Bright Lights Column, dateline March 2

What does March 3 mean to St. Louis’ own Norbert Leo Butz? Who’s on the big screen, little screen and stages everywhere from home? Read on — in our new column “Bright Lights.” This is a people-and-entertainment focused column to highlight who’s who and what’s what in the bi-state region. It will be posted every Tuesday. Today’s is a special preview. Have a tip? Contact Lynn at


Troyer Coultas Receives his BPA

This trio of triple-threat talent grew up right here, won Arts For Life Best Performance Awards for their work in youth productions, earned college degrees in the arts, and are all on current national tours, following their dreams.

Troyer Coultas was home last week, performing in five shows at The Fox Theatre in the national tour of “The Wizard of Oz.” Since October, he has been playing the coroner, Nikko the flying monkey and an Ozian.

He took over AFL’s and the Fox Theatre’s Instagram accounts last Saturday for a look inside the merry old land of Oz.

Troyer won two of AFL’s Best Performance Awards in 2013, for Best Featured Youth Dancer as Phil Davis in “White Christmas” (Young People’s Theatre), and Best Youth Actor in a Leading Role as Fagin in YPT’s production of “Oliver!”

He grew up in Dardenne Prairie, graduated from Timberland High School in Wentzville, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School in May, where he earned a BFA. He moved to NYC soon afterward.

Zach Erhardt

He stopped by his old stomping grounds, Young People’s Theatre, when he was home and spoke to their cast members about touring, auditions and the dedication to learn and fine-tune skills. YPT is coincidentally presenting “The Wizard of Oz” March 16-18.

Making stops at the Fox this spring are Zach Erhardt, now touring as Elder Smith in the ensemble of “The Book of Mormon,” and Yvette Lu, who is a swing in “Hamilton.”

Yvette Lu

Erhardt won AFL’s Best Youth Musical Performance Award in 2014 as Usnavi in COCA’s “In the Heights,” and Lu won Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role as Vanessa in the same production.


They are both Muny vets – he was in “Jesus Christ Superstar” last summer, and she’s been in “Tarzan,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Aida.”

“The Book of  Mormon” is at the Fox May 29 to June 3, while the sold-out “Hamilton” comes to town April 3 – 22.




The locally shot and produced comedy “Bad Grandmas” will have its debut tonight (10:30 p.m., Friday, March 2) on the premium cable channel Showtime.

It stars Florence Henderson, in her final film, along with Pam Grier, Judge Reinhold and Randall Batinkoff, local actresses Susie Wall, Sally Eaton and Jilanne Klaus, and actor David Wassilak.

The plot is thus: Senior citizens Mimi, Bobbi, Virginia and Coralee quietly live out their twilight years in southern Missouri playing cards and baking cakes. Bobbi’s son-in-law, Jim, cons her into losing her house. and Mimi, the unofficial leader of the group, decides to take matters into her own hands. Things spin out of control when she confronts Jim and he accidentally gets killed in the altercation.

Kudos to director-producer Srikant Chellappa, who also wrote the script with Jack Snyder, producer Daniel Byington, the cast and all the local people involved in the shoots in Columbia, Ill., and Fenton.

Florence died Nov. 24, 2016. Jilanne Klaus, of St. Louis, said she was a real sweetheart to work with and a fan favorite on set.

“She was the ultimate professional at all times. She was nice to everyone, just amazing. She would stop whatever she was doing, put on her lipstick, and sign autographs and take photos with everyone,” Jilanne said.

You can read my in-depth feature on the making of the film in the Belleville News-Democrat at this online link:



Cory Finley

John Burroughs School grad Cory Finley will see his movie “Thoroughbreds” open nationwide on March 9. The movie, which is his directorial debut and adapted from his play, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and played at the St. Louis International Film Festival in November.

Olivia Cooke (“Ready Player One,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split,” “The Witch”) play upper-class Connecticut teenagers who rekindle their unlikely friendship, and hatch a plan to solve both of their problems — no matter what the cost. It’s the last film of Anton Yelchin (“Like Crazy,” the “Star Trek” reboot).

Finley, who grew up in Clayton, is based in New York City. Last September, he came back to promote his play, “The Feast” when it was produced at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. With a remarkable flair for dialogue and an understanding of human behavior far beyond his years, his mentor, John Pierson, sang his praises at a couple talk-backs. Pierson chairs the department of speech, theatre and dance at Burroughs.

He is a member of the Obie-winning Youngblood playwrights group at Ensemble Studio Theater, has received a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for playwrighting, and was the inaugural recipient of the Gurney Playwrights Fund for his play, “The Feast,” at The Flea Theater. Check out



St. Louis’ native Sterling K. Brown is hosting “Saturday Night Live” on March 10. Brown, the two-time Emmy winner as Christopher Darden in “The People vs. O. J. Simpson,” and as Randall in “This Is Us,” is currently in the smash hit “The Black Panther.”

Brown, 41, who grew up in Olivette, attended Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School. At Stanford University, he fell in love with acting as a freshman and earned an MFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He’s appeared on stage with Al Pacino and another hometown fave John Goodman. His wife, Ryan Bathe, is also from the ‘Lou.



Take Two Team at AFL Trivia Night

For the past nine years, Arts For Life has revealed nominations to its annual Best Performance Awards during a winter Trivia Night. This year, 44 teams attended the Mardi Gras-themed event on Feb. 17. Eight people affiliated with Take Two Productions won first, with 93 points. Congratulations to Jon Hey, Ann Hier, Kent Coffel, Stephanie Merritt, Danny Brown, Nate Jackson, Brandon Atkins and Robert Doyle.

