Upstream Theater Brings Humor And Compassion With “A Tree, Falling”

April 20, 2018

Jerry Vogel and Kari Ely in the Upstream Theater production of “A Tree, Falling.” Photo: Virginia Harold

Two of St. Louis’ finest actors bring a story about dementia to life with a touching and compassionate look at a performer with the failing disease and his “friendly visitor” who becomes his hope and lifeline. “A Tree, Falling” is by Australian playwright Ron Elisha and his play is a gentle and profound production at Upstream Theater.


Kari Ely as Lola tries to explain things to Jerry Vogel as Lenny in “A Tree, Falling” at Upstream Theater. Photo:

Jerry Vogel is almost unrecognizable as Lenny- a man who has trouble remembering where he is but can recall incidents and names from his past that even the best of us couldn’t recall. His aging make up and his demeanor belie the usual spirit he portrays on stage. Rambling in speech and ambling in walk, he deftly portrays this man who constantly has to ask of his friendly visitor (I presume an Australian term for in home caregiver) what her name is and who she is.


Kari Ely as Lola tries to comfort the frustrated Jerry Vogel in Upstream Theatre’s production of “A Tree Falling.” Photo:

Kari Ely as Lola brings a tender performance as she gradually comes to depend on Lenny as much as he does on her. Even when she explodes when Lenny has thrown her son’s keyboard into the pot belly stove soon gives way to compassion. It is a nuanced performance that makes this play work so well.


Jerry Vogel as Lenny carries the infamous keyboard in the Upstream Theater production of “A Tree, Falling.” Photo:

Director Michael Dorsey has created that feel on stage with his equally powerful direction. He never lets things turn too maudlin and the result is an uplifting story that just may bring a tear to your eye. Christie Johnson’s set design cover several areas including Lenny’s kitchen that holds that infamous pot belly stove where he likes to throw things he doesn’t want or doesn’t recognize (short term memory is a real problem for him). Tony Anselmo provides a great lighting design and Laura Hanson’s costumes are appropriate to the characters.


Kari Ely embraces Jerry Vogel in “A Tree, Falling” at Upstream Theater. Photo:

Upstream Theater has long presented plays from other countries (a lot of them translated by Artistic Director Philip Boehm) and this one from prolific Australian playwright Ron Elisha is a worthy addition. It plays through April 29th and you can go to for tickets or more information.

How I Got My Only “A” In Algebra

April 30, 2021

Since my theatre reviewing days on Stage Door St. Louis have diminished last year, I decided to take a few instances from my life that my readers may or may not find interesting.

Something inherent in my psyche has always been a fascination for anachronistic stories, jokes, etc. I had written essays about history and other items in grade school (Sts. John and James in Ferguson) and the more frivolous ones I always added some faux fact such as the only person who got a picture of Custer was a young lieutenant named Kodak who got killed in the massacre. When they took away his body, they discovered a little box that said “Brownie” on it. Since they didn’t know what this silvery paper was inside of the box, they just threw the whole thing away. So imagine my joy when I was in an Algebra class at St. Thomas Aquinas high school and the following happened. Ideas immediately started to bubble.

As most right brain folks will tell you, the terms “algebra,” “trigonometry” and “calculus” always were, not only tough to learn, but kept me barely awake for many of those classes. Fortunately I was there the day Father Schaefer had to leave the room to go to the principal’s office. As usual, the cut-ups in the class started yelling and throwing things at each other and when the good padre returned, he was livid. He shouted some proper scolding words and then said, “I want each of you to write a thousand word essay TONIGHT on…” (as he paused and looked around the room, he suddenly shouted) …”Doorknobs!”

I decided to call my essay, “The History Of Doorknobs.” I looked at the various eras and decided what would have happened if these folks had invented doorknobs. I started with the American (long before it was America) Indian and how they tried to devise a new weapon they would call the tomahawk. They came up with this rounded metal object with a handle. When they first got into a battle, they discovered their “tomahawk” could only scalp bald men. Back to the drawing board and they finally realized they had come up with a doorknob but that would not work either because the weight of the tomahawk/doorknob kept pulling the flap on their tepees down and let all the cold air into their wigwam.

I kept going through several other examples of failed attempts and even discussed how interior designers called out people who put Early American doorknobs on modern homes and vice versa. “Down with these desecraters of fashion design!” I went a little bit into the anatomy of the doorknob and a few other pertinent and ridiculous “facts” that had no basis in reality but I felt were entertaining as hell. Anyway, you get the idea.

Father Schaefer decided to read my work out loud to the class as an example of (tongue-in-cheek) how my extensive research brought together a fascinating and quite accurate description of doorknobs. I’m not sure how many in class got the message, but he gave me an “A.” That kind of boosted my overall grade to a D+.

