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

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

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, 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, Ann Pollack of, 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 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: and like us on Facebook.

Evita at The RepInto the Breeches! at Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

“La Traviata” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
“Admissions” doesn’t just confront the elephant in the room, it awakens a stampede.
With brilliant scorched-earth dialogue and willingness to bluntly address uncomfortable truths and contradictions among liberal white Americans, playwright Josh Harmon has opened a space for polite society to reflect on today’s standards and practices.
For the past several years, we’ve started conversations on racial matters. And this play takes one aspect, and all five characters speak their minds in a refreshingly candid way.
So, what am I tiptoeing around? “Admissions” examines whiteness: privilege, power, anxiety, guilt and anger.

Before any fellow Caucasians groan like it’s a bitter pill to swallow, I can assure you the good-sport audiences have taken it in stride and laughed heartily at the frank talk and yes, the hypocrisy, recognizing the things we don’t say, or dare say in whispers, and how we knee-jerk react.
Because of the play’s framework, we’re allowed to feel everyone’s indignation and hear their point of view.
Sherri, as the head of admissions at a tony prep boarding school in New Hampshire, has increased diversity from 6 to 18 percent, an achievement worthy of a celebration by her equally progressive husband. But when her only son, a good student-athlete named Charlie Luther Mason, is denied admittance to Yale while his best friend, a bi-racial student-athlete named Perry, gets in on what they perceive to be “the race checkbox,” well, fireworks ensue.
It’s obvious why this new work, which opened in March at the Lincoln Center, won the Drama Desk and Outer Critics awards for Best Play. Harmon is known for “Bad Jews,” which the New Jewish Theatre produced several years ago.
The Rep’s intimate Studio Theatre has had multiple sold-out performances, for this has struck a nerve, and done so with biting wit and stinging humor.
Steve Woolf’s direction is steam-heat hot. He keeps the pace brisk, and the interaction of the cast is smooth.
The well-prepared cast effortlessly serves and volleys back and forth that it’s like watching a Grand Slam tennis match – the finesse of their delivery is like world-class athletes rising to the occasion.
TUESDAY, OCT. 23, 2018 – This is the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “Admissions” at the Loretto-Hilton Center. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr.Henny Russell is rather smug as the high-minded and well-intentioned Sherri Rosen-Mason, who deals with race at work and at home. Her best friend Ginnie Peters (Kate Udall), is married to a bi-racial English professor and is Perry’s mother. Suddenly, fissures erupt in their friendship, and Udall is quick to switch emotions, calling out her friend’s hurtful words.
R. Ward Duffy, appearing in his 10th show at The Rep, and Russell’s real-life husband, is sharp as Bill Mason, who admonishes his son as a spoiled brat and worries about how they got off track and how to work their way back to seeing things clearly.
In a breakthrough role, Thom Niemann triumphs as the privileged young man trying to figure out his place in the world and being “woke” in contemporary America. His agitated, exasperated 17-minute monologue skewering political correctness is one of the year’s best scenes – and got a huge ovation.
In a comical supporting role, Barbara Kingsley is funny as Roberta, a school employee in the development office who is trying to do what Sherri tells her to make their school catalog photos more diverse.
The cast percolates with conviction and relatability.
The office and two-story home scenic design by Bill Clarke is a marvel – one of the largest I’ve seen in that space, and an efficient way to tell this comedy-drama. Lighting designer Nathan W. Scheuer has lit it perfectly while Rusty Wandall’s sound and Lou Bird’s costumes add to the atmosphere.
Even with the best of intentions, we may be part of the problem instead of the solution we think we are striving for, and “Admissions” allows us to see the opportunity to reflect on what’s happening now.
We don’t live in a void. Bold, daring and razor-sharp, “Admissions” helps us see we need to have more conversations, and it’s imperative we keep up the dialogue, at this very divisive time.
“Admissions” played The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ Studio Theatre Oct. 26 – Nov. 11.
TUESDAY, OCT. 23, 2018 – This is the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ production of “Admissions” at the Loretto-Hilton Center. ©Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr. 

The Rep is kicking off its 2018-2019 Studio Theatre season with Admissions, Joshua Harmon’s 2018 Drama Desk Award winner for Outstanding Play. Directed by Steven Woolf, it’s a biting piece of theatre whose acidic humor goes straight for the throat.
Henny RussellPrep school admissions director Sherri Rosen-Mason lives according to staunchly progressive values. Her daily battles include diversifying both the school’s student body and the photos in its brochures. But when her teenage son claims those same values have denied him opportunities as a white student, it creates an explosive conflict that exposes their family’s hypocrisies and privileges.
Henny Russell stars as Sherri. On the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, Russell memorably portrayed the bespectacled prison boss Carol, who quickly became a fan favorite due to her ruthless methods and intimidating presence. Russell’s theatre credits include the Tony Award-winning Oslo on Broadway, as well as The Rep’s 2005 production of Frozen.
Ward DuffyRussell’s real-life husband Ward Duffy (The Other Place, 2014) returns to The Rep as her onstage husband, Bill. Rep newcomer Thom Niemann portrays their son, Charlie. Barbara Kingsley (You Can’t Take It With You, 2010) and Kate Udall complete the cast.
The Rep’s Augustin Family Artistic Director Woolf directs. This is the first of two shows that he’ll direct in his final season as The Rep’s artistic leader. His design team includes scenic designer Bill Clarke (Constellations, 2017), costume designer Lou Bird (Born Yesterday, 2018), lighting designer Nathan Scheuer (Heisenberg, 2017) and The Rep’s resident sound designer, Rusty Wandall.
Thom NiemannTickets to The Rep’s production of Admissions are currently on sale and can be purchased online at, by calling the Box Office at 314-968-4925 or visiting the Loretto-Hilton Center at 130 Edgar Road (on the campus of Webster University). Ticket prices range from $46 to $71.
Show times are Tuesday, Wednesdays and Sunday evenings at 7 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and selected Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. Matinee performances are Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
For more information about Admissions, visit