The Muny leads with 21 nominations, Stages St Louis has 19, The Black Rep 17 and Stray Dog Theatre 15

First In-Person Gala Since 2019 Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

ST. LOUIS, February 6, 2023 – After a four-year hiatus of not holding an in-person ceremony due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 through 2022, the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards will return April 3, 2023  in a ‘live’ ceremony beginning at 7 p.m. at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University. The previous two events were streamed online by HEC Media.

Tickets at $23 apiece will soon be available at the box office of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis at or 314-968-4925, and also at the box office one hour before the ceremony.

Nominees in more than 30 categories will vie for honors covering comedies, dramas, musicals and operas produced by local professional theater and opera companies in the calendar years 2022. Approximately 90 productions have been considered for nominations for this year’s event. This compares to roughly 120 productions normally considered in one year alone prior to the pandemic.

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.

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

The eighth annual award ceremony, which was to have been held at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University, was cancelled in February 2020 due to the escalating number of cases of COVID-19. Instead, that event, honoring outstanding local theater productions for the year 2019, was held virtually in a highly polished presentation produced by HEC Media and streamed on HEC’s YouTube channel and web site.  A ninth annual ceremony similarly was streamed on HEC Media for the combined years of 2020 and 2021.

The nominees for the 10th annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards are:

Bronte Sister House Party, SATE. Photo by Joey Rumpell

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Cassidy Flynn, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
Hannah Geisz, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild 
Jilanne Klaus, “Barefoot in the Park,” Moonstone Theatre Company 
Bess Moynihan, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
Valentina Silva, “The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Ted Drury, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild 
Joel Moses, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
Bradley Tejeda, “The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis 
Chauncy Thomas, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
Eric Dean White, “Hand to God,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio 

Molly Burris, Dear Jack Dear Louise

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Colleen Backer, “Hand to God,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio 
Molly Burris, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre 
Rayme Cornell, “The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis 
Claire Karpen, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
Rachel Tibbetts, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE

Jeff Kargus, Jason Meyers, “The Lonesome West” Photo by John Lamb

Outstanding Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Mitchell Henry-Eagles, “Hand to God,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio 
Jeff Kargus, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild 
Ryan Lawson-Maeske, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre 
Jason Meyers, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild 
Stanton Nash, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Joe Clapper, Behind the Sheet, Photo by Philip Hamer

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play 

Amina Alexander, “Stick Fly,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 
Jesse Alford, “The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis 
Joe Clapper, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
Jasmine Williams, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep 
John Wylie, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Sound Design 

Lamar Harris, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 
Jackie Sharp, “Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea,” The Black Rep 
Rusty Wandall, Kareem Deanes, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
Amanda Werre, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre

Joel Moses in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” New Jewish Theatre, Photo by Jon Gitchoff

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play 

Dorothy Marshall Englis, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
Liz Henning, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
Liz Henning, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company 
Oona Natesan, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 
Michele Friedman Siler, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Set Design in a Play 

Dahlia Al-Habieli, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 
Dunsi Dai, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre 
Bess Moynihan, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company 
Kyu Shin, “Stick Fly,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 
Josh Smith, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 

Riley Carter Adams, right, The Bee Play, New Jewish Theatre. Photo by Jon Gitchoff.

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Riley Carter Adams, “The Bee Play,” New Jewish Theatre 
Sarajane Alverson, “The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Rachel Hanks, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild 
Rachel Tibbetts, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company 
Sumi Yu, “House of Joy,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Cameron Jamarr Davis, “The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep 
Joseph Garner, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild 
Michael James Reed, “Proof,” Moonstone Theatre Company 
Joey Saunders, “The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Jeffrey Wright, “The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre

Summer Baer, Michael James Reed “Proof,” Moonstone Theatre Company.

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Summer Baer, “Proof,” Moonstone Theatre Company 
Lavonne Byers, “Good People,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Kelly Howe, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company 
Chinna Palmer, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
Jennifer Theby-Quinn, “Iphigenia in Splott,” Upstream Theater

Outstanding Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Kevin Brown, “Jitney,” The Black Rep 
Jeff Cummings, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
Olajuwon Davis, “Jitney,” The Black Rep 
Joel Moses, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild 
Stephen Peirick, “The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre 

“Jitney,” The Black Rep, Phillip Hamer photo

Outstanding New Play 

“Bandera, Texas,” by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend, Prism Theatre Company 
“Brontë Sister House Party,” by Courtney Bailey, SATE 
“The Good Ship St. Louis,” by Philip Boehm, Upstream Theater 
“Roll With It!” by Katie Rodriguez Banister and Michelle Zielinski, The Black Mirror Theatre Company 
“Winds of Change,” by Deanna Jent, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Achievement in Opera 

Daniela Candillari, “Carmen,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 
Thomas Glass, “Harvey Milk,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 
Karen Kanakis, “La Rondine,” Winter Opera Saint Louis 
Robert Mellon, “Falstaff,” Union Avenue Opera 
Sarah Mesko, “Carmen,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Union Avenue Opera’s production of A Little Night Music on August 17, 2022.

Outstanding Production of an Opera 

“Awakenings,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 
“Falstaff,” Union Avenue Opera 
“The Gondoliers,” Winter Opera Saint Louis 
“Harvey Milk,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 
“A Little Night Music,” Union Avenue Opera

Outstanding Musical Director 

Cullen Curth, “Jerry’s Girls,” New Jewish Theatre 
Jermaine Hill, “The Color Purple,” The Muny 
Walter “Bobby” McCoy, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
James Moore, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Andrew Resnick, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis 

The Karate Kid – The Musical, Phillip Hamer photo.

Outstanding Choreographer 

Dena DiGiacinto, “A Chorus Line,” Stages St. Louis 
Keone and Mari Madrid, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis 
Patrick O’Neill, “Mary Poppins,” The Muny 
Josh Rhodes, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” The Muny 
Luis Salgado, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Tami Dahbura, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
Melissa Felps, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre 
Nicole Michelle Haskins, “The Color Purple,” The Muny 
Grace Langford, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Dawn Schmid, “Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre

Marshall Jennings, Melissa Felps “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Luis-Pablo Garcia, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
Clayton Humburg, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre 
Jeffrey Izquierdo-Malon, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre 
Marshall Jennings, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre 
Jordan Wolk, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical 

Tyler Duenow, “Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Bradley King, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis 
John Lasiter, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Sean M. Savoie, “A Chorus Line,” Stages St. Louis 
Sean M. Savoie, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

“In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis, Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical 

Edward E. Hayes, Jr. and Greg Emetaz, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” The Muny 
Anna Louizos, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
Derek McLane, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis 
Michael Schweikardt, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Josh Smith, “Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical 

Eileen Engel, “A Little Night Music,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Eileen Engel, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals 
Samantha C. Jones, “The Color Purple,” The Muny 
Brad Musgrove, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
Alejo Vietti, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 

Anastacia McCleskey, “The Color Purple,” Phillip Hamer photo.

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role 

Carmen Cusack, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Jeanna De Waal, “Mary Poppins,” The Muny 
Eileen Engel, “Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Melissa Felps, “Urinetown,” New Line Theatre 
Anastacia McCleskey, “The Color Purple,” The Muny 

Outstanding Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role 

Ryan Alvarado, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis
Corbin Bleu, “Mary Poppins,” The Muny 
Ben Davis, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Stephen Henley, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals 
Jovanni Sy, “The Karate Kid – The Musical,” Stages St. Louis

Stephen Henley, The Balladeer, Fly North Theatricals.