Circle Awards Take On New Vibe As Over A Thousand People Join In On The Fun

April 9, 2020




            COVID-19 Pandemic Results in Production Streamcast by HEC Media


  1. LOUIS, April 8, 2020 — New Jewish Theatre led the way with six awards at the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Max & Louie Productions’ performance of Indecentgarnered five awards, followed by four awards to The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis for its production of A Lovely Sunday forCreveCoeur.


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Circle’s gala event for this year’s award ceremony, originally scheduled for March 30, 2020 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, was canceled. Instead, HEC Media produced a version of the ceremonies that was streamcast on HEC Media’s Facebook page ( as well as telecast on Spectrum channel 989 and AT&T U-verse channel 99.


Awards were given in 31 categories covering comedies, dramas and musicals as well as two categories for opera. In addition, Ken and Nancy Kranzberg received a special award for their philanthropic contributions to the arts and theater in the St. Louis area, including many developments in Grand Center. The awards honored outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theater for the calendar year 2019.


A total of 21 productions and 14 companies were recognized by the awards, including eight individuals who have received honors in previous years. Will Bonfiglio, honored as Outstanding Actor in a Comedy for his performance in New Jewish Theatre’s production of Fully Committed, received the third time in the last four years.


The 2020 presentation featured nominees from two companies, Black Mirror Theatre and The Q Collective, which were represented for the first time in consideration of St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.  Each company received an award for outstanding achievement.


In all, 25 local companies received nominations in 33 categories for comedy, drama, musical and opera, as well as 125 individuals up for awards. Honorees who have previously received St. Louis Theater Circle Awards include Will Bonfiglio, J. Samuel Davis, Kari Ely, Michael Hamilton, Patrick Huber, Sean M. Savoie, Margery and Peter Spack, and Maggie Wininger.


The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.


Nominations for the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards were divided into categories for musicals, dramas, comedies and operas.  More than 120 local professional theatrical productions were staged in the St. Louis area in 2019.


Honorees of the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards are:


Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis


Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Kelley Weber, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Patrick Blindauer, Love’s Labors Lost,Shakespeare Festival St. Louis


Outstanding Actress in a Comedy (tie)

Katie Kleiger, Pride and Prejudice, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Maggie Wininger, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis


Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

Will Bonfiglio, Fully Committed, New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Director of a Comedy

Kari Ely, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis


Outstanding Production of a Comedy

Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama

Indecent,Max & Louie Productions


Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Carly Uding, Translations, Black Mirror Theatre


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  1. Samuel Davis, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Actress in a Drama

Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root and Roe, Upstream Theater


Outstanding Actor in a Drama

Gary Wayne Barker, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Director of a Drama

Joanne Gordon, Indecent,Max & Louie Productions


Outstanding Production of a Drama

Indecent,Max & Louie Productions


Outstanding Set Designin a Play

Margery and Peter Spack, Brighton Beach Memoirs,New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Costume Designin a Play

Felia Davenport, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre


Outstanding Lighting Designin a Play

Patrick Huber, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions


Outstanding Sound Design

Phillip Evans, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions


Outstanding Set Designin a Musical

Mary Engelbreit and Paige Hathaway, Matilda, The Muny


Outstanding Costume Designin a Musical

Sarah Porter, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre


Outstanding Lighting Designin a Musical

Sean M. Savoie, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis


Outstanding Musical Director

Charles Creath, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, The Black Rep


Outstanding Choreographer

Dexandro Montalvo, Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media


Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Matilda,The Muny


Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical

Taylor Louderman, Kinky Boots, The Muny


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical

Tielere Cheatem, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre


Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Kendra Kassebaum, Guys and Dolls, The Muny


Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Luke Steingruby, Hedwig and the Angry Inch,The Q Collective


Outstanding Director of a Musical

Michael Hamilton, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis


Outstanding Production of a Musical

Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media


Outstanding New Play

Nonsense and Beauty, by Scott C. Sickles, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis


Outstanding Achievement in Opera (tie)

Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Roland Wood, Rigoletto, Opera Theatre of St. Louis


Outstanding Production of an Opera

La Boheme, Union Avenue Opera


Special Award

Ken and Nancy Kranzberg



Members of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen,; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Tina Farmer, KDHX; Michelle Kenyon,; Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle(HEC Media); Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Sarah Bryan Miller, St.Louis Post-Dispatch; Judith Newmark,; Ann Lemons Pollack, stlouiseats.typepadcom;Tanya Seale,; Lynn Venhaus,; Bob Wilcox, Two on theAisle(HEC Media); and Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.Eleanor Mullin, local actress and arts supporter, is the group’s administrator.


For more information, contact stltheatercircle@sbcglobal.netor ‘like’ The St. Louis Theater Circle on Facebook.

