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The Broadway League congratulates the honorees of the League Awards, which were announced today during the 33rd annual Spring Road Conference, celebrating industry professionals whose outstanding achievements contribute to the success of Broadway on the Road. Since 1992, the League Awards recognize those who have displayed exemplary service to the Touring Broadway industry and are regarded as innovators in their profession.
This year’s League Awards recipients include: Gina Vernaci (Distinguished Lifetime Service Award), Chris Meyers (Outstanding Achievement in Road Group Sales), Kelli Palan (Outstanding Achievement in Road Marketing & Press), Scott Hemerling (Outstanding Achievement in Road Marketing & Press), Marisol Sánchez-Best (Outstanding Achievement in Education and Engagement), Ron Legler (Outstanding Achievement in Presenter Management), and Kara Gebhart (George MacPherson Road Award).
The Star of Touring Broadway honorees are Congresswoman Kathy Manning (North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District), Jim Pugh (Chairman of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts), and The Boston Area Lexus Dealers Association.
“Congratulations to this year’s League Award honorees, who exemplify excellence in their endeavors of presenting and enriching Broadway in their hometowns,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “Broadway is a vital national industry. During the 2022-23 season, Touring Broadway reached an audience of more than 16.5 million with 39 shows touring in more than 180 cities. This would not be possible without the tremendous support and efforts of our members.”
The Broadway League’s 2023 Spring Road Conference welcomed a record-breaking 850 attendees to New York City representing approximately 150 markets around the U.S. and Canada. Comprised of League members and their staff of presenters, producers, general managers, marketing and press directors, education coordinators, and box office and group sales teams who help make it possible to bring Broadway to North American cities all year long. The conference sets the stage for the community to gather and discuss the state of Broadway on the Road, celebrate recent accomplishments, and look towards the future.
2023 LEAGUE AWARD RECIPIENTS
DISTINGUISHED LIFETIME SERVICE AWARD
GINA VERNACI recently completed her tenure as President and Chief Executive Officer of Playhouse Square, where she was responsible for all operations of the not-for-profit performing arts center, including more than 1,000 annual performances with gross sales of $48 million, and supervising a full- and part-time staff of 300 as well as the much loved “RedCoats” volunteer corps of 1,500. She has led initiatives that have helped to position Playhouse Square as the region’s premier cultural, tourist, and entertainment destination and the country’s largest performing arts center, second only to New York City’s Lincoln Center. Gina secured and built a Broadway series for E.J. Thomas Hall at the University of Akron and continues to champion programming collaborations with libraries, colleges, resident companies, and area non-profit theatres. In recognition of her contributions to the community, Baldwin Wallace University presented her with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in May 2021. Nationally, Gina is a Tony voter and has a long history of service on The Broadway League’s Board of Governors.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ROAD GROUP SALES
CHRIS MEYERS is originally from Illinois and has been based in Cleveland with Playhouse Square for the past 20 years. After serving as Season Ticket Manager for six years, Chris became Sales Manager, a position he held for 13 years before his recent promotion to the position of Senior Manager of Group Sales. In addition to his work for Playhouse Square, Chris currently serves as Co-Chair of The Broadway League’s Road Group Sales Committee and Forum Planning Committee. Previously, Chris worked in Group Sales with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Cubs. Chris is husband to Joanne and father to two sons, Nick and Jake.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN ROAD MARKETING & PRESS
KELLI PALAN, Director of Regional Engagement at Disney Theatrical Group, has been with the company since 2000. Throughout the past two decades, she has provided marketing and sales promotion to the North American Tours, including Beauty and the Beast, AIDA, The Lion King, High School Musical, Newsies, Aladdin, and Frozen. Kelli also worked on press and marketing of the pre-Broadway engagements of Aladdin in Toronto and Frozen in Denver. Prior to Disney, she worked in public relations at Ogilvy Adams and Rinehart and then PT & Co. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University.
SCOTT A. HEMERLING works with a dedicated team at Disney Theatrical Productions on the marketing of The Lion King and Frozen National Tours. Born in Michigan, raised in Fort Lauderdale, and currently residing in New York City, he graduated from the University of Florida and is a member of the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN EDUCATION AND ENGAGEMENT
MARISOL SÁNCHEZ-BEST (Mixtec, She/Her) was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her work and passion are focused on theatre access initiatives and providing platforms for historically underrepresented communities. Prior to Seattle Theatre Group, she worked at La Jolla Playhouse as the Associate Director of Education. She has worked in the U.S. and México as a theatre educator, actor, and teaching artist trainer. Marisol received her undergraduate degree from San Diego State University with a double major in Theatre Performance and Spanish and an M.F.A in Performance from the University of Florida. Her biggest pride is elevating and sharing the beauty of her Oaxacan culture.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN PRESENTER MANAGEMENT
Samuel J. L’Hommedieu Award
RON LEGLER is a 28-year veteran of our industry and just celebrated his ninth year as President of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, home of the iconic Hippodrome Theatre in Downtown Baltimore.
