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

The Muny announced Tuesday the directors, choreographers and music directors for its 2019 season, which opens on June 10 with Guys and Dolls.
“We head into our second century with the first phase of our new stage, and a renewed sense of passion and commitment to our audiences, artists and community,” said Muny Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson. “I’m so thrilled to announce these brilliantly talented colleagues who will create this season. They are already hard at work, ready to make this season just as historic and memorable as our 100th.”
GUYS AND DOLLS
June 10 – 16
Book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Based on The Idyll of Sarah Brown and characters by Damon Runyon
GORDON GREENBERG (Director) co-wrote and directed the Broadway stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn for Roundabout, Universal and PBS Great Performances. Recent work includes Barnum (London), Heart of Rock and Roll (Old Globe), the acclaimed West End revival of Guys and Dolls, nominated for six Olivier Awards (Savoy Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Chichester, UK and international tour), the Drama Desk Award-winning NYC revivals of Working and Jacques Brel, the stage adaptation of Tangled for Disney, and writing TV musicals for Disney and Nickelodeon. Muny: Meet Me In St. Louis (revised book), Jesus Christ Superstar, Holiday Inn, West Side Story, Pirates! Upcoming: The Secret of My Success (Universal), Mystic Pizza (MGM), Dracula (Maltz). He attended Stanford University and NYU and is a member of SDC, WGA and the Dramatists Guild.

LORIN LATARRO (Choreographer) Broadway: Waitress, Les Liasions Dangereuses, Waiting for Godot. Curious Incident of the Dog… and American Idiot (Associate). Additional choreography: La Traviata (The Met), Chess (Kennedy Center), Twelfth Night (The Delacorte), Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 21 Chump Street(BAM), Heart of Rock and Roll (Old Globe), Assassins, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Encores!), Between The Lines (KC Rep), Queen of The Night (Drama Desk Award), Kiss Me, Kate (Barrington); The Best Is Yet To Come (59E59, Drama Desk Award). Director: Taste of Things to Come (Chicago). Lorin performed in 12 Broadway shows and danced for Tharp, Momix, Graham. Juilliard graduate. Upcoming: Merrily We Roll Along (Roundabout), SuperHero (Second Stage), Waitress and Home Street Home (West End).
BRAD HAAK (Music Director/Conductor) Muny: A Funny Thing…Forum, Fiddler on the Roof, Into the Woods, South Pacific, The King and I and Gypsy. Broadway: An American in Paris, Mary Poppins, Lestat and Il Divo – A Musical Affair. National tours: The Lion King, Miss Saigon. Music supervision and orchestrations:Daddy Long Legs (Off-Broadway, London, Tokyo, Seoul and 19 US productions) and John Caird’s A Knight’s Tale (Tokyo, 2018). International: Sousatzka (Toronto), An American in Paris (Paris), Honk! (Singapore and Philippines); Jane Eyre (Tokyo). Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Sunday in the Park with George and Follies (Jeff Award for music direction), Children of Eden (Kennedy Center). Orchestrations for New York and Boston Pops, National Symphony, L.A. Philharmonic.
KINKY BOOTS
June 19 – 25
Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper
Book by Harvey Fierstein
Based on the Miramax motion picture of the same name, written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth
DB BONDS (Director) is thrilled to be making his directorial debut at The Muny after appearing as Emmett in Legally Blonde in 2011. DB is the associate director of Kinky Boots and Pretty Woman on Broadway. He also served as the associate director of Kinky Boots worldwide with productions in England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and Korea. As an actor, he appeared in Broadway and national touring productions of Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Legally Blonde and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
RUSTY MOWERY (Choreographer) is thrilled to be back at the magical Muny after serving as choreographer for The Muny productions of Legally Blonde and Hairspray. He is currently the Associate Choreographer of Pretty Woman on Broadway and the Associate Choreographer of Kinky Boots for Broadway, both U.S. national tours, England, Australia, Canada, Germany, Korea and Japan tours. Proud SDC member. As an actor, Rusty appeared on Broadway in Cats, Ragtime, Hairspray, Seussical and Legally Blonde.
