Critic’s Choice

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There’s no rest for the wicked—or, thankfully, for those of us in Sarasota who love theater. The 2006-2007 theater season was the most jam-packed yet, with close to 60 productions on our main stages, and just weeks after it finished, several theater groups began staging summer productions. Before we settle into our seats for the […]


There’s no rest for the wicked—or, thankfully, for those of us in Sarasota who love theater. The 2006-2007 theater season was the most jam-packed yet, with close to 60 productions on our main stages, and just weeks after it finished, several theater groups began staging summer productions. Before we settle into our seats for the year ahead, let’s take a moment to look back on a season that had lots of highlights—and a few lowlights as well.
 
The renamed Asolo Repertory Theatre welcomed the first full season under its new artistic director, Michael Edwards, and response was, for the most part, terrific. The Manatee Players continued its tradition of scoring wins in regional theater competitions; The Backlot embraced even more local theater groups, giving many small and innovative troupes a home; and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe moved “uptown” to the newly restored Historic Asolo Theater. The Players of Sarasota, on the other hand, lost an artistic director under controversial circumstances; it will be interesting to see what new directions that theater might take in the season ahead.

One of the most exciting things about this season was the growth of small and innovative productions, and while they’re not included for consideration in this awards story, I applaud the energy and real talent that lit up some of those shows. Our awards story also doesn’t include cabaret or revue shows, nor does it include touring productions at the Van Wezel. But it does encompass 50 shows at theaters from Manatee to Venice in the time period ranging from June 2006 to May 2007. Here are the winners from that impressive group.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:
Katherine Roth for the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice. The ladies were lovely and the men alternately dashing and dour in appropriate Regency-era fashions.
Nicholas Hartman for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. A host of fairytale characters, including a big bad wolf, a witch, ordinary folk and royalty, came to life in part because of Hartman’s abilities to visualize Sondheim’s world.
Bill Fenner for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Dreamgirls. Outfitting a large cast in a show that traveled through several eras, Fenner made the transitions from small-time beginnings to big-time glitz with flair.
Kaylene McCaw for the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. Who knew there were so many ways to wear basic black? McCaw’s diverse choices told something significant about every character and his or her place in the story of director Guido.
Cassandra Mockosher for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. Mockosher designed eye-pleasing peasant costumes for this Caribbean tale that suited the wide range of individual physiques and personalities but also made a larger statement when seen as an ensemble.
And the award goes to: Cassandra Mockosher for WBTT’s visually stimulating Once On This Island.

Best Set Design

The nominees are:
Aleksandra Maslik for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. Maslik’s work was beautifully functional and integral to telling this complicated story with a minimum of fuss.
Marjorie Bradley Kellogg for the Asolo Rep’s Men of Tortuga. Kellogg’s stern, cold, rather futuristic set truly brought us into the halls of malevolent power.
Michael Newton-Brown for the Players of Sarasota production of The Robber Bridegroom. Newton-Brown’s mix of barrels, boards, platforms and stacks of hay not only looked appropriately rustic, but worked to create a journey as the cast moved into the more magical setting of the Mississippi woods.
Jeff Dean for the Asolo Rep’s Darwin in Malibu. Oh, to live in a beach house like the one Dean designed here, with its comfortable deck, wooden beams, and blue-skied, palm-treed background. You hardly needed the sound effects of the waves or the gulls to feel you were at the shore.
Donna and Mark Buckalter for the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. Italianate columns and different levels of steps and platforms worked to take the large cast through a variety of settings and time periods while always keeping us firmly in Fellini land.
And the award goes to: Marjorie Bradley Kellogg for the Asolo Rep’s Men of Tortuga.

Best Lighting
The nominees are:
James D. Sale for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s no disrespect to the overall production to say that sometimes the lovely lighting was the best part of the show…it certainly kept your eyes glued to the stage.
Neal Kerr for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. Gloomy, grotesque Victorian London was perfectly served up by Kerr’s subdued, moody choices.
Michael Pasquini for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. The lighting was crucial to show the shifting weather, environmental and emotional, and Pasquini’s designs did just that.
And the award goes to: James D. Sale for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice.

