Masterpiece Theater

By: Kay Kipling

I don’t know about you, but in a time of dark news about the economy and world issues, this past theater season offered me a refuge from reality more welcome than ever. Not everything on local stages was sweetness and light, although much of the programming did tend to be upbeat in nature and provided […]


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asset_upload_file408_27459.jpgI don’t know about you, but in a time of dark news about the economy and world issues, this past theater season offered me a refuge from reality more welcome than ever. Not everything on local stages was sweetness and light, although much of the programming did tend to be upbeat in nature and provided some song, dance and comic relief. But seeing works examining everything from deception (Perfect Mendacity) to redemption and fresh starts (The Winter’s Tale, The Spitfire Grill) to the change and growth that comes in longtime marriage (Boleros for the Disenchanted) reminded me that humankind has always had its challenges and has managed to rise above them with determination, love and a little help from one another.
 
I spent untold hours in darkened theaters this season while the world outside spun on around me. I emerged enlightened, entertained and, sometimes, exhausted. Here’s my list of the best of the 2008-09 year on local stages. Feel free to agree or disagree, but as the arts community, like everyone else, tries to march on in tough times, hear my plea: Keep buying those tickets and supporting your local performers, designers, directors and techies.
The time frame of the shows considered ranges from the summer of 2008 to late May 2009; not included are any cabaret shows, Van Wezel touring productions or shows opening after June 1, 2009.
 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The nominees are:
- Alejo Vietti for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. Vietti’s costumes needed to range from quiet, simple dignity (Chairy Barnum) to colorful circus performer regalia to appropriately elegant concert gowns for the lovely Miss Jenny Lind, and they did so beautifully.

 

- David Zinn and Jacob Climer for the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale. The costume choices were essential here in fulfilling the overall directorial concept—sophisticated grays, blacks and reds for the first half of the show, all psychedelia and flower power for much of the second. A visual feast.

 

- Eduardo Sicangco for the Asolo Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid. Just plain loony fun in the over-the-top cartoony outfits clearly designating certain role archetypes, from the wicked stepmother to the innocent ingénue to a young cockscomb of a suitor.

 

- Nicholas Hartman for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Hartman did yeoman’s work in clothing a large-scale ensemble cast, and he came up with some winners, especially for the campier numbers and more outrageous characters.

 

- Dee Richards for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s La Cage aux Folles. In attire ranging from pretty and youthful looking to suave to over-the-top, Richards dressed her cast with the right light-hearted attitude.
 
And the award goes to: Eduardo Sicangco for the Asolo Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid. Very clever and such fun to look at, adding a whole other layer to the show.
 

 
Best Set Design
The nominees are:
- Judy Gailen for the Asolo Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid. All odd angles and looming doors and walls, Gailen’s set perfectly matched the off-kilter world of Moliere’s characters and director Greg Leaming’s concept.
- Michael Schweikardt for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. It was welcome to the old-time Big Top in Schweikardt’s circus-y set, which also converted smoothly to a variety of locales in P.T. Barnum’s colorful life.
- Daniel Conway for the Asolo Rep’s New Stages production of The Giver. Monochromatic, intimidatingly futuristic settings gradually give way to color and hope in Conway’s design, seemingly simple and yet so effective.
- Kirk V. Hughes for Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Hughes brought us smack dab into the claustrophobic living room of squabbling couple George and Martha with a surround of crowded book shelves that enveloped the audience in their world.
- Michael Newton-Brown for the Players’ Titanic the Musical. More than usually so, the set design for this show was critical to making the whole thing work. On the Players stage, we got a fitting sense of what the grand ship looked like to its passengers and crew, and a workable way to present the final disaster.
And the award goes to: Judy Gailen for the Asolo Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid. Her vision totally placed us in the right frame of mind for the farcical goings-on.
 

