Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Sweet Potato Queens
New Line Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Talichia Noah and Cast
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindbergh
Sweet Potato Queens is sort of the reverse of a typical New Line Theatre musical–even though Scott Miller, the company founder, is on board with his usual encyclopedic insight. But this time it's co-directed with his energetic choreographer, Tony L. Marr Jr., who heightens the show's warm, familiar feel–something that's been intentionally lacking in most New Line shows. The musical, with a book by Rupert Holmes, music by Melissa Manchester, and lyrics by Sharon Vaughn, premiered in Houston in 2016 and is currently being staged at the Marcelle Theatre here in St. Louis. It's a heartfelt and occasionally bawdy affair. But you could still bring your mother.

It's "the reverse" of the usual because Mr. Miller's ravishing vocal arrangements and expressionistic characters are mostly absent from Sweet Potato Queens. Instead we get a local premiere of an emotionally detailed and authentically acted two and a half-hour show (with intermission) based on the best-selling novels of Jill Conner Browne.

Browne's strong characters center on a quartet of deeply-felt women from Jackson, Mississippi, learning to celebrate their own lives in spite of their husbands or jobs or other disappointments. They act and sing their way through a slalom course of musical theater storytelling, helped enormously by the charming variety of songs written by Manchester and Vaughn.

New Line regular Talichia Noah finally steps into the spotlight here as Jill, and her seemingly innate goodness and infallible stage instincts reach out and take root within us. She creates a binding relationship that could not be broken by the usual tensions of an opening night. Ms. Noah is ably assisted by a post-pandemic, rebooted New Line ensemble, including the very impressive Ann Hier Brown, Mara Bollini, Jeffrey M. Wright, and Bethany Barr, who is especially iconic in her performance as Jill's mother. If I were to quibble, I'd say the four title characters could suffer from a more pronounced case of the "Dunning Kruger" effect, where they think themselves smarter than they are, as we see in Del Shore's country-fried comedy Sordid Lives.

But there's no question that Victoria Pines is excellent in the role of a battered wife, establishing a haunting undertone in the story. And Aarin Kamphoefner unerringly plays the broken-but-unbowed Deep South gay guy, with a memorable soliloquy in act two. Kent Coffel (who mostly plays a fatherly ghost to fine effect) is unusually great in a variety of roles, far exceeding my expectations.

Zachary Phelps designed the first-rate costumes, which include awesome watermelon-inspired pageant dresses for the women. The strong lighting design is by Matt Stuckel.

On balance, I think I'd rather see a charmingly traditional show like this, done by a vehemently non-traditional group like New Line Theatre, instead of the other way around. Scott Miller's ensemble always gets the serious psychological ephemera fully mapped out. And, even without the usually ravishing New Line vocal arrangements, a little genuine love and good cheer, from a typically acerbic company like this, goes a long way.

Sweet Potato Queens runs through March 23, 2024, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please call 314-534-1111 or visit

Jill Conner Browne: Talichia Noah
Floozie Tammy: Mara Bollini
Too Much Tammy: Ann Hier Brown
Flower Tammy: Victoria Pines
Mama: Bethany Barr
Daddy: Kent Coffel
George: Aarin Kamphoefner
Tyler: Jeffrey M. Wright

The New Line Band:
Conductor/Keyboard: Dr. Tim Amukele
Keyboard 2: Nikki Ervin
Electric Bass: John Gerdes
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Electric Guitar: Adam Rugo
Reeds: Brandon Thompson

Production Staff:
Directors: Scott Miller, Tony L. Marr Jr.
Choreographer: Tony L. Marr Jr.
Music Director: Dr. Tim Amukele
Stage Manager: Emily Floyd
Technical Director: Matt Stuckel
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Scenic Designer: Dr. Rob Lippert
Costume Designer: Zachary Phelps
Lighting Designer: Matt Stuckel
Props Master: Emily Floyd
Master Electrician: Stephanie Robinson
Volunteer Coordinator: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy