Production Team Includes Director Paige Price and Scenic Designer Kate Rance

Stages St. Louis is proud to unveil the stellar ensemble cast for its upcoming production of “Steel Magnolias.” This beloved story, known for its memorable characters and heartfelt message, will grace the stage from May 31 – June 30 in The Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.

In “Steel Magnolias,” you will take a trip south to the town of Chinquapin, Louisiana and join the ladies at Truvy’s Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana. There anyone who’s anyone not only comes to get their hair cut and styled, but also leaves with free advice…whether asked for or not. Along with her eager assistant Annelle, Truvy pampers a collection of clients with both style and gossip: M’Lynn and her soon-to-be-married daughter Shelby, the wisecracking and crotchety Ouiser, and the well-to-do Clairee. Together these touching, heartfelt, outspoken, and hilarious ladies forge friendships as strong as steel that help them through both the good times and the bad.

The 2024 Season also includes the smash-hit Disney’s Newsies and concludes with the dazzling Ragtime.

AMY LOUI (M’Lynn) is thrilled to make her STAGES debut. Amy has played every STL Equity stage but one. Regional theaters include Greenbrier Valley Theatre, Copper Mountain Rep, Herringbone Productions Hawaii, STAGES Houston. Recent roles: All My Sons (Kate), Silent Sky (Henrietta), Sweat (Tracy), My Name Is Asher Lev (all women). Nominated for multiple Kevin Kline/Theater Circle
Awards, Amy is also a producer and voice talent. Love to all steel magnolias out there – the world needs you. www.amyloui.com

TAYLOR QUICK (Shelby) is overjoyed to be making her STAGES debut! Credits: understudy Anya / Young Anastasia, Anastasia (1st Broadway National Tour); Peggy, 42nd Street (Maltz Jupiter); Millie, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Goodspeed); Sandy, Grease (Fulton); Amalia, She Loves Me (Link Theatre); Liesl, Sound of Music (Fulton, MSMT); Laurey, Oklahoma! (Ogunquit); Penny, Hairspray (Maltz
Jupiter); Flaemmchen, Grand Hotel (Lyric Stage). Film: God’s Not Dead 2. Soloist: Broadway at Long’s Park (Lancaster Symphony). Distinguished Young Woman AR 2012. Love to family, Ben, and DGRW. Rejoice Always. @taylorlquick

ZOE VONDER HAAR (Ouiser) has been a STAGES Company member for over 35 years and 75 shows. STAGES: Clue (Mrs. Peacock), Gypsy (Mama Rose), Hello Dolly (Dolly), Always Patsy Cline (Louise). MUNY: Into the Woods (Jack’s Mother), Kinky Boots (Stage Manager), My Fair Lady (Mrs. Higgins STL REP: Sunday In the Park (Mother), Follies (Hattie), Urinetown Ms. Pennywise). FARMERS ALLEY: It Should Been You (Judy), The Cake (Della). Zoe teaches/directs/choreographs at Washington
University and St. Margaret of Scotland school.

KARI ELY (Clairee) celebrates 30 STAGES seasons. Favorites include: I DO, I DO, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, GYPSY and CRAZY FOR YOU. Most recent: Thelma in Wedding Band (Black Rep), and two World Premiere plays: THE GOOD SHIP ST. LOUIS (Upstream) and COMFORT (Actors’ Studio). Next up: playing Big Momma opposite her real-life husband Peter Mayer in
CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Tennessee Williams Festival). Kari thanks you for supporting live theatre!

JILANNE MARIE KLAUS (Truvy) has acted nationally and internationally on stage and screen for over three decades and is delighted to be joining STAGES St. Louis. After stints in New York and Los Angeles, she returned to the St. Louis stage last year as Ethel in Barefoot in the Park, which earned her a Theatre Critics’ Best Supporting Actress nomination. She would like to thank her family for
being as excited about her work as she is.

ABIGAIL ISOM (Annelle) is thrilled to return to STAGES St. Louis, where she made her professional debut in 2006 as Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis, alongside her parents. Recent credits include Equus (Jill Mason) and Doubt (Sister James) at The Fulton Theatre, as well as Windfall (Hannah Higley), directed by Jason Alexander at Bay Street Theatre. She thanks Gayle Seay, Paige Price, and everyone at
STAGES. Love to her friends, family, and Caroline. abigailisom.com @abigailisom

LARI WHITE (Standby) is ecstatic to be returning to STAGES this year. You may have seen her last year as Yvette in Clue. Other roles include Mairead in Lieutenant of Inishmore for which she won a St. Louis Theatre Circle award. Lari is also a multi-instrumentalist under the moniker Kiing Lair. To catch up on all of her projects visit larimaewhite.com. Much love to her family, friends, Archie, and Brock.

LEXY WITCHER (Standby) is a Kansas-born, St. Louis-based performer, and she is thrilled to work with such an amazing cast, crew, and team! Select St. Louis credits: Wayward (First Run Theatre), Carol Kwiatkowski; A Midsummer Night’s Dream (St. Louis Shakespeare), Hippolyta; and Doubt: a parable (Prism Theatre), U/S Sister James. Lexy has also worked with Blue Gate Musicals and various live
entertainment venues. Many thanks to Gayle, Paige, Alicia, my family, Zach, and King.

MEME WOLFF (Standby) has performed in theatres across the USA and Canada and is thrilled to be working at STAGES again. Some favorite roles include Boston Marriage (Anna), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Martha) and The Wizard of Oz (Glinda/Auntie Em). Additional work includes Marconi Award winning commercial voice-overs, announcer duties for KSDK-TV and KETC-TV and hosting radio programs on KTRS and KLOU. Some in between jobs include sign language interpreter and dolphin trainer.