Bailey Lance of New Athens, who performs with Open House Theatre, won the Mardi Gras costume contest, and a group from Alfresco Productions won the table decoration contest: Camille Fensterman, Mike Hodges, Jason Blackburn, Jennelle Gilreath, Kevin Williams Gardner, Aaron Kamphoefner, Vanessa Simpson and Cole Gutmann.

The 19-year-old regional non-profit arts group honors achievements in musical theater at the Best Performance Awards, with winners announced in 33 categories. The Theatre Mask Awards started three years ago, will present honors in plays in 18 categories.

This year’s TMA ceremony will take place on Saturday, April 7, with a brunch at the Atrium Center, Paul F. Detrick Building, on the campus of Christian Hospital, beginning at 10:30 a.m. KLOU radio personality – and AFL winner — Vic Porcelli is the emcee. Sam Hack of the Clayton Community Theatre will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The BPAs are set for Sunday, June 10, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Chaminade. Three-time host Ryan Cooper returns. He’ll be seen in Stages St. Louis’ “Madagascar” this summer. Steve Woolf, the retiring artistic director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

You can find out more – and see a list of all nominees — by visiting

Table Decor winners



Congratulations to Eric Pugh, former marketing director at Stages St. Louis, who recently became the marketing director at the Cleveland Play House. He had previously been at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pa.

Kudos to local actors Russ and Leigh Reidelberger, Belleville West Speech and Acting Team coaches, on their third-place finish at the IHSA State Speech Tournament Feb. 17, the highest achievement yet for the team. McKenzie Slack was the state champion in oratorical declamation and the Performance in the Round team placed second. Adam Jenkins and Julie Schloesser are also coaches. The Reidelbergers recently played Andrew and Rachel Jackson in Looking Glass Playhouse’s “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”



Meadow Nguy

Meadow Nguy recently wrapped up filming a small speaking role in “The Artist’s Wife,” an indie starring Lena Olin and Bruce Dern, which was shot in NYC. She played Melanie, an art student.

Meadow, formerly of O’Fallon, Ill., had a three-line speaking part, before she was poisoned, on the Jan. 10 episode of NBC’s “Blacklist.”

Last fall, she made her off-Broadway debut as the title character in a children’s musical called “Interstellar Cinderella,” which ran Nov. 18 –  Dec. 17 at The Beckett Theatre, produced by the New York Children’s Theatre.

Meadow won the Illinois State Musical Theater Award in 2012 and competed in Broadway’s Jimmy Awards. Locally, she starred in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound” in 2015 and “Spring Awakening” in 2012. She graduated from University of Indiana’s musical theater program last May and moved to NYC in September.




“If you had seen me in our school’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ you would know that nobody would pay me to act for anything.” – Cameron Kasky, one of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting survivors and organizer of #neveragain, commenting on the smear campaign that he was a “crisis actor.”


Joe O’Connor as King Henry II in CCT’s “The Lion in Winter”


We are sorry to hear of the passing of Joe O’Connor, an integral part of Clayton Community Theatre and a beloved member of the local theater community.

An accomplished actor and director, he received Theater Mask Award nominations for directing “The Skin of Our Teeth” and acting in “Born Yesterday” and “The Lion in Winter.” He was in the recent “Bus Stop” and was in the process of directing “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

He also performed with the Alpha Players of Florissant, Act Two in St. Peters, and the Theater Guild of Webster Groves.

Joe, 62, grew up in Jersey City, N.J., and graduated from Seton Hall University and The Drama Studio of London. He died Feb. 26.

Services are Saturday, March 3, at 11 a.m. at Holy Trinity Catholic Parish, 3500 St. Luke Ln, St. Ann.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are appreciated to the Clayton Community Theatre, P.O. Box 50035, Clayton, MO 63105.

Condolences to his family and many friends.



March 3 is a very special day in the career of St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz, a graduate of Bishop Dubourg High School and the Conservatory at Webster University.

He opened off-Broadway on March 3, 2002, as Jamie in Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years,” and on March 3, 2005, he opened in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which was the first of his two Tony Award-winning performances. He played Freddy, the goofball con artist, co-starring with John Lithgow, Joanna Gleason, Sherie Rene Scott (also in “Last Five Years”) and Gregory Jbara.

Those are two of his most acclaimed roles, and he has amassed some impressive credentials – taking over for Adam Pascal as Roger in “Rent” in 1997, the original Fyero in “Wicked” in 2003 and as Carl Hanratty in “Catch Me If You Can” (second Best Actor Tony).

This month, he will start previews for the big splashy revival of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” that the Lincoln Center Theater team is bringing to Broadway – the people behind those fantastic reboots of “South Pacific” and “The King and I.” Bartlett Sher directs, and the show officially opens April 19.

Norbie is playing the colorful Alfred B. Doolittle. Can’t you just see his “I’m Getting Married in the Morning”? The cast includes Lauren Ambrose as Eliza, Harry Hadden-Paton as Henry Higgins and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Higgins.

If you haven’t seen his TV or film roles, I recommend the Netflix series “Bloodline,” which he was in in 2015, and the highly under-rated 2007 holiday family comedy-drama-romance movie “Dan in Real Life,” as a brother to Steve Carell and Dane Cook. Of course, he did a couple “Law and Order” episodes, among other TV appearances. Most recently, he appeared in “Mercy Street,” a PBS Civil War-era medical drama series.




Pasek and Paul


So just who were the first two back-to-back Best Song winners?

Composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer won for “Moon River” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961 and the next year for “Days of Wine and Roses.”

In 1991, composer Alan Menken won for “Beauty and the Beast,” along with the late lyricist Howard Ashman, and then the next year for “A Whole New World” from “Aladdin,” along with lyricist Tim Rice.

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