“Head Over Heels” Drops 1980’s Pop Rock Into The 16th Century At New Line

March 9, 2020


Girls of the chorus and Grace Langford spin to the music of the Go-Go’s in the New Line Theatre production of “Head Over Heels.” All photos are by Jill Ritter Lindberg

A wild and mind bending mix of cultures delights at New Line Theatre as the recent Broadway smash musical, “Head Over Heels” keeps the audience rocking and laughing. Based on “The Arcadia” by 16th century author Sir Philip Sidney, adapted for the stage by James Magruder, with music from the work of the 1980’s girl band, The Go-Go’s, this makes for a glorious anachronistic romp through the centuries that seems like a well planned mash-up.


Carrie Wenos Priesmeyer as the queen and Zachary Allen Farmer as the king in “Head Over Heels” at New Line Theatre.

King Basilius- a powerful and devious ruler played to the hilt by Zachary Allen Farmer- has decided to deceive his wife with a “white lie” as he hides the truth about the near extinction of their beloved Arcadia and claims that the Oracle of Delphi has commanded them to pack up and move. Farmer has a regal air about him and carries through with his usual flair and ear for the music now matter who he plays on stage. As his Queen, Carrie Wenos Priesmeyer also displays musical chops and has a lot of fun with her role as monarch and mother of two princesses she is trying to marry off.


Grace Langford as Princess Pamela and Jaclyn Amber as Mopsa in the New Line production of “Head Over Heels.”

A lot of intrigue and deceit help drive the plot as one princess can’t find a suitable mate until an unexpected one pops up in the one closest by, her servant. Grace Langford is the suddenly enlightened Princess Pamela and the expressively delightful Jaclyn Amber plays the new love of her life, Mopsa. On the other end of the sibling rivalry is a superb Melissa Felps as Princess Philoclea, as powerful an actress as she is a singer, and the love of her life, the shepherd boy Musidorus played with charm by Clayton Humburg. Playing half the show as a disguised Amazon warrior, he makes am amazing, though hairy legged, female fighter but manages to fool the usual unsuspecting musical comedy principals on stage.


Tielere Cheatem as the outlandish Pythio in “Head Over Heels” at New Line Theatre.

Rounding out the major cast are Aaron Allen as the king’s right hand man, Dametas, who just happens to be the father of Mopsa. He gives a wonderful comedic performance. Then, almost stealing the show with his outlandish female impersonator role of Pythio, the oracle, is Tielere Cheatem who manages to slither his way through several numbers with such skill and suave savvy that he bedazzles us all.


Clayton Humburg as Musidorus (dressed as an Amazon warrior) with Melissa Felps as Princess Philoclea in New Line’s production of “Head Over Heels.”

Special props to the mind boggling choreography by Michelle Sauer and Sara Rae Womack who also are part of the eight person chorus. Not only is the dancing complicated and dazzling, but is executed so well by this talented cast that it really makes you take special notice. Along with that are the colorful and coordinated costumes and wigs by Courtney Gibson and Sarah Porter. A swirl of color and heightened by the sometimes frenetic choreography paints a beautiful stage picture. The Rob Lippert set and lights by Kenneth Zinkl just add to the brilliance of this production.


Aaron Allen as Dametas provides advice to his daughter Mopsa played by Jaclyn Amber in “Head Over Heels” at New Line.

Co-directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor have brought this trippy mix of the 16th and 20th century together in fine fashion with action, comedy and a group of actors who can pull off both with one of the strongest sung shows you’ll ever see or hear. And, of course, a nod to the powerful New Line Band under the direction of Nicolas Valdez who manage to keep up with the incredible nonsense swirling around on stage.


Clayton Humburg as Musidorus and a chorus of sheep sing the plaintive “Mad About You” by the Go-Go’s in “Head Over Heels” at New Line Theatre.

Not to be missed, “Head Over Heels” is one of the best shows you’re likely to see all year (and it’s only March!). Get thee to New Line Theatre between now and March 28th- you won’t forget it and you definitely won’t regret it.


“The Mystery Of Irma Vep” Live At The Rep

February 19, 2020


Estaban Andres Cruz and Tommy Everett Russell vamp it and camp it up in “The Mystery of Irma Vep” at the Rep. Photos: Jeremy Goldmeier

The latest Mainstage production at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is the Charles Ludlum send up of B movies, “The Mystery of Irma Vep,” with the usual twist- two male actors play all eight or so characters allowing for some marvelous and often unbelievable costume changes changing from ladies to men and back again in a whisper. It makes it especially  farcical that one of those actors wears a mustache throughout.


Tommy Everett Russell looms over Estaban Andres Cruz at the Rep’s “The Mystery Of Irma Vep.”

Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III, the fast pace of this classic comedy seemed a bit hindered on opening night by some slow downs due to garbled words (what happened to the overhead mikes?) and some obviously dropped lines. Also, this play relies on silly schtick but this production may have had just a little too much. Case in point is the Egyptian dance that closes the first Act (too long) and then repeating it at the opening of Act Two.