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy 

“Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
“Heroes,” Albion Theatre 
“Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” New Jewish Theatre 
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
“Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama 

“The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep 
“Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
“The Christians,” West End Players Guild 
“Jitney,” The Black Rep 
“The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre

The Christians, West End Players Guild, Photo by John Lamb

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical 

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” Stray Dog Theatre 
“A Chorus Line,” Stages St. Louis 
“The Color Purple,” The Muny 
“In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
“Sweeney Todd,” The Muny

Outstanding Director of a Comedy 

Robert Ashton, “The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild 
Eddie Coffield, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” New Jewish Theatre 
David Kaplan, “The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis 
Keating, “Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
Bruce Longworth, “Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

“Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company, Photo by Joey Rumpell

Outstanding Director of a Drama 

Gary F. Bell, “The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre 
Joe Hanrahan, “Rodney’s Wife,” The Midnight Company 
Ron Himes, “The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep 
Ron Himes, “Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
Ellie Schwetye, “The Christians,” West End Players Guild 

Outstanding Director of a Musical 

Lili-Anne Brown, “The Color Purple,” The Muny 
Scott Miller, “Something Rotten!” New Line Theatre 
Bradley Rohlf, “Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals 
Rob Ruggiero, “Sweeney Todd,” The Muny 
Luis Salgado, “In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis

“Much Ado About Nothing,” St Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Production of a Comedy 

“Brontë Sister House Party,” SATE 
“Dear Jack, Dear Louise,” New Jewish Theatre 
“The Lonesome West,” West End Players Guild                   
“Much Ado About Nothing,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival 
“The Rose Tattoo,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

“The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep, Photo by Phillip Hamer

Outstanding Production of a Drama 

“The African Company Presents Richard III,” The Black Rep 
“Behind the Sheet,” The Black Rep 
“Good People,” Stray Dog Theatre 
“Jitney,” The Black Rep 
“The Normal Heart,” Stray Dog Theatre

Outstanding Production of a Musical 

“Assassins,” Fly North Theatricals 
“The Color Purple,” The Muny 
“In the Heights,” Stages St. Louis 
“Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre 
“Sweeney Todd,” The Muny

“Ride the Cyclone,” Stray Dog Theatre, Photo by John Lamb

Special Award 

Joan Lipkin, for lifetime achievement 

Joan Lipkin

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor outstanding achievement in St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

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

For more information, contact or ‘like’ the St. Louis Theater Circle on Facebook.

By Lynn Venhaus
A poorly executed musical revue, “Side by Side by Sondheim” is miscast and misguided.

The Repertory Theatre of St Louis’ production hasn’t jelled yet, and on Feb. 3, the result was a tepid tribute to one of the greatest composers and lyricists in Broadway history.

That’s particularly disappointing because of The Rep’s previous presentation of its Sondheim masterpieces “Follies,” in 2016 and “Sunday in the Park with George” in 2012.

Phoenix Best, Paul HeeSang Miller, Saidu Sinlah and Amy Spanger are the quartet of singers that rarely appear as a cohesive unit. Think of it less as side by side and more as standing by themselves and not in sync with the others.

Their ‘70s-style Vegas dance moves, designed by Heather Beal, are at different stages and they often appear lazy and repetitive as they ‘do their own thing.’

Not sure where the disconnect began, especially when you have 28 songs spanning Sondheim’s landmark canon. Perhaps the addition of an older, seasoned vocalist or two would have helped ground it – the revue cast has shifted over the years, and once had a female trio, not duo. And the two here are not up to any kind of heavy lifting together for the vocal demands of Sondheim.

Given Sondheim’s penchant for games and puzzles (the film “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is dedicated to him, and he makes a brief appearance), the mystery is thus: Have these singers ever been in a Sondheim show? Seen one?

Was there a vision for the production other than let’s slap-some-Sondheim tunes together? Reggie D. White, the new associate artistic director, took charge of this runaway train, which seems like an afterthought, and it never felt polished or had much pizzazz the entire runtime.

The range of unprepared musical numbers is the most blatant misstep. Occasionally, the harmony works, but mostly, we have singers not able to stick the landing, which is criminal with Sondheim.

Yes, his music is challenging and complicated. You need singers at the top of their game, but you also need singers who feel the emotional level of his work. He’s all about the feels. You can’t fake it. Finish the hat, dammit!

The man reinvented the modern musical, and we’re reducing his music to punch lines? That seems the focus here — let’s milk as much for laughs as possible, the bawdier, the better.

This revue is two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. The sections are tied together by a narrator, who explains a common theme or background about a song. Or nuggets like how Oscar Hammerstein was a mentor.

Veteran pro Alan Knoll is charming and witty as the narrator, knowing how to work a crowd. He provided interesting tidbits about Sondheim’s recurring themes, particularly marriage. He was a late addition to the cast, hence, the notecards. (The program originally listed Miller as the narrator).

Sondheim’s collaborations with other composers – Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Mary Rodgers, and Richard Rodgers among them – are an important part of the narrative here. And Knoll points out his lesser-known works, for laughs.

But it shouldn’t be all Shecky Greene-yucks without the perspective of the man’s greatness. This cast seems incapable of grasping his lyrical complexities and the level of sophisticated music, especially when they are in sequined and gaudy outfits going through awkward motions. (White satin hot pants, really?)

Costume Designer Oona Nateson has found a theatrical grab bag of ubiquitous black apparel augmented by shiny fabrics, leather pants and unnecessary sequins, some of it ill-fitting for their frames. The junior high talent show called and needs their hot pink satin disco shirt back.

After Sondheim’s death at age 91 on Nov. 26, 2021, the world put his loss in perspective and the tributes haven’t stopped.

His work should never be a museum piece – it should be as vibrant as ever – witness “Company” winning a Tony last year for Best Revival of a Musical and an acclaimed version of “Into the Woods” that kept being extended until recently, with plans of it touring (I saw this sublime stunner at the St. James Oct. 1, with Patina Miller, Joshua Henry, and Gavin Creel. It’s a must-see for the ages.). Locally, we had two superb “A Little Night Music” presentations last year, at Union Avenue Opera and Stray Dog Theatre, and the Muny’s resplendent “Sweeney Todd,” which we will be talking about for years to come. A brilliantly interpreted “Assassins” was staged by Fly North Theatricals last summer.

So, the lack of nuance in favor of a good-time variety hour reminiscent of one of those summer replacement shows networks were fond of back in the 1960s and 1970s, is perplexing.

Could we not be entertained merely by exquisite vocals transporting us to various times and places? The sense of wonder and human connection that often arises when a Sondheim show delivers a moment is nowhere to be found here.

To my surprise, Tre’von Griffith is listed as the music director, and I had more faith in his ability to interpret Sondheim’s genius. Did the creatives underestimate the time necessary to put it all together?

Sadly, the songs from “Company” and “West Side Story” seem the most adversely affected, like when those singing “Tonight” can’t hit the upper notes, and it is painful. The women’s duet, “A Boy Like That” is OK until it veers into a wobbly rendition of “I Have a Love.”

The women forgot lyrics to “Getting Married Today,” which is performed slower in tempo than usual, lacking the punch of the original.

Amy Spanger is entrusted with singing “Another Hundred People,” and several other big numbers that she is incapable of nailing, and it’s a travesty. The weakest link of the four, she has difficulty staying on key and enunciating, and instead, often goes for broader dance moves – and tugging at her too-tight sequined mini-dress.

During “Broadway Baby,” the LED screen shows some of her Broadway roles behind her, including Roxie Hart in “Chicago,” as if to remind us she’s been on a big stage before. Her list of credits is extensive, that’s why it’s so hard to believe she can’t hit notes. Her casting is a head-scratcher as she is clearly out of her depth.

Paul HeeSang Miller started strong, with Company’s restored gem “Marry Me a Little,” and so did Saidu Sinlah with “I Remember,” from “Evening Primrose,” but he faded fast, incapable of rising to the occasion the rest of the show.

The four don’t seem to have much chemistry and relied on the vaudeville-type schtick for laughs.

Because of these lackluster renditions, you find yourself thinking of better versions that you’ve heard before. I’m just grateful this is an earlier revue, so they don’t ruin “Into the Woods,” “Assassins,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Merrily We Roll Along” in any way.

Phoenix Best, who benefits from a comedic approach to some numbers, delivers an effective “I’m Still Here” and “Send in the Clowns,” but tended to go louder when unsure during other numbers. Her solos were often introduced with her making an entrance to build up the drama.

The women often relied on ‘kittenish,’ playing up the double entendres in “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” which was cut from “Follies.”

In a slinky leotard, Best stretched out “I Never Do Anything Twice” from the film, “The Seven-Percent -Solution,” using a chaise lounge to drape herself over.

And the crowd-pleaser, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” by the strippers in “Gypsy,” draws laughs over the women’s well-placed percussion.

Those unfamiliar with “Follies” get a lesson on different musical styles, especially vaudeville, but then Spanger attempts “Losing My Mind,” and it was my clench-fist time. I may have blurted out “Please don’t let her sing this” instead of just thinking it to myself. (Sorry to my neighbors).

The guys singing “Bring on the Girls” is nearly laughable.

Paul HeeSang Miller, Amy Spanger. Photo by Philip Hamer

When the show delves into the lesser-known works, expectations are lowered, but the butchering of “Pretty Lady” from “Pacific Overtures” by all four was excruciating. Was anyone on key?