RYAN FIELDING GARRETT (Music Director/Conductor) NYC/national tour: Kinky Boots, Jasper in Deadland, The Man in the Ceiling, Hamilton, Mary Poppins, Sweeney Todd (NY Philharmonic), Wicked, Big River (Encores!), Finding Neverland, The Three Little Pigs. Regional: Next to Normal (Weston Playhouse), Little Miss Scrooge (Rubicon Theatre), Passing Strange, [title of show], Chess (Playhouse Square), Two Gentlemen of Verona (Lake Tahoe Shakespeare). NYC orchestration credits include Darling, A Night Like This. Graduate of Baldwin Wallace University.
JERRY MITCHELL (Original Broadway Direction and Choreography) Tony Award winner for Best Choreography: La Cage aux Folles (revival) and Kinky Boots (also nominated as Director). Broadway: Pretty Woman (Director/Choreographer) and the Gloria Estefan musical On Your Feet! (Director). Other recent work includes the pre-Broadway productions of Half Time (Chicago and Paper Mill Playhouse) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (West End, Olivier nomination for Choreography). In the 35 preceding years, Jerry has been involved with over 50 Broadway, West End and touring productions, including as choreographer of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, The Full Monty (Tony nomination), The Rocky Horror Show, Hairspray (Tony nomination and NBC telecast), Gypsy, Never Gonna Dance (Tony nomination), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Tony nomination), La Cage aux Folles, Legally Blonde (Tony nomination), Catch Me If You Can and Kinky Boots.
1776
June 27 – July 3
Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
ROB RUGGIERO (Director) is thrilled to be returning for The Muny’s 101st season. Last year, he directed Gypsy, as well as past productions of The Music Man, Oklahoma!; Hello, Dolly!; South Pacific and The King and I. He has also directed many award-winning productions at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, including Follies, Sunday in the Park with George and a recent production of Evita. Broadway: High and Looped. Off-Broadway he conceived and directed Make Me a Song (Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations). Rob also recently directed Oliver!, his 11th collaboration with Goodspeed Musicals, with whom he also adapted and directed a new production of Show Boat. He is the Producing Artistic Director for TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut.
JAMES MOORE (Music Director/Conductor) The Muny: Gypsy, The Music Man, Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, Hello, Dolly!; West Side Story, Meet Me In St. Louis, The Producers. Broadway: Miss Saigon, On the Town, Gigi, Follies, South Pacific, Ragtime, Steel Pier, Company. National tours: The Producers, Kiss Me, Kate; Crazy for You, And the World Goes ‘Round. The Kennedy Center: Camelot starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, My Fair Lady starring Jonathan Pryce, Mame starring Christine Baranski. Concerts: National Symphony, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Santa Barbara Symphony. Mr. Moore serves as the music supervisor for the United States touring productions of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon. Upcoming: Titanic (Broadway revival). Education: Master and Bachelor degrees from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S CINDERELLA
July 8 – 16
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book by Oscar Hammerstein II
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
MARCIA MILGROM DODGE (Director) is a Tony and Drama Desk nominated director & choreographer. The Muny: Meet Me In St. Louis (100th Season!), The Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstein, The Buddy Holly Story, The Addams Family. Broadway: Ragtime, High Society. National tours: Ragtime, Curious George,Seussical, Cookin’. New York: Venus Flytrap, Radio Gals, Maltby & Shire’s Closer Than Ever (original production) and William Finn’s Romance in Hard Times. TV/Video: Sesame Street and Elmo‘s Wild West. Upcoming: Deathtrap (Cape Playhouse), Mary Poppins (Drury Lane) and a new Buddy (Cincinnati Playhouse). Between reimagining revivals and directing & choreographing world premieres regionally and abroad, Dodge is also a wife, a mother, a teacher, an SDC Executive Board Member and a published and produced playwright.