PRODUCTION TEAM

“I am thrilled to unveil the extraordinary creative team behind our upcoming production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS,” Artistic Director Gayle Seay said. “Their talent and dedication promise to bring this beloved story to life in ways that will captivate and resonate with our audiences. We invite everyone to join us on this journey as we ‘Experience the Story’ through their remarkable vision and artistry.”

Paige Price will make her debut with STAGES as the director for STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Price brings over 30 years of experience in the industry as a former professional performer, director, producer, and artistic director. On Broadway, she starred in the original casts of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, AND SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ. Most recently, she co-produced
THE COTTAGE (Broadway 2023) and she is a lead producer on the newly premiered comedy, JUDGEMENT DAY starring Jason Alexander.

The story will come to life with the artistry of Scenic Designer Kate Rance, who returns after creating the iconic set for STAGES’ 2023 production of AIDA. Joining her will be Lighting Designer Sean Savoie, an accomplished electrical veteran returning for his 10th season with STAGES St. Louis.

Costume Designer, Brad Musgrove, has designed 25 productions at STAGES, winning the St. Louis Theatre Circle award for the productions of; ANYTHING GOES, IN THE HEIGHTS, AND CLUE. With great enthusiasm, STAGES welcomes Tony Award winning Sound Designer Nevin Steinberg (Broadway: THE NOTEBOOK, SWEENEY TODD 2023 Revival-Tony Award, HADESTOWN- Ton
Award, HAMILTON) and Wig Designer, Daniel J Paller (MARY POPPINS, Tuacahn Center for the Arts, 12 NIGHT/ROMEO AND JULIET, Oregon Shakespeare Festival).

Production Stage Manager Monica Dickhens returns after working on STAGES productions of PATSY CLINE, A CHORUS LINE AND MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. Her National Tour Credits include: THE COLOR PURPLE, SISTER ACT, AMERICAN IDIOT, LEGALLY BLONDE, CAMELOT (Lou Diamond Phillips), PETER PAN (Cathy Rigby) and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (Carl Anderson). She will
work alongside Production Manager, Kimberly Klearman Peterson (Director of Production, Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Production Manager, Touhill Performing Arts Center).

Tickets for the 2024 Season are on sale now. For more information, please follow STAGES Facebook and Instagram or visit STAGESStLouis.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Noteworthy for its fleet-footed cast and flawless execution, the rip-roaring romp “Clue” is a winning combination at Stages St. Louis.

In its first non-musical presentation since 1989, the company strikes comedic gold with a farcical whip-smart whodunit patterned after the classic murder mystery board game and based on the 1985 movie that has blackmail on the menu. I haven’t laughed this hard at live theater in a long time.

Is Professor Plum the guilty one with the candlestick in the Library or Miss Scarlet with the rope in the Ballroom? We will find out what really happened in this briskly paced 90-minute escapade that connects the charades, deceptions, and secret passageways during an unusual dinner party.

The hilarious hijinks kick off on a dark and stormy night in 1954, in a well-appointed Boddy Manor, located in a remote area of New England.

As the oddball characters cavort through the mansion’s rooms and corridors, this exceptional quick-witted ensemble shows why each performer is at the top of their game, deftly demonstrating skills in slapstick and impeccable comic timing. Together, they are a finely tuned troupe, zany like the original Monty Python’s Flying Circus in movement and delivery. Let the silly walks begin!

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The six suspects are named according to the familiar game designed by Anthony E. Pratt and first manufactured by Waddington’s in England in 1949. Updated over the years, the current American edition, labeled “classic detective game,” is published by Hasbro, which bought the franchise from Parker Brothers in 1992.

The players’ task is to determine who murdered the game’s victim, in what room the crime took place, and which weapon was used, with cards and miniature props divvied up. Each player, representing a token color, takes on the role of either Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlett, or Mrs. White, rolls the dice to move around the nine rooms, and collects clues to deduce the correct answer (which are secretly placed in a special solution envelope).

This stage play version, first performed in 2019, was written by Sandy Rustin, whose “The Cottage” opened on Broadway this summer. She adapted the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn (“My Cousin Vinny”), who also directed the movie.

The 1985 film, with Tim Curry playing the butler, was marketed with the gimmick of three different endings, and this version seems to jumble the endings’ best parts – wisely keeping the robustly delivered last line. New material was added by Hunter Foster and Eric Price.

As part of the merry menagerie, Mr. Boddy is the host who has been blackmailing the other dinner guests for years. Jeff Cummings is appropriately condescending and threatening, handing out gift-wrapped weapons to each, spelling out the dangers ahead. When he winds up dead, they become suspects. Their color-coded names are aliases, assigned to prevent real identities being exposed. It doesn’t appear that they are that innocent, and the plot thickens (insert menacing laugh here).

Whodunit? Photo by Phillip Hamer

In a virtuoso performance, Mark Price tickles the funny bone as the butler Wadsworth, a master manipulator who seems to be putting the puzzle together, but whose antics question everything we’ve seen and heard. With his rapid back-and-forth delivery and devil-may-care spirit dialed to 11, he is physically reminiscent of a younger Robin Williams in “Mork and Mindy.” He nimbly seizes control of every scene in the second act, earning breakout applause, and has the audience howling with laughter.

A Broadway veteran, Price is reprising his role from the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey production in January 2022, postponed from a planned bow in ’20, delayed by the pandemic. The original direction by Casey Hushion is noted in the program, and this production is directed with tremendous zeal by Steve Bebout.

Bebout highlights each character’s eccentricities and keeps us guessing as to whodunit. The story structure isn’t as dependent on the characters as it is on the performances, and this cast is a marvel of perpetual motion and goofy quirks to keep us interested.

