COVID-19 Pandemic Results in Production Streamcast by HEC Media

New Jewish Theatre led the way with six awards at the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Max & Louie Productions’ performance of Indecent garnered five awards, followed by four awards to The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis for its production of A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Circle’s gala event for this year’s award ceremony, originally scheduled for March 30, 2020 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, was canceled. Instead, HEC Media produced a version of the ceremonies that was streamcast on HEC Media’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/hectv/live/) as well as telecast on Spectrum channel 989 and AT&T U-verse channel 99. Here is the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/tCo0AFHbChE

Awards were given in 31 categories covering comedies, dramas and musicals as well as two categories for opera. In addition, Ken and Nancy Kranzberg received a special award for their philanthropic contributions to the arts and theater in the St. Louis area, including many developments in Grand Center. The awards honored outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theater for the calendar year 2019.

A total of 21 productions and 14 companies were recognized by the awards, including eight individuals who have received honors in previous years. Will Bonfiglio, honored as Outstanding Actor in a Comedy for his performance in New Jewish Theatre’s production of Fully Committed, received an award for the third time in the last four years.

The 2020 presentation featured nominees from two companies, Black Mirror Theatre and The Q Collective, which were represented for the first time in consideration of St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.  Each company received an award for outstanding achievement.

In all, 25 local companies received nominations in 33 categories for comedy, drama, musical and opera, as well as 125 individuals up for awards. Honorees who have previously received St. Louis Theater Circle Awards include Will Bonfiglio, J. Samuel Davis, Kari Ely, Michael Hamilton, Patrick Huber, Sean M. Savoie, Margery and Peter Spack, and Maggie Wininger.

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

Nominations for the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards were divided into categories for musicals, dramas, comedies and operas.  More than 120 local professional theatrical productions were staged in the St. Louis area in 2019.

Honorees of the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards are:

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Kelley Weber, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Patrick Blindauer, Love’s Labors Lost, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy (tie)

Katie Kleiger, Pride and Prejudice, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Maggie Wininger, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy

Will Bonfiglio, Fully Committed, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Director of a Comedy

Kari Ely, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Production of a Comedy

Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Indecent

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama

Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Carly Uding, Translations, Black Mirror Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

J. Samuel Davis, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Drama

Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root and Roe, Upstream Theater

Outstanding Actor in a Drama

Gary Wayne Barker, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Director of a Drama

Joanne Gordon, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Production of a Drama

Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Set Design in a Play

Margery and Peter Spack, Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play

Felia Davenport, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play

Patrick Huber, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Sound Design

Phillip Evans, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical

Mary Engelbreit and Paige Hathaway, Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical

Sarah Porter, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical

Sean M. Savoie, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Musical Director

Charles Creath, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, The Black Rep

Outstanding Choreographer

Dexandro Montalvo, Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical

Taylor Louderman, Kinky Boots, The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical

Tielere Cheatem, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Kendra Kassebaum, Guys and Dolls, The Muny

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Luke Steingruby, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Q Collective

Outstanding Director of a Musical

Michael Hamilton, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Production of a Musical

Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis,

Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding New Play

Nonsense and Beauty, by Scott C. Sickles, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

La Boheme

Outstanding Achievement in Opera (tie)

Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Roland Wood, Rigoletto, Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Production of an Opera

La Boheme, Union Avenue Opera

Special Award

Ken and Nancy Kranzberg

Members of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen, stagedoorstl.com; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Tina Farmer, KDHX; Michelle Kenyon, snoopstheatrethoughts.com; Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle (HEC Media); Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Sarah Bryan Miller, St.Louis Post-Dispatch; Judith Newmark, judyacttwo.com; Ann Lemons Pollack, stlouiseats.typepadcom; Tanya Seale, Broadwayworld.com; Lynn Venhaus, PopLifeSTL.com; Bob Wilcox, Two on the Aisle (HEC Media); and Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.Eleanor Mullin, local actress and arts supporter, is the group’s administrator. 

For more information, contact [email protected] or ‘like’ The St. Louis Theater Circle on Facebook.

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The Black Rep will present a concert version of the
Broadway hit musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at the 560 Music Center on Saturday,
Oct, 12, for One Night Only.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical revue with a book by
Murray Horwitz and Richard Maltby, Jr., and music by various composers and
lyricists as arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson. It is named after
the song by Fats Waller (with Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf), “Ain’t Misbehavin’”.

