Bright Lights Column: Ready for Their Close-Ups

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION!: This is the time of year where local actors can see themselves on the big screen, for its the 18th annual St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.

A record 106 films – 5 documentary features, 21 documentary shorts, 11 experimental shorts, 4 narrative features, 64 narrative shorts and 1 music video — were selected by Cinema St. Louis.

The writers, directors, producers or editors all must have a local connection – either live in the St. Louis metropolitan area now or be from here. The filmmakers ranged in age from 12 to 84 this year, including more than a dozen teenagers.

This year’s venue is Washington University’s Brown Hall Auditorium. The line-up concludes this weekend. Many shorts are on the program, as are a couple feature-length films.

Sunday afternoon July 22 will have these two:

“An American Tragedy”: Jeffrey Ferguson was executed March 26, 2014, for a murder he committed in St. Charles. His last wish was for the victim’s family forgive him. Documentary filmmaker Lisa Boyd brings us the story of his lengthy and painful road to redemption.

“Daniel Lord, S.J.”: The Restless Flame: Jesuit priest Daniel Lord, a St. Louisan, was one of the most influential American religious figures of the 20th century. He wrote 230 pamphlets and 70 plays and musicals. Lord also co-wrote the controversial Motion Picture Production Code, the self-censorship rules to which the studios adhered from 1930-68.

Photo: “Tuesday Night and Wednesday Morning”

Cinema St. Louis will announce award winners and what films have been selected for the St. Louis International Film Festival at its Awards Party Sunday starting at 8 p.m. in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. People will be carded for wristbands.

I’ve been on a jury panel since 2009, either narrative or documentary, and enjoy it immensely. I often recognize stage actors who take on celluloid roles. We do award Best Actor and Best Actress. Possible inclusion of supporting categories is under consideration for next year. Stay tuned…

This year, my colleagues Tom Stockman, Wyatt Weed, Peter Carlos, Andrew Millians and I watched four features and 64 shorts as narrative judges. Our pow-wows for awards is always scintillating – and interesting to hear different perspectives and reactions.

St. Louis is fortunate to have some inspired and creative talent at work in film, plus its neighborhoods have wonderful production values for the screen.

For more information or to see the line-up, visit

CENTENNIAL CHRONICLE: If you missed it at the Showcase July 15, or when Fox 2 (KTVI) broadcast it Fourth of July, HEC-TV’s latest documentary, “The Best of Us: 100 Seasons of Muny Magic,” will be shown Saturdays at 7 p.m., beginning Aug. 4 , on HEC-TV ((Charter 989 and U-Verse 99).

In 54 minutes, veteran director Kathy Bratkowski chronicles the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre through its 100-year history.

“The Best of Us” pays tribute to the world-renowned institution on their significant anniversary. Featuring dozens of interviews with actors, performers, craftspeople, and audience members and providing rare glimpses backstage, the film demonstrates why The Muny is a place like no other.

It’s the largest outdoor theatre in the country, staging original productions of Broadway musicals in record time. It’s a theatre where everyone is welcome, with thousands of free seats available at every performance.

“At a time when so much of the world seems at odds, ‘The Best of Us: 100 Seasons of Muny Magic’ shows us how great art—in this case, great musical theatre under the stars—brings a community together as one,” stated HEC in its promos.

Follow HECTV on Facebook or visit the website for news of future public screenings. To see photos, read the blog, and watch never-before-seen Muny stories, go to!

To watch the trailer, go to:


OH WHAT A NIGHT! OR TWO: Talk about singin’ in the rain! The Muny’s first rainout of its historical centennial season took place during the Saturday, July 14, performance of the world regional premiere of “Jersey Boys.” Mother Nature did not stop Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, for the actors Mark Ballas (Frankie), Keith Hines (Nick), Nicolas Dromard (Tommy) and Bobby Conte Thornton (Bob) treated those left in the seats to an a capella version of “Sherry” before bidding good night.

Here’s the video:

And then at Sunday’s curtain call, songwriting legend and keyboardist Bob Gaudio, the youngest of the Four Seasons, was introduced to thunderous applause. He praised the production.

Here’s the video:

Photo: Bob Gaudio and Bobby Conte Thornton, who played him at the Muny.