Tommy Everett Russell struts as Lord Edgar’s current wife on stage at the Rep in “The Mystery Of Irma Vep.”

No complaints with the actors- Esteban Andres Cruz as the housemaid, Lord Edgar and several others is the one with the mustache and he is simply incredible. Voice and costume changes are fast and furious. While Tommy Everett Russell is equally adept at changing characters at the drop of a hat (or, in some cases a dress or a pair of pants). These two work wonders on and off stage and, despite some defying suspension of disbelieve, they carry off their characters with aplomb and humor.

“Irma Vep” was presented in the Studio Theatre in the 1992-93 season (yes, I had to look it up) and I remember it as being hilariously funny and so fast paced that I often thought of it as being a one-act. Had to look that up too and the original production was actually a three act play (though I can’t imagine the Studio Theatre had 3 acts). Hard to believe, especially after this one got bogged down a bit from time to time. I’m sure that was something probably unique to opening night and I’m sure they will get back on track as the run continues.


Estaban Andres Cruz screams in pain as he/she is treated roughly by Tommy Everett Russell in “The Mystery Of Irma Vep” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

The clever and eerie set design by Michael Locher was overwhelming but properly menacing, supported ably by Marie Yokoyama’s wonderful lighting plot. The costumes by Sara Ryung Clement were simply amazing and kudos to the voice and dialect coach, Joanna Battles who brought a lot of humor to these guys bringing each character to hilarious life.

So sorry that I’ve had to miss some of the wonderful things Hana S. Sharif has brought to the Rep so far as I’ve been reading some wonderful reviews. Actually, my wife and I finally got ensconced in our handicapped seating area once again- this time with a need for me as well as her.


Estaban Andres Cruz and Tommy Everett Russell wind up in a compromising position in “The Mystery Of Irma Vep” at the Rep.

Good luck to Hana and the entire Rep family for success early on in her first season and we look forward to the announcement of next season on February 27th. Actually they’ve already announced that a new adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” will be making a comeback and is expected to become a yearly fixture once again at the Rep. In the meantime, go see the hilarity of “The Mystery Of Irma Vep” playing at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 8th.

“Man Of La Mancha” Exciting Conclusion To Stages-St. Louis Season

September 14, 2019


Steve Isom as the Governor confronts James Patterson as Quixote in Stages-St. Louis’ production of “Man Of La Mancha.” Photo: Peter Wochniak.

One of the top ten musicals on my personal list, “Man Of La Mancha” has never seen a better production than the one that is currently playing at Stages-St. Louis. Style, bravado  and a dash of comedy unfold as the well known Knight Errant, Don Quixote (really a landowner named Alonzo Quixana), rides on to fight windmills, slay dragons and find a lady worthy of continuing his quest for honor and decency in our world.


James Patterson goes from Alonzo to Don Quixote as he begins to tell the story of the Knight Errant. Photo: Peter Wochniak.

James Patterson is a commanding presence on stage as writer Cervantes who is jailed for foreclosing on a church in his role of tax collector- of course, he’s also a writer, poet and playwright. He then transforms himself on stage to Don Quixote de la Mancha. Mr. Patterson has a lovely, operatic singing voice but manages to bring the powerful music of Mitch Leigh and lyrics of Joe Darion down to a nitty-gritty rendition for most songs and even earns a rare standing ovation for the show’s biggest hit, “The Impossible Dream.” As his Aldonza, the scullery maid who he believes is his virginal lady, Dulcinea, Amanda Robles is impeccable as both singer and actress.


Amanda Robles as Aldonza and Patrick John Moran as Sancho in “Man Of La Mancha” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak.

Quixote’s sidekick is Sancho Panza, played with skill by Patrick John Moran. Comedy timing is his forte and his singing voice rings throughout the theatre- particularly with the comic song, “The Missive.” He’s a treat to watch and listen to.


Julie Hanson, Erik Keiser and Zoe Vonder Haar spill secrets during the Stages-St. Louis production of “Man Of La Mancha.” Photo: Peter Wochniak.

One of the best comical songs occurs when as priest is hearing confessions of two of Alonzo’s close friends as they claim “We’re Only Thinking Of Him” as the priest continues to console with words of forgiveness. Antonia, played by Julie Hanson is engaged to Dr. Carrasco (a commanding presence in the form of Ryan Jesse) and fears that her uncle’s delusional journey as a knight may harm her chances of happiness and a wealthy husband. The Housekeeper, played with panache by  Zoe Vonder Haar, also shows more concern for herself than the Lord of the manor. In the role of the padre, Erik Keiser is a gem- getting to shine in a couple of songs.


The moment in “Man Of La Mancha” at Stages-St. Louis when James Patterson as Quixote explains to Amanda Robles’ Dulcinea why he follows the quest in “The Impossible Dream.” Photo: Peter Wochniak.