The production design by Camilla Tassi consists of slides showing Sondheim at various stages of his life, and the New York milieu, which is so important to his work.

If you are a Sondheim fan, one can appreciate accompanists Stephen A. Eros and Kris Pineda, whose piano work is stellar.

The sound, designed by Sharath Patel, however, has some rough moments.

But the whole affair smacks less of collaboration and more self-preservation than any serious performance piece. When they move four chairs around on the set, I was reminded of the deck of the Titanic, where the band played as doom closed in around them.

This production should not be considered an introduction to Sondheim, for you can find multiple tributes online that celebrate his artistry in better ways.

The outstanding documentary, “Six by Sondheim,” is currently streaming on HBOMax, and can be rented on various video on demand platforms. This is a sensational piece that tells you all you need to know, and is time much better spent than at COCA.

One wonders why this show replaced another Sondheim revue, “Putting It Together,” from 1992, which had been on The Rep’s schedule.

But this is a colossal waste of resources – there needed to be an assistant costume designer, assistant sound designer and two assistant directors?

The man who won eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammy Awards, a Olivier Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom deserved better.

If you are not going to give Sondheim his proper due, then what’s the point? Maybe start by hiring singers who have the compatible vocal range for the songs?

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “Side by Side by Sondheim” from Jan. 29 through Feb. 19 at the Catherine Berges Theatre at the Center for the Creative Arts (COCA). For more information or tickets, visit

Phoenix Best, Saidu Sinlah, Amy Spanger, Paul HeeSang Miller. Photo by Philip Hamer.

Side by Side by Sondheim will awe audiences with a night of Stephen Sondheim’s best 

ST. LOUIS (January 5, 2023) – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep)- the leading regional performing arts theatre in the Midwest- will start the new year with Side by Side by Sondheim, a Sondheim revue (replacing Putting it Together: A Sondheim Review). The intimate and nostalgic production will begin previews on January 29 and will run from February 3 to February 19 at the Catherine Berges Theatre at the Center for the Creative Arts (COCA).  

Celebrate legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in a cabaret-style revue revisiting some of his most poignant, powerful and witty songs in the American musical theatre canon. This Tony-award-winning production features a variety of Sondheim’s most notable works, including rarely performed numbers straight from the cutting-room floor. Side by Side by Sondheim explores the breadth of Sondheim’s acclaimed career, including numbers from FolliesWest Side Story, CompanyAnyone Can WhistlePacific Overtures, Gypsy and more. 

Side by Side by Sondheim will mark the St. Louis directorial debut of Reggie D. White, The Rep’s recently hired Associate Artistic Director. White joins The Rep from New York City and brings with him more than two decades of theatre experience, including over 10 years of expertise as an award-winning artist, educator and arts advocate. 

“Musical theatre is how I began my career and I have loved Sondheim’s work for decades,” said White. “Side By Side is an especially wonderful piece because it introduces new listeners to his music, gives the most ardent lovers of his work a taste of his greatest hits and it reminds us all of the boundary smashing genius with which he created some of the most iconic musical theatre songs of the 20th Century. He gave us so many gifts over his career and this is such a beautiful way to keep his songs in our hearts.” 

Side by Side by Sondheim features four cast members. The role of Narrator will be played by Paul HeeSang Miller, whose Broadway experience includes Mamma Mia!, the first revival of Miss Saigon and the Tony award winning The King and IThe role of Man will be played by Saidu Sinlah. This will be Sinlah’s debut at The Rep, but St. Louisans may recognize him from the Muny’s performances of Aida and The Wizard of Oz. The role of Woman 1 will be played by Phoenix Best. Best’s Broadway credits include Dear Evan Hansen and The Color Purple Revival. The role of Woman 2 will be played by Amy Spanger. Spanger created the role of Susan in Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick… Boom and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for her role of Holly in The Wedding Singer.  

Sound design for this production is by Sharath Patel, who boasts previous experience at The Rep with his sound design of The Mystery of Irma Vep in 2020. Heather Beal serves as the choreographer. Audience members may remember her work as choreographer of Feeding Beatrice at The Rep in 2019. The Projection Designer will be Camilla Tassi. Tassi’s design experience includes working at Carnegie Hall and the Berlin Opera Academy. Oona Natesan will return to provide Costume Design after designing costumes for House of Joy at The Rep earlier this season. The Lighting Designer will be Xavier Pierce, who was recently the Lighting Designer for Confederates at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival- a show that The Rep is producing this season. Tre’von Griffith returns to The Rep as the Music Director. Rep audiences may remember him as the Music Director for A Christmas Carol. Alerica L. Anderson will serve as the Music Coordinator and St. Louis audiences may recognize his work from the Pre-Broadway Premiere of The Karate Kid-the Musical at STAGES. 

Side by Side by Sondheim will also mark the first mainstage production of the new year performed at the Catherine Berges Theatre at the Center for the Creative Arts (COCA). This performance space is a state-of-the-art theatre built in 2020, and is part of The Rep’s initiative to bring theatre into the St. Louis Community.  

The Rep is pleased to offer several special offerings and accessible performances throughout the run of Side by Side by Sondheim. These include: 

Post Show Talkbacks, Feb. 9, 7 p.m & 15, 2 p.m. – Following the performance stick around for an informal discussion with members of the cast and creative team of the show. 

Audio Described Performance, Feb. 16, 2 p.m. – The Rep partners with MindsEye to offer live audio description for the final Thursday performance of all productions. 

American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreted, Feb. 18, 2 p.m. – An ASL interpreted performance will be offered on the final Saturday matinee. Interpreters will be inside the theater and sign along with what the actors are saying and expressing for the audience. 

Open-Captioned Performance, Feb. 19, 2 p.m. – The Rep offers open captioning, an electronic text display that shows what the actors are saying or singing, at the last Sunday show for all Mainstage performances. 

About The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis 

The Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. Visit for more, and find The Rep on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube

ST. LOUIS (December 16, 2022) – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep)- the leading regional arts theatre in the Midwest- welcomes Reggie D. White as Associate Artistic Director. 

White brings more than two decades of theatre experience, including over 10 years of expertise as an award-winning artist, educator and arts advocate. He made his Broadway debut in Matthew López’s Tony Award-winning epic, The Inheritance. With an extensive background acting in New York, Off-Broadway, in regional theatre and internationally, White showcases his plethora of experiences both on and off the stage through his writing and directing work. 

White’s play, In Case You Hadn’t Heard: A Conversation Between America’s Past and Its Promise premiered last spring at Bay Street Theatre, and he is currently co-writing a play with Lauren Gunderson (America’s Most-Produced Living Playwright). His directing credits include work at the Atlantic Theater Company, The Public, Bay Street Theater, The Williams Project, and PlayGroundSF. 

Most recently he has served as the Artistic Director and faculty member at the Atlantic Acting School in New York, NY.

White is a resident artist at Vineyard Theatre, a founding member of the multi-generational theatre collective- The Commissary- and a founding company member with The Williams Project, a living-wage theatre company. He is also a recipient of the Colman Domingo Award, The TCG Fox Fellowship, the TBA Titan Award, the RHE Artistic Fellowship and an NCAAP Theatre Award nominee.

“Reggie D. White is a transformative emerging thought leader in our field. He brings a joyful, innovative, and imaginative spirit of collaboration in his wide-ranging experience as a creative, producer, educator, and community connector,” said Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director. “I could not be more excited to welcome Reggie’s  talents to St. Louis and his strategic insight to The Rep as we enter this great new era of artistry.”

White will make his directorial debut in St. Louis helming a Stephen Sondheim review at The Rep in early 2023 and will join an Artistic Department that includes fellow Associate Artistic Director/Director of New Work, Becks Redman, and is led by accomplished artistic leader, director, playwright and producer, Hana S. Sharif.  

“I’m so excited to spread my wings as an arts leader at an institution as well loved by its community as The Rep is,” said White. “I’ve been finding myself pulled in this direction quite a bit over the last 5 years and have always felt a tension with my own art-making. But with this role, I’ll have the opportunity to keep making the kind of theatre I’ve always dreamed of making, while also being able to shape and mold the why and how it gets made.”

Within his role as Associate Artistic Director, White will will support line producing mainstage, site-specific, and community arts programming, artistic strategic planning, and creative community engagement.