Ron’s career began in group sales where he quickly showed his intuitiveness for presenting by setting a record for group tickets to the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera in its history up to that time. For nine years, Ron was a numbers leader in the group sales world and helped bring many shows to their success.
In 2001, Ron moved to Orlando, Florida where he served as President of Florida Theatrical Association (FTA), presenting Touring Broadway in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando. Under his leadership, Florida Theatrical built and opened two venues in the heart of downtown, The Abbey & The Mezz. Ron also served as President of Orlando’s Downtown Arts District and Vice President of the Orlando International Fringe Festival.
Following many successful years with FTA, Ron moved to Baltimore where he took the position he has today. Under Ron’s leadership, the subscriber base has consistently grown, reaching capacity for the 2019/2020 season, and the subscription renewal has reached its highest level ever – 84.6% for the 2023/2024 season.
In 2022, Ron helped develop and pass a bill creating Maryland’s first Theatrical Tax Credit that will allow Broadway shows the ability to develop, rehearse, build, and launch their pre-Broadway show or pre-Touring Broadway show activities in Maryland, saving producers up to $2M per production. The Wiz will launch from Baltimore this fall for a national Tour before it lands on Broadway in 2024.
Ron led his team through Netflix’s first worldwide live-stream event in Baltimore at the Hippodrome Theatre with Chris Rock’s “Selective Outrage” in March of 2023. The event was broadcast live in 90 countries for 250 million subscribers. The event became #1 on Netflix, putting Baltimore on an international stage and highlighting The Hippodrome Theatre to the world.
For the last seven years, Ron has been leading the charge on a $21M project to redevelop a historically underused and under-developed 5,000 square foot space at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center (FMPAC), turning it into a flexible performance and events center that will double the usable space and finally complete the original vision for the FMPAC. This vision will be realized when the doors open to the newly developed M&T Bank Exchange. The Exchange will help lead the FMPAC into the future and provide a resource to an underserved community in Baltimore, providing a space for non-profit performing arts use, arts education programs, and a state-of-the-art world-class space for a wide array of events.
Of his many accolades, Ron was given a Key to the City of Orlando by Mayor Buddy Dyer and was recognized as Orlando Business Journal’s Most Influential Businessman (Non-Profit) and the Downtown Orlando Partnership’s Downtowner of the Year. Ron was the co-founder of Pulse nightclub. Ron was also awarded Distinguished Alumnus by his alma mater Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. In 2019, Ron was named one of The Daily Record’s Most Admired CEOs and received an executive citation of excellence in Performing Arts Center Management by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in 2015.
Today, Ron lives in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore with his partner Andrew and enjoys boating and spending time on his rooftop deck with his two Shih tzus, Buddy & Tilly.
GEORGE MACPHERSON ROAD AWARD
KARA GEBHART is the Chief Operating Officer of The Booking Group (TBG). At The Booking Group, Kara has worked to bring over 27 Tony Award® Winning Best Musicals and Plays to theatres across North America including Rent; Mamma Mia!; The Producers; The Book of Mormon; Hamilton; and SIX. She is an active member of The Broadway League, currently sitting on The Broadway League’s Road Presenters/Intra-Industry Committee and the Spring Road Conference Planning Committee.
STAR OF TOURING BROADWAY AWARDS
The Star of Touring Broadway Awards honor board members, government officials, donors, and volunteers who have provided support to promote and enrich the Broadway Series in their hometowns.
KATHY MANNING represents North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District which includes Guilford and Rockingham Counties and parts of Forsyth and Caswell Counties – an area known as the Triad. Kathy graduated from Harvard University and the University of Michigan Law School before moving to Greensboro, NC in 1987, where she and her husband raised their three children. After serving as a partner at a major law firm for 15 years, she left to start her own law firm.