Stages-St. Louis favorite, Steve Isom, plays the dual roles of the governor of the prison and as the Innkeeper of the inn that Quixote mistakes as a castle. A chameleon, Mr. Isom brings the same intensity to a role whether it be a lead or a secondary one. He makes them all his own. Another regular at Stages is John Flack who plays the captain of the Inquisition. Also, kudos to Ryan Cooper for bringing a true touch of hilarity to the role of the wandering barber who must surrender his shaving basin to Quixote who mistakes it for a knight’s helmet.


Quixote (James Patterson) threatens the Barber (Ryan Cooper) to hand over the golden helmet, held by Sancho (Patrick John Moran). Photo: Peter Wochniak.

The usual excellent work by the singers and dancers leading the way is something we simply expect from Stages-St. Louis and we always are satisfied. In addition, special high fives to the technical folks who brought us a stunning recreation of the prison and surrounding areas. James Wolk is the scenic designer who makes you feel the chilly atmosphere of a prison while Sean M. Savoie lights the set beautifully. Brad Musgrove’s costumes are right on the mark as well. Michael Hamilton directs and stages while his choreographer is Dana Lewis.


James Patterson as Quixote and Patrick John Moran as Sancho ride of to adventure in “Man Of La Mancha” at Stages-St. Louis. Photo: Peter Wochniak.

You have until October 6th to see this wonderful production of “Man Of La Mancha” so don’t let the time get away from you- order tickets now or find out more information by calling the box office at 314-821-2407. If you have never seen this show- it is an experience and, if you have seen it, you’ve never seen it this good.


Cast Of “The Boy From Oz” Dazzles As Stages-St. Louis Opens New Season

June 8, 2019

boyPeter Allen wrote a few hit songs in his time- mostly in collaboration but he’s best know for marrying Liza Minnelli. That being said, Stages-St. Louis opens their 2019 season with “The Boy From Oz,” a show that features Mr. Allen’s life by using his songs to tell his story. With a talented cast and a flashy theatrical oomph that even Peter Allen would have appreciated, the show succeeds and is probably more enjoyable than watching one of his old night club acts.

The reason behind this success is the brilliant performance of David Elder as Peter Allen. With a charm and stage presence that just doesn’t quit, he razzle-dazzles his way through this sometimes sprightly, sometimes angst-laden score. Mr. Allen’s most successful song was the theme from “Arthur,” “Best That You Can Do,” also known as “Caught Between The Moon And New York City.” This was in collaboration with Christopher Cross, Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sager.

In the show we go all the way back to a little town in Australia where young Peter is dancing for a handout in the local establishments. A delightful Ben Iken played the role the night we saw the show and offered a lot of verve and talent. Later Peter’s life took a dramatic change when he boldly chatted with Judy Garland in a night club in Hong Kong.  They hit it off and he and his singing/dancing partner Chris (a great performance by Erik Keiser) get the opening gig for Judy’s next tour.

Michele Ragusa is a wonderful Judy Garland as she captures the essence of the brilliant star. Her songs, especially “Don’t Wish Too Hard,” truly convince you that Judy is singing. Then there’s Liza, played with all the mixture of timidity and flashes of flair that was a signature for Liza. Caitlyn Caughell works the magic and becomes the driving force in Peter’s life that guides his career for almost a decade. Their touching duet, “I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love,” comes near the close of the first act.

The second act is Peter’s life after he comes out and hooks up with Greg- a wonderful performance from Zach Trimmer. He grounds Peter every bit as much as Liza had and becomes his set and lighting designer and guides his career in a stirring rebirth. Highlighted by a stint with the Rockets at Radio City Music Hall, we hear the great number that became a highlight of the Bob Fosse biopic, “All That Jazz,” “Everything Old Is New Again.” But, as is always the case with Peter, Greg leaves his as well with one of Mr. Allen’s better efforts, “I Honestly Love You.”

When Greg dies of AIDS, Peter returns home to Australia and is greeted by his long suffering and always supportive mother, Marion played by the impressive Corinne Melancon. She has several numbers in the first act but it’s her second act belting of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” that really hits home for both mother and son. Also leading the way with always impressive acting chops is Steve Isom in the dual role of Peter’s abusive father and his agent, Dee Anthony.

To end the dazzling evening of song, costumes (by Brad Musgrove), stunning sets (James Wolk), lights (Sean M. Savoie), musical direction (Lisa Campbell Albert) and inspired choreography of Dana Lewis and the steady hand at the helm of Michael Hamilton, we send an early, heavenly remembrance of Peter Allen in a Busby Berkley style number of his hit, “I Go To Rio.” He died at age 48 of AIDS but left a legacy of work that may not have measured up to some of his musical peers, but certainly made an impact on the world of pop music.

This is a show that you will love just for the sheer joy of spectacle. He led a unique life and made the most of his opportunities. This cast does yeoman work in bringing that life to stage in “The Boy From Oz.” It plays at Stages through June 30th. Contact them at 314-821-2407 for tickets or more information.