About The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. Visit for more, and find The Rep on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

By CB Adams

Remember that commercial from the late 80s with the tagline, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile?” The Repertory Theatre of St Louis’s production of “A Christmas Carol” is kinda like that. This is not your father’s, or grandmother’s (or your crazy Aunt Millie’s) adaptation of this Dickensian tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s war on Christmas. As you survey St. Louis’s rich assortment of holiday offerings (and there truly is a cornucopia that runneth over), this production entices with a shiny, progressive reboot of this Christmas chestnut.  

It’s a new spin on “A Christmas Carol” that’s perfect for those with short attention spans. This adaptation treats the story of Scrooge’s transformation as the plain evergreen upon which the shiny baubles of scenic design (Tim Mackabee), lighting and projections (Seth Reiser and Hana S. Kim), costumes (Dede Ayite), choreography (Kirven Douthit-Boyd) and hip hop choreography (Robert Crenshaw) are hung. Bringing youthful energy to the production are the Webster University conservatory cast, the Big Muddy Dance Company dancers, whose ghost dancers add much to certain key scenes, and a youth ensemble from the Center of Creative Arts.

By flattening the well-known story line whose lead character has been represented by everyone and everything from Alastair Sim and Michael Caine to Bill Murray and Mr. Magoo, this adaptation by Michael Wilson (the same as last year’s) embellishes the story of Scrooge’s transformation with new characters and scenes not in the Dickens novel.

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Upon each of the story’s key moments – Marley’s appearance, visits by the three Spirits, the Cratchit family’s penury, etc. – director Hana S. Sharif hangs contemporary dance numbers, special effects and humorous asides among all the dark, dank Victoriana. The dance is an especially effective component of this adaptation; the inconsistent use of modern colloquialisms – not so much.

The result is a Whitman’s Sampler of a production that tries too hard to provide a little something for every taste.  And like that holiday box, there’s all sorts of chocolates, including a rap-infused “O Come All Ye Faithful,” a Marley who flies up from beneath the stage like a spectral Peter Pan, a dance number that includes The Worm, and a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come that’s part-Mad Max, part-Blade and part-Gimp from “Pulp Fiction.”

The latter makes his NFL-inspired entrance complete with hoverboard and ravers glasses. This ghost’s entrance is certainly impressive but calls too much attention to itself and pulls you out of the story. It also undercuts the emotional impact of Scrooge recognizing his tombstone – the climax of the story.

The same holds true for the final scene (not in Dickens’s original) with Scrooge hosting a party. This is a well-intentioned addition that hopes to highlight the new, improved Scrooge, but which borrows too much from the final scene in the “White Christmas” movie. It also weakens the intent of Dickens to use this story to examine the plight of the disadvantaged. As Scrooge promises the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

Sharif adds another complexity to this production  by double casting of most of the key roles. It was fun (and impressive) to see the way Laakan McHardy played both a doll seller and the Ghost of Christmas Past (the best of the portrayals of the spirits) and Paul Aguirre went from a refreshments vendor to a vampy, over-the-top Christmas Present. Michael James Reed also played double duty as Mrs. Dilber (Scrooge’s housekeeper with shades of “Mrs. Doubtfire”) and the spectral Jacob Marley – how’s that for range!

The roles of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are played by Guiesseppe Jones and Armando McClain, respectively. McClain provides one of this production’s best and most consistent and balanced portrayals as the long-suffering Cratchit. Ultimately, “A Christmas Carol” hinges on the portrayal of Scrooge. Jones displays an impressive range, which he definitely needs in this adaptation that pivots (sometimes to distraction) from lightheartedly humorous to full-on King Lear-level theatricality. As impressive as Jones was in all his scenes, his performance was often too self-contained and lacked chemistry with the other actors.

Overall, this production is designed with lots of wow-factors to defy you to call it anything but bah-humbug. The success of this approach depends on how you like your Scrooge served up. If you’re seeking the more traditional, ye merry ole England version (I remember one from my youth that included real basset hounds on stage), this isn’t that. To its credit, this adaptation avoids the saccharin Timmy-fell-down-the-well savior sub-narrative of so many other productions. And, it brings a modern sensibility to this timeless, still all-too-relevant story.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “A Christmas Carol” November 19–December 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis. For tickets or more information, visit:

Photo Credit: T Charles Erickson © T Charles Erickson Photography

By Lynn Venhaus
Area theatergoers, you must see “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” now playing at the recently renamed Florissant Performing Arts Center, presented by Hawthorne Players through Nov. 13.

Opening night Friday was a testament to a production fulfilling its promise and meeting the moment, truly raising the bar for the entire St. Louis theater scene.

Knowing what Ken Clark is capable of as a director and scenic designer, and recognizing members of the cast and creative team, I purchased tickets to see it as a patron, not as a professional critic (do not review community/school theater) or an AFL judge (which I did for 10 years, but no longer in that role). My schedule does not permit me to get to everything I’d like to see, but lo and behold, Nov. 4 opened up.

Winner of five Tony Awards in 2015 and seven Olivier Awards in London, this immersive drama is one of the most unique theatrical experiences you will ever see — and also one of the most moving. Simon Stephens adapted the book by Mark Haddon, which takes us on a journey inside the brilliant mind of Christopher, who struggles to process everyday information, and has sensory perception issues.

Recent upgrades to the theater — the auditorium is part of the Florissant Civic Center — have enabled next-level technical work. The ‘Curious Incident’ creative team is the first to use the new projectors, and it adds so much.

However, technological bells and whistles are only as good as the creative minds behind the set, sound and lighting designs — bravo to lighting designer Eric Wennlund (his “The Spitfire Grill” was sublime, an AFL award winner), sound designer Jacob Baxley, who also composed the music score (!), and scenic and projection designer Ken Clark. Remarkable work.

Mike De Pope, Daniel Wolfe. Photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services.

Delivering the show’s heart, getting the ‘mind’ of the material right, is a tight ensemble. Dan Wolfe is exceptional as Christopher, and you can’t get up to leave immediately after the curtain call (standing O Friday), or you’ll miss his terrific coda. The youngster, who won a Best Performance Award from AFL last summer for “Annie,” displays how much effort he put into making Christopher as authentic as possible. It’s a tour de force.

Mike De Pope and Jennelle Gilreath Owens are strong as the parents, Natalee Damron is the sympathetic and firm teacher Siobhan, and a fine group of local actors perform multiple roles, including Jeff Kargus, Marian Holtz, Elle Harlow, Patrick Brueggen, Hunter Fredrick and Jessica Kelly.

The dialect work is superb — and consistent, and the coaches, with UK roots, are Robert Ashton and Gwynneth Rausch. Special mention to assistant director and choreographer Stefanie Kluba for staging the crisp movements that add to this show’s tapestry, and to ace veteran costume designer Jean Heckmann.

Lobby photo.\ by Lynn Venhaus

It’s indeed a triumph for all involved, and especially for the Hawthorne board of directors, for greenlighting such a challenging work.

Now in its 75th season, the group has been celebrating throughout the year. Take time to look at all the historical items in the lobby — and you can take a chance on a stunning quilt Jean Heckmann made including some of their shows. The quilt drawing is set for after their final show of the year, “Cowboy Christmas,” on Dec. 10.

This show’s level of difficulty is high, and anyone who has seen it before — whether Broadway, London or locally, is aware of its demands. In 2017, The Repertory Theatre of St Louis’s production blew me away. Several months later, it was honored as Outstanding Drama Production by the St. Louis Theater Circle, of which I am a founding member.

Dan Wolfe. Photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services.

I remember talking to Steve Woolf, the late great artistic director of The Rep, who had seen the show in London , and felt he had ‘cracked the code’ on how to make it work at the Rep.

In a column after his untimely death in 2021, I wrote:

“During rehearsals for the stellar “All the Way” in 2015 (I was there to interview Brian Dykstra, playing LBJ, and Woolf, who was directing —, he told me about his experience seeing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” in London.

He had been gobsmacked. He didn’t think The Rep could do it — very technical show, intricate — but the wheels were turning. He was so excited about trying to bring it to The Rep. “I think I’ve found a way we can do it,” he said to me later. (more of that article,

In 2019, Actors Attic, a youth-focused theater group in Columbia, Ill., won several Theatre Mask Awards, presented by Arts for Life, for its ambitious production directed by MaryBeth Scherr Babcock. As far as I know, they’ve been the only local group to tackle it until now.