Could it be the self-important Mrs. Peacock, married to a U.S. senator accused of taking bribes? Flamboyant in blue, Zoe Vonder Haar struts around in fine fashion, exaggerating slurping soup and putting on airs.

Or is it the vampy Miss Scarlett, a smooth operator who runs an underground brothel in Washington D.C.? Diana DeGarmo, who has already impressed at Stages in “Always… Patsy Cline” and “Aida,” continues her hot streak, sashaying in a satiny red gown, sultry attitude to match.

Or the third suspicious woman, Tari Kelly as dramatic Mrs. White, who claims she is innocent in the death of her nuclear physicist husband. However, this international woman of mystery is hiding other secrets and motives, giving off a black widow vibe.

The men project peculiarities and appear not to be very smart, even Professor Plum, whose fall from grace includes a patient’s death. Looking all stuffed-shirt with purple bowtie, Graham Stevens is the annoying agitator.

Colonel Mustard, David Hess, on right. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

As Colonel Mustard, in his medal-detailed military jacket, David Hess seems clueless and not in sync with anyone else, evoking laughs through his obvious befuddlement.
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Mr. Green, who seems rather strait-laced and buttoned-up, has a terrific reveal sequence that is not worth spoiling, for Charlie Franklin brings the house down as this clever chameleon.

The help is mischievous and mystifying, with Lari White sassy and sexy in a skimpy French maid outfit, affecting a spot-on accent, too, and Leah Berry funny as the demanding, no-nonsense cook who doesn’t suffer fools and knows knife skills.

Cameron Jamarr Davis conveys authority and reliability as “The Cop” among other roles, and Cummings re-appears in minor parts as well.

As outstanding as the cast is, the production’s artisans have matched their vigor. Lee Savage’s production design creates rooms Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes would have been comfortable in, while lighting designer Sean M. Savoie’s expert shades of illumination provide key shadows and moods. Costume designer Brad Musgrove has captured each character’s personality through a color palette that defines their attire and accessories. Sound designer Beef Gratz’s superb atmospheric contributions make sounds ranging from thunderstorms to creaking doors an integral part of the story.

The zest evident in presentation is this show’s most attractive quality, the sheer thrill of watching a high-wire act without a net. Stages St. Louis leaves us smiling on a summer night, and I’m still chuckling reminiscing about what I saw.

“Clue” at Stages St. Louis. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Stages St. Louis presents “Clue” from July 21 (previews) through Aug. 20 in the Ross Family Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe St., in Kirkwood, Mo. For more information, visit: https://stagesstlouis.org.

Photo by Phillip Hamer.

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By Lynn Venhaus

When the titular character floats in using her umbrella, carried by the East wind to 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London, it’s a welcome jolt of joy — signaling that a merry time is ahead in this stage musical version of “Mary Poppins.”

And this vibrant, candy colored Muny production of the beloved magical nanny tale is as whimsical as you remember.

Director John Tartaglia makes it sparkly and this cast of 75 brings the magic that he is striving for in his sixth show, hoping to see smiles on a summer night.

The nostalgia factor is high, recalling the sublime Oscar-winning performance of Julie Andrews in the iconic 1964 Disney movie, which is based on P.L. Travers’ series of children’s books, eight of them starting in 1934.

Disney’s crowning live-action achievement was the highest-grossing film of 1964 and garnered 13 Oscar nominations, winning five: (actress, editing, original music score, visual effects, and song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”). During Walt’s lifetime, it was the only one of his films to earn a Best Picture nomination.

With Travers’ permission, master producer Cameron Mackintosh turned the tale into an acclaimed stage musical in London in 2004, which opened on Broadway in 2006, and continued for more than six years. It closed on March 3, 2013, after 2,619 – the 24th longest-running show in Broadway history.

The show is a mix of the movie and the books. The sentimentality is part of its appeal, and this ensemble blends both freshness and fondness for the traditional qualities to please a new generation.

Jeanna de Waal is an ideal Mary, moving with ease, popping in and out with her grace and regal bearing.  She is a good sport for her spectacular flying segments, with seamless effects work by ZFX.

For a little extra insight into the mystical nanny, she projects an air of mystery, indicating there’s more than meets the eye. She also sings like a dream, smoothly cavorting in the newer song “Practically Perfect” and a reworked setting for “A Spoonful of Sugar.”

In fact, this is a cast of glorious voices.

The charismatic and charming Corbin Bleu uses his considerable song and dance skills as the lovable happy-go-lucky Bert. It’s a triumphant return to the Muny following his sensational turn as Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” in 2018. He had dazzled critics and audiences alike, winning the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Actor in a Musical. 

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Bleu, who first came to prominence as Chad in the “High School Musical” movies, works well with De Waal and the ensemble — and has a few cool moves I won’t spoil.

That score by Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman is unforgettable – and in fact, some Muny patrons sang along. But the musical is not a replica of the film, for “I Love to Laugh” has been omitted, as has “Sister Suffragette,” “Stay Awake” and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.”

With a few exceptions, the new songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe do not seem to be as catchy as the Sherman brothers’ collaborations. Even at a 2 hour and 35 minute-run time, “Anything Can Happen,” delivered in two parts, seems to drag on and on. A little editing of some numbers would have made for a tighter experience.

“The Life I Lead” has been replaced by “Precision and Order,” sung by the stern banker, George Banks. In Julian Fellowes’ book, George is revealed to have had a strict childhood, and the parents are more dysfunctional, with Winifred Banks a former actress who can’t seem to fit in to the elite society, and the two children, Jane and Michael, are naughtier.