The musical is a tribute to the black musicians of the
1920s and 1930s who were part of the Harlem Renaissance, an era of growing
creativity, cultural awareness, and ethnic pride. It was a time when Manhattan
nightclubs like the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom were the playgrounds of
high society and Lenox Avenue dives were filled with piano players banging out
the new beat known as swing.
An ensemble of performers present an evening of rowdy, raunchy, and humorous
songs that encapsulate the various moods of the era and reflect Waller’s view
of life as a journey meant for pleasure and play.

The Chicago Sun Times said: “Fun and off-the-charts
galvanic energy are the main orders of the day in this show… Talk about
“Spreadin’ the Rhythm Around.” Pure joy.”

The Huffington Post said: “This is a boozy, after hours
party, and we’re all invited.”

The cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’ in concert features cast
members from the Season 43 opening hit production of “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t
Cope” led by Drummond Crenshaw, Amber Rose, Tyler White, Robert Crenshaw, and
Sieglinda Fox.

It is directed by Producing Director Ron Himes, with
musical direction by Charles Creath, choreography by Kirven Douthit-Boyd and
Heather Beal.

Proceeds from the 2019 Gala go to support The Black Rep’s
Community and Education programs such as: 
Summer Performing Arts (SPA), Teen Tech Program, The Professional Intern
Program and many others.

Other highlights of the evening will also feature a
presentation of the Frankie Muse Freeman Spirit Awards to Anne Marie Clark and
Wesley Bell as well as the Woodie King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr.
Glory Van Scott and George Faison.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” is sponsored in part by Centene
Corporation, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Edward Jones, Webster University, McCormack
Baron Salazar Inc., Keith Williamson, Gisele Marcus, Tom and Barbara Feiner,
Loren and Marcia Grossman, Lionel Phillip, Hank Webber and Chris Jacobs.

For tickets or more information, contact the box office at
314-534-3807 or go online to theblackrep.org.

By CB AdamsContributing Writer

During a weekend hyper-inflated with entertainments of mass
distraction – in particular, the Game of
Thrones series finale and the St. Louis Blues’ game of Stanley Cup – a
modest-sized audience was invited to engage with a deeper, more troubling, more
pressing and more prescient entertainment. Completing its 42nd
season, the Black Rep presented its production of Nina Simone: Four Women at the Edison Theatre on the Washington
University in St. Louis campus.

Set in the ruins of the 16th Street Baptist
Church in Birmingham after the 1963 bombing that killed four children, the play
earnestly, if unevenly, stands as a monument to the notion that everything old never
stops being new again. Playwright Christina Ham’s mash-up script attempts to
synthesize an array of social issues including, but not limited to, civil
rights, waning traditional religious values, the legacies and injustices of the
Old South and Jim Crow, adoption/abortion issues, culture and cultural
appropriation, white-on-black violence and intergenerational differences toward
sexuality and womanhood – all through the lens of Simone’s prickly personality
and her own artistic, personal and political frustrations.

Ham’s approach to this bomb-blast of issues is to sew its
many subjects into a large quilt rather than delve too deeply into any single patch
or two. In other words, a macro rather than micro approach. That’s a tall
order, especially when combined with a retrospective of Simone’s signature
songs and a presentation that’s equal parts concert, cabaret, revue and jukebox
musical, ala Mama Mia!. Ham’s conceit
seems to be: come for the Simone, stay for the social commentary.

At the heart of the play is one of Simone’s defining songs, “Mississippi Goddam.” And at the heart of that song are the lines, “Just try to do your very best / Stand up be counted with all the rest / For everybody knows about Mississippi goddam.”

This production, ably directed by Ron Himes, embodies that “do your very best” spirit while working through Ham’s something-for-everybody script. The four characters of the title are doing their best in their respective bad situations, each according to her experience, abilities and station in life.

The
four actresses playing those characters are the real strength of this
production. Maybe the conceit should be: come for the Simone, but definitely
stay for the performances of Leah Stewart as Simone, Denise Thimes as Sarah (aka
Auntie), Alex Jay as Sephronia and Camile “Cee” Sharp as Sweet Thing. Stewart
and Thimes make the most of their well-rounded characters. Sharp deserves extra
credit for her yeoman’s effort to animate the borderline one-dimensional
character of prostitute Sweet Thing. Scenic designer Tim Jones’s bombed-out
church set evocatively captures the devastation through which the characters
literally and metaphorically must move.

Impressive, too, and a testament to the strength of the St. Louis theater community, is that Stewart, Thimes and Jay are all natives of the Gateway City. Rounding out this exemplary local talent pool was a near-silent fifth character, the onstage piano accompanist, St. Louis native and musical director Charles Creath.