Yes, this is high praise. And yes, it’s that good. This column isn’t intended to review the show, only to urge people to fill seats of Flo PAC. It takes a village to put on a show as risky and rewarding as this, and they pulled it off in spectacular fashion, so I wanted to honor their efforts. All that work was worth it — but they deserve an audience.

GO SEE IT and support live theater. We need the arts and how it connects people more than we ever have.

(Fun Fact: As a news reporter and feature writer at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, I told then-entertainment editor Frank Hunter that I had a theater background and would be available to review local theater if he needed a hand. One of my earliest assignments that I recall was “Carousel” at Hawthorne Players in 1984.)

‘Curious Incident’ is performed Nov 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 7:30 pm, with a matinee on Nov. 13 at 2 pm at the Florissant Performing Arts Center.
Tickets may be purchased online at
For more information and sensitivity warnings, go to

Cover photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services

Ensemble on the train. Photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services.
Dan Wolfe, Jennelle Gilreath Owens. Photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services.

By Lynn Venhaus

“You say either and I say either. You say neither and I say neither. Either, either. Neither, neither. Let’s call the whole thing off.” – George and Ira Gershwin

When the Gershwin brothers wrote “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” for the 1937 film “Shall We Dance” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, gender roles were primarily traditional, as were societal ideals.

The witty ditty is used in The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ current show “Private Lives,” exemplifying opposites in Noel Coward’s urbane comedy of manners.

It’s sure indicative of how we can look at things with separate viewpoints. Such is my response to “Private Lives,” which is now playing through Oct. 23 at the Berges Theatre at COCA. The production has been well-received, according to reaction from the audience, my colleagues, and in talking with some theatergoers.

You say silly, I say insufferable.

Once upon a time, this 1930 ‘romantic’ comedy was the height of sophistication and snappy repartee. However, 92 years later, the biting wit has not aged well, despite Coward’s nimble wordplay twisting the battle of the sexes into loggerheads.

The premise of this highly regarded classic is that uppity Amanda Prynne (Amelia Pedlow) and imperious Elyot Chase (Stanton Nash) are enjoying a romantic honeymoon with new spouses, Victor Prynne (Carman Lacivita) and Sibyl Chase (Kerry Warren)– and they just happen to be staying at the same posh hotel on the northern coast of France.

When the divorced duo come face-to-face on adjoining balconies — for the first time in five years — sparks fly. They run off by the end of the first act, but just as passions collide, so do tempers. These two self-important twits remember why they fell in love – and why they split up in the second act.

Does it resonate as a send-up of the British upper-class or has it become a tiresome example of a combustible relationship where two people bicker incessantly? Do people dismiss the violent overtones because it’s a comedy?

“I struck him too. Once I broke four gramophone records over his head. It was very satisfying,” Amanda says to her new husband.

Because the former Mr. and Mrs. Chase bring out the worst in each other, trying to find the best of each other is a chore, not the fizzy fun it purports. (The Rep marketed it as ” fun, laughs, and a fresh take”). I had a tepid and triggering reaction, found it tedious at best and domestic abuse at worst.

In 2022, this work appears to me to be one of the most egregious examples of toxic relationships and white privilege upon examination through a 21st century lens. The melodramatic soap opera quality of this story got very old very fast.

The argument could be made – that was then, this isn’t now. But oh, have you been reading the news?

I don’t find verbal, emotional, or physical abuse of any sort amusing – even if it’s written by a famous closeted gay British snob who had a way with words. It is not OK on any stage, anywhere, and at any time. Period.

Sibyl and Victor go at it while Amanda and Elyot look on, after their fights started it all. Jon Gitchoff photo.

Let’s just refrain from giving any past-its-prime material attention if it involves unacceptable behavior that would not fly today (unless it’s a cautionary tale).

Sure, it remains one of Coward’s most celebrated successes and has been revived several times, but what is the reason for doing this show now or ever after?

Many people laughed – loud guffaws — on opening night Oct. 7 as the angry couple hurled food and broke things while slapping each other around. Fight choreographer Nathan Keepers had much work to do.

I was in a minority of those not chuckling. We were a smattering. In my lifetime, I’ll never understand why audience members were laughing at physical confrontations and destruction of property not their own. OK, people still laugh at The Three Stooges punching and poking each other, and there are Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote cartoons as points of reference.

Anyone thinking that the more acceptable we make of couples battering each other, the harder it is for abuse victims to come forward? Ever see the real physical aftermath or consequences? I doubt if anyone who grew up in an abusive household or is a survivor/victim of domestic abuse would find anything about this show ‘funny ha-ha’.

OK, the luxe set, designed by Lex Liang, was lovely to look at with its stylized Art Deco interiors, though. And expertly lit by lighting designer Colin Bills. The production elements excel in recreating the era’s affluence, including Kathleen Geldard’s glamorous costumes.

Yes, the production is slick and the performers skillful, but are two narcissists hell-bent on getting their way, no matter what cost, fun to watch? A darker truth is apparent on stage, no matter how many quips are delivered.

Amanda: I was brought up to believe it was beyond the pale for a man to strike a woman.

Elyot: A very poor tradition. Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.

Now, there were some gasps on that exchange.

Perhaps chemistry figures in to accepting that this once red-hot pair continue to emit white heat when together. Obviously, they can’t live together, for they start acting like ill-tempered children.

And they know it.

Amanda: I think very few people are completely normal really, deep down in their private lives. It all depends on a combination of circumstances. If all the various cosmic thingummys fuse at the same moment, and the right spark is struck, there’s no knowing what one mightn’t do. That was the trouble with Elyot and me, we were like two violent acids bubbling about in a nasty little matrimonial bottle.

In the program, dramaturg Arianne Johnson Quinn, the inaugural Noel Coward fellow in the Billy Rose Theater division at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, quotes Coward scholar: “Beneath the sophisticated repartee are two accidental assassins – destined to be destructive of each other and of anyone who comes emotionally close to them (The Letters of Noel Coward, 217).”

Quinn then wrote: “For Coward, affairs of the heart are glamorous excursions into human nature, and the inevitable comedy that follows stems from his ability to create living, breathing characters rather than dramatic archetypes. At the same time, modern audiences cannot escape the undercurrent of domestic abuse that runs as a throughline in the play.”

No, we can’t escape it – especially when they discuss their previous rows:

Elyot: The worst one was in Cannes when your curling irons burnt a hole in my new dressing-gown. [He laughs.]

Amanda: It burnt my comb too, and all the towels in the bathroom.

Elyot: That was a rouser, wasn’t it?

Amanda: That was the first time you ever hit me.

Elyot: I didn’t hit you very hard.

Amanda: The manager came in and found us rolling on the floor, biting and scratching like panthers. Oh dear, oh dear…[She laughs helplessly.]

Certain insensitive stereotypes, words, phrases, and behaviors have fallen out of favor in the name of diversity and inclusion, yet these golden-age chestnuts portray men keeping women in line like they’re property. And seem so cavalier about abuse.

Amanda: You are an unmitigated cad and a bully!

Elyot: And you are an ill-mannered and bad-tempered slattern!

Amanda: Slattern indeed!

Elyot: Yes, slattern and fishwife!

(Fishwife, according to the Macmillan Dictionary, is a slur for “a woman who speaks loudly in a rude voice.”)

Amanda bucks conformity, but her ‘feisty’ nature isn’t an excuse. When she’s confronted by her husband, finally, in her Paris flat, after a huge fight with Elyot, this is an exchange:

Victor: Did he really strike you last night?

Amanda: Repeatedly, I’m bruised beyond recognition.

Making light of a knock-down, drag-out?

Taking a second look at very sexist books in creaky musicals, critics have decried “blackface,” “brownface,” “redface” and “yellowface.” Shouldn’t behaving badly on stage get an adverse reaction too?

You say funny, I say not. You say flippant, I say superficial exercise involving rich gasbags without much substance. You say erudite, I say entitled, pouty, shallow females and self-absorbed condescending males.

The new mates are obsessed with knowing how they rate compared to the wretched former wife or husband – this seems to be interminable interaction.

Coward wrote the play so that he and his actress friend, Gertrude Lawrence, could portray the characters, and he modeled the self-centered Amanda on his histrionic diva pal. Supposedly, their tumultuous friendship was not unlike the roles.

