Playhouse Square Star Award

The Playhouse Square Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual or individuals who exemplify a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the theater community.

Star Award Winners

2019: Broadway Producers Michael David and Edward Strong

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Playhouse Square honored Broadway producers Michael David and Edward Strong, two of the founding partners of Dodger Theatricals, with its highest award, the Playhouse Square Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on June 17. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch; Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher; Broadway producers Margo Lion, Hal Luftig, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, David Stone and Barry and Fran Weissler; and pioneering Playhouse Square leaders Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr. and John F. Lewis.

“This year, we honor one of Broadway’s most enduring and prolific producing partnerships. Formed in 1978, they are now responsible for more than 150 productions worldwide which have collectively won 56 Tony Awards,” said Playhouse Square Chairman James Ratner. “You are no doubt familiar with their work, which has been seen by more than 600,000 guests at Playhouse Square. Our relationship with this producing team has deep roots across three and a half decades, going all the way back to PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES playing 74 performances in the Connor Palace in 1983 – before the theater’s renovation.”

Their other productions include JERSEY BOYS, 42nd STREET, TITANIC, THE WHO’S TOMMY, GUYS AND DOLLS, INTO THE WOODS, THE SECRET GARDEN, MATILDA, BIG RIVER and SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL, which will open the 2019-20 KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square. 

The Playhouse Square Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the theater community.

2017: Broadway Producer David Stone

Star Award Winner 2017

Playhouse Square honored Broadway producer David Stone with its highest award, the Playhouse Square Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on November 20. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch; Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher; Broadway producers Margo Lion, Hal Luftig, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and Barry and Fran Weissler; and pioneering Playhouse Square leaders Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr. and John F. Lewis.
 
I have known David since 1988, when he was working as an assistant in New York's booking office, NAMCO,” said Gina Vernaci, executive producer at Playhouse Square. “Since launching his outstanding producing career, he has always been guided by an eye for exquisite storytelling. Given his many accomplishments, he is resolute with his support of causes such as V-Day and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.” 
 
David Stone is the producer of ten Broadway musicals including: The Diary of Anne Frank (1997); Man of La Mancha (2002); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee(2005); If/Then (2014); Wicked, winner of the 2004 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Musical; and Next to Normal, winner of three 2009 Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. His Off-Broadway successes include The Vagina Monologues and The Santaland Diaries. David serves on the boards of The Broadway League and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, and on the advisory boards of V-Day and Second Stage Theatre. He has lectured on theater at New York University, Yale, Columbia, and his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.
 
The Playhouse Square Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the artistic community.

2016: Broadway Producer Jeffrey Seller

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Cleveland, OH – Playhouse Square honored Broadway producer Jeffrey Seller with its highest award, the Playhouse Square Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on November 15. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch; Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher; Broadway producers Margo Lion, Kevin McCollum, Hal Luftig and Barry and Fran Weissler; and pioneering Playhouse Square leaders Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr. and John F. Lewis.

“I have known Jeffrey since 1989, when he was a sales representative for The Fiddler on the Roof,” said Gina Vernaci, executive producer at Playhouse Square. “He set his sights on a big dream and has wildly exceeded even his own expectations of what was possible. He is smart, passionate, articulate and patient – which is such an important quality when you are trying develop young talent. Even though he seems to be at the pinnacle of success right now, I see even higher peaks in his future.”

Jeffrey Seller is the winner of four Tony Awards for Best Musical: Hamilton (2016); Rent (1996), both of which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Avenue Q (2004); and In the Heights(2008). Jeffrey has also produced and/or developed De La Guarda (1998), Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party (2000), Baz Luhrmann’s production of Puccini’s La Bohème (2002), High Fidelity (2006), the 2009 Revival of West Side Story, and The Last Ship (2014). Jeffrey is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

The Playhouse Square Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the artistic community.

2015: Broadway Producer Hal Luftig

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Cleveland, OH – Playhouse Square honored Broadway producer Hal Luftig with its highest award, the Playhouse Square Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on November 16. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch; Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher; Broadway producers Margo Lion, Kevin McCollum and Barry and Fran Weissler; and pioneering Playhouse Square leaders Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr. and John F. Lewis.

“Hal produces quality work which emanates directly from his heart. Audiences here in Cleveland and around the world are uplifted through his productions,” said Gina Vernaci, executive producer at Playhouse Square. “We are pleased to put the spotlight this humble, kind-hearted yet savvy businessman who is a great role model.”

Hal Luftig is a winner of four Tony Awards and London’s Olivier Award. He has worked on and off Broadway for the past 25 years and is currently the lead producer of Kinky Boots on Broadway, which received six Tony Awards including Best Musical. In addition to New York, Kinky Boots can be seen around the world in London; Toronto; Seoul, South Korea (return engagement); and upcoming engagements in Tokyo, Japan and Melbourne, Australia.  Kinky Boots is in its second year of a U.S. national tour which will include a triumphant return to Cleveland in August 2016.

After receiving an MFA in Arts Management from Columbia's School of the Arts, Luftig started his career off-Broadway in downtown Manhattan, working in some of New York's most storied and venerable theaters. There, he created fertile ground for up-and-coming talents like Eric Bogosian and Charles Busch, in shows like Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll and The Lady in Question.

Soon, he began to produce on Broadway as well. His shows have included Ariel Dorfman's Death & the Maiden, George Wolf's Jelly's Last Jam, Tony Kushner's Angels in America, the 20th anniversary production of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart at the Public Theater, the unexpurgated revival of The Diary of Anne Frank, Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel's Movin' Out, the work of comic geniuses like Whoopi Goldberg and Kathy Najimi, and Tony Award-winning new musicals like Thoroughly Modern Millie, as well as revivals of delightful classics like Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I and Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun

He currently is developing a revival of Children of a Lesser God, a musical adaptation of the film Corrina, Corrina (written by Alan Menkin, Brian Yorkey and Jessie Nelson), and a new musical written by David Byrne and directed by Alex Timbers.

The Playhouse Square Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the artistic community

2014: Broadway Producers Fran and Barry Weissler

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PlayhouseSquare Honors Broadway Producers Barry and Fran Weissler

Cleveland, OH – PlayhouseSquare honored Broadway producers Barry and Fran Weissler with its highest award, the PlayhouseSquare Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner Monday night. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch, Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher, Broadway producers Margo Lion and Kevin McCollum, and pioneering PlayhouseSquare leaders Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr. and John F. Lewis.

“What I admire most about the Weisslers is their inventiveness, resourcefulness and eye for quality,” said Gina Vernaci, senior vice president of theater operations at PlayhouseSquare. “Broadway road markets, like Cleveland, have always benefitted from the shows they have produced, and many of their productions have graced the stages of PlayhouseSquare.”

Barry and Fran Weissler are the recipients of seven Tony Awards: Othello, their Broadway debut, starring James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer; Fiddler on the Roof with Topol; Gypsy with Tyne Daly; Annie Get Your Gun with Bernadette Peters and Reba McEntire; the worldwide hit, Chicago; the 2010 revival of La Cage Aux Folles with Kelsey Grammer; and the 2013 revival of Pippin starring Patina Miller and Andrea Martin. 
 
Chicago, the longest running American musical on both Broadway and the West End, has featured countless stars including Bebe Neuwirth, Anne Reinking, Joel Grey, Melanie Griffith, David Hasselhoff, Chita Rivera, Denise van Outen, Duncan James, Lynda Carter, Ashlee Simpson, Kelly Osbourne and Usher. The show’s global success has reached over 25 countries and has been translated into a dozen languages.
 
Other notable Broadway credits include Cabaret with Joel Grey, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Kathleen Turner, Zorba with Anthony Quinn, My One & Only with Tommy Tune, My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain, William Finn’s Falsettos, Grease with Megan Mullally, Seussical with Rosie O’Donnell, Wonderful Town with Brooke Shields, Sweet Charity with Christina Applegate, the West End premiere of Neil Labute’s Fat Pig and Kander and Ebb’s The Scottsboro Boys directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.
 
Multiple projects in development include The Heart of Robin HoodFinding NeverlandWaitress and Band Wagon.

The PlayhouseSquare Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the artistic community.

2012-2013: Oliver C. Henkel, Jr. And John Lewis, two of its Pioneering Leaders

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PlayhouseSquare Honors Henkel and Lewis, Two of its Pioneering Leaders

Cleveland, OH - PlayhouseSquare honored the founding chair of its board of trustees, Oliver C. “Pudge” Henkel, Jr., and his successor, John F. Lewis, with its highest award, the PlayhouseSquare Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on Monday night. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch, Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher and Broadway producers Kevin McCollum and Margo Lion.

Henkel, know to most simply as “Pudge,” obtained the first stay of execution for PlayhouseSquare in 1972. As a young lawyer, he went before the Fine Arts Council of the City of Cleveland to plead the organization’s case, putting a temporary halt on demolition that had already been approved. The Fine Arts Council granted just 30 days for the development of a plan for the theaters. He then negotiated a five year lease with the owners of the Loew’s Building to save the State and Ohio Theatres; he would later go on to convince the Cuyahoga County commissioners to buy the building. In August 1973, he became the founding chair (known then as “president”) of the board of the not-for-profit Playhouse Square Foundation. Establishing the organization as a not-for-profit was a crucial move for attracting contributors to the project. Then in 1977, Henkel signed for PlayhouseSquare’s first line of credit for the purpose of booking big name acts to try to prove that people would come downtown for entertainment. The gamble paid off; by the end of the year, more than half a million people had come to shows at PlayhouseSquare.

Also in 1977, five trustees voted to create a performing arts center out of the historic theaters. Henkel was one of those trustees. Another would become his successor as chair of the board in July of 1980: John F. Lewis. Five months earlier, the board had approved an $18 million plan for the creation of a three-theater performing arts center. Under Lewis’s leadership, organizations like the Cleveland Foundation, Cleveland Tomorrow, Sohio and the banking institutions began to provide funding for the fledgling project. John also turned his eye toward professionalizing the staff, recruiting Kevin McMahon as a fundraising consultant and Larry Wilker as the organization’s first president and CEO. Wilker would go on to run the Kennedy Center and McMahon is now the president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. 

But it was a summons from then Mayor Voinovich, in February of 1981, that would really put PlayhouseSquare to the test. Voinovich had persuaded Great Lakes Theater to make PlayhouseSquare its new home if the Ohio Theatre could be renovated and ready in July 1982. Navigating through an ironworkers’ strike just two months before the theater was to open, Lewis shepherded the organization successfully through the opening of the first renovated theater and the welcoming of the first resident company. Keeping up the momentum, the groundbreaking for the State Theatre stage house was held in the fall of 1983 followed soon after by the announcement that the Metropolitan Opera would perform at the State Theatre as part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 1984. This was a huge vote of confidence: the Metropolitan Opera was the biggest touring production on the road at that time. A theater that could present the Met could present anyone. And PlayhouseSquare did.

“At almost every step along the way, Pudge Henkel and John Lewis walked a fragile line between PlayhouseSquare’s existence and demolition. They never gave up. They met and overcame every challenge. They rallied others to the cause.  With incredible foresight, they developed the vision and laid the foundation for the PlayhouseSquare of today, and they remain among its greatest champions,” said Thomas C. Stevens, chair of the PlayhouseSquare Board of Trustees.

Henkel is the founding chair of the PlayhouseSquare Board of Trustees and served as such through June of 1980. Lewis served as chair from July 1980 through June 1985.

The new documentary showcasing PlayhouseSquare’s dramatic rescue and rebirth, “Staging Success: The PlayhouseSquare Story,” features engaging interviews with Henkel, Lewis and others, as well as nostalgic older films, news stories and breathtaking new footage. “Staging Success” premieres on WVIZ/PBS ideastream on Thursday, November 15 at 8 p.m.

The PlayhouseSquare Star Award is bestowed annually to an individual(s) who exemplifies a lifetime dedication to the performing arts evidenced by a body of work that contributes to our culture, proven leadership within the industry, creativity, willingness to mentor young talent and respect from the artistic community.

2011: Broadway Producer Margo Lion

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Cleveland, OH – PlayhouseSquare honored Broadway producer Margo Lion with its highest award, the PlayhouseSquare Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner on Tuesday night. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch, Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher and Broadway producer Kevin McCollum.

“In working with her on the Executive Committee of The Broadway League’s Board of Governors, I have come to know that Margo Lion embodies all of the qualities we value at PlayhouseSquare,” explained Senior Vice President of Theater Operations at PlayhouseSquare Gina Vernaci. “She is visionary, brave and has a wide spectrum of interests. Success for her and for us is about more than just box office returns; it is about quality. Educating and engaging audiences, no matter how niche, is part of both our mantras.”

During and after college (Mills College and a B.A. from George Washington University), Lion worked in politics, first on Capitol Hill for Senator Daniel B. Brewster (D-Maryland) and then for Senator Robert F. Kennedy in his New York office. Following Senator Kennedy’s death she taught school for six years. After spending three years at the University of Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop where her former husband, Ted Nemeth, was a graduate student, Lion’s focus turned from education to her earlier interest in theater. In 1977 she determined to become a theater producer. Her cousin, MacArthur Award recipient and director/choreographer Martha Clarke, introduced Lion to Lyn Austin from whom she learned the ropes with Austin’s not-for-profit company, Music-Theater Group/Lenox Arts Center. Lion made the move to commercial theater in 1982 bringing with her the idea for a show about Jelly Roll Morton and the origins of jazz; ten years later, that show became the Broadway musical, Jelly’s Last Jam.

Lion’s interests in education and politics have happily merged with her life in the theater. Having served as Co-Chairman of the Arts Policy Committee for President Barack Obama during his presidential campaign, she now serves as Co-Chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Lion is also an adjunct professor and a member of the Dean's Council at the NYU-Tisch School of the Arts. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors of BC/EFA, the Advisory Board of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, the Advisory Committee for the Public Diplomacy Collaborative at Harvard, and as advisor to both the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts and PUBLICOLOR.

Lion’s productions have garnered 20 Tony Awards, four Olivier Awards and one Pulitzer Prize.

Lion's new show, Catch Me If You Can, which had its world premiere at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on April 10, 2011. Other shows in development include: Like Water for Chocolate, Monsoon Wedding and The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, as well co-producing the film adaptation of Lucy Prebble's play ENRON with Laura Ziskin.

Lion, who is an inspiration to many in the performing arts industry, concluded her remarks at PlayhouseSquare Tuesday by saying, “With ten theaters to present exciting and new work, with an education program that is a model for performing arts centers across the country and ensures that so many young people have arts in their curriculum and with a business plan that revitalizes your economy…you are a genuine inspiration.”

2010: Broadway Producer Kevin McCollum

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Cleveland, OH – PlayhouseSquare honored Broadway producer Kevin McCollum with its highest award, the PlayhouseSquare Star Award for Achievement in the Performing Arts, at its annual Chairman’s Dinner last night. Past honorees include legendary composer Marvin Hamlisch and Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher.

“Kevin McCollum has reinvigorated Broadway by producing powerful musicals, like RENT, Avenue Q and In the Heights, that appeal to young audiences,” explained Gina Vernaci, vice president of theatricals for PlayhouseSquare, “and he also has demonstrated a strong belief in Cleveland and in PlayhouseSquare. In the past three years, he has launched two national tours here and granted us the first rights for [title of show] to use for our annual partnership with Baldwin-Wallace College.”

Kevin McCollum’s Broadway productions have won 22 Tony Awards and garnered an additional 41 Tony nominations. RENT was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1996. His roster of productions includes such notable shows as Damn Yankees, La Boheme, Avenue Q, The Drowsy Chaperone, In the Heights, West Side Story,Ragtime and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.

In 1995, McCollum and Jeffrey Seller (co-producer, RENT) co-founded The Producing Office, where McCollum is owner and chairman of the board. In addition, McCollum is co-owner of the leading New York theatrical booking agency, The Booking Group.

McCollum was a managing partner in 37 Arts, an Off-Broadway theater complex that is home to the Baryshnikov Arts Center. For seven years, McCollum was the president and CEO of the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul, MN. He was formerly associate producer for the St. Louis MUNY outdoor theater and Executive Producer of the feature film Jeffrey. He holds an MFA in film producing from the University of Southern California and a BFA from the University of Cincinnati – College Conservatory of Music.

McCollum is a member of the National Endowment for the Arts peer review panel for musicals, the League of American Theatres and Producers, and the Independent Feature Film Board. He is a Trustee of the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation.

2009: Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher

Disney Theatricals President Thomas Schumacher received the 2009 Playhouse Square Star Award.

2008: Composer Marvin Hamlisch

Composer Marvin Hamlisch received the 2008 Playhouse Square Star Award.