 
Best Lighting
The nominees are:
- James D. Sale for the Asolo Rep’s The Devil’s Disciple. Sale’s lighting served to enhance Tony Walton’s set design and filter our take on Shaw’s Revolutionary War-era characters.
- Daniel Scully for the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale. Beyond the lighting that was so important to the shifting tones of this tragicomedy, Scully was also responsible for projections that brought us vividly into the places and action.
- Aaron Muhl for the Asolo Rep’s This Wonderful Life. In a show with a limited set and props, the lighting is ever more important in setting a mood or expressing change. Muhl’s inventions did that handily.
- Chris Ostrom for the Asolo Rep’s Inventing Van Gogh. The color yellow was crucial to artist Van Gogh’s work and troubled mind, and Ostrom’s lighting design made us see just why and how.
- James A. Florek for the Banyan Theater Company’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. Florek’s lighting provided the right atmosphere of hope and regret for a pair of mismatched lovers on a special moonlight night.
And the award goes to: Chris Ostrom for the Asolo Rep’s Inventing Van Gogh. We as well as the characters felt bathed in Vincent’s special shade, drawing us absolutely into his mind and world.
 

 
Best Music Direction
The nominees are:
- Helen Gregory for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. Gregory led her musicians through the paces of this well-oiled production with confidence and dexterity.
- John Visser for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. An old hand at mastering the varying styles and rhythms of Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice concoctions, Visser scored again with this fun romp.
- Michael Sebastian for the Manatee Players’ Damn Yankees. Sebastian’s always sure direction was a home run for the onstage team here.
- Bobby Brader for the Players’ production of The Spitfire Grill. Spitfire’s bluegrass-countryish score was a bit different from most musicals, and Brader was adept at expressing its spirit.
- Rick Bogner for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Bogner got some fine work from his musicians and singers, both ensemble and otherwise, in this entertaining and complicated show.
And the award goes to: Helen Gregory for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. We were all ready to run away and join the circus thanks to her spirited handling of the often infectious Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart score.
 

 
Best Choreography
The nominees are:
- Dewayne Barrett for the Golden Apple’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Barrett kept many of the show’s signature movement concepts in familiar songs, but he also added some fresh elements that made the show more exuberant than ever.
- Brad Wages for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Sure, Wages had a head start here, considering how well-staged the musical numbers were in the original Broadway show. But he still deserves kudos for making them come off so well in this community theater production.
- Joshua Rhodes for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. You had to be watching every second of the show to catch Rhodes’ skillful handling of all the acrobatic daring and histrionic hoopla that spells circus.
- Rick Kerby for the Manatee Players’ Damn Yankees. Kerby took the familiar sporty moves we know and love from this classic Broadway show and adapted them with panache to his community theater cast and the Manatee Players stage.
- Dewayne Barrett again, this time for the Golden Apple’s La Cage aux Folles. From wistful for love songs to wild for a cabaret’s kicking “cagelles,” Barrett demonstrated versatility and verve. 
And the award goes to: It’s a tie here, for Joshua Rhodes’ dazzling daring in the Asolo Rep’s Barnum and Dewayne Barrett’s charged-up fun in the Golden Apple’s Joseph.
 

 
Best Direction
The nominees are:
- Bob Trisolini for the Players’ Titanic, the Musical. Forget all the shipwreck jokes; Trisolini took his crew to triumph in the staging of this epic musical telling many human stories.
- Gordon Greenberg for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. A three-ring circus indeed, the high-flying Barnum demanded attention of a meticulous kind, and received it from Greenberg.
- Michael Donald Edwards for the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale. Edwards carried out his concept of this difficult Shakespeare work with conviction, clarity and originality from start to finish.
- Ron Ziegler for Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Ziegler’s sympathetic direction of this demanding piece (and the performances it elicited) elevated this production far above community theater status.
- Douglas Jones for the Banyan Theater Company’s The Clean House. Sarah Ruhl’s offbeat comic-dramatic piece required just the right tone to succeed, and Jones delivered it from the get-go.
And the award goes to: Because of the challenges involved for a community theater staging of a mammoth show like this one, and the way he rose to meet them, Bob Trisolini for the Players’ Titanic, the Musical.
 

 
Best Supporting Actress
The nominees are:
- Cara Herman for Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Reefer Madness. Herman was a hoot as Mae, torn between her need for reefer and her better, maternal side in this blood-drenched campfest.
- Mercedes Herrero for the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale. As the voice of justice for a wronged queen, Herrero’s passion felt genuine and undeniable.
- Bobbie Burrell for the Players’ Bye Bye Birdie. Portraying the possessive mother who could have invented the term “guilt trip,” Burrell brought zest and laughter to every scene she was in.
- Rainbow Dickerson for Florida Studio Theatre’s Boleros for the Disenchanted. Dickerson seemed ideally cast as a young Puerto Rican woman looking for a faithful husband, stirring our compassion and concern.
- Karina Barros for the Banyan Theater Company’s The Clean House. Barros was a high-energy presence with a lot of fire as Mathilde, a Brazilian maid with a flair for comedy.
And the award goes to: All of the performances were worthy, but in the end Mercedes Herrero’s performance in the Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale stayed with me the longest.
 

