis
  6. Disney’s The Beauty and the Beast – The Muny
  7. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical– The Muny
  8. Chess – The Muny
  9. Q Brothers A Christmas Carol – St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  10. Kinky Boots – Tesseract Theatre Company
Ricki Franklin and Cassidy Flynn in “Twelfth Night” at St Louis Shakespeare Festival

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

  1. Ricki Franklin, Twelfth Night, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
  2. Claire Wenzel, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Stray Dog Theatre
  3. Zoe Vonder Haar, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  4. Annalise Webb, Absent Friends, Albion Theatre
  5. Rae Davis, “Merry Wives,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
  6. Anna Langdon, Absent Friends, Albion Theatre
  7. Bridgette Bassa, “The Nerd” and “Grand Horizons,” Moonstone Theatre Company
  8. Diana DeGarmo, “Clue,” Stages St. Louis
  9. Alexander Huber, in two roles – as girl and Madeleine, in “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” Stray Dog Theatre (the roles are female but gender-fluid)
  10. Kristen Strom, “This Palpable Gross Play,” SATE
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Stray Dog Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY

  1. Chuck Winning, The Birthday Party, Albion Theatre
  2. Nick Freed, The Birthday Party, Albion Theatre
  3. Stephen Henley, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Stray Dog Theatre
  4. Bryce A Miller, The Nerd, Moonstone Theatre Company
  5. Chuck Brinkley, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
  6. Cassidy Flynn, Twelfth Night, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, and Grand Horizons, Moonstone
  7. Charlie Franklin, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  8. Bob Harvey, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
Colleen Backer and Jason Meyers in “Outside Mullingar” at West End Players Guild

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

  1. Mara Bollini, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Stray Dog Theatre
  2. Colleen Backer, Outside Mullingar, West End Players Guild
  3. Jessika D. Williams, Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
  4. Teresa Doggett, The Birthday Party, Albion Theatre
  5. Leslie Wobbe, Walter Cronkite Is Dead, West End Players Guild
  6. Sarajane Clark, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Stray Dog Theatre
  7. Sarajane Clark, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, Stray Dog Theatre
  8. Nicole Angeli, Absent Friends, Albion Theatre
  9. Jane Paradise, Safe Space, LaBute New Theatre Festival, St. Louis Actors’ Studio

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY

  1. Mark Price, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  2. Ryan Lawson-Maeske, The Nerd, Moonstone Theatre Company
  3. Stephen Peirick, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Stray Dog Theatre
  4. Brian Slaten, Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Rep
  5. Jacob Flekier, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
  6. Jason Meyers, Outside Mullingar, West End Players Guild
  7. Armando Duran, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  8. Joneal Joplin, Grand Horizons, Moonstone Theatre Company
  9. Ted Drury, The Birthday Party, Albion Theatre
  10. Reginald Pierre, Safe Space, LaBute New Theatre Festival, St Louis Actors’ Studio
Michelle Hand and Riley Carter Adams in “What the Constitution Means to Me” at Max & Louie Productions

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

  1. Bryn McLaughlin, Uncle Vanya, St Louis Actors’ Studio
  2. Rae Davis, Feminine Energy, Mustard Seed Theatre
  3. Mindy Shaw, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  4. Rhiannon Creighton, Doubt, Prism Theatre Company
  5. Ashley Bauman, The Years, The Midnight Company
  6. Nicole Angeli, Mindgame, Albion Theatre Company
  7. Kelly Howe, See You in a Minute, Contraband Theatre Company

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA

  1. Michael James Reed, Uncle Vanya, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  2. David Wassilak, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  3. Bradley Tejada, Suddenly Last Summer, Tennessee Williams Festival
  4. Joey File, The Years, Midnight Company
  5. John Wolbers, The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  6. Joel Moses, The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  7. Joseph Garner, See You in a Minute, Contraband Theatre
  8. Brian McKinley, Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
Alicia Reve Like and Eric J. Conners in “The Light” at The Black Rep

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

  1. Alicia Reve Like, The Light, The Black Rep
  2. Michelle Hand, What the Constitution Means to Me, Max & Louie Productions
  3. Lavonne Byers, The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  4. Naima Randolph, Suddenly Last Summer, Tennessee Williams Festival
  5. Kate Durbin, Doubt, Prism Theatre Company
  6. Ricki Franklin, See You in a Minute, Contraband Theatre Company
  7. Velma Austin, Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
  8. Jenni Ryan, Gloria: A Life, New Jewish Theatre
  9. Tiffany Oglesby, Confederates, The Rep
  10. Erin Rene Roberts, Feminine Energy, Mustard Seed Theatre
Will Bonfiglio in “Every Brilliant Thing” at New Jewish Theatre