Cast of “Nina Simone: Four Women” Photo by Philip HamerThe script of Nina Simone: Four Women is too often clichéd (“walk a mile in my shoes”), too often expository in a biopic/Wikipedia sort of way (“It was my first top 10 hit”) and sometimes period-inappropriate (“skin in the game”). Yet, with the exception of a few flubbed lines, the actresses more than compensate for these shortcomings with their snappy timing, true heart and deep authenticity. And they soared and rose above the material individually and collectively performing “Old Jim Crow,” “Brown Baby” and “To Be Young Gifted and Black” and the other well-curated selections from Simone’s songbook.

The play seeks to make connections among the many issues it
touches and attempts to reach an epiphanic conclusion with the four characters
joining together for Simone’s song “Four Women.” The play’s wide-ranging reach
surpasses the ability of this one song to offer a satisfying resolution to the
issues it raises – but perhaps that point. It’s one woman’s (Simone herself) or
each character’s way of navigating a barrage of cultural adversities and finding
some meaning, strength and hope despite these challenges.

For this culmination, the attention instead should return to
“Mississippi Goddam.” Though the lyrics are relatively tame by modern urban
music’s standards, the anger is still palpable, real and relevant. It should
leave the audience realizing it’s not just Mississippi or Alabama goddam, but St.
Louis goddam and, yes, America goddam.

“Nina Simone: Four Women” plays at the Edison Theatre May 15-June 2. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 314-534-3807 or go online attheblackrep.org. A special $20 deal is available on Wednesday nights through the run.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
At its best, “Crowns” is a jubilant celebration of family, faith and traditions, and the Black Rep’s sharp ensemble radiates joy as they take us to church. It’s a gem of a show, gleaming with polish and pizzazz.
The small cast of seven raises their glorious voices in beautiful harmonies, delivering spirituals, gospel standards, church hymns and ballads, which are woven into a story thread that includes vignettes.
As the youngest Yolanda, Tyler White, opens with hip-hop, to set the scene for her life in Brooklyn and showing her youthful energy and independent spirit. She moves down South, to stay with her grandmother, Mother Shaw (Anita Jackson), after a family tragedy. She learns about her history, forges an identity and what it means to have these “church ladies” in her life.

By honoring women who have impacted their lives, we feel the reverence and love for these role models. They are having as much fun on stage as the audience.
With outstanding creative elements, the show pops with color – especially Designer Daryl Harris’ gorgeous costumes and an incredible array of hats that reflect time periods and fashion trends.
The women are decked out in well-tailored Sunday best that reflects their characters. In a dramatic entrance, a rainbow of similar dresses is lowered for the women to change into and tell us about their journey.
Scenic Designer Dunsi Dai’s innovative set includes a large straw hat as the centerpiece. Joe Clapper’s lighting design enhances that symbolic piece.
With considerable flair, director Linda Kennedy focused on what made this 2002 gospel musical by Regina Taylor strike a chord with audiences. It has become the most produced musical in the country.
If Taylor’s name rings a bell, she is an award-winning actress, best known as the housekeeper on “I’ll Fly Away,” NBC’s critically acclaimed drama that ran for two seasons from 1991 to 1993.
She was inspired not only by her role models and the music of their churches, but also a coffee-table book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church,” by Craig Marberry and Michael Cunningham.
Musical Director Charles Creath expertly plays keyboards and Matthew Clark handles the percussion, a tight combo at the rear of the stage; they sound terrific. The score, with familiar gospel songs, is at times moving and other times fun.
The movements all have a purpose, too. An experienced Alvin Ailey dancer, choreographer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s work is another bright spot, conveying the faith, hope and love of this group.
Eleanor Humphrey as Jeanette, Tyler White as Yolanda and Anita Jackson as Mother Shaw in “Crowns.” Photo by Phillip Hamer.Anita Jackson, with customary power and grace, commands the stage with her vocal prowess and leadership role.
Other likable presences include Leah Stewart as Mabel, Amber Rose as Velma, Maureen L. (Hughes) Williams as Wanda and Eleanor Humphrey as Jeanette. They work together well. Tyler White is a natural as Yolanda.
As the sole male in multiple roles, Myke Andrews’ winning personality is a plus, and he also has a strong voice.
The show is structured with vignettes that are told like at a church service – procession, morning service, wedding, funeral, baptism and recessional. It flows well, engaging us with their stories and songs.
The cast connects the message and history lessons with warmth and good cheer. They make these characters come alive – people you know or wish you knew.
The Black Rep’s production of “Crowns” runs Thursdays through Sundays Sept. 5 through Sept. 23 at Washington University’s Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 534-3807 or visit www.theblackrep.org.