Despite years of going to the theater here and writing about it, putting together this awards story never gets any easier. In fact, it gets harder.
That's in part because it's simply harder to see every show presented in the Sarasota-Manatee area. Once upon a time there were only half a dozen venues; then a few others formed-the Banyan, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe-followed by a more recent explosion of fledgling companies like Theatre Odyssey, Glenridge Players, Eclectic Theatre Company, Sarasota Actors Workshop, Women's Theatre Collective and others, several of them popping up at the new Backlot site. It would be a challenge for one beleaguered critic to cover them all (and some may not desire or be ready for critical coverage).
This story considers only productions by the longer-established theater companies, and for them it's been a busy year. The Asolo said farewell to longtime producing artistic director Howard Millman; next season Michael Edwards takes the helm there, and the Historic Asolo Theater building reopens its doors, presenting some plays along with concerts and other performances. The Players of Sarasota announced its plan to move to the nascent cultural center along the bayfront, and the Manatee Players provided plenty of offstage drama as we waited to see where they would build their new theater, Palmetto or Bradenton. (Personally, we're glad they're staying in downtown Bradenton, their home for more than 50 years.) And both Florida Studio Theatre and Venice Little Theatre continued to present an active year-round schedule of performances and educational opportunities.
The other reason it's hard to pick a final list of awards, of course: How do you ever really choose just one winner for a category out of all the diverse shows and talent out there? It's a perennial dilemma. But any town where I can see Little Women and Hedwig and the Angry Inch in the same week must be doing something right.
Note: This list does not include any summer 2006 shows (because of our deadlines), any reprises of previous productions, cabaret shows or Van Wezel touring productions.
Best Costume Design
The nominees are: Steven Rubin for the Asolo Theatre Company's Enchanted April. Rubin's designs for this romance, set in post-World War I Europe, helped to delineate class and cultural differences and subtly accentuate the characters' development. Plus, the soft colors of the Tuscan-setting costumes were eye candy.
Pamela Scofield for the Asolo Theatre Company's Lady Windermere's Fan. Here again, costumes played a role in clarifying each player's place in Victorian England. Elegant and eloquent.
Linda Tice for the Players of Sarasota production of Pirates of Penzance. Dashing pirates, young ladies in love, military men and all the other colorful Gilbert and Sullivan characters were rendered in alternating shades of light pastels and properly imposing blacks.
Jared E. Walker for the Manatee Players' Follies. This Stephen Sondheim musical about showgirls past and present provided a playground for Walker to design elaborate feathered headdresses, sequined gowns galore and vaudeville routine ensembles.
Cassandra Mockosher for the showcase production of Willm S. at the Players of Sarasota. Not everything about this world premiere was ready to move on to other productions, but Mockosher's lavish Elizabethan togs, from the men's doublets and ruffs to the Queen's own finery and lace, did the Bard proud.
And the award goes to: Cassandra Mockosher for bringing to life Elizabethan times in Willm. S.
Best Set Design
The nominees are: Steven Rubin for the Asolo Theatre Company's Enchanted April. As with his costumes, Rubin's sets helped complete the transformation from London's gray gloom to the open, light-filled stretches of a Tuscan villa.
Michael Gray for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Gray's ominous, utilitarian set served the needs of this fast-moving comedy-horror show.
Nayna Ramey for Florida Studio Theatre's Moonlight and Magnolias. Ramey's '30s-upscale design for Hollywood producer David O. Selznick's office impressed and expressed, especially as it became a scene of desperation during the rewrites of Gone With the Wind.
Richard E. Cannon for the Asolo Theatre Company's Lady Windermere's Fan. Cannon's cool, uncluttered lines provided a gracious setting for some upper-class shenanigans.
Donna and Mark Buckalter for the Players of Sarasota production of Putting It Together. Their choices for this revue-a Manhattan skyline, stepped levels and an apartment's bar-were simplicity itself, but the necessary backdrop for sophisticated Sondheim music and lyrics.
And the award goes to: Steven Rubin for the Asolo's Enchanted April, an enchanted setting indeed.
The nominees are: Kirk Bookman for the Asolo's Enchanted April. Our moods shifted and altered with the characters', thanks in part to Bookman's lighting.
