By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Plays with substantial women roles were spotlighted at the seventh annual St.
Louis Theater Circle Awards March 25, with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’
musical production of “Evita” and a homegrown “A Streetcar Named Desire” from
the third annual Tennessee Williams Festival each receiving seven awards.

Both iconic female-lead shows had received the most
nominations, 11 apiece, when the Circle announced them in January. The awards
recognized outstanding work locally produced by regional professional companies
during the calendar year 2018.

Nominees Kari Ely and Michelle Hand in “Into the Breeches!”The comedy “Into the Breeches!”, the first play in Shakespeare
Festival St. Louis’ new program, “In the Works,” won four awards. The world
premiere was in January 2018, with its first St. Louis performances in
September. The comedy from Chicago playwright George Brant is about a
fictitious theater group in 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s
wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” It had roles for
six women and two men. In addition to awards for ensemble, director Nancy Bell
and best production, Michelle Hand won best actress.

The Circle, which includes veteran area theater critics, annually recognizes outstanding work in comedies, dramas and musicals, and with two opera categories.

Each of the 33 categories featured five nominees, with 23 local companies cited for 54 shows, and 120 artists receiving nods, including 10 with two apiece.

This year, there were three ties: sound design in a play, costume design in a musical and musical ensemble.

Evita won seven awards from the Circle“Evita,” the vibrant Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, earned awards for musical direction (Charlie Alterman), choreography (Gustavo Zajac and Mariana Parma), set design (Luke Canterella), lighting (John Lasiter), director (Rob Ruggiero, his third), ensemble and production of a musical.

The landmark “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written in 1947 by the great American playwright Tennessee Williams, who spent his formative years in St. Louis, earned honors for Sophia Brown as Outstanding Actress – for her heart-wrenching portrayal of the emotionally needy and mental fragile faded beauty Blanche Dubois, sound design (original music by Henry Palkes and sound by Amanda Werre), lighting design (Sean M. Savoie), set design (James Wolk), direction (Tim Ocel), ensemble and production of a drama.

The 18 other awards went to separate shows, with both The
Black Rep and The Muny winning three apiece, and The Rep adding two more for earning
the most, nine.

Jeff Cummings and Katy Keating in “Life Sucks.” Photo by ProPhotoSTLIn comedy, Katy Keating won for Supporting Actress as feisty but unrequited lovesick Sonia in New Jewish Theatre’s “Life Sucks,” a ‘sort of’ adaptation of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Aaron Posner. She was also part of the award-winning ensemble of “Into the Breeches!”.

Isaiah Di Lorenzo in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Photo by Ron James.Isaiah Di Lorenzo won Supporting Actor as The Player, the leader of the Tragedians, in St. Louis Shakespeare’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” He also was in the award-winning ensemble of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Will Bonfiglio as Mary Dale in “Red Scare on Sunset.” Photo by Justin Been. Will Bonfiglio won his second Outstanding Actor Award, as film star Mary Dale in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Red Scare on Sunset.” He was honored in 2017 for the one-man show, “Buyer & Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.

For costume designs, Lou Bird won for The Rep’s “Born Yesterday” vintage wardrobe in the play category and there was a tie in the musical category between Leon Dobkowski, who won for The Muny’s colorful “The Wiz,” and Darryl Harris for the elegant “Crowns: A Gospel Musical” at The Black Rep.

There was another tie in sound design in a play – besides “Streetcar,” Rusty Wandall won for Lucas Hnath’s contemporary “The Humans” at The Rep.

Laurie McConnell, left, as Birdie Hubbard in “The Little Foxes.” Photo by Patrick HuberIn drama, Laurie McConnell won Supporting Actress as forlorn
Birdie Hubbard in St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s production of Lillian Hellman’s “The
Little Foxes.” She won in 2017 for Supporting Actress in a Musical, for her portrayal
of Joanne in “Company” at Insight Theatre Company.

Eric Dean White as Satan and Chris Ware as Judas. Photo by Ann AuerbachEric Dean White, a previous nominee, won Supporting Actor for playing the slick, smooth, haughty and conniving Satan in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at Mustard Seed Theatre.

Ron Himes in “Fences”

Another previous nominee and winner, Ron Himes won Outstanding Actor as bitter garbage collector Troy in August Wilson’s “Fences at The Black Rep last winter. In 2014, The Black Rep won best ensemble and production for “The Whipping Man.”

