Angels, Hairspray among top local productions; Flint wins Favorite Actor
The 2009-2010 DC Theatre Scene Audience Choice Awards yielded some surprising results which tended to confirm the warm place which small theaters hold in the hearts of DC Theatre Scene readers.
Audience Choice Award voters selected Forum’s Angels in America: Millenium Approaches as their favorite play and Hairspray, from Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, as favorite musical. Daniel Flint won the nod as favorite actor in Taffety Punk’s Burn Your Bookes, while three of Washington’s most recognized performers – Irina Tsikurishvili (favorite actress in a play in Synetic’s Antony and Cleopatra) and Edward Gero and Sherri L. Edelen (favorite actor and actress in a musical for their work in Signature’s Sweeney Todd) – won the remaining awards for local performers.
That Forum’s Angels would be the favorite of the DC Theatre Scene audience is not a huge surprise, of course. It had been nominated as Outstanding Play in 2009 by the Helen Hayes Awards judges, and DC Theatre Scene voters had named Forum’s Last Days of Judas Iscariot as favorite play of the 2008-2009 season as well. Nonetheless, the Forum production competed against many shows with much larger budgets. It won by marrying brilliant writing with brilliant directing and performances. “[T]he best thing I, or anyone, can say about this astounding and beautiful production, is that it appropriately serves this astounding and beautiful play, one of the five best American plays of the last century,” DC Theatre Scene reviewer Tim Treanor said at the time. “From oncology to ontology, Kushner gets everything right. He makes inspired, imaginative choices and relentlessly rejects clichés, blame-casting and false simplifications, and so reminds us, as Shakespeare once did, that in action, including even our sins, we are very much like angels.”
Angels was followed in the voting by Taffety Punk’s Burn Your Bookes. Synetic’s Antony and Cleopatra in Audience Choice tied for third place with Woolly Mammoth’s Clybourne Park.
Hairspray, the musical cheerfully chiseled out of John Waters’ eccentric movie of the same name, was the surprise choice of DCTS readers as favorite musicals. Competing against much larger productions by theaters which didn’t serve dinner, Toby’s Hairspray finished ahead of a field which included second-place finisher and Helen Hayes awardee Rent (Keegan Theatre) and Signature’s [title of show], which finished third. In his review, Treanor called Toby’s production “vigorous and joyous” and noted “Hairspray is the ultimate feel-good musical because it celebrates what life would be like if we were as wonderful as we could be.”
Daniel Flint’s performance as the alchemist Edward Kelley in Burn Your Bookes won Taffety Punk its first Audience Choice Award. DCTS reviewer Phil Calabro gave readers a picture of the power of Flint’s performance: “Flint’s Kelley is stocked with gleeful conceit, crawling under the skins of audience members with his poetic guile.” Phillip Fletcher came in second for his performance as one of three Iagos in Synetic’s Othello and Michael Hayden was third for his compelling portrayal of King Henry V in the Shakespeare Theatre’s production of the Bard’s play of the same name.
Irina Tsikurishvili’s award as favorite actress in a play also comes about as a result of her portrayal of royalty – specifically, the iconic female half of the Shakespeare/Synetic hybrid, Antony and Cleopatra. Tsikurishvili, who has received multiple Helen Hayes awards for her choreography, won praise from DCTS reviewer Jayne Blanchard for her performance as Cleopatra. “Bewitching and bold, both haughty and needy, Miss Tsikurishvili’s Cleopatra nimbly embraces the contradictions in what many consider Shakespeare’s most complex female character,” Blanchard enthused. Holly Twyford followed Tsikurishvili in the voting for her performance as Aunt Bella in Lost in Yonkers (Theater J) and Tyne Daly also scored highly with DCTS voters for her portrayal of Maria Callas in Terrance McNally’s Master Class.
