The close ties between Philadelphia and Washington theatre communities really showed as the Barrymore Awards were announced on August 3rd, and artists whose work has been seen here, or talked about in this column were honored with nominations.
The 2009 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre were announced by The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, which will produce the Awards ceremony on October 5th. According to their press release: “Each year, over 100 productions, produced by local professional theatres, are reviewed by the Barrymore voting committee. More than 140 actors, directors, and designers representing 25 companies over 33 productions became nominees for the 2009 Barrymore Awards.”
Two productions, Cinderella at The People’s Light & Theatre Company, and Something Intangible at Arden Theatre Company, led with 13 nominations each, followed by The Producers at Walnut Street Theatre, and Scorched at The Wilma Theater, which received 12 nominations. Unfortunately, I missed these performances, but I am so happy that Walter Charles was nominated for his performance as Doc Bartelli and Gustav Von Meyerhoff in Something Intangible. My podcast with Walter at Arena Stage’s production of Cabaret, where he was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for his performance as Herr Schultz, is my all-time favorite interview. When out of the blue he sang a snippet of “The Pineapple Song” for me, I was in Kander and Ebb heaven, Congrats Walter!
DC favorite and two-time Helen Hayes Award winner Kate Eastwood Norris, was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Play for her riveting performance as Eleanor, a breast cancer survivor, and the Adult Esme in The Wilma Theater’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. For me, it was the best performance by an actress that I saw this year. I will never forget her heart-breaking “exposing” scene, and the audience’s reaction of gasps and tears. It was a tour-de-force.
Kate was excited when she called me to talk about her nomination:
“I am really happy. One of my amazing moments on the stage was recognized in this dramatic role. In DC, I seem to be cast in comedic roles, so being nominated for a dramatic role is so gratifying. The nice thing about working regionally is that the audiences don’t know you, and you can surprise them, and fool them into believing you are someone else. It’s an incredible thing that Blanka Zizka, my director – and the show – also got nominated (as did the lighting and costumes). She was so great to work with. It was an amazing experience for me, and I am honored by this nomination. See you at the party, Joel!”
Here’s my podcast with Kate at The Wilma about playing those two diverse roles, and her DC theatre performances:
DCTS’s editor Lorraine Treanor and I traveled to Philadelphia on June 20th and spent a theatre-filled weekend, where we were treated to hysterical productions of Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits and The Producers at Walnut Street Theatre, a visually stunning production of Grey Gardens at The Philadelphia Theatre Company, and a powerful production of the a cappella musical Avenue X at 11th Hour Theatre Company.
I recorded a very funny podcast with Jennie Eisenhower before the Friday night performance of Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits, and you can hear why Jenny was nominated for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical for her dead-on “takes” on Liza Minnelli and Ethel Merman and other legends at the Walnut Street Theatre’s , Independence Studio on 3’s production
How did Jennie learn about her Barrymore nomination?
“On Monday evening I was in rehearsal for a show I am doing at Bristol Riverside. My fellow castmates and I had just been discussing the fact that the announcement ceremony was underway and I had just finished saying that I liked the Barrymores, but it is really just a theatre prom and the award nominations weren’t that important to me. Then a text came in from my friend that I was nominated, and I started screaming and squealing like a five year old. I had been trying to play it cool so I wouldn’t look like I cared in case I didn’t get a nomination! Obviously I care a lot! And I am so honored, excited and grateful to be nominated!”
I was so happy to see that Jennie’s fellow cast-mate Ellie Mooney was also nominated for her performance in Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits. When Ellie slithered across the stage as a diminutive Young Cosette with a broom 10 times the size of her, while singing a parody of “Castle On A Cloud”, I almost plotzed. Here’s Ellie’s reaction to her nomination:
“I am surprised and thrilled to be nominated. Bruce, Michelle, Jennie, Marcus, Sonny, Gina, Kate, Melissa and Sara are all responsible for making the show what it was. It was our beautiful team work that allowed me to be recognized and for that I am truly grateful. I am also incredibly happy for Jennie. She is a star and I loved watching and working with her. Every experience I’ve had at Walnut Street Theatre has been wonderful and performing in Philadelphia is a personal favorite. Many thanks to all!”
Last year, Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Les Miserables swept the Barrymores, where I was fortunate to interview Hugh Panaro and Scott Greer, who won Barrymores playing Jean Valjean and Thenardier. This year, Scott received two nominations, playing Dale Wiston in Something Intangible, and Voltaire/Pangloss in Candide both at Arden Theater Company. I saw Candide, and Scott’s performance was remarkable, as usual.
