By Lynn Venhaus
Christ Memorial Productions’ presentation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!” won eight Best Performance Awards for choreography, music direction, lighting, costumes, acting and Best Featured Dancer while Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production of the George and Ira Gershwin 1920s musical-screwball comedy “Nice Work If You Can Get It” won seven, including Best Large Ensemble Musical Production, Best Director and five acting awards, from Arts For Life Sunday.

It was KTG’s sixth win for musical production since 2000. Both shows had been nominated for 17 awards apiece. “A New Brain,” which was a local community theater premiere for Hawthorne Players, won Best Small Ensemble Production.

Arts For Life is a nonprofit organization that encompasses 140 communities and 8,460 square miles in St. Louis city, county and St. Charles County in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois.

Founded in 1994 by Lucinda Gyurci as a group dedicated to the healing power of the arts, AFL has honored community theater musicals for performances and achievements since 1999 (BPAs), plays since 2015 (Theatre Mask Awards) and expanded awards in youth musical theater in 2013.

Best Small Ensemble Musical “A New Brain”

But this is the first time AFL did not host a live gala. Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ceremony was re-imagined as a pre-recorded virtual celebration. The 21st annual BPAs took place June 14, which was the original date, but transitioned to a streaming format broadcast on Facebook and YouTube.

AFL President Mary McCreight said the coronavirus safety measures in place and restrictions on gatherings in St. Louis County were factors in the decision to cancel the live show but still have some sort of event.

“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our local arts community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding achievements of the previous year,” McCreight said.

Performances from nominees for large ensemble musicals, two small ensemble musicals and five youth productions premiered on AFL’s YouTube channel for 10 days leading up to the awards, and are now available there, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnCSL5RPbHTrhbc0mbHcWnA

There were 15 community theaters and 10 youth-only groups who participated last year. More than 60 judges in the Theatre Recognition Guild scored 46 shows — 19 large ensembles, 3 small and 24 youth, featuring 939 roles. For 2019, there were 154 individual nominations from 22 groups, with 36 percent first-time nominees and 65 percent first-time winners.

Goshen Theatre Project, which led all groups with 18 nominations, won five youth awards overall for “Les Miserables School Edition,” including Best Youth Musical Production, Supporting Actress Natalie Cochran as Eponine, costume design (Terry Pattison), lighting design (Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill) and Bennett English as Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean.

Other multiple winners in the youth categories were Riverbend Theatre, which won three for “The Drowsy Chaperone” — director (Kristi Doering), music direction (Michael Frazier/Alison Neace) and lead actor (Jayson Heil as the Man in Chair), and Young People’s Theatre, which won two for “Newsies” – best supporting actor (Will Dery as Les) and set design (Brisby Andrews and Gary Rackers).

Norbert Leo Butz

Thirty-three awards honoring excellence during 2019 were announced by past winners and members of the AFL board of directors, with two special guest presenters — Norbert Leo Butz, two-time Tony Award winner who grew up in St. Louis, and Hana S. Sharif, the Augustin Family Artistic Director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Butz, who also announced the youth musical production winner, told the audience to believe in themselves, even when it’s hard, and follow their dreams, noting he had supportive parents and “great” teachers.

“Believe in yourself and keep on being grateful. Stick to it,” he said from his home in New Jersey. “(Performing arts) feeds our soul, our minds, our hearts.”

AFL donated to Butz’s charity, The Angel Band Project, which uses music therapy to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and advocates for rights of survivors. For more information, visit www.angelbandproject.org

Jennifer Kerner

Four special honors were given out to Jennifer Kerner for her inclusion efforts, Bennett English for Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean Valjean in Goshen Theatre Project’s “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Kayla Dressman for Best Featured Dancer as Dream Laurie in  CMP’s “Oklahoma!” and Diane Hanisch, the BPA musical director/conductor for the past 20 years, who won a national Spotlight Award from the American Association of Community Theatres, presented by Quiana Clark-Roland. A Lifetime Achievement Award was not designated this year.

Kerner’s recognition was for her advocacy on inclusion and helping to make the live theater experience accessible to all individuals. Kerner, a local singer and actress, works to help place people with developmental disabilities in jobs. She has guided local theater companies in providing sensory-friendly performances and has worked to create comfortable environments for those on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing disorders.

McCreight was thrilled about Hanisch’s national award.

Diane Hanisch

“This award is designed to help pay tribute to an individual for long or special service. It recognizes outstanding dedication, service and contribution to your organization. It is for someone who has made a significant impact on the quality of your organization. Diane has done just that with per professionalism and charm. She is a gem! Not only can she calm the nerves of a 12-year-old singing a solo, but others who are singing in front of 700 people for the first time. She arranges and writes the music, gathers her professional band, and conducts the show with aplomb. Diane cares as much about our legacy as anyone involved on the Arts for Life Board. No one is more deserving,” she said.