The real-life husband-and-wife duo of Nehal Joshi and Erin Davie are splendid in vocals and their character development. Their new songs include “A Man Has Dreams” and “Being Mrs. Banks.” I do wish Mrs. Banks was still a suffragette, as Glynis Johns was so robustly in the film.

The kids are brattier – as played by Laila Fantroy and Gabe Cytron, so they are not likable, especially when acting entitled and wreaking havoc in the kitchen, but their growth results in more compassionate youngsters. Whew!

A new character, Robertson Ay, is a screwball addition, and Barrett Riggins, so deliciously wicked in “Camelot,” shines as the bumbling oh-so-not-helpful houseboy.

Chipper Jade Jones has the versatile three-peat of Katie Nanna, Mrs. Corry and Miss Smythe.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Debby Lennon, two-time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner, is a hoot as the “Holy Terror!” – aka George’s cruel childhood nanny Miss Andrew – who arrives to get everyone back in ship-shape after the breezy frolics with Mary. She is overbearing in “Brimstone and Treacle Parts 1 and 2.”

A masterful Darlesia Cearcy brings the house down as the Birdwoman at the park, with a superbly executed rendition and reprise of “Feed the Birds.”

Other high points include the jaunty stroll through the park “Jolly Holiday,” the robust showstopper “Step in Time,” a bubbly “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” at Mrs. Corry’s sweet shop and a wondrous “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” with the ensemble placed through the audience with red kites.

First seen in 2013 when the show was led by Muny fan favorites Jenny Powers and Rob McClure, this version is as enchanting, with Tartaglia’s penchant for puppetry giving an added ‘oomph.’

He has created another Muny moment with puppeteers swarming the stage with flocks of birds, produced by puppet designer Eric Wright of Puppet Kitchen International Inc. It’s a marvelous sight.

Tartaglia, such a bouncy personality as evident through his Muny performances (The Genie in “Aladdin,” The Cat in the Hat in “Seussical,” Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in 2017), has brought a sunny outlook to his productions here.

The director of “Matilda” 2019, Annie” 2018, “The Wizard of Oz” 2016, “Disney’s Tarzan” in 2014 and “Shrek” 2013 is again inspired by the tasks at hand, no doubt influencing his creative choices.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

A crackerjack production team has delivered an attractive look and encouraged high spirits throughout, even with performers dealing with oppressive summer heat. Music Director Brad Haak and Choreographer Patrick O’Neill focused on peppy musical and dance numbers for fluid movement (with a high percentage of youngsters in the audience).

The sights — Paige Hathaway’s production design, Robin L. McGee’s costume design, Kelley Jordan’s wig design and Alex Basco Koch’s video designs are true to the 1910 time of Edwardian London, but with pizzazz.

It’s also nice to see such local treasures as Zoe Vonder Haar (as Mrs. Brill), Whit Reichert (as Admiral Boom/Bank Chairman), Jerry Vogel (as Park Keeper, Von Hussle, ensemble), Rich Pisarkiewicz (Policeman/ensemble), and Lynn Humphrey (Miss Lark/ensemble) back together on the Muny stage.

Does “Mary Poppins” have the same appeal to today’s youths like the movie did for my generation? Not sure if it is a home run as much for them as it is for adults. Nevertheless, the audience left humming a happy tune.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The Muny presents the musical “Mary Poppins” July 5-13 at 8:15 pm. on the outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.muny.org.

Cast photo by Philip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus
Patsy Cline was that rare artist who made a deep connection with anyone who listened to her sing.

A similar effect happens with actresses Diana DeGarmo and Zoe Vonder Haar, who are a delightful combo of sweet and salty, smooth and sassy, silky and spirited, in the jukebox musical “Always…Patsy Cline,” now playing at Stages St. Louis through Sept. 5.

Raised in Georgia and now living in Nashville, DeGarmo has returned to her country music roots in a thoroughly engaging performance.

She sleekly inhabits Cline, who is considered the most popular female country singer in recording history. DeGarmo emulates Cline’s richly textured, emotive voice, and effortlessly delivers 27 numbers, including five with Vonder Haar, who plays Cline’s fan-turned-friend, Louise Seger.

DeGarmo, who was the runner-up on Season 3 of “American Idol” at age 16 in 2004, which Fantasia Barrino, 19, won (a total of 65 million votes were cast for both), has since pursued a music and musical theatre career, appearing on Broadway and in national tours.

Diana DeGarmo as Patsy Cline, Photographed by ProPhotoSTL

Previously in St. Louis, she was impressive as Doralee Rhodes in the first national tour of “9 to 5: The Musical,” which stopped at the Fox Theatre in February 2011, and also at the Fox in 2014 as the Narrator in the revival tour of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Her husband, Ace Young, was Joseph. (She met Young, who was on American Idol’s fifth season, when they were cast in “Hair” and have been married since 2013).

She is poised and commanding as she interprets one hit song after another, showcasing her range and control. The vocals on the ballads “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Sweet Dreams” are particularly lush, tugging on your heart strings.

She has fun changing tempos with the more down-home numbers, such as “Stupid Cupid” and “Shake Rattle and Roll.”

DeGarmo projects an elegance, which is enhanced by Brad Musgrove’s gorgeous vintage costume designs, and she is exquisitely lit by lighting designer Sean M. Savoie.

She has a dynamic chemistry with feisty firecracker Vonder Haar, the veteran fan favorite who has played Louise twice before. Vonder Haar won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for the first time (and would go on to win that same award for Stages’ “The Full Monty” two years later).

It’s a good match. Seger, a colorful Texas housewife, was a devoted fan who first saw Patsy on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in 1957, when she won after singing “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Living near Houston, she attended the singer’s show at the Esquire Ballroom in 1961, and they connected as friends, writing letters and talking on the phone until the singer’s tragic death at age 30 in a plane crash in 1963.