Sibling Rivalry On Steroids As “True West” Takes Over STLAS Stage

April 18, 2019


Isaiah Di Lorenzo as Lee towers over William Humphrey as Austin in “True West” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Brothers Lee and Austin are always entertaining gents to visit and this time St. Louis Actors’ Studio is presenting them in Sam Shepard’s “True West.” Could there be any siblings with more dysfunction than these two? Thanks to a top notch cast, this fast moving play delights and shocks us until the final? confrontation.


William Humphrey as Austin tries to work as Isaiah Di Lorenzo as Lee taunts him in the STLAS production of “True West.” Photo: Patrick Huber

Director William Whitaker pulls out all the stops as Lee visits his brother at their mother’s house in Southern California. Mom is vacationing in Alaska and Lee decides he should visit Austin and stir up some old wounds and basically get on his nerves. Austin is in the midst of writing a film script commissioned by an agent, Saul. Lee does everything he can imagine to distract him until Saul finally visits and the brash and charming Lee starts spinning a tale that only a bad agent would love. So Saul dumps Austin’s script and urges Lee to write an outline.


Isaiah Di Lorenzo as Lee stuffs toast in his mouth from the toasters Austin has stolen in “True West” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Verbal and physical abuse begins until the final confrontation in which Austin is afraid that Lee has finally pushed him to the edge. William Humphrey is the mild mannered Austin but the tables suddenly turn when the con man Lee becomes “top dog” in this rivalry. Playing Lee with a lot of panache and uninhibited exuberance is Isaiah Di Lorenzo. He bounces around the stage, hopping on kitchen counters and literally and figuratively getting into Austin’s face. Discussions of the weather in the desert, who’s the better burglar and even who is the better son sets the chaotic relationship into overdrive.


William Roth (r) discusses his decision with William Humphrey as Isaiah Di Lorenzo watches from the background in the STLAS production of “True West.” Photo: Patrick Huber

William Roth plays the lackadaisical Saul who chooses the childish screenplay that he hopes Lee will write over the deep and more philosophical musings of Austin. The brothers’ mom, Susan Kopp, enters in the final scene and it doesn’t take long to see how the brothers became the taunting, selfish young men they’ve become. The entire cast is wonderful but the brothers dominate the evening and they work the audience with a joyous, if often crass, charm.


William Humphrey (l) and Isaiah Di Lorenzo (r) explain what happened to Mom’s (Susan Kopp) house in “True West” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: Patrick Huber

Patrick Huber’s set design is California clutter with a lot of turquoise and, eventually, clutter. Steve Miller’s lights enhance the surroundings and Andrea Robb’s costumes speak to the characters beautifully. Shaun Sheley gets a special nod for his realistic fight choreography particularly in the final scene.


Isaiah Di Lorenzo tries to deal with William Humphrey during the STLAS production of “True West.” Photo: Patrick Huber

If you’ve never seen the brilliant “True West” or any of Sam Shepard’s other equally powerful plays (“Curse Of The Starving Class” and “Buried Child” are considered a perfect trilogy along with “True West”), it’s high time you’ve made the trip to St. Louis Actors’ Studio to see how brilliant this man was. It plays at STLAS through April 28th. Give them a call at 314-458-2978 for tickets or more information.


“Time Stands Still” Explores Relationships And More At New Jewish

April 3, 2019


Wendy Greenwood as Sarah checks out James, played by Ben Nordstrom as he peruses her new book of photographs in the New Jewish Theatre production of “Time Stands Still.”

Set in 2009, the Donald Margulies play, “Time Stands Still” focuses on two couples and the relationships through both friendship and long and short love affairs. Like most of Margulies’ work, the main focus is on those dynamics that cause us to fall in and out of love and maybe even in and out of friendship. New Jewish Theatre has brought us a profound production with a tight knit cast.

James and Sarah have been together for years. She is a photographer who is the quintessential recorder of wartime experiences- mainly in the Middle East. She has been recently wounded by a roadside bomb and is recuperating, on crutches, with her long time lover though there’s a hint that the couple may have been estranged before her recent mishap. James is a journalist who seems to be undergoing writer’s block and has lost his lust for adventure. Therein lies the crux of their spotty relationship- she’s been overseas for some time and he’s content with just staying home now that he has left the war torn countries. She, on the other hand, can’t wait to get healed and go back.

Wendy Greenwood is powerful as Sarah. She is caring and loving but can’t figure out if their relationship can last through the different routes their lives have taken. She seems to be content when James suggested getting married and having a baby, but her love for her profession keeps standing in her way. Ben Nordstrom is a bundle of nerves as James between his concern for Sarah’s safety as she recuperates and his wariness for his best friend (and editor for both of their work) Richard. Besides his insistence on James cracking out a new article by the end of the week, there’s the problem with Richard having hooked up with a “sweet young thing,” Mandy. Both James and Sarah agree at the outset that this just isn’t going to work out well for Richard.

