Press & Reviews for Insight Theatre Company

Reviews of Insight Theatre Company productions can be found by visiting the following media links:

 

INHERENT THE WIND (2016)

 

SPINNING INTO BUTTER (2015)
“For its final production of its eighth season, Insight Theatre Company tackles this challenging work with a clear purpose and a fine ensemble…Jenni Ryan evolves as Sarah Daniel, a well-intentioned Dean of Students, who is trying to work through the scandal while being pulled in many directions. She must re-examine how she thinks and acts along the way, and Ryan excels at showing her character’s growth. It’s an engaging, layered performance.” –Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“Director Trish Brown allows each actor a “spotlight” moment. (They all sound crisp, too.) It’s especially effective in the closing scene between Sarah and the head of campus security (Kurt Knoedelseder). He tells her she’s not as good nor as bad as she imagines, that things aren’t always black and white. That assessment, too, offers a hint of hope.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Director Trish Brown coaxes intelligent performances from her veteran performers to show how Spinning into Butter remains relevant 16 years after its premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre…John O’Hagan does a solid job conveying Ross’ uncertainties, though, and even steps up his game in a pivotal scene with Jenni Ryan as Sarah in the second act, showing empathy as well as a degree of understanding of Sarah’s fragile condition. Ryan carries the burden of interpreting Sarah’s role with a multi-layered performance that accentuates the character’s admirable traits as well as her own fears, limitations and liabilities. She is able to portray how Sarah can be both well-meaning and destructive at the same time, not always virtuous yet not a villain beyond hope, either.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News

 

MOON OVER BUFFALO (2015)
“Under Edward Coffield’s direction, the timing is crisp, and the cast frantically races in and out of multiple doors, a tactic used effectively in Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” and the British farce masterpiece “Noises Off!” I laughed from start to finish, impressed by the enthusiasm and the physicality of the players, who demonstrated such flair for the material.” –Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“Insight veterans Knoll and Ryan get lively accompaniment from Tommy Nolan as Charlotte’s mother; Sam Auch as the couple’s daughter Rosalind, a young actress who thinks she’s through with the theater; Eric Dean White as their agent; Kara Overlein as an ingenue with a secret; Will Bonfiglio as the weatherman who loves Rosalind; and Pete Winfrey as the actor/playwright/stage manager who also loves her. Delighting in broad, physical humor, they all make the most of the charmingly cluttered set, designed by Peter and Margery Spack. Of course it has many doors, sure sign of a farce. You just wish you could hear “Moon Over Buffalo” with as much pleasure as you see it.” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post Dispatch

What I immediately noticed (and was amazed by) was the elaborate set design for this play … the set was absolutely incredible … As lovely as the set was, there must be more good things about a production to make it a great play. Fortunately, there was. While I did enjoy the story itself, the actors are the ones who brought it to life. Knoll and Ryan seemed like old pros, and I was truly impressed with their ease and professionalism on the stage (and I was sold by Knoll’s performance in the scenes where his character George was terribly drunk). Really, the two stars of the show were the best actors, yet I feel that every actor deserves some credit. Everyone pulled their weight, and you can’t have a great show without great supporting actors. Specifically, I feel that Auch’s performance as Rosalind is worth mentioning. And certainly the performance that made me laugh the most came from Tommy Nolan as Ethel, Charlotte’s elderly mother with awful hearing loss. – Emily Van de Reit – PlaybackStl

THE FANTASTICKS (2015)
But you don’t need to get to Manhattan to enjoy the touching little show that opens with one of the great songs in the musical theater canon, “Try to Remember.” Insight Theatre Company opens its 2015 season with a fine production from director Maggie Ryan, well-sung by a cast headed by Christina Ramirez as Luisa, Adam Hunn as Matt and Martin Fox as our dashing guide, El Gallo. (…) But the real secret of this production is the way that Ryan makes the most of the play’s built-in theatricality, personified by the old actor Henry (Joneal Joplin), his energetic sidekick Mortimer (Tom Wethington), and a mime (James Kerr) who plays many parts, including the wall.” -Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post Dispatch

“A spry ensemble and imaginative staging by director Maggie Ryan have breathed new life into the world’s longest running musical (off-Broadway 1960-2002, then Broadway revival since 2006). Insight Theatre Company’s production has emphasized the fanciful romanticism with enormous charm. (…) The musical is often staged, and sometimes can feel tired all these years later. But Insight’s robust version made me forget the mediocre ones, and feel good about how an old small-scale chestnut can be poignant today with its simple message about love.” – Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