It was no surprise to me that Walnut Street received many nominations again this year. Thomas Miller, Communications Manager at Walnut Street Theatre is happy once again:
“The Walnut is thrilled to have garnered such a large number of Barrymore Award nominations, especially in such a diverse and talented theatre community as Philadelphia. We’re very glad that the Barrymore Award voters loved watching Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits and The Producers as much as we did putting them on every night. We are also thrilled to host this year’s Barrymore Awards.”
The multi-talented Ben Dibble was nominated for both his performances in Candide and The Producers at The Arden Theatre Company and Walnut Street Theatre. Ben is not only a fabulous singer, he’s a great actor and comedian as well. I was lucky to record an interview with Ben at Walnut Street the night before Lorraine and I saw the Saturday matinee of The Producers, where he played the nebbish Leo Bloom. I have never heard that role of Leo sung so well. You can listen to the interview here.
For his outrageous performance as the high-flying, leaping, airborne Carmen Ghia in The Producers, Rob McClure received a nomination as did his goose-stepping co-star Jeffrey Coon, who played Franz Liebkind, the insane playwright of Springtime For Hitler, as did their gorgeous co-star Amy Bodnar, who played the “Flaunt it” Ulla Inga tor Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson.
Marc Robin was nominated twice for his work on The Producers – for his direction and choreography:
“In truth, I was (and still am) quite thrilled and humbled. The Philly theatre scene is so strong. I am just so pleased to be included as a part of it, especially at Walnut Street. I am very proud of all of my collaborators and am thrilled for the acknowledgment of them as well. ”
The major disappointment for me is that Philadelphia Theatre Company’s stunning production of Grey Gardens received only one nomination for its musical direction. Hollis Resnik and Joy Franz, whose glorious performances lit up the Suzanne Roberts Theatre’s stage, were left off the Best Actress and Supporting Actress list, and the show’s direction, set design, costumes, and lighting, and incredible sound were ignored. How did this happen? Makes no sense to me.
And although we are disappointed with what happened to Grey Gardens, we are ecstatic that the nominators recognized the brilliance of 11th Hour Theatre Company’s powerful production of Avenue X, which received 7 Barrymore nominations.
From Lorraine: By luck, we saved Avenue X for last on that trip. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve become a fan of Dan Kazemi from seeing his work at MetroStage (Musical of Musical, The Musical (musical direction) and The Tapioca Miracle workshop (composer), and this would be a chance to see his musical direction at the 11th Hour Theatre Company, a small theatre above a church in a Philly neighborhood straight out of the Village in NY. What I saw blew me away.
Avenue X is a doo-wop meets jazz & blues musical with a side of gospel, a powerful book and a cast which stands and delivers both the heavy duty acting required by the racially charged script and its glorious score. Did I mention it’s all done a cappella? It’s 1963 Brooklyn, and an expressway and years of hatred divide the Italian and African American neighborhoods. Michael Philip O’Brien (from Tapioca Miracle) is a standout as the teenage Pasquale, and his trio of doo-wop sidekicks could turn into Jersey Boys any day. But it’s Forrest McClendon, playing the drunken, defiant Roscoe, who steals the show with songs like the powerful ‘Stay’. The two communities have a musical smackdown to close the first act that is nothing but stunning.
This was, evidently, the second time Avenue X has been produced in Philadelphia, yet no one has staged it here. Hey, Washington artistic directors, take note.
Now, back to Joel:
I screamed out “Yeah!” when I saw that Dan Kazemi and Michael Philip O’Brien, were on the list of nominees – Dan, for his musical direction for Avenue X, Michael for playing the good-hearted Pasquale. It was gratifying to see the composer and one of the stars of The Tapioca Miracle, (which I have been writing about for DCTS), receive well deserved recognition. And to meet the remarkable Forrest McClendon, who I was seeing for the first time.
“I’m so proud to be nominated alongside Director Megan O’Brien and Choreographer Jenn Rose. Mike O’Brien (also nominated) has been calling us his dream team, and look what happens… we all get nominated on our first collaboration on an 11th Hour Production! As for the rest of the nominations the show garnered, I’m genuinely excited to see what happens. I’m just surprised Reefer Madness wasn’t recognized at all”.
Michael Philip O’Brien:
“I guess it is always exciting and rewarding when you hear your name announced at the Barrymore’s. It is a great feeling when you are recognized for what you do. It happens so rarely as a performer, especially in a city like Philadelphia where there are over 60 productions in a year. It is extremely awesome to know that people like what 11th Hour is doing – and hopefully, in these tough economic times, people will come out and support us, and see what we are up to this year! I feel like we are truly starting to establish ourselves as the go to see company for cutting edge musical theatre in Philly.