JOSH WALDEN (Choreographer) returns to The Muny after choreographing Meet Me In St Louis (2018), The Little Mermaid (2017) and The Buddy Holly Story (2015). He directed/ choreographed A Chorus Line for Maltz Jupiter Theatre and Theatre Memphis, The Rocky Horror Show for University of Buffalo, Legally Blonde for Merry-Go-Round Playhouse and the rock opera Fallen Angel in the New York International Fringe Festival. Josh has also choreographed for Des Moines Metro Opera, Signature Theatre, Sacramento Music Circus, Doonce Productions, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Gateway Playhouse and Morag Productions for Seabourn Cruise Lines. On Broadway, he was the associate director/associate choreographer for the revival of Ragtime. As a performer, Josh was in the Broadway revivals of 42nd Street, La Cage aux Folles, A Chorus Line and Ragtime.
GREG ANTHONY RASSEN (Music Director/Conductor) Drama Desk winner and Tony nominee for Bandstand. Other Broadway credits include: An American in Paris, Bullets Over Broadway, The Little Mermaid, The Book of Mormon, R&H’s Cinderella, A Chorus Line (revival). Arranger/ orchestrator: Jerry Springer: The Opera (New Group); Between the Lines (Kansas City Rep.), The Beast in the Jungle (Vineyard). Commissions include: New York Pops, Boston Pops, Philly Pops, Indianapolis Pops; Leslie Odom, Jr., Ashley Brown, Sierra Boggess, Jeremy Jordan, Norm Lewis, Darren Criss, Liz Callaway, Julia Murney, André Previn, John Williams. TV: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Live with Kelly & Michael, The View. M.M. degree from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. www.greganthonymusic.com
FOOTLOOSE
July 18 – 24
Music by Tom Snow
Lyrics by Dean Pitchford
Stage Adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie
Based on the original screenplay by Dean Pitchford
Additional Music by Eric Carmen, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and Jim Steinman
CHRISTIAN BORLE (Director) is a two-time Tony Award winner and has starred in a myriad of roles both on stage and screen. His turn as Shakespeare in Something Rotten! garnered him both Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, as well as a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play as Black Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher. Other Broadway: Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Amour, Spamalot, Mary Poppins, Legally Blonde, Falsettos and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Film: Blackhat, Bounty Hunter. TV: Masters of Sex, Lifesaver, The Good Wife, Smash and NBC’s TheSound of Music Live! Most recently, Christian made his directorial debut with the off-Broadway production of Popcorn Falls at The Davenport Theatre.
JESSICA HARTMAN (Choreographer) is thrilled to return for The Muny’s 101st after choreographing Annie(2018), All Shook Up (2017), Mamma Mia! (2016); Hairspray (2015/Co-Choreographer) and Seussical (2014/Associate). Broadway: Lysistrata Jones (Associate Choreographer), The Boy from Oz starring Hugh Jackman (Assistant Choreographer). Off-Broadway: Elephant and Piggie’s We Are in a Play! (Choreographer, New Victory Theatre). Other credits include: Memphis (Choreographer, TUTS), Norwegian Creative Studios/Oceania Cruise Lines (Choreographer), Disney Jr. Dance Party (Associate Show Director/ Choreographer, Universal Studios/The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Associate), How to Succeed… (Associate, TUTS), West Side Story (Associate, Signature Theatre), Next to Normal (Choreographer, BaltimoreCenter Stage). Up next: Mamma Mia! at TUTS (Choreographer) and a new musical for The Kennedy Center. Jessica is the Artistic Director of Broadway Theatre Connection.
ANDREW GRAHAM (Music Director/Conductor) New York: The Book of Mormon, Wicked and Avenue Q. Las Vegas: Spamalot, Avenue Q. National tours: Wicked, Avenue Q, Pippin, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Seussical, The Music Man, Footloose. European tours: Hair and Grease. Regional: world premiere of Disney’s Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Cleveland Play House and Alley Theatre. Muny: Aida, Annie and Footloose. Beauty and the Beast and the world premiere of Disney’s When You Wish at Tuacahn Center for the Arts. He holds degrees from both Capital University in Columbus, Ohio and Trinity College of Music in London.