Best Choreography

The nominees are:
Dewayne Barrett for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s The Full Monty. From strip club routines to ballroom dancing to basketball-inspired moves, Barrett’s choreography was fun, energetic and believable.
Jim Hoskins for the Golden Apple’s Thoroughly Modern Millie. Hoskins knows his way around the complex tap numbers and 1920s-style dances this show demands, and he delivered the goods.
Leymis Bolanos Wilmott for the Players of Sarasota production of Miss Saigon. Wilmott offered up Asian flavor in traditional dances, crossed with sleazy, B-girl moves.
Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. Trisolini’s choreography was lively, revealing of characters’ relationships and in keeping with the Fellini spirit.
Reggie Kelly for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. Movement was almost constant in this show, and Kelly’s organic choices worked to enhance characters and setting as well as advancing the storyline.
And the award goes to: Reggie Kelly for WBTT’s Once On This Island—a spirited delight.

Best Music Direction

The nominees are:
Joyce Valentine for the Players of Sarasota production of Miss Saigon. Valentine led a large and diverse cast through the operatic demands of the score with skill and strength.
Joyce Valentine again, for the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. In a show whose score was probably unfamiliar to most, Valentine and her orchestra made it look easy.
Rick Bogner for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. Bogner’s work was a big reason this production succeeded as well as it did.
Michelle Kasanofsky for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. Another case of understanding and appreciating a Sondheim score to the fullest.
Michael Sebastian for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. Sebastian kept the Caribbean beat coming on strong throughout this energetic show.
And the award goes to: A close one here—I’ll go with Rick Bogner for Manatee’s Sweeney Todd.

Best Direction
The nominees are:
Victoria Holloway for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Holloway set just the right tone for this black comedy, ratcheting up the tension to explosive levels.
Larry Alexander for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. Given the confines of the Stage II space, Alexander’s adaptive creativity was nothing short of marvelous.
Rick Kerby for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. This Sweeney Todd was a triumph for the community theater, and a great deal of the credit rests on Kerby’s shoulders for his insight and interpretation.
Dmitry Troyanovsky for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Bacchae. Troyanovsky served up a unique, contemporary vision for this classic of the Greek theater, cleverly packaged and conceived.
Reggie Kelly for Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. From beginning to end, not a wasted move or emotion; you were just swept up in the story, the colors, the flow and the characters.
And the award goes to: Another hard one to call, but my choice is Rick Kerby for Manatee’s Sweeney Todd.

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees are:
Sharon Spelman for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. Spelman’s turn as the aggrieved, aggravating Mrs. Bennet elicited gales of laughter virtually whenever she appeared onstage.
Cara Herman in the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. Herman pulled out all the stops as a lusty woman of easy virtue; her rendition of Be Italian was a show highlight.
Amber Suleskey for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. Suleskey successfully swapped genders to play Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, and darned if she wasn’t as terrific as a boy as she has been in previous performances as a girl.
Deniz Hakim for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. Hakim was right on the money as the impossible-to-intimidate Little Red Riding Hood. Look out, wolf.
Kim Gardner-Kollar for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. As the Baker’s Wife, Gardner-Kollar successfully conveyed the shifting emotions of longing, lust and sacrifice in ways both funny and sad.
And the award goes to: Sharon Spelman for Pride and Prejudice, proving her comedy skills once more in what may be (we hope not) her last performance on the Asolo Rep stage.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:
Doug Jones for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. Jones was perfect for the role of the long-suffering, dry-witted Mr. Bennet, amply displaying his gift for comic timing.
David Breitbarth for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice. Another winning performance in this show—Breitbarth was suitably unctuous and awful as unwelcome suitor Mr. Collins.
Jerry Gwiazdowski for FST’s Stage III production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. As the unwitting catalyst for a full-scale bloodbath, Gwiazdowski was pathetic in the most amusing way. David Vining for FST’s Stage III production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Vining played the intimidated father of a homicidal lunatic with a believable blend of exasperation and sheer terror.
Rolfe Winkler for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. As the street waif, Tobias, Winkler provided the right touches of pathos and humanity in a tale loaded with villainy.
And the award goes to: David Breitbarth for the Asolo Rep’s Pride and Prejudice—insufferably funny.

