The Envelope, Please

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Oh, me, oh, my, what’s a theater critic to do when the cultural menu just keeps expanding? Time was, you could expect to see maybe 35 shows, a mix of community theater and professional, in the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice area, mostly October through May. Now that theater season stretches year-round, with 60 productions or more on offer, […]


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Oh, me, oh, my, what’s a theater critic to do when the cultural menu just keeps expanding? Time was, you could expect to see maybe 35 shows, a mix of community theater and professional, in the Sarasota-Bradenton-Venice area, mostly October through May. Now that theater season stretches year-round, with 60 productions or more on offer, thanks to the more recent emergence of venues such as Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II, Florida Studio Theatre’s cabaret stage, the Westcoast Black Theater Troupe and the Banyan Theater Company.

It makes presenting these annual theater awards more of a challenge, but it also underlines just how much talent is out there, running lights, building sets, feverishly sewing beads on costumes, learning lines and rehearsing steps until very dancer’s feet groan. It’s clear that theater in these parts, for those onstage, backstage or watching from their seats, is not just an avocation; it’s an addiction.

The season covered by these awards ran from September 2002 through May 2003; it does not include summer 2003 productions or Van Wezel touring shows.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

Vicki S. Holden for the Asolo’s You Never Can Tell. Holden’s turn-of-the-century togs helped delineate character as well as class, from schoolgirl to barrister to waiter.

Catherine King for the Asolo’s Filumena. King’s shirtwaists with full skirts were flattering for the middle-aged Filumena, and, oh, those tailored Italian suits for Patrick James’ Clarke’s Domenico!

June Elisabeth for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Heiress. In mostly subdued shades appropriate for a shy young woman, her rigid father and her aunt-in-mourning, Elisabeth nevertheless managed to suggest wealth and a style of living in 1850s’ New York.

Amity Dertouzos for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. Dertouzos and crew must have put in a back-breaking amount of work on costumes ranging from witches’ weeds to lions’ manes to the sundry citizens of Oz, and all were evocative.

Dolly Nichols for the Golden Apple’s No, No, Nanette. All those bright, cheery pastels and glittering flapper fittings transported us to a better-than-real version of the Roaring ’20s.

The award goes to: Dertouzos for Venice Little Theatre’s Wizard, which brought so many unlikely creatures to life.

Best Set Design

The nominees are:

Steven Rubin for the Asolo’s You Never Can Tell. Rubin’s clean, clear lines and no-fuss backdrops kept the emphasis on Shaw’s words and ideas while giving us something pleasant to look at.

Rubin again for the Asolo’s Filumena. The graceful home of a successful Neapolitan aristocrat looked and felt inhabited and Italian.

Tim O’Donnell and Carrie Riley-O’Donnell for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. Both imaginative and efficient, from Dorothy’s Kansas home to the Emerald City and points in between.

Michael Newton-Brown for the Golden Apple’s No, No, Nanette. Set in a stained glass frame, Newton-Brown’s set formed a pretty picture for flappers and their boyfriends to frolic in, especially at that Atlantic City beach cottage.

Karle H. Murdock for the Manatee Players’ Camelot. Murdock wove magic with her illustration-like forest designs, suitable for both trysts and treachery.

The award goes to: Rubin for the Asolo’s Filumena. We’re ready to move in tomorrow.

Best Lighting

The nominees are:

Tim O’Donnell for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. From a Kansas storm to the witch’s castle to the wizard’s inner sanctum, O’Donnell’s lighting shifted scenes and moods admirably.

Jeffrey E. Salzberg for the Theatre Works/Banyan Theatre production of Sea Marks. Low-key but effective in establishing the place (a remote Irish island, a Liverpool apartment) and the ambience (soft and poignant).

Andrew J. White for the Manatee Players’ Camelot. White’s work helped transform the stage into that medieval fairyland with color combinations that felt otherworldly.

The award goes to: O’Donnell for Venice Little Theatre’s Wizard. A rainbow spectrum, indeed.

