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"Another op’ning, another show".Cole Porter’s famous song launching Kiss Me, Kate is one of those showbiz anthems so often referred to I hate to borrow it again. But as I contemplate the 50-plus productions of the season past that I’ve seen, I can’t get the tune out of my head. Offering everything from crowd-pleasing musical […]


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"Another op’ning, another show".Cole Porter’s famous song launching Kiss Me, Kate is one of those showbiz anthems so often referred to I hate to borrow it again. But as I contemplate the 50-plus productions of the season past that I’ve seen, I can’t get the tune out of my head.

Offering everything from crowd-pleasing musical standards in the style of Kate (which actually was not seen on local stages this year) to modern classics, riffs on Shakespeare, Neil Simon (of course) and even a few edgier, small-scale contemporary pieces, local theaters open their doors pretty much every night (except Monday!) to an appreciative mix of audiences. As with other aspects of Sarasota life, less and less is there any real "end" to the season anymore; things may slow down during the hotter months, but only a bit. That once quiet time now provides an opportunity for light fare (often utilizing the talents of college students home for the summer), new play reading series, and, of course, the summer-only productions of the Banyan Theater Company.

Welcome additions recently: Florida Studio Theatre’s new Stage III at the Gompertz, presenting such hard-hitting, provocative works as Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and the real-life drama The Exonerated; and the increasingly frequent collaborations of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe with other area theaters in addition to their own subscription season. The result is more work for our African-American actors and more chances for audiences to see African-American dramatic literature.

It’s always a challenge to pick "the best" of such a productive theater season, but that difficulty may be a testament of sorts to the talent on display. Shows considered for this story ran from summer of 2004 to May 2005. Not included are the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s One Mo’ Time, the Golden Apple’s Footloose or any summer ’05 shows (because of our deadlines), or any of the Van Wezel’s touring Broadway shows (although the hall’s triumphant, first-ever Sarasota production of Les Misérables was definitely a thrilling season ender). Bravo, and on with the show.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

Pamela Scofield for the Asolo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Punk fairies, hippie throwbacks, a motley crew of "rude mechanicals" in construction workers’ garb-it may sound like a mishmash, but it worked wonderfully to make the play feel fresh and alive again.

Scofield again for the Asolo’s Sherlock Holmes & the West End Horror. The costumes here not only had to summon up a wide range of characters from 1890s London, they had to allow quick changes as actors switched roles and even genders with lightning speed.

Tim Beltley for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Cats. From feminine and pretty to sad and shabby to macho and slinky, Beltley’s costumes defined T.S. Eliot’s very individual animals.

Marcella Beckwith for Florida Studio Theatre’s Metamorphoses. Beckwith’s blend of contemporary and classical attire helped to render Ovid’s myths timeless.

Cassandra Mockosher for the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s The Wiz. Mockosher paid homage to the traditional Wizard of Oz but added a little urban flair for Dorothy and her road-trip buddies.

And the award goes to: Pamela Scofield for A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a close call over Cats, as result of the former’s eye-popping originality.

Best Set Design

The nominees are:

Michael Newton-Brown for the Golden Apple’s Cats. Who’da thunk the venerable Golden Apple could become such a convincing junkyard home to a bunch of streetwise cats, complete with oversized cars, shoes and ladders for them to play on?

Jeffrey W. Dean for the Asolo’s The Smell of the Kill. Dean took us into the kitchen of a modern suburban home with such accurate detail you could smell the disinfectant and feel the marriages fraying.

Steven Rubin for the Banyan Theater Company’s Uncle Vanya. Rubin’s design was simple but suggestive, bringing together the indoor and outdoor spaces of a Russian country estate with the right accouterments and somehow conveying the proper stifling atmosphere.

Norlan R. Jacobs for the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Jacobs’ playground fences, fire escape balconies and neighborhood drugstore provided a believable backdrop for street gangs and doomed lovers.

