Bright Lights: Wicked Awesome

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
GREEN DAY: We have been changed for good by the cultural phenomenon “Wicked,” which has broken records in St. Louis and is still “Popular” around the world after opening on Oct. 30, 2003 on Broadway.

To commemorate the musical’s 15th anniversary, NBC will air a tribute concert on Monday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m. (CST).

“A Very Wicked Halloween” was recorded live Oct. 16 at the Marquis Theatre, hosted by the original Elphaba and Glinda, Idina Menzel and Kristen Chenoweth.

The celebration will feature Pentatonix, Ariana Grande and Ledisi. Adam Lambert will join them, and he is certainly not mourning the wicked. He left the Los Angeles cast after making “American Idol,” and from 2005 to 2008, had been in the ensemble and understudy for Fiyero, and on a national tour.

The current Broadway cast will also make an appearance.

This spellbinding untold story about the Witches of Oz is now the sixth longest-running musical in Broadway history, having surpassed “A Chorus Line” on July 12 with its 6,128th performance.

Since its debut, “Wicked” has broken box office records around the world. St. Louis is one of the cities where “Wicked” currently holds the weekly-gross-takings records, along with Los Angeles, Chicago and London.

It has played the Fox Theatre five times since 2005, selling out and each week broke box office records. The national tours stopped here in 2005, 2007, June 2010, for four weeks Dec. 12, 2012 – Jan. 6, 2013, and for four weeks in Dec. 9, 2015 to Jan. 5, 2016. Another tour is under way but St. Louis isn’t listed – as yet.

St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz originated Fiyero in “Wicked.”

The original Broadway cast featured St. Louisan Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero. The Bishop DuBourg and Webster U. Conservatory grad played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero twice, from Oct. 8 to Nov. 23, 2003, and from Jan. 20 to July 18, 2004. He met his second wife, Michelle Federer, during the production – she played Nessarose, and they were married in 2007.

Norbie, the seventh of 11 children born to Elaine and Norbert A. Butz, went on to win two Tony Awards, for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Catch Me If You Can.” He is planning to leave his Tony-nominated role as Alfred P. Doolittle in the Lincoln Center revival of “My Fair Lady” on Jan. 6, 2019.

Composer Stephen Schwartz told Playbill why he cast him.

“I’ve wanted to work with Norbert since I saw him in ‘Thou Shalt Not’ and particularly in ‘The Last Five Years.’ He’s a lyricist’s dream. In ‘Wicked,’ I wrote ‘Dancing Through Life’ especially for him to take advantage of both his voice and charisma.”

In July 2017, “Wicked” surpassed “The Phantom of the Opera” as Broadway’s second-highest grossing show, trailing only “The Lion King.”

Based on the best-selling 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked” has won more than 100 international awards, including three Tony Awards and a Grammy.

The TV special isn’t the only way “Wicked” is celebrating its milestone – Ben and Jerry’s locations in Times Square and Rockefeller Center will sell special ice cream sand-Witches beginning Oct. 26. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the National School Climate Center’s BullyBust campaign.

The NBC Studios Store has an Ozmopolitan apparel display. And a special “Wicked” cupcake, baked by Melissa, is available online and at all 14 store locations through the rest of October. A portion of the cupcake proceeds with benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and A BroaderWay.

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GET REEL: Native sons and daughters can bask in the klieg lights in the ‘Lou during the 27th annual St. Louis International Film Festival, which will screen a record 414 films from 63 countries Nov. 1 through Nov. 11 at nine venues.

John Goodman

John Goodman, one of St. Louis’ favorite sons, will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. That program and a screening of “The Big Lebowski” on Nov. 2 are already sold out. Goodman, who grew up in Affton, has enjoyed a long career – in movies, on TV and on stage. He is part of the “Roseanne” reboot called “The Conners,” along with former Edwardsville resident Laurie Metcalf, who plays his sister-in-law Jackie. The TV   sitcom began Oct. 16 on ABC and can be seen at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Yours truly is hosting a special event film. The fest is celebrating the Golden Anniversaries of several influential films that came out in 1968: “Bullitt,” “Medium Cool,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Pretty Poison.”