Stage (and New Jewish Theatre) veteran, Jerry Vogel, is full of vim and vigor at his new found youth. He tries to mend some of the hurt that he sees in his old friends but at times seems a bit too giddy over his romantic conquest. As Mandy, Eileen Engel is rock steady. Though coming across as a bit naive to begin with, she soon shows that she can go toe to toe with the “big kids.” This cast of familiar and seasoned actors makes this show click. It’s powerful and heart wrenching and time doesn’t stand still- it seems to fly watching these pros tackle what could be a difficult script to interpret in lesser hands.

Which leads us to the masterful job by director Doug Finlayson who weaves a spell with this story of love, mending both physically and emotionally and friendship that stands the test of time. Scenic designer John Stark has fashioned a small loft apartment in Brooklyn that certainly evokes the period and the people. Michael Sullivan’s lights enhance the production and Michele Siler’s costumes reflect the characters beautifully.


Wendy Greenwood as Sarah and Ben Nordstrom as James in “Time Stands Still” at New Jewish Theatre.

“Time Stands Still” is a thought provoking experience led by a cast that drives through the pains and pleasures of complicated relationships. It plays at New Jewish Theatre through April 14th. Give them a call at 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.



“The Play That Goes Wrong” Goes Hilariously Right As The Rep’s MainStage Season Comes To A Close

March 18, 2019


Michael Keyloun and John Rapson try to get a knocked out Ruth Pferdehirt through a stage window in “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Anyone who has done theatre either as a professional or amateur knows there are some nights where nothing goes right. Perhaps an exit door that won’t open or a major prop that’s missing or, in the case of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” everything is a disaster. Since you’re expecting that from a play with that title, the audience is not only entertained, they are treated to non-stop, out loud laughs that just won’t stop. This is the closing show of the season on the MainStage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Wrong-Charels on chaise

Dennis Tyde and John Rapson attemt to roll the “corpse”, Benjamin Curns, onto a stretcher in the Rep production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Set at a small university drama society production, president of that society as well as director and star of the Agatha Christie style mystery, “The Murder At Haversham Manor,” Chris Bean, has to explain to the audience before the show starts that a few problems may ensue. Those problems are evident even before the speech and the play as things start going wrong as the tech crew come out about ten minutes before curtain to remedy some of those problems. Then all hell breaks loose.


Michael Keyloun appears a bit disturbed at the reaction of Ka-Ling Cheung as the stage manager filling for the leading lady in “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michael Keyloun leads the way as Mr. Bean and, in the play, Inspector Carter. His exasperation combined with many problems attributed to him as well, creates chaos that  never really gets under control. Benjamin Curns as Charles Haversham dies in the opening scene but, as to paraphrase Sally Bowles line in “Cabaret,” he’s the liveliest corpse you’ve ever seen. Among other things, the other actors bump him as he lies “calmly” on a chaise and he just has trouble staying in character and dead. He also makes several unexpected entrances with a blunderbuss throughout the play which all becomes clear in the second act.


Matthew McGloin and Benjamin Curns in the aftermath of their sword fight in the Rep’s production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

To add to the hilarity, Charles’ brother Cecil, Matthew McGloin appears to think he’s in a musical as he  bounces around the stage emphasizing every speech with leg kicks and overreaching hand motions. Of course it doesn’t help that he’s dressed like a 20’s preppie tennis player. Later in the play he appears as Arthur the Gardener and makes no pretense to be anything but the actor playing both roles, even to the point of trying to stick his fake sideburns (which have fallen off) as a mustache on Charles’ intended, Florence Colleymoore. Played with perfect comic timing, Ruth Pferdehirt plays Colleymoore who may have some nefarious hand in Charles’ death- definitely a suspect.


The very much alive “corpse” is pulled onto the second level with much consternation in “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

John Rapson is Thomas Colleymoore, Florence’s brother while Evan Zes plays the loyal family friend and, rounding out the cast are the behind the scenes players who get into the action on stage when Florence gets knocked out- Ryan George as the sound and light technician and Ka-Ling Cheung as the stage manager. Several plants in the audience also help things along from a helper in the pre-opening to folks who start conversations or urge on the action.


Ruth Pferdehirt jumps into the arms of Matthew McGloin during the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis production of “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Director Melissa Rain Anderson has brought slapstick to new heights in providing the main laughs for the evening with falls through windows, knocking down posts so a cantilevered second floor section can trap the “actors” unawares and, as mentioned, even knocking out one of the actresses which leads to an absolutely spectacular scene as actors and stagehands try to get her offstage through a window flat. Timing is everything and it all works beautifully the “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

The wonderful Peter and Margery Spack have provided a set that often goes wrong as well while Lauren T. Roark provides the appropriate costume design and Kirk Bookman’s lights enhance the action. Rusty Wandall provides the sound design and a special bow to the backstage crew that handles the complex machinations to perfection.