Roman Tatarowicz for Florida Studio Theatre’s Runaway Beauty Queen. Tatarowicz’s spinning, starry set was an out-of-this-world backdrop for a story that often took flights of fancy.

And the award goes to: Michael Newton-Brown for Cats‘ utter transformation of the dinner theater’s space.

Best Lighting Design

The nominees are:

James D. Sale for the Asolo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sale’s work provided additional flashes of magic to carry us into an eclectic, eccentric vision of Athens.

Michael Newton-Brown and Ben Turoff for the Golden Apple’s Cats. Again, transformation is the word here, as the lighting design traveled around the theater with those peripatetic pussycats.

Marty Petlock for the Banyan’s Uncle Vanya. Subdued and subtle, Petlock’s lighting was just right to evoke a mood of regret and loss.

And the award goes to: Michael Newton-Brown and Ben Turoff for Cats.

Best Choreography

The nominees are:

Alexanda M. Carstarphen for the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Carstarphen creatively borrowed from the original Jerome Robbins choreography to make the show exciting and accessible.

Rick Kerby for another take on West Side Story, at the Manatee Players. Again, Robbins’ influence is inescapable, but Kerby found his own way to enhance the ethnic action.

Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of Zorba. Trisolini did his research to create convincing Greek dances that advanced the story and established the setting.

Charlene Clark for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Chicago. Sure, it helps to channel Bob Fosse for his trademark sexy moves, but Clark always leaves her own stamp on those sizzling numbers as well.

Karen Babcock for the Golden Apple’s Cats. Talk about a show that would be lost without its choreography. Luckily the Golden Apple was smart enough to hire Babcock, who had lots of Cats experience, to facilitate the felines’ athletic prowess.

And the award goes to: Karen Babcock for Cats. What she got her performers to do on the Golden Apple’s less-than-Broadway-sized stage was nothing short of purr-fect.

Best Music Direction

The nominees are:

John Visser for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Cats. Visser and his musicians created excitement from the opening bars and maintained it steadily throughout.

Visser again for the Golden Apple’s Chicago. Here Visser and his handful of musicians managed to sound like a much bigger force-sharp and full of personality to boot.

Michael Sebastian for Florida Studio Theatre’s It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues. Sebastian and his musicians led the show’s talented vocalists through a history of the blues in a vibrant, vital way.

Dr. Susan Bailey Robinson for the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. She was blessed with outstanding voices in the lead roles, but Robinson deserves a lot of the credit for making this production soar.

David Nelson for Venice Little Theatre’s I Do, I Do. Proving that you don’t need a big band-or a big cast-to create musical magic, Nelson and his two stars meshed beautifully together.

And the award goes to: John Visser for truly scoring the Cats‘ meow.

Best Direction

The nominees are:

Paul Weidner for the Asolo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So often "concept" productions of Shakespeare falter, but Weidner was firmly in control of this one, with a new delight awaiting around every tree in the forest.

Norlan Jacobs for the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Jacobs demonstrated staging skill, the ability to move a story along efficiently and a confidence in his large cast that paid off powerfully.

Joseph Cole Simmons for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Extremities. Simmons kept the intensity alive for every moment of this emotional game of ping-pong involving a would-be rapist, his victim and her ambivalent roommates.

Kate Alexander for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III show The Exonerated. The staging was simple, the approach direct, the tension palpable.

Gil Lazier for the Banyan Theater Company’s Uncle Vanya. Lazier demonstrated a clear understanding of both the melancholy and the humor of Chekhov; let’s have more!

And the award goes to: Paul Weidner, for so successfully re-invigorating A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are:

Kim Kollar in Venice Little Theatre’s Nunsense. Kollar’s portrayal of nutty Sister Mary Amnesia was a highlight of a well-cast show.

Betty Lloyd Robinson in the Players of Sarasota production of Zorba. As an aging coquette looking for a last chance at love, Robinson scored both laughs and sympathy.

