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New Line Theatre celebrates a quarter century with new digs, four regional premieres

Aine O'Connor, St. Louis Public Radio
New Line Theatre Designer Rob Lippert and Director Scott Miller

Next week, New Line Theatre will celebrate its 25th anniversary by opening the regional premiere of “Heathers” in its brand-new digs: The Marcelle Theater, a new 150-seat black box theatre space in Grand Center built by Ken and Nancy Kranzberg.

It’s a move back to a black box for Artistic Director Scott Miller, which he says he has been hoping to do for years. In addition to changing up the set design, a challenge Scenic and Lighting Designer Rob Lippert is eager to meet, the move also heralds a change in show lineup: The theatre company will now do four shows per season.

This year, that extra show will also be directed by the company’s first new director in 25 years: Mike Dowdy, the company’s associate artistic director, who will regionally premiere “Tell Me on a Sunday,” a little-known one-act musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

“I’m a control freak,” said Miller, who has directed every other show to come through New Line. “Mike’s been directing with me for three years, and we have so the exact same aesthetic. We’ll sit next to each other in rehearsal and turn to each other at the exact same time, with the exact same thought. He’s really smart about theatre and he has good instincts. It will be hard for me not to be in control, but I don’t worry about him directing. He is going to be great at it.”

That show doesn’t premiere until next August. In the meantime, New Line kicks of its 25th season with a production of the musical based on the 1980s cult classic “Heathers,” opening Oct. 2.

“We do shows about what’s going on in the world right now and this is what is going on in the world right now,” said Miller of the show’s graphic subject matter such as bullying and school shootings. “Though there are a lot of laughs in the show, they’re not cheap laughs. The show really takes these kids seriously and looks behind the hostility and anger that fuels the bullying.”

Also regionally premiering this season are “American Idiot,” the rock opera featuring punk band Green Day’s most popular works, and “Atomic,” a musical about the scientists who create the atomic bomb.

Edgy, envelope-pushing musicals like these are the bread-and-butter of New Line Theatre, and what Miller attributes to the longevity of the company.

“My theory is that a theatre company that delivers something no one else is delivering will be successful and will last a long time,” Miller said. “So you look at St. Louis Shakespeare, New Jewish, Black Rep, us… there are a lot of companies in town with a real specific focus, you know exactly what you’re getting with them, and that’s how you get success.”

That applies even if a specific show rubs the audience the wrong way.

“What we’ve discovered is, if our audience doesn’t love a particular show, they’re still coming back next time because I think they know they’re going to get an adventure,” Miller said.  And most of the time they have a blast.”

The company will also host a 25th anniversary show at the Sheldon in January that will feature favorites from the company’s repertoire, so you can relive the years of boundary-pushing theatre.

New Line Theatre Presents "Heathers"
October 2-24, 2015
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis, MO 63103

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.  

Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.