Anthony Perkins, Tuesday Weld in “Pretty Poison”

I will introduce “Pretty Poison” and lead the post-show discussion after the free screening on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 11 a.m. at the St. Louis Public Library central headquarters downtown on Olive. The film is sponsored by the St. Louis Film Critics Association.

This underrated film noir-like thriller starred Anthony Perkins and Tuesday Weld, and has gained new appreciation as a cult gem, its influence noted in Terence Malick’s “Badlands” and Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade.” Think “Gun Crazy” meets “Lolita.” Mix in conspiracy theories, passion, greed and fantasy. With its inspired casting, it’s a strange and wonderful film about a teenage arsonist who is paroled, becomes smitten with a young femme fatale, and dangerous plans are put into play.

For a complete schedule or for more information, www.cinemastlouis.org For the trailer by Sleepy Kitty Arts (you rock Paige Brubeck and Evan Sult), watch this: https://youtu.be/UTm2PZJng_0

I was fortunate to be the moderator of a Q&A session after a sold-out screening of “Beautiful Boy” Sunday at the Hi-Pointe, with writer Nic Sheff, whose story is the film, and star Timothee Chalamet, whose fans started lining up at 8 a.m. for the 11 a.m. screening. St, Louis was one of four stops the Oscar-nominated Chalamet did over the weekend; Nic Sheff is appearing at over 10 locations.

Lynn Venhaus, Timothee Chalamet, Nic Sheff at “Beautiful Boy” Q&A. Photo by Kevin Brackett.

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APPLAUSE FOR: Congratulations to Kathleen Sitzer on her honor from the Alliance for Jewish Theatre, an International organization dedicated to promoting the creation, presentation, and preservation of theatrical endeavors by, for, and about the Jewish experience.

She is seen here with honoree Tovah Feldshuh at the recent Alliance for Jewish Theatre annual conference in Philadelphia. Feldshuh’s one-woman show, “Golda’s Balcony,” is the longest running in Broadway history. She received the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre.

Kathleen, the recently retired Founding Artistic Director of New Jewish Theatre, was recognized for her years of service and dedication to the concept of Jewish Theatre.

In addition to Sitzer, the conference will honor actress Tovah Feldshuh with the Theodore Bikel Award for Excellence in Jewish Theatre. Her one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” was the longest running in Broadway history.

The conference provides an opportunity for theatre artists and organizations to network and learn from each other through a variety of workshops, panel discussions and performances. It is hosted annually by a member theatre. This year’s conference in Philadelphia is hosted by Theatre Ariel. New Jewish Theatre hosted the conference two years ago in 2016 and also in 2002.

For more information, visit: www.alljewishtheatre.org.

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AROUND TOWN: Sarajane Alverson, who played Chef Rossi in the autobiographical “The Raging Skillet” at the New Jewish Theatre, was able to meet the real-life inspiration when she came to St. Louis for the play’s premiere.

Sarajane Alverson, Chef Rossi

Here is a photo of the two from their appearance on a Fox 2 news segment. Photo courtesy of Aemi Tucker. Sarajane made it through three weeks of performances without a knife injury!

Country singer Alexandra Kay of Waterloo, Ill.

Let’s hear it for country singer Alexandra Kay, aka Lexi Krekorian from Waterloo, Ill., who is among the nine people on Netflix’s new “Westside” that premieres Nov. 9. (I have an in-depth feature article that will be published in the Belleville News-Democrat soon).

Mark Saunders isn’t trying out his Halloween costume — he began the national tour of “Something Rotten!” last month and revealed his character Brother Jeremiah’s look.

His show will be in Champaign, Ill., on Monday, Oct. 29, for a one-night performance at 7:30 p.m. at the State Farm Center (University of Illinois). It’s a 2-hour, 43-minute drive from St. Louis. For more information, visit www.rottenbroadway.com.

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AMERICAN IDOL: Interesting in auditioning for the next season of “American Idol” on ABC? Online audition videos are being accepted now through Nov. 5. You must be at least 15 years old to submit a video for consideration. You’ll be notified by Nov. 19 if you made the cut.
More information can be found here: https://fmna.etribez.com/ag/fmna/ai2abc/welcome.html
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BOOK SHELF: St. Louis native Ellie Kemper, a John Burroughs graduate, has published a collection of uplifting essays called “My Squirrel Days.” Her Oct. 13 book signing at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters was sold out.

