NJT wins big at St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Will Bonfiglio won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy for his role in the New Jewish Theatre production of the one-man play ‘Fully Committed.’ Photo: Jon Gitchoff

By Judith Newmark, Special to the Jewish Light

The New Jewish Theatre triumphed at the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards on Tuesday night, taking home six of the honors, more than any other troupe in the running.

The NJT’s awards are distributed among three productions staged last year. They are:

“District Merchants,” Aaron Posner’s imaginative treatment of “The Merchant of Venice.” Transferring Shylock’s story to Washington, D.C., soon after the Civil War, Posner explores the capital’s Jewish and African American communities, both locked out of the ruling class.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Neil Simon’s touching, semiautobiographical comedy about a Jewish family struggling together during the Great Depression. 

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And “Fully Committed,” Becky Mode’s hilarious comedy about a struggling actor who supports himself by taking phone reservations at a chic Manhattan restaurant. One performer plays the actor and all of the callers with whom he deals.

Another company with Jewish ties, Max & Louie, followed NJT with five awards, all for its production of Paula Vogel’s shattering Holocaust drama “Indecent.”

The NJT honors are for:

• “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Outstanding Production of a Comedy, directed by Alan Knoll.

• Margery and Peter Spack, Outstanding Set Design in a Play, “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”

• Will Bonfiglio, Outstanding Actor in a Comedy, “Fully Committed.” (This is the third time that Bonfiglio has received this award. He won it last year for his performance in “Red Scare on Sunset” at Stray Dog Theatre, and in 2017 for his performance in another one-man show, “Buyer and Cellar,” also at Stray Dog.)                                                                                                               

• Gary Wayne Barker, Outstanding Actor in a Drama, “District Merchants.”

• J. Samuel Davis, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama, “District Merchants.” 

• Felia Davenport, Outstanding Costume Design in a Play, “District Merchants.”

Max & Louie’s honors are all for “Indecent”:

• Outstanding Production of a Drama, directed by Joanne Gordon.

• Joanne Gordon, Outstanding Director of a Drama.

• Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama.

• Patrick Huber, Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play, and Phillip Evans, Outstanding Sound Design in a Play.

A special Circle Award was presented to philanthropists Nancy and Ken Kranzberg for their invaluable support of Grand Center and the arts. In honor of the Kranzbergs, Jewish Federation of St. Louis donated the framed Circle Award certificates that each recipient receives.

Edward Coffield is artistic director of NJT; Stellie Siteman is artistic director of Max & Louie.

From the outset, this looked like a strong year for NJT. When the nominations were announced in February, NJT had 21, more than any other company.  

“I am very proud to work with so many talented theater professionals,” Coffield said at that time. 

In all, 14 companies were honored at the 2020 Circle Awards. The ceremony, however, was a little different this time around.

The eighth-annual awards ceremony was to have taken place at the end of March at a gala at the Loretto-Hilton Center. It is known as the best cast party in town.

This year, of course, with social gatherings restricted to curb the spread of the coronavirus, that was out of the question.

But HEC Media came to the rescue. Partnering with the Circle, HEC carried the awards Tuesday night, with HEC announcer Rod Milam as master of ceremonies. (HEC’s regular theater coverage includes “Two on the Aisle,” a show in which founding Circle members Gerry Kowarsky and Bob Wilcox review productions here.) 

At home with phones or computers, each member of the Circle recorded a list of nominees. Then HEC wove the recordings together with pictures of the nominees, Milam’s commentary and his announcement of the winners. The show remains available at HEC’s Facebook page, HEC’s YouTube channel, and HEC’s website, hecmedia.org. 

The Circle is made up of established critics who cover professional theater created and staged in St. Louis. (I am a founding member, as is the Jewish Light’s Robert Cohn, editor-in-chief emeritus.) 

Last year, the members evaluated about 120 shows for consideration in the 2020 awards. These were divided into four categories: comedy, drama, musicals and opera. 

Members voted through a strict, weighted system. PriceWaterhouseCoopers tabulated the results.


The complete list of 2020 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Kelley Weber, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Patrick Blindauer, Love’s Labors Lost, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy (TIE): Katie Kleiger, Pride and Prejudice, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis; and Maggie Wininger, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy: Will Bonfiglio, Fully Committed, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play: Patrick Huber, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Sound Design: Phillip Evans, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play: Felia Davenport, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Set Design in a Play: Margery and Peter Spack, Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama: Carly Uding, Translations, Black Mirror Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: J. Samuel Davis, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Drama: Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root, and Roe, Upstream Theater

Outstanding Actor in a Drama: Gary Wayne Barker, District Merchants, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding New Play: Nonsense and Beauty, by Scott C. Sickles, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Achievement in Opera (TIE): Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons, Fire Shut Up in My Bones, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis; and Roland Wood, Rigoletto, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Outstanding Production of an Opera: La Boheme, Union Avenue Opera

Special Award: Ken and Nancy Kranzberg

Outstanding Musical Director: Charles Creath, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, The Black Rep

Outstanding Choreographer: Dexandro Montalvo, Such Sweet ThunderShakespeare Festival St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, and The Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Taylor Louderman, Kinky Boots, The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical: Tiélere Cheatem, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical: Sean M. Savoie, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical: Mary Engelbreit and Paige Hathaway, Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical: Sarah Porter, La Cage aux Folles, New Line Theatre

Outstanding Actress in a Musical: Kendra Kassebaum, Guys and Dolls, The Muny

Outstanding Actor in a Musical: Luke Steingruby, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Q Collective

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy: A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama: Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical: Matilda, The Muny

Outstanding Director of a Comedy: Kari Ely, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Director of a Drama: Joanne Gordon, Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Director of a Musical: Michael Hamilton, Man of La Mancha, Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Production of a Comedy: Brighton Beach Memoirs, New Jewish Theatre

Outstanding Production of a Drama: Indecent, Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Production of a Musical: Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, and The Nine Network of Public Media