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

The rapacious 12th Century Plantagenet Family behaves as badly as the modern-day Roys of Manhattan and The Duttons of Montana, a rogues’ gallery of royal connivers in “The Lion in Winter.”

That’s one of the many reasons why The Midnight Company’s bracing production is fun – and riveting – to watch because sparks fly, and flames are fanned in a master class exercise in acting.

Director Tom Kopp has lit a fuse under his finely tuned ensemble so that they burn bright, crackling with big birthright energy while delivering virtuosic performances: Joe Hanrahan, Lavonne Byers, Joel Moses, John Wolbers, Ryan Lawson-Maeske, Michael Pierce and Shannon Campbell.

As the formidable ensemble tackles each aristocratic character like a predator setting a trap for his prey, they often strike a playful, comedic tone but mainly heighten the drama’s intensity because their massive ambitions collide in a winner-takes-all battle. The prize: inheriting the crown of King Henry II of England.

Multi-hyphenate award winner Joe Hanrahan plays mega-manipulator Henry with a smirk and a gleeful vitality, emphasizing his skills at being a disrupter and poster boy for “It’s Good to Be King.” He met his match with his older ‘bride,’ Eleanor, the richest and shrewdest woman in the world who bore him four sons, but they sure don’t care much for them, except as pawns in their epic face-offs.

James Goldman’s 1966 play is set at a contentious Christmastime in 1183 in a castle in Chinon, France, on land still owned by the British ruler. The classic dysfunctional family is hanging festive holly, but they are far from jolly.

That’s to be expected, with the mom – who tried to overthrow the king awhile back — about to return to prison, where she’s been kept by her husband for 10 years, and then dear old domineering dad put the three bad-tempered sons in the dungeon. His firstborn has died. Sounds – and looks like – a holiday in hell.

The wannabe kings. Photo by Joey Rumpell

With anger and resentment thick in the air and mulled wine flowing, swords are brandished and emotions erupt as conflicts ensue. You can see the wheels turning in their cunning little heads. Kopp has briskly staged the posturing, maneuvering, embracing, and shouting so that we’re kept off-guard and suspicious.

The group is tangled in one–upmanship, some more obvious than others – but it’s apparent the amount of trust and respect among the actors that allows them to have a field day with the material and each other.

One of the grand dames of St Louis regional theatre, Lavonne Byers ascends to her lofty perch as the crafty and regal queen – and in a savvy display, she doesn’t telegraph what she’s doing until it’s done, so smooth in the takeovers.

The two-time St. Louis Theater Circle winner and frequent nominee devours anyone in her path as the legendary Eleanor of Aquitane, the role that won Katharine Hepburn her third of four Academy Awards in the 1968 movie version.

As the mom-and-pop puppetmasters, Hanrahan and Byers are spirited in doing the Tango Queen as they dance around – and this battling couple actually loves one another. But as to which of their three chips off the old block will take over the kingdom is quite a game of chess.

Richard, the warrior, as in “The Lionhearted,” won’t be denied, but neither will the pre-Renaissance Machiavellian Geoffrey, bitter about being passed over, and they both are out of favor because the youngest, an immature buffoonish John, is daddy’s favorite. (Maybe because they both behave like petulant children.)

The terrific trio of Joel Moses as the steely soldier Richard, John Wolbers as sly schemer Geoffrey, and Ryan Lawson-Maeske as spoiled brat John lock into their characters seamlessly.

I’m not concerned about their characters’ ages – Richard, 26; Geoffrey, 25; and John, 16, and you don’t have to be either – it’s called acting, and they’re very good at creating full-bodied portrayals. When you have actors not usually known for playing villains in amoral roles, it’s delectable. (Also, smart choice to not have English accents).

The French kids. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Then complicating things are those testy French folks staying there, unpleasant attitudes flaring up – the young King Philip, 18, who’s been in charge for three years, and his sister, Alais, 23, who besides being a princess is supposed to be engaged to Richard but is Henry’s very young mistress. That’s another soap opera, but she may be the most ruthless of all.

Alais has been in the castle for a long time, pretty much raised by Eleanor. Strange bedfellows indeed. Shannon Campbell and Michael Pierce are strong in those roles, setting themselves apart from those high-maintenance Plantagenets but still crafty. After all, the new king is itching to go to war with England.