Donna Gerdes for the Asolo’s The Front Page. Gerdes’ role as a conventional mother of the bride dragged into the madness of a newsroom was brief but memorable.

Anne Marie Nestor for the Golden Apple’s Wonderful Town. Nestor somehow made the role of ingénue Eileen, who’s always innocently attracting men-and a related host of problems-believable and not cloying.

Kellie Cordes in the Manatee Players’ West Side Story. Cordes demonstrated spirit, sensuality and confidence as Anita.

And the award goes to: Betty Lloyd Robinson for the Players’ Zorba. The showy role of Hortense is one an actress has to grab and run with, and Robinson lifted up her skirts and did just that.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

David S. Howard for the Asolo’s Broadway Bound. As aging leftist Grandpa Ben, Howard was a reliable source of acutely timed comic delivery.

Michael DeSantis for the Manatee Players’ Romeo and Juliet. In the role of Mercutio, young DeSantis handled Shakespeare, swordplay and his swan song with aplomb.

Drew Foster for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Foster tackled the highly charged role of a young man suddenly confronted by his parents’ marital problems like an old pro.

John Sterling Arnold for the Asolo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As self-important, befuddled Bottom, Arnold garnered steady laughter even before he put the ass head on-Southern accent and all.

Michael Bajjaly for the Golden Apple’s Chicago. Bajjaly was note-perfect as sad-sack hubby Amos, aka Mr. Cellophane.

And the award goes to: John Sterling Arnold for Dream, for providing a fresh new look at an old favorite.

Best Actress, Musical

The nominees are:

Grace Gibbs in the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Gibbs had impressed before with her vocal abilities, but she demonstrated new depths as Maria, who goes from timid girl to strong woman overnight.

Karen Faxon and Heather Lea Spatz for the Manatee Players’ Side Show. As impossible to separate these two performances as the real-life Siamese twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton, they portrayed. Both were touching and credible.

Jillian Godfrey for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Chicago. Godfrey turned on the charm as killer and wannabe star Roxie Hart, and she was a force to be reckoned with.

Eve Caballero in The Players’ Gypsy. Sure, Caballero had the guts, the singing chops and the oomph, but she also let us see Mama Rose’s charm and persuasiveness.

Kyle Ennis Turoff for the Golden Apple’s Wonderful Town. Wonderfully deadpan at times as would-be writer Ruth observing the world around her, Turoff can also conga with the best of them.

And the award goes to: Jillian Godfrey for her star turn as needy, greedy Roxie in Chicago.

Best Actor, Musical

The nominees are:

Rolfe Winkler for the Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Of course Winkler had the voice to move us on über-romantic songs like Maria and Somewhere, but he also conveyed the youth, energy and need of a boy torn between new love and old loyalties.

Steve Dawson for Venice Little Theatre’s I Do, I Do. Dawson was a master of comic timing and deflatable pomposity as the writer-husband in this two-hander.

Clifford J. Cespedes for the Players of Sarasota production of Gypsy. As put-upon, always likeable Herbie, Cespedes was a natural.

Larry Golden for Venice Little Theatre’s Fiddler on the Roof. The role of Tevye always draws top talent, and Golden came out of "semiretirement" to touch us with his appealing performance as the much-loved milkman.

T.N. Yowarski for the Players of Sarasota production of Zorba. Speaking of Tevye.Yowarski played him a few years ago, and I’m happy to report that he managed to make another larger-than-life character, the Greek Zorba, satisfyingly different from his Russian counterpart.

And the award goes to: Rolfe Winkler, a terrific Tony in West Side Story.

Best Actress, Play

The nominees are:

Carolyn Michel in the Asolo’s Broadway Bound. Michel skillfully mined both comedy and pathos in her portrayal of mother, sister and wife Kate Jerome.

MaryBeth Antoinette in Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Extremities. As an attempted rape victim turned vengeful but still vulnerable, Antoinette had to run the gamut of emotions with split-second control, and she was absolutely convincing.

