It’s award season in the theater world, locally and elsewhere, when past work is pored over to find outstanding productions and performances, accolades are bestowed, “thank you” speeches are made and egos are boosted or blasted. On June 16, the League of Cincinnati Theatres handed out its awards, descendants of CityBeat’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards and the Enquirer’s Acclaim Awards. Those programs merged a few years back under LCT’s aegis, then stumbled and stopped. LCT’s awards are now assembled with no media involvement; evaluations are provided by a set of panelists ranging from performers to academics.
From nominations made during the 2013-2014 season, panelists picked more than 100 finalists in 23 categories. Winners were chosen (by a process that’s not been described) to receive engraved awards on June 16 in a casual get-together of theater folks at Arnold’s Bar & Grill in downtown Cincinnati.
As someone who saw most of last season’s shows, I was bemused by various omissions (and inclusions). But all in all, LCT’s awards honored some worthy productions. Although Martín Zimmerman’s Seven Spots on the Sun was not a box-office hit for the Cincinnati Playhouse, it was named the season’s best play; its director, artistic associate KJ Sanchez, was designated the season’s best director of a play, and her cast was named the best ensemble performance in a play. The terrific drama about war-torn human and moral conflict in Central America earned recognition in April from the American Theatre Critics Association as one of the three most outstanding plays produced at any regional theater during 2013. It’s a shame more audiences didn’t see it at the Playhouse.
In the best musical category, an excellent production of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago at The Carnegie tied with a memorable and innovative staging of Les Misérables at CCM. Chicago’s co-directors, Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, were cited as the season’s best. As Roxie Hart, a “merry murderess,” Broadway-experienced Leslie Goddard was singled out as leading actress in a musical. The large cast of CCM’s Les Mis was cited for its ensemble work, as well as for Blaine Krauss’ leading performance as Jean Valjean and Matthew Paul Hill’s supporting turn as the innkeeper Thénardier.
It was good to see work by smaller companies noted, such as New Edgecliff (Bus Stop received acting awards for Christine Dye and Bob Allen) and Hamilton’s Mad Anthony Theatre Company (Daniel Britt was named best actor for his performance in Light Sensitive). Despite blockbuster seasons and sterling productions, shows at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company went largely unnoticed by the awards. CSC’s co-staging of The Crucible with Xavier University earned an award for Brent Vimtrup (as John Proctor), but his stellar performance as Hamlet on CSC’s mainstage was not even nominated.
In truth, awards are subjective, relying on the judgment of the people behind them. Award programs are as much about boosting interest as citing excellence. If you watched Broadway’s Tony Awards on June 9, you saw excerpts from several shows not nominated and one or two others not even definitely headed to New York. But you also saw shows we’ll likely see on local stages someday: perhaps Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, a portrait of irascible President Lyndon Johnson, or Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, about cross-dressing men.
Cincinnatians can be proud that works honored in New York had fine productions locally in the past: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (which earned Audra McDonald her record-setting sixth Tony) was presented at the Playhouse in 1992, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Neil Patrick Harris received his first Tony) has had two blockbuster stagings at Ensemble Theater (2001, 2003). The Cripple of Inishmaan, nominated for best revival, was produced by ETC 14 years ago.
What’s more, several Tony winners have worked in Cincinnati, especially director Kenny Leon, whose direction of a highly praised rendition of A Raisin the Sun won best revival. He staged Blue at the Playhouse in 2004 and Cincinnati Opera’s monumental production of Margaret Garner in 2005.
More awards will be handed out this weekend when Cincinnati-area community theaters vie to represent southwest Ohio in a statewide competition. On Friday evening and all day Saturday you can see a dozen companies present 30-minute chunks of their best work, presented by ACT-Cincinnati. Details at cinstages.com/ACT/ACTawards.asp.
CONTACT Rick Pender: [email protected]