I asked Steven Woolf, its Artistic Director for 30 years, why the Repertory Theatre St. Louis (the Rep) has not won a regional Tony Award, and he said it would never happen. This national recognition of achievement has been given out every year since 1976. Woolf seemed a bit flustered that I asked, so I looked up the Tony rules and learned that the award only goes to a not-for-profit producing organization. Perhaps that’s the reason why The Rep, which I assume is FOR profit, has not won. In any event, the Repertory Theatre St Louis deserves recognition for excellence.
It’s hard to believe that The Rep is celebrating its 50th birthday in 2016. That represents 530 productions including 23 world premieres. Way back in 1966 hotelier Conrad Hilton came to St. Louis to present a check for $1.5 million to Sister Jacqueline Grennan, executive vice president of Webster College, and The Rep was born on the Webster campus.
As is usual, the 2016-17 season that runs from September 7 until April 9 contains 6 Mainstage productions and 3 Studio shows. The Mainstage seats 763 and the lower-level Studio, which specializes in new plays and experimental works, can accommodate 125. This year’s Mainstage productions include crowd pleasers–Million Dollar Quartet, To Kill a Mockingbird— a venerable classic–All My Sons–and a bold new play about social unrest–Until the Flood. Ruth and I were delighted to be in town for its final performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.
Over time, Steven Woolf has presented all of the major Sondheim musicals–Company, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum twice–and he considers the success of Follies a major personal achievement. When I suggested he try some of Sondheim’s noble yet flawed shows, Woolf grimaced. He recovered quickly and happily noted that curious patrons came from all over the U. S. to see this seldom done, brilliant musical. The entire original company of Follies played the Muny in St. Louis shortly after it closed in New York in 1971, so this was its 2nd visit. Woolf expressed a bit of amazement that Alexis Smith was the 1971 lure. The 2016 production of Follies closed after a successful, nearly sold-out run on October 2. I asked Woolf if Stephen Sondheim had been invited to St. Louis to see one of his masterworks performed and he told me that he was. The reason why he didn’t make it is good news for Sondheim fans. At the age of 86, he’s working on a new show.
Steven Woolf is a generous, well-traveled man. I was happy to note that on his welcome page in the program he saluted Bob Trump. Trump, a tailor, has spent 36 years in The Rep’s costume shop. It must have been a delight for Trump to help costume so many Ziegfeld-like showgirls for the sumptuous 2016 production of Follies.
Ruth and I, long-term fans and patrons, hope to have The Rep experience again soon.