DYNAMIC DUO: Note to Hollywood. Someone please cast Will Bonfiglio and Pete Winfrey in the next buddy comedy, stat! Their interactions as bon vivants Algernon and John in Insight Theatre Company’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” are a joy to behold, and their chemistry and comic timing is noteworthy. With a cheeky Monty Pythonite vibe, this couple of swells recalled Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari in “Bosom Buddies,” Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry in “Friends,” and Jack Klugman and Tony Randall in “The Odd Couple.” Hope they work together again.

EMMY HONORS: St. Louis will be well-represented at this year’s Emmy Awards Sept. 17, for several local fan favorites who call the metro area home are nominees. Last year’s Best Actor in a Drama winner, Sterling K. Brown, is again nominated as Randall in “This Is Us” and for a comedic turn guest-starring on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

Laurie Metcalf, who grew up in Edwardsville, Ill., is the sole nomination for the “Roseanne” reboot. She previously won three Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1992-1994) as Jackie, and recently won her second Tony Award, as Best Featured Actress in a Play, for Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women.”
Although Ellie Kemper did not get a nod for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, after two nominations, her show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” did for series.

TEEN TALENT: Maggie Kuntz, who played Dolly in Cor Jesu Academy’s production of “Hello, Dolly!,” and Liam Dean, who played Seymour in the Whitfield School’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” represented St. Louis at the Jimmy Awards/National High School Musical Theater Awards on June 25 at the Minskoff Theatre in New York City.

They were named Outstanding Lead Actress and Outstanding Lead Actor at the second annual St. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards June 10, which is sponsored by the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation.

Although they did not win, they experienced a week in New York City, participated in group numbers with all the state winners, and had their individual moments. See the Jimmys opening number here:

Photo: Liam and Maggie shown with emcee Ken Page at the St.. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards


LONDON CALLING: Did you hear the one about the Tony-winning composer and the ex-patriate local actor who met at a press night for “Urinetown” in London and discovered they both went to the same high school (Belleville East!)?

That’s just one of the tidbits Aaron Lee Lambert, formerly of Swansea, Ill., shares in the feature article I wrote about him in the Belleville News-Democrat. Aaron is currently the standby in the London production of “Hamilton” for George Washington, King George and Hercules Mulligan. Here is the story:

Aaron, as George Washington in “Hamilton,” and cover photo, Aaron as King George. He is a standby for those roles in the London West End company of “Hamilton.”


SHOUT-OUTS: Congratulations to regional actress Larissa White, who was selected for the Summer Intensive Acting Workshop at Steppenwolf West. She’s in Los Angeles for three weeks, learning in a workshop format, with instructors Tom Irwin and Jeff Perry of the legendary Chicago theater group.

Larissa, 2018 St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy (Mairead in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” Theatre Macabre), can often be seen in New Line Theatre musicals and local films. She recently starred in “Yeast Nation” and was one of Reno’s Angels in “Anything Goes.” In this year’s St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase, she was a supporting character in “Mother of Calamity” and “Strings.”


Best wishes to Judy Newmark, who has retired as theater critic from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after 46 years at the newspaper, 20 writing about theater. Next roles: Grandmother and freelance writer. She remains in the St. Louis Theater Circle, which she founded in 2012, and anticipates freelancing. My St. Louis Film Critics Association colleague Calvin Wilson, longtime Post staffer and recent movie critic, has taken over theater and dance.

(Photo: Judy and yours truly at this year’s St. Louis Theater Circle Awards — Judy is the founder and I’m a founding member)

Way to go! World-renowned soprano Christine Brewer, who lives in Lebanon, Ill., but travels the world, will spend part of next summer here in the ‘Lou. She is starring as Mother Abbess in Union Avenue Opera’s “The Sound of Music” – just announced for Season 25. She played the role in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production in 2014. Christine appeared in “Albert Herring” last season and in “Doubt” two summers ago.


STAR-SPANGLED SPLENDOR: Lots o’ perky talent showcased in Independence Day’s “America’s Birthday Parade” that returned to downtown St. Louis Fourth of July! Clydesdales, Batman, Spirit of St. Louis replica and a star-spangled Market Street — and lots o’ red, white and blue from 20th Street to Broadway.

