By Lynn VenhausManaging EditorThree metro-east community theater groups and a veteran youth program won multiple awards at the 20th annual Best Performance Awards sponsored by Arts For Life on June 9.
The awards recognize excellence in community and youth
musical theater, with 27 groups participating from St. Charles County to
Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois as part of the St Louis
Metropolitan area. It is the oldest and longest continually running theater
awards in St. Louis.
“Into the Woods” Curtain’s Up Theater CompanyCurtain’s Up Theater Company won six awards for its production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” including Best Large Ensemble Musical, Directors Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, Music Director Liz Murphy White, Costume Design Donna Saltamachia, Comedic Actress Miranda Mobley as Little Red and Supporting Actor Dennis Folwarczny as Cinderella’s Prince. It had received 16 nominations, the most for any show. The 1986 musical is a twist on Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of wishes and quests.
“Dames at Sea” Alfresco Productions“Dames at Sea” at Alfresco Productions won four,
for Best Small Ensemble Musical, Best Leading Actress Morgan Ladyman,
Supporting Actress Elizabeth Semko and Best Choreography Ashley Pavlige. It had
received 12 nominations. The 1966 musical romantic comedy is an homage to
nostalgic 1930s movie musicals.
Bryce Miller won Best Youth Actor for “Big Fish” from Shooting Star Productions“Big Fish” at Shooting Star Productions won six
awards in the youth categories: Best Youth Production, Best Choreography Ellen
Isom, Best Music Director Ross Bell, Best Actor Bryce Miller as Edward Bloom,
Best Supporting Actress Carolyn Karutz as The Witch and Best Set Design Marty
Strohmeyer and Christopher Phillips. It had received 14 nominations. Based on
the 2003 movie by Tim Burton, adapted from David Wallace’s 1998 book, “Big
Fish” tells the larger-than-life tale of traveling salesman Edward Bloom, a man
who leads an extraordinary life according to the stories he shares.
Mia Williams won Best Youth Actress as Rafiki in “The Lion King Jr.” from Goshen Theatre ProjectThe Goshen Theatre Project in Madison County won three
awards — for leading actress, Mia Williams, as Rafiki, and costume design
Terry Pattison, for “The Lion King Jr.” (the crowd gasped when the
walking giraffe came out and the kids came down the aisles in their animal
costumes), and another one for Terry Pattison for set design for “Chitty
Chitty Bang Bang.”
Glenn Guillermo in “Bells Are Ringing”
Winning two awards were Alpha Players of Florissant’s “Bells Are Ringing” for Cameo and Non-Singing Actor, while Christ Memorial Productions’ “The Wizard of Oz” won for Juvenile Performance and Non-Singing Actress, and Looking Glass Playhouse won lighting design for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and best actor for “Newsies.”.
Another first occurred – both the youth supporting actor
and adult featured actor won for playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in “Guys and
Dolls” at Riverbend Theatre and Kirkwood Theatre Guild respectively, Spencer
Domer and Christopher Strawhun.
“Guys and Dolls” Riverbend TheatreThis year, 48 shows – 21 large, 7 small and 20 youth —
were eligible for BPA awards consideration, with 1,302 artists judged for
nominations. Trophies were awarded in 33 categories.
“Theater is alive
and kicking in 2019 and local theaters in metro St. Louis and Illinois are to
be commended for a job well done,” McCreight said. “The awards are a wonderful way
for all actors and tech crews to celebrate and enjoy each other’s successes and
be recognized and rewarded.”
Since it began in 1998, AFL’s goal has been “Making a
Dramatic Difference” and is proud to salute, support and serve the theater
groups in the metropolitan St. Louis area. The non-profit organization
continues to be passionate about the healing power of the performing arts.
Morgan Ladyman, Best Actress as Ruby in “Dames at Sea”AFL President Mary McCreight said the group is dedicated to
promoting public awareness of local community theater, encouraging excellence
in the arts and acknowledging the incredible people who take part.
“St. Louis is an amazing city, especially for the arts.
