Stars of the Season

By staff September 1, 2002

Every year area theaters take audiences on a journey that includes laughter, tears, songs, and an occasional case of poor circulation through the lower half of the body. Well, at least the critics sometimes suffer from that.

After all, night after night from September through May and sometimes longer, we sit through frantic farces, tinkling operettas, ancient classics, cutting-edge drama (okay, not too much of the latter), beloved American musical comedies, intriguing interpretations of Shakespeare and stage versions of sitcoms. We wince at the occasional failure, brighten at the unexpected hit, and, all too rarely, join loyal season subscribers in standing ovations.

The only people who spend more time inside a theater than we do are the actors, dancers, directors and technical people who work so hard to entertain us; and this annual announcement of theater awards salutes their dedication and talent.

Our awards cover plays that were produced from Sept. 13, when the Manatee Players opened with "The Fantasticks," through May 9, when the Golden Apple brought us "Annie Get Your Gun." In order to meet magazine deadlines, we were not able to include any summer 2002 shows or Venice Little Theatre's May production of "Communicating Doors." And because these are awards for local theater, we do not include touring productions at the Van Wezel. Theaters represented are the Asolo and FSU/Asolo Conservatory, the Golden Apples in both Sarasota and Venice, Venice Little Theatre and its Stage II, the Manatee Players, the Players of Sarasota, Florida Studio Theatre and Theatre Works.

Best Costume Design

The nominees are:

Jean Brudevold for the Manatee Players' "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Brudevold let her imagination run wild in dressing the citizens, courtesans and slaves of a Rome that existed only in the minds of the show's creators, and the result was an outrageous crazy quilt of colors, periods and styles.

Howard Kaplan for the Asolo's "Born Yesterday." As good costumes must, Kaplan's helped define the characters here, especially the bodacious Billie Dawn, whose form-fitting clothing displays what she believes to be her best assets.

Vicki S. Holden for the Asolo's "A Flea in Her Ear." The sumptuousness of turn-of-the-century French upper-middle-class life was evoked in Holden's elegant, classic styles.

Holden again for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." The women and men of this tale-who are sometimes one and the same-looked appropriately fetching or foolish in Holden's 18th-century inspired attire.

Diane Toyos for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Way of the World." Beruffled and bewigged within an inch of their lives, the actors of this Restoration piece were a tribute to the costumer's skills in research and detail.

And the winner is: Toyos, in the rare case where going over the top was both okay and historically accurate.

Best Set Design

The nominees are:

Steven Rubin for the Asolo's "Born Yesterday." When I next get to Washington, D.C., I want to check into the palatial hotel suite designed for Harry Brock.

Jeffrey Dean for the Asolo's "A Flea in Her Ear." From the opulent French drawing room to the erotic hotel where trysts take place, Dean's design was rich in décor and detail.

Michael A. Gray for the Manatee Players' "Comedy of Errors." The set for this Shakespeare romp was bright, colorful and suitable for a lot of running around.

Jeffrey Dean for the Manatee Players' "Arsenic and Old Lace." Dean came up with the perfect setting for mirth and mayhem in the dark, antiquated dwelling of the Brewsters of Brooklyn. You could almost smell the mustiness.

Tim O'Donnell and Carrie Riley O'Donnell for Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." Their work was simple, minimal, yet so effective at transporting us around Victorian London's darker corners.

And the winner is: Dean for "Flea." A pleasure to behold.

Best Lighting

The nominees are:

James D. Sale for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." From a storm at sea to the soft ambience needed for falling in love with love to brightly lit comedy hijinks, Sale's work placed us squarely in the moment.

Richard E. Cannon for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Years." With a minimal set and few scene changes, the need to heighten dramatic effect and convey the passage of time was most often met by Cannon's lighting.

Tim O'Donnell for Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." Robert Louis Stevenson's story is all about darkness and light, and O'Donnell carried us back and forth between the two, both in the city of London and in one man's heart.

And the winner is: O'Donnell for "Jekyll & Hyde." That moody, melodramatic atmosphere wouldn't have been there without his choices.

Best Choreography

The nominees are:

Charlene Clark for the Golden Apple's "Crazy for You." Clark demonstrated a wide-ranging ability to make dance numbers fly, from tapping chorines and cowboys to that Astaire-Rogers kinda thing.