LERNER & LOEWE’S PAINT YOUR WAGON
July 27 – August 2
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Revised Book by Jon Marans
Produced in Association with On the Wagon Productions and Garmar Ventures
JOSH RHODES (Director/Choreographer) directed Grand Hotel (NY City Center Encores!), Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville (Old Globe Theatre), Jersey Boys (The Muny), Guys and Dolls (Asolo Rep/Old Globe), Evita(Asolo Rep), Spamalot (5th Avenue Theatre), Ebenezer Scrooge’s Big Playhouse Christmas Show (Bucks County Playhouse) and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. He alsochoreographed the Broadway productions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, It Shoulda Been You, First Date and Bright Star. On London’s West End, he choreographed Carousel at the English National Opera and Sweeney Todd starring Emma Thompson. Other choreography credits include Company starring Neil Patrick Harris and Sondheim: The Birthday Concert (PBS), Young Frankenstein (Muny) and the current U.K. tour ofDoctor Dolittle. Rhodes is a proud graduate of the University of Michigan.
BEN WHITELEY (Music Director/Conductor) Muny: Singin’ in the Rain, A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, My Fair Lady, The Addams Family, Spamalot, Pirates!; The Sound of Music (twice), Beauty and the Beast (thrice), Kiss Me, Kate; Oklahoma!; The Music Man, Meet Me In St. Louis, South Pacific. Music director for 1776 at NY City Center Encores! Broadway/national tours: A Christmas Story, The Addams Family, Spamalot, The Full Monty, Cats (conducted final original Broadway performance), Grand Hotel, Falsettos, Big. Carnegie Hall: Sail Away (with Elaine Stritch). Choral direction: Carousel (NY Philharmonic/PBS), My Fair Lady (NY Philharmonic). Encores!: associate music director and chorus master for over 30 productions. Other: St. Louis Symphony, Paper Mill Playhouse, The 5th Avenue Theatre, University of Michigan. Recordings: Allegro, Boardwalk Empire (Grammy Award),Paint Your Wagon.
MATILDA
August 5 – 11
Book by Dennis Kelly
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Based on Matilda by Roald Dahl
JOHN TARTAGLIA (Director) Director: Stephen Schwartz’s The Secret Silk (Princess Cruises, writer/director), Beauty and the Beast (Maltz Jupiter Theatre), Annie, The Wizard of Oz, Tarzan and Shrek (Muny), Claudio Quest (NY Musical Festival, Best of the Fest), Shrek the Halls (DreamWorks Theatricals) and many more. Broadway: Avenue Q (Tony nomination), Beauty and the Beast and Shrek. Muny: Aladdin (The Genie), Seussical (The Cat in the Hat), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Hysterium, St. Louis Theater Circle Award). Film/TV: The Happytime Murders (STX Films), Johnny and the Sprites (Disney Jr., Emmy nomination), Sesame Street (PBS Kids), Jim Henson’s Word Party and Julie’s Greenroom (both on Netflix), creator, co-executive producer and star of Jim Henson’s Splash and Bubbles (PBS Kids, Emmy nomination).
CHRIS BAILEY (Choreographer) Gettin’ The Band Back Together (Broadway), Jerry Springer: The Opera(New Group, 2018 Chita Rivera Award nomination); The New Yorkers and 1776 (NY City Center Encores!), The Entertainer with Kenneth Branagh (West End), Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory), Because of Winn Dixie (Alabama Shakespeare Festival), 2013 Tony Awards (CBS), Muny: Jerome Robbins Broadway(production supervisor), Newsies (St. Louis Theater Circle Award), The Music Man, Into the Woods, My Fair Lady, Tarzan, West Side Story and Thoroughly Modern Millie. 2013-2015 Academy Awards (Assistant Choreographer). Film: Cinderella, Ted 2, A Million Ways to Die in the West and Beyond the Sea. Chris was also the movement director for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Cyrano De Bergerac on Broadway.