Best Choreography

The nominees are:

Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. Rollicking and captivating on Get Me To the Church on Time and With a Little Bit of Luck, Trisolini’s work lent the show much of its pizzazz.

DeWayne Barrett for the Golden Apple’s Damn Yankees. Barrett borrowed from the original Fosse legacy, but he gave both the show’s more athletic numbers and the fun mambo routine his own touch, too.

Charlene Clark for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate. Sultry and suggestive on numbers like Too Darn Hot and Always True to You, she got things off to a great start with Another Op’ning, Another Show.

Clark again for the Golden Apple’s No, No, Nanette. Clark not only fashioned some high-steppin’ ’20s-era numbers for Nanette’s ensemble, she slipped smoothly into performing them herself when the star of the show broke an ankle.

Jim Hoskins for the Asolo’s Syncopation. Hoskins’ choices had to be subtle to depict the growth in dance skills and the relationship between the two characters here, and he hit his mark.

The award goes to: the Players’ Trisolini for My Fair Lady. Merrie Olde England rocked.

Best Music Direction

The nominees are:

Bob Constantino for the Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. All the Lerner and Loewe classics were in good hands here.

Rick Bogner for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. Bogner gets kudos for keeping the Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg classics alive without the benefit of an MGM orchestra.

John Visser for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate. Along with director Will MacKenzie, Visser led the way in making this Kate energetic and fresh.

Visser again for the Golden Apple’s Damn Yankees. Songs both sentimental and rousing received understanding treatment from Visser and his musicians.

Amanda Leigh Wietrzykowski for the Players of Sarasota production of Little Shop of Horrors. Wietrzykowski’s pop sound was just right for this small-scale, offbeat musical.

The award goes to: A close call, but we hand it to Visser for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate.

Best Direction

The nominees are:

Will Mackenzie for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate. Mackenzie brought so much snap and sizzle to the production you forgot how many times you’d seen it before.

Allan Kollar for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. It had to be a major headache just organizing all those Munchkins, Winkies and Flying Monkeys, but Kollar not only pulled it off, he kept the whole show the delight we all remembered from childhood.

David Newer for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Blue Room. Both the subject matter and the attitude of this adaptation of Schnitzler’s La Ronde were a challenge for the Conservatory’s students, but under Newer’s sure-handed guidance it was successful adult fare.

Howard J. Millman for the Asolo’s Inherit the Wind. Millman skillfully mined both the amusing and the highly dramatic moments of the Jerome Lawrence-Robert E. Lee classic to good effect.

Tessie Hogan and V. Craig Heidenreich for the Theatre Works/Banyan Theater production of Sea Marks. The duo worked as well together offstage as on in establishing the right mood and tempo for this gentle romance.

The award goes to: Hogan and Heidenreich for Theatre Works/Banyan Theater’s Sea Marks. Every choice was well thought out and paid off handsomely.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are:

Alexandra M. Carstarphen for the Players of Sarasota production of Guys and Dolls. Carstarphen was just right as the adenoidal Miss Adelaide, comically torn between adoring and abusing her unreliable Nathan.

Esther Martin for the Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. Martin gave Mrs. Higgins just the right dash of spice along with her ladylike behavior.

Donna Gerdes for the Players of Sarasota production of The Threepenny Opera. In a large cast, Gerdes stood out as the malevolent Mrs. Peachum, willing to do anything to reach her goals.

Monica Mason for Theatre Works’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Sure, Blanche and Stanley get most of the fireworks here, but Mason was the most convincing performer onstage throughout this classic play, giving Stella both understanding and sensuality.

Catherine Randazzo for the Golden Apple’s No, No, Nanette. Randazzo showed lots of 1920s-style flair as a recreational shopper who discovers her husband may be doing some extracurricular shopping of his own.

The award goes to: Carstarphen for the Players’ Guys and Dolls. Hope she’s over that cold by now.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

Patrick Egan for the Asolo’s You Never Can Tell. The most entertaining moments of this Shaw comedy came whenever Egan was onstage as a most sage and obliging waiter.