The annual Youth Scholarships, which are awarded to two students pursuing a degree in the arts, were announced, with Alaina Bozarth, a graduate of Metro East Lutheran High School, and Josiah Haan, a graduate of Fort Zumwalt High School, each given $500. Bozarth plans to major in musical theatre at Belmont University in Louisville, Ky., and Haan plans to major in technical theatre and design at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.

Other ensemble nominees include “Hello, Dolly!” from Wentzville Christian Church, “Oklahoma!” from Monroe Actors Stage Company and “The Bridges of Madison County” from Alpha Players of Florissant for Best Large Ensemble and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from O’Fallon TheatreWorks for Best Small Ensemble.

For Best Youth Production, in addition to “Les Miserables,” nominees include “The Drowsy Chaperone” from Riverbend Theatre, “Matilda” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, “Newsies” from Young People’s Theatre and “Spring Awakening” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.

CMP’s Oklahoma!

For the record books, Kimberly Klick won her sixth BPA for choreography for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”. She had previously won for CMP’s “Mary Poppins” and “The King and I,” plus “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Big the Musical” and “Fiddler on the Roof” for other companies. It was her 10th overall, including wins for Best Featured Dancer in “Brigadoon” in 2000, Lead Actress for Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2006 and Jo in “Little Women” in 2008, and Cameo Actress in “Titanic” 2003.

It was three in a row for Jonathan Hartley, who won for lighting design of “Oklahoma!” and had won last year for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at DaySpring Center for the Arts; he won for set design for DSA’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2017. Stephanie Fox won her third in four years for choreography in Gateway Center for the Performing Arts shows – “Spring Awakening” 2019, “Carrie the Musical” 2017 and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2016. Terry Pattison also won her third for costume design since 2017: “Peter Pan,” “The Lion King Jr.” and “Les Miz,” all for Goshen Theatre Project, and won set design for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2018.

Joe Paule Sr. won his third for musical direction, for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”, following CMP’s “The King and I” in 2014 and Hawthorne Players’ “The Producers” in 2010. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award last year. It was the second award for Michael Frazier and Alison Neace for musical direction, this year for Riverbend Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” and for Alton Little Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill” in 2011.

Other multiple winners included two for Alpha Players of Florissant’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for Lead Actor (Cole Guttmann) and Cameo Actress (Chelsie Johnston) and Take a Bow Showcase for “Annie” – juvenile performer (Leontine Rickert) and duo/group (Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller).

Winners Will Shaw and Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Nice Work If You Can Get It”

In the acting categories, Mike Huelsmann’s award for Best Featured Actor as Jud Fry was his third, after Lead Actor as Javert in Take Two Productions’ “Les Miz” (2013) and as part of Best Duo/Group in Looking Glass Playhouse’s “Young Frankenstein” 2015. Kimmie Kidd-Booker’s award for Best Featured Actress as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” was her second win, after Best Featured Actress in “The Wiz” in 2014. George Doerr IV won his second, as Igor in Alfresco’s “Young Frankenstein,” after winning Best Actor in 2017 for Alfresco’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”

The virtual program included the following production team: directors Mary McCreight and David Wicks Jr., video supervisor Kim Klick, visual designers Colin Dowd and Bethany Hamilton, voice-over announcer Ken Clark and host Karen Fulks.

A list of winners is included here, below.

AFL’s Theatre Mask Awards was originally set for April 4, then moved to July 18, but now will also be a virtual celebration. The 2020 TMAs will honor excellence in community theater productions of dramas and comedies during 2019 in a live interactive viewing event at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 18, on the AFL Facebook page and YouTube Channel. The awards show will be recorded beforehand and the content will remain on social media.

On March 16, McCreight suspended all public activities of the AFL organization because of the public health crisis. The extension has been extended until further notice. Both TRG and TMA branch judges and participating groups will receive announcements on future developments. As the region re-opens, social distancing and wearing face coverings continues. At this time, all AFL performance venues remain closed.

“I am incredibly grateful to all of our constituencies – the board, judges, participating groups, audience members and donors – for their commitment to AFL and their engagement and unwavering support of our local theatre community during these uncertain times,” McCreight said.

Any company that won can have a representative pick up their trophies on July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Clayton Community Theatre, which is located at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117.

Riverbend Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone

A souvenir program is available to download online: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YlomcYjVNqDNqmPTCrYGSjnAtDwkn9QT/view

A limited number of copies will be available for purchase as well.

