By Lynn Venhaus

The playwright Harold Pinter made a long and distinguished career out of confounding people with odd plays featuring weird situations, convoluted dialogue, and peculiar characters. “Old Times,” written in 1971, is his freaky, flaky waltz down memory lane that never resolves anything but builds unnerving tension. It is one of his more divisive dramas.

When Roundabout Theatre Company was in rehearsals preparing for a revival in 1984, actor Anthony Hopkins asked Pinter to explain the play’s ending. He famously responded: “I don’t know. Just do it.”

OK, then. When the playwright intends to leave us hanging, it may be hard for a theatergoer to decipher, and there are plenty of theories about what really happened in this show. The point is caring enough to be satisfied with your highly personal observation.

This play is already a tall order for even the most accomplished artists, and unfortunately, is more frustrating than fulfilling in The Midnight Company’s latest presentation.

Director Sarah Lynne Holt has framed Pinter’s familiar enclosed space setting in a stripped-down theater-in-the-round style at The Chapel, where the audience is squished into a wedge of chairs where your view of the three actors may be limited.

That’s a detriment to absorbing the highly stylized delivery of the three actors where every non sequitur, riddle, pause and selected memory is supposedly fraught with meaning. And the sound isn’t consistent either, which makes it even harder to understand the disjointed patter.

The staging is clumsy, and while I realize it’s a low-budget production, the serving of tea is awkward, and the pouring of brandy into cordial glasses, not snifters, is puzzling.

Kelly Howe, Joe Hanrahan and Colleen Backer. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Individually engaging performers — Colleen Backer as Kate, Kelly Howe as Anna, and Joe Hanrahan as Deeley, aren’t meant to be a cohesive trio, and their distance only raises more questions, as intended.

On the surface, it appears that a husband, Deeley, and a wife, Kate, are visited by her old friend and former roommate, Anna, from their carefree single days. They live remotely by the sea while she lives in Sicily but once lived in London. Kate and Anna haven’t seen each other in 20 years.

Well, that’s the story that they seem to be sticking with, and from the start, you can tell something is off kilter. Reality is blurred and recollections are tested in a most bizarre reconnection.

Vague on purpose, Howe hints that Anna has a swinger past and can still seduce, trying to be coquettish with both Kate and her husband.

The married couple don’t find that odd, nor do they appear to be what they seem. So, what kind of a charade is exactly going on?

While Backer and Howe are two evocative actresses — and it’s important to see their facial expressions if you can position yourself to do so, even their suggestive glances and knowing looks can’t convince us of any sexual heat between each other and Deeley.

And Deeley comes across as kind of pervy with his unfiltered accounts of sexual desire, conquests and previous hook-ups with these and other women. Is Hanrahan purposely playing him as creepy? We do discover his lounge lizard past.

The characters are all supposed to be in their 40s, and clearly, Hanrahan is not, even though he doesn’t look his age.

But one aspect that supposedly distinguishes other productions is sexual tension, as in the 2015 Broadway revival starring Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly, where critics repeatedly mentioned it. The heat is not evident here.

While that is an elusive quality, that addition could have been crucial to the audience buying into this scenario.

The women affect British accents while Hanrahan avoided it, so that’s another point that may bother you.

Pinter teases that there is something darker afoot. But the information is slim about their quirky characters the more the play goes on. Kate, who barely speaks, finally blurts out that she remembers her roommate being dead. Say what?

They may all be alive or dead, they all might be figments of someone’s imagination, and the way they reminisce about the past may be total fiction. Emotions are guarded and the characters don’t say what they mean. You wanted Pinteresque, and you got it.

If you are fascinated by his maddening style of doling out clues and pieces of information that may or may not wind up germane to the story, then you’ll invest the time to solve the puzzle.

If you are irritated by his overuse of pauses, or if you lack the patience to be convinced of anything not spelled out, then this material will let you down. It’s all in your perceptions.

Hailed as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, and is famous for “The Birthday Party,” “The Homecoming,” “Betrayal” and “The Caretaker.” He died at age 78 in 2008.

He tended to concentrate on isolation, fear and troubled personal relationships, creating an elliptical dialogue. He also liked to confuse time and space. Frequent descriptions of his work – unpredictable, unspecific, and combative – are apt.