 

THE SPITFIRE GRILL (2014)

“Maggie Ryan directs with an even pace, and Auch maintains a strong, understated and reliable center as Percy, and her character’s growing relationship with Winfrey’s sincerely appealing Sheriff works nicely. Along with Jenni Ryan’s amiable and put-upon Shelby, these three, with clear voices, handle James Valcq’s score with the most skill. Loui adds a welcome comedic spark to Effy, the nosy town gossip, and Turnipseed is convincing in the domineering role of Caleb who has a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas. Wells is good as the stern Hannah, who harbors her own secrets, and Paul Balfe rounds out the cast as “the visitor”. Some standout out numbers include Auch’s “A Ring Around the Moon” that opens the show, “Ice and Snow”, and the act one closer “Shoot the Moon”. The orchestra under Catherine Kopff’s musical direction is solid and Kyra Bishop’s beautifully authentic scenic design is lit by Jeff Behm, with costume design by Tracy Newcomb and sweet but subtle sound design by Kyle Meadors.” -Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

“With homespun charm, a small cast depicts rural life, struggles and redemption in the intimate, patchwork-quilt musical “The Spitfire Grill.” Like a fire on a cold dark winter evening, “The Spitfire Grill” succeeds in spreading warmth in abundance.” -Lynn Venhaus, Belleville News-Democrat

“Auch is confident and strong yet vulnerable as Percy, all necessary ingredients for an appropriate heroine. She also demonstrates her singing chops on her first song, the lyrical and haunting, “A Ring Around the Moon.” Wells, as diner-owner Hannah, walks a fine line between her rough exterior and her tarnished heart of gold underneath. Pete Winfrey as sheriff Joe Sutter has a down-home, easy-going charm, and in spite of the cliché of the sheriff and the ex-con as the romantic interests, Winfrey and Auch offer up some intriguing and delightful courtship scenes. Winfrey’s singing performance also stands out. Jenni Ryan is formidable in the role of Shelby Thorpe, who comes to help out in the diner when Hannah gets injured in a nasty fall. Shelby gets freed from her own type of prison through her relationship with Percy. Ryan also proves herself as a singer. Troy Turnipseed play Shelby’s overbearing, over-protective husband Caleb, whose objection and poor treatment of Shelby are a thin veneer hiding his insecurity. Amy Loui plays nosey mailman and town busybody Effy Krayneck, who serves up most of the comic relief in the show, and Paul Balfe plays the mysterious resident of the woods, who is interesting in spite of not having lines.” -Christopher Reilly, ALIVE Magazine

“This is a show that’s about its characters more than anything else, this production has cast them well. Auch gives a strong, sympathetic and vulnerable performance as Percy, displaying a strong, clear voice with a country-style twang on her songs, such as he wistful “A Ring Around the Moon” and the hopeful “Shine”.  She also harmonizes well with Ryan on perhaps the show’s best number “The Colors of Paradise”. Auch, Ryan and Wells’ gruff but kindhearted Hannah form the backbone of this show, displaying a convincing bond as their characters’ friendship grows. Winfrey gives an amiable performance as Joe, and Turnipseed manages to infuse the difficult Caleb with some sympathy.  There’s also a strong comic performance from Loui as the meddlesome Effy, and Balfe shows a strong, gentle presence in his silent role as the Visitor.  Even though the story takes a little while to get moving, the cast manages to find their energy and make these characters and this story interesting and intriguing, with some memorable moments including the Act Two opening number “Come Alive Again”, various character-establishing songs and a stirring finale.” -Michelle Kenyon, Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts

“With a buoyant, folk-tinged score by James Valcq and intelligent lyrics and book by Fred Alley, The Spitfire Grill serves as an excellent vehicle for what Ryan calls Insight’s mission “to offer thought-provoking entertainment that inspires and moves the audience with an emphasis on the power of the human spirit.” Mission accomplished in grand style.” Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“The show uses both music and dialogue to move the story’s action, and the actors are all capable singers. Auch, Winfrey and Ryan have standout voices in this production, the plainspoken, emotionally layered songs playing off the actors’ vocal strengths. Auch’s duets with Winfrey, and Ryan in particular, are filled with richly pleasant harmonies. While there isn’t a single song that stands out as a “show tune,” there are a number of soaring moments, and all the songs have a folksy, homespun quality with a western drawl. In fact the entire show envelopes the audience like an old patchwork quilt. It’s comfortable, and there’s something familiar about each character. It begins with the set and lighting. The framework of the grill in silhouette against an ever-changing sky and the suggestion of a northern woods, filled with tall pines. Lighting designer Jeff Behm and scenic designer Kyra Bishop evoke the feeling of a lonely, rural town while also capturing a sense of the beauty and allure that captured Percy’s attention. The themes of redemption and acceptance, of finding a place that feels like home and falling in love, are not new, and there’s really no exceptional twist to the story. But Director Maggie Ryan leads her cast well, revealing well developed characters filled with the complexity of modern life. “The Spitfire Grill” is simply good storytelling, delivered in a straightforward manner that suits the location and the hard business of living, with a sweet, hopeful ending.” Tina Farmer, KDHX