Best Actress, Musical

The nominees are:
Tina Fabrique for the Asolo Rep’s Ella. Note for note, Fabrique brought authenticity and verve to her portrayal of First Lady of Song Ella Fitzgerald.
Jazmine Giovanni for the Players of Sarasota production of Miss Saigon. As the tragic Kim, Giovanni was alternately strong and delicate, always moving.
Eve Caballero for Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. Capable of conveying both the Witch’s lighter, throwaway moments and her darker, more sinister ones, Caballero often stole the spotlight in this ensemble show.
Teresa Stanley for the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Dreamgirls. Now getting her chance at Broadway in The Color Purple, Stanley got her start right here in Sarasota, and her dynamic performance as the headstrong, betrayed Effie showed she has lots of the right stuff.
Dianne Dawson for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. Dawson was a standout as the pie-baking Mrs. Lovett, a fright with a fondness for both a demoniacal barber and a street waif.
And the award goes to: Whew, this was a hard one, proving the talent we have in this category. In the end, I choose Dianne Dawson for Manatee’s Sweeney Todd.

Best Actor, Musical

The nominees are:
Larry Raben for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Big. Raben convincingly filled the shoes of the boy-man in this adaptation of the film starring Tom Hanks, making us root for him all the way.
Alex Yepremian for the Players of Sarasota production of Miss Saigon. Yepremian turned in a strong effort as GI Chris, torn up by his inability to save his Vietnamese love, Kim.
Steve Dawson for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. Dawson, a frequent face on local stages, continued to extend his range as the revenge-obsessed Sweeney, a doomed and desperate man.
Jeffery Kin in the Players of Sarasota production of Nine. As the beleaguered director Guido, Kin successfully held the reins of this large-cast show in his hands.
Chip Fisher for The Manatee Players’ Seussical. It was impossible to resist Fisher’s seemingly effortless charm as the Cat in the Hat, carrying us through this enchanting mixture of Dr. Seuss tales and characters.
And the award goes to: Steve Dawson for the Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. I still get chills.

Best Actress, Play

The nominees are:
Kate Alexander for Florida Studio Theatre’s Golda’s Balcony. In one of those bravura roles where a performance has to carry the show, Alexander convincingly achieved the transformation to become iconic figure Golda Meir.
Lisa Morgan for the Banyan Theater Company’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Morgan’s performance as the scandalous Mrs. Warren was appropriately hard-edged, good-natured, earthy and tender when required.
Barbara Redmond for the Banyan Theater Company’s The Retreat from Moscow. Redmond’s wrenching portrayal of an abandoned wife, stunned and bitter about the sudden change in her life, was at the heart of this smartly written play.
Julie Lachance for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Blue Window. Craig Lucas’s play demanded a sudden shift in gears from comedy to tragedy, especially in Lachance’s role as a woman struggling to recover from an unthinkable loss, and she nailed all the conflicting emotions.
Susan Greenhill for Florida Studio Theatre’s Fiction. As a smart, talented, happily married woman with personal and professional secrets, Greenhill was funny, warm and finely nuanced.
And the award goes to; Barbara Redmond for the Banyan’s The Retreat from Moscow—a riveting performance.