Wrong-cheungas Flo

Michael Keyloun, Ka-Ling Cheung and Evan Zes in just one of the hilarious moments in “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Comparisons to “Noises Off” are inevitable but whereas that play featured a lot of things that go wrong, it focuses on the relationships of the actors while “The Play That Goes Wrong” is straight out slapstick and silliness. Both are stellar examples of life behind the footlights but for now, get to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis before this hilarity ends. “The Play That Goes Wrong” runs through April 7th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

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Just a quick word of explanation. Stage Door St. Louis has been dark for almost six months due to my wife’s illness. She is getting stronger every day and was able to attend “The Play That Goes Wrong” with me. Not sure of how my schedule will continue as it’s a day-to-day journey as her caregiver. But I plan to attend the Circle Awards at the end of the month and hopefully get back on a fairly regular schedule of enjoying St. Louis theatre this year. Thanks to everyone for understanding…Steve Allen

Outrageous And Entertaining- “Raging Skillet” Opens New Season At New Jewish Theatre

October 8, 2018


Erin Renee Roberts, Sarajane Alverson and Kathleen Sitzer star in “Raging Skillet” at New Jewish Theatre. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Not only is New Jewish Theatre starting a new season, they are celebrating the first show under new Artistic Director, Edward Coffield. Retired Artistic Director, Kathleen Sitzer has not traveled too far, however, as she is on stage for “Raging Skillet,” a provocative and, for the audience, a tasty new play based on the outrageous career of the real Chef Rossi.

Chef Rossi was actually in the audience on opening night laughing at her own life as portrayed on stage by the remarkable Sarajane Alverson. Rossi was born a Jew (changed her name), became a lesbian and created some of the most inventive recipes ever to come out of Hell’s Kitchen or anywhere else. Her life was colorful no matter how many twists and turns that life took- and there were plenty of them. Playwright Jacques Lamarre presents the play as a cooking demonstration (based on Chef Rossi’s cookbook) as she is holding a press launch for the book.


Eric Renee Roberts and Sarajane Alverson consult the “cook book” during the New Jewish Theatre’s production of “Raging Skillet.” Photo: Eric Woolsey

Ms. Alverson commands the stage and runs the gamut from presenting recipes, cooking and telling stories of her life all presented in an entertaining and creative way for this 90-minute one act. Working for several years in our area on many stages, Sarajane is a marvel at whatever material she tackles. “Raging Skillet” is truly tour de force for her unique talent as she handles the role of the chef as well as she has tackled a ruthless business woman, a femme fatale, an angel of death (or redemption) or any of the myriad number of roles she has mastered in the past. She not only carries the role, she connects with the audience which has a major role in the play as well.

The onstage Chef Rossi is in a constant battle with her late mother who appears and never leaves so the interaction here becomes both divisive and cathartic. Kathleen Sitzer is a perfect Jewish mother heaping praise, guilt and disappointment on the Chef adding a dash of insight into how Rossi has both coped and succeeded in her profession. It’s a great performance that blends well with the sarcasm and angst of the Chef.

Rounding out the cast is Erin Renee Roberts as Skillit- DJ, sous chef and various characters that wander in and out of  Chef Rossi’s memory. With a sassy attitude and witty repartee that matches the Chef, Roberts becomes a delightful partner and foil in this kitchen battle. The use of a fireman type pole to extract Skillit from her DJ post above the stage helps the frenzy and movement as it never stops in “Raging Skillet.” There are also a couple of assistants who aid in handing out goodies to the audience throughout the play.

Director Lee Ann Matthews wraps it all up in a happy package of food, fun and a festive mood. Things rarely slow down and with various recipes being passed out to various section of the audience, you don’t leave hungry (and if you do, the “leftovers” are passed around at the after play meet and greet with the actors). Everyone was treated to Jewish Sangria involving Manischewitz, apple juice and some other ingredients (also non-alcholoic available) and then members of the audience were treated to pizza bagels, snickers krispy bars, barbecued chicken tam tams or, in my case, chocolate covered bacon.


Kathleen Sitzer talks to Chef Rossi (Sarajane Alverson) and her sous chef (Erin Renee Roberts) in “Raging Skillet” at NJT. Photo: Eric Woolsey

Dunsi Dai’s set design is pleasing on the eye and works effectively to keep the play moving. Michael Sullivan’s lights enhance the action and Michele Siler’s costumes are spot on. “Raging Skillet” is a treat on every level. The cast is hard working and simply flawless. Things move quickly and the outrageous and colorful life of Chef Rossi just astounds. See “Raging Skillet” at New Jewish Theatre through October 21st. Call 314-442-3283 for tickets or more information.