Violinist Abigail Stahlschmidt of St. Charles was impressive as the Fair’s guest artist and played a swell National Anthem (KMOV’s Kent Ehrhardt described her rendition as both “Tchaikovsky and Jimi Hendrix”). She appeared in the big opening with the kids,and has been playing the violin since age 4. Remember that name.

Muny CEO Denny Reagan was the honorary grand marshal. He’s worked at the Muny for half of its centennial, starting out picking up trash as a teenager for a part-time summer job.


TRIVIA TIME-OUT: Can it be four years ago already that St. Louisan James Gunn’s “The Guardians of the Galaxy” premiered on July 21? That Marvel blockbuster put writer-director Gunn, who had been making films since he was 12, on the map. A graduate of St. Louis University High School and Saint Louis University, he earned an MFA in creative writing at Columbia University, and began working at Troma Studios, the B-movie production company. His first script was “Tromeo and Juliet” in 1996. What was the first movie he directed?

ANSWER: “Slither” (2006), a horror movie that featured his former wife, Jenna Fischer, also a . Louis native.

(Breaking News: This was written before Gunn was fired Friday by Disney from “The Guardians of the Galaxy 3” over a years-ago tweet storm, Read the story in The Hollywood Reporter here:

SUPER TROUPERS: Dancing queens, unite! The ABBA train continues to roll. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” movie prequel-sequel arrived in theaters Friday, July 20. Haters won’t go, but if you love it, you will have a good time. Here is my review in the Times newspapers:

Stages St. Louis opens the stage musical phenomenon “Mamma Mia!” July 20 and continues through Aug. 19. Associate Producer Andrew Kuhlman said it may be Stages’ biggest advance sales yet in single tickets, and there are already 18 sold-out shows.

Corinne Melancon is playing Donna, and played all of the Dynamos during her 11-year stint in the Broadway production.

Fun Fact: When it was on national tours, “Mamma Mia!” played the Fox Theatre in St. Louis more than any other city. Its farewell tour, after 15 years on the road, concluded there last summer. The Broadway show closed in 2014, becoming the eighth longest-running in history.

GO SEE A PLAY POLL: In honor of gal pals, our poll this week focuses on female BFFs. What is your favorite musical about girlfriends?

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”
“Mamma Mia!”
“Nine to Five”

The winner will receive two tickets for Friday, Sept. 7, to “Evita,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical masterpiece about an iconic woman, which opens the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ 52nd season. Thank you, Rep!

Please submit your musical pick by 5 p.m. July 28, via email to: Please include your name and telephone number. Winner will be notified July 29.

The June 27 poll was won by Kay Love, who enjoyed “End of the Rainbow” at its final matinee July 1. Thank you, Max and Louie Productions. “A Star is Born” edged out “The Wizard of Oz” for favorite Judy Garland movie in the poll.

WORD:  Arrested development, 19th century-style:
Jack: How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

Jack: I say it’s perfectly heartless you’re eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

Algernon: When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins. [Rising]

Jack: [Rising] Well, that is no reason why you should eat them all in that greedy way. [Takes muffins from Algernon.]

Algernon: [Offering tea-cake] I wish you would have tea-cake instead. I don’t like tea-cake.

  • “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde, Act II, 1895


MEMORY LANE: Bert Convy, who created two iconic stage characters on Broadway and was a versatile star on TV and in movies, was born in St. Louis on July 23, 1933, and died at age 57 in 1991.

He was the original Perchik in “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1964 and Clifford Bradshaw in “Cabaret” in 1966, among other roles through the years. A popular guest star on TV and panelist on game shows in the 1960s and 1970s, his credits include “77 Sunset Strip,” “Match Game” and host of “Tattletales.” He formed a production company with Burt Reynolds, called “Burt and Bert Productions,” and was featured in “Semi-Tough” and “The Cannonball Run.”

In St. Louis, he played Joe Hardy in “Damn Yankees” at the Muny. He is seen here in the photo with Shirley Jones.

A relative, Tim Convy, is on Y98’s “Courtney and Company” morning show by day, and a stand-up comedian at night.

Have any news or tidbits for the column? Contact Managing Editor Lynn Venhaus at Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *