By Roger Schlueter
When Amy Holland Pennell delivers the classic “There’s no place like home!” line tonight, she’ll mean it more than most in the audience might imagine.
For the past three years, this multitalented 1999 Granite City High School graduate has been in Los Angeles, working her way up the star ladder. Just recently, she put the wraps on her starring role as Alice Bordeaux in John Ward’s “The Ten Commandments,” which is due out later this year.
But by a stroke of luck, she returned to St. Louis recently for another audition, and Beverley Scroggins, her high school drama coach, pounced on the opportunity. Scroggins landed her former student for the lead role of Dorothy in the Summerstage production of “The Wizard of Oz” at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday at Granite City High School.
So, when Holland Pennell clicks her ruby slippers together and wishes herself back to Kansas, she will be saying her lines with all the gusto she uses in her TalentPlus video biography to talk about her real favorite place.
“If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would totally go to my hometown, Granite City,” she says. “It’s great being in Los Angeles. You’re living your dream, you’re acting, you’re doing all these amazing things.
“But if somebody said, ‘Here’s a ticket, you can go anywhere you want,’ I honestly would say I want to go home. I want to see my family.”
Holland Pennell, a former captain of the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, has been doing all that and more these past five weeks. Not only is she starring as the girl who gets blown into Oz, her older sister, Melissa Pennell Kimble, has become her stage nemesis — the Wicked Witch of the West.
Scroggins has to pinch herself once in a while to make sure she isn’t living a dream like Dorothy.
“(Amy) was one of the most talented kids I ever had,” said Scroggins, who taught theater for 30 years at Granite City High School before retiring. “Now, it’s been absolutely wonderful working with her because she’s so talented and these years in between she’s gained so much experience.
“And her sister Melissa is equally talented. She was a Rams cheerleader for years and did some of the same kinds of things, so they are hysterical together. And, it’s been their first opportunity to work together because there’s an age gap of about 10 years. So it’s been a wonderful experience.”
Even a decade later, just mention Holland Pennell’s name to anyone who has worked at the high school for any length of time and you’re immediately regaled with stories about a young woman who obviously was on her way up even then.
Now 27, she made her theatrical debut at the age of 2 before spending “many happy hours” attending play rehearsals with her mother, Margaret Holland Pennell, who is principal of Holy Family School in Granite City and a choreographer for local stage productions (including “The Wizard of Oz”).
Her mom’s love for the theater obviously rubbed off. After a distinguished career in high school and community plays, Holland Pennell graduated cum laude from St. Louis University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both theater and communication. Not only that, but the school also honored her as the outstanding graduate for performance and academic excellence.
Her career quickly took off on all kinds of stages. As captain of the St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, she performed at Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000 and was selected to represent the Rams in Honolulu as their 2004 Pro Bowl cheerleader. She also was featured in Maxim Magazine as one of the National Football League’s hottest cheerleaders and traveled the country entertaining American troops on various USO tours. She also can be seen on EA Sport’s Madden NFL 2005.
To put her communications degree to work, she also became a familiar face on sports television, working as a reporter on “Rams Insider” on the old WB-11 and co-hosting several shows on the Fox Sports Network, including “The St. Louis Sports Insider” and “STL Real” with Nelly, Marshall Faulk and Cedric the Entertainer.
At the same time, Holland Pennell also spent countless hours working with numerous charities while serving as an ambassador to the City of St. Louis. She says she was particularly honored to serve as mistress of ceremonies for The Race for A Cure — Spinal Cord Research Benefit Dinner.
Now, sometimes going by the name Amy Holland, the 5-foot-6, brown-haired, green-eyed actress is working to make a name for herself in Hollywood. She has acted in many music videos and short films, including the St. Louis 48-Hour Film Festival winner, “The Article.” She also had supporting roles in the feature films “Confessions of a Pit Fighter” and “Steel City,” which was selected for Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival.
Despite the many credits, she obviously has never let her head get too big.
“Do you know what I’m really bad at?” she reveals on her biography. “This is embarrassing and I can’t believe I’m saying it on tape: I can’t walk. Like no joke. We come from a background of dancers in our family and we fall all the time. No, definitely, walk. I cannot walk.”
Just the kind of person Scroggins is overjoyed to be directing in her cast, which also includes Eric Reed as the Scarecrow, Jonathon Morgan as the Tin Man, Mark Lull as The Cowardly Lion, Kneeley Snelson as Glinda, Evan Fifer as the Wizard, Steve Anderson as Uncle Henry and Marissa Taylor as Auntie Em.
“I have a supertalented cast,” said Scroggins, the executive director of Summerstage, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary season. “(Amy) is obviously the headliner, but many of the other folks are very talented, too, so it’s going be great. We’re even ‘flying’ the witch as well as several other characters. We’re very excited about it.”
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. For more information on Holland Pennell, go to her Web site at AmyHollandPennell.com.