TheatreWorks receives a Tony — crowning accolade for longtime director Robert Kelley

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley Artistic Director Robert Kelley at rehearsal. Photo courtesy of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley.

By the Daily Post staff

Palo Alto-based TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, which was founded 50 years ago by a Paly grad who fell in love with acting as a child, will be awarded the 2019 Regional Theater Tony Award, the top honor for theater companies not on Broadway.

“I feel this is a mountain that we had hoped to climb over all these years, and I feel like we’ve made it. We’ve gotten to the top of the mountain,” TheatreWorks Artistic Director Robert Kelley told the Post yesterday (April 29). Kelley, 72, will retire next year.

“Of course that means there’s another mountain for us to climb just beyond over the next 50 years. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to support TheatreWorks in many ways as we move forward with new leadership.”

Kelley, a Paly grad who studied creative writing at Stanford, said he will fly to New York City to accept the award during a ceremony at Radio City Music Hall on June 9.
TheatreWorks Executive Director Phil Santora and Board Chair Judy Heyboer will also join him.

The Tony Awards will be hosted by James Corden and air on CBS.

Live, local theater is alive and well

“I think it will be especially moving for all of us because New York is such a focus for theater in America, and of course the Tony Awards focuses on Broadway and the wonderful talent that’s there,” said Kelley, who lives in Menlo Park. “But representing the regional theater movement this year is not just an honor, it’s an important statement to everyone … that great theater is alive, well and booming across America.”

The American Theatre Critics Association selected TheatreWorks to receive the honor, which includes a $25,000 grant. TheatreWorks puts on three productions, as well as a New Works Festival, every year at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto. The company also stages five shows at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Kelley, who started acting when he was 9 at Palo Alto Children’s Theater and became a director in college, directs three of the productions every year and hires and collaborates with the directors of the other shows.

A long list of accomplishments

Since its founding in 1970, TheatreWorks has developed and presented 69 world premiere musicals and plays, in addition to 167 regional premieres.

The company has developed scores of works that have gone on to regional, off-Broadway and Broadway productions. The Best Musical Tony Award and Olivier award-winning “Memphis” was first workshopped and received its world premiere at TheatreWorks. The company helped launched the careers of actors such as Jessica Chastain (“Molly’s Game”) and James Monroe Iglehart (“Hamilton”).

“The work they produce celebrates the human spirit. They have helped develop hundreds of vibrant new plays and musicals that are now being performed in theaters across America, and they have pioneered education programs that inspire thousands of students each year, creating future generations of creative artists and  enthusiastic audiences,” said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing, which puts on the Tonys.