The Performance Low Down: Joan Lipkin’s Pride Summer Theater Guide

Fox Theatre

The Fox is set to bring MJ and Hamilton to St. Louis this summer. (Photo via Flickr/Paul Sableman)

The St. Louis theater season is exploding with juicy nuggets this summer. Let’s start with the big guys and try to do some of this chronologically so we can get things on our calendars. But since everything isn’t about size, seriously, I will cover some smaller companies who also have cool things coming up. —Joan Lipkin

The Fabulous Fox Theatre

As if Moulin Rouge wasn’t enough to satisfy queer appetites, the Fox is bringing MJ from May 28 to June 9 and a special two-week summer engagement of Hamilton from August 28 to September 8 along with many other special summer events.


Is there a gay around who is not in love with Steel Magnolias? Since Andrew Kuhlman took the reins, the programming at Stages has been top notch. Stages opens its season at the new home in theKirkwood Performing Arts Center with a visit to Truvy’s salon, featuring some of your favorite St. Louis actresses. I do believe the spirit of Shirley MacLaine will bless the proceedings, May 31 to June 30. And this will be followed by Newsies July 26 to August 25.

Opera Theatre of St Louis 

I actually plan much of my June around Opera Theatre of St Louis because it is such an interesting mixture of classics and new work, always beautifully sung. Saturday, June 1, is even Pride Night with the opening of La bohème, the opera that inspired Rent. The opera often offers special LBGTQ+ nights, and there are usually $25 tickets the whole season — a real boon for economic equity. I like picnicing in the garden beforehand and meeting the artists for a champagne toast in the big tent afterward. Come on, how swellegant can you get?

Union Avenue Opera 

Speaking of opera, Union Avenue Opera is celebrating its 30th year and while not on the physical scale of OTSL, the work under artistic director Scott Schoonover is excellent and ranges this year from traditional fare such as Carmen (July 5 to 13) and AIDA (July 26 to August 3) to Into the Woods (August 16 to 24.)

I’m interested in checking out the Backstage Pass Luncheon Concert Series that includes a post concert peek at the performance space and set in progress.


The MUNY under Mike Isaacson’s expert artistic direction and producing is a crown jewel in St. Louis and admired by musical theater artists and fans around the country. It does an incredible job of serving the community with group rates and nearly 1,500 free seats.

It has a great line up this year with something for all ages and demographics. I am especially looking forward to Dreamgirls (June 27 to July 3), Waitress (July 30 to August 5) and In the Heights (August 9 to 15).

It’s fun to get there early and picnic on the grounds or go to its open air buffet. I suggest reservations.

For years, this hothouse flower sometimes resisted because of our infamous St. Louis summers but the new outdoor fans the Muny has installed have made such a difference.

I see many folks I know at the MUNY but also hundreds that I don’t. And more than once, I have been filled with pride to see us all enjoying the summer together and taking in the pleasures of musical theater in the oldest and biggest outdoor theater in the country.

St. Louis Shakespeare

St Louis Shakespeare continues to offer great entertainment from May 29 to June 23 for those who dig the bard. Artistic director Tom Ridgely has been hiring a raft of diverse directors and bringing some of St Louis’ best actors to the stage. So, yay for the locals.

This year is no exception. Nancy Bell is directing As You Like it at the Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park near the Saint Louis Art Museum. Expect plenty of gender bending, live music and new songs from St. Louis indie singer-songwriter Beth Bombara in a grand Gilded Age theater setting from May 29 to June 23.

Get there early to picnic, explore the grounds and the green show. It’s interesting how much food plays into all these events. Well, we are feeding multiple senses, and I am down for it.

And if you are wanting more, but in less time, there’s TourCo’s The Tempest that runs about 90 minutes and will take place July 30 to August 25  in 24 parks and public settings and is also free.

Directed by Ridgely with a traveling cast of six performers, this  is one of Shakespeare’s most enchanting romances and is set on an island full of mischief, magic and plots of revenge in epic proportions. Each TourCO performance begins at 6:30 p.m. with a brief introduction to the show. I’m hoping to see it in my neighborhood at Cortex.