The creative team has delivered a vibrant staging, with stage manager Karen Pierce keeping the action from sagging. With a well-appointed set design by Brad Slavik, well-lit by lighting designer Tony Anselmo, and vintage props collected by Miriam Whatley, the look is a pleasant replica of nooks in a drafty castle. Costume designer Liz Henning demonstrates her considerable gifts outfitting the royals in impressive fabrics, textures, embroidery and finery.

A special touch is original music composed by Susan Elaine Kopp that gives it an authentic cultural  “welcome to the almost Renaissance” sound.

If you like diving into history, you may enjoy finding out who succeeded Henry. Spoiler alert: the tall fighting man. But that should be its own sequel.

The Midnight Company’s invigorating production makes the past become an absorbing power play by movers and shakers that leaps off dusty pages of an Encyclopedia Brittanica. Long live the kings in a not-to-be-missed show.

The Midnight Company presents “The Lion in Winter” from Oct. 5 to Oct. 21, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays on Oct. 8 and 15 at the .Zack Theatre,

Mom and Pop. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Due to sold-out shows, The Midnight Company will present an encore presentation of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU at The Blue Strawberry on Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm. Tickets are on sale now and can be reserved at BlueStrawberrySTL.com or by calling 314.256.1745.

YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, written/directed by Midnight’s Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan,stars Jennelle Gilreath Owens.  In the one woman show, Jennelle pays tribute to Judy Garland, telling her story and singing Judy’s greatest songs. Jennelle also reveals incidents from her own life, illustrating through Judy’s story and her own the challenges a woman faces in life and show business.

Jennelle is backed by a band led by Music Director John Gerdes (on bass), with Lea Gerdes on woodwinds, Paul Cereghino on piano, and Clarence Newell on drums.  Featured guest singers,collaborating with Jennelle on some of Judy Garland’s historic duets, are Kimmie Kidd and Jeffrey Wright.

The Midnight Company continues its string of Cabaret Theatre presentations at The Blue Strawberry with two extended performances of JUST ONE LOOK on Wednesdays,  August 16 and 30, 7:30.  JUST ONE LOOK stars Kelly Howe as Linda Ronstadt in a rousing  rendition of the life and times and spectacular music career of the singer.  Also in the show is Hanrahan (who wrote/directed the show) as a veteran music industry reporter who finally gets his chance to interview his long unrequited love.  The JUST ONE LOOK band is led by Music Director Curt Landes on piano, with Mark Rogers on drums/vocals and Tom Maloney on guitar/bass.

And Midnight will be introducing a new show, PROFESSOR SUNSHINE’S Traveling Post-Apocalyptic ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL at The Blue Strawberry, with performances on Wednesday September 20 at 7:30pm and Saturday September 23 at 8:30pm.  The ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL is a modern version of the touring shows that roamed the Wild West.  This show travels the new Wild West in a dark, burnt out world, as crumbling towns await the appearance of the show bringing with them a bit of song and temporary salvation.
Hanrahan (who wrote/directed the show) will be your host, Professor Sunshine, and Kelly Howe will be Cheyenne, the show’s sultry, savory chanteuse, singing her patented version of savage, classic rock ’n roll.  The House Divided Band will feature the same players as JUST ONE LOOK – Curt Landes, Mark Rogers and Tom Maloney.

Tickets for the extended JUST ONE LOOK shows and for the ROCK ’N ROLL REVIVAL are on sale now at BlueStrawberrySTL.com or by calling 314.256.1745.

By Lynn Venhaus

Singer-actress Jennelle Gilreath Owens is an old soul. And we are fortunate to experience it in her labors of love.

For a cabaret-theater presentation this summer at the Blue Strawberry, she has assembled a personal tribute to Judy Garland –“You Made Me Love You,” and has put her heart and soul into it.

She plays herself and intertwines elements of her life’s challenges with Judy’s tough times. Judy died tragically at age 47.

The story is tinged with sadness. Yet the star’s luster doesn’t lose any power. Owens’ luminous talent and warm personality make it not just a sentimental journey, but a substantive presentation about our chosen paths. A big takeaway is how people affect us through their gifts, and how we decide to share our gifts matters.

