By Lynn Venhaus
Stages St. Louis’ “In the Heights,” a jubilant celebration of culture, community, and connection, won six awards, including Outstanding Musical Production, Music Director, Choreography, Set Design, Costume Design (tie) and Ensemble in a Musical, at the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards Monday.

Their world premiere of “The Karate Kid – The Musical” won Outstanding Lighting Design for a total of seven, and Jack Lane, retired executive producer, announced the musical is Broadway-bound in 2024.

Seven is what The Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis amassed for four productions: August Wilson’s “Jitney” (2 – Outstanding Production and Ensemble), “Behind the Sheet,” (2 – tie for Outstanding Production – Drama and Best Director), “The African Company Presents Richard III” (1 – Supporting Performer, Male or Non-Binary, Cameron Jamarr Davis) and “Dontrell, Who Was Kissed by the Sea” (2 – Lighting Design and Sound Design).

Brian McKnight accepted on behalf of The Black Rep and described founder Ron Himes as a man “who has vision.”

The Muny, SATE (Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble), and West End Players Guild each won four at the 10th Annual Theater Circle Awards, which recognized achievements in comedies, dramas, musicals and operas.

SATE’s original play “Bronte Sister House Party” won 4 (Best New Play, Outstanding Comedy Production, Comedy Ensemble and Supporting Performer Male or Non-Binary Role). “The Color Purple” at The Muny won 3 – Leading Performer, Female or Non-Binary in a Musical, Supporting Performer, Female or Non-Binary, and Costume Designer while Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West” won 3 – Leading Performer, Male or Non-Binary, Supporting Performer, Female or Non-Binary, and Director Robert Ashton for the West End Players Guild.

For more than 10 years, the St. Louis Theater Circle has been presenting annual awards for regional professional theater, and resumed a live ceremony after virtual productions streamed by HEC Media online in 2020 and 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, cancelling 2021 (but including a few of those productions last year).

It was the first live ceremony since 2019, and held at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’s Loretto-Hilton Center on Webster University’s campus.

Approximately 90 productions were considered for this year’s event. Three productions – “Chicago” at the Muny, “A Christmas Carol” at The Rep, and “Head Over Heels” at New Line Theatre — were ineligible because the same production was presented within the last three years at the respective venues.

The Circle presented more than 30 categories for outstanding achievements from 2022, with 20 theater companies receiving nominations.

Nationally recognized playwright, theater producer, and long-time advocate for the arts Joan Lipkin was honored with a special award for lifetime achievement.

Records that evening included Joel Moses winning two acting awards in one night and Jennifer Theby-Quinn won her third acting award, joining Will Bonfiglio and Laurie McConnell as three-time winners.

Luis Salgado, who made “In the Heights” ‘pop’ with his spirited direction and vibrant choreography, accepted awards while praising the theater community in St. Louis. He and actor Ryan Alvarado, a nominee for playing Usnavi, flew in from New York City to attend .

Here are the awards given out April 3:

Cameron Jamarr Davis “The African Company Presents Richard III” at the Black Rep

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role: Hannah Geisz, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role: Joel Moses, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role: Molly Burris, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role: Jason Meyers, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play: Jasmine Williams, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Sound Design: Jackie Sharp, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play: Oona Natesan, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Play (tie): Bess Moynihan, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company and Josh Smith, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Winner Jason Meyers, at right “The Lonesome West”

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role: Rachel Tibbetts, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role: Cameron Jamarr Davis, “The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role: Jennifer Theby-Quinn, “Iphigenia in Splott,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role: Joel Moses, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild

Joel Moses, “The Christians” at West End Players Guild

Outstanding New Play: “Brontë Sister House Party,” by Courtney Bailey, SATE

Outstanding Achievement in Opera: (tie) Thomas Glass, “Harvey Milk,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Robert Mellon, “Falstaff,” Union Avenue Opera

