The Black Rep announces a shift in the schedule of its 44th season. Bubbling Brown Sugar, which would have opened the 44th season at The Edison Theatre in September,  will move into Season 45. Producing Director, Ron Himes explains,“We were looking forward to opening with BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR but we’re not sure what the world post Covid will be. But, we know things will not be business as usual.”

The company’s annual gala scheduled for November 14, 2020 will occur as a virtual event that promises a wonderful evening filled with performances, testimonials, celebrity appearances and award presentations. There will be opportunities for the community to support the work of The Black Rep during this live stream event.

Information regarding the remainder of Season 44 will be forthcoming as we continue to monitor the guidelines and recommendations of the CDC and the county government.

“Due to the impact of Covid 19 on our community and the uncertainty of when it will be safe for our staff to return to work, our artists to the stage, and most importantly when our audiences will feel safe enough to return to the theatre we have decided to postpone the beginning of our regular season”, said Board President, Jonathan Smith.

For information visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3807.

“Spell # 7” will be The Black Rep debut of rap artist Tef Poe. Tef Poe has received numerous Hip-Hop awards for his work, and was recently featured as a Harvard Fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Research institute.

Tef says “This is an opportunity for me to sharpen my skills and work with some of the best talent in this region.  The Black Rep is known for reimagining what’s possible in Black entertainment.  I knew this would be a challenge for me. My background obviously isn’t rooted in theatre. But the hip hop world has a few commonalities so I’m able to play into my strengths with this character. I’m honored to be a part of this production.  My respect for my cast mates and our director is insurmountable.”

“Spell # 7” will also feature Drummond Crenshaw, Robert Crenshaw, and Jacqueline Thompson as well as four of our Professional Acting Interns: Brian McKinley, Tyler White, Christina Yancy, and Camille Sharp.

“Spell # 7” is a striking choreopeom by the author of “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf”, Ntozake Shange.  Set in a bar in St Louis frequented by Black artists and musicians, actors, and performers. In a series of dreamlike vignettes and poetic monologues, they commiserate about the difficulties they face as Black artists.  The piece is framed by the narrator, Lou (played by Brian McKinley), a magician who wants to use his magic to help the artists come to terms with their Blackness and rejoice in their identities.

“Spell # 7” is the second production supported by the Sophisticated Ladies Giving Initiative.  This initiative supported last year’s production of Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham.

This production is also funded with support from the Regional Arts Commission, World Wide Technology, Washington University in St. Louis, Steward Family Foundation, and Centene Corporation. “Spell # 7” is also underwritten in part through a grant from the Creative Impact Fund for Diversifying the Arts – a partnership between the Arts and Education Council and local community leaders.

“Spell # 7” is directed by Ron Himes, with choreography by Heather Beal, scenic design by Dunsi Dai, lighting design by Joe Clapper, costume design by Brandin Vaughn, and sound design by James Biko.  Jim Anthony is the stage manager and D’Angelo Himes is the assistant stage manager.

The production will run Feb. 19 – March 8 at the AE Hotchner Studio Theatre on the campus of Washington University. Tickets are available at www.theblackrep.org/, or by calling the box office at 314-534-3807.

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About The St Louis Black Repertory CompanyThe St Louis Black Repertory Company was founded in 1976 by Producing Director Ron Himes. The Black Rep is one of the largest, professional African-American theatre companies in the nation and the largest African-American performing arts organization in Missouri. Quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African-American and international playwrights are produced. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company announces additions to its Board of Directors. Joining the Board is Feleccia Moore-Davis, Wanda Starr-Ferguson, and Paul Steger. “The new members further diversify the board towards the goal of bringing the magic of live theatre to everyone by entertaining diverse audiences, educating promising youth, and enriching our community,” says Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director.

Feleccia Moore-Davis is Campus President at St. Louis Community College: Meramec. Feleccia is a first generation college graduate that recognizes the importance of education. She has more than 20 years of higher education experience teaching and in cross-functional administrative roles within Community Colleges. Prior to coming to STLCC Feleccia served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Tallahassee Community College in Florida and Vice President for Instruction at Lone Star College-CyFair. Feleccia brings leadership, grant writing, fundraising, and program management to the board and plans to expand partnerships support and further expose students to the arts.

Wanda Starr-Ferguson is the Inclusion & Diversity Specialist for Edward Jones. Throughout her 20-year tenure at Edward Jones, Wanda served in multiple capacities the Compliance and Operations division including Asset Surveillance Officer, leading to a promotion to Field Supervision Director. Wanda has a passion for developing relationships with the community and giving back.  In 2017, Wanda was awarded “Volunteer of the Year”, by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. Wanda brings leadership, program management skills, and a strong passion for inclusion and diversity to the board. She looks to increase awareness of the Black Rep offerings to the St. Louis Community.

Paul Steger, Dean of the Leigh Gerdine College of Fine Arts at Webster University. Paul is a director, producer, actor, and action designer with credits on Broadway and in numerous regional theatres. He is a Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors and holds certificates from the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat, the Nordic Stagefight Society, and Fight Directors Canada. Paul is a member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild, and the National Theatre Conference among others. He plans to serve as a liaison to higher education institutions across St. Louis and nationwide.    

About the Black Repertory Company

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company was founded in 1976 by Producing Director Ron Himes. The Black Rep is one of the largest, professional African-American theatre companies in the nation and the largest African-American performing arts organization in Missouri. Quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African-American and third world playwrights are produced. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

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
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

 
In this World Premiere production, two high-powered news reporters from across the aisle are thrown together during a ratings frenzy in Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. As they untangle the real cause of Brown’s death, they struggle to keep their own secrets out of the spotlight. Created from diverse interviews of people from around the corner and around the world, “Canfield Drive” shines a light of hope as it wrestles with the greatest questions of our age.
“Canfield Drive,” written by Kristen Adele Calhoun and Michael Thomas Walker, is a National Performance Network (NPN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by 651 Arts in partnership with The St. Louis Black Repertory Company, and NPN.  The Creation & Development Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency). For more information: www.npnweb.org.
Producing Director Ron Himes says “We have worked on this script with Michael Thomas Walker and Kristen Adele Calhoun for four years, with workshops at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn, Denver, Hartford, and St. Louis.  We are so excited to premiere this work here in St Louis for our community.”
Playwright Michael Thomas Walker says “If ‘riot is the language of the unheard’, this play aims to understand the killing of Michael Brown, the Ferguson protests and the subsequent #BlackLivesMatter movement by hearing the unheard voices and amplifying those stories.  We hope this play will serve as a platform for the necessary conversations about race, culture, privilege, history, and healing.”
The cast of “Canfield Drive” includes Kristen Adele recent credits include Corduroy (Denver Center of Performing Arts), Bump (Ensemble Studio Theatre), and Skeleton Crew (Premiere Stages); Christopher Hickey, with The Black Rep credits include Oak & Ivy and Relativity; Amy Loui with The Black Rep credits include A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Three Ways Home, and Eric Connors with The Black Rep credits include Ms Julie, Clarissa & John, Anne & Emmett, Oak & Ivy, and Jitney .
“Canfield Drive” is directed by Producing Director Ron Himes, with scenic design by Peter and Margery Spack, lighting design by Jim Burwinkel; costumes by Marissa Perry, and sound design by Kareem Deanes, and Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins is the stage manager.
The production will run January 9-27 at the Edison Theatre at Washington University. Tickets are available at www.theblackrep.org, 314-534-3807, or pick them up at our box office located at 6662 Olive Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63130.