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

Due to casting conflicts, The Black Rep’s production of “Marie and Rosetta”  by George Brant will be rescheduled to kick-off the 2019-2020 Season, Sept. 3-25, 2019. Replacing the previously scheduled 2019 spring production will be “Milk Like Sugar,” Feb. 13- March 3, 2019. 
“We are ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with some extraordinary artists for our production of ‘Marie and Rosetta,” said Black Rep Producing Director Ron Himes. “Because of the cast, we felt compelled to alter the season schedule. While ‘Milk Like Sugar’ was slated to be produced as part of our 2019-2020 season, we’re thrilled to move it to this season’s electrifying line-up instead.”

About MILK LIKE SUGAR
It is Annie Desmond’s 16th birthday and her friends have decided to help her celebrate in style, complete with a brand-new tattoo. Before her special night is over, however, Annie and her friends enter into a life–altering pact. When Annie tries to make good on her promise to her friends, she is forced to take a good look at the world that surrounds her. She befriends Malik, who promises a bright future, and Keera, whose evangelical leanings inspire Annie in a way her young parents have not been able to do. In the end, Annie’s choices propel her onto an irreversible path in this story that combines wit, poetry and hope.
About MARIE AND ROSETTA
Bringing fierce guitar playing and swing to gospel music that would become a rhythmic precursor to rock and roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer of mid-20th-century music with a huge influence on Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, and Ray Charles. Set in the showroom of a funeral home in Mississippi 1946, this musical celebration of two extraordinary Black Women chronicles the unlikely first rehearsal between Rosetta and the prim young, Marie Knight, to see if the potential protégée could summon the stuff to allow for a professional partnership that might topple the male stranglehold suppressing Rosetta’s career. They would embark on a tour to establish them as one of the great duos in musical history.
Season ticket-holders will have the same seats for ‘Milk Like Sugar’ as they would have had for ‘Marie and Rosetta.’ Single tickets for “Milk Like Sugar’ will go on sale Jan. 3, 2019.

Ben Nordstrom and Kari Ely will play opposite one another in “Into the Breeches!,” the headlining production of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ new program titled, In the Works, set for Oct. 28 through Nov. 24, at the Grandel Theatre. Written by George Brant and directed by Nancy Bell, the month-long, ticketed production is the culmination of the Festival’s 2018 season.
Kari ElyIn addition to “Into the Breeches!,” In the Works will include a Saturday matinee family show, “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness,” inspired by the mistaken identity hijinks of “The Comedy of Errors” and written by Bell. Also included are two staged readings of “The Thousand Natural Shocks” by playwright Michael Sáenz. Deep-dive talkbacks and art-making workshops for kids will round out the events.
For a detailed In the Works schedule and to order tickets, please visit www.sfstl.com/in-the-works, or call Metrotix at 314-534-1111. Student tickets to all performances are free with an ID but it is recommended they be reserved in advance. A limited number of “Pay What You Can Nights” are scheduled for the “Breeches!” performances on Nov. 7 and 14 and should also be reserved in advance. Military discounts are available as well.
Ben Nordstrom“One of the things that excited me most about joining the Festival was knowing that it already had plans to make this foray into producing new work alongside the classics of Shakespeare,” said Tom Ridgely, executive producer of the Festival. “These plays each capture something beautifully distinct about our current American moment. Like Shakespeare, they show us ourselves, in a way we’ve never seen before, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share them with St. Louis.”
“Into the Breeches!” is a comedy about a fictitious theater group. It’s 1942, and with the men away at war, the director’s wife sets out to produce an all-female version of “Henry V.” She assembles an unexpected cast that showcases how art and comedy can come together in even the darkest times. The play had its critically-acclaimed world premiere in January 2018 at the Tony-winning Trinity Repertory Company. This will be its first production in St. Louis. There will be 16 performances of “Breeches!” throughout the month-long run. Brant, the play’s author, also wrote “Grounded,” which starred Anne Hathaway during its New York run.
Nordstrom, whose work includes numerous appearances at the Repertory Theatre, the Muny, New Jewish, Stages, among others, also appeared in two plays written by Bell on behalf of the Festival, and in collaboration with the St. Louis Symphony in 2016. Ely, who previously appeared in the Festival’s main stage productions of “Henry IV,” “Henry V,” and “Antony and Cleopatra,” has worked for virtually every professional theater company in St. Louis. In addition to Nordstrom and Ely, the “Breeches!” cast will include Gary Wayne Barker, Michelle Hand, Katy Keating, Mary McNulty, Laura Resinger and Jacqueline Thompson.
Gary Wayne Baker will direct the family play,  “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness,” Bell’s story of resilience, identity and family. Cast members include Erika Flowers, Karl Hawkins, Michael James Reed and Jen Sinnen. “Outrageous” matinee performances are scheduled at 4 p.m. on Saturdays (Nov. 10, 17, 24).
“The Thousand Natural Shocks” tells the story of a high school student who explores his identity through experiences at a private military academy. The title character is encouraged and challenged by his role in the school’s production of “Hamlet.” Sáenz was commissioned by the Festival to adapt the story from his book of the same title. The story draws inspiration from the It Gets Better Project, which leads a global movement to empower LGBTQ youth worldwide. Webster Conservatory alumnus Kern McFadden will direct.  Two staged readings are scheduled at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 7-8.
Set designers Margery and Peter Spack and costume designer Michele Siler will serve as creative team members for both “Into the Breeches!” and “A Most Outrageous Fit of Madness.”
Generous support for In the Works is provided by Mont and Karen Levy. Student tickets for 18 and under are free thanks to support from PNC Arts Alive.
About Playwright George Brant:
George BrantGeorge Brant was born in Park Ridge, Illinois and studied acting at Northwestern before turning to writing for his own zeppo theater company in Chicago during the ‘90s. He now lives in Cleveland with his wife, Laura Kepley, the Artistic Director of Cleveland Play House.

His 2012 play, Grounded, about a female fighter pilot reassigned to the Air Force’s drone unit, played New York’s Public Theater in a production starring Oscar winner Anne Hathaway and directed by Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner Julie Taymor. That production won three Lortel Awards for excellence Off-Broadway and has gone on to over 125 productions in 18 countries and a dozen different languages.
Still when Into the Breeches! premiered earlier this year at the Tony-winning Trinity Rep in Rhode Island, the Providence Journal called it, out of Brant’s 20-plus plays, “his best work by far” and “a gem of a play, one of the sweetest nights of theater you’re likely to see”.
The Shakespeare Festival is proud to present the Midwest premiere of this charming, big-hearted and provocative new play by one of America’s most acclaimed and original new voices.

About Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Since its inception in 2001, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis has surpassed the one million mark in attendance through its work In the Schools, In the Streets and In the Park with more than 800,00 people attending the free main stage productions at Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. The organization has reached an additional 300,000 students In the Schools through its educational programming. In 2010, the Festival launched SHAKE 38, a marathon participatory presentation of Shakespeare’s entire 38-play canon community wide. In 2012, the Festival shut down its first street, Cherokee, to present a community-based play In the Streets. Leadership support for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ 2018 season is provided by the Whitaker Foundation. The Festival is also funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.sfstl.com, or call 314-531-9800.