Clark again, for the Golden Apple's "Anything Goes." Here it was chorines and sailors, but the same principle applies: Keep it lively, fast, and upbeat.

Hmmm, Clark's been busy this season.she gets a nod again for the Golden Apple's "Grease." Fun, '50s, and enough to make you want to get up there and try it for yourself.

Bob Trisolini for the Players of Sarasota production of "Red Wedding." Trisolini worked with director Burton H. Wolfe to combine Western and Eastern-style movements in numbers that communicate the drama of political and personal turmoil in China.

Cherl Carty-Yowarski for the Players of Sarasota production of "Fiddler on the Roof." It can be tough for non-pros to manage, say, the Russian bottle dance, but Carty-Yowarski's choreography didn't leave us feeling cheated or her dancers underused.

And the winner is: Clark, for the Golden Apple's "Crazy for You." Lots of highlights, no lowlights.

Best Musical Direction

The nominees are:

Chris Petersen for the Manatee Players' "1940s Radio Hour." You'd never have guessed that Petersen stepped in at practically the last minute to guide the cast and musicians in this compendium of swing, Big Band sounds and vocal harmonies.

Michael Sebastian for Florida Studio Theatre's Cabaret Club production of "Jacques Brel: A Parisian Cabaret." Brel's musical storytelling sweep from light-hearted to heart-rending to stirring can be dizzying, but Sebastian had matters well in hand throughout.

Rick Bogner for Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." Bogner successfully worked with a large community theater cast, on a sometimes difficult new score, and made his handful of musicians sound like more.

Don Sturrock for Theatre Works' "Sophie, Totie & Belle." Sturrock clearly understood the women at work here and the genres of music they performed, from novelty songs to tearjerkers.

Michael Snyder for the Golden Apple's "Crazy for You." Snyder, his musicians and his singers worked smoothly and skillfully together.

And the winner is: Bogner for "Jekyll & Hyde." Impressive work on a tough show.

Best Direction

The nominees are:

Howard J. Millman for the Asolo's "Born Yesterday." Millman deftly handled both the expected humor and the serious message of this American classic.

Victoria Holloway for FST's "Dinner with Friends." Holloway helped her cast get well beyond cliché to achieve real, breathing people next door.

Gil Lazier for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Weir." Lazier enabled his actors to convey what their characters-Irishmen sitting around in a remote pub-were really saying even when they seemed to be saying nothing at all.

Gus Kaikkonen for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." Kaikkonen milked every laugh out of Shakespeare's comedy without losing the romance or the magic.

Norman Ayrton for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Way of the World." Ayrton expertly led his cast of MFA theater students down the path of Restoration comedy behavior.

And the winner is: Kaikkonen. This director clearly understood and was in charge of his Shakespeare without overpowering the bard in order to leave his own mark.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees are:

Barbara Redmond in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Way of the World." As husband-hungry Lady Wishfort, Redmond engaged both our laughter and our sympathies while deftly juggling Restoration-era language.

Barbara Winters Pinto in the Asolo's "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife." Ordinarily we'd agree that having a little old lady mouthing obscenities is a cheap way to get laughs. But dammit, Pinto was just so funny..

Sharon Spelman for the Asolo's "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife." Spelman was spellbinding as mysterious visitor Lee Green, who's apparently been everywhere and done everyone. The perfect houseguest-for a while.

Spelman again, this time for the Asolo's "The Hollow." As the "is-she-or-isn't-she-a-ditz?" Lady Angkatell, Spelman kept us guessing and amused.

Jenny Aldrich for the Venice Golden Apple's "Barefoot in the Park." Her long-suffering "good sport" of a mother, putting up with everything from altitude to indigestion, was good fun, too.

And the winner is: This was a tough call, but we'll go with the little old lady.Barbara Winters Pinto.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees are:

Bryant Mason for the Asolo's "A Flea in Her Ear." It might not have been politically correct to laugh so hard at Mason's speech-impaired young Frenchman, but who could help it?

Bryan Barter for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Way of the World." A fop to the nth degree, Barter's Witwoud was irresistibly awful.