“St. Louis theatergoers never lack for musicals. How to make a mark on this crowded scene? Insight Theatre finds a way with its latest show, “The Spitfire Grill. Offbeat and family-friendly, the musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley (based on a movie by Lee David Zlotoff) is a quirky slice of Americana that keeps you guessing right to the very last scene … Music director Catherine Kopff and the orchestra have a nice feel for the serviceable score, which is at its best in folksy numbers … Auch, whose sweet, piercing soprano has an arresting quality, opens the show with its best song, “A Ring around the Moon.” She’s just as effective in a long speech explaining Percy’s awful history — restrained, but simmering. She and Winfrey, another strong performer, bring that restraint to their scenes together. Their charming duet, “These Wide Woods,” lets them hide their feelings for each other behind admiration of nature. On a lighter note, Winfrey, Turnipseed and Amy Loui, who plays the nosy postmistress, team up for the percussive “Ice and Snow” to delightful effect.” -Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Sam Auch is a real find in the role of Percy. Her resounding, strong voice and emotional delivery make her a likable character right off the bat. Pete Winfrey also shines as the smitten sheriff and does Jenni Ryan as the long-suffering wife, Shelby. Janet Wells is a hoot as the irascible Hannah and Troy Turnipseed is powerful as the emasculated Caleb. Amy Loui gives us a great performance as the butt-insky, Effy and Paul Balfe rounds out the cast as the infamous “visitor.” Insight’s Artistic Director, Maggie Ryan, directs “The Spitfire Grill” with a deft hand and creates some beautiful stage pictures with the help of a powerful Kyra Bishop set design. Catherine Kopff handles the musical direction well with a backstage orchestra that features piano, strings and accordion. The Jeff Behm lights are great as are the fine costumes designed by Tracy Newcomb. With music and book by James Valco and lyrics and book by Fred Alley, “The Spitfire Grill” is a delightful diversion and is ably assisted by a strong cast.” -Steve Allen, Stage Door St. Louis

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS (2014)

“The ensuing conflict, which tickles funny bones and jerks a few tears, prompts director John Contini to draw quick, bright performances from his cast: Matt Pentecost as Nick, Tom Murray, Maggie Ryan, Jerry Vogel and Tommy Nolan as the grandparents, Ariel Roukaerts as a nurse.” -Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The characters are well-written and vividly portrayed by the excellent ensemble cast. Pentecost plays the exasperated young Everyman with ease, and he works very well with his four very colorful castmates, including Vogel as the stubborn Frank, Nolan as the sweetly overprotective and always cooking Aida, Ryan as the enthusiastic and maternal Emma, and Tom Murray as the energetic storyteller Nunzio, who shares a heartwarming, bittersweet scene with Pentecost in the second act that is one of the highlights of the show. Roukaerts has a lot of warmth and energy in her two scenes as Caitlin, as well, but the real focus here is on Nick and the grandparents, so the Caitlin character sometimes seems extraneous.  It would be very easy with a show like this for these characters to come across as one-not caricatures, and it’s a great credit to this cast that nobody falls into that trap.  It’s a strong, easily relatable cast that brings real warmth and dimension to the characters … this is a thoroughly winning production with a great cast and excellent staging by director John Contini, who displays a personal understanding of the subject in the director’s notes in the program.  It’s not a big or flashy show, although its fully realized characters give it a larger-than-life tone much of the time.  This very strong cast has been brought together to present a very credible family dynamic and some very real warmth and emotion, in addition to a whole lot of laughs.  I’m left with the impression that I was really able to get to know this family, and it’s a pleasure to have met them.” –Snoop’s Theatre Thoughts

 OLIVER! (2014)

