Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s “Shrek the Musical” won 10 Best Performance Awards from Arts For Life on June 12, earning honors as Best Large Ensemble musical, director, music director, choreography, actor, actress, featured actor, supporting actor, comedic actor, and lighting design. They had received 12 nominations.
The Gateway Center for Performing Arts, which is a professional training center based in Webster Groves, won 10 awards in the youth production categories – five for “Annie” and five for “Cabaret. They had earned 25 nominations, the most of any group.
Others receiving recognition included the Goshen Theatre Project, based in Collinsville, Ill., which won four for “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” and Take Two Productions won three for “Fun Home,” including Best Small Ensemble Musical. Spotlight Productions and Hawthorne Players won one each.
The annual awards returned to a live ceremony after a virtual one in 2020 and a cancellation in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. About 365 people attended the scaled-down presentation at the Frontenac Hilton’s Clayton Ballroom.
Arts For Life, founded in 1999, has been recognizing excellence in community theater with an awards program for 20 years
The annual youth scholarship award winners were announced. Jacob Moore of Dardenne Prairie and Theo Kronemer of Richmond Heights will receive $500 each to pursue a career in the arts. Moore, a graduate of St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon, Mo., plans to attend Missouri State University and major in musical theater. Kronemer, a graduate of Clayton High School, plans to attend Carnegie-Mellon University and major in theater production and design.
BPA winners were announced in 30 categories from nominations from the shortened 2020 and 2021 theater seasons.
Charlie Wehde was honored with the Best Youth Musical Performance Award for his portrayal of Jack in “Into the Woods” at DaySpring Academy.
In their acceptance speeches, winners emphasized that productions are put on by teams, and often recognized their theater “family” and “community.” Most made it a point to say how grateful they were to return to working on shows after being dark for so many months during the public health crisis that has dominated the past three years.
Adam Grun, who directed “Shrek the Musical” at Kirkwood Theatre Guild, spoke of the long journey with multiple delays and setbacks. Originally set to be performed in May 2020, it was cast and forced to shut down. He was brought in three weeks before rehearsals began for the reboot. The show went on in September 2021, opening KTG’s 89th season.
“We had three weeks to get everything going. It was the fastest I had ever analyzed a script. Not everyone from the original cast came back. We had all but one lead come back. So that was a big help. Most of the people had multiple roles, so they had to change like eight times during the show. It was a great cast. And I was lucky that Tom Murray (original director) had cast such a great group of people,” he said.
Stephen Peirick, who accepted the Best Small Ensemble Musical Award, said: “’Fun Home’ winning the BPA for Small Ensemble Production was truly the icing on the cake to a fantastic experience, that could not have happened without the dedication, talents, time, and energy of the Take Two Productions Board, our talented cast, our amazing music director and band, as well as our outstanding behind the scenes crew. Time spent with this group was reward enough, yet we’re appreciative of the opportunity to have our show recognized and, in return, be able to recognize all those who made this experience possible.’
Paul Pagano, executive director of Gateway Center for Performing Arts, said: “We are so grateful to everyone who was a part of the BPAs yesterday and for the opportunity to showcase and celebrate so much talent in the St. Louis community. There were so many incredible theatre companies and artists represented, and we are proud to be counted as storytellers among them!”
Mary McCreight, president of the AFL Board of Directors, commented about participating groups’ dedication.
“The Arts For Life Best Performance Awards shined on June 12 with love of musical theater among the community. Young and old performed and celebrated with each other after a three-year break,” she said. “It was magical and assured a future for Arts For Life.”
Musical numbers from eight nominated musicals “Annie,” “Cabaret,” “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “Fun Home,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” “Nunsense,” “Shrek,” and “Young Frankenstein” were performed.
Veteran performers and BPA winners Gerry and Kay Love were the co-hosts, and Kimmie Kidd-Booker, another BPA winner and AFL board member, joined the Loves for the opening number “Show People” from “Curtains.”
Arts For Life is a local not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the underserved, and the community, with its goal of “Making a Dramatic Difference.”
AFL is dedicated to promoting public awareness of local community theatre, encouraging excellence in the arts, and acknowledging the incredible people who are a part of it in the St. Louis metropolitan and metro-east Illinois region.
Nominations were announced Jan. 22 at the annual Trivia Night, which was a virtual event. They are listed on the website at www.artsforlife.org.
Prior to the pandemic, 15 theater groups and 10 youth-only groups participated in the BPAs As the region’s mitigations efforts were ongoing the past two years, only four youth-only groups and nine community theater organizations produced BPA-eligible musicals 2021.
Groups participating in this year’s BPAs include Christ Memorial Productions, Dayspring Arts and Education, Gateway Center for Performing Arts, Goshen Theatre Project, Hawthorne Players, Kirkwood Theatre Guild, KTK Productions, Looking Glass Playhouse, Monroe Actors Stage Company, O’Fallon Theatre Works, OverDue Theatre, and Spotlight Productions.
For more information, visit the website at www.artsforlife.org
Here is the list of winners:
Best Large Ensemble Musical – “Shrek the Musical,” Kirkwood Theatre Guild
Best Small Ensemble Musical – “Fun Home,” Take Two Productions
Best Youth Production – “Cabaret,” Gateway Center for Performing Arts
Best Director – Adam Grun, “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Youth Director – Paul Pagano, “Cabaret,” Gateway Center for Performing Arts
Best Music Director – Sean Bippen, “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Youth Music Director – Lori Barrett-Pagano, “Cabaret,” GCPA
Best Choreography – Kim Klick, “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Youth Choreography – Stephanie Fox, “Cabaret,” GCPA
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Christopher Strawhun, Shrek in “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Actress in a Leading Role – Dawn Schmid, Fiona in “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Youth Actor in a Leading Role – Andrew Maroney, Emcee in “Cabaret,” GCPA
Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role – Sarah Moll, Grace, “Annie,” GCPA
Best Actor in a Featured Role – John Emery, Lord Farquaad in “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Actress in a Featured Role – Zoe Maya Miller, Medium Alison in “Fun Home,” Take Two
Best Actor in a Comedic Role – Chris Moore, Donkey in “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Actress in a Comedic Role – Sophie Kluba, Betty Jane in “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” Hawthorne Players
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Jack Nichols, Pinocchio in “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Natalie Cochran, Cogsworth in “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Goshen Theatre Project
Best Youth Actor in a Supporting Role – Dan Wolfe, Rooster in “Annie,” GCPA
Best Youth Actress in a Supporting Role – Evelyn Vordtriede, Lily St. Regis, “Annie,” GCPA
Best Actor/Actress in a Cameo or Non-Singing Role: Jayson Heil, Narrator, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” GTP
Best Juvenile Performance – Kya Wonders, Carpet, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” GTP
Best Set Design – Stephen Peirick, Josh Smith, “Fun Home,” Take Two Productions
Best Youth Set Design – Laura Skroska, “Annie,” GCPA
Best Lighting Design – Stephanie Draper, “Shrek the Musical,” KTG
Best Youth Lighting Design – Ryan Luedloff, “Matilda,” Spotlight Productions
Best Costume Design – Terry Pattison, “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” GTP
Best Youth Costume Design – Tracey A. Newcomb, “Annie,” GCPA
Photos by Don Quon
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.