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BWW Interview: Andrew Kuhlman of STAGES ST. LOUIS at The Ross Family Theater

STAGES St. Louis Associate Producer Previews Their Upcoming Season

BWW Interview: Andrew Kuhlman of STAGES ST. LOUIS at The Ross Family Theater

Broadway World recently had the opportunity to sit down with STAGES St. Louis associate producer Andrew Kuhlman. Andrew is a Best Musical Tony nominee as associate producer for The Prom. He is an educator who has taught both at the high school and collegiate levels. He is a graduate of Bradley University in Peoria Illinois and majored in Theater Performance. Andrew made the decision to return to St. Louis following graduation to pursue his career in the arts and spend time with his aging grandmother, putting family before his career. It is to the benefit of the vibrant St. Louis theater scene that Andrew lends his talents to help stage the Broadway caliber productions at STAGES St. Louis.

JL: How did you fall in love with theater and decide to pursue a career?

AK: There are two parts to this answer. I wrote a paper in college titled 'Literally Bitten by The Acting Bug' recounting my first experience on stage in kindergarten. I played Santa Claus in the Christmas pageant. During the performance my mother had to rescue me from the stage because I had broken out in hives from head to toe. I had a reaction to the costume and was taken to the hospital to be treated. As soon as I was feeling better, I asked my mother if I could get back in time for the curtain call. As a kindergartner I didn't realize the theater was my passion but I knew I liked what I was doing. Years later, while watching a performance at Shakespeare in the Park in Forest Park, I realized people actually got paid for performing. It was at that point I knew I wanted a career in the theater.

JL: What have you missed most about the theater during the pandemic?

AK: I miss our audiences. The patrons are the reason you do the work. STAGES St. Louis is getting ready to produce their 35th season of Broadway caliber performances and many of the patrons have been there for all 35-years. I can't wait to begin engaging with our audiences once again.

JL: What have been your favorite productions you've been involved with?

AK: Our production of Fiddler on the Roof that we did at STAGES several years ago. I was unsure about the material and how I would connect to this old musical. The production was absolutely beautiful. It is a really emotional piece. Of course, getting to work as associate producer on the Broadway Production of The Prom is a career highlight. I also acted in a show that was titled First Impressions. It was an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I absolutely loved.

JL: In your opinion, what musical has the best book? Which has the best score?

AK: There are three books that I think are great. The first is Fiddler on the Roof. It's a story about growth and unlike anything else that's been written. The second is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. It is so smartly written with really great jokes and timing. The third is La Cage Aux Folles. I love the sentimentality, the comedy, and the romance. It was really groundbreaking for itstime to see a same-sex couple who had a family. I'm an old soul and my favorite scores are those of classical musical theater. I love the haunting melodies of South Pacific. I'm also a Soundheim guy and I really love the score of West Side Story.

JL: You're an educator and have taught both at the high school and college levels, what have you learned from your students?

AK: This is an important question. I've learned that passion is instilled at a young age. You can tell that it's a part of these kids' make up.

JL: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but would you say that passion for the theater is intrinsic?

AK: It is! It can be cathartic too. You really see the drive in these young people.

JL: What three things about the theater are the most important things to teach students?

AK: The first is that the best artist is a Renaissance artist. It's important that you not only learn one thing, but that you learn as much as you can about all of the work on a production. Having a 360-degree view of theater will make you a much better artist. The second thing is to seize every opportunity as long as it feels safe. Say yes! And finally, you never know who will be hiring you for your next job. Respect the world around you, be kind, and be good to people. Kindness is important, especially in today's world. Wait, there is a fourth thing. The theater is always about the day that something happened. All of your education will be important as it will help you learn about your craft.

JL: Beyond the canceled shows, how else has the pandemic affected STAGES?

AK: It has been financially difficult. We are grateful for the strength and support of the foundations and the corporations who have stepped up to not lose the arts. The St. Louis theatrical community has become more of a team. We will get through this. We will be back stronger than ever and can't wait to welcome our audience back.

JL: Let's talk about the upcoming season. You're producing two shows with famous voices, Patsy Cline and Frankie Valli. Casting these roles is a difficult task. Talk about the challenges and what it will take to get these roles right?

AK: We've already cast our Patsy Cline. It is the same actress who was going to play her in 2020 before we had to cancel that production. We are excited that American Idol's Diana DeGarmo will be filling that role. She really is wonderful. We're still in the casting process for Frankie Valli and our Jersey Boys production, but what's important is that we find actors who embody the role versus being a mimic. One of the best examples of this is from the STAGES production of The Boy From Oz, the story of Peter Allen. The actors in that show play real people including Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli. During the STAGES production an actress named Michele Ragusa played Judy Garland and she really made the role her own. That's what we're looking for as we cast Jersey Boys.

JL: In my opinion, Jersey boys is probably the most effective jukebox musical ever produced. Which jukebox musicals do you think are the best and why?

AK: My number one jukebox musical is Beautiful, the story of Carole King. It is a wonderful story about overcoming difficult things in life. The storytelling weaves music into the story and continually tells the story. It's what Rodgers and Hammerstein gave us when they used music as a device to tell the story. Music must be integrated into the story of the show. That's why Mamma Mia was such a success. It was music people loved and connected to the story.

JL: What will the upcoming season look like as the pandemic starts to wane? What are the plans to keep your patrons and actors safe?

AK: We will be working with Actors Equity implementing their safety plan to ensure theater can return in a safe way. This season we are moving to our new home at the Kirkwood performing Arts Center. This theater is owned by the city, and in cooperation with St. Louis County, we will follow their guidance and know what to do.

JL: What are the shows that most excite you that you would like to produce at STAGES?

AK: Of course, the first is The Prom. I think the story is perfect for St. Louis. It's about a small town fighting against its own biases. The other is Come from Away. St. Louis audiences really loved the story. I would love to have the opportunity to produce that show in a more intimate setting.

JL: Following your shortened season, what are the plans going forward for STAGES?

AK: This year we are excited about moving into our new home, The Ross Family Theater. It will give us the opportunity to produce things we could not have produced before. I cannot share more detailed information as we are not ready to make those announcements yet. I'm looking forward to bringing back the full company. We have exciting plans with great stuff on the horizon for STAGES St. Louis.

STAGES St. Louis will be presenting it's 35th season this fall with productions of Always...Patsy Clineand Jersey Boys. They will be moving into their new home at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center in The Ross Family Theatre. STAGES St. Louis is the largest regional employer of union theater professionals in the St. Louis area. It is funded by the Missouri arts Council and over 40 corporate sponsors. For more information visit stagestlouis.org.


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