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at [email protected]

To see a list of the 2019 nominees and winners, as well as the awards history 1999-2019, visit the website: www.artsforlife.org

Follow AFL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2020 Best Performance Award Winners:

Best Musical Production Large Ensemble: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Musical Production Small Ensemble: “A New Brain,” Hawthorne Players

Best Youth Musical Production: “Les Miserables: School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Director: Dani Mann, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Project

Best Musical Direction: Kathy Eichelberger and Joseph Paule Jr., “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Choreography: Kimberly Klick, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Lead Actor: Cole Guttmann, “The Bridges of Madison County, “Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Lead Actress: Jaclyn Amber, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Featured Actor: Mike Huelsmann, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Featured Actress: Kimmie Kidd-Booker, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Supporting Actor: Caleb Long, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Supporting Actress: Dianne M. Mueller, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Actor in a Comedic Role: George Doerr IV, “Young Frankenstein,” Alfresco Productions

Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Margery Handy, “The Wizard of Oz,” Alton Little Theater

Best Cameo Actor: Jacob Streuter, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Looking Glass Playhouse

Best Cameo Actress: Chelsie Johnston, “The Bridges of Madison County,” Alpha Players of Florissant

Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Will Shaw, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Maria Wilken, “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Best Duo/Group: Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller, “Annie,” Take A Bow Showcase

Best Set Design: Matt Dossett, “The Little Shop of Horrors,” Monroe Actors Stage Company

Best Lighting Design: Jonathan Hartley, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Costume Design: Krysta Wenski, “Oklahoma!” Christ Memorial Productions

Best Juvenile Performer: Leontine Rickert, “Annie,” Take a Bow Showcase

Best Youth Director: Kristi Doering, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Music Direction: Michael Frazier and Alison Neace, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Choreography: Stephanie Fox, “Spring Awakening,” Gateway Center for the Performing Arts

Best Youth Lead Actor: Jayson Heil, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Riverbend Theatre

Best Youth Lead Actress: Alli McDonald, “Once Upon a Mattress,” St. John’s UCC Performing Arts Camp

Best Youth Supporting Actor: Will Dery, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Supporting Actress: Natalie Cochran, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project

Best Youth Set Design: Brisby Andrews and Greg Rackers, “Newsies,” Young People’s Theatre

Best Youth Lighting Design: Halli Pattison and Blake Churchill, “Les Miserables School Edition,” Goshen Theatre Project



By Lynn Venhaus Managing EditorRewind, reboot, reimagine. Time to look back and move forward. We have kids young and old: smart kindergartners, sarcastic ’50s high school seniors, defiant ’80s high school dancers, poor struggling college students in Paris and Biblical brothers, munchkins and French rebels.

And it’s not exactly a bed of roses for the adults either — but we have spry seniors in Florida, hardy pioneers seeking fortunes in the California Gold Rush, three possible dads on a Greek island and New Yorkers staying at The Plaza .

Growing up, coming of age, growing old — all universal tales. Get refreshed and renewed — go see a play!

Betsy Bennett and Rick Compton “Assisted Living: The Musical” The Playhouse at Westport Aug. 1-11 Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased through MetroTix at www.metrotix.com or by calling 314-534-1111. Tickets are also available at the Playhouse box office one hour prior to show time. Groups of 10 or more should call 314-402-2430 for special rates. For more information, visit www.playhouseatwestport.com What It’s About: Betsy Bennett and Rick Compton, who wrote it, play 18 different characters who live in a senior living community, Pelican Roost, in Naples, Fla.“Footloose” The Hawthorne Players Aug. 2-3, 9-11 Florissant Civic Center Theatre 314- 921-5678 www. hawthorneplayers.info What It’s About: The musical is based on the 1984 movie, “Footloose,” and features some of those songs: “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise,” “Holding Out for a Hero” and the title song.  The dance-heavy show is about a new kid in town who clashes with the town minister after he learns dancing and rock music is not allowed.

Photo by ProPhotoSTL “Grease” Stages St. Louis July 19 – Aug 18 Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Community Center 111 South Geyer Road in Kirkwood www.stagesstlouis.org

What It’s About: Welcome to Rydell High where Danny Zuko
and his gang of Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies rule the school! Bursting
with explosive energy and 1950’s nostalgia, “Grease” blends an irresistible mix
of adolescent angst and All-American teen spirit to create a high-octane,
pop-culture phenomenon.

Director: Michael Hamilton
Starring: Sam Harvey, Summerisa Bell Stevens, Morgan Cowling, Jessie Corbin,
Patrick Mobley, Collin O’Connor, Frankie Thams, Julia Knitel, Lucy Moon and
Brooke Shapiro.

 “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” July 26 – Aug. 4 OverDue Theatre Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Olivette Community Center 9723 Grandview Drive, Olivette, MO 314-210-2959 www.overduetheatrecompany.com

What It’s About: Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019, “Joseph”
is one of the most enduring shows of all time and reimagines the biblical story
of Joseph, his father Jacob, eleven brothers and the coat of many colors.