There are over sixty theatre companies at home here, a third of which are
community theatre. As we watch music education and theatre programs rapidly die
in our schools, the need to keep community theatre alive is more important now
than ever,” McCreight said.
The best musical award was the first for Curtain’s Up
Theater Company, and with his win, director Glenn Saltamachia made AFL history.
He is the first person to win both Best Director Awards at the Best Performance
Awards and at the Theatre Mask Awards in April, which honors dramas and
comedies. He won the TMA for directing “Frost/Nixon” at Looking Glass Playhouse,
and that drama was tied with Actors’ Attic, for “The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-time,” as Best Play – Drama.
He shared the director’s award with Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, who
started as assistant director but made such an impact on set design, staging
and concept that he was billed as a co-director.
“It has been an incredible year! To win the TMA and BPA for
Directing in the same year is an honor I could never have dreamed of. I have worked with two outstanding companies-
– LGP and CUTC, and I have been blessed and extremely lucky to have had
outstanding, talented, wonderful casts, production crews, technicians, and
musicians to work with,” Saltamachia said.
“The honor is more a
reflection of their talent, hard work and determination than anything I have
brought to the table. I have always said my greatest talent as a director is
that I surround myself with extremely talented, capable people who share my
passion for good theatre. The fact that both my shows also won for Best
Ensemble in their respective categories proves my point,” he said.
Saltamachia said he was bit by the theater bug when as a
brand new second lieutenant in the Air Force, he auditioned for the Kessler Air
Force Base Little Theatre production of “Charley’s Aunt.”
“Throughout my Air Force career, I would participate in productions wherever we
were stationed when I had the time and circumstances allowed,” he said. “After
retiring from the Air Force in 1997 in Belleville, I began to hear of all the
great local community theaters, and in 1999, I got up the nerve to audition for
the Looking Glass Playhouse production of “Oliver!” and I’ve never stopped.”
Saltamachia has directed 10 shows for LGP since 2001, his
first being “The Odd Couple.” Then, he worked with some Edwardsville people who
were starting a theater company, Curtain’s Up. He appeared in “The Curious
Savage” and has directed six shows for them, the first was “Fiddler on the
Roof” in 2008.
Over the years, he has directed shows for Clinton County
Showcase in Breese, Hard Road Productions in Highland, and in Belleville, Brass
Rail Players, Downtown Players and Cathedral Players.
“The thing I love most about directing is the process. I
love everything about it! From script
analysis, planning conferences for concept development, set design and staging
months before production. Then the fun starts with auditions and rehearsals,”
he said. “But the absolute best part is watching as a group of diverse people;
who may not have known each other before, come together, work hard and share
their talents to produce something we are all are proud of. And on the way we
become a family who love each other and develop friendships for life.”
“Thanks to AFL. I am honored and humbled, but I am smart
enough to know I didn’t win these awards by myself,” Saltamachia said.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” Goshen Theatre ProjectTerry Pattison, who won awards for costume design and set
design for Goshen Theatre Project, said the group is in its fifth season.
“The Lion King had 46 kids in it, all under the age of 15.
There were well over 160 costumes, all hand-created. Most of the masks and
animals were constructed from a high-density foam so they stayed light weight,”
The animal costumes included: Lions, lioness, hornbills,
ostrich, zebra, gazelle, egrets, giraffes, wildebeasts, rhino, meerkat, warthog
and various birds.
“I am honored to
have received two BPA’s this year, one for costuming and the other for scenic
design. I am always creating something in one way or another and it is a
humbling experience to have been recognized against all the other talent in the
St. Louis community theater circuit,” Pattison said.
Lucinda Gyurci, who founded Arts for Life in 1998, said she
continues to be inspired by community theater productions.
“Big Fish” Shooting Star Productions“I feel fortunate to have watched many young people, who
grew up in community theatre, become wonderfully talented adults; some making
their way to Broadway; some establishing their art in local professional
theatre; and some bringing up their next generation in their own footsteps on
the stage,” she said.