Best Actor, Play

The nominees are:
David S. Howard for the Asolo Rep’s Nobody Don’t Like Yogi. The perfect pairing of a real-life legend, baseball’s Yogi Berra, and actor Howard, who scored a grand slam in this funny, touching one-man show.
Juan Javier Cardenas for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s The Bacchae. All of the Conservatory cast deserves praise here for their skill at dealing with a contemporary concept of a Greek tragedy, but Cardenas as a charismatic, coolly calculating Dionysus was particularly memorable.
Colby Chambers for the Asolo Rep’s Amadeus. Chambers made us laugh at Mozart’s follies and feel for his losses in a performance that was uniquely his own, not borrowed from earlier well-known portrayals of the character.
Jeffrey Plunkett for Florida Studio Theatre’s Permanent Collection. In a role as a curator in the midst of controversy that became increasingly complex with every turn, Plunkett skillfully handled the curves.
Eric Miller for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. As a crazed killer trying to make his mark, Miller was frightening, intense and often hilarious.
And the award goes to: Sorry, guys, you were all great, but it was Howard’s turn at bat.

Best Play:

The nominees are:
The Asolo Rep’s Men of Tortuga. Bracingly sharp and satiric, this world premiere was funny, terrifying and timely in its depiction of greed and power run amok.
Florida Studio Theatre’s Permanent Collection. The FST cast caught all the subtle nuances in Thomas Gibbons’ play examining the sometimes surprising faces of racism in America today.
Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Bloody, yes, in its tale of a ruthless bunch of Irish would-be terrorists. Bloody funny, too. And thanks to FST for finally bringing prize-winning playwright Martin McDonagh’s work to town.
The Asolo Rep’s Nobody Don’t Like Yogi. Proving that you don’t need a cast of thousands to bring life to an era, Yogi was that rare breed—both a commercial hit and a critical darling. Let’s go nine more innings.
The FSU/Asolo Conservatory production of The Bacchae. Despite its ancient Greek roots, this rendering of the classic tale provided the shock of the new—in a mind-bending sort of way.
And the award goes to: It was tough to decide this one, but I’ll go with FST’s relentless The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

Best Musical

The nominees are:
The Players of Sarasota production of Miss Saigon. Yes, it was tough to fulfill the minority requirements here, but the cast was compelling in both the vocal and dramatic departments, and the show met its technical challenges, too.
The Players of Sarasota production of Nine. This adaptation of the Fellini classic 8 ½ was a brand-new experience for any local theater company, and a welcome one for the audience, with inspired singing, dancing and acting by the ensemble cast.
The Manatee Players’ Sweeney Todd. This dark, atmospheric production (which went on to win in the Southeastern Theatre Conference competition) was just about perfect, with a cast adept at both memorable characterization and the demands of the powerful Stephen Sondheim score.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s Once On This Island. A lively, colorful show that never stopped moving—and touched the heart as well.
Venice Little Theatre’s Stage II production of Into the Woods. What a treat—more Sondheim, excellently played by some of the theater community’s most talented practitioners.
The Golden Apple’s The Full Monty. Naughty, but also definitely nice, with a strong cast and an upbeat spirit.
And the award goes to: Really a tough call here—in the end, I had to go for a tie between Manatee’s Sweeney Todd and Stage II’s Into the Woods in a Sondheim vs. Sondheim faceoff.

A Few Special Awards
The “He’s There When You Need Him” Award: To the Asolo Rep’s Eberle Thomas for stepping in masterfully at the last moment when the untimely death of another actor made it necessary, especially for a crucial role in Men of Tortuga.
The “Best Family Entertainment” Award: To the Manatee Players’ engaging Seussical, for giving audiences of all ages a chance to relive Dr. Seuss memories and relate to the host of unique characters he created.
The “Up and Comer” Award: To Owen Teague, a lively and likeable presence in the Players of Sarasota production of Nine—without overdoing the cuteness factor. And to Alex Vercheski, playing a believable mix of kid and grown-up in not one but two productions of The Full Monty, at the Golden Apple and Venice Little Theatre.

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