Outstanding Production of an Opera: “A Little Night Music,” Union Avenue Opera

Outstanding Musical Director: Walter “Bobby” McCoy, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Choreographer: Luis Salgado, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role: Nicole Michelle Haskins, “The Color Purple,” The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role: Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical: Bradley King, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical: Anna Louizos, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical: (tie) Samantha C. Jones, “The Color Purple,” The Muny and Brad Musgrove, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Anastacia McCleskey “The Color Purple” at The Muny

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role: Anastacia McCleskey, “The Color Purple,” The Muny

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role: Ben Davis, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy: “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama: “Jitney,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Director of a Comedy: Robert Ashton, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild

Outstanding Director of a Drama: Ron Himes, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Director of a Musical: Bradley Rohlf, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals

“Bronte Sister House Party” won four Circle Awards

Outstanding Production of a Comedy: “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Outstanding Production of a Drama: (tie) “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep and “Jitney,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Production of a Musical: “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Special Award: Joan Lipkin, for lifetime achievement

The St. Louis Theater Circle was formed the summer of 2012 and began awarding excellence in regional professional theater in 2013. No touring, community theater or school productions are considered.

Current embers of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen,; Mark Bretz, Ladue News; Bob Cohn, St. Louis Jewish Light; Tina Farmer, KDHX; Rob Levy,; Michelle Kenyon, and KDHX; Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle (HEC-TV); Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX; Judith Newmark,; Lynn Venhaus, and KTRS Radio; Bob Wilcox, Two on the Aisle (HEC-TV); and Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Eleanor Mullin, local actress and arts supporter, is group administrator.

The mood was extraordinary, and, in Joan Lipkin’s words, we could feel the “palpable joy” for each other. The speeches were heartfelt, and I wish we had them on record. It was truly “celebratory revelry.”

The Black Rep was a winner for four separate shows in the same year, an a back to back winner for August Wilson, as last year’s drama production was “Two Trains Running”)

We discovered we had two different Josh Smiths nominated — the one for Shakepeare’s Italian villa who won for “Much Ado About Nothing” was not the same for the carnival in “Ride the Cyclone.”

Happy the ‘tribe’ had so much fun — and the fellowship was really special. Hope the feedback continues to be positive.


“Jitney” Best Drama Production and Best Dramatic Ensemble

By Lynn Venhaus

Jennifer Theby-Quinn goes there.

In a raw, emotionally wrenching performance, Theby-Quinn shows her limitless range as fireball Effie, a rough-around-the-edges working-class heroine, in the one-woman show, “Iphigenia in Splott.”

The virtuoso portrayal marks Upstream Theater’s return to producing small provocative works of art after a prolonged period of darkness. Their last effort, “Wildfire,” was presented Jan. 24 – Feb. 9, 2020, in the before times. Then, the public health emergency forced the arts to press pause, and “Iphigenia” was put on hold since 2020. Until now.

This production has had its share of challenges – Omicron outbreak so they limited ticket sales early in the run, Winter Storm Landon hit and they cancelled Bohemian Thursday performance – but they offered a streaming version too (I highly recommend, excellent quality and you do feel like you are there. Details below).

At the Marcelle Theatre in the Grand Arts Center, Theby-Quinn bursts onto a sparse stage, agitated, all attitude and lip. She’s coarse, not having any of what’s going on, and is rather difficult to warm up to with her confrontational style – obviously, having a bad day in her gritty south Wales neighborhood, Splott. It’s 11:30 a.m. and she’s drunk, stumbling around, mad at the world (but, we will soon discover she has good reason).

As she roars, Theby-Quinn intones a well-coached Welsh accent and maintains the pattern for 95 minutes. Effie’s loud and in-your-face, she makes no apologies for drinking and drugging, her leggings are too tight, and her long hair is distinctive – crimped and streaked with red. In Cardiff, one would think locals know not to mess with her.

During the past two years, we’ve witnessed rude tirades in public as we’ve all grappled with a new normal forced on us by a global pandemic. But Effie is no Karen. She’s been marginalized by society, ignored.

As Effie rages, scolding the audience for thinking she’s a “stupid slag, a nasty skank” as if she’s used to insults, we learn things about her that force us to change our first impression.