Another choice is that Holt does little to guide the audience in a certain way, preferring to keep everyone guessing and debating afterwards instead. But according to the press release, she didn’t want to make it easy for people to agree on what happened.

The Emperor’s New Clothes or brilliant 20th century mind at work? You say subtle, I say pretentious.

I don’t find this material a good fit for the strengths of the award-winning veteran performers. They can, and have done, so much better. I usually enjoy watching them on stage, but Pinter’s obtuseness can only carry a show so far, especially when you feel disengaged.

The clock is ticking, and the play lasts 1 hour and 35 minutes with one intermission. Fatigue sets in when you realize they aren’t really saying much – and won’t.

I am pretty sure no two people who see “Old Times” will agree on interpretations, and then again, there’s no one right answer.

The trick is caring. The murkiness is troubling, and if you are OK without a satisfactory resolution, that’s your prerogative.

The Midnight Company presents “Old Times” July 11-27 at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sunday matinees July 14 and 21 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be reserved at For more information, visit

By Lynn Venhaus
A daffy delight, “Spirits to Enforce” is a close encounter of the strange kind even in the make-believe world of theater.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the eccentric work of The Midnight Company and visionary writer-director Lucy Cashion who specializes in the unconventional. Only this time, they are vessels for playwright Mickle Maher’s quirky concept.

Maher, a favorite of Midnight Company’s creative director Joe Hanrahan, has infused his absurd comedic caper with comic book stylings mixed with William Shakespeare characters.

Maher, co-founder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck, his producing home for more than 30 years, is known for creating paradoxical works, often involving classic literature. Both Midnight Company, Cashion, and their assembled team are at home in this very original and unusual world.

The result is as wacky and clever as the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup,” one of comedian Bob Newhart’s early telephone routines, the whimsical “The LEGO Batman Movie,” and the surreal comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre (popular in the ‘60s- ‘70s).

It definitely has an improvisational troupe vibe, but director Cashion has masterfully choreographed it like a dance/show choir/cheerleading competition where they are going for the gold.

And that care is exhilarating – and special. It’s apparent that this dozen worked incredibly hard on their precise movements and seamless execution. The kooky ensemble is a marvel of impeccable timing, crisp delivery, and a robust take-no-prisoners approach to their roles.

Twelve characters sit at a very long table, like at a telethon phone bank (pre-GoFundMe, Google it), and are tasked with raising money for a superheroes production of “The Tempest.” This is to save Fathom Town from Professor Cannibal and his band of evildoers.

While sitting in close proximity, they appear to be singular in purpose – their crimefighting mission. As a community, they are desperate to drum up support for this benefit performance, and their urgency and frustration are on full display. They project the manic energy and anxiety of an all-nighter when cramming for a college final.

Photo by Joey Rumpell

The story is that they have finally imprisoned their arch nemesis, Professor Cannibal, and are keeping the city safe from fanged, venomous, ambulatory whales (go with it – anything can happen in those multiverses and ‘snaps,’ you know).

“The Tempest” is a tale of shipwreck and magic, explored on an enchanting island setting, with themes of  betrayal, revenge, and family, so that adds another layer of interesting texture to the production.

These Fathom City Enforcers are in a secret submarine, and the set-up, particularly with old-timey landline phones with extra-long cords, allows much physical humor to take place while they are skillfully weaving in hilariously constructed dialogue to be heard over the din.

The finely-tuned cast includes some of the most eternally gifted performers in local theater – and their names are followed by their secret identity, superhero identity and character in “The Tempest”: Will Bonfiglio, three-time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner for comedic performances, as Emorie Lawson/Ariel; Rachel Tibbetts, also a Theater Circle Award winner, as Susan Tanner/Memory Lass/Miranda; Cassidy Flynn as Randell James/The Tune/Ferdinand; Miranda Jagels Felix as Donna Adams/The Silhouette/All Masque Characters; Alicen Moser as Cecily Gray/The Page/Prospero; Spencer Lawton as Dale Clark/The Intoxicator/Stephano; and Joe Hanrahan as Wayne Simon/The Untangler/Caliban.