Playwright Ted Swindley fashioned the interviews Seger did for the biographies “Patsy Cline: An Intimate Biography” and “Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline” into the source material for his 1988 two-woman tribute revue, “Always…Patsy Cline,” which is the epitome of a crowd-pleaser. It is licensed by Cline’s family and estate.

Zoe Vonder Haar as Louise Seger, photographed by ProPhotoSTL

From Seger in “Country Weekly”: “The person inside me recognized the person who lived inside her. It was truly eerie.”

Patsy joined Louise and her friends and after the show accepted an invitation to Louise’s home for a late-night breakfast. “It was like I was living in a dream. There was Patsy Cline in my kitchen helping me fix bacon and eggs. She took her shoes off and wore an apron I gave her.

“She told me about her life, her hopes, her dreams. We discussed loves lost, loves found, loves yet to be.

“We talked about her troubled marriage and the pain she endured being away from her children. It was just two people baring their souls.

“We both sang and harmonized old Gospel songs and hillbilly tunes. We sat there and smoked and sang until 4:00 in the morning.”

Louise rushed Patsy to the airport, expecting never to hear from her again. But within two weeks, Louise received her first in what was to be many letters and phone calls they would exchange.

“I often would receive calls at 1:00 in the morning. She’d be singing in some town wanting a friend to talk to.”

Of course, this was 60 years ago, before entertainers had security, a ‘team’ and ‘people.’ It was just two women bonding at a kitchen table.

While Swindley took some poetic license, the story is true – a glamorous celebrity who grew up without privilege and her plain-spoken, music-lovin’ pal.

From the moment she sashays on to scenic designer James Wolk’s vintage 1950s-era kitchen set, Vonder Haar, a St. Louis treasure, is a funny and sincere Louise. She engages the audience as comic relief with her folksy charm, coming across like a neighbor joining you for a kaffee klatch.

This memoir, which opens the theater company’s 35th anniversary year, is the most popular show in Stages’ history. This is the third time it’s being presented, after back-to-back runs in 2013 and 2014, which demonstrates again how endearing and charming it is. It was as warmly received Aug. 11 as it was seven and eight years ago.

The cozy show, first at Stages’ former home at Kirkwood’s Community Center, then moved intact to The Playhouse at Westport Plaza, is opening their new venue, the Kirkwood Center for the Performing Arts. The Ross Family Theatre seats 529 comfortably.

Artistic Director Michael Hamilton has recreated the production, capitalizing on the actress’s strengths. The premise is simple – showing Cline singing at the Grand Old Opry and other locations, with Louise listening to her on the radio, which was a communication lifeline for people back then.

A simpler time, a touch of nostalgia, admiration for a career cut way too short, but spotlighting music that continues to warm hearts to this day.

The lively band, conducted by music director Jeremy Jacobs, who also plays the piano, is an expert blend of Steve Hitsman on steel pedal guitar, Dave Black on electric and acoustic guitars, Kevin Buckley on acoustic guitar and fiddle, Eric Grossman on bass and Joe Meyer on drums. Their tight sound is mighty in an alcove perched behind a scrim.

Original orchestrations for the band and vocals were crafted by August Eriksmoen and Tony Migliore.

While the songs take center stage, the fascinating tale of a close friendship between kindred spirits is what resonates, drawing an audience in, one who welcomes the warm embrace of harmony in music and life.

Diana DeGarmo as Patsy Cline, photographed by ProPhotoSTL

Stages St. Louis presents “Always…Patsy Cline” through Sept. 5, performance times vary, at the Ross Family Theatre inside the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center at 210 Monroe St. ASL interpreting and audio description by MindsEye will be available for the Aug. 20 show. For more information, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesSt.Louis.org. Follow Stages on Facebook and Instagram.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
A powerhouse cast makes sure we fall head-over-high-heels about “Kinky Boots,” a
flashy and fun musical that soars into the starry night at the Muny.

This regional premiere is polished to perfection. For the
first time, I understood the show’s heart and soul, and how its universality touched
people, becoming an international smash-hit and winning six Tony Awards, including
Best Musical, the Olivier Award and a Grammy for original cast recording.

The basic premise is simple yet resonates. It is inspired
by true events and a BBC documentary, which was adapted into a 2005 British feature
film with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola and Joel Edgerton as Charlie. A failing shoe
factory owner teams up with a drag queen to save his family business by
diversifying the product. That niche market in women’s footwear would be “kinky
boots” – bright, glittery sturdy stilettos made well to meet the needs of flamboyant
performers-in-drag.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

Charlie of Northampton, meet Simon of Clacton. They are
from different worlds, but share the weight of parental expectations and
self-acceptance issues. Their duet “I’m Not Your Father’s Son” is an
exclamation point on the matter. They work through this and more, all to the eclectic
beats of rockstar Cyndi Lauper’s first foray into show tunes, with new wave and
club music influences.

The unlikely pair find a common bond, as do the employees
in this relatable workplace comedy. One enlightened blue-collar bloke says: “When
you can change your mind, you can change the world!”

The message of tolerance is a fitting one for Gay Pride Month
as the musical celebrates individuality and inclusion. It’s wrapped in a
feel-good dance party with get-on-your-feet rhythms, and the cast is brimming
with vim and vigor.

Many elements make this first U.S. theatrical production
outside Broadway/national tours so special, but one factor is certain: casting
performers with experience in “Kinky Boots” was a stroke of genius. And it
shows in the brisk crisp and snappy staging.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

The theatricality of swaggering sparkplug J. Harrison Ghee
as Lola, who toured internationally in the role and was a Broadway replacement,
thrusts him into legendary diva status. Looking and sounding like Whitney
Houston in her prime, he tugs at everyone’s heartstrings in “Hold Me in Your
Heart.”