 
Best Supporting Actor
The nominees are:
- Rafael Petlock for the Players’ Titanic, the Musical. As a young radioman enticed by the technological marvels of his age—and ultimately doomed by their shortcomings—Petlock touched the heart.
- Steven Clark Pachosa for the Banyan Theater Company’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. Pachosa almost stole the show as the hard-drinking, conniving but nevertheless loving father in Eugene O’Neill’s tender-tough play.
- David Yearta for the Asolo Rep’s The Imaginary Invalid. Audiences roared whenever Yearta, in his rooster-like costume and wearing a constant idiotic smile, took to the stage; a fine comic turn.
- Nicholas Hartman for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Hartman not only designed the costumes for this show, he played flamingly gay director Roger DeBris to a hilarious hilt.
- Scott Vitale, also for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Vitale was the perfect comic foil for Hartman as the loyal but bitchy Carmen Ghia.
And the award goes to: Steven Clark Pachosa for the Banyan’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. Pachosa’s Phil Hogan was a force of nature to be reckoned with.
 

 
Best Actress, Musical
The nominees are:
- Heather Kopp for Venice Theatre’s The Producers. Kopp has really come into her own this year, with strong performances in both The Producers and the Golden Apple’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I chose her work as Ulla in The Producers because it felt like more of a stretch of her abilities.
- Jennifer K. Baker for the Players production of The Spitfire Grill. As a parolee searching for a new life in small-town Wisconsin, Baker grabbed the stage from her first moments and kept us firmly in her corner.
- Dianne Dawson for the Manatee Players’ The Music Man. Dawson adds to her list of impressive local performances with her right-on take on Marian the Librarian, from uptight to wistful to forthright.
- Trina Rizzo and Channing Weir for the Players’ Smile. It may seem unfair to place these two teens into competition with actresses of greater experience, but they both made such a strong impression as competitors of a different stripe in this musical about beauty pageant contestants that I didn’t hesitate long. Rizzo has been seen more on local stages, but Weir, just an eighth-grader at the time, demonstrated a stage presence beyond her years.
And the award goes to: A tough call, but Heather Kopp’s sexy-innocent Ulla in Venice Theatre’s The Producers won the day.
 

 
Best Actor, Musical
The nominees are:
- Charles McKenzie for the Manatee Players’ Damn Yankees. McKenzie scored with his verve and likeability in two productions this year, Venice Theatre’s The Producers and Damn Yankees; I chose the latter role to nominate just because it gave him a wider range to play.
- Brad Oscar for the Asolo Rep’s Barnum. This “grand musical” neither offers or demands much in the way of characterization for circus king P.T. Barnum; he’s all showman and no surprises. But Oscar kept all the balls in the air in this fast-moving show with authority and flair.
- Christopher Swan for the Golden Apple’s La Cage aux Folles. Both funny and touching, Swan showed us a different side of his talent than he has before as the sometimes hysterical, sometimes heart-tugging Albin/Madame Zaza.
- Joey Panek for the Golden Apple’s Sugar. The show itself was rather tame compared to the Billy Wilder film original, but Panek kept up his end of the bargain as the confused Joe/Josephine with great comic timing.
- Steve Dawson for the Manatee Players’ The Music Man. Dawson is always interesting to watch onstage, and he was effortlessly entertaining as con man-gone-good Professor Harold Hill.
And the award goes to: Another tough decision, but I went with Christopher Swan for the Golden Apple’s La Cage aux Folles because the performance demonstrated his ability to switch gears and emotions with honesty and conviction.
 