They are joined by (fairly) newbies Ash Arora as Rebecca Lloyd/The Ocean/Gonzalo; Kayla Bush as Diana Blake/The Bad Map/Trinculo; Joey Taylor as Brad Allen/The Snow Heavy Branch; Ross Rubright as Craig Cale/The Pleaser/Antonio and Celeste Gardner as Oliver Kendall/Fragrance Fellow/Sebastian.

They all mesh in perfect harmony, jagged as it is to depict the stakes of saving the world from nefarious villains while they carry on phone conversations. Their agility with each other is a joy to witness.

The creative team is a league of its own too – costume designers Liz Henning and Eric Widner (the logo!), lighting designer Jayson Lawshee, and music by Joey Taylor. It’s all dandy work – and with the simple Batcave-like set, really adds to the atmosphere. All the office-type props provide the sight gags, too.

Stage Manager Jimmy Bernatowicz and assistant stage manager Morgan Schindler keep the flow brisk. It is presented without an intermission.

The Midnight Company has produced Maher’s “It Is Magic” and ‘The Hunchback Variations,” and their partnership is an enriching artistic endeavor.

Cashion’s superpowers, to create such an entertaining and enthralling show, are on full display here. And her merry band of good guys deliver — they are heroes for more than a day.

Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Midnight Company presents “Spirits to Enforce” Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through May 18 at The Kranzberg Black Box theatre in Grand Center. Ticket information is available at or for more information, visit

Editor’s Note May 22: “Just One Look” returns to the Blue Strawberry on Wednesday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale now, and can be reserved at or by calling 314.256.1745.

By Lynn Venhaus

Originally scheduled for three performances, the Linda Ronstadt tribute show “Just One Look” has been playing for more than a year.

Now 19 performances (and counting) later, the original cabaret will be on stage for a return engagement on Wednesday, May 15, at the Blue Strawberry. Kelly Howe reprises her critically acclaimed performance.

The Midnight Company first mounted the show in March 2023. Creative Director Joe Hanrahan wrote and directed the piece, framed as an interview and career retrospective, with Howe singing Ronstadt’s most iconic songs.

“The response has been absolutely bonkers. People have seen it three and four times. They’re not only sending friends, they’re coming back with friends. And the audiences are consistently great, hooting and hollering. I’ve never really been a part of anything like it. It’s great! I’m having more fun with every show,” she said.

“I love singing these songs. Lucky she has incredible taste in music, so we really couldn’t go wrong in choosing if we tried. She really chose great great songs, as we talk about in the show,” Howe said.

Ronstadt ruled the pop charts and filled stadiums in the 1970s and 1980s. The reigning rock goddess of her era, she later sang Gilbert and Sullivan in “The Pirates of Penzance” on Broadway and the Great American Songbook in collaborations.

Her worldwide album sales totaled more than $50 million, she won 10 Grammy Awards, and received the National Medal of Arts and Humanities, plus was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Her songbook featured collaborations with some of the biggest names in music, and her personal life included long-term relationships with, among others, California Governor Jerry Brown when he was running for president, and filmmaker George Lucas best known for the “Star Wars” universe.

In “Just One Look,” Hanrahan portrays a veteran rock ’n roll journalist who finally gets to interview his unrequited love, Ronstadt, though she’s now retired to her hometown of Tucson, suffering from Parkinson’s disease. During the course of the show, they remember her debut in Los Angeles, and Howe becomes the younger Linda, recalling her storybook career and singing her great songs.

“Both Kelly and I have a deep appreciation for the great music Linda Ronstadt delivered. Both her rockers and her ballads are among our favorite songs. We aim to remind people who she was, and to honor her work and her life,” Hanrahan said.

Howe recreating a version of Ronstadt’s album “Hasten Down the Wind.”

After Ronstadt’s long success on the pop music charts, she went on to triumphs on Broadway with Gilbert and Sullivan, three albums of the Great American Songbook with Nelson Riddle, Mariachi and lullaby albums, and much more. She had three number 1 hit albums, and 10 albums in the top ten. 

She recorded over 30 albums, and appeared as a guest on 120 albums by other artists – from Philip Glass to a duet with Homer Simpson. There was a number 1 single,  3 number 2s, 10 top ten singles, 21 reaching the top 40, and two number 1 hits on the Country charts. 