The Black Rep’s “Torn Asunder” best new playThe Black Rep also won Best New Play for Nikkole Salter’s “Torn
Asunder,” which dramatized true stories of newly emancipated African Americans
trying to overcome the vestiges of slavery so they could reconnect with their
families.

Joy Boland won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the imposing villainess sea witch in Variety Theater’s “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.”

Beth Leavel as Mama Rose in “Gypsy.” Photo by Philip Hamer.For their powerhouse musical performances, Corbin Bleu won Outstanding Actor as the fleet-footed matinee idol Don Lockwood in “Singin’ in the Rain” and Beth Leavel was honored as the controlling stage parent Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” both at The Muny.

Corbin Bleu in “Singin’ in the Rain” at The Muny. Photo by Phil Hamer.Leavel had been nominated three times before (“Hello Dolly!” “Oklahoma!” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” all at the Muny. She is currently performing on Broadway in a St. Louis-produced original musical, “The Prom.”

Stephanie Merritt and Kent Coffel in “The Light in the Piazza” Kent Coffel won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his performance as well-meaning haberdasher Signor Naccarelli, Fabrizio’s father, in “The Light in the Piazza,” presented by R-S Theatrics in its St. Louis regional premiere.

Anything Goes at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter LindbergTying with “Evita” for musical ensemble was New Line Theatre’s vivacious “Anything Goes.”

It was a three-peat for Ruggiero, who won for directing “Evita,” and had previously been honored for The Rep’s productions of “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George.”

“Regina” at OTSL was Outstanding Opera ProductionIn the opera categories, Opera Theatre of St. Louis was honored
for both Outstanding Achievement in Opera, which was given to director Patricia
Racette for “La Traviata,” and the Mark Blitzstein adaptation of “The Little Foxes”
— “Regina,” as Outstanding Production of an Opera.
Three special awards were bestowed:  To the
Muny for a century of performances celebrated during its centennial season of
2018; to Kathleen Sitzer, founder and long-time artistic director of the New
Jewish Theatre, for lifetime achievement; and to Steven Woolf, Augustin
artistic director of The Rep for more than 30 years, also for lifetime
achievement.

Sitzer retired after New Jewish Theatre’s 2017-18 season, while Woolf will retire after The Rep’s 2018-19 season this spring. Organized in 2012, the St. Louis Theater Circle includes founding members Steve Allen of stagedoorstl.com, Mark Bretz of the Ladue News, Robert A. Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of Broadway World, Gerry Kowarsky of HEC-TV’s “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX, Judith Newmark, now of judyacttwo.com, Ann Pollack of stlouiseats.typepad.com, Lynn Venhaus, now of St. Louis Limelight magazine, Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV’s Two on the Aisle, and Calvin Wilson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tina Farmer of KDHX and Michelle Kenyon of snoopstheatrethoughts.com. Eleanor Mullin is the administrator.

Those who helped produce the show at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University included Andrea Torrence and Peggy Holly, who put together the slide show; awards assistance Hannah Daines, stage manager Alycia Martin and assistant stage manager Delaney Dunster, voice-over announcer Colin Nichols and box office assistants Kimberly Sansone and Harry Ginsburg.

Renowned local musician Joe Dreyer was the accompanist and Deborah Sharn performed an opening number.

Special thanks to Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, Price Waterhouse Cooper LLC, who tabulate the Circle ballots, and to the awards certificate calligrapher Susan Zenner.

Contact the Circle by email: [email protected] and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

By Andrea Braun
Contributing Writer
“King Charles III” by Mike Bartlett is set in the indeterminate future when Elizabeth, Queen of England, has died and Charles (Colin Nichols) is now, at last, King.
We meet him as he addresses the audience and is soon joined by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (Donna Postel); Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (Michael Bouchard); Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (Lexie Baker); and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (Jeremy Goldmeier) immediately following the Queen’s funeral.
Harry begs off the rest of the ceremonies, as we might expect from what we know of pre-Meghan Harry; the rest remain to talk. And exactly here is where the play went off the rails for me, and it did not manage to get back on for nearly three hours.

