Solo performers, opera shine at 4th St. Louis Theater Circle Awards

Three actors in solo shows — J. Samuel Davis, Amy Loui and Jeremy Webb — took top honors Monday night when the St. Louis Theater Circle presented its 2016 awards.

Davis and Loui were honored as outstanding actor and actress in a drama, respectively, for their performances in “Bashir Lazhar” at Upstream Theater and “The Amish Project” at Mustard Seed Theatre. Webb, outstanding actor in a comedy, played a host of characters (including Barbra Streisand) in “Buyer and Cellar” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Solo shows have been honored with Theater Circle Awards before, but this year’s crop was exceptional.

“I’ve never done (a one-person show) before,” said Kari Ely at intermission. Ely won the award for outstanding actress in a comedy for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. “Hats off to anybody who can tackle that. I think it’s fantastic.”

Those shows were among more than 110 local professional productions onstage in 2015. The Theater Circle Awards — presented by an organization of critics — honor work by St. Louis actors, directors, designers and playwrights in the preceding year.

Monday was a good night for opera, too. Honors for outstanding actress and actor in a musical went to Joyce El-Khoury, who played the title role in “Emmeline” at Opera Theatre St. Louis, and Jordan Shanahan, who played the title role in “Rigoletto” at Union Avenue Opera.

Operas were honored with three more awards: George Manahan won outstanding musical director for “Emmeline,” Christopher Akerlind won for outstanding lighting design in a musical for “Emmeline” and Shoko Kambara won for outstanding set design in a musical for “The Barber of Seville” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Stages St. Louis each received five awards, more than any other theater. Four awards went to both “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Actors’ Studio and “Anything Goes” at Stages St. Louis.

A crowd of more than 200 gathered for the fourth-annual awards ceremony, held at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School. There were plenty of hugs, kisses and friendly applause at what felt like a big cast party — or even a family reunion.

Thirty-one awards were handed out, divided into categories for musicals, dramas and comedies. Twenty-one St. Louis companies were nominated, along with 117 individual nominations.

Actor and playwright Nancy Bell also made Theater Circle history when Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ “The World Begun” won the award for outstanding new play. Bell is the only individual to have been honored each year since the St. Louis Theater Circle’s start. Her previous wins are for acting and writing.

“I’m just unbelievably flattered and humbled,” Bell said at intermission, just after her win. “Especially for Shakespeare in the Street, because that’s really all about the people I work with. That’s really not that much about me, that’s about the process and the project and the people, so I’m really proud when that project gets recognized.”

Find the complete list of winners at

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Alex SiegmanComment