Joe Paule Sr. received the Lifetime Achievement Award for
his work as a musician in numerous pit bands, orchestras and as a music
director. Kim Klick and Glenn Guillermo were honored with two special awards,
“TRG Recognition 20th Anniversary Exceptional Volunteer Award,” citing
extraordinary above and beyond service.
Sean Harvey “Crazy for You”
Two special youth awards were given to Caroline Santiago
Turner, who received Best Youth Musical Performance for “Violet,” and
Sean Harvey, named Best Youth Featured Dancer, as Bobby in “Crazy for
You,” both produced by the Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.
Allison McDonald of Timberland High School and Kira Averett
of Mascoutah received the 2019 AFL Youth Scholarships.
The ceremony was directed by Ken Clark, with music
direction by Diane Hanisch. Ryan Cooper served as master of ceremonies for the
The complete list of awards is as follows:
Best Large Ensemble Musical: “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Small Ensemble Musical: “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions
Best Youth Musical: “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Direction: Glenn Saltamachia and Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Direction- Youth Production: Paul Pagano, “Violet,”
Gateway Center for the Performing Arts
Best Music Direction: Liz Murphy White, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater
Best Music Direction – Youth Production: Ross Bell, ‘Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Choreography: Ashley Pavlige, “Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions
Best Choreography – Youth Production: Ellen Isom, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Austin Turnbull, Jack Kelly,
“Newsies,” Looking Glass Playhouse
Best Leading Actor – Youth Production: Bryce Miller, Edward
Bloom, “Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Morgan Ladyman, Ruby,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Producifion
Best Leading Actress – Youth Production: Mia Williams,
Rafiki, “The Lion King Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project
Best Actor in a Featured Role: Christopher Strawhun,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Best Actress in a Featured Role: Elizabeth Breed Penny, Paulette, “Legally
Blonde,” Hawthorne Players
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Dennis Folwarczny,
Cinderella’s Prince, “Into the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Supporting Actor – Youth Production: Spencer Domer,
Nicely-Nicely Johnson, “Guys and Dolls,” Riverbend Theatre
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Elizabeth Semko, Joan,
“Dames at Sea,” Alfresco Productions
Best Supporting Actress – Youth Production: Carolyn Karutz, The Witch, “Big
Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Actor in a Comedic Role: Matthew Hansen, Franz, “Rock
of Ages,” Take Two Productions
Best Actress in a Comedic Role: Miranda Mobley, Little Red Riding Hood, “Into
the Woods,” Curtain’s Up Theatre Company
Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role: Kevin Michael Hester, Dr.
Kitchell, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role: Nicky Collett, Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch,
“The Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions
Best Duo or Group Performance: Abby Cockerham, Laura Megan
Deveney and Theresa Peters Nigus as Donna, Linolium and Betty in “The Great
American Trailer Park Musical,” Act Two Theatre
Best Actor in a Cameo Role: Glenn Guillermo, Carl, “Bells Are Ringing,” Alpha
Players of Florissant
Best Actress in a Cameo Role: Julia Gilbert, Babette, Disney’s “Beauty and the
Beast,” Alfresco Productions
Best Youth Performer: Victor Landon, Munchkin Mayor, “The
Wizard of Oz,” Christ Memorial Productions
Best Costume Design: Donna Saltamachia, “Into the Woods,”
Curtain’s Up Theater Company
Best Youth Costume Design: Terry Pattison, “The Lion King
Jr.,” Goshen Theatre Project
Best Set Design: Terry Pattison, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,”
Goshen Theatre Project
Best Set Design – Youth Production: Marty Strohmeyer and
Christopher Phillips, ‘Big Fish,” Shooting Star Productions
Best Lighting Design: Jason Koonce, “Bloody Bloody Andrew
Jackson,” Looking Glass Playhouse
Best Lighting Design – Youth Production: Jonathan Hartley, “Disney’s Beauty and
the Beast,” DaySpring School of Arts
For more information, visit www.artsforlife.org
“Dames at Sea” Alfresco ProductionsFor a PDF of the BPA nominations for 2018, here is the
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.