It is pretty cool to be able to say that is only four year and 5 shows 11th Hour has been nominated for 20 Barrymore awards! We are extremely proud of that!!
“I’m totally psyched about all of the Barrymore nominations Avenue X received, especially for Best Ensemble. The folks at 11th Hour Theatre Company are really creative and collaborative so working on Roscoe was fun and fulfilling! I’ll see you on October 5th at the Walnut”.
I asked Tim Dunleavy, Philadelphia Theatre Critic of talkinbroadway.com to give us his take on this year’s nominations:
“There’s much to applaud in this year’s Barrymore nominations. The dual nominations for Scott Greer (for Candide and Something Intangible) and Ben Dibble (for Candide and The Producers) are a testament to the versatility of two of the area’s most enjoyable performers. What’s most astounding is that these nominations don’t even represent all of their excellent work this season: Greer also played Mitch in the Walnut’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Oscar Hammerstein in 1812’s Cherry Bomb, while Dibble had a nice showcase as Corny Collins in Hairspray. Together, Greer and Dibble represent what’s best about the Philadelphia acting community.
But there are a lot of nominations this year that just made me scratch my head. In the “What Are They Doing In That Category?” Category, we have the acting nominations for Walter Charles and Sally Mercer. Charles was nominated as Leading Actor in a Play for his dual roles in the Arden’s Something Intangible – but Charles had about as much time onstage as Doug Hara, who was justly nominated in the Supporting Actor category for the same play. Similarly, Mercer’s role, as the psychiatrist treating Scott Greer’s character, was a supporting one; she spent much of the play hidden in shadows.
But the most misplaced nomination has to be this citation in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play category: “Peter Pryor as Jake Laurents – It’s a Wonderful Life! A Live Radio Play – Prince Music Theater.” In this production, Pryor played a 1940s actor appearing in a radio dramatization of the famous Jimmy Stewart movie – playing Stewart’s role. That’s right, the actor playing “George Bailey” in a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life – the role that earned Stewart an Oscar nomination in the leading actor category – gets nominated for supporting actor instead. Pryor’s performance was fine, but I am mystified by the nominators’ logic.
I’m also puzzled by the slew of nominations for the Walnut’s version of The Producers, a production that took too many crude liberties with the show’s original script. The Walnut’s Hairspray earlier in the season was far superior.
As for performers who deserved a nomination, there are probably too many to name – but here’s a short list:
• Faith Prince, as a woman dealing with the mistakes of her past, in Terrence McNally’s Unusual Acts of Devotion. This play received no nominations at all, and deserved notice for McNally’s script, Leonard Foglia’s sensitive direction, and the finely detailed set design by Santo Loquasto. (I attended the play with a friend who is a structural engineer, and he raved about the detailed accuracy of the simulated stone in Loquasto’s urban rooftop setting.).
Listen to Joel’s podcast with Faith Prince and Richard Thomas recorded at The Philadelphia Theatre Company:
• Julianna Zinkel and Pearce Bunting, a hypnotic duo in Theatre Exile’s Blackbird (another show that was robbed of nominations).
• Geoff Sobelle, mercurial and magnificent in the title role of Lantern Theater’s Hamlet.
• Hollis Resnik for commanding the stage while playing two lead roles in Grey Gardens at PTC.
• It’s a shame the Barrymores don’t have a category for Projection Design – but then again, Jorge Cousineau would probably win it every year. This year he received two nominations for Sound Design, but he deserves to be recognized for his inventive and invigorating projections in Grey Gardens (at PTC) and James and the Giant Peach. (at The Arden)
• Aaron Posner’s My Name is Asher Lev (at The Arden) received a nomination for Outstanding New Play, as well as an honorary award for promoting diversity. I would have liked more recognition for this exceptional work, including recognition of Posner’s direction, the lead performances by Adam Heller and Karl Miller, and the evocative set and lighting design.
• Finally, for sentimental reasons at least, I would have liked to see some recognition of the late T. Scott Cunningham for his faultless final performance, as the straight-laced, tormented Peter in Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, at PTC. [The link is to DCTS’ review.]
The 15th Annual Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, will be held October 5th at 7:00 p.m. at the Walnut Street Theatre, with a reception following at the Ballroom at the Ben in the Benjamin Franklin House. The evening of October 5th will kick off with a red carpet event beginning at 6:00 p.m. as local theatre celebrities and nominees gather. This year’s ceremony, will be directed by Karen DiLossi. Lorraine and I will be there, covering the event for DCTS.
Here is the complete list of the 2009 Barrymore Award nominations:
written by Joel Markowitz