Ronstadt’s hits included “Different Drum,” “Blue Bayou,” “Desperado,” “It’s So Easy,” the title song of this show and many more.

“When Joe and I first talked about doing a show like this, we didn’t know at first who it would be about. We both thought of Linda Ronstadt separately. He’s a big fan, and I’ve always been a big fan of hers too. She was still coming out with huge hits when I was a kid. I can’t remember not knowing who she was or wanting to sing like her,” she said.

“In preparation for the show, I really dug into her music more than I had before. She is just incredible. One of the greatest singers of all time. And one of the coolest people too. I love her. I didn’t imagine I’d get to play Linda Ronstadt when I grew up, but I’m sure glad I did! It’s a cool gig, man,” she added.

Howe is an award-winning performer herself. She was nominated twice for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role, by the St. Louis Theater Circle — for this year’s awards in March for her role as a grieving mom in “See You in a Minute” from Contraband Theatre, and for her role as a factory worker in “Sweat” presented by the Black Rep in 2021.

She has also been in “Tommy” as Mrs. Walker at Stray Dog Theatre and the title character in “Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company, as well as part of two Aphra Behn Festivals from SATE. Kelly earned her BFA in theatre from Stephens College then moved to New York City where she worked as an actor, vocalist, and occasional producer for a decade before coming home to St. Louis. 

The Just One Look Band is led by Music Director/Pianist Curt Landes, who has played with Chuck Berry, Albert King, Glenn Campbell, John Hartford and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared at numerous national and local music festivals.

Tom Maloney is on guitar and bass. He was the music director for an international Johnnie Johnson tour. He’s played with everybody from Jerry Vale to Homesick James, and co-wrote and produced Jeremiah Johnson’s #1 song on the Billboard Blues Chart, HiFi Drive. 

And Mark Rogers will handle percussion and provide backup vocals. Mark co-founded many local bands, including Street Corner Symphony, Walnut Park Athletic Club and The Heaters.  He proudly claims that he’s used the same drum set since 1968, and and the same milk can as a drum stool since 1973.

Kelly Howe as Mrs. Walker in “Tommy” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2019.

This partnering with Blue Strawberry wasn’t the only collaboration that Midnight has mounted several over the past year.

“Jim Dolan of The Blue Strawberry and I have discussed incorporating a theatrical element into classic cabaret, and with the Linda Ronstadt show, we’re aiming to create that,:” Hanrahan said last March.

“Blue Strawberry is excited to be working with Joe Hanrahan and Midnight to present this show. As a longtime fan of Joe and Midnight’s work, we are honored to be a part of this production,” Dolan said.

The Midnight Company’s performance of “Just One Look” takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at The Blue Strawberry, 356 N. Boyle. For more information, visit:

“Rodney’s Wife” at The Midnight Company in 2022.

Take Ten Questionnaire With Kelly Howe

1.What is special about your latest project?
Well, my current project “Just One Look: A Tribute to Linda Rondstadt” has been running for more than a year. It was originally scheduled for three performances, 18 sold out performances and a quick stint at City Winery later, we’re still going. So, I’d say it’s definitely special. It’s certainly fun.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I’m not sure I’d call it a choice. Since the first time I was on stage as a kid, there wasn’t really any other option. It’s kind of
just part of who I am.

3. How would your friends describe you?
This is funny, I don’t know! Nice like, kind of funny, good in the kitchen, Beatles obsessed…that basically sums me up lol.

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?
I like to see plays! Lucky this town is lousy with them! I also love to travel. Anywhere and everywhere. Wish I could do it

5. What is your current obsession?
I just finished watching “Ripley” on Netflix. It was very well done, very compelling. But most of all beautiful to look at. A
trip to Italy has been on my list for a while, but the show has made it more a priority. My current obsession is figuring out
when and how I can get my old man and me to Italy. Itinerary TBD.

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I hate mayonnaise, ketchup and yellow mustard. Pickles too. I’m basically anti-condiment.