Before her election to Congress, Kathy worked to expand access to early childhood education, college scholarships, workforce development, and assistance to those in need through nonprofit organizations including the United Way, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the National Conference for Community and Justice, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Bennett College. She has also worked tirelessly on major projects to revitalize downtown Greensboro and spur economic development. Kathy was the first woman to chair the Board of the Jewish Federations of North America, one of the largest charitable, faith-based organizations in the world, which provides assistance to communities in need around the world.
As a member of the Education and Labor Committee, Kathy is a strong advocate for early childhood education and investments in school infrastructure and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Kathy is working to increase access to vocational and technical education and apprenticeship opportunities while making higher education more affordable. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kathy is leading legislation to improve access to mental health resources in schools.
As Vice Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, Kathy is a vocal advocate for democracy and maintaining strong relationships with United States’ allies, including Israel. In addition to her leadership on the Education and Labor and Foreign Affairs Committees, Kathy is the Co-Chair of the House Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Antisemitism and a member of the New Democrat Coalition. Kathy is also recognized for her leadership to lower the cost of health care. Kathy is leading legislation to cap the out-of-pocket cost of prescription medications, expand access to maternal health care, and increase transparency in the pharmaceutical industry. Kathy fought to cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, which became law for seniors on Medicare in 2022. She has also been an outspoken supporter of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to non-expansion states, and she's pleased that North Carolina looks poised to pass Medicaid expansion in 2023.
During her first term in office, Kathy has brought more than $500 million home to the Triad through tax cuts for families with children, infrastructure investments, and funding for community projects that support public safety, curb learning loss, and improve community connectivity. Kathy and her team are also proud to have closed thousands of constituent cases and returned more than $2 million that was owed to constituents due to delayed IRS refunds and veterans’ benefits.
JIM PUGH, the Chairman of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts from 2003–2022, has been a visionary at the arts center since its original inception in 2003. He committed his time, expertise, persistence, and determination to see the project come to life. He and his wife, Alexis, became the first donors of the arts center with a gracious gift to name the beautiful 294-seat Alexis and Jim Pugh Theater, which has hosted thousands of regional artists and performances since opening in 2014. Under his leadership, the arts center opened the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater to bring Broadway performances to new heights for the Central Florida community. To date, there are over 15,500 Broadway subscribers and more than 1.47M Broadway tickets sold, with 30% of those performances over 98% sold out.
Jim attended the University of Florida and graduated with a degree in construction management. He served in the Army as a member of the renowned Airborne Rangers and after service, began his career in construction in Orlando, Florida. He formed Epoch Properties, Epoch Management, Inc., and Epoch Residential – entities encapsulating one of the largest multi-family developers in the country with more than 40,000 apartments developed in 60 U.S. cities. Additionally, he founded a timeshare resort, became an investor and Director of American Momentum Bank, and owner of Barnie’s Coffee and Tea Co.
He has been appointed to several civic oversight boards including the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Orlando Utilities Commission, and Central Florida Expressway Authority. He has also served in leadership positions on many Central Florida non-profits boards including The Holocaust Memorial Center. Jim was the recipient of the 2021 University of Florida’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the University’s highest award through the President’s Office. In 2018, he was awarded the Horatio Alger Award, bestowed upon admired leaders who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their local communities. He was also awarded the Orlando Economic Partnership’s James B. Greene Award, one of the highest honors in leadership in the Orlando region.
A prolific fundraiser, philanthropist, and incredible businessman, his leadership throughout the community continues to serve as an inspiration to many. In addition to completing the Dr. Phillips Center, Jim’s achievements include climbing four of the seven highest mountains on earth, and circumnavigating the world as a pilot by air and a sailor by sea.
THE BOSTON AREA LEXUS DEALERS ASSOCIATION is comprised of six Lexus dealerships who join together to give back to the local community with their sponsorship efforts. The Boston Area LDA is comprised of Lexus of Watertown, Ira Lexus, Lexus Northborough, Ira Lexus of Manchester, Herb Chambers Lexus of Sharon, and Herb Chambers Lexus of Hingham.
Lexus’ passion for brave design, imaginative technology, and exhilarating performance enables the luxury lifestyle brand to create amazing experiences for its customers. Lexus began its journey in 1989 with two luxury sedans and a commitment to pursue perfection. Since then, Lexus has developed its lineup to meet the needs of global luxury customers in more than 90 countries. In the United States, Lexus vehicles are sold through 244 dealers offering a full lineup of luxury vehicles. With seven models incorporating Lexus Hybrid Drive, Lexus is the luxury hybrid leader. Lexus also offers eight F SPORT models, one F performance model and one F model. Lexus is committed to being a visionary brand that anticipates the future for luxury customers.