Live professional theater year in review

For the News-DemocratJanuary 3, 2014 

The human connection -- the ability to move, inspire, touch us, make us laugh, spark conversations, introduce us to new ways of looking at things, share an experience -- that is why I love sitting in a darkened theater, watching performers in the moment, on area stages.

As a freelance reviewer, I am fortunate to travel to various professional theaters in the region -- from intimate black boxes to the grand old palace that is the Fox Theatre, sitting in everything from pews at the Tower Grove Abbey to the stadium seats of The Muny -- watching our thriving arts community passionately commit to projects.

It is physically impossible for me to see everything, but I try to see as much as I can, schedule-permitting. Because I can't officially do a Best of List when I missed some significant productions, I've opted to do a "My Favorite Things" for the year that was.

Live theater has enriched my life immeasurably this year, and another blessing has been to be a part of the inaugural St. Louis Theater Circle Awards -- therefore, introduced to more gifted local companies and able to share experiences with colleagues. On March 17, we will hold our second annual event, this time at COCA, with nominations announced early February. It truly is a wonderful celebration of regional talent, and to feel how art transforms lives, it is a special evening. So much excellence, so many outstanding achievements -- raising the bar is a good thing.

Here are my subjective eclectic lists -- without Shakespeare and opera:

Most Fun Ensembles (Comedy/Musical):

"Bukowsical," New Line Theatre;

"Psycho Beach Party," Stray Dog Theatre;

"Shlemiel the First," New Jewish Theatre;

"Book of Mormon," Fox Theatre;

"My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

"Evil Dead -- The Musical," Stray Dog Theatre;

"The Wiz," Black Repertory;

"Million Dollar Quartet," The Fox Theatre;

"The Good Doctor," New Jewish Theatre;

"Kosher Lutherans," Hot City.

Most Eloquent Ensembles (Drama/Musical):

"All is Calm," Mustard Seed Theatre;

"Parade," R-S Theatrics;

"West Side Story," The Muny;

"South Pacific," The Muny;

"Next to Normal," New Line Theatre;

"Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre;

Six Degrees of Separation," Stray Dog Theatre;

"The Piano Lesson," Black Repertory;

"4000 Miles," The Repertory Theatre;

"Good People," The Repertory Theatre.

Dynamic Duos (Musicals):

Jacqueline Petroccia and Zoe Vonder Haar "Always ... Patsy Cline," Stages St. Louis;

Christopher Guilmet and Pamela Brumley "My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

Mary Gordon Murray and Michael Marotta "Cabaret," The Repertory Theatre;

Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Dean Massey "West Side Story," The Muny.

Dynamic Duos (Drama):

Chauncy Thomas and Reginald Pierre, "Topdog/Underdog," St. Louis Actors Studio;

Mulholland and Jim Butz, "Freud's Last Session," The Repertory Theatre;

Zachary Allen Farmer and Robert Alan Mitchell, "The Sunset Limited," Theatre Lab;

Jay Stratton and Sarah Nedwek "Venus in Fur," The Repertory Theatre.

Shining Stars (Individual Achievement in Drama):

Greg Fenner "Six Degrees of Separation," Stray Dog Theatre;

Rita Gardner "4000 Miles," The Repertory Theatre;

Denise Cormier "Good People," The Repertory Theatre;

Sarajane Alverson "Six Degrees of Separation," Stray Dog Theatre;

Shining Stars (Individual Achievement in Comedy):

Ben Watts "Psycho Beach Party," Stray Dog Theatre;

Penny Kols "Pterodactyls," St. Louis Actors Studio;

David Wassilak "The Good Doctor," New Jewish Theatre;

Judi Mann, "The Lyons," Max and Louie Productions.

Shining Stars (Individual Achievement in Musicals):

Norm Lewis "Les Miserables," The Muny;

Rob McClure "Mary Poppins" and "Shrek," The Muny;

Josh Young "Evita," The Fox;

Sarah Stephens "The Wiz," Black Repertory;

Laura Michelle Kelly "South Pacific," The Muny;

Ben Davis "South Pacific," The Muny;

Jennifer Theby-Quinn "Parade," R-S Theatrics;

Kimi Short, "Next to Normal," New Line Theatre;

Ken Haller, "Gypsy," Stray Dog Theatre;

In Support (Memorable Supporting Performances):

Edward Juvier "My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

Brandon Davidson "My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

Marshall Jennings "Parade," R-S Theatrics;

Zachary Stefaniak "Evil Dead-the Musical," Stray Dog Theatre;

Jeremy Sims "Little Shop of Horrors," Stray Dog Theatre;

Keith Thompson "Little Shop of Horrors," Stray Dog Theatre;

Ben Nordstrom "Legally Blonde," Stages St. Louis;

Joyce Chittick "Anything Goes," Fox Theatre;

Loretta Ables Sayre "South Pacific," The Muny;

Elizabeth Ann Townsend "Good People," The Repertory Theatre;

Anna Skidis, "Psycho Beach Party," Stray Dog Theatre;

Youth: Jimmy Coogan, "Les Miserables," The Muny.