Neal Kerr for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Taking us from a West Virginia cave to a hidden wood to a creepy scientific lab, Kerr's designs set the atmosphere of doom.
Eric Cope for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's Pericles. With little in the way of sets and props, Cope's work was instrumental in moving us around the ancient world, through shipwrecks, famine and other disasters.
And the award goes to: Kirk Bookman for the Asolo's Enchanted April.
The nominees are: Brad Wages for Venice Little Theatre's Stage II production of Cabaret. Wages took some chances in emphasizing the seamy side of this hit, and they paid off.
Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of Putting It Together. In this revue of songs by Stephen Sondheim, the dance numbers had to do double duty, telling stories and illuminating character while on the move.
Eric Berkel for the Manatee Players' Annie Get Your Gun. Berkel successfully adapted some familiar moves from earlier productions and added some of his own.
Rick Kerby for the Manatee Players' Follies. From a tango twosome to an ensemble tap number to kitschy vaudeville fun, Kerby demonstrated his versatility and creativity.
Harry Bryce for the Manatee Players' production (with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe) of Dreamgirls. Bryce had to evoke changing times in American pop music with set pieces as well as extend the drama of the main backstage storyline, and he did it with spirit.
And the award goes to: Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of Putting It Together, where the dances counted so much.
Best Music Direction
The nominees are:
John Visser for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre's Urinetown: The Musical. Visser and his musicians ably ran the gamut from romantic duet to anthem to every other style of song represented here.
Todd Lindamood for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. The idea for this offbeat musical may have originated in a sleazy tabloid, but there was nothing cheap about Laurence O'Keefe's score. Lindamood ably helped his cast navigate a wide-ranging song list.
Rick Bogner for the Manatee Players' Follies. Another show with a demandingly diverse score, but Bogner delivered expertly.
Joyce Valentine for the Players of Sarasota production of Pirates of Penzance. Valentine handed the operetta's score, its large cast and her orchestra with polish and verve.
E'Marcus Harper for the Asolo's Crowns. Harper had his hands full with this often fast and furious musical combining traditional gospel songs and African tribal rhythms, but he kept up the pace with skill. A special nod here to percussionist Romero Wyatt.
And the award goes to: Todd Lindamood for the Manatee Players' "unbelievable" Bat Boy.
The nominees are:
Kent Paul for the Banyan Theater Company's The Glass Menagerie. Paul's feeling for this Tennessee Williams classic came across in subtle nuances of performing and staging.
Charles Morey for the Asolo Theatre Company's Laughing Stock. Morey demonstrated keen understanding of this ensemble comedy-drama about the theater-it probably helped that he also wrote it.
Rick Kerby for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Kerby took advantage of every opportunity this show provided for laughs, squeals and, yes, even a tear or two, with pitch-perfect timing and skill.
Peter Bennett for Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of The Play About the Baby. Bennett and his cast ably dissected the intricacies of Edward Albee's dialogue, then put it all back together for us to try to figure out, too.
Russell Treyz for Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. Some of the cleverly contrived action of this adventure was no doubt dictated by playwright Mark Brown's stage directions, but we suspect a lot of the zest was imparted by Treyz.
And the award goes to: Rick Kerby for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy-a tabloid triumph.
Best Supporting Actress
The nominees are:
Annemarie LaTulip for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre's Urinetown: The Musical. The full-grown LaTulip was also absolutely convincing as street urchin Little Sally, a bouncing ball of energy and inquisitiveness.
Rita Mazer for the Players of Sarasota production of Pirates of Penzance. As maid-of-all-work Ruth, an older woman with a crush, Mazer scored laughs every time she was onstage.
Bonnie McPherson for Venice Little Theatre's Stage II production of Cabaret. Newcomer McPherson delivered both humor and pathos as world-weary Fraulein Schneider.
Sarah Stockton for the Banyan Theater Company's The Glass Menagerie. Stockton was a smart choice for the fragile Laura, trapped in her world of memories and fears-loved but lost.
Sharon Spelman for the Asolo Theatre Company's Enchanted April. You knew that Spelman's frosty British matriarch would thaw eventually, but it was such a pleasure to watch how Spelman managed the melt.
And the award goes to: Annemarie LaTulip for the Golden Apple's Urinetown-she really lost herself in the role.