 
Best Actress, Play
The nominees are:
- Susan Greenhill for Florida Studio Theatre’s Stage III production of …and L.A. Is Burning. Greenhill’s Haddie, an uneducated, naïve character constantly afraid of making a mistake, was the heart of this piece about race relations and how people connect; you couldn’t help rooting for her to overcome her disabilities.
- Geraldine Librandi for the Banyan Theater Company’s The Clean House. Librandi has demonstrated her talents in productions in Sarasota before; her performance as a woman who lives to clean—and eventually destroy—was a comic gem.
- Jessica K. Peterson for the Banyan Theater Company’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. As rough-talking but tender Josie Hogan, Peterson was heartbreaking in Eugene O’Neill’s compassionate recall of a doomed romance.
- Lori Chase for Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Chase ran an emotional and exhausting gamut as the unhappy Martha in Edward Albee’s contemporary classic, right down to a powerful climax that left audience as well as actress drained.
- Marina Re for Florida Studio Theatre’s Boleros for the Disenchanted. Playing a loving mother and a dedicated wife in worlds apart, Re invested both roles with dignity and clarity.
And the award goes to: This was a category laden with talent, but I choose Geraldine Librandi in the Banyan’s The Clean House for her memorable comic work.
 

 
Best Actor, Play
The nominees are:
- James Leaming in the Asolo Rep’s This Wonderful Life. The daunting task of bringing to life not just George Bailey, but all the main characters of the film classic It’s a Wonderful Life seemed to lie lightly on Leaming’s shoulders. He was utterly convincing, enthusiastic and impressive in his one-man version of the story we all love.
- Damian Buzzerio for Florida Studio Theatre’s Boleros for the Disenchanted. Playing dual roles, from an authoritarian father in the 1950s to a dying man having suffered many losses years later, Buzzerio was compelling in both his dramatic and comic moments.
- Murray Chase for Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Chase did not at first seem perfect casting for the role of small-town professor and apparently henpecked husband George, but he delivered the goods in scenes both quietly effective and bitterly scathing.
- Dan Donohue for the Asolo Rep’s Inventing Van Gogh. Another tough choice between two strong outings. Donohue did amazingly good work in both The Winter’s Tale and Inventing Van Gogh at the Asolo this season, but I went with the artist rather than the king because his portrayal gave me a new vision of the often-impersonated Vincent.
- Eric Hissom and R. Ward Duffy for the Banyan Theater Company’s True West. I didn’t want to pick just one when it came to considering these two actors playing brothers of a seemingly very different stripe in Sam Shepard’s comedic drama; they were “true” partners in crime and in their level of intensity.
And the award goes to: James Leaming in the Asolo Rep’s This Wonderful Life, for the virtuosic variety of his performance.
 

 
Best Play
The nominees are:
- Florida Studio Theatre’s Boleros for the Disenchanted. Jose Rivera’s decades-spanning look at a Puerto Rican couple’s enduring marriage despite many obstacles received a sensitive rendering at FST.
- The Asolo Rep’s This Wonderful Life. A tour-de-force for its one-man cast and a real holiday treat for the audience.
- The Asolo Rep’s The Winter’s Tale. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, this is one of the toughest to do because it’s really like three plays in one. Michael Donald Edwards, his cast and designers managed the changes in tone with some original and insightful choices.
- Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? What a challenge to take on Edward Albee’s masterwork; no one was afraid here.
- Banyan Theater Company’s The Clean House. Refreshingly different in outlook and style from much of what we see in the theater, Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House was beautifully performed and cleverly directed.
And the award goes to: It’s something of a surprise to me, too, but the show I found most satisfying in the long run was the Asolo Rep’s This Wonderful Life.
 

 
Best Musical
The nominees are
- Venice Theatre’s The Producers. It was hard to compete with memories of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, but VT did a commendable job of extracting all the comic and musical juice from this megahit.
- The Players’ Titanic, the Musical. Not everything works in this Peter Stone-Maury Yeston musical about that famous doomed ship, but the Players cast, design team and crew gave it everything they had and succeeded in pulling off a tough challenge.
- The Players’ The Spitfire Grill. This was a case of less is more; rather than spectacle and show, Spitfire Grill gave us a close-up of some authentic-feeling people dealing with real emotional issues and concerns.
- The Manatee Players’ Damn Yankees. Infectious in its spirit of ’50s-era optimistic fun, Yankees was a lively valentine to baseball and its fans, past and present.
- The Golden Apple’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Always fun and energetic and infused here with some new dance moves, this Joseph was a bright spot in the season’s calendar.
- The Asolo Rep’s Barnum. Packed with color, energy and life, Barnum was a rip-roaring start to the Asolo Rep season and a fitting tribute to Sarasota’s circus heritage.
And the award goes to: For sheer firepower and zest, the Asolo Rep’s Barnum.