Kate Alexander in Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? How would you react if your husband fell in love with a goat? Alexander did all you’d expect, in spades.

Geraldine Librandi in the Banyan Theater Company’s Vincent in Brixton. Librandi was outstanding as an older woman whose relationship with young artist Vincent van Gogh turns her world upside down.

Wendy Bagger in the Banyan’s Uncle Vanya. Bagger’s work as perpetual caregiver Sonya, doomed to lose in love, was poignant and plausible.a

And the award goes to: MaryBeth Antoinette for her work in Extremities-bruising but rewarding.

Best Actor, Play

The nominees are:

Stephen Hope for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Exonerated. As Kerry, a young man whose life became a prison nightmare after he was accused of murder and labeled a homosexual, Hope came across as someone any of us might have known-or been.

Allan Kollar for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Extremities. Like his female co-star, Kollar had to make convincing his character’s rapid transitions, from likeable to brutal to pitiable; he succeeded memorably.

David S. Howard in the Asolo’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Sure, it was sentimental, but the welcome touches of humor provided by the script and Howard’s ability to make Morrie three-dimensional kept it from becoming mawkish.

Douglas Jones in the Banyan Theater Company’s Uncle Vanya. Jones is a longtime Asolo regular, but this role at the Banyan gave him the chance to stretch his talents, and he was heartbreaking as the lovelorn, despairing Vanya.

Ken Ferrigni in the Banyan’s Vincent in Brixton. Ferrigni, a recent FSU/Asolo Conservatory grad, was almost eerily on target as young Dutchman van Gogh, in moments both comic and wrenching.

And the award goes to: Douglas Jones for Vanya, some of his best work yet.

Best Play

The nominees are:

The Asolo’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A colorful, high-energy production of the classic.

Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Exonerated. Gripping in its simplicity, this well-staged adaptation of true stories of innocent people on Death Row had many in the audience transfixed.

The Banyan Theater Company’s Vincent in Brixton. Strong performances and an intriguing premise-artist Vincent van Gogh falls in love while a young man in London-made this one compelling.

FST’s Stage III’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Sharply focused and nuanced, with a stunner of an ending.

The Banyan’s Uncle Vanya. Chekhov done with understanding and great sympathy, in a well-cast production that touched the heart.

And the award goes to: Florida Studio Theatre’s The Exonerated. Truth is stranger than fiction, and more powerful, too.

Best Musical

The nominees are:

The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Cats. I still prefer a musical with more of a storyline myself, but there was nothing to fault about the Golden Apple’s production of this Andrew Lloyd Webber-T.S. Eliot megahit.

The Players of Sarasota production of West Side Story. Both the Manatee Players version of the updated Romeo and Juliet story and the Players of Sarasota one were compelling, but the latter had the edge.

The Golden Apple’s Chicago. The Kander-Ebb-Fosse show about media-savvy murderesses still had all the old razzle-dazzle and a strong visceral impact, with a cast that could handle the dance moves with zest.

The Golden Apple’s Wonderful Town. A slice of New York nostalgia served up with style and affection.

Venice Little Theatre’s I Do, I Do. Not flashy, not larger than life, just a funny-sad, believable look at longtime marriage.

And the award goes to: the Golden Apple’s Cats, for sheer spectacle and impressive achievement.

A few special awards:

Most Intriguing Autobiography: To Rhonda Coullet and Florida Studio Theatre for the world premiere Runaway Beauty Queen. Coullet not only wrote the songs and the words, she lived them.

Best Mother-Daughter Team: To Eve and Cassie Caballero as Mama Rose and daughter Louise in the Players of Sarasota show Gypsy. Talent does run in the family.

Biggest Challenge for a Community Theater: To director Ricky Kerby for the Manatee Players’ Side Show. The subject matter-Siamese twins, a freak show-would automatically turn some people off, and the play’s demands were anything but easy. But Kerby handled it all with superior staging skills and insight.