Playwright Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, has written a script that hits the highs and lows of Garland’s career and life. He also smoothly directed the show.

“Dear Mr. Gable”

Owens starts off strong with the title song, the fan letter to Clark Gable that Garland sang at age 15 in the movie “Broadway Melody of 1938.”

A longtime fan of the acclaimed singer-actress-dancer, Owens talks about the connection that Garland had with her ardent fans. She was a much-loved star, known for her vulnerability, achingly tender, gorgeous voice, and beautiful spirit, soaring in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and trying to stay afloat in the ‘50s and ‘60s. She had man troubles, struggled with addiction, fragile mental and physical health, emotional trauma from abusive childhood, and career ups and downs.

Garland appeared in some of the most delightful movie musicals of all-time, including “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Harvey Girls,” “Easter Parade,” “Summer Stock,” “Girl Crazy,” “In the Good Old Summertime,” “Babes in Arms” and “The Pirate.”

Owens has selected signature songs from those and the Great American Songbook, ones that are strongly identified with Judy –including a bittersweet rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” from her most iconic role as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Two accomplished guest singers joined her on stage for one number each. Jeffrey Wright endearingly sang the Gene Kelly part in “For Me and My Gal,” the 1942 vaudeville-centered musical in which Kelly made his film debut, and it was a lovely pairing.

For a heartfelt mash-up finale, Kimmie Kidd-Booker wistfully sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” while Owens added “Get Happy,” replicating the famous pairing when rising star Barbra Streisand appeared on “The Judy Garland Show” in October 1963.

What a fabulous snapshot and a grand way to end the evening.

In a retrospective of Garland’s career, touching on disappointments noted in the 2019 biopic drama “Judy,” which is based on the superior play, “End of the Rainbow,” Owens mentions Judy’s two Oscar nominations, in “A Star is Born”1954 remake and “Judgment at Nuremberg” in 1961. She sings the memorable torch song Judy delivered in her Oscar-worthy role (she was robbed): “The Man That Got Away.”

Judy and Barbra

Owens’ selections ran the gamut of jaunty (“The Trolley Song” – from “Meet Me in St. Louis”), vibrant (“Come Rain or Come Shine” – from Judy’s 1961 Carnegie Hall concert), silky (“Embraceable You” from “Girl Crazy”) and haunting (Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” – from her memorable appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1963) – all sung with conviction.

On the small stage, she was supported by a mighty combo of stellar musicians, who helped make it a polished presentation. Music Director John Gerdes led Lea Gerdes on woodwinds, Paul Cereghino on piano, and Clarence “Clancy” Newell on drums/percussion.

Owens, who has appeared in regional professional theater and local community theater for the past 10 years, earning multiple award nominations, has two other passions as a performer. She travels the country to present a World War II immersive USO show, “Dixie D’s Canteen,” which captures the 1940s songs and spirit of the Greatest Generation.

She teared up talking about her experiences entertaining military veterans. She is also a performer, producer, emcee, and member of The Bon Bons Burlesque Troupe.

With her busy schedule, the Garland tribute was only scheduled for three nights – July 27, Aug. 2 and 9. It’s such a sincere, affectionate show that I hope it has an encore in its future.

Update: Sell-out crowds have prompted a new date — Wednesday, Sept. 14. More info: www.midnightcompany.com and bluestrawberrystl.com

Jennelle Gilreath Owens, in her Dixie D’s Canteen Show

Join STLPR for the St. Louis Public Radio Theatre Showcase on the Public Media Commons on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Public Media Commons, 3653 Olive St., St. Louis, MO 63108.

Over the course of two nights, they will feature short performances by some talented local theatre companies. Bring your favorite lawn chair and a picnic, cold drinks will be available to purchase from STL Barkeep!

Sponsored by Carol House Furniture and Wacker Financial Group.