Bradford Wallace for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." Wallace demonstrated his comic skills once more as the irresponsible, irrepressible Sir Toby Belch in inspired bits of nonsense.

David Breitbarth for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." As Wallace's clueless cohort, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Breitbarth likewise showed off his knack for physical comedy and razor-sharp timing.

Are you ready for one more? V. Craig Heidenreich for the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." Just watching Heidenreich/Malvolio trying to twist his stony, sour face into a smile in order to please his mistress was worth the price of admission.

And the winner is: Heidenreich for "Twelfth Night." His Malvolio was perfection.

Best Actress, Musical

The nominees are:

Kyle Turoff in the Golden Apple's "Always, Patsy Cline." It's quite a task to emulate the divine Patsy, but Turoff had the chops.

Carol A. Provonsha for Theatre Works' "Sophie, Totie & Belle." Provonsha was suitably larger than life, vocally and dramatically, as Hot Mama Sophie Tucker, without veering into caricature.

Angela Bond for the Players of Sarasota production of "Evita." It's certainly a showy rather than a subtle role, and not exactly three-dimensional. But Bond is a strong singer and stage presence, and that's what our Eva demands.

MaryBeth Antoinette for Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." Antoinette managed to be both provocative and vulnerable as Lucy, the "bad" girl who comes to a bad end.

Beth Duda for the Venice Golden Apple's "Nunsense." We've seen this Dan Goggin musical comedy about those fun nuns more times than we can count, but there was something about Duda's performance as the lovably loony Sister Mary Amnesia that made it fresh once more.

And the winner is: Antoinette for "Jekyll & Hyde." She made what could have been a stereotype into a real woman we cared about.

Best Actor, Musical

The nominees are:

Allen Robert Kretschmar in Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." He had to be onstage almost the entire time, flip back and forth from earnest good to incarnate evil, and sing a challenging score for more than two hours. He must have drunk a secret potion.

DeWayne Barrett in the Golden Apple's "Crazy for You." Here's another case where an actor had to essay a dual role, the show biz-loving playboy Bobby Child and the flamboyant Hungarian impresario Bela Zangler. We liked Barrett both ways.

Tom Nicholas in the Players of Sarasota production of "Fiddler on the Roof." Nicholas was right at home as Tevye from his first words onstage, and kept us by his side through good times and bad in the lives of his family and his village.

Jorge Acosta in the Players of Sarasota production of "Evita." Acosta had the physical and vocal force to render Che as both man and symbol.

Dan Higgs in the Manatee Players' "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." Higgs had a ball bringing that canny, contriving slave Pseudolus to the stage, and so did we.

And the winner is: Kretschmar for "Jekyll & Hyde." He kept us riveted to his characters' transformations.

Best Actress, Straight Play

The nominees are:

Devora Millman for the Asolo's "Born Yesterday." Any actress playing Billie Dawn walks in the shadow of Judy Holliday, but Millman managed to step out with her own definition of the chorus girl turned into a defender of the American Constitution.

Bryn Boice in the Asolo's "Twelfth Night." A charmer in men's or women's clothing, Boice handled the complex character of Viola with aplomb.

Sara Trembly in VLT's Stage II's "Stop Kiss." Trembly successfully conveyed every step on the journey of a young woman's self-discovery.

Jackie Labarro in VLT's Stage II production of "Medea." In a demanding role that's challenged actresses for centuries, LaBarro proved she could hold her own as a wronged woman agonizing over a terrible act of revenge.

Susan Greenhill in FST's "Dinner with Friends." Greenhill got us involved instantly with her character's dilemma as half of a longtime couple who's really thrown by the breakup of her friends' marriage.

And the winner is: Millman in "Born Yesterday." Her Billie was vulnerable, formidable, and funny.

Best Actor, Straight Play

The nominees are:

Patrick James Clarke in the Asolo's "Born Yesterday." Clarke had one of his best recent roles at the Asolo as junkman Harry Brock, who's "always lived at the top of his voice." Clarke had the force and presence to bring Harry to vulgar, irascible life.

Richard Stockard Rand in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "SantaLand Diaries." Gleefully hopping and prancing about the stage, Rand made us see a sleighload of characters besides his cynical actor-turned-elf "Crumpet." A unique Christmas spirit prevailed.