“The Lionel Bart musical takes a notable departure from the Dickens novel by making Fagin (Alan Knoll), a comedic character rather than a supremely villainous one. Knoll handles the kinder, gentler role skillfully, revealing Fagin to actually have some affection for his bastardly band of baby burglars—though that may be simply appreciation for the scarves, trinkets and wallets they bring him, for he can turn on them in an instant when money is involved. Knoll’s interpretation is spot on, though don’t expect the amazing dancing agility the Fagin displays in the film—but then, who among us can claim to be Ron Moody’s equal in this regard? Nevertheless, Knoll is excellent, including his singing on “You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket or Two,” and “Reviewing the Situation.” Ronan Ryan, as Oliver Twist, might have been pulled directly from the famous film adaptation. With his angelic face and sweet voice, he’s a dead ringer for the young actor in the film, and he’s fun to watch, like when he’s stuffed violently into a casket as punishment, Ryan was having such a good time he had a big grin on his face. While not appropriate from an acting standpoint, it’s totally appropriate from a kid standpoint, and that just made me enjoy him all the more. And of course he delivers the line that has become a part of pop culture, “Please, Sir, may I have some more.”

In addition to Knoll and Ryan, there are fine performances by Marc Strathman as officious workhouse headmaster, Mr. Brumble and his would-be paramour, Mrs. Corney, delightfully and hilariously portrayed by Jenifer Theby-Quinn. Michael Brightman and Jenni Ryan are appropriately dour and sour as the undertaker and his wife, while Spencer Davis Milford exemplifies the cockiness of The Artful Dodger. Cherlynn Alvarez is exemplary as Nancy, the former Fagin protege’ and mother figure to Oliver, who sings a heart-wrenching rendition of, “As Long As He Needs Me.” Michael Amoroso is menacing as Bill Sykes, and Troy Turnipseed lends an air of aristocracy, as well as compassion, to Mr. Brownlow.” -Christopher Reilly, ALIVE Magazine

OUR TOWN (2013)

“The Stage Manager tells the story with a gentle, caring wisdom—and not without glimmers of humor. Joneal Joplin’s long career seems to have been a trajectory aimed at this particular role, for such attributes are Jop’s natural gifts and he is so at home here. He leads something of an all-star cast.  Young George and Emily are played with winning innocence by Jack Dryden and Taylor Pietz. Their parents are given very strong performances by John Contini, Alan Knoll, Peggy Billo and Amy Loui. Ms. Loui in particular brings utter honest reality to her role—as is her custom. I’m sure that little carrot-topped Lily Orchard is already tired of being called adorable—but what can one say?  As George’s keenly curious kid sister she’s a delight. Simon Stinson, the church organist, has a drinking problem, but the town gently forgives him this because “Simon’s had a peck of troubles.”  Michael Brightman’s performance in this role again convinces me that he’s one of the best actors in town.  What lovely restrained pain and bitterness.” -Steve Callahan, KDHX

“Our Town ends in the year 1913, a century removed from the frenetic existence lived by so many people in modern society. It seems every bit of 100 years, not only in time but also in its quiet, sedate approach to life, as depicted by playwright Thornton Wilder in 1938. On the 75th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Insight Theatre Company director Tom Martin has assembled a ‘Who’s Who’ in local theater to mount a moving and marvelous rendition of Wilder’s charming classic.” -Mark Bretz, Ladue News

“Joneal Joplin plays the Stage Manager with warmth and folksy reassurance, and as befits his standing as the “dean of actors” in St. Louis, is billed above the title. Despite the passage of years (first produced 1938, set 1901-1913) and a growing sense of mistrust and cynicism in both our public and private lives, Our Town endures, and with director Tom Martin’s and Joplin’s sure hands on the rudder, we are guided through small town life writ large as just “life itself.” -Andrea Braun, PlaybackSTL

“Martin has assembled an engaging ensemble of nineteen actors. Alan Knoll and Amy Loui portray newspaper editor Webb and his wife. Their daughter Emily, who is pretty enough for all normal purposes, is played by Taylor Pietz. John Contini and Peggy Billo are Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs. Jack Dryden portrays their carefree son George. Joneal Joplin is an admirably straightforward Stage Manager. But it would almost be bad form to review actors in Our Town. Mostly you just envy them the privilege of participating in a profession where they can contribute to such a beautiful experience.” -Dennis Brown, Riverfront Times