Best Supporting Actor
The nominees are:
Dan Higgs for Venice Little Theatre's Stage II production of Cabaret. Higgs was touchingly authentic as Herr Schultz, who at long last discovers love only to lose it because of the Nazi regime.
David Covach for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Covach successfully essayed a number of roles in this schlockfest, but I'll always remember him as backwoods mama Mrs. Taylora full-figured woman who favors leopard prints.
Bruce Sabath for Florida Studio Theatre's Brooklyn Boy. Sabath really didn't seem to be playing the loyal but envious childhood friend of a famous writer, stuck running the family business; he just was nebbishy Ira Zimmer.
Sheffield Chastain for Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. I can't even remember how many different characters Chastain brought to life in this transcontinental romp, so I've no idea how he remembered them all, especially at breakneck speed. But he delighted in every one.
Eric Hissom for Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. Like Chastain, Hissom interpreted multiple roles and scored in all; but his intrepid, none-too-bright Detective Fix was the recurring humorous highlight.
Brad DePlanche for Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. Nominating a sixth actor here goes against my own rules, but I can't bear to break up the matched set of these three versatile actors who worked so well together. DePlanche was an audience favorite as French manservant Passepartout, and it was easy to see why.
And the award goes to: It's a three-way tie for Chastain, Hissom and DePlanche in Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days.
Best Actress, Musical
The nominees are:
Jillian Godfrey for the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre's Sweet Charity. This '60s-era concoction about a dance-hall hostess who keeps getting her heart broken may be showing its age, but Godfrey is irresistible.
Dianne Dawson for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. As conflicted wife/mother/bat-boy protector, Dawson got to show her range vocally, dramatically and comedically.
Wendy James for the Manatee Players' Annie Get Your Gun. As markswoman Annie Oakley, James shot onto the stage with her own explosive energy, sass and spirit, never missing a beat in a demanding role.
Teresa Stanley for the Manatee Players' production of Dreamgirls, presented in conjunction with Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. If you weren't sobbing when Stanley brought down the house in the Act I finale of And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going, you were officially declared dead. As stubborn, long-suffering singer Effie, Stanley had the audience in the palm of her hand.
Eve Caballero for the Players of Sarasota production of Man of La Mancha. As "born on a dung heap" street wench Aldonza, Caballero convincingly made the transformation from hardened hussy to Don Quixote's dream maiden.
And the award goes to: With so much talent to choose from, this was a hard one. I'll go with Dianne Dawson for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy for the way she interpreted the role's wide play of emotions.
Best Actor, Musical
The nominees are:
Dan Higgs for the Players of Sarasota production of Oliver. Higgs seemed born to play rascally yet somehow lovable Fagin in the musical version of the Dickens tale; and he looked like he was having great fun doing it.
David Colbert for Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It's always hard to take when a man dressed up as a woman is sexier than a real one.but Colbert was not only that, he was also funny, tough, vulnerable and everything else the troubled Hedwig needed to be.
Stephen Hope for Florida Studio Theatre's Ruthless. Speaking of men dressed as women.Hope was a riot as force of nature Sylvia St. Croix, a theatrical agent who'll stop at absolutely nothing to make her precocious client a star.
Justin Clement for the Manatee Players' Annie Get Your Gun. Clement may have been young for the role of Frank Butler, but he confidently pulled off the character's mixture of swagger and tenderness.
Steve Dawson for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Like the rest of the cast, Dawson managed to be both hilarious and touching in his role as a doctor/scientist whose experiments go horribly awry, affecting his work, his family and his sex life.
And the award goes to: Steve Dawson for the Manatee Players' Bat Boy-not the showiest of all the roles, but perhaps the funniest.
Best Actress, Play
The nominees are:
Sharon Spelman for the Banyan Theater Company's The Glass Menagerie. In her years at the Asolo, Spelman has seemed incapable of giving a bad performance. On loan to the Banyan, she broke your heart as faded-but never defeated-Southern belle Amanda Wingfield.
Devora Millman for the Asolo Theatre Company's String of Pearls. Essaying multiple roles from a dying young mother to a cosmopolitan woman haunted by anti-Semitism to a 300-pound lesbian gravedigger, Millman was convincing all the way.