Achievements in Directing:

Rob Ruggiero "South Pacific," The Muny;

Michael Hamilton "My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

Deanna Jent "All Is Calm," Mustard Seed Theatre;

Scott Miller "Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre;

Gordon Greenberg "West Side Story," The Muny;

Scott Miller, "Next to Normal," New Line Theatre.

Paul Mason Barnes "The Mousetrap," The Repertory Theatre;

Michael Evan Haney "Freud's Last Session," The Repertory Theatre;

Gary F. Bell, "Six Degrees of Separation," Stray Dog Theatre;

Bobby Miller, "The Good Doctor," New Jewish Theatre.

Achievements in Set Design:

Robert Mark Morgan "West Side Story," The Muny;

John Ezell "The Mousetrap," The Repertory Theatre;

Peter and Margery Spack "Freud's Last Session," The Repertory Theatre;

David Blake "Little Shop of Horrors," Stray Dog Theatre;

James Wolk "Always ... Patsy Cline," Stages St. Louis;

Rob Lippert "Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre;

Paul Shortt "Double Indemnity," The Repertory Theatre;

David Blake, "Kosher Lutherans," HotCity;

Gary F. Bell, "Six Degrees of Separation," Stray Dog Theatre;

Achievements in Lighting Design:

Rui Rita & Jake DeGroot "Fly," The Repertory Theatre;

Michael Sullivan "All Is Calm," Mustard Seed Theatre;

James Sale, "Double Indemnity," The Repertory Theatre;

Peter E. Sargent "The Mousetrap," The Repertory Theatre;

Rob Lippert "Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre;

Tyler Duenow "Evil Dead - the Musical," Stray Dog Theatre;

Sean Savoie "The Wiz," Black Repertory;

Rob Denton "West Side Story," The Muny.

Achievements in Sound Design:

John Gromada "Fly," The Repertory Theatre;

Benjamin Marcum "Freud's Last Session," The Repertory Theatre;

Kerrie Mondy "Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre;

"Cabaret," The Repertory Theatre;

Achievements in Costume Design:

Dorothy Marshall Englis "My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis;

Sarita Fellows "The Wiz," Black Repertory;

David Kay Mickelson, "Double Indemnity," The Repertory Theatre;

Michele Friedman Siler "Shlemiel the First," New Jewish Theatre;

Alexandra Scibetta Quigley, "Gypsy," Stray Dog Theatre.

Achievements in Choreography:

Chris Bailey "West Side Story," The Muny;

Rusty Mowery "Legally Blonde The Musical," Stages St. Louis;

Cecil Slaughter "The Wiz," Black Repertory;

Adele MacKenzie "Godspell," Peabody Opera House;

Jamie Lynn Marble "Evil Dead -- the Musical," Stray Dog Theatre;

Achievements in Music Direction:

Joe Schoen "All Is Calm," Mustard Seed Theatre;

James Moore "West Side Story," The Muny;

Justin Smolik, "Next to Normal," New Line Theatre;

Brad Haak "South Pacific," The Muny;

Henry Palkes "Shlemiel the First," New Jewish Theatre.

Special Merit:

"Fly," The Repertory Theatre - technical achievement, Clint Allen (Projection Designer).

Omar Edwards "Fly," tap improviser, The Repertory Theatre.

Richard Lewis, dialect coach "All Is Calm," Mustard Seed Theatre;

Sarah Castelli, makeup designer, "Evil Dead -- the Musical," Stray Dog Theatre;

David Chase, dance arrangements, "Anything Goes," Fox Theatre;

Handspring Puppet Company, "War Horse," The Fox Theatre;

The LaBute Festival, St. Louis Actors Studio;

Ryan Foizey, 24-Hour Play Festival; Steve Peirick, new play lab, Stray Dog Theatre

Bandaloop dance troupe, outdoor performance on Continental Building, Grand Center Dance Festival.

Memorable Musical Moments:

"One Day More" by Les Miserables ensemble, The Muny;

"All the Wasted Time" by Pete Winfrey and Jennifer Theby-Quinn, "Parade," R-S Theatrics;

"Drive" by Mike Dowdy and Sarah Porter, "Night of the Living Dead," New Line Theatre.

"I Could Have Danced All Night" by Pamela Brumley, My Fair Lady," Stages St. Louis.

"Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," Book of Mormon, The Fox Theatre.

Favorite Audience Moments:

Eric Idle leading sing-a-long to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," "Spamalot" opening night, The Muny;

The Splatter Zone, "Evil Dead -- The Musical," Stray Dog Theatre.

The crowd response to "Les Miserables" at the Muny.

Guilty Pleasure: "Rock of Ages," The Fox Theatre.

Best National Anthem at Cardinals Playoffs: Josh Young, "Evita."

The Show Must Go On: Wayne Solomon replacing ill star Bobby Miller in "The Lyons."

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