MICHAEL HORSLEY (Music Director/Conductor) is The Muny’s music supervisor. 25 Muny seasons include: Jerome Robbins Broadway, Mamma Mia!; The Buddy Holly Story, Grease, Mary Poppins, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 42nd Street, Godspell, White Christmas, Damn Yankees, Sleeping Beauty, Singin’ in the Rain, and many more. National tours: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chicago, Cinderella, White Christmas and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Other regional: Into the Woods (Theatrezone), Roman Holiday (Guthrie Theater), On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Music Theatre Wichita), Fiddler on the Roof (AMT San Jose), A Chorus Line (Pioneer Theatre Company), The Full Monty(North Carolina Theatre). Voice director: Christmas Concert Series for the Detroit, National and Birmingham Symphony Orchestras. He is the music director for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
The 2019 season schedule is: Guys and Dolls (June 10 – 16), Kinky Boots (June 19 – 25), 1776 (June 27 – July 3), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (July 8 – 16), Footloose (July 18 – 24), Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon (July 27 – August 2) and Matilda (August 5 – 11).
World Wide Technology (WWT) and The Steward Family Foundation became the first overall season sponsor in the history of The Muny in 2014. They are committed to continuing in this role with their leadership gift as The Muny’s 2019 Season Presenting Sponsor.
Muny gift cards for the 101st season are now available online and at The Muny Box Office. For more information, visit muny.org or call (314) 361-1900.
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The Muny’s mission is to enrich lives by producing exceptional musical theatre, accessible to all, while continuing its remarkable tradition in Forest Park. As the nation’s largest outdoor musical theatre, we produce seven world-class musicals each year and welcome over 400,000 theatregoers over our nine-week season. Celebrating 101 seasons in St. Louis, The Muny remains one of the premier institutions in musical theatre.
For more information about The Muny, visit muny.org
For more information about The Missouri History Museum’s
Muny Memories: 100 Seasons Onstage exhibit, visit mohistory.org
For more information about The Missouri History Museum’sMuny Memories: 100 Seasons Onstage exhibit, visit mohistory.org 

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Imelda Staunton. Their different portraits of the iconic Momma Rose character in “Gypsy” are among the most legendary in theater history. Now add Beth Leavel to that august list.
The Muny’s sixth production of the gutsy Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim classic hits the heights in so many ways, but first and foremost is Leavel’s knockout performance.
Most of the time, the ambitious Momma Rose is viewed as a heartless monster and played in that blustery, brassy Merman-style. Others have realized that Rose is a tough survivor. Either way, she is hard to warm up to, but at least Leavel makes you understand her.

Leavel is a Tony winner for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” veteran of 12 Broadway shows and Muny diva whose “Hello, Dolly!” in 2014 remains one of the outdoor stage’s finest shows. Tackling this titanic role was a challenge I was certain she could meet but was not prepared for the delicate balance she achieved.
Sure, hear her roar. A born belter who projects well, Leavel pretty much started at 11, and then dialed back to modulate this complex character.
Given that Rose was introduced in 1959, when theater was not a champion of woman empowerment, it’s interesting that book writer Arthur Laurents wrote such a complicated part. And now it’s on nearly every actress’s bucket list.
The show is loosely based on the 1957 memoir of Gypsy Rose Lee, a burlesque entertainer known internationally for her striptease artistry. She’s the Louise inspiration, and her sister, actress June Havoc, is Baby June.
Their mother pushed them into the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s, dreaming of showbiz success. June was the extroverted performer while Louise was shy and in the background. That changes during the show’s many conflicts.
This ultimate stage mother, fiercely driven and controlling, is twice-divorced and perpetually broke. Rose must be resourceful and rely on her wits in a world not used to strong independent women.
She is a bulldozer, but peerless director Rob Ruggiero’s emphasis is that she’s motivated out of desperation. Always thinking of where their next gig will be, and if they can grab the spotlight, Rose is all about what’s next – for her and those she loves.
Because their mother is living through her children’s lives, Baby June and Louise will suffer the consequences from her abrasive efforts. However, her bossiness hides the fear of failing, of losing, of not making it through to the next day.
Ruggiero’s ability to deconstruct a 1950s era “book musical” and bring out what makes it enduring is why his shows resonate, especially on the expansive Muny stage. Despite my familiarity with a show I’ve seen multiple times, he makes it seem that I’m seeing it for the first time – namely “Hello, Dolly!” “South Pacific” and “Oklahoma” at the Muny, and award-winning “Follies” and “Sunday in the Park with George” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Besides a vulnerability that seeps through in this “Gypsy,” there is an undercurrent of hunger. People are hungry physically, emotionally and mentally. They crave some things that have been out of reach or are not yet attainable, whether it be a nourishing meal, a living wage, a sense of worth or a dream realized.