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
I was in the St. Louis Children’s Choir as a kid. When I was in the 8th grade we went on a trip to Russia, Czechoslovakia (it
was called at the time), and Austria. It was amazing. I think being exposed to such different cultures at such an early age
really defined who I am in many ways. Travel is the best education there is, in my opinion.

8. Who do you admire most?
Hmmm, I am filled with admiration for a lot of folks about town…I’d have to say my parents though, and my husband. Two I
was lucky enough to be born to, one I chose. They are definitely the people I aspire to be most like.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?
I have a long list of places I still have to see. My bucket list is populated with travel destinations. Plenty of roles I’d like to
play too, too many to list.

10. 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?
Man, this is a lot. I was tending bar before the pandemic started, I will never forget the night I closed the bar when everything shut down. So crazy. Jack Patrick’s survived the pandemic and is still one of the best spots in town! But I didn’t feel comfortable continuing that work in the pandemic, I’m a bit compromised. I did not like the isolation though! It was very difficult. I spent most of it tutoring a 10 year old…tutoring is generous, I was more like her school chum as she was isolated and doing online learning. She is very smart and needed little help, but the time spent with her was a great gift. We read a lot. It was definitely helpful to be around such positivity and optimism, the optimism and wonder of a 10 year old was good medicine when all else seemed lost.

It felt like theatre was over. Zoom plays and the like were happening, but of course nothing compares to live in-person performance, and when we were in it, it felt like that was gone forever. What I’ve learned working on some early post-pandemic productions, and how the community has fought back since is that theatre, art and artists are resilient. We can creatively adapt and move forward, because if you make art, if you make theatre, there’s really no other choice in the matter. Life is so much less beautiful without it. So we must keep on
keepin’ on.

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Man, I love St. Louis. It’s hard to choose a favorite thing. There is endless theatre to see. The food scene is top notch. There are the baseball Cardinals! STL City, The Blues. If you’re hip to the goings on in town, it’s hard to be bored.

12.What’s next?
“Old Times” with The Midnight Company. A Pinter play! I’m really excited for this one. Sarah Holt is directing. Joe Hanrahan, Colleen Backer, and myself will appear. I’m really excited to work with Sarah and Colleen. I know I love working with Hanrahan. July 11 – 27.

More Information On Kelly Howe:

Birthplace: Centralia, IL
Current location: South St. Louis City
Family: me and my old man, Kyle
Education: BFA in theatre from Stephens College
Day job: Swade Cannabis Dispensary (drug dealer)
First job: St. Louis Bread Company, one of the first!
First play or movie you were involved in or made:
Peace Child The Musical at Stages. Pretty much sealed the deal for me.
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? I was lucky enough to perform SWEAT for Lynn Nottage with The Black
Rep. We were a part of The William Inge Festival that honored Lynn Nottage that year. Hard to beat that one.
Dream job/opportunity: Man, I just wanna keep getting hired for stuff. I’m not so picky. Ha.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: Lots of nominations, no awards. Yet.
Favorite quote/words to live by: All you need is love!
A song that makes you happy: Yikes, so many. Beyoncé’s cover of “Blackbird” has so far made me cry every time I’ve
heard it. Happy tears from the beauty and weight of it.

Linda Ronstadt

The Midnight Company has scheduled four shows for their MainStage 2024 season., including “Spirits to Enforce” by Mickle Maher, to be directed by Lucy Cashion and presented May 2- 18 at the Kranzberg Black Box Theatre and Harold Pinter’s “Old Times,” to be directed by Sarah Holt,” on July 11 – 27 at The Chapel.

Co-founder and artistic director Joe Hanrahan has written three short plays, ‘Auditions,” that will be presented at the St. Louis Fringe Festival Aug. 12 – 18.

Another Hanrahan original, “Now Playing Third Base for the St. Louis Cardinals… Bond, James Bond,” will be reprised Oct. 3 – 13 at the Greenfinch.

In addition to these, Midnight will continue to present Cabaret Theatre performances at The Blue Strawberry, including JACEY’S JAZZ JOINT, finishing it’s scheduled run on Wednesday, March 27, and JUST ONE LOOK, with an encore performance on April 10.

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, 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 ( 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’

(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


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


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


(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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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”


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


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


  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

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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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


  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 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 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: and

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 For more information, visit

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.