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA

  1. Dustin Lane Petrillo, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  2. John Contini, Barrymore, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  3. John Pierson, Uncle Vanya, St Louis Actors’ Studio
  4. Will Bonfiglio, Every Brilliant Thing, New Jewish Theatre
  5. Reginald Pierre, One Night in the Many Deaths of Sonny Liston, LaBute New Theatre Festival, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  6. Nick Freed, Mindgame, Albion Theatre
  7. Chuck Winning, Mindgame, Albion Theatre
  8. Kelvin Roston Jr, Twisted Melodies, The Rep
  9. Olajuwon Davis, Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
  10. Xavier Scott Evans, Confederates, The Rep
Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “9” at New Line Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

  1. Diana DeGarmo, Aida, Stages St. Louis
  2. Taylor Louderman, Chess, The Muny
  3. Kimmie Kidd-Booker, 9, New Line Theatre
  4. Jenelle Gilreath Owens, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  5. Jerusha Cavazos, West Side Story, The Muny
  6. Katie Geraghty, Sister Act, The Muny
  7. Jackie Burns, Beautiful The Carole King Musical, The Muny
  8. Sarah Gene Dowling, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  9. Kristen Joy Lintvedt, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  10. Jenny Mollet, Aida, Stages St. Louis
  11. Marlee Wenski, Jesus and Johnny Appleweed’s Holy Rollin’ Family Christmas, New Line Theatre
  12. Grace Langford, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

  1. Jarrod Spector, Beautiful The Carole King Musical, The Muny
  2. Phil Leveling, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  3. Duane Foster, Caroline or Change, Fly North Theatricals
  4. Ken Page, West Side Story, The Muny
  5. Jon Hey, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  6. Ryan Vasquez, Little Shop of Horrors, The Muny
  7. Albert Jennings, Aida, Stages St Louis
  8. Jeremy Sevelovitz, Million Dollar Quartet, Stages St Louis
  9. Adrian Villegas, Rent, The Muny
  10. Drew Mizell, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  11. James T. Lane, Sister Act, The Muny
  12. Claybourne Elder, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

  1. De-Rance Blaylock, Caroline or Change, Fly North Theatricals
  2. Sara Sheperd, Beautiful The Carole King Musical, The Muny
  3. Molly Wennstrom, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  4. Bryonha Marie, Sister Act, The Muny
  5. Melissa Felps, The Mad Ones, Tesseract Theatre Company
  6. Ashley Blanchet, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  7. Guinevere Govea, Spells of the Sea, Metro Theatre Company
  8. Jessica Vosk, Chess, The Muny
Jane Paradise and Reginald Pierre in “Safe Space” at LaBute New Theatre Festival, St Louis Actors’ Studio

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (Male or NonBinary)

  1. John Riddle, Chess, The Muny
  2. Tielere Cheatem, in the role of Lola, Kinky Boots, Tesseract Theatre Company
  3. Ben Crawford, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  4. Robin De Jesus, Little Shop of Horrors, The Muny
  5. Drew Mizell, Saturday Night Fever, Stray Dog Theatre
  6. Kevin O’Brien, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  7. Christian Douglas, West Side Story, The Muny
  8. Garrett Young, Q Brothers Christmas Carol, St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  9. Cole Guttman, 9, New Line Theatre
Joe Hanrahan and Lavonne Byers in “The Lion in Winter”

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY

  1. Clue, Stages St. Louis
  2. The Birthday Party, Albion Theatre
  3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Stray Dog Theatre
  4. Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
  5. The Brechtfast Club, ERA
  6. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, St Louis Shakespeare
  7. This Palpable Gross Play, SATE
  8. Absent Friends, Albion
  9. Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  10. Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Stray Dog Theatre
The Brechtfast Club at ERA

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A DRAMA

  1. It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play, The Rep
  2. The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  3. Uncle Vanya, St. Louis Actors’ Studio
  4. The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  5. The Lehman Trilogy, The Rep
  6. Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
  7. Wrens, Prism Theatre Company
  8. Doubt: A Parable, Prism Theatre Company
  9. Feminine Energy, Mustard Seed Theatre