Participating Groups:

A Call to Conscience – Albion Theatre – First Run Theatre – New Jewish Theatre 
Prism Theatre Company – Prison Performing Arts – St. Louis Shakespeare – Stray Dog Theatre – Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis – The Midnight Company –
Repertory Theatre St. Louis – Upstream Theater

By Lynn Venhaus
Life and death. Lost and found. Weddings and funerals. The big picture and small moments. Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” mulls it all over, and a pliant cast grasps their roles astutely in a bittersweet production from The Midnight Company.

A family comedy-drama written in 1994 and presented in St. Louis some years ago by the Orthwein Theatre Company, its universal themes again connecting in the intimate space of The Chapel. Joe Hanrahan directed the current show, and the latter.

The two-act framework, at first, seems like a familiar scenario: preparing for a small wedding with chaos all around two sets of cousins. Is any family spared drama on special occasions? Not in my experience – but we’re one of those who puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional, so the turmoil is relatable.

And this family is indeed ‘off-center.’ “The Years” is resolute in accepting the quirky, with characters going through different phases of understanding through a 20-year period. As the two sisters Andrea and Eloise, Alicen Moser and Summer Baer suffer both in silence and then out loud. They are fine, delicate actresses who excel at their craft.

Alicen Moser. Summer Baer. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Their flakier cousins Isabella and Andrew are counted on to get things done, and Ashley Bauman and Joey File are terrific in comic relief as bossy, neurotic older sister Isabella and slacker, yet contemplative, younger brother Andrew. Newcomer File is the show’s breakout star, and one to watch.

It’s Andrea’s wedding day, but she is delayed by an inconvenient mugging that’s left her visibly bruised and emotionally battered. Meanwhile, her sister Eloise has problems of her own. They are both fragile, anyway, as they deal with their mother’s suicide soon after their father’s death.

They move on after that turbulent day, and 13 years pass. It’s time for another family wedding, and the cousins come together after struggling through the unpredictability of life. The last act takes place three years later, and this is where it stretched credibility, but it had me up to that troubling end, which didn’t feel like a ‘wrap up.’

The confident cast makes the most of a jagged little play, for they are a finely calibrated ensemble, smooth in their deliveries and comfortable on stage with each other.

In particular, the four cousins are convincing in projecting their shared bonds. While their lives intermingle, we get snippets of their characters through the skills of the performers – because the character backstories are slim.

Rounding out the cast, Michael Pierce and Joseph Garner may seem like interlopers, but their roles are anything but random. In only one scene, Pierce is assured as Eloise’s husband Jeff and Garner, a powerful presence in recent stage appearances, is a conflicted stranger Bartholomew, a lost soul that re-emerges throughout the play. He is prone to giving advice after life-altering events: “My life didn’t change – I changed my life.”

Hanrahan, a master storyteller on his own, has a knack for connecting people through art. A creative dynamo during the coronavirus public health crisis, he pivoted with original material, and keeps challenging himself and his casts with intriguing projects – well-known or new.

An experienced fight choreographer, Pierce (“Twelfth Night” by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and “Murder on the Orient Express” at The Rep) set up authentic confrontations.

Competent design work was handled by Brad Slavik on set, Miriam Whatley on props, and Tony Enselmo on lights. Liz Henning’s costume designs are always outstanding

While not profound, “The Years” is a thoughtful reflection on connection, curveballs in life, and how our lives are impacted in roundabout ways, and ever more relevant after a global pandemic shutdown.

Summer Baer and Michael Pierce. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Midnight Company presents Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” from July 13 to July 29 at The Chapel Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on July 16 and 23. Tickets are on sale at metrotix.com. For more information, visit www.midnightcompany.com

The Midnight Company’s 2023 season continues with extended performances of “Just One Look” July 19, Aug. 16 and 30 at Blue Strawberry; “You Made Me Love You” July 26, Aug. 2 and 9 at Blue Strawberry; “Humans of St. Louis” at the St. Louis Fringe Festival Aug. 15-21, and “The Lion In Winter” Oct. 5-21 at the .Zack.

The Midnight Company will present Cindy Lou Johnson’s THE YEARS, running July 13-29 at The Chapel.  Performances will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees July 16 and 23. 

Tickets, $20 for Thursdays and $25 for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, will be on sale at MetroTix.com on Monday, June 12. The show will be directed by Midnight’s Artistic Director, Joe Hanrahan.

