Boldest Interpretation of Shakespeare
That would be the Asolo Rep’s and director Michael Donald Edwards’ Hamlet, Prince of Cuba. For me, not everything in this updated and relocated production worked, but it certainly took chances, and the performances that were done in Spanish (with English surtitles) were a new and welcome reach-out to our Hispanic population.
Fondest Musical Memories
The stars aligned perfectly for Venice Theatre’s mainstage production of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller revue, Smokey Joe’s Café, bringing us nostalgia for all those great tunes of yesteryear—On Broadway, Hound Dog, Kansas City and tons more—in a package that really evoked the era of the 1950s and ’60s. Impressive cast, sharp direction by Brad Wages, and an atmosphere provided by scenic designer Christopher A.D. Parrish and lighting designer John Michael Andzulis that made us settle comfortably in, relax and remember.
Best Male Ensemble
You’ve got to hand it to the hard-working, fearless male leads of the Players’ The Full Monty, each and every one of them willing to lay it all on the line for laughs—and a good amount of empathy and understanding, too. Let’s salute Jeffery Kin, Tim Fitzgerald, Mike Phelan, Tony Boothby, Steve Bikfalvy and Gordon Gregory for doing with panache what real men do—stripping to pay the bills and regain their self-respect.
We don’t see much satire on local stages, but in the first half of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s time-traveling production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine, the student-actors, under Greg Leaming’s direction, took us to an almost Monty Python-esque version of colonial Africa circa 1880, with males playing females and vice versa amid lots of kinky sexual tension, impending insurrection by the natives and veddy veddy British stiff upper lips throughout.
Best Killer Cuties
I’ve seen Chicago’s Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart strut their murderous stuff in this Kander-Ebb-Fosse musical many times before, but I still have to give credit where it’s due to Eve Caballero and Andrea Wright, respectively, for delivering all that jazz with sex and sass in this Manatee Players production. They slithered, they slinked, and they wrapped us as well as the jury around their deadly little fingers.
Best Teen Spirit
Venice Theatre’s Stage II actors leapt into their production of the acclaimed Broadway musical Spring Awakening with total abandon, throwing their bodies and souls into this fevered story of adolescents on the verge of sexual and societal awareness. The show was loud, in your face, and life-and-death passionate—everything a musical about teenagers entering a harsh adult world should be. Kudos to director Kelly Wynn Woodland, music director Jason Brenner, choreographer Michelle Teyke and to the entire cast.
Most Riveting Ride
Florida Studio Theatre broke some important ground with its production of the Tom Kitt-Brian Yorkey musical Next to Normal, about a family dealing with loss and mental illness, presented in an original way that grabbed us from the first scene and never let go. Performances by the six-member cast were dynamic, Richard Hopkins’ direction was stellar, and the band, under the direction of Aimee Radics, totally rocked.
Best Reach for the Stars
Usually, when community theaters present A Chorus Line, they do so with a lot of heart but not as much skill as you’d hope for in a show that demands its cast members be triple threats, able to sing, act and perform the precision dance numbers this iconic Broadway hopeful show is so treasured for. Luckily, when the Players brought the line to the stage this season, they had a diverse, talented cast, along with strong choreographic and stage direction from Berry Ayers and Jeffery Kin, respectively. No wonder they broke box office records with this one.
Best Theatrical Couple
Yes, I’ve frequently awarded actors Steve and Dianne Dawson for their efforts before, but watching them in the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s production of the musical Oliver (where they played Fagin and Nancy), I was once again struck by how they elevate every show they’re in, not only as individuals but together—meanwhile helping to make everyone else look good, too. May the two never retire from doing what they so clearly love.
The Manatee Players’ Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, in the hands of artistic director Rick Kerby, reminded us that while they may not write them like this admittedly corny and politically incorrect piece from the show biz vaults anymore, when the original is presented with affection and good humor, we can still appreciate its zest. Kudos to Kerby and his energetic, athletic cast of “brothers,” plus the ever-engaging Wendy James as the sister-in-law who wrangles them all into submission.
Most Appealing Love Triangle
I’d say it’s Geraldine Librandi as a well-meaning woman facing a midlife crisis, Don Walker as her hard-working, good-guy hubby, and Peter Thomasson as the wealthy widower who falls for her in the mistaken belief she’s lost a spouse, too. That’s the setup for the Banyan Theater Company’s production of Steven Dietz’s Becky’s New Car, and all three actors were so likable you wanted them all to somehow come out happy.
Best Lounge Act
There we were, back in the swinging Las Vegas of the 1970s, watching Sammy Davis Jr. (aka the amazing De’Zhon Fields) sing hits from The Candy Man to Mr. Bojangles in Sammy Tonight! within Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s cozy confines, in all his finger-snapping, hep-talking glory. The only thing missing here was the martinis—oh, and the haze of cigarette smoke. Love to all you crazy cats out there.
And now, here are the winners of the top three awards for the 2011-2012 season.
A tough choice here, but I picked Mark Zeisler playing the late, great artist Mark Rothko in the Asolo Rep’s Red. Zeisler looked quite a bit like the mustached, bespectacled painter in working man’s clothes we’ve seen in photos, but more importantly he captured the sheer intensity of the artist, for whom a canvas was a living, breathing thing and the act of creating both torture and ecstasy.
Our nod goes to Asolo Rep newcomer Hillary Clemens as the title character in Yentl. From the moment she ran onstage in cropped hair and boy’s clothing, speaking directly to the audience, Clemens had us believing in her passion to learn, her mixed feelings about her gender identity and the spirit that would overcome all the obstacles facing a young Jewish woman of her time and place. Clemens also impressed as a dizzy, desperate housewife in Fallen Angels and a take-charge vaudevillian in Once in a Lifetime this season, but it was as Yentl that she won our hearts.
Director Frank Galati (who helmed last year’s knockout Twelve Angry Men) repeats his winning ways with the Asolo Rep’s season opener production of My Fair Lady, somehow breathing new life into a classic production so familiar and so beloved many of us could sing along with every Lerner-Loewe tune. Charismatic leads, a strong ensemble cast, and most of all, a refreshingly intimate and fresh approach to the Pygmalion musical had us all cheering Liza Doolittle’s triumph.
Did you have a favorite show or performance? Go to my blog, “On Stage,” at sarasotamagazine.com, and share your favorite onstage moments this season.