The New Jewish Theatre

The quality of this company has been so high recently, I want to see everything. Artistic director Rebekah Scallet is directing We All Fall Down, which is about a family’s attempt to celebrate Passover together for the first time in years from May 30 to June 16 and Red, about abstract expressionist Mark Rothko’s crisis of confidence July 25 to August 11. I saw the latter years ago when the late Steve Woolf directed it at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, and I am looking forward to revisiting this piece. Both will take place at the JCC’s Wool Studio Theatre.

The Black Rep

The Black Rep, celebrating an amazing 47 years under the leadership of Ron Himes will be very busy this summer, starting with Timbuktu, a reset of the musical Kismet to the Mali empire with a large and impressive cast from May 15 to June 9 and continuing with King Hedley as part of its August Wilson Century Cycle, from June 19 to July 14, about an ex-con who struggles to defy cultural norms surrounding him. Himes directs both pieces, which will be at the Edison Theatre at Washington University.

St Lou Fringe

Since Matt Kerns took charge at the St Lou Fringe nine years ago, the festival’s variety and quality has increased every year. I personally like the short format and the proximity to several venues, including the Hi-Low, Marcelle and .Zack. You can easily see a lot of performances in a concentrated period, and if one thing doesn’t appeal, you may well like the next. Interesting headliners in the past have been our own Chris Andoe and Lola van Ella.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival, which is running August 12 to 18 is Big Machine, a new musical by FlyNorth Theatricals set in the 1920s when automobiles were taking over the streets and highways of America. Fringe’s young adult headline act, Urinetown: The Musical, is presented by the wonderful youth Ignite Theatre Company. And Ann Truka has been invited back as the Fringemeister Encore of Jean, A One-Person Play, a delightful piece I saw last year about a non-binary children’s book author and one-hit-wonder who is trying to craft their next piece of work.

Circus Flora

Circus Flora began in 1986 as a commission by Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti for the Spoleto Festival. Circus Flora is a mashup of traditional European circus and modern theater. Every Circus Flora production is original. This year’s is Marooned and runs in Grand Center under the big top from June 6 to 23.

Bring the kids or just the kid in you.

Tennessee Williams Festival

Now in its ninth season under founder Carrie Houk, the Tennessee Williams Festival (August 8 to 18), brings Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Michael Wilson, to the Grandel. Move over Succession. Bring on Southern Gothic power struggles when the imminent death of a family patriarch kicks off a mad rush for the money!

But that’s not all: There will be all kinds of other activities including Life Upon the Wicked Stage, a collection of one acts directed by Brian Hohlfeld and the third annual pool party on July 14.

Smaller Groups Worth Your Attention

That Uppity Theatre Company

What kind of producer would I be if I didn’t promote something that I am producing. It’s a busy June for us. First up, That Uppity Theatre Company and Playback Now! St. Louis are presenting Rant and Rave! improv. We did a version of this last year and had so much fun that we decided to explore it again.

What’s bugging you? What are you happy about? Join us for a special 3 p.m. matinee on June 1 at the Chapel. Tell us your stories or speak your mind and see it played back for you and maybe even sung by Paul Cereghino, Jonathan Garland, Amity Haugk, Theresa Masters, Karen Schubert, Jonathan Yeakey and myself. Pay what you can.

Speaking of good times, we had such a great one last year at the Missouri History Museum with the first Queer Writes featuring Chris Andoe, Kris Kleindienst, Sam Moore, Aja La’Starr, Mary Maxfield, Mariah Richardson, Maurice Tracy and myself that we are back again with a whole new bill on June 27 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Come early for happy hour at 5 p.m. and visit community tables or check out the newly opening exhibit Gateway to Pride and stay for a fantastic lineup of local LGBTQ+ writers of many genres including memoir, fiction, theater and screen writing with Nancy Fowler, Kelly Hamilton, Michael Kearns, Philip Irving, Charlie Meyers and Gabe Montesanti. Singer/songwriter Summer Osborne will close the show, and the CHARIS Chorus will open. Some of these writers are hot, others on the rise. But the return of Michael Kearns, the first openly gay, openly HIV-positive actor in Hollywood whose work is featured in the exhibit to his hometown after decades in Los Angeles is notable.