We are truly in “The Land of Lola,” as it’s obvious from Ghee’s
first entrance. During “Sex Is in the Heel,” he seizes the expansive stage,
strutting with major attitude. His moves in those high heels are a triumph over
physics.

The lithe and blithe Ghee showcases his dramatic flair and
knows how to get a laugh, tossing off book writer Harvey Fierstein’s pointed
barbs with ease.

Then there is Graham Scott Fleming as Charlie, who plays
the shoe factory heir apparent with conviction. His conflicts are genuine. However,
his vocal prowess is where he really shines.

His vocal range is well-suited for Tony-winner Lauper’s compositions,
and he interprets the heartfelt lyrics well, especially in “Step One” and “The
Soul of a Man.” He has had much success in Toronto, including nabbing a
Canadian theater award nomination for his performance as Charlie.

Tony-nominated Taylor Louderman, a native of Bourbon, Mo., who
began as a Muny Teen ten years ago, showcases her multiple talents reprising
the goofy lovestruck assembly line worker Lauren that she played on Broadway.

Photo by Phillip Hamer

In her standout number, “The History of Wrong Guys,” she demonstrates
her deft physical comedy skills and how she has come into her own. It’s a blissful
Muny moment. The crowd may not have noticed her at first for entrance applause,
but she sure earned a big ovation after that number.

The perky Louderman, with several Broadway credits and a
few key roles at the Muny – last seen as Amneris in “Aida” (the best thing
about that 2015 production), took off as Regina in “Mean Girls” to appear in
this show.

The ensemble is a tight mix, with Paul Whitty a standout as
bigoted foreman Don.

Photo by Phillip HamerJohn Scherer, a master of comic timing as evident in his
turns in “The Foreigner” and “Noises Off!” at The Repertory Theatre of St.
Louis, is hilarious as the old-school manager George.

So is Jen Perry, who reprises the role of saucy older
worker Trish she originated on Broadway.

Several cast members were in the Broadway production, which
opened April 2013 and ran for six years and 1,400 performances until April 7
this year, including Meryn Becket, Holly Davis and Maggie McDowell, and Angels Callan
Bergman, Ian Fitzgerald and Kyle Post. Angel Ricky Schroeder was in the
national tour.

Caroline Bowman, who plays Charlie’s unlikable
materialistic social-climbing fiancé Nicola, originated the role of Maggie and
then closed as Nicola in April. Ross Lekites plays Charlie’s friend Harry after
being in Broadway and national tour ensembles.

St. Louis performers are also an integral part of the
action. Omega Jones, in his debut as Simon Sr., has a tear-jerking moment at
the nursing home where Lola is entertaining. Veteran Zoe Vonder Haar is funny
as the Milan Stage Manager. Victor Landon and Khaydn M. Adams are the energetic
young Charlie and Simon characters respectively.

When the eight drag queens known as The Angels make their striking
entrance, it’s a magical Muny moment – and received an enthusiastic ovation.

Photo by Phillip HamerOther high-stepping moments include the Act One finale, “Everybody Say Yeah,” which is a marvel of movement on conveyor belts, and the rousing grand finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” which should empower everyone to “Feed your fire.”

Music Director Ryan Fielding Garrett, who conducted the “Kinky
Boots” national tour, skillfully drives the catchy tunes and heart-tugging
ballads.

The human connection is an important part of this show,
just as it is at the oldest and biggest outdoor theater in the country. And the
Muny connections for this show, I feel, have boosted its value and worth.
Namely, the original stylish direction and cheerful choreography of Jerry
Mitchell, one of Broadway’s most lauded artists who won a Tony Award for “Kinky
Boots” choreography. Involved in 50 Broadway shows, he earned his Equity card
at the Muny and was a Webster University student.

His work is recreated here by director DB Bonds, who played
Emmett in “Legally Blonde” eight years ago at the Muny, and choreographer Rusty
Mowery, who worked on Muny productions “Hairspray” and “Legally Blonde.”

Those special ties just boost the care you notice in this
production, a passion project for all involved.

Photo by Phillip HamerOn the technical side, the creative team’s work continues
to shine on the new stage with the upgrades, especially light, sound and video
screens.

Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt’s grid work in the
Price and Sons Factory is efficient, functional and flows with purpose. His
glitzy touch to the Milan runway is as over the top as the boots – his ‘wow’
moment. Video Designer Shawn Duan seamlessly extended the expansive exterior
shots.

Also stepping up his game is Lighting Designer Nathan W.
Scheuer, who made sure the musical numbers glow and sparkle.

Co-sound designer John Shivers won a Tony Award for “Kinky
Boots.” He and David Patridge have been a team at the Muny since 2015.

Costume designer Gregg Barnes, two-time Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Follies” revival, provides his impressive Tony-nominated “Kinky Boots” designs, and The Angels and Lola’s bold eye-popping outfits befit fashionistas. Costume coordination is by Lindsay McWilliams.

The wig work is also outstanding, with original design by Josh Marquette, and work by additional wig designer Kelley Jordan.

“Kinky Boots” finds its footing early on and grows in goodwill as people build upon their dream with helping hands. Endearing in portrayals and intent, its power is a slow build, but it’s lasting, and that is “The Most Beautiful Thing.” And you’ll walk away lifted by this new outlook.

