The New Jewish Theatre received four Kevin Kline Awards for theater excellence in the third annual presentation of the coveted local theater prize, at the award show at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts in Webster Groves last week. The awards are named for Kevin Kline, the award-winning stage and film actor who grew up in St. Louis, and whose roles include that of Nathan in the film Sophie’s Choice.
Kathleen Sitzer, artistic director of the NJT, now in its 11th season at its studio theater at the Jewish Community Center, called the winning of four awards “astounding,” pointing out that NJT was “competing in a field of 24 nominees, including such players as The Rep, Stages and The Muny, NJT’s accomplishment is even more of a success story.”
Among the 10 theater companies honored with awards, only Stages, producing only musical theater, received more awards. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis also took four.
Winning in the category of Outstanding Ensemble in a Play, NJT’s productions of Kindertransport and Women’s Minyan, was a surprise to both the audience and to Sitzer, who said that lifting the two award trophies would “be my new exercise regimen.” In addition, NJT also received an award for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor for John Kinney for his portrayal of the grieving son in What’s Wrong With This Picture? Sitzer pointed out that “Kinney missed both his senior prom and his high school graduation in order to be in the production, and he accepted the Kevin Kline Award on his 20th birthday.”
NJT was also honored when Doug Finlayson was named Outstanding Director for his direction of last December’s production of Kindertransport, which told the story of the escape of thousands of German Jewish children, many of whom had to leave behind their parents in order to escape to Great Britain during the Holocaust.
NJT had received nominations for nine awards for this year, including the categories of Outstanding Actress (Kari Ely in Kindertransport); Outstanding Supporting Actress (Meg Rodd in Kindertransport and Nancy Lewis in Women’s Minyan); Outstanding Production (Women’s Minyan) as well as an additional nomination for Outstanding Director (Deanna Jent for Women’s Minyan). For the previous two years of the awards, NJT was honored with one award each year: Outstanding Supporting Actor for Wayne Barker in Driving Miss Daisy and Outstanding Actress for Donna Weinsting in From Door to Door.
Michael Staenberg, chairman of the Jewish Community Center, said, “Congratulations and thanks for making the New Jewish Theatre one of the best in St. Louis. This really enhances our mission. Thanks for everything.”
Lynn Wittels, president and chief executive officer of the JCC, said, “These awards are recognition that our own New Jewish Theatre plays an important role in the landscape of St. Louis live theater. Kathleen Sitzer, our artistic director, has done a marvelous job bringing strength through thoughtful selection of literature and a commitment to excellence.”
Susan Fadem, NJT Board member described the awards ceremony as “a fabulous and memorable night, a united theater community and already anticipation builds for next year.”
Sheri Sherman, member of the NJT Board said, “Congratulations on an outstanding evening. The NJT is like a fine kosher wine that gets better every year. I am proud to be a little part of this great theater.”
Margie Weintraub, NJT Board member said, “I am so proud to be part of NJT.”
Over 800 people attended the awards event at Webster University’s Loretto-Hilton Theatre on the set of the Repertory Theatre’s current production of Ella. Tony Award-winning choreographer Lara Teeter, who is the new head of the Musical Theatre Department of Webster’s Theatre Conservatory, was the evening’s emcee. The event included the awards ceremony followed by a gala reception with music and dancing.