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A MUSICAL

  1. Caroline, or Change, Fly North Theatricals
  2. Eubie! The Black Rep
  3. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  4. Million Dollar Quartet, Stages St Louis
  5. Q Brothers Christmas Carol, St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  6. West Side Story, The Muny
  7. Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  8. Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  9. Spells of the Sea, Metro Theatre Company
  10. Rent, The Muny
    (tie) Sister Act, The Muny
Jessika D. Williams and Brian Slaten in “Gruesome Playground Injuries” at The Rep

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN IN A COMEDY

  1. Sean M. Savoie, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  2. Anshuman Bhatia, Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Rep
  3. Jason Lynch, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  4. John Wylie, Twelfth Night, St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  5. Erik Kuhn, This Palpable Gross Play, SATE

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN IN A DRAMA

  1. Christina Watanabe, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Rep
  2. Xavier Pierce, Twisted Melodies, The Rep
  3. Matthew McCarthy, Suddenly Last Summer, Tennessee Williams Festival
  4. Jayson M. Lawshee, Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
  5. Eric Wennlund, Mindgame, Albion Theatre
“Chess” at The Muny

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN IN A MUSICAL

  1. Rob Denton, Chess, The Muny
  2. Sean M Savoie, Million Dollar Quartet, Stages St. Louis
  3. Herrick Goldman, Aida, Stages St. Louis
  4. Jesse Klug, Q Brothers Christmas Carol, St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  5. Jayson M Lawshee, Spells of the Sea, Metro Theatre Company
  6. Jasmine Williams, Eubie!, The Black Rep
  7. Heather Gilbert, Rent, The Muny

BEST VISUAL PROJECTIONS

  1. Alex Bosco Koch, Chess, The Muny
  2. Michael Salvatore Commendatore, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  3. Kylee Loera, Beautiful The Carol King Musical, The Muny
“Murder on the Orient Express” at The Rep


BEST SOUND DESIGN IN A COMEDY

  1. Beef Gratz, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  2. Kareem Deames, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre

BEST SOUND DESIGN IN A DRAMA

  1. Michael Costagliola, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Rep
  2. Kareem Deames, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  3. G Glausen, Twisted Melodies, The Rep
  4. Jacob Baxley, Mindgame, Albion Theatre

SPECIAL MENTIONS
Amanda Werre, Sound Design, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
Erik Kuhn, Fight Coordinator, Mind Game, Albion Theatre
Terrance Johnson, who filled in for Evan Tyron Martin as Tom Collins in the early performances of “Rent” at The Muny when Martin had COVID
Fleur de Noise, a special segment in “The Game’s Afoot,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s Shake in the Streets

“Eubie!” at The Black Rep

BEST COSTUME DESIGN IN A COMEDY

  1. Brad Musgrove, Clue, Stages St. Louis
  2. Olivia Radle, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, St Louis Shakespeare
  3. Fabio Toblini, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  4. Michelle Friedman Siler, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
  5. Colleen Michelson and Sarah Gene Dowling (wigs), Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Stray Dog Theatre

BEST COSTUME DESIGN IN A DRAMA

  1. Liz Henning, The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  2. Michelle Friedman Siler, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  3. An-Lin Dauber, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Rep
  4. Sam Hayes, Wrens, Prism Theatre Company
  5. Teresa Doggett, Uncle Vanya, St Louis Actors’ Studio
“Kinky Boots” at Tesseract Theatre Company

BEST COSTUME DESIGN IN A MUSICAL

  1. Robin McGee, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  2. Eileen Engel and Sarah Gene Dowling (wigs), Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  3. Brad Musgrove, Aida, Stages St Louis
  4. Marc W. Vital III, Eubie!, The Black Rep
  5. Michelle Friedman Siler, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  6. Zachary Phelps, Kinky Boots, Tesseract Theatre
  7. Leon Dobkowski, Sister Act, The Muny
“Skeleton Crew” at The Black Rep

BEST SCENIC DESIGN IN A DRAMA

  1. An-Lin Dauber, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Rep
  2. Sara Brown, The Lehman Trilogy, The Rep
  3. Nina Ball, Confederates, The Rep
  4. Margery and Peter Spack, Skeleton Crew, The Black Rep
  5. Matt Stuckel, Doubt, Prism Theatre Company
  6. (tie) James Wolk, Suddenly Last Summer

BEST SCENIC DESIGN IN A COMEDY

  1. Tim Macabee, Murder on the Orient Express, The Rep
  2. Lee Savage, Clue, Stages St Louis
  3. Dunsi Dai, Grand Horizons, Moonstone Theatre Company
  4. Margery and Peter Spack, Broadway Bound, New Jewish Theatre
  5. Ellie Schwetye and Lucy Cashion, This Palpable Gross Play, SATE
  6. Scott Neale, “The Game’s Afoot, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