The Muny presents “Kinky Boots” every evening at 8:15 p.m. June 17-25. For more information or for tickets, visit www.muny.org

Photo by Phillip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Broadway’s glorious past merges with The Muny’s dazzling state-of-the-art
present in “Guys and Dolls” for a sensational start to the second century that
bodes well for the future.
What an ideal show to show off the new stage and other upgrades made possible
through the Muny’s Second Century Campaign!

As impressive as the changes set out to be, all the spiffy
new elements made this endearing show sparkle – the redesigned stage allowed
the action flow smoothly, the sound was crystal clear (designers John Shivers
and David Patridge) and the lighting systems’ enhanced illumination by designer
Rob Denton and the expanded LED screens, with video designs by Nathan W.
Scheuer, were eye-catching. Director Gordon Greenberg was able to incorporate
the new downstage lifts into scenes. Overall, an A+ effort.

Besides the successful revelation, the weather was
tailor-made for the 101st season opener June 10. A crowd of 7,677 enjoyed
one of Broadway’s most delightful golden-age classics, filled with Frank
Loesser’s peppy and hummable musical numbers, sweet romance, and colorful
characters based on Damon Runyon’s short stories and given zip by the late
comedy writer Abe Burrows.

“Take Back Your Mink”Jaunty and joyous, “Guys and Dolls” combines hustling high rollers and honorable holy rollers in the bustle of the fabled Times Square, their intentions clashing when the gamblers want to be lucky and the evangelists want to save souls. Paul Tate dePoo III’s vibrant scenic design of neon signage and advertisements reflects a flashy bright lights, big city vibe that pops in every scene.

Once dubbed “the perfect musical comedy” by a critic and I
wholeheartedly agree, the Muny proved how evergreen the show can be, now in its
eighth time here and 15 years since the last one. The talent made sure this
first bicentennial production was a crowning achievement by integrating all the
new-fangled improvements seamlessly.

Zoe Vonder Haar, Orville Mendoza, Kennedy Holmes. Photo by Philip Hamer.Greenberg bathed this frothy concoction in the warm glow of
nostalgia while emphasizing the humor and elevating the romance. The high-spirited
cast injected it with zing through crisp and snappy movements, whether it was a
sharply choreographed number – those elastic dancers in “Crapshooters Dance”
and “Havana” made it fun — or the wise-guys singing Nathan Detroit’s praises
in “The Oldest Established.”
First-time Muny co-choreographers Lorin Latarro and Patrick O’Neill intertwined
different styles with energy and precision, and Music Director Brad Haak freshened
the songs, with arrangements by Larry Blank. Musicians were under a covered pit
for the first time, carrying the upbeat tempos well.
The creative team focused on the original 1950 roots and the rock-solid cast cheerfully
immersed themselves in this idiosyncratic world. One must accept its now dated
story as a period piece to fully appreciate the relationships. Calling women
“tomatoes” and “broads” is no longer acceptable, and no one in contemporary
times would, but this is from a bygone era – and displays how different men and
women roles were back then.

“Guys and Dolls” took Damon Runyon stories about New York
City from the 1920s and 30s, namely “The Idyll of Sarah Brown” and “Blood
Pressure,” with a nod to “Pick the Winner,” and radio comedy writer Abe Burrows
boosted Jo Swerling’s original script by giving the distinctive characters
Runyon’s unique vernacular, a mix of formal speech with slang. Damon, a
newspaperman and sportswriter, favored writing dialogue for gamblers, hustlers,
actors and gangsters.

However, this Runyonland appears more innocent. Detroit, the hapless but lovable mug behind the biggest crap game in NYC, keeps his adorable girlfriend Adelaide waiting for him to marry her after 14 years. The prim and proper Sarah Brown falls in love with the suave Sky Masterson in an opposites-attract storyline.

The script makes all of this seem logical and then throws in merry men named Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charlie, and it’s a surefire winner, especially with Kevin Cahoon hilarious as Harry the Horse and so is Brendan Averett as Big Jule.

From the first bars of the opening number “Fugue for
Tinhorns” to “The Happy Ending” finale, this cast connects with each other, and
ultimately, the audience.

As the sophisticated ladies man Sky Masterson, Ben Davis is
a welcome presence on the Muny stage, continuing his successful run of classic
male leads after Curly in “Oklahoma!” and Emile in “South Pacific.” He has
palpable chemistry with Brittany Bradford, who is one of the best Sarah Browns
I’ve ever seen (sometimes, the actors playing these different types don’t gel,
but this pair does). Their clashing couple delivers velvety-smooth ballads.

Bradford is quite a special talent, genuine in acting and a
splendid soprano. Her breakout number, “If I Were a Bell,” shows her
versatility. Their “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” superbly blends their
voices, another standout moment, and his sleek “My Time of Day” rendition was
terrific.

Davis propelled “Luck Be a Lady” to be one of the evening
highlights, aided by the crackerjack ensemble.

St. Louisan Kendra Kassebaum lights up the stage as Miss
Adelaide, and wow, what a home-grown triple threat. Bubbly and bouncy, she displays
impeccable comic timing in her fully dimensional lived-in performance.

She’s a fitting and funny foil for wacky Nathan, well-played by Jordan Gelber. Their “Sue Me” was on point, and “Adelaide’s Lament” is confident and comical. She leads the Hot Box Girls in a vivacious “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” (Tristan Raines’ costumes fit each role appropriately, but those purple-sequin gowns draped with the gray furs are stunning.)

Kassebaum and Bradford are a dynamic duo in “Marry the Man
Today” (just don’t wince at those lyrics).