Because of this deeper context, the musical is not just a showcase for Momma Rose, and this cast has an abundance of talent. Adam Heller captures nice-guy agent Herbie, the good cop to Rose’s bad cop, in a nuanced portrait of the man Rose loves – and pushes around. He and Leavel, a real-life couple, are noticeably in sync in their numbers “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” and “Together Wherever We Go.”
While they headline, Julia Knitel is a stealth bomber. Lanky and awkward as a reluctant Louise, the proverbial people-pleaser who only wants what Momma says is best, she blooms as Gypsy Rose Lee. It’s a striking performance, and her physical transformation is astonishing – although Knitel was already endearing from the get-go, especially in the heartbreaking “Little Lamb.”

She and Hayley Podschun as June share nice moments, including “If Momma Was Married.”
Their younger counterparts, Amelie Lock as Baby June and Elise Edwards as Baby Louise, are winsome performers. It’s a slick move when Ruggiero transitions them from young to older midway in a number.
Another standout is St. Louisan and Muny regular Drew Redington as Tulsa, a superb dancer who outgrows the kiddie act. His solo to “All I Need Is the Girl” is sensational.

The scene-stealing strippers in “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” are not only a hilarious sight gag but terrific performers who were a bright spot of comic relief. Jennifer Cody as Tessie Tura, Ann Harada as an older Electra and Ellen Harvey as a statuesque Mazeppa were laugh-out-loud funny.
Lighting designer John Lasiter’s precise work deserves mention, as does costume designer Amy Clark, going the showbiz gamut from kitsch to glitz — and those distinctive patterned cloth coats for Rose.

Scenic designer Luke Cantarella draped the show in reality – muted colors for drab sets to indicate the hardships during financially strapped times, and the dingy two-bit nature of the fading vaudeville circuit.
Ruggiero’s dream team of choreographer Ralph Perkins and music director James Moore assured that the song-and-dance numbers would be first-rate. They’ve worked together on multiple productions.
Nevertheless, maestro Moore raised the bar. He displayed his expertise conducting the orchestra in an overture that was so magnificent the audience applauded midway. And this was only the start of something special. The orchestra’s big wall of sound, with all that splendid brass, was one of the show’s best elements..
After all, what great material to work with — Jule Styne wrote this unforgettable music. He’s behind such famous tunes as “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Let It Snow” and ‘The Party’s Over.” Paired with lyrics by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, fresh off “West Side Story,” these songs have stood the test of time.
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” brings the house down at the end of Act I. And Leavel still had plenty left in her tank for Act 2.
After Rose has cajoled and bullied her way through nearly two acts, we are ready for Momma to confront her demons in the showstopper “Rose’s Turn.”
In this emotional wallop, Leavel gave it everything she had, defiantly going through a litany of anger, frustration and regrets for Rose to finally realize she did it for herself. And to herself.
It’s one of the greatest scenes ever, and Leavel hits it over the free-seats fence. Afterwards, we had to let it sink in, like she did in catharsis, and then wave after wave of applause stopped the show until the very long ovation waned.
That shared experience is what we all hope for when watching live theater, and she earned it, seizing her moment, fearless and alone on that stage.
While the show is bleak – and I’ve seen productions that were darker – there is still a glimmer of hope: that mothers and daughters can reconcile, that brighter days are ahead, and that all the work that goes into a goal was worth it.
This “Gypsy” doesn’t sugar-coat show business or struggles, and instead tells us about real-and-flawed people trying to get by and get noticed. It’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling and features a cast that makes you feel everything they experience.
“Gypsy” was clearly ahead of its time, back in 1959. And this week it was time for the Muny to hit repeat in a brand new way for this Centennial Season.
“Gypsy” is presented July 27 through Aug. 2 at 8:15 p.m. nightly at The Muny’s outdoor stage in Forest Park. For more information or tickets, visit www.muny.org or call MetroTix at 314- 534-1111.

Photos by Phillip  Hamer