Deanna Gibson for the Asolo Theatre Company's Trying. A recent FSU/Asolo Conservatory grad, Gibson more than held her own with veteran actor David S. Howard as a young woman determined to succeed on her own terms.
Kris Danford for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory production of Mirandolina. Still an acting student, Danford displayed impressive skills in the role of an 18th-century woman expertly juggling her business, her suitors and her own desires while always keeping one step ahead of everyone else in her orbit.
Kate Alexander for Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of The Play About the Baby. Alexander partnered well with Anthony Newfield as a mature woman playing head games with a younger couple, delivering a couple of crucial scenes with great theatrical flourish as well.
And the award goes to: Sharon Spelman, memorable and moving in the Banyan's The Glass Menagerie.
Best Actor, Play
The nominees are:
Anderson Matthews for the Asolo Theatre Company's Laughing Stock. As a harried director trying to keep a summer stock company going while harboring acting dreams of his own, Matthews was the likable center of the storm we could identify with.
David S. Howard for the Asolo Theatre Company's Trying. You'd never have guessed from his assured, dead-on performance that Howard stepped into the role of the stubborn, aging Francis Biddle at the last minute. He's just that good.
Robert Gomes for Florida Studio Theatre's Brooklyn Boy. Gomes gave writer Eric Weiss, back home in Brooklyn for a pivotal visit, the right mixture of doubt, confidence, loneliness and loss.
Todd Almond for Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of I Am My Own Wife. Almond shifted back and forth amid a multitude of roles, both male and female, with sensitive finesse and skill.
Anthony Newfield in Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of The Play About the Baby. As a clever, manipulative presence, Newfield could be wicked, he could be fun, he could be scary. He was always watchable.
And the award goes to: David S. Howard for the Asolo's Trying-a performance both touching and real.
The nominees are:
The Banyan Theater Company's The Glass Menagerie. Just when you think you've probably seen this piece enough, you come upon a production that reminds you of its poetry, poignancy and surprising humor.
Florida Studio Theatre's Stage III production of The Play About the Baby. Often puzzling, never boring, this staging of Edward Albee's work about an innocent young couple, a more jaded older couple and a mysterious baby was handled with appreciative care by all involved.
The Asolo Theatre Company's Laughing Stock. Along with lots of belly laughs, this piece, which centered around a frazzled summer theater troupe, provided a heartfelt look at what makes actors run-and why we care.
The Asolo's Trying. A straightforwardly simple, two-person comedy-drama that boasted fine performances and universal appeal.
Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. The achievement here was keeping up a hectic, laugh-filled pace for more than two hours, without ever exhausting the energies of the multitalented cast-or the stamina of the audience.
And the award goes to: A tough call, but I'll go with the Banyan's The Glass Menagerie for its lingering emotional power.
The nominees are:
The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre's Urinetown: The Musical. Silly and sly, this show offered a mix of old and new Apple performers the chance to get down and dirty in a town without pity-or free toilets.
The Manatee Players' Bat Boy. Definitely not your average Broadway musical, this one, about the chaos wreaked on a small community by the appearance of a-well, let's not call him a freak-was an all-around treat.
The Manatee Players' Annie Get Your Gun. Propelled by two strong lead performances, this Irving Berlin classic remains as rollicking as ever.
The Players of Sarasota production of Pirates of Penzance. The Players did justice to the humor, music and spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan in this well-played gambol.
The Asolo Theatre Company's Crowns. Not much storyline or character development here, but wow, the power behind those hat-wearing women's stories and songs!
And the award goes to: For a sheer, unadulterated funhouse ride, the Manatee Players' Bat Boy.
A Few Special Awards
The "Separated at Birth" award: To Rolfe Winkler and Ryan Bintz for seamlessly sharing the role of the misunderstood title character in the Manatee Players' Bat Boy.
The "Up and Comer" award: To Amber Sulesky for her fresh and forthright work as Jo in Venice Little Theatre's Little Women. This 15-year-old demonstrated poise and understanding beyond her years.
The "Women Power" award: To the ensemble cast of Venice Little Theatre's Stage II production of The Vagina Monologues, whose belief in the work shone through true stories both humorous and painful.
The "Unsung Heroes" award: To the hard-working dressers and props people for Florida Studio Theatre's Around the World in 80 Days. Without their fast footwork, this whirlwind trip could have become a disaster.