The best scene, the second act showstopper that puts its indelible stamp on “Guys and Dolls,” is “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” A marvel of movement and pure jubilation, this version is made even more special by the surprise appearance of Kennedy Holmes, the Muny Kid who placed fourth on “The Voice” in 2018, belting out the usual General Cartwright solo. (Zoe Vonder Haar has replaced Doreen Montalvo as General Cartwright),

Orville Mendoza fits, well, nicely, as Nicely-Nicely
Johnson, who leads the number, and is dandy in his duet with Jared Gertner as
Benny in the title number “Guys and Dolls.”

As Arvide Abernathy, Ken Page has a twinkle in his eye and adds
poignancy to the “More I Cannot Wish You” number sung to his granddaughter,
Sarah. This is his 41st appearance at the Muny – and little-known
fact, he played Nicely-Nicely in the 1976 Broadway revival.

The musical has been revived two more times, in 1992 and
2009, with the 1992 version starring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince the most
acclaimed, winning four Tony Awards including Best Revival and running until 1995,
tallying 1,143 performances. The original “Guys and Dolls” won five Tony Awards
in 1951, including Best Musical, and has been a favorite among regional, school
and community groups for decades.

That renowned 1992 version’s spunk is evident in this Muny
production, but the cast makes it their own. They put a fresh sheen on the
characters, imbuing them with heart and humor, and it never sags.

This production is worth rejoicing about, starting out the
summer in swell fashion.

The Muny presents “Guys and Dolls” June 10 – 16 nightly at 8:15 p.m. in Forest Park. For tickets or more information, visit www.muny.org

Photos by Phillip Hamer.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
The game-changing musical “Oklahoma!” is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Stages St. Louis has honored that legacy with a rollicking hoedown. Their colorful collaboration burns bright with vivid characterizations.
The ensemble’s good cheer emanates. Based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” the first book musical by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers focuses on romantic conflicts — between Laurey and her two suitors, Curly and Jud, and Ado Annie and two men she’s drawn to Ali Hakim and Will Parker.
Set on the Oklahoma territory in 1906, the musical reflects both its innocent time and the rugged pioneer spirit, the hands that built America. Director Michael Hamilton conveys a strong sense of community throughout, and the cast does its part, creating dynamic interactions in a small prairie town.

The cast infuses the old-fashioned characters with plenty of personality, making them appealing to a modern audience. The characters don’t remotely resemble any contemporary archetypes, so they remain quaint caricatures, and the ensemble plays them broadly.
Blake Price, Sarah Ellis and Zoe Vonder Haar in “Oklahoma!”As Curly and Laurey, Blake Price and Sarah Ellis have a playful chemistry together as they tussle, clearly meant for each other, and their vocal ease is a high point of the show.
Price sets the tone with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and is a convincing charmer in “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” Their “People Will Say We’re in Love” is a superb rendition as they project yearning.
Ellis showcases a satiny soprano, outstanding on “Out of My Dreams” with the girls, and flawless both “People Will Say We’re in Love” and reprise.
But then there’s hired hand Jud (versatile David Sajewich), whose undercurrent of menace has some others on edge. Today, he’s viewed as a tragic figure who boils over in frustration and anger, misunderstood. You do feel sympathy for Jud, especially when Sajewich sings “Lonely Room.”
Sparks fly with the comical love triangle between lively Ado Annie, cowboy Will Parker and peddler Ali Hakim, who play their characters strictly for laughs.
Con O’Shea-Creal, with a winning smile and jaunty demeanor as Will, is convivial in “Kansas City,” an ebullient dance number unleashing rodeo spirit!
Newcomer Lucy Moon is the spunky boy-crazy lass Ado Annie and animated Matthew Curiano, with crackerjack comic timing, had the crowd on his side as the charming peddler stuck in the middle.
Zoe Vonder Haar, who has been part of Stages St. Louis for 31 of its 32 years, crackles as Aunt Eller. Her spunky delivery is another bright spot.
Stages’ veterans Leah Berry stood out as Gertie Cummings, with her distinctive laughter, while John Flack as crusty Andrew Carnes and Steve Isom as the lawman Cord Elam capably crafted lived-in characters. In Flack’s case, his shotgun-daddy character is a real “character” – he was straight out of Yosemite Sam’s playbook.
With their first collaboration, the legendary songwriting duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein set the gold standard with their innovations in 1943, seamlessly integrating music, dance, drama and comedy. They changed musical history and won a special Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.
The music effortlessly flows, and each number is crisply delivered and smooth as corn silk. Stuart M. Elmore handled the orchestral design while Lisa Campbell Albert oversaw the music direction.
The robust rendition of the title song brings out the community pride at being settlers in this new land. Since I learned it in fourth grade music class, it has always been one of my favorites, especially with the exquisite harmony and the modulated delivery.
Agnes DeMille’s landmark original choreography is honored by choreographer Dana Lewis. While the Dream Ballet is a beautiful component of this show, it’s a wee bit jarring when the Dancing Curly is a different guy – primo ballet dancer Nicholas De La Vega (who stood out in The Muny’s “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” this summer) when Dancing Laurey is ballet-trained Ellis. Effortless nonetheless.
With the cast’s vitality shining through, the dance sequences fit the stage well. Costume designer Brad Musgrove has made eye-popping homespun costumes that stand out too.
The intimate staging at the Robert G. Reim Theatre works well for the large ensemble. Scenic Designer James Wolk’s work is stunning. His scrim and set evoked early American paintings and breathtaking vistas of what motivated pioneers to embark on an adventure. Sean Savoie’s exquisite lighting design accented every scene beautifully.
Steeped in Americana, this vigorous “Oklahoma!” honors our country’s love of the land, and our hard-working ancestors who believed in the American Dream and most definitely, the pursuit of happiness.
What a fitting way to end Stages’ 32nd season.
Photos by Tom Sakiyama