The award for favorite actor and favorite actress in a musical production went to the leads in Signature’s Sweeney Todd. Ed Gero, better known as a dramatic actor, garnered the award for his work in the title role, followed in the voting by James Gardiner as Hunter in [title of show] and Parker Drown for his Helen Hayes-winning work as Angel in Keegan’s Rent. Reviewer Treanor, noting that Gero was not known for his work in musicals, asked whether he could pull off the vocally challenging role and answered his own question in the affirmative. “He can and does; he is not Len Cariou [who originated the role on Broadway], but he’s better than Johnny Depp [who played Sweeney in the 2007 Tim Burton movie], and brings more depth and darkness to the role than anyone in the half-dozen or so productions I’ve seen.”
Sherri L. Edelen won the support of DC Theatre Scene audiences for her performance as the pie-baking cannibal-in-chief, Mrs. Lovett, in the same production. “[S]he brings a calculating eroticism to the role which is both pleasing and illuminating,” Treanor enthused. “She knows that with Sweeney, she is riding the tiger, and that at any moment he might turn from meal ticket and potential husband into a ravening beast. Edelen lets us understand that the possibility is thrilling to Mrs. Lovett.” Celia Blitzer followed in the voting for her work as Tracy Turnblad in Toby’s Hairspray and Jenna Sokolowski for her role as Susan in Signature Theatre’s [title of show] finished third in the voting.
For the first time in Audience Choice Award history, there was a tie for favorite Family Show, first place being shared by Synetic Family Theater’s The Snow Queen and Imagination Stage’s The Dancing Princesses. Imagination’s How I Became a Pirate followed.
Antony and Cleopatra was most favored by the DCTS audience for ensemble work, followed by Rent and Hairspray in second and third, respectively.
Among touring shows, Avenue Q was the best-loved, finishing ahead of Jersey Boys and A Streetcar Named Desire. Streetcar’s Cate Blanchette was the runaway winner for best actor in a touring production, followed by Helen Mirren for her performance in the title role of Phèdre and Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of the legal pioneer and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood.
Conducted for the first time under more elaborate security measures designed to assure voting integrity, the winners were selected by those who pre-registered to vote by subscribing to DCTS’ newsletter. The survey device also solicited suggestions for modifications in the Audience Choice process, and the DCTS Board of Directors, deliberating the future of the Audience Choice Awards, will be considering those responses, as well as comments from readers, in the upcoming weeks.
DC Theatre Scene’s Audience Choice Awards for the 2009-2010 season
Angels in America, Part I, Millennium Approaches, Forum Theatre
Burn Your Bookes, Taffety Punk
Antony and Cleopatra, Synetic Theater and Clybourne Park, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Hairspray, Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Rent, Keegan Theatre
[title of show], Signature Theatre
Favorite Family Show
The Dancing Princesses, Imagination Stage and The Snow Queen, Synetic Family Theater
How I Became a Pirate, Imagination Stage
Favorite Touring Show
A Streetcar Named Desire
Favorite Actor in a Play
Daniel Flint as Edward Kelley, Burn your Bookes, Taffety Punk
Philip Fletcher as Iago, Othello, Synetic Theater
Michael Hayden as Henry V, Henry V, Shakespeare Theatre
Favorite Actress in a Play
Irina Tsikurishvili as Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra, Synetic Theater
Holly Twyford as Aunt Bella, Lost in Yonkers, Theater J
Tyne Daly as Maria Callas, Master Class, Kennedy Center
Favorite Actor in a Musical
Edward Gero as Sweeney Todd, Sweeney Todd, Signature Theatre
James Gardiner, as Hunter, [title of show], Signature Theatre
Parker Drown as Angel, Rent, Keegan Theatre
Favorite Actress in a Musical
Sherri L. Edelen as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd, Signature Theatre
Celia Blitzer as Tracy Turnblad, Hairspray, Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Jenna Sokolowski as Susan [title of show], Signature Theatre
Favorite Touring Performance
Cate Blanchett as Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Helen Mirren as Phèdre, Phèdre
Laurence Fishburne as Thurgood Marshall, Thurgood