Kraig Swartz in the Asolo's "Fully Committed." Swartz successfully switched back and forth among nearly 40 diverse characters, male and female, while never losing sight of his main man, Sam the bedeviled reservations clerk.

George Tynan Crowley in FST's "Dinner with Friends." Crowley was always believable as an ordinary guy trying to do right by his wife, his friends, and himself while anguishing over what a "happy" marriage really means.

Steve Johnson in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Weir." As Jack, a pub-dwelling Irishman with a sorrowful secret in his past, Johnson was moving, likeable, and thoroughly human.

And the winner is: Crowley, for "Dinner with Friends," for an acting turn that never felt like acting.

Best Straight Play

The nominees are:

The Asolo's "Born Yesterday." Yes, we've all seen it before, but this was one of those everything-done-right productions that you just can't argue with.

The Asolo's "Twelfth Night." Beautiful, frequently hilarious, and well-served by its talented ensemble cast.

Florida Studio Theatre's "Dinner with Friends." At first glance Donald Margulies' four-character play might look like an expanded version of "thirtysomething." But stay tuned and it digs deep-and close to home-with its examination of marriage and friendship unraveling. A strong cast, sharply directed.

FSU/Asolo Conservatory's "The Weir." Almost hypnotic in its remote Irish setting and the haunting tales its inhabitants tell.

Florida Studio Theatre's "2 Pianos, 4 Hands." Entertaining and insightful in its time-spanning look at two young men whose lives have revolved around the piano keys.

And the winner is: "Twelfth Night." Because it was just so satisfying in every way.

Best Musical

The nominees are:

The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre's "Crazy for You." The feet were flying, the songs were vintage Gershwin, and that's "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

The Manatee Players' "1940s Radio Hour." A small-scale show without much of a story, but one filled with nostalgia for the period, revived by an able cast.

The Golden Apple's "Anything Goes." A fun frolic on the high seas, with all those great Cole Porter songs and some fancy stepping.

The Players of Sarasota production of "Fiddler on the Roof." The beloved classic was given a lively and heartfelt production that hit all the right notes.

Venice Little Theatre's "Jekyll & Hyde." An area premiere, and a challenge for a community theater with its staging and vocal demands. VLT rose to the occasion.

And the winner is: The Golden Apple's "Crazy for You." Rousing, romantic and sparkling.

And not to overlook these more unusual award winners:

Best Triumph By Cast and Choreography Over Material: The comedy skits cobbled together for Florida Studio Theatre's cabaret show "Laughing Matters" weren't really bad, just predictable and safe. But the energetic, versatile cast, bouncing along in perpetual motion to Jim Hoskins' clever staging, sold it all to us, anyway.

Most Challenging New Work Presented by a Community Theater: That would have to be the Players of Sarasota production of "Red Wedding." Involving not only a never-produced script by artistic director Burton Wolf and a tricky score that melded opera and rock elements, "Red Wedding" also demanded understanding of a foreign culture in change and ethnic sensitivity. Not everything in the production worked, but those behind it certainly deserve "A" for effort.

Most Daring Season Choices by a Community Theater's Second Stage: Okay, it's a narrow field, but kudos anyway to Venice Little Theatre's Stage II for presenting not only Robinson Jeffers' ever-timely "Medea" this season but for opening with the controversial (because of sexuality issues) "Stop Kiss."

The Joined-at-the-Hip Award: It's probably not fair, but it just wasn't possible to pit FST's Mark Anders and Carl J. Danielsen against one another as Best Actor for their roles in "2 Pianos, 4 Hands." They were a divine duet all the way.

Most Wicked Holiday Treat: The FSU/Asolo Conservatory's offering of the stage adaptation of David Sedaris' "SantaLand Diaries." Now we all know what it's really like to be a Macy's elf, so we can check that experience off our wish list.

The Show Must Go On Award: Nobody really wanted to go to the theater two days after Sept. 11, and the cast of the Manatee Players' "The Fantasticks" surely didn't want to perform, either. But they did, and managed to affect us in a special way with this simple, ever-popular story of love triumphing at last over obstacles and differences. Anybody listening?

Filed under
Show Comments