The play opens on a tumultuous day for two sets of cousins:  Andrea and Eloise, and Isabelle and Andrew.  It is Andrea’s wedding day, and she and her sister Eloise, are dealing with the recent death of their father, which was soon followed by their mother’s suicide.  On the day of her wedding, Andrea has gone into work to help someone, and returning home is mugged. Meanwhile Eloise has just learned of her husband’s betrayal and the end of their marriage.   They make it through that turbulent day.  And as the story continues, thirteen years pass, and all of the cousins are forced to deal with the vagaries of life and death that the years deliver.

Joe Hanrahan directed this script some years ago for The Orthwein Theatre Company, and Gerry Kowarsky, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, called that production of THE YEARS “…an exceptional work.  Many plays deal with the pain of family relationships, but few have as much insight, pathos and humor as THE YEARS.”  And Phyllis Thorpe, for Intermission, a theatre publication at the time, called it “…a beautiful play.  Those who saw it will cherish it for a long, long time.”  In its premiere New York production, Broadway World cited an “…amazing script,” that resulted in “…a poignant play.”

Hanrahan said, “THE YEARS is a delicate, haunting, unusual play.  It deals with situations everyone faces in life, and so we’re able to quickly connect and feel  deeply for these characters.  I’m so looking forward to working with it once more.  And so lucky to have such a great cast to tell this story.”

The Midnight production features Summer Baer and Alicen Moser as sisters Eloise and Andrea.  For Midnight, Summer was seen in last year’s RODNEY’S WIFE.  And recently she’s appeared in PROOF for Moonstone,  THE BIRTHDAY PARTY for Albion, and currently GLORIA: A LIFE at New Jewish Theatre.  Alicen, Artistic Director for Poor Monsters, just directed THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY for Midnight, and previously appeared in the Company’s Beatle play at the St. Louis Fringe Festival, THE EVEREST GAME.  She’s currently appearing in ERA’s THE BRECHTFAST CLUB.  

Ashley Bauman and Joey File will play their cousins, Isabelle and Andrew.  Ashley has appeared in AS YOU LIKE IT for SIUE, A LATE SUMMER NIGHT’S STROLL for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and DR. FAUSTUS: THE MODERN PROMETHEUS for SATE.  Joey was also in the cast of AS YOU LIKE IT, and has also been seen in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and RENT at SIUE.

Michael Pierce will portray Jeffrey, husband to Eloise.  Michael, who will also serve as Fight Director for the play, has been seen in the Aphra Behn Festival for SATE, and LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR for New Jewish.  He also served as Fight Director for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s TWELFTH NIGHT and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS for The Rep.  And Joseph Garner will portray Bartholomew, a stranger who becomes involved in the cousins’ lives.  Garner appeared in Midnight’s ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE, was seen in THE CHRISTIANS at West End and currently in CLASH OF THE TITANS for Cherokee Street Theater.

Hanrahan recently appeared in Midnight’s THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.  He wrote and directed the Linda Ronstadt show, JUST ONE LOOK, currently playing in extended performances at The Blue Strawberry, and is writing and directing the upcoming Judy Garland show, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU, coming in late July there.  Hanrahan was nominated by The St. Louis Theatre Circle as Outstanding Director for last year’s RODNEY’S WIFE from Midnight.

Mason Hunt will be Stage Manager for the show,  Brad Slavik is designing the set, Tony Anselmo the lights, and Elizabeth Henning costumes.  Miriam Whatley will handle props.

Photos Todd Davis.  Alicen Moser (black eye/wedding dress)  Summer Baer (wedding veil/smile)

The Midnight Company’s 2023 season continues with:
Extended Performances of the JUST ONE LOOK July 19, August 16 & 30 at Blue Strawberry
YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU July 26, August 2 & 9 at Blue Strawberry
HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS at The St. Louis Fringe Festival  August 15-21
and
THE LION IN WINTER at the .ZACK  October 5-21

Kelly Howe in “Just One Look”

more at MidnightCompany.com

By Lynn Venhaus

As we head into Pride Month, “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” couldn’t be timelier, especially in this unfortunate age of intolerance.