Bryan Barter for the Asolo’s The Corn Is Green. As a coal-miner-turned-student, Barter successfully made the transition and had us rooting for him.

Clifford J. Cespedes for the Players of Sarasota production of Guys and Dolls. Cespedes, a police officer offstage, sure knew how to convince as lowlife gambler Nathan Detroit. Looks like it’s worth an investigation to me.

Steve Dawson for Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. It was hard to pull Dawson out from his buddies the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, who also made an impression. But Dawson’s physical grace as the floppy Scarecrow gave him the nod.

Peter Barcia for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Denial. Barcia’s performance in a small but pivotal role as a Holocaust survivor created a lasting impression and took the show’s second act to its emotional high point.

The award goes to: Venice Little Theatre’s Barcia, for Denial. He only had one scene, but the play would have lost its impact without him.

Best Actress, Musical

The nominees are:

Dianne Dawson for the Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. Her Eliza was spunky, vibrant and, ultimately, a winner. Then Dawson turned around and pulled off playing Dorothy in Venice Little Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz, making it a tough decision on which role should receive this nomination.

Corinne Woodland in the Manatee Players’ Peter Pan. Woodland was perfectly cast as the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and she executed with energy, charm and believability.

Angela Bond for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate. Bond was a strong force as Lilli/Kate without letting the fireworks overshadow her tender moments.

Forrest Richards for the Venice Golden Apple’s I Do, I Do. From young bride to patient helpmeet to outraged wife, Richards was a charmer.

Ellie St. Amand for the Players of Sarasota production of Little Shop of Horrors. St. Amand’s Audrey had the right mix of funny bimbo ditziness and touching vulnerability, and she sang up a storm, too.

The award goes to: Oh, boy, this was a hard one-a tribute to the wealth of feminine musical talent in the area. St. Amand wins the nod chiefly because her Audrey had such heart.

Best Actor, Musical

The nominees are:

Mark Shoemaker for the Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. It’s always a challenge to fill those shoes so famously worn by Rex Harrison, but Shoemaker’s narcissistic Henry Higgins was delightfully exasperating on his own terms.

Craig Weiskerger for the Players of Sarasota production of Little Shop of Horrors. Weiskerger was right on the mark as the nerd-turned-hero, Seymour, eliciting both lots of laughs and a sympathetic pang or two as well.

Gary Marachek for the Golden Apple’s Damn Yankees. If you can’t have a damned good time playing the Devil, when can you? Marachek certainly looked to be enjoying himself both scheming and storming as the fiendish Mr. Applegate.

David Engel for the Golden Apple’s Kiss Me, Kate. Engel was appropriately flamboyant but never over the top in expressing the swagger and ego of Fred/Petruchio.

Larry Alexander for the Venice Golden Apple’s I Do, I Do. Alexander kept us involved as his character matured, with lots of amusement and emotion along the way.

The award goes to: Weiskerger, another sentimental favorite because you just couldn’t help feeling sorry for Seymour.

Best Actress, Straight Play

The nominees are:

Geraldine Librandi for the Asolo’s Filumena. From first scene to last, Librandi was firmly in control as a scheming ex-prostitute with a mother’s heart and hopes.

Debra Funkhouser for Florida Studio Theatre’s Proof. As a troubled young woman facing her own genius, madness or both, Funkhouser touched our hearts and our minds.

Heather Gulling for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II version of Proof. (OK, it’s a strong role and a popular production just now.) Gulling was tough on the outside, tender on the inside, and went back and forth between the two with skill.

Tessie Hogan for the Theatre Works/Banyan Theater Company’s The Lion in Winter. Hogan was really too young for the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but so adept at conveying her character’s cleverness, ambition and sense of loss it didn’t matter.

Pamela Bob for the Asolo’s Syncopation. Bob’s shy, duty-bound Italian-American daughter had a long journey to travel to reach her dreams, and she brought us with her every step of the way.