I realize information that the audience may not know must be conveyed through the characters, but Catherine, of all people, cannot possibly be ignorant enough of protocol to think that Charles isn’t King until his coronation three months hence. “The Queen is dead. Long live the King,” etc. Nevertheless, Camilla goes into lecture mode and Catherine (aka Kate) just listens, putting in a word here and there.
There’s an easy fix for that as the action quickly shifts to a club where Harry’s mates introduce him to Jessica Edwards (Britteny Henry), a Republican, who might well NOT know how succession works.
Back to the castle. Once Camilla gets her tutorial out of the way, the family exits and Charles has his first meeting with Prime Minister Kristin Evans (Andra Harkins), and we quickly learn they are at odds over a bill putting some restrictions on freedom of the press that Parliament has passed and now only requires the King’s signature to take effect.
The Queen would have done her duty and signed. But Charles, determined to be his own man, believes no restrictions should be placed on the media. Now, is this about the issue or the true belief of man himself? PM Evans spends most of her time in a frustrated huff, demonstrating that by her decidedly perfunctory curtsies, and it is difficult to blame her, even if one agrees with Charles.
This contretemps between Charles and his government, the ones whose power, unlike his, is not mainly symbolic, furnishes the major plot of the story. Subplots include Charles’s own self-doubt, and his relationship with his wife.
Harry and Jess have a rocky road. They have fallen in love “just like Romeo and Juliet” —that is, quickly and irresponsibly, but their story creates another annoyance: She keeps saying that she’s breaking up with him, but then she’s baaack, every time!
There is the balancing act performed by MP Margaret Stevens (Patience Davis), Leader of the Opposition, to placate both the King and the PM, and the question of who should have the throne, as it has long been known that many subjects prefer William to Charles.
It doesn’t help that Diana, Princess of Wales (Hannah Pauluhn) drifts through a couple of times, telling both her husband and son individually that each will be “the greatest King England ever had.”
The ghost is only one of the many Shakespearian references and allusions sprinkled throughout its five acts. A few more of these include casting Kate as a Lady Macbeth and William her reluctant Lord. It has been called “a future history play,” as it is styled in much the same way as Shakespeare’s own. Blank verse is employed, with touches of prose and a soupcon of iambic pentameter. The King seems weak (“Henry VI,” “Hamlet”), given to the grand gesture when it is not in his best interests (“King Lear”).
Prince Harry is beset with self-doubt (Prince Hal) and he calls himself a “ginger joke.” Even a kabob seller reinforces the younger prince’s doubts representing the common people, worried about the future of Britain; and that when so much of it has been taken away, it really isn’t the country they recognize any more.
Of course, the difference between this play and Shakespeare’s is that we don’t know how this one will come out, so that suspense adds some interest. There is good work from several of the actors, but Nichols could be stronger. In attempting to capitalize on Charles’ perceived weakness, he becomes almost devoid of personality, and if that is a directorial choice, I don’t think it works. Nichols’ is, at least until the last act, a one-note performance. There are hints of “accents” that make one long for a dialect coach.
Donna Northcott is a talented veteran director, and there are certain aspects she handles well, especially moving the actors around the stage and scene changes that are gracefully choreographed.
The play does develop momentum in the last half hour or so, but then someone fluffs (another) line, and takes us right out of the scene. And there were just too many of those mistakes. Presumably they will be corrected during the run.
Robin Weatherall’s sound design is fun and appropriate—varying between classical selections to represent the older royals and rock and roll for the younger. Costumes aren’t always flattering, but they are interesting, particularly Harkins’, Henry’s, and Baker’s. But Davis’s character only gets one brown suit? S.H. Boygan’s set is simple with basic elements added and shifted as needed. He seems to have done a lot with a little.
Britteny Henry and Dustin AllisonOverall, I’d choose James Reiss (Dustin Allison), Press Adviser, as best in show. It’s not that he doesn’t make mistakes like nearly everyone else, but he has many balls in the air and handles them all with a sort of jittery style, and he’s funny. There is more humor in the text than is noticeable in performance.
Davis is excellent and Harkins, is properly strong in her portrayal of where the real power lies. The actors who play multiple parts—the aforementioned Pauluhn is very good as a TV producer, Michael B. Perkins and William Pendergast are fine in all their roles.
The only exception here is Jeff Lovell, who as the Speaker of the House and the Archbishop of Canterbury, needs to back off a bit, lest he remind us even more of Peter Cook in “The Princess Bride” than he already does..
I am aware of the awards and nominations “King Charles III” has received since its first mounting in 2014, but this production by St. Louis Shakespeare doesn’t make it clear why it has been so honored.
“King Charles III” opened Aug. 17 with weekend performances, and continues next week with a Thursday performance Aug. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Evenings are at 8 p.m. Aug. 24 and 25, and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Ivory Theatre, 7620 Michigan Ave. Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com.

Photos by Ron James