The comic actress, known for “The Office” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has written about her journey from Midwestern naif to Hollywood.

Can’t get enough of Tony winner “Dear Evan Hansen”? The smash-hit has been turned into a young adult novel by Val Emmich and published on Oct. 9 by Little Brown. T

o promote the book, show composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul went on a 10-city bus tour with musical book writer Steven Levenson and author Emmich. Fellow Michigan alumnus Darren Criss joined them in Ann Arbor, and Tony winner and late-night host James Corden sang “Waving through the Window” at an L.A. bookstore.

A new deluxe album, including cut songs along with the original Broadway cast recording, is now available through Atlantic Records.
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LIFE IS ART – SAVE THE DATE: Who will be nominated for their work in 2018 St. Louis metropolitan area community theater – in musicals (Best Performance Awards) and plays (Theatre Mask Awards)?

Winners will be revealed at the annual Arts For Life Trivia Night, now set for Saturday, Feb. 1 at St. Joseph’s parish hall in Manchester. Ryan Cooper returns as the emcee.

Our theme this year is “That ‘70s Trivia” – you can decorate your table and dress accordingly (costumes optional) – but questions are a variety related to the category titles (announcing the show nominees).

AFL awards excellence in large and small ensemble musicals, dramas and comedies, and youth musical productions. The TMAs will take place on Saturday, April 6, at and the BPAs on Sunday, June 9, at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade.

Boogie the night away with AFL! Enjoy 10 rounds featuring a variety of trivia, silent auction, raffles, table decoration contest, “STL Theatre Sampler” ticket raffle, attendance prizes, and more.

New this year – VIP Tables – $200/8 people. VIP Tables include snacks, soda/water, prime seating, and a dedicated runner.  Reserve your table today! $160/8 people

For more information, visit AFL’s Facebook page or website, www.artsforlife.org.
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THEATRE RECOGNITION GUILD: Interested in scoring community theater and youth production musicals during the calendar year 2019? From now through Nov. 15, you can apply to be an AFL judge in what’s called the Theatre Recognition Guild. It’s the branch of AFL that judges musical theater for the Best Performance Awards given in 33 categories every June.

This is the only time during the year that you can apply. The online application is available here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2019trgapplication

You will be notified in December if you have been selected. Between 50 and 60 volunteers are judges, and 10-12 judges are assigned to score each eligible show for about 25 groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area.

Judges are required to attend shows throughout the bi-state region. There is no monetary compensation – it is all volunteer. If you judge 8 shows, you receive a free ticket to the BPAs. In 2018, TRG will have judged a total 48 shows (21 large ensemble, 7 small ensemble and 20 youth).

If you have any questions, please contact me, the TRG Chairman on the AFL Board of Directors since 2010, at lynnvenhaus@gmail.com

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GO SEE A PLAY POLL: Artistic Director Kelly Hummert whipped us into a frenzy for months trying to figure out clues as to what Shakespeare play would be the next Immersive Theatre Project by her Rebel and Misfits Productions.

She recently revealed it’s “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows” which opened Oct. 24 and runs through Nov. 10, Wednesday through Saturday.

Sean Michael Higgins, Kelly Hummert in “Macbeth: Come Like Shadows”

You can be there, too. Rebel and Misfits is offering 2 tickets to a performance for our current giveaway. All you do is answer our poll below – we’re asking about your favorite mystery play because Kelly was so mysterious about her show.

Send your pick, along with your name and phone number, to lynnvenhaus@gmail.com by noon on Tuesday, Oct. 30. A winner will be selected from the entries, we’ll announce the name, and get the lucky pair set up for this yet-to-b-revealed enticing fall premiere.

FAVORITE MYSTERY PLAY (make selection to enter the drawing):

Deathtrap
Dial M for Murder
The Mousetrap
Night Must Fall
Sleuth
Wait Until Dark

Send your choice by noon Tuesday, Oct. 30, to enter the drawing to: lynnvenhaus@gmail.com.

WORD: “Movies will make you famous, television will make you rich, but theatre will make you good.” – Terrence Mann
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