Playwright Gary Owen sets us up to take a sharp turn, to understand that something horrific has happened to Effie, and she has been forever broken. But is she a victim or survivor, and dare she be an everyday hero?

She’s actually a spin on a tragic warrior princess. The title references ancient Greek myth. Ever hear of Euripedes? He wrote a play, “Iphigenia in Aulis,” which tells the story of King Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice his daughter for his country. She will be sacrificed to goddess Artemis so that his fleet will have smooth sailing to Troy, for the wind isn’t helping

Owen flips it to mean growth and profit over casualties – as in what is it worth when the cost is better for business overall? We’ve heard this before, but we’ve never heard from an Effie.

On the government doll in a town ravaged from shut downs and employment cuts, she is the embodiment of what communities have lost in the past decade.

Owen grew up in Splott and his 2015 monologue is a protest of UK’s shortcomings. It will leave an audience gutted. This may be an all-too-common case in health care, but it’s still inequitable and sad, and gets us to take notice.

This is when Theby-Quinn turns in a virtuoso performance that few could match on local stages, and she has set a high bar for the rest of the year.

Under Patrick Siler’s direction, Theby-Quinn is put through physically demanding paces on a gut-wrenching journey, using three chairs and a thin blanket to convey different spaces. The sound design is quite effective.

Effie huffs and puffs, as is her way. Then, she settles in to say something. She has a boyfriend Kev, but it’s her encounter with Lee that changed her life. And she wants us to listen.

Because Theby-Quinn is so mesmerizing, she has our undivided attention as she unfolds, in soul-crushing detail, a tale of woe. She will break your heart with her intensity.

When she howls about how she can’t speak and she has no one to speak for her, you feel her pain. Effie’s personal trauma becomes a lightning rod for battling complacency.

One wonders how she can mentally wrestle so deeply like that at every performance and not be affected.

Jennifer Theby-Quinn. ProPhotoSTL.

As she explains the damage that’s been done and how she put herself back together, it reminded me of what Vanessa Kirby endured in the 2020 film, “Pieces of a Woman.”

Owen won an award at the Edinburgh Festival for his innovative writing. He forces us to not only care about Effie, but sympathize with her. We hear a lot about the greater good in the vaccine rhetoric these days. In the aftermath of her tragedy and decisions she made, she took one for the team.

It’s Theby-Quinn’s finest work in the past 10 years, since I’ve been reviewing professional regional theater, and I didn’t think she could top her performance as Lucille Frank in R-S Theatrics’ “Parade” in 2013, although she’s been impressive in everything from Shakespeare to farce to musical comedy since.

She has won two St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, for the inaugural year as outstanding leading actress in a musical for portraying Hope Cladwell in “Urinetown” at Stray Dog Theatre in 2012, known then as Jennifer M. Theby, and as outstanding supporting actress in 2016 for the drama “Afflicted: Daughters of Salem,” produced by the Metro Theater Company.

And has been nominated multiple times, including the 2019 musical “Daddy Long-Legs” at Insight Theatre, and recently in comedy, for supporting role in 2020’s “Flanagan’s Wake” at the Playhouse at Westport Playhouse and in a leading role for “Jake’s Women” by Moonstone Theatre Company in 2021. Those awards are to be announced March 28.

Owen wanted us to listen, and Theby-Quinn made that happen.

Note: A streaming option is available through Feb. 7. I saw this as a filmed production. Had I been there in person, I would have been sobbing in an ugly cry.

Upstream’s performances are Jan. 21-23, 27-30, Feb. 3-6, at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive – free parking lot across the street. All performances are at 8 p.m. except Sundays – Jan. 23 and 30 are 7 p.m. and Feb. 6 is at 2 p.m.

Proof of vaccination is required. Tickets are available at Metrotix and at the box office before the performance. Box office hotline is: (314) 669-5312.

Upstream collaborated with Blip Blap Video to create a recording of the live performance. This may be accessed for a discounted ticket price of $20 and viewed on demand through Feb. 6 until midnight. For a ticket:

For more information, visit