Amanda is an unlikable sharp-tongued, prone to exaggeration and temperamental shrew. She’s a spoiled insipid woman who behaves badly in the name of love. Pedlow’s affected – and hard to decipher sometimes – speech gets in the way. Dialect Coach Jill Walmsley Zager’s work was incomplete.

Stanton Nash, so delightful in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing” this past summer, has crisp comic timing and lets the fast-paced insults fly. But his character is a pompous ass.

As the jilted partners, Lacivita was debonair and a bit starchy as Victor, a colorless role, and Warren, unfortunately, is shrill in the stereotypical Sibyl role, an attractive but rather uninteresting and somewhat bubbleheaded bride prone to shrieking. As ‘the other two,’ they are stuck in very cookie-cutter parts.

Yvonne Woods has a brief role as Amanda’s French maid Louise, tasked with cleaning up the messes.

The focus, naturally, is on Amanda and Elyot, for they burn bright no matter what the temperature of the room. These would be unlikeable characters in any decade.

Sure, the characters are in a higher income bracket than some who live with domestic violence, but it’s still unhealthy, no matter how cultured the speech pattern or what class ranking they are. (Nicole Brown Simpson, anyone?)

I am reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of Tom and Daisy Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby”:

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Fitzgerald viewed them as a tragedy, Coward considers his vain high society characters a comedy.

Kerry Warren and Carman Lacivita. Photo by Jon Gitchoff

If this was a modern play, the entitlement and mistreatment would have everyone outraged, but here, we should accept it because it has the warm glow of nostalgia and it is written by a theater legend?

The Rep producers and director Meredith McDonough obviously think this madcap romp is entertaining, like the good old screwball comedies that run on Turner Classic Movies these days. (For the record, I wanted to be Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday.”)

McDonough described the show as a “loving treatise on love” — and then directed it like an irritating high-class shouting match ramped up in volume. Hana S. Sharif, the Augustin Family artistic director, called it a “great escape.”

The tone-deafness is mind-boggling. In what language, country, time or universe is this second act fight funny after Amanda puts on a record that Elyot doesn’t want to listen to?

Elyot: Turn it off.

Amanda: I won’t. [Elyot rushes at the gramophone. Amanda tries to ward him off. They struggle silently for a moment, then the needle screeches across the record] There now, you’ve ruined the record.

[She takes it off and scrutinizes it.]

Elyot: Good job, too.

Amanda: Disagreeable pig.

Elyot [suddenly stricken with remorse]: Amanda darling, Sollocks.

Amanda [furiously]: Sollocks yourself.

[She breaks the record over his head.]

Elyot [staggering]: You spiteful little beast.

[He slaps her face. She screams loudly and hurls herself sobbing with rage on to the sofa, with her face buried in the cushions.]

Amanda: [wailing]: Oh, oh, oh-

Elyot: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it — I’m sorry, darling, I swear I didn’t mean it.

Amanda: Go away, go away, I hate you.

[Elyot kneels on the sofa and tries to pull her round to look at him.]

Elyot: Amanda — listen — listen —

Amanda [turning suddenly, and fetching him a welt across the face]:

Listen indeed; I’m sick and tired of listening to you, you damned sadistic bully.

Elyot with great grandeur]: Thank you. [He stalks towards the door, in stately silence.

Amanda throws a cushion at him, which misses him and knocks down a lamp and a vase on the side table.

Elyot laughs falsely] A pretty display I must say.

Amanda [wildly]: Stop laughing like that.

Elyot [continuing]: Very amusing indeed.

Amanda [losing control]: Stop–stop–stop– [She rushes at him, he grabs her hands and they sway about the room, until he manages to twist her round by the arms so that she faces him, closely, quivering with fury]—I hate you–do you hear? You’re conceited, and overbearing, and utterly impossible!

Elyot [shouting her down]: You’re a vile-tempered, loose-living; wicked little beast, and I never want to see you again so long as I live.

[He flings her away from him, she staggers, and falls against a chair. They stand gasping at one another in silence for a moment.]

Amanda [very quietly]: This is the end, do you understand? The end, finally and forever.

[She goes to the door, which opens on to the landing, and wrenches it open. He rushes after her and clutches her wrist.]

Elyot: You’re not going like this.

Amanda: Oh, yes I am.

Elyot: You’re not.

Amanda: I am; let go of me–[He pulls her away from the door, and once more they struggle. This time a standard lamp crashes to the ground. Amanda, breathlessly, as they fight] You’re a cruel fiend, and I hate and loathe you; thank God I’ve realized in time what you’re really like; marry you again, never, never, never… I’d rather die in torment

Elyot: [at the same time]; Shut up; shut up. I wouldn’t marry you again if you came crawling to me on your bended knees, you’re a mean, evil- minded, little vampire — I hope to God I never set eyes on you again as long as I live.

[At this point in the proceedings they trip over a Victor and Sybil enter quietly, through the open door, and stand staring at them in horror. Finally Amanda breaks free and half gets up, Elyot grabs her leg, and she falls against a table, knocking it completely over.]

Amanda [screaming]: Beast; brute; swine; cad; beast; beast; brute; devil

[She rushes back at Elyot who is just rising to his feet, and gives him a stinging blow, which knocks him over again. She rushes blindly off Left, and slams the door, at the same moment that he jumps up and rushes off Right, also slamming the door.

Victor and Sibyl advance apprehensively into the room, and sink on to the sofa]

In the third act, Sibyl and Victor begin mirroring the battling ex’s.

The Rep has very mixed messages in their line-ups.

Certainly, “Private Lives” is devoid of any teachable moment or enlightenment – or even making a connection.

I say potato, you say ‘po-tah-to.’ You say classic, I say painful. You say lighten up, I say, let’s talk. Know more, support services, be the change: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are affected, and 1 in 15 children witness domestic abuse.

Photo by Jon Gitchoff

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents “Private Lives” Sept. 30–October 23, in the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA (Creative Center of the Arts), 6880 Washington Avenue, St. Louis, 63130. For tickets or more information, visit:

For more information, the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, visit:

To support local services, check out:
Safe Connections, 2165 Hampton Ave., St. Louis, 63139; email, call 314-646-7500, visit They have a 24-hour crisis helpline: 314-531-2003

Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois, 618-236-2531, visit: They have a 24-hour crisis helpline: 618-235-0892

By Lynn Venhaus

With shimmering visuals and costumes, “House of Joy” shows flashes of dazzling technical brilliance at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Unfortunately, while mysterious and mystical, the storytelling is where it falters.

In a time and a place far, far away, the fictional setting is a South Asian kingdom – let’s just presume the Islamic Mughal Empire (16th-19th century) in around 1666. Apparently, society is segregated and we’re only seeing the females in the palace – and a eunuch who oversees this court of women.

Because it is disorienting at first, the play takes a long time to establish characters and their motives, then crowds the action in the second act, before it rushes to an unsatisfying open-ended conclusion, and overall is not as cohesive as it purports to be.  

It’s as if playwright Madhuri Shekar has decided it’s best if we fill in the blanks ourselves, and the tone is all over the place. Dramaturg Salma S. Zohdi hasn’t connected the dots either.

Perhaps it’s because the loyalties shift between the poorly drawn characters and the story, with its multi-thread subplots that aren’t fully realized, doesn’t give us much to invest in during its two-hour runtime.

Questions, I have questions. Most importantly, why did this play need a rewrite that shifted the focus to a 7-person cast with six females and a same-sex love story? Why is it set in an unnamed empire and an unspecified time? Why does so much action take place off-stage?

While I can’t speak of the original one from earlier productions 2017- 2019, but only the rewrite that premiered in St. Louis, this current plot boils down to palace intrigue and chicanery regarding a power struggle between the emperor and his conniving daughter, Princess Noorah (Aila Ayilam Peck), from an earlier marriage. And unseen rebel forces we don’t know about but are alluded to in conversation.

The unseen despicable old emperor is currently married to a naïve young girl, Mariyam (Emily Marso), who is very pregnant, and living an arranged life she never imagined. Her job is to breed, and after she gives birth to an heir, she’s not as useful.

Lonely and miserable, this innocent queen has fallen in love with the newest palace guard, Roshni (Tina Munoz Pandya) of the all-female imperial harem.

Roshni, with a bloody tragic past that’s rather muddled, was befriended by the sly fox eunuch Salima (Omer Abbas Salem), who recommended her for the job. She had to impress the tough captain of the guards Gulal (Miriam A. Laube), who is demanding and still watches her carefully.

She loves the job, and her best bud working long shifts together in this self-described utopia is Hamida (Sumi Yu).

Salima and Gulal are the ones who know everything going on in the palace and where the loyalties lie. You don’t know if they can be trusted, however – they leave it up to interpretation. But if you are on their good side, then you are protected in the power plays.

What the back-stabbing (or merely stabby) princess wants to pull off – toppling the patriarchy! — seems like a disaster waiting to happen and there are shifting moving parts to the unrest/coup/insurrection, so much so that it’s confusing.

The stereotypical evil princess is merely a caricature in Peck’s hands. Overall, we have two sets of actors – the ones who stay in their lane and then the melodramatic ones who go over the top, as if they are in a daytime soap opera.

Yu is strong as Hamida and tries hard to flesh out her character. Regina Fernandez appears in four minor roles to round out the cast. As the couple at its center, Marso and Pandya are convincing in their passion and desire – and I rooted for them (after all, love is love is love is love).

The dialogue is flecked with modern words and phrases. I’m assuming whatever past century the characters are in, no one said “tittie” or “I’m aware.” This habit of writing period pieces in modern vernacular is often distracting – and annoying.

And as we hear long passages of exposition about what’s gone on in the past and what’s taking place off-site or off-stage, the story remains curiously uninvolving.

There is some bewildering mumbo-jumbo – a dead mother re-appearing as a ghost/apparition and a glowing pile of coals centerstage – that means something we’re supposed to figure out.

The love story overtakes the drama, and its romantic structure is clumsy. Paradise now is a prison for Roshni and Mariyam.

And then, we endure an unnecessary and gratuitous staging of a shockingly graphic sex scene in a boat.  

What is the point here? We already know they are in love, and it is forbidden – she’s married! To the Emperor! And while everyone seems to know, it still is a situation fraught with danger. Illicit affairs have gone on in royal families, this is nothing new nor does it appear to be anything other than a garden variety plot conceit.

Despite whatever direction the intimacy coordinator (Gaby Labotka, who is also the fight choreographer) decided on, the scene is uncomfortable, with its simulation of stimulation and orgasm, and really takes the audience out of the story.

All I could think about was the teacher who brought a busload of (what looked like) junior high kids that I saw in the lobby, and the comments and complaints he/she would have to deal with, and if any parents came along as chaperones.

Yes, the play is for mature audiences. The Rep has stated, for content transparency: “This production contains adult sexual content, language, moments of violence, haze/fog and suggestive moments of smoking.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt uneasy. Since opening night, people have contacted me, recounting patrons audibly gasping and others walking out. There appears to be a harsh negative backlash among longtime theatergoers. The play is polarizing, for there are others who enjoyed it very much.

Defenders will call us prudes and unenlightened. Us rubes here in flyover country don’t know theater and we need to be lectured at every opportunity by professionals who think they know more than we do, because how could we know anything about theater? (Now is the time to shake your head or chuckle or spit-take or whisper your feelings – or curse and shout that I’m very wrong).

I don’t need a lecture, and quite frankly, I’m tired of being told what I should like because it might take me out of my comfort zone (which I don’t mind at all, if it’s well-constructed, well-acted and says something).

I’m “aware.” Art is subjective. This is only my opinion. Whether or not you agree, I consider my role is to explain my view – and if something is worth your time and money.

Not that I need to explain myself, but I have seen many controversial plays, many heralded shows that fall short in a certain venue or a regional group’s interpretation. It happens. Isn’t the first rule of theater “know your audience”?

Go ahead, push boundaries, if it helps the story and its impact. Was it necessary to convey a romance in such a way? No. Discretion would have gotten the point across with several kisses and embraces.

For the record, I consider The Rep’s “Take Me Out” in 2005, part of its acclaimed but short-lived “Off the Ramp” series, to be one of the finest productions I have ever seen, and I sat very, very close to full frontal nudity while ball player characters rinsed, lathered, and repeated in shower scenes. (Fun Fact: I won an Illinois Press Association award for that review, back when they awarded reviews, and I was a full-time newspaper employee).

Of course, “House of Joy” is more than one incendiary scene, but by the time chaos and revolt occurs, is anyone on the edge of their seat? And do we really understand what is happening, and who’s aligned with who?

Its ambition is to be epic in scope, and the play is being misrepresented by comparing it to more cinematic genre-busting fare, calling it “Swashbuckling”? This is nothing close to DC’s Wonder Woman or the bad-ass Marvel Cinematic Universe women in “Black Panther.”

Of course, I’m all for women power, for I stand on the shoulders of giants. Sisters doing it for themselves is reason to celebrate. Getting away from abuse is necessary, especially for the queen. Can we get something to cheer about that’s lucid?

Playwright Shekar comes with quite a resume, full of awards and recognition, and has television and film credits as well. It doesn’t matter what she did before or after this play to a puzzled audience watching “House of Joy.”

If this is the first time this version has been presented, perhaps it needs to be workshopped further to make it stronger and more appealing.

Nevertheless, the production elements are stunning in execution – particularly what’s swirling on the on-stage screen, the collaboration between Projections Designer Stefania Bulbarella, Projections Programmer Devin Kinch, Projections Animator/Illustrator Joaquin Dagnino and Associate Projections Designer Brian Pacelli, who take it to next-level by changing it constantly and expanding the panoramic vistas.

That technical razzle-dazzle is complemented by Lighting Designer Sarah Hughey and Sound Designer Porchanok “Nok” Kanchanabanca. The costumes designed by Oona Natesan are exotic and elegant, with outstanding hairstyling (no name in program).

Director Lavina Jadhwani utilizes a spare stage designed by Dahlia Al-Habeli where movement flows crisply, and the palace guards are choreographed by Aparna Kalyanaraman.

Because this is what I consider a work-in-progress, in her program notes, Jadhwani described putting this show together as “jumping onboard a moving train.” Maybe some of us found it to be a trainwreck – it needs to be disassembled and put back together logically.

I didn’t find “House of Joy” joyous or fun or exciting or any of the words being used in marketing. Sure, it’s about “all you need is love” or “love is the answer” or “the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I think.

I’d like to have reasons to determine its impact. Spoiler alert: We don’t really know what happens to most of the characters when it ends, so how can we be moved or know what to feel when it leaves us hanging?

Answers, I’d like answers.

Photos by Eric Woolsey.

“House of Joy” is being presented Aug. 28 – Sept. 18 on The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ mainstage, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. For schedule of performances and ticket information, visit

Proof of a full COVID-19 vaccination and a valid ID, or a negative COVID test taken 24 hours before the performance, are required for entry into any Repertory Theatre event. Masks are highly encouraged, but optional. Front of House Staff will have one-time use masks on hand for patrons that would like to use them.

This season’s exhilarating offerings feature contemporary plays by Madhuri Shekar  and Dominique Morisseau, classics by Noël Coward and Agatha Christie,  a musical tribute to Stephen Sondheim and the return of ‘A Christmas Carol’ 

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep) Augustin Family Artistic Director, Hana S. Sharif, and Managing Director, Danny Williams, are excited to announce the 2022-2023 show lineup for the 56th Season. The Rep is thrilled to welcome audiences back this fall with a season filled with world-class productions, a joyful mix of classics featuring tributes to theatrical icons, and new work from powerhouse voices of the 21st century.

The 2022-23 Mainstage Season kicks off in August with the highly anticipated House of Joy by Madhuri Shekar – an action-packed fantasy filled with romance and lots of girl power. In late-September, journey down the 1930s French Riviera in Noël Coward’s Private Lives, a scathing sendup of the British upper class. Just in time for the holidays, The Rep rings in the spirit of the season with the second annual production of the magical wintery wonderland of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol adapted by Michael Wilson.

Heading into the new year, The Rep lights up the stage with Steven Sondheim’s, Putting It Together: A Musical Review, featuring many of the legend’s most unforgettable masterpieces. Then stay tuned for Confederates, a time-bending drama fresh off its New York debut from MacArthur Genius Award-Winning Playwright Dominique Morisseau and produced in association with Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Closing out the Mainstage is the timeless Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express, adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig.

Spring 2023 will mark the long-awaited return of the beloved Steve Woolf Studio Series, adventurous theatre for adventurous theatregoers — a provocative and memorable black box experience at the new state-of-the-art Strauss Black Box Theatre in Kirkwood Performing Arts Center (KPAC). Show announcement to come in May. 

“I look forward to inviting new and old friends to our theatre homes to share in the beauty and magic of the wonderful productions that will light up our stages next season,” said Sharif. “As I programmed the 2022-23 season I was inspired by the blossoming life of spring. From our reinvestment in the arts to the renewal of our commitment to the St. Louis community; my goal was to provide an array of productions that align with our mission of sharing entertaining and thought-provoking world-class art.”

“I am immensely excited to be at the helm of The Rep for my first full season with such a thrilling lineup of shows,” added Williams. “It’s been a true joy to watch this season come together and we can’t wait to share with everyone St. Louis.”

New for the 2022-2023 season, The Rep is offering several tiered subscription pass options, available now (prices vary by section). These exclusive subscription passes offer audiences the opportunity to find the perfect subscription for them. Subscription options:

●      Classic Subscription Pass: Get your tickets for all 5 Mainstage shows, plus your choice of our Holiday or Steve Woolf Studio offerings. Lock in your preferred seats and dates for the entire season when you order. And if your plans change, enjoy no-fuss exchanges.

●      Flex Subscription Pass: Get six passes to use for the best available seats to the shows you want most on the dates that fit your schedule, redeemable any time during the season.

●      Insider Preview Subscription Pass: Be the first to see the show and get a great deal! Just like the Classic Pass, you’ll get tickets for the 5 Mainstage performances, plus your choice of either our Holiday or Steve Woolf Studio offerings. By attending Insider Preview Weekends (the first Friday-Sunday of each show’s run), you get priority access to the best seats in the theatre and save substantially on your subscription.

Mainstage shows will take place at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts and the Catherine B. Berges Theatre at COCA. The full schedule for the 2022-2023 Season is as follows:

●      House of Joy: August 26 – September 18, Loretto-Hilton Center

At first glance, The House of Joy is a dazzling utopia; but when a new guard joins the emperor’s army, she discovers it’s more prison than paradise. This genre-busting adventure fantasy is filled with stunning locales, electrifying combat, steamy romance and badass girl power.

●      Private Lives: September 30 – October 23, Catherine B. Berges Theatre

Amanda and Elyot are enjoying a romantic honeymoon – just not with each other. A chance meeting on their adjoined hotel balconies brings this divorced duo face-to-face for the first time in five years. Passions and tempers collide in this combustible romp, as the two remember why they fell in love and why they divorced in the first place.

●      A Christmas Carol: November 18 – December 30, Loretto-Hilton Center

The Rep rings in the spirit of the season with the second annual production of this holiday classic. At long last, the ghosts of Ebenezer Scrooge’s past, present and future have caught up with him. Now London’s most infamous miser must face down his demons, reconcile the consequences of his choices and experience the power and joy of a miraculous redemption.

●      Putting it Together: A Musical Review: January 27 – February 19, Catherine B. Berges Theatre

Celebrate legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim by revisiting nearly 30 of the most poignant, powerful and witty songs in the American musical theatre canon. This beautiful, funny and emotionally charged musical review exposes the complicated relationships and deepest desires of two couples out for an elegant evening. 

●      Confederates: February 10 – March 5, Loretto-Hilton Center

An enslaved rebel turned Union spy and a tenured professor in a modern-day private university are having parallel experiences of institutionalized racism, despite existing more than a century apart. Dominique Morisseau brilliantly bends the continuum of time and weaves together the stark realities of racial and gender bias both women face in this illuminating drama.

Confederates is being produced in association with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

●      Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express: March 17 – April 16, Loretto-Hilton Center

It’s 1934, just after midnight, and a snowstorm has stopped the opulent Orient Express sleeper train in its tracks. A wealthy American businessman is discovered dead, and the brilliant and beautifully mustachioed Hercule Poirot must solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again. Agatha Christie’s plot-twisting masterpiece takes audiences on a suspenseful thrill ride.

Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

●      Steve Woolf Studio Series: Spring 2023Strauss Black Box Theatre in Kirkwood Performing Arts Center (KPAC)

Adventurous theatre for adventurous theatregoers — a provocative and memorable black box experience at the new state-of-the-art . Show announcement to come in May.

For more information and to purchase, visit or call the Box Office at (314) 968-4925. The Rep Box Office at the Loretto-Hilton Center will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30 AM – 5:00 PM.

About The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. Visit for more, and find The Rep on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

By Lynn Venhaus
We have been enriched by Steve Woolf as a titan in regional theater, and his loss will be deeply felt.

For 33 years, he guided The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, until his retirement in 2019. He died Monday at age 75.

I had the opportunity to interview and talk with him on several occasions, and I am very grateful to have been in his orbit for a bit. It was an honor. His immense love of theater was obvious from the moment you encountered him – his eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas.

I have been reviewing plays at The Repertory Theatre since 2005. Their “Take Me Out” I consider to be the gold standard for plays in St. Louis. As a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle in 2012, I have presented him with a lion’s share of awards. Every year, from 2013-2019, he was always gracious and sincere, no matter how many trips he took to the stage.

During the past decade, The Rep has earned more than 100 awards. They have led the way in innovation and excellence – in acting, direction, set design, lighting design, sound and much more.

As an Arts For Life board member, I helped facilitate his Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018, for his “vision, passion and excellence,” and he was so genuine about the honor. But that’s what he did — lived an authentic life. He never forgot that he was a kid from Milwaukee living out his dream.

And so, he could inspire — he talked about the magic of live theater, being in a dark room, sharing a special experience with other people that changes us and connects us.

His work spoke for itself: He directed “Red,” one of my favorites, and he brought the complex “Oslo” to the stage as one of his final — and most intense — works. He committed to making it relatable, no easy task with a large sprawling cast.

During rehearsals for the stellar “All the Way” in 2015 (I was there to interview Brian Dykstra, playing LBJ, and Woolf, who was directing —, he told me about his experience seeing “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” in London.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Rep

He had been gobsmacked. He didn’t think The Rep could do it — very technical show, intricate — but the wheels were turning. He was so excited about trying to bring it to The Rep. “I think I’ve found a way we can do it,” he said to me later. (And it would win the Theatre Circle’s Outstanding Production, which opened the 2017-2018 season, and Best Director, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, in 2018.)

The enthusiasm he had for the process and the collaboration of “putting it all together” were so obvious. I cherish a brief interchange I had with him — in a stairwell at The Rep — about “The Humans,” which was a thought-provoker, had many layers. I had made an observation, and he wanted to hear more of my thoughts. It had received a mixed reaction — but he was firm in his fervor. He was just so darn insightful.

During an interview before the 50th season, which opened with “Follies,” he recalled the first time he saw the show as a young man studying theater. We geeked out about our mutual love of Stephen Sondheim. “Follies” was brilliant, but his other major production at The Rep, in 2012, the magnificent “Sunday in the Park with George,” was breathtaking. Truly memorable.

Every year, he would go to New York to soak up multiple theater productions. And hearing about his experiences was always a treat. During intermission of yet another “Mamma Mia!” at the Fox, I went over to chat with Joe Pollack, and Steve Woolf also came over to talk to Joe, and he regaled us with tales from his recent Broadway adventures. How fortunate to hear his vision and just how he radiated joy about theater (I mean, he was at “Mamma Mia!”).

One of my favorite Steve Woolf remembrances was, in fact, at Joe Pollack’s memorial service on March 17, 2012, at The Rep, of course. His widow, Ann Lemons Pollack, had arranged for five main speakers — all from a different facet of Joe’s life/illustrious career. Steve was the representative for theater, only fitting. He said as a critic, Joe just wanted the theater groups to “get it right.” Oh, yes, what a perfect summation.

And yes, Steve, you “got it right” more often than not. You will be missed, for your wit, your wisdom, your humanity, your desire for theater to spark conversations — and how you appreciated St. Louis audiences.

May God rest your soul. Your memory is already a blessing to me. And I hope you and Joe can continue to have some great conversations.

Mark Bernstein, retired managing director at The Rep, summed it up perfectly in a statement: “Steve always had his finger on the pulse of the St. Louis community, programming plays that resonated in the here and now, and showcasing the work of outstanding directors, designers and actors. St. Louis audiences responded by filling the seats, night after night, week after week, year after year.”

Standing O, Steve!

”Here is an article I wrote for the Webster-Kirkwood Times when he was getting multiple awards before retiring:


My review of “All the Way,” in the Belleville News-Democrat on Sept. 17, 2015:

My review of “Follies,” in the Belleville News-Democrat on Sept. 21, 2016:

Photos provided by The Rep