The award goes to: Librandi for the Asolo’s Filumena. In a strong female role to die for, she carried the day.

Best Actor, Straight Play

The nominees are:

Bradford Wallace for the Asolo’s Inherit the Wind. As lawyer Clarence Darrow, Wallace made his case with perfect timing, both comedic and dramatic.

Michael De Santis for the Asolo’s Brighton Beach Memoirs. De Santis was the youthful Eugene Jerome, obsessed by baseball, sex and his family’s ever-changing circumstances.

Ben Lipitz for Florida Studio’s Dirty Blonde. As a Mae West fan with a secret, Lipitz was vulnerable and real-the schlub next door.

V. Craig Heidenreich for Theatre Works/Banyan Theater’s Sea Marks. Heidenreich movingly brought to life a character that could have seemed unbelievable for most of us-a lonely Irish fisherman falling in love for the first time at long distance.

Kraig Swartz for the Asolo’s Syncopation. Swartz kept his ambitious, overeager would-be dancer from ever losing likeability. And those dance moves weren’t bad, either.

The award goes to: Heidenreich for Sea Marks. A performance of delicate shadings and great appeal.

Best Straight Play

The nominees are:

The Asolo’s Inherit the Wind. There was nothing old-fashioned or out-of-date in this smart, moving production of the classic about the right to free thought.

The Asolo’s Filumena. Both the comedy and the pathos of this story about a Neapolitan ex-prostitute’s plans for her family were expertly handled.

Florida Studio Theatre’s Proof. All the elements added up correctly for this production of David Auburn’s prize winner.

The Asolo’s Syncopation. Stellar performances highlighted this small-scale but successful piece about a pair of would-be ballroom dancers.

Theatre Works and the Banyan Theater Company for Sea Marks. Gardner McKay’s poetic romance bringing together two lonely people was moving, memorable and full of atmosphere.

The award goes to: Sea Marks, partly because it was new, it was different, and it was beautiful.

Best Musical

The nominees are:

The Players of Sarasota production of My Fair Lady. Lots of bounce, sparkle and wit. By George, I think they’ve got it.

Venice Little Theatre for The Wizard of Oz. The journey along the Yellow Brick Road never gets old when it’s done with a fine cast, good special effects and brains, heart and courage.

The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre for Damn Yankees. The classic about a devoted baseball fans who sells his soul to the devil was engaging, fun and-what can we say?-spirited.

The Golden Apple again for Kiss Me, Kate. That tired old battle-of-the-sexes stuff was revitalized thanks to strong performances and direction.

The Players of Sarasota production of Little Shop of Horrors. Extremely well-cast leads and the right spirit of goofy fun made this one, well, out of this world.

The award foes to: Another very tough choice, but in the end My Fair Lady left us with that loverly feeling.

And here are a few awards that didn’t quite fit into the usual categories:

The "We Can Do It All" Award: To the cast of Florida Studio Theatre’s cabaret production of Guitar Girls, who not only sang but played a variety of instruments from fiddle to guitar to keyboards.

The "Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery" Award: To Tom Hudson, Rodd Dyer and Robert Williams, who channeled the essence of Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx in Venice Little Theatre’s Animal Crackers.

The "You Mean That Was the Same Guy?" Award: To Will Stutts, who had us convinced he was feeble and aging as Frank Lloyd Wright in the first of his one-man shows at the Asolo, then turned around the next night to stun us as energetic civil rights figure Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr.

The "You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby" Award: To the fledgling Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, which stretched itself from musical revues like Eubie to the seminal drama A Raisin in the Sun in its first full season on the stage of Theatre Works.

The "Acting is Child’s Play" Award: To Ally Tufenkjian, a fourth-grader who tackled the demanding role of Helen Keller in VLT’s The Miracle Worker. Makes those of us past elementary school feel like slackers.

The "You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet" Award: to the Banyan Theater Company, which started off with two small-scale shows in the summer of 2002 and really took off this season, giving us hope that there is an audience for serious dramatic work here, any time of the year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for next year.