This passion project from The Midnight Company stars an empathetic Joe Hanrahan in multiple roles and is deftly directed by Alicen Moser.

A one-man show, written by Celeste Lecesne, is based on their young adult novel, and illuminates a very personal struggle about acceptance.

Lecesne has gone by he/they since 2020, and is best known for winning an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short in 1995, for “Trevor.” In 1998, they co-founded and launched The Trevor Project, which is a 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth.

The 2015 narrative fictional play is structured as a police procedural, with a detective seeking answers about a missing teen in a small-town on the Jersey Shore. A hard-hitting story that draws inspiration from such horrific true incidents as high school student Jadin Bell in Portland, Ore., who committed suicide after gay-shaming, and college student Matthew Shepard who was attacked and left for dead in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, among other anti-gay hate crimes.

The playwright, who described Leonard as a luminous force of nature who encountered evil and whose magic wasn’t truly felt until he disappeared, shines a compassionate spotlight on this character you feel that you know.

Unapologetically flamboyant, theatrical, and true to himself, the 14-year-old chatterbox looked and acted as he pleased, just being himself. He planned to dress up as Lady Gaga on Halloween.

Bullied for being who he was, Leonard did win some people over. Details emerge about what a colorful presence he was, and how that light dimmed in the people’s lives who loved him.

Joe Hanrahan .Photo by Joey Rumpell

Besides the inevitable pensive sadness that permeates the one-act, there is also a glimmer of hope about progress and brings more focus on the never-ending mission to understand those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning – and anyone who beats to a different drummer.

Over the course of 1 hour and 20 minutes, Leonard looms larger than life, although he is not physically present. We feel him. We see him through the people who knew him, which Hanrahan effectively presents.

Besides playing the primary character — police detective Chuck DeSoto, Hanrahan takes on the characters Chuck interviews – Ellen Hertle, a hair salon owner who cared for Leonard after his mother died, and her 16-year-old daughter Phoebe Hertle, who report him missing; Buddy Howard, who ran the drama and dance school where Leonard took classes; Gloria Salzano, who saw a platform sneaker floating in the lake next to her home; Marion Tochterman, Otto Beckerman, suspect Tyler Lembeck; and Chuck’s boss, Marty Branahan.

Trevor didn’t tell people he was gay, they just assumed, although he liked to remain a mystery. That didn’t stop name-calling. And he attempted suicide.

As Chuck discovers clues and puts together details of a brutal murder, it’s hard not to be moved by the melancholy, but also discover how this boy touched lives, and eventually made a difference in how people saw others.

The minimalist drama, with stage manager Linda Menard placing props on sparse furnishings and production support from Kevin Bowman, features expressive lighting design by Tony Anselmo in the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre.

Although Leonard isn’t a real person, you leave feeling like you know every character. Hanrahan, who often presents one-man shows, makes the people relatable.

The show’s message reflects Shakespeare’s line from “Hamlet”: “To thine own self be true,” and it’s always good to reinforce that, no matter how one identifies themselves. And to bring more attention to The Trevor Project – hotline is 1-866-488-7386.

Hanrahan, himself a force of nature, has dedicated this show to the Absolute Brightness of Travis Hanrahan, his son who died at age 27 in 2017.

Photos by Joey Rumpell

The Midnight Company presents “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” from May 4-20, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., in the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, 501 N Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63103. For more information, visit www.MidnightCompany.com

The Midnight Company will present the solo show THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY, by Celeste Lecesne.  May 4-20 at The Kranzberg Black Box Theatre.  Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm.  Tickets ($25 for Friday/Saturday and $20 for Thursday) will go on sale April 10 at MetroTix.com.  Alicen Moser directs.

Joe Hanrahan, Midnight’s Artistic Director, portrays a detective and other characters in a small New Jersey town as he unravels the story of Leonard Pelkey, a tenaciously optimistic and flamboyant fourteen-year-old boy who goes missing.  A luminous force of nature whose magic is only truly felt once he is gone, Leonard becomes an unexpected inspiration as the town’s citizens question how they live, who they love, and what they leave behind.

Celeste (formerly James) Lecesne has written several books, including the novel ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS, which gave birth to the play, as well as the play and book, WORD OF MOUTH, which gave birth to the short film, TREVOR.