BEST SCENIC DESIGN IN A MUSICAL

  1. Edward E Haynes Jr., Chess, The Muny
  2. Rob Lippert, Godspell, Stray Dog Theatre
  3. Ann Beyersdorfer, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  4. C. Otis Sweezey, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  5. Adam Koch, Million Dollar Quartet, Stages St Louis
  6. Kristen Robinson, Little Shop of Horrors, The Muny
  7. Tim Jones, Eubie! The Black Rep
  8. Margery and Peter Spack, Spells of the Sea, Metro Theatre Company
  9. Ryan Douglass, Beautiful The Carole King Musical, The Muny

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

  1. Patrick O’Neill, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, The Muny
  2. Heather Beal, Robert Crenshaw and Vivian Watt, Eubie! The Black Rep
  3. Mike Hodges, Saturday Night Fever, Stray Dog Theatre
  4. Steph Paul, Q Brothers Christmas Carol, St Louis Shakespeare Festival
  5. Maggie Nold, Kinky Boots, Tesseract Theatre Company
  6. Parker Esse, West Side Story, The Muny (original choreography reproduced)
  7. Denis Jones, Sister Act, The Muny
  8. Luis Salgado, Aida, Stages St. Louis
  9. Patricia Wilcox, Beautiful, The Muny
  10. Tyler White, Go, Dog, Go!, Metro Theater Company
“Saturday Night Fever” at Stray Dog Theatre

BEST MUSICAL DIRECTOR

  1. Colin Healy, Caroline or Change, Fly North Theatricals
  2. James Moore, West Side Story, The Muny
  3. Larry D. Pry, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  4. Charlie Alterman, Beautiful the Carole King Musical, The Muny
  5. Leah Schultz, Saturday Night Fever, Stray Dog Theatre
  6. David Sonneborn, Million Dollar Quartet, Stages St. Louis
  7. Jason DeBord and Michael Horsley, Chess, The Muny
  8. Leah Schultz, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre

BEST DIRECTOR OF A COMEDY

  1. Steve Bebout, Clue. Stages
  2. Alan Knoll, Broadway Bound, New Jewish
  3. Suki Peters, The Birthday Party, Albion
  4. Christina Rios, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, St Lous Shakespeare
  5. Lucy Cashion, The Brechtfast Club, ERA
  6. Becks Redman, Gruesome Playground Injuries, The Rep
  7. Gary Wayne Barker, The Nerd, Moonstone Theatre Company
“Uncle Vanya” at St Louis Actors’ Studio

BEST DIRECTOR OF A DRAMA

  1. Kate Bergstrom, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Rep
  2. Carey Perloff, The Lehman Trilogy, The Rep
  3. Rebeka Scallet, The Immigrant, New Jewish Theatre
  4. Annamaria Pileggi, Uncle Vanya, St Louis Actors’ Studio
  5. Tom Kopp, The Lion in Winter, The Midnight Company
  6. Gary F. Bell, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Stray Dog Theatre

BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

  1. John Tartaglia, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The Muny
  2. Robert Quinlan, Into the Woods, New Jewish Theatre
  3. Josh Rhodes, Chess, The Muny
  4. Brian McKinley, Caroline or Change, Fly North Theatricals
  5. Justin Been, Into the Woods, Stray Dog Theatre
  6. Rob Ruggiero, West Side Story, The Muny

Photos by Jon Gitchoff, Philip Hamer, Julia Merkle, Patrick Huber, Joey Rumpell.

“Little Shop of Horrors” at The Muny
“West Side Story” at The Muny

By Lynn Venhaus

An 18-year-old girl in a car. Life looms large at that age, so much ahead, not much in the rear-view mirror. Is she ready to embark on her journey?

The expertly produced “The Mad Ones” from Tesseract Theatre captures those feelings –that yearning for experiences and the exhilaration of the possibilities about the road ahead, but also wanting to leave the past behind. And regrets, we’ve all had a few.

The show, first produced in 2017, formerly known as “The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown,” focuses on that moment when you prepare to leave home – off to college or work or other adventures – and the memories that flood your brain during a turning point. What does Samantha do when people around her give advice? And how can she move on when certain things hold her back?

