Commentary: St. Louis theater offers something for everyone | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: St. Louis theater offers something for everyone

Dec 7, 2018

Nancy Kranzberg

St. Louis is blessed with many fine theaters both large and small, professional and community. They are housed and performed everywhere from church basements to store fronts to glorious palaces like the Fox. Some have been around for ages and some are just starting up. Theater abounds all over town and is growing stronger every day in our region and across both rivers.

The Muny just completed its 100th season and The Rep is introducing its new artistic director, Hana Sharif, whose multi-faceted theatre career includes roles as an artistic leader, director, playwright and producer. Also among the well-known larger groups is The Black Rep, led by the incredible Ron Himes and Fox Associates which produces Broadway plays that win Tony Awards and gives us the power to get the best Broadway shows right here in St. Louis. And we can't forget Stages which produces musicals in Kirkwood and will soon be moving to a beautiful new theater in downtown Kirkwood.

We can also boast across the region about smaller, but vital groups such as The New Jewish Theatre with new artistic director and producer Edward Coffield who has directed sixteen productions, not only at The New Jewish Theatre, but at Stray Dog Theatre and Insight Theatre Company, and it was recently announced that Peter Mayer will be the managing director of Upstream Theater working closely with Artistic Director Philip Boehm. Since 2005, Upstream Theater has produced over two dozen US or world premieres by leading playwrights from nearly 20 countries.

And let’s not forget our outstanding community theater groups such as The Alton Little Theater, The Hawthorne Players of Florissant and the tried and true Kirkwood Theater Guild. There many other community groups that are too numerous to mention.

These groups cover the gamut from the light hearted to the not so light hearted, from musicals to drama, both comedic and serious. New venues are always popping up such as The Marcelle in Grand Center which houses Scott Miller's New Line Theatre, an alternative musical theater company producing challenging, adult, politically and socially relevant works of musical theater. And the .Zack arts incubator houses over 25 performing arts groups which include dozens of theatrical groups, some that have been around for quite a while such as Insight Theatre, and newer groups such as Tesseract Theatre Company which provides local playwrights the chance to have their work be part of dramatic readings, possibly leading to a full production slot in an upcoming season.

The .Zack also houses the offices and stage for the Tennessee Williams Festival and the St. Lou Fringe Festival. The theatrical groups share costume and set shops and have a wonderful network of collaboration.

Children's theater also flourishes in our town with groups such as Metro Theater Company which presents its productions at the recently renovated Grandel Theater. Ignite Theater is another children's theater which has performances at the .Zack.

Other tried and true theater groups include The St. Louis Actor's Studio which brings a fresh vision to theater in St. Louis. Housed in the historic Gaslight Square area of the Central West End, it provides a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. Gary Bell of Stray Dog Theater says theater must reflect the human experience by bringing social awareness to universal social issues. Stray Dog is located in the beautiful Tower Grove Abbey.

Max and Louie Productions performs in different locations all over town and a couple of years ago, I saw their production of "Grey Gardens" which I thought was better than the Broadway production.

Our great city is right on the mark with theater. High quality actors seem to be staying in St. Louis, the subject matter of theater seems to be getting more socially conscious, and the actors and audience as well seem to be getting more diverse, reflecting life as it is.

Lana Pepper, the original founding manager of our wonderful Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park says The St. Louis Theater Circle Awards have brought such attention to theater in St. Louis that it is easy to call a friend and say how about dinner and a play? There is something going on almost every night. So whether you are up for a giggle or ready to shed some tears, or feel like seeing something outrageous or tried and true, there is something for everyone in a theater in our great town.


Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.