The New York Times said ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS “…leaves you beaming with joy…a superlative solo show…Mr. Lecesne is a writer of wit and great observational skills, who here unfolds a dark tale that shimmers with needling suspense you associate with best police procedurals…Perhaps most remarkably, he’s the rare artist who doesn’t shy away from sentimentality…you may find yourself choking back a tear or two.”

The New York Post called the show “…moving…Lecesne delivers a message of acceptance without being preachy.  Intimate and affectionate, ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS is about the difference one person can make-and perhaps, with any luck, one show.”

And the Los Angeles Times said ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS “…shines with humanity…an affecting and entertaining testament to the beauty of a world in which difference is celebrated rather than denigrated.”

Joe Hanrahan as Detective Chuck DeSoto, photo by Todd Davis

Hanrahan has performed a number of solo shows, including several each by Eric Bogosian, Conor McPherson, Will Eno and Daniel MacIvor, as well as portraying Harry Truman in GIVE ‘EM HELL HARRY and in his own script, the Theatre Circle nominated NOW PLAYING THIRD BASE FOR THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS…BOND, JAMES BOND.  His play about Linda Ronstadt, JUST ONE LOOK, continues with extended performances this April at The Blue Strawberry, and coming in 2023, he will direct THE YEARS in July, write/direct the Judy Garland show YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU at The Blue Strawberry in late July, co-adapt and direct HUMANS OF ST. LOUIS from the book at The St. Louis Fringe in August, and perform in THE LION IN WINTER in October.

Director Alicen Moser is one of the artistic leaders of the theatre group, Poor Monsters, and she’s performed as an actress for many St. Louis groups, including Midnight when she appeared as George Harrison in Hanrahan’s Beatle play, THE EVEREST GAME, at the 2017 St. Louis Fringe Festival.

Linda Menard will stage manage, Tony Anselmo will design the lighting, and Kevin Bowman provides production support.

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In 1995, Celeste Lecesne wrote the screenplay for the short film, TREVOR, which won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.  Inspired by that film, in 1998 Lecesne co-founded and launched The Trevor Project, the first nationwide 24-hour crisis intervention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth, including phone, in-person and additional online life-affirming resources.  If someone you might know is feeling helpless or suicidal, trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, or by texting 678678.  More information is available at thetrevorproject.org.
The Midnight Company will be working to spread the awareness of The Trevor Project during the run of THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY.
More at MidnightCompany.com

Blue Strawberry and The Midnight Company have announced that the Linda Ronstadt show, JUST ONE LOOK, has been extended.  March 8 and March 15 performances are Sold Out, and tickets for additional performances March 22 and 29 will go on sale Monday, March 6.  Tickets are $25 for the 7:30pm shows, and can be reserved at BlueStrawberrySTL.com or by calling 314-256-1745.

JUST ONE LOOK, written and directed by Midnight Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan, stars
Kelly Howe as Linda Ronstadt, and the show’s band includes Curt Landes, Piano and Music Director, Tom Maloney on guitar and bass, and Mark Rogers, percussion and vocals.

Jim Lindhorst at Broadway World said of the show “JUST ONE LOOK is just one night of exceptional music. It’s a nostalgic rock ‘n roll cabaret performance that is uniquely driven by a theatrical narrative and it works on every level. Hanrahan’s vision created an entertaining way to present the music that goes beyond cabaret performance. But it is Kelly Howe’s phenomenal delivery of Ronstadt’s tunes that make for a most enjoyable night in a cabaret venue.”  

And Sarah Fenske of the Riverfront Times said “Kelly Howe simply dazzles as Linda Ronstadt…an astonishing parade of hit after hit after genre-defying hit….thanks to Howe, Hanrahan and the rest of this throughly enjoyable production, you can’t help but marvel.”

After JUST ONE LOOK, Midnight’s 2023 season will continue with THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY (May 4-20 at the Kranzberg Black Box), THE YEARS (July 13-29 at The Chapel), YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (July 26, August 2 & 9 at The Blue Strawberry) and THE LION IN WINTER (October 5-21 at the .ZACK.)
For more information, visit midnightcompany.com