Ensemble. Photo by Florence Flick

As besties Samantha and Kelly, Melissa Felps as the smart one and Grace Langford as the wild one sing their hearts out in Kait Kerrigan and Bree Loudermilk’s off-Broadway musical theatre sensation. This contemporary drama is laced with humor and isn’t going for easy answers or tying things up neatly, but rather a process of discovery, which can feel overwrought because of the intense material.

This four-person show taps into choices, grief, and loss, and how the detours of life just force us off the road – even when we’re just getting started. Three of the four performers make their Tesseract debut, in line with the company’s mission to include fresh voices and new perspectives. (Langford was seen earlier this year in “The Last Five Years.”)

While Felps and Langford, both tremendous belters, are a dynamic duo as the oh-so-dramatic BFFs, Sarah Gene Dowling as Sam’s mom Beverly and Cody Cole as Sam’s boyfriend Adam are also noteworthy.

Dowling conveys warmth and wisdom as sometimes overbearing Beverly, strong in her touching “Miles to Go” solo, and zealous in “I Know My Girl” accompanied by the ensemble. Cole, while not on stage that much, works to make dim-bulb Adam more than the one-note character as written. His “Run Away with Me” reveals a tender side.

Sarah Gene Dowling and Melissa Felps. Photo by Florence Flick.

The characters are rather sketchily drawn, but the performers work overtime to make them relatable. The book could use some tweaking – as the non-linear story arc can be clunky in disclosure and sometimes murky.

However, the propulsive songs are exceptionally expressive, and the ensemble delivers them with a deeply felt commitment, especially “Moving On,” “Drive” and “Remember This.” They have fun introducing themselves in “We’re Just in Your Head.”

Once dialed in, the production is more than crossroads and “On the Road” references (title included). No need for spoiler alert– but expect life to happen while they’re busy making other plans.

Felps, in her best performance to date, exhibits plenty of verve, but also frets in the way that teenage girls do, with moms and boyfriends to deal with – and with a pesky live-wire best friend judging her decisions and nudging her out of her comfort zone.

Her poignant delivery of “The Girl Who Drove Away” and “There Was a Party” aptly captures her impassioned but sensible valedictorian character, while she excels in the duets, smoothly collaborating with her partners.

With Cole as the not-as-intelligent beau, the couple is playful in “Simple as That,” funny in “The Proposal,” and sweet and hopeful in “Say the Word.”

The mother-daughter relationship is humorously captured in “My Mom Is a Statistician” while she’s learning to drive, a running plot point.

Cody Cole, Melissa Felps, Grace Langford. Photo by Florence Flick.

But the calling card here is puckish Langford and earnest Felps’ stupendous harmony. Their heartfelt vocals are best in a song grappling with life’s blows – “Ordinary Senior Year,” and revisiting memories and dreams in “Freedom.” They really have fun with “Top Ten” – you must listen to the lyrics. (A dig about Sting’s musical?! Hilarious. More Sting jokes to come (?!)

Both high-spirited actresses have worked together before, in a regional production of “Urinetown” in summer 2022, and they have an easy chemistry that allows their characters to resonate emotionally. The two singers reach a zenith with their power in “Go Tonight” (written as a shouting match, it seems – some of the bombastic delivery could have been more nuanced to mix up the intensity).

Lyricist Kerrigan and composer Loudermilk’s musical has inspired a cult-like following, in a similar way that “Dear Evan Hansen” did in 2017. As this work has been in development for many years, several numbers went viral on YouTube. More than 15,000 pieces of digital music from the score have already been sold since 2009.

The work of high-octane director-choreographer-performer Kevin Corpuz, a big fan of Kerrigan-Loudermilk, always has an energy to it, and in his directorial debut, has maintained a noticeable momentum in The Marcelle space. The staging, to use a driving reference (that are plentiful in this show), has muscular power.

Music Director Joe Schoen’s interpretation of the score has both a fleetness and a sleekness to it, with Schoen conducting and playing keyboard, and superb sound from Adam Rugo on guitar, Chuck Evans on violin, and Zach Neumann on a second keyboard.

The creative crew has contributed to outstanding production values – Jacob Baxley on sound design, Brittanie Gunn on lighting design, and Todd Schaefer’s striking scenic design that allows a fluidity, while Stage Manager Sarah Baucom keeps the action smooth.

Photo by Florence Flick.

Gunn, co-founder and creative director, and Corpuz, also creative director, are ushering in a new era at the 12-year-old Tesseract that promises to be exciting as they reach new goals with musical productions and continue their commitment to new voices with their summer play festival.

“The Mad Ones” is a crowd-pleasing choice after positive response to “Kinky Boots,” “Ordinary Days,” and “The Last Five Years,” yet still taking risks and meeting challenges. Next up is “The Inheritance,” the 2020 Tony Award winner for Best Play, in April, New Musical Summer Fest in July, and the musical “Anastasia” in November 2024.

In the iconoclastic words of Jack Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or a saw a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “The Mad Ones” Nov. 3-12, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. at The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Dr, St. Louis, 63103, in Grand Center. The show is 1 hour, 40 minutes, without intermission. For more information, visit the website: www.tesseracttheatre.com

Melissa Felps as Samantha. Photo by Florence Flick

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

With its energetic and appealing cast of six, and its earnest mission from a buzzy contemporary playwright, “Welcome to Arroyo’s” is a fine example of Tesseract Theatre Company’s commitment to fresh voices and perspectives.

It was written when the promising storyteller Kristoffer Diaz was in college but produced after his acclaimed 2009 play “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Diaz incorporated an American Dream theme in this dramatic comedy about the wrestler Macedonio Guerra, and it also won the Obie Award for Best New American Play in 2011.

Here, Diaz focuses on dreams, stressing community and touching on family, art, grief, loss, and his Latino culture.

Underscored with a lively hip-hop beat, “Welcome to Arroyo’s” is set on New York City’s Lower East Side in 2004. Victor Mendez portrays with conviction the industrious Alejandro Arroyo, whose dream is to convert the space where his late mother ran a bodega/deli for 20 years into a neighborhood bar/lounge that could become a cultural hot spot, but so far, not going so well.

The hard-working Al is at odds with his younger sister Amalia, aka Molly, who is full of anger and rebellion, and spray-paints graffiti outside the 7th precinct police station. Remi Mark conveys her character’s agitation and how mad at the world she is.

She courts trouble, he wants a better life. They are both dealing with the loss of their mother and will meet people who result in changes in direction for them.

Her unexpected love interest? Derek, a rookie police officer who recently moved to the area. He’s nice to her when she is mean to him, and Marshall Jennings is effective playing the concerned guy trying to understand her.

Al’s romantic attraction is to Lelly, a quirky college student tracing the history of a Puerto Rican woman that played a big part in hip-hop music. Could their mother have been one of its founders? Based on her research, Lelly seems to think that 20 years ago, she was the first female hip-hop DJ. Hannah de Oliveira brings out Lelly’s passion for her work.

Two DJs, Nelson and Trip, are Alejandro’s pals who hang out at the bar, and act as narrators sharing this fangirl theory, tying it all together. Kevin Corpuz (Nelson) and Jacob Schmidt (Trip) are the high-spirited rappers devoted to getting the party started, and they succeed in engaging audience members, who are eager to follow their direction. Corpuz’ enthusiasm is always contagious, and their contributions are easily the most relatable aspect of the show.

While heartfelt, Diaz’s play, however, seems incomplete, and the characters aren’t as developed as they could be for us to really care about them and be drawn into the scenario.

Nevertheless, director Brittanie Gunn worked well with an exuberant cast of four men and two women who give their all to pull us into the narrative. There is much goodwill here for what they are trying to accomplish with this show and the people involved.

The main problem with staging at the .Zack is its challenging acoustics, which have been problematic since it opened, some more pronounced than others. On the plus side, Corpuz and Schmidt have individual microphones, and Mark is loud as Molly, but de Oliveira is, at times, hard to hear as Lelly, although she is animated in her performance. Usually, in Tesseract’s previous shows staged there, it wasn’t an issue, but the uneven sound detracts.

Diaz appears destined to be a powerful presence in American theater. Besides writing plays, he is an academic – an associate arts professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has worked in television.

Diaz went on to write the book for “Hercules,” the stage adaptation of the 1997 Disney film, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by David Zippel, which was presented at The Public Theatre in 2019.

For television, Díaz adapted Jonathan Larson’s musical “Rent” into the 2019 live show on Fox and was the editor for Season 1 of “GLOW” on Netflix in 2017.

Tesseract gives this playful production a celebratory feel, and with its dedicated creatives, will likely continue its commitment to diverse talents and plays with something to say. And those are reasons to rejoice.

Tesseract Theatre Company presents “Welcome to Arroyo’s” April 28 – May 7, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. at the .ZACK, 3224 Locust St., in Grand Center. For more information, visit the website: www.tesseracttheatre.com

This play contains adult language and themes.

Corpuz, Schmidt, Jennings

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.