Donald C. Miller’s Pride Shorts

Get ready for some drag queen drama at the Greenfinch. Fresh off the success of his one-act play “From the Garden,” playwright Donald C. Miller is producing two shorts, “Open” and “Panic in the Cockpit,” that examine various aspects of LGBTQ+ experiences. Camille Fensterman is the director, and as an added bonus, special guest performer and author Chris Andoe will share a story from one of his books on June 7. Along with actor Sara Hamilton, I will perform a staged reading of my short lesbian play “Ready,” which debuted in New York, on June 8.

Tesseract Theatre

On the heels of its impressive two-part The Inheritance, Tesseract Theatre is producing two original musicals — My Heart Says Go and Cascade’s Fire, a modern Antigone story with book and lyrics by Tesseract founder Taylor Gruenloh — this summer at the Marcelle in Grand Center. The Festival of New Musicals runs July 11 to 28 and is blessed to have the steady hand of musical director Larry Pry.

New Line Theatre

Leave it to Bad Boy Scott Miller to reclaim, direct and produce the intriguing and critically maligned Broadway musical Dracula (May 30 to June 22) for New Line Theatre at the Marcelle to wrap up its 32nd season. It offers lots of ticket specials for students and an excellent pre-show guide is available on its website, which includes all kinds of Dracula-related material.

The Midnight Company

Joe Hanrahan of the intrepid Midnight Company just might be one of the busiest men in local show business, and his interests run the gamut. You can see Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the Chapel from July 18 to 27 and Audition, three short plays by Joe Hanrahan at St Lou Fringe from August 14 to 18. Music aficionados might be especially interested in the encore performance of Just One Look about Linda Ronstadt on June 26 at the Blue Strawberry, which has previously performed to 19 sold-out houses.

Stray Dog Theatre

Gary Bell’s Stray Dog” will present Ripcord, a sort of Golden Girls-meets-Odd Couple show from June 6 to 22 and Ruthless, a musical about an 8-year-old girl’s quest for the lead in the school play, from August 1 to 24 at the Tower Grove Abbey. Meanwhile, its Stray Pups summer camp runs May 28 to June 30 and will create the classic Charlotte’s Web from June 28 to 30.

Prism Theatre Company

After kicking off its season with a new works festival last month, Prism Theatre will launch Meadowlark: A Cabaret Series with Broadway Divas on May 24 at the Greenfinch featuring many local female singers. This will be followed by an all-female version of the off-Broadway hit “title of show” at the Kranzberg Black Box from August 16 to September 8. Artistic Director Trish Brown has intriguingly chosen the genderbend version of the script, which will make this rendition only the second time the play has been performed that way. Let’s hear it for the girls and female-presenting and non-binary folks.

Blue Strawberry

Cabaret continues to grow in momentum and Jim Dolan’s Blue Strawberry is providing stages for locals, emerging artists, touring acts and even Broadway stars. New shows are announced often so check back frequently.

No doubt, there are some other intriguing things coming up that we discover after we have gone to press. No deliberate slights intended if I missed something. Your girl is tired now – after just filling out her calendar. Or maybe she needs a disco nap to get ready for so much performance action. Check the websites to confirm dates and locations because things have a way of shifting.

Support live theater, and have a great summer!

Playwright and director Joan Lipkin (she/her) had a reading of her play Small Domestic Acts by Ego Actus in New York City this spring and just had short plays performed as part of Prism’s Festival of New Works, A Call to Conscience and Bread and Rose’s Social Justice Shorts. Featured in the book Fifty Key Figures in Queer US Theater, she is in search of a cure for her performance addiction.

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