“Martin’s production is also made special by the way he treated some elements of the play.  According to what I’ve read, Thornton Wilder specified in the script that the play should be performed with little scenery, no set and minimal props, with the characters miming their interactions with the objects they come in contact with — all effectively engaging the imagination of the audience.  These traditional elements remain, but Martin has steeped the play in theatricality by having the cast members provide the sound effects for doors, milk bottles and thunder with props — all while standing downstage right and left.  While stringing beans, the actors snap their fingers during their pantomime.  Actors provide the clucking of yard chickens as they are fed by Mrs. Gibbs.  Along with the chalk illustrations and titles written by the cast, these clever additions heighten the intimacy of the play. Ahead of its time, obliterating the fourth wall and never letting us forget that we are watching a play, this classic takes idealized memories of a time when the milk was still delivered and automobiles were rare, and sets it against a universal reminder about the marvelously mundane, and the brevity of life, with charm and gravity.  I would go ahead and get a ticket if I were you.” -Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

Our Town is a remarkable play and Insight has brought us an equally remarkable production. Capturing the feel of small town America at the turn of the century and heeding us to enjoy every minute while on this earth, it refreshes your perspective- if only for a moment. It’s a production to enjoy and immerse yourself in with this incredible cast and perfect homage to play and playwright alike.” -Steve Allen, Stage Door St. Louis

TIME STANDS STILL (2013)

“Playwright Donald Margulies puts the adventurous couple back in their Brooklyn loft for “Time Stands Still,” a thoughtful drama that Insight Theatre just opened. Under the nuanced direction of John Contini, “Time Stands Still” poses serious, grown-up questions without diminishing its characters (all people it would be a pleasure to have dinner with). It’s a modern play with a refreshing impulse to satisfy its audience, and one of the best things that Insight has ever done.” -Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Director John Contini has staged the play with beautiful calibration. Too many local productions are torpedoed by lack of rehearsal time; they feel unfinished. Not so here. Every single minute is rich with tension or comedy or despair, yet nothing feels planned out or arbitrary. Michele Sansone’s costumes are character-revelatory. (In Act One, Mandy’s nooselike neck scarf is especially witty.) Mark Wilson’s scenic design of a loft condo transforms the wide proscenium into a plus rather than a negative. The four performers — Ryan, Morris, Vogel and Crump — respond to this loving attention in the most exemplary manner. Even as they take all the time they need — the evening often feels urgent, but never rushed — the pace does not slacken.” -Dennis Brown, Riverfront Times

“Under John Contini’s direction, the play unfolds naturally, steadily moving forward regardless of how much conflict playwright Margulies piles on. There are funny moments, but the humor is mostly downplayed. Ryan and Morris handle the complicated material well and bring to the stage fully-fledged characters, and though they aren’t characters we particularly care about, we do care about their story because it is our story too. Jerry Vogel, as photo editor Richard, is relaxed and charming as he “handles” his star reporter team’s angst and mood swings, while Julia Crump’s Mandy, who at first seems to be the quintessential airhead, transforms into the group’s moral compass. Mark Wilson’s soaring set—with it’s towering industrial windows—and Kathleen San Roman’s flawless lighting enhance an already full production.” -Christopher Reilly, ALIVE Magazine

“Ryan is excellent as the hardened Sarah, delivering her lines with sarcastic humor, a chilly disconnection, and an impactful account of how she deadens herself to everything outside of her camera’s viewfinder.  Morris inhabits James comfortably as a man still healing from his psychological bruises, pursuing different interests and forming new priorities.  Vogel brings Richard to life as a good-natured friend, joyous with his new outlook on the world but ready to intervene when the well-intended Mandy is in danger of making a blunder.  Crump was delightful as Mandy, taking notes for later research about anything pre-90’s.  She also convincingly comes into her own in her confrontations with Sarah, James, and even Richard.” -Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

1776 (2013)

“…an absolutely beautiful show.” -Andrea Braun, PlaybackSTL

“This show delights the audience when it treats its most famous characters as full-fledged men, with quirks and faults of their own, and brings some of lesser-known delegates to our attention for perhaps the first time.” -Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“…buoyed by strong performances and handsome production elements.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

“There were no weak links in the cast.” -Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle

CHAPTER TWO (2013)

“Under Susie Wall’s direction, the cast handle Simon’s comic rhythm and one-liners well, and Pierson and Tibbets deftly manage scenes that might otherwise come off as overly sentimental.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob

 

Additional Theatre Review Resources

ALIVE Magazine
BroadwayWorld
KDHX-FM
KMOX-AM
Ladue News
PlaybackSTL
Post-Dispatch
ReviewSTL
Riverfront Times
Snoops Theatre Thoughts
St. Louis Magazine
St. Louis Theatre Snob
Stage Door St. Louis
Talkin Broadway
Two on the Aisle
Vital VOICE

 

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June 8-25, 2017

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