Dress rehearsal on July 23, 2019 for Union Avenue Opera’s production of La bohème.“La Boheme” Union Avenue Opera July 26 – Aug. 2 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Union Avenue Christian Church 733 Union at Enright 314-361-2881www.unionavenueopera.org What It’s About: Puccini’s opera about a group of poor artists and their search for love and happiness.

Starring: Jesse Donner, Yulia Lysenko, Andrew Wannigman, Cree
Carrico, Isaiah Musik-Ayala, Nicholas Ward, E. Scott Levin, Dale Obermark, Randell
McGee

Ensemble: Linda Brady, Madeline Buckley, Chasity Cook,
David Goldman, Michael Hawkins, Adam Kosberg, Christina Kruger, Randell McGee,
Jamison Mckeehan, Elizabeth Ducey Moss, Dale Obermark, Michaele Postell, Ross
Rubright, Tina Sayers, Miles Wadlington, Danielle Yilmaz

Of Note: The opera is sung in Italian with projected
English text.

“Les Miserables” School EditionGoshen Theatre ProjectAug. 1 – 4Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.Sunday at 1:30 p.m.The Hettenhausen Center for the Performing Arts

“Mamma Mia!” July 26 – Aug. 4 Hard Road Theatre Productions Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Highland Elementary School auditorium in Highland, Ill. www.hardroad.org

What It’s About: ABBA songs on a Greek isle. Three possible
dads, a wedding, and Donna and the Dynamos.

“Matilda” The Muny Aug. 5 – 11 Nightly at 8:15 p.m. Forest Park outdoor stagewww.muny.org

What It’s About: Adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel about a precocious kindergartener, her special powers, and the kindness shown to her in the face of wicked adults. Director: John Tartaglia Starring: Beth Malone (Miss Trunchbull), Conforti (Matilda), Laura Michelle Kelly (Miss Honey), Ann Harada (Mrs. Wormwood), Josh Grisetti (Mr. Wormwood) and Darlesia Cearcy (Mrs. Phelps). The ensemble completing this cast will feature Maya Bowles, Colby Dezelick, Sean Ewing, Ryan Fitzgerald, Berklea Going, Trevor Michael Schmidt, Gabi Stapula and Sharrod Williams, as well as The Muny Kid and Teen youth ensemble.

Of Note: Beth Malone is the first female to play Miss Trunchbull in a professional production of “Matilda.” Mary Engelbreit designed the costumes and set.

Photo by Philip Hamer “Paint Your Wagon” The Muny July 27 – Aug. 2 Nightly at 8:15 p.m. Forest Park outdoor stagewww.muny.org What It’s About: A reimagined version of a 1951 Lerner and Loewe musical set in the California gold rush. It’s a moving tale of ambition, love and home that features such songs as “They Call the Wind Mariah,” “I Talk to the Trees” and “Wand’rin’ Star.” This adaptation has a revised book by Jon Marans. It’sproduced in association with On the Wagon Productions and Garmar Ventures.

Director: Josh Rhodes, also choreographer, with
Starring: Bogart (Ben Rumson), Mamie Parris (Cayla Woodling), Omar Lopez-Cepero
(Armando), Bobby Conte Thornton (William), Maya Keleher (Jennifer Rumson),
Allan K. Washington (Wesley), Andrew Kober (Jake), Austin Ku (Ming-Li), Raymond
J. Lee (Guang-Li), Rodney Hicks (H. Ford) and Michael James Reed (Craig
Woodling). A golden ensemble completes this cast, including Akilah Ayanna, Juan
Caballer, Matthew Davies, Richard Gatta, Sally Glaze, Michael Milkanin, Trina
Mills, Pascal Pastrana, Michael Seltzer and Cooper Stanton. The company will
also be joined by the Muny Teen youth ensemble.

“Plaza Suite” Act Two Theatre July 31 – Aug. 11 St. Peters Cultural Arts Centre at 1 St Peters Centre Blvd. www.act2theater.com. What It’s About: Neil Simon wrote three one-acts that all take place at The Plaza Hotel in NYC

“Rising Stars Showcase” The Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation Sunday, August 4, at 2 p.m. Sheldon Concert Hall in Grand Center www.foxpacf.org/event/rising-stars-showcase-2 What It’s About: This free event is open to the public and is an afternoon of amazing talent from the Finalists and Nominees of both the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition and the St. Louis High School Musical Theatre Awards.

“The Wizard of Oz” Alton Little Theater July 25 – Aug. 4. Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 2450 North Henry in Alton, Ill. 618-462-6562www.altonlittletheater.org

What It’s About: Based on the books by